maanantai 21. helmikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Resident Evil 2 (1998)

Genre(s): Action / Survival horror
Released: 1998
Available on: DC, GCN, N64, PC, PS1, PSN
Developer(s): Capcom, Angel Studios, Factor 5, Sourcenext
Publisher(s): Capcom, Virgin Interactive, Nintendo
Players: 1

Resident Evil 2 was to be the first sequel to Capcom's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful game of the decade, so yeah, you could say creator and producer Shinji Mikami was under a lot of pressure when he promised a bigger, better, badder and scarier Resident Evil with a truckload of more zombies, as the game's production began right after the release of the first one. Wanting to stay one hundred per cent true to his word, he unceremoniously canned the whole project when it was about 70% done, and ordered director Hideki Kamiya and his team to start from scratch. After over a year and a half since it began taking form and a near dive into development hell, Resident Evil 2 finally hit the shelves in January, 1998. It turned out to be everything Mikami promised it to be, and more - no less than perhaps the best traditional survival horror game in history.

The serious disorder of the keepers of order

Paul Haddad : Leon S. Kennedy
Alyson Court : Claire Redfield
Sally Cahill : Ada Wong
Lisa Yamanaka : Sherry Birkin
Jennifer Dale : Dr. Annette Birkin
Rod Wilson : Ben Bertolucci
Gary Krawford : Brian Irons / Robert Kendo
Diego Matamoros : Dr. William Birkin

Over the course of one night, just few months after the mansion incident at the Arklay Mountains, Raccoon City turns into hell on Earth. Umbrella Inc.'s most advanced type of virus, labelled G, spreads over the city like wildfire. Claire Redfield is a young, motorcycle-riding tomboy come to search for her brother Chris, who's been missing for some time. Leon S. Kennedy, on the other hand, is a new recruit at the Raccoon City Police Department, which has become somewhat of a hive to those infected by the G-Virus. They may be strangers to each other, but they must work together to survive the viral outbreak and escape the city.

Leon... or a newly rendered Max Headroom.
Back when Resident Evil 2 was announced, I was just getting to know the fabulous world of the Internet, and for about a year, I scooped up the latest on Resident Evil 2 every chance I got. If I got no more than five minutes online, I sacrificed it to Resident Evil 2. I don't remember anticipating any game, ever, as much as I anticipated Resident Evil 2. When they announced the project had been rebooted several months into production, I wasn't disappointed; I was more fired up about the game than ever! I thought the first version looked fantastic, and if Mikami abandoned it 'cause he thought it was boring, then what could they possibly be brewing up now? I didn't have a PlayStation at the time, but I had been promised that when Resident Evil 2 came out, I would get to borrow the game from a friend, and the PlayStation from another source. This did happen... the thing was, I didn't get a memory card. Still, I managed to beat the game. Or, I mean, one scenario of the basic four. I tried six times. I died in the final boss four times, out of those six. How could I muster up the energy to play through the whole game that many times during one week, or just actually a few days? That, I don't know. But I do know one thing: if there was something I loved in a video game, it was shooting a guy's head off with a shotgun. In other words, I loved Resident Evil 2; I loved it so much that I wanted to play it, with or without the ability to save. I still love it. It's lost some of its beauty and original appeal, but it still manages to scare the player more positively shitless than most of 'em, and it still packs quite the standard-setting survival horror challenge. And shooting the heads off of four to five zombies with a single blast from a customized shotgun with amazing recoil is still a gas.

The game begins with a disclaimer: "This game contains scenes of explicit violence and gore." To my recollection, Resident Evil 2 was the first game I ever played that had this disclaimer, since the original version of the first game didn't. The first time I saw the disclaimer on the screen, I sincerely said to myself, and to my brother who was giving me some parental advisory - or just enjoying the show - that "the game doesn't even need to be good, it just told me a good reason to play it anyway." But, it turned out to be a great game, and it did cash in on that promise. Still does. Unlike the first game, this one has endured the fangs of time quite neatly and its detailed, gory violence is still quite remarkable; the game remained one of the best-looking games on the original PlayStation right up until the end of the platform's lifespan. The character polygons stick out from the pre-rendered backgrounds with a lot less volume, and although the FMV models are ugly and doll-ish by today's standards, watching them in action is oh, so much easier on the eyes and mind than suffering the previous game's ridiculous live actors, or their nasty lip syncs.

This guy totally missed the landing zone.
One evil remains extremely resident: horrible voiceover work. The first Resident Evil is a classic when it comes to bad voiceovers, but overall, it didn't have that much dialogue. Resident Evil 2 features a lot of interaction between characters: the two leads, the other survivors and the crazy villains. Back when this game came out, the script sounded like a masterpiece compared to that of the previous game, but it's almost just as bad. The lines are dope, and the cast is just another bunch of grade F actors summoned to the studio from the street. I don't have any "favourites" here, though, except for Sherry, who's a kid in a survival horror game and that says it all. I do have a couple of lines in mind, such as Claire's discreet "You're a cop, right?"; she's sitting next to Leon, who's in a complete police uniform, and driving a police car, so my guess would be: "UHH... YEAH!?". Or Leon's repeated line: "Ada, wait!". Why doesn't he ever run after Ada? Can a chick in high heels really outrun a young, buffed-out police officer? Man, I tell you, the state of law enforcement these days... on a lot of occasions, Leon strikes me as being just as dumb and oblivious as Chris was in the first game. The lead females have at least some potential, it's just the awful lines that do them no favours; no wonder Alyson Court and Sally Cahill got to reprise their roles in later installments of the franchise.

The music by Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama and Shun Nishigaki is exceptionally good. I didn't pay a lot of attention to the score of the first Resident Evil game - Ueda was the only person of the three to work on that one - but here, it's less ambient. Dark, melodic, intimidating, very piano-driven stuff that you'd expect to hear in a Japanese horror movie. And no tacky guitar rock this time around.

Resident Evil 2 comes on two discs, and that should already give you an idea of what length, variety and visual goodness we're dealing with here. The first Resident Evil had two different scenarios - one for Chris, and one for Jill - and that was it. End of story. If you could meet certain criteria, you could play the game again using different clothes and even using a rocket launcher with infinite ammo, but there was nothing concretely new about your second round. In Resident Evil 2, both characters, Leon and Claire, have two different scenarios each. It depends on who you start out with - if you start the party with Leon, you'll first have to play through Leon A and then, Claire B. You'll then proceed to the reverse order - Claire A, Leon B. The B scenarios are a bit tougher, since a lot of stuff you do in the A scenario has an effect on the B scenario. Just an example: if you find a machinegun in the A scenario and decide to take it, it will not be available for the character in the B scenario, since the scenarios both take place simultaneously.

Leon and Claire bump into each other a few times during the game, but they both have their own ways to reach the end, and their own problems to deal with. Most of those problems are brought on by the other friendlies they meet on the way. That's right, there are two additional characters, one accompanying each from time to time, and who are even playable in choice situations. Leon has to deal with a very mysterious woman in red named Ada Wong, who has supposedly come to Raccoon City to look for her missing hubby who works for Umbrella, and Claire has to suffer the remarkable pain of looking after a lost little girl, the daughter of two Umbrella scientists who have seemed to go missing as well. If you haven't figured it out by now, children and teenagers always spell trouble in games. Especially survival horror games. Resident Evil 2 is no exception. As a matter of fact, it more or less started the trend. As much as I'd like to cut down the points due to that fact, I can't. 'Cause it's a great fuckin' game.

The streets are crawling with zombies, and the
chief of police is a grade A nutjob. I love this
The gameplay's almost identical to the first game, and that unfortunately means the extremely annoying inventory limit is still intact. Once again, by default, Claire has more space than Leon, and now I'm pretty positive that this is some kind of a sexist joke by Mikami. It's definitely the bra cups. There's a very welcome special item in this game - the side pack, which adds two inventory slots, and therefore, in my mind, it's a natural choice for Leon. Don't go thinking it spares you any tedious backtracking, though. You need to sacrifice space for four spark plugs to open a certain door, there are a million herbs which you will most certainly need but you just can't carry them all, some weapons take up two slots, you still need those stupid ink ribbons to save the game... hell, why am I even explaining it? The inventory limit is straight out of the retard zone in every possible way! A limit this strict was obsolete even before it was introduced in the first game! Well, at least this time the small keys, exclusive to Leon, stack. There aren't a lot of them, though. Why's the female lead always the master of unlocking who doesn't need this shit?

I won't go into the inane logic of a police officer not able or willing to break into a closet or a drawer even in an emergency, this time around, and besides, the small keys are very useful. Not only do you find ammo from drawers, but also parts which you can use to upgrade your weapons. For example, your basic handgun can be equipped with a stabilizer and rapid fire to make it a much more efficient tool for killing. Which is good, since there are a lot of downright excellent weapons such as the bowgun and the machinegun, but you rarely find ammo for them. Ammo for the more basic weapons is available in large amounts - you shouldn't be TOO trigger happy, though, since there are a lot of zombies in this game. And things that are much worse.

Lickers replace Hunters, and man, these bastards do know how to make an entrance. Not only are they scary as fuck to begin with, but they can kill you with just a couple of slips of their tongues if they are close and precise enough. Without a shotgun or something better, you'd better pray when there are more than one of these guys after you. The bosses range from a giant sewer alligator to different abominations spawned by just a drop of the G-Virus, to a colossal, seemingly immortal guy in a trenchcoat only known as Mr. X, who is also a fan of big entrances. I seriously almost crapped my pants the first time this guy made his presence known. He is most definitely one of the creepiest dudes I've ever seen in a video game.

Since I've managed to play through both Leon and Claire's A scenarios without a memory card back in the day, it's not that hard to figure out that it's not impossible, in fact it's quite easy. But it's not the point. The first scenario of the game is, for all intents and purposes, only the first quarter of the game. You can't say you've beaten the game after just one scenario because there are so much details and crucial events that won't be unlocked until you've beaten all four scenarios. Doing this takes about 20 hours from the most seasoned player, so yeah, we're dealing with a lengthy, challenging game lightyears ahead of its predecessor on this front - the first and only Resident Evil game that took full advantage (and more) of having two main characters. You could say the team put a whole lot more effort into Resident Evil 2 than they should have. The next couple of games were bound to disappoint, since they were stripped of a lot of small elements that made Resident Evil 2 so great.

X, dude... can't we just talk this through?
If you consider yourself a seasoned player of Resident Evil 2 and want to push yourself to the very limits, you could try unlocking three additional game modes - it ain't easy, though. The 4th Survivor is a bonus mission which puts you in the boots of HUNK, a special agent of Umbrella who is mentioned in a couple of notes. The To-Fu Survivor is another bonus mission, a parody of The 4th Survivor, in which you play as a walking block of tofu. Japanese humour at its best and worst. Extreme Battle is just what its name implies, and to my knowledge, it's only unlocked if you've beaten the game to the hilt, and both Survivor missions. Not only do you need to beat the game in order to unlock the Survivor missions, you need to get the highest possible rank in each scenario. Now everyone who still believes in their bullshit about this game being easy, put your hands up.

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a decent written review of Resident Evil 2. I was actually considering of just rating the game. The biggest problem was that I couldn't really put my final opinion on it into words. The game was so fuckin' awesome when it came out, and it still is, but after a million playthroughs and the more recent games which are not thematically as good, but have incredible gameplay, parts of it make you want to quit in midway and just remember the game as the flawless masterpiece it was. A friend of mine, who's probably the biggest fan of old-school Resident Evil there is, managed to inspire me during an MSN conversation and I'd like to end this review by flat-out quoting him. "Resident Evil 2 was the life and death of true survival horror. There will never be another game which is as genuinely scary and action-packed at the same time. They tried with Nemesis and Code: Veronica, but they lost balance. Then they stopped trying." Might sound harsh, but that's about the way it is.

Graphics : 9.1
Sound : 7.7
Playability : 9.2
Challenge : 9.5
Overall : 9.3


a.k.a. Biohazard 2 (JAP)

GameRankings: 79.75% (DC), 63.30% (GCN), 86.77% (N64), 79.59% (PC), 92.57% (PS1)

Strangely, the game was released in North America first, and even more strangely, the Japanese version of it is notably easier and features less explicit violence.

The scrapped version of the game is known in the Resident Evil fan community as Resident Evil 1.5, a title coined by the development team. Leon S. Kennedy was the male lead, but he sported a totally different, more militaristic look. College student Elza Walker was the original female lead; her love for motorcycles is the only characteristic carried over to Claire.

Members of the original development team have expressed interest in totally remaking the game in the same fashion the first game was remade for the Nintendo GameCube in 2002.

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