Late to the Party: Resident Evil 2 (Early impressions)

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If you are reading this, you probably already know that Resident Evil 2 is a classic survival horror game by Capcom, released on the original PlayStation in 1998 and later ported to many other systems. You most likely also know that the long-awaited remake of Resident Evil 2 is slated for release in 2019, with plenty of gameplay footage popping up on the internet for fans to salivate over since the remake was shown at this year’s E3. Last year’s Resident Evil 7 was something of a return to form for the series that had seemingly lost its identity years ago, and it seems like the RE2 remake is going to keep up that form. All that being said, I have never played Resident Evil 2 in my life.

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In case you couldn’t tell, this is the upcoming remake. Now with fat cop zombies!

Now, it’s not as if I am completely unfamiliar with Resident Evil 2. I have seen Let’s Play videos (and read the screenshot LP by The Dark Id a few times) and even spent a lot of time at a friend’s house watching him play through RE2 twenty years ago, so I have a decent idea what happens in the game. However, I have never been the person controlling the game for more than a couple of minutes before handing the DualShock back to someone who can actually work the old Resident Evil tank controls (where up always moves forward, down moves back, and left and right slowly rotate the character) or simply giving up in disgust. Also, I’ve always been kind of a wimp about horror games, so that didn’t help either.

In any event, with all the talk about the remake going around and so many people being excited about returning to the zombie-infested Raccoon City, I figured I finally had to give the original RE2 a proper shot and bought it on PlayStation Network for the PS3 (speaking of which, I was delighted to discover the PSone RE games on PSN except for Resident Evil: Director’s Cut are the American releases, running at the full 60 Hz/30 fps). I’m only about an hour or so into RE2 so this is just going to be a bunch of rambling about the early parts. I haven’t been taking screenshots either because recording from the PS3 is kind of a pain in the ass, so the images in this post have been grabbed from the internet, mainly MobyGames.

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Leon and Claire in all their 90s CGI glory.

As you may know, Resident Evil 2 comes on two CDs, one for each playable character. The game has two scenarios (A and B), and the way the story plays out depends on which character’s disc you decide to play first. So, if you decide to start with Disc 2, containing Claire Redfield’s scenarios, you play through the A scenario as her and switch to Disc 1’s Leon S. Kennedy for the B scenario, or vice versa. The canon storyline is apparently Claire A/Leon B, so that is what I went for. Don’t want to cause a time paradox, after all.

Due to my inexperience with the tank controls, I opted to play on the Easy difficulty for this first playthrough. Playing on Easy gives you some extra ammo and healing items while adjusting the damage you and the enemies deal, but aside from that it’s the same experience as far as I’m aware. Even then, I managed to die a couple of times before even reaching the first save point because it’s still quite easy to get surrounded and killed when you’re not familiar with the controls.

Err, whoops. Let’s try that one again, shall we?

Speaking of familiarizing yourself with the controls in Resident Evil 2, the game seemingly assumes you’ve already played the original Resident Evil and figured out the controls. Most games back then didn’t really bother with tutorials and the best you’d get was a small starting area for you to practice in without any danger (such as the main hall and dining room at the start of the original RE), but RE2 doesn’t even give you that!

Instead of easing you into the gameplay, Resident Evil 2 drops you right into the middle of a zombie horde, and if you’re not comfortable with the mechanics it’s easy to die or at least lose a chunk of health before even getting out of the second screen of the game. That… erm… may have happened to me when I very briefly tried to play this back in the day, but this time I at least made it a little bit further and only died because I pushed my luck too much (turns out jumping into a zombie horde for a crossbow can be ever so slightly hazardous to one’s health).

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Got control? Good! Now dodge these zombies, and their friends who are waiting just offscreen! What do you mean you don’t know the controls? Read the manual!

Seriously, the opening segment of RE2 where you make your way through the undead-infested Raccoon City streets and alleyways is pretty mean to new players, especially if you don’t have the Easy Mode safety net of 150 extra bullets for your handgun. That of course will let you blast your way through the opening section with ease, but to me it felt like cheating so I didn’t use the gun too much and chose to avoid most of the zombies on the way to the police station.

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“Surely this sort of violence is unnecessary, good sir. Please consider your ammunition reserves, you should not waste those precious bullets on me as you may require them lat–URGH”

There are no health items until you reach the station, and while you can grab the crossbow (or shotgun for Leon) to have an easier time killing the zombies, it’s not exactly in a safe spot. It’s not like you lose a lot of progress if you die there since it’s only a few screens from the start of the game, but there’s an unskippable bit of dialogue with the gun store owner before he gets himself eaten. Also, you start over from the main menu if you die during the opening section, so you have to skip the intro cutscenes all over again. I should probably point out that these are not meant as complaints about the game, simply my observations on how different game design philosophy was back in the 90s.

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I also discovered that even though the version of Resident Evil 2 I’m playing is the DualShock Edition rerelease, actually using the analog stick to control the character is not such a good idea. Maybe it’s just because I don’t like the feel of the old style DualShock – as in pre-DS4 – analog sticks, but I was having real trouble moving in a straight line until I switched to the d-pad. With tank controls like this, you have to have definite directions to move in, and the analog stick just isn’t suited for that especially since diagonal inputs in this game are very sensitive in general.

In any event, after I switched to the d-pad I started dodging the shambling hordes like a professional. Well, mostly. Your turn speed is abysmal (the quick 180-degree turn hadn’t been invented yet) and maneuvering around sometimes reminds me of the three-point turn scene in the first Austin Powers film, but by and large I’ve gotten used to the tank controls and they are no longer the insurmountable obstacle they once seemed to be.

Hello there, friends. I think I’ll come back later.

Eventually, I made it to the police station without too much trouble. Now I am exploring the station’s hallways (which seem to take up roughly 86% of the building) and looking for keys, and I’ve also killed my first Licker. Even though this is a PSone game and the visuals have aged (somehow the zombie models and the opening FMV scenes were a lot scarier when I was eleven years old), the prerendered backgrounds still look quite nice and I also really enjoy the atmosphere largely set by the moody soundtrack. It may have taken me twenty years, but I can finally say that I have played Resident Evil 2 and, more importantly, that I’m enjoying it.

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