A girl in pink denim and a male rookie cop drive into town. The girl is looking for her brother, and the cop is on his way to his first day of work. The girl is Claire Redfield, the cop is Leon Kennedy, and the town is Raccoon City. For these two strangers, it is going to be a night they will never forget. This is Resident Evil 2, and, in preparation for next month’s release of Resident Evil 6, VGTribune is going back to revisit the horror classic that made us all play with the lights on.
The game we know to be Resident Evil 2 was almost never made. Legend has it that a very different Resident Evil 2 deep into development before being cancelled and retooled into the game we all know and love today. Swapping out Claire for a new character called Elza Walker, amid a great many other differences, the project was supposedly intended to conclude the series. Supervisor Yoshiki Okamoto, however, thought that the series should comprise a universe with multiple story-arcs and timelines, rather than a linear sequence of events. In addition, series daddy Shinji Mikami found sections of the half-completed game to be boring and far too reminiscent of the first game. Ultimately, the risky move was made to restart development from scratch, a risk which wound up paying off in a big way. Also, if anyone tells you they have a copy of Resident Evil 1.5, as it is known, ignore them. It doesn’t exist, you sucker.
If Resident Evil was an indie monster flick, then Resident Evil 2 was comparable to a big-budget blockbuster. The graphics were better, the story was better, the voice acting was leaps better, and the scale was just bigger in every way. The corny live-action sequences are replaced with CGI movies, which may look quaint by today’s standards, but were amazing back then, and are serviceable enough today. Still, fans of RE4 will certainly be surprised by how orange Leon’s hair looks.
The first game had an element of replay value with its two scenarios. RE2 takes the idea and runs with it way further than the first game had even dreamed of. Resident Evil 2 shipped on two Playstation disks, one for each character: Claire, the college student looking for her missing brother, Chris; and Leon, rookie cop. Starting a new game with either disk and playing through to completion amounts to playing only half the game. The game refers to your save data as the “A Scenario,” and only by inserting the other disk and completing the “B Scenario” can the true ending be witnessed. Although Leon’s disk is labeled ‘One’, the fan community, as well as cues from later games, usually err on the side of a Claire A, Leon B game, as the Leon/Ada relationship is better developed, and Annette doesn’t die from having a rock fall on her head, among other things. In addition to the narrative changes, certain weapons and items can only be used in one scenario or the other; if Claire picks up the submachine gun, it will be unavailable for Leon, among a few other examples. Anyway you decide to slice it, however, Resident Evil 2 is still about twice as long as the first game, and that’s pretty cool.
In the explosive intro, Claire and Leon both stumble into the conspicuously deserted town, where they are immediately set upon by zombies. The tone was set in the last game, so the adrenaline is turned all the way up right from the beginning, this time around. Claire and Leon, or Claireon, (pronounced Claire-E-on), riding in Leon’s patrol car, find themselves chased by a zombified truck driver who crashes into them as they wrestle with a zombie who for some strange reason was in the back of Leon’s car. Writing about it, it doesn’t really make any sense at all, but it’s awesome. I guess you’d have to have been there. Regardless, Claire and Leon are trapped on opposite sides of the flaming wall of death with the promise that they will meet at the Police Station. How did the city turn into an apocalyptic hellhole? How did the T-Virus escape? What else awaits our young heroes as they attempt to find their way out? With these questions in mind, the game starts. As soon as control is relinquished to the player, we see our heroine immediately surrounded by fire, zombies, and flaming zombies. You see, just because the action quotient is significantly higher than the last go-round, does not mean the proceedings will be any less scary! After evading the undead in the streets and watching the owner of a gun store get eaten to death, she finally makes it to the Police Station, where the adventure properly begins.
It’s not exactly RE’s mansion, but the Police Station still has locked doors which need to be opened with keys that can only be found by moving statues, solving obtuse puzzles, and inserting medals into specific slots…
“Hey, I need to interrogate a suspect in Interview Room 1.”
“Oh, sure, no problem. Just go get a Unicorn Medal on the second floor, put it in a statue in the lobby, then the statue will open and give you a key. Come back to me with the key and I’ll tell you what to do next. I hope you like Chess…”
“Oh, ok. Um, also, I have to go use the restroom.”
“The bushes are outside.”
Within the walls of the Mansion-esque Police Station, the biggest differences from the original game are the amount of zombies and the level of detail in the backgrounds. While so few games these days (if any) use 2-D backgrounds (and for good reason, as they make moving the camera in three dimensions all but impossible), there’s no denying how the backgrounds are one of the few elements of classic Resident Evil which really allows those games to hold up as well as they do. It certainly isn’t the tank controls. Further, rooms and hallways are somewhat wider and more open than in the first game, allowing for more zombies to fit, and boy, do they manage to fit many more zombies. Thankfully, there’s also a lot more ammo to be found, as well as more guns, such as a Bowgun and Grenade Launcher for Claire, a Desert Eagle and Shotgun for Leon, both of which are upgradable, and a handful of other tools for removing the ‘un’ from ‘undead.’ Naturally, there are also new monsters with which to test your new firepower upon, and they include some of the series’ most popular abominations. Thankfully, none of them are as lame as the lizard-men from the first game, but the walking plants come close; after all, they don’t even sing like Audrey II. One of the most recognizable RE monsters, the licker, debuted here, in Resident Evil 2. Resembling a cross between a human and a spider, the Licker apparently has no skin, no eyes (relying on smell and hearing to kill), an exposed brain, wall-crawling abilities, and the unsettling ability to stab or slash its prey with its razor-sharp tongue. Subsequent games would treat the tongue more as tool to grapple its prey, but, frankly, either application is gross and scary.
Anyway, back to the game. Early on, Claire discovers what happened to her brother; he and the other survivors from Resident Evil plan on taking the fight to Umbrella, exposing their misdeeds by traveling to their base in Europe, and no, Chris’s Diary is not more specific. He does, however, state that he didn’t tell his sister because he didn’t want her to be put in danger. I think it’s safe to say, that plan backfired pretty badly.
As Claire and Leon explore the Police Station, they each find survivors to help them as they seek an escape. Claire finds a young girl, Sherry, who is looking for her parents, and Chief of Police Brian Irons, who has gone very mad, and resolved to hunt down any surviving humans in the police station for no reason other than his unadulterated insanity. Sherry’s parents are William and Annette Birkin, scientists with Umbrella. When Claire meets Annette, she learns from her that William, co-creator of the T-Virus, had developed a new virus, G, but had planned to betray Umbrella and sell his work to the US Government. Unfortunately for him, Umbrella caught wind of his plan and sent a team of their black ops agents, led by codename: HUNK (yup, in all caps) to kill him. They succeed, but, knowing Resident Evil, don’t expect him to stay that way for long. Sure enough, just before he was attacked, he injected himself with his masterwork, and it reanimates him with a thirst for violence. After completely wrecking the shit of the Umbrella hit squad (except for HUNK, who has magical memetic not-dying powers), Birkin roams the sewers looking for his family, particularly Sherry, in hopes of impregnating her with a G-Virus embryo. Only within her can the G-Type propagate, as Chief Irons finds out. He gets attacked by the creature once known as William Birkin and implanted with an embryo, Facehugger-style. When next Claire crosses paths with the Chief, his embryo escapes in a grisly fashion that makes us grateful that Irons is completely unsympathetic: burrowing through his sternum, the embryo escapes vertically, ripping him open between his neck and his shoulder, turning into a rhino-sized monster Claire has to put down like a three-legged horse.
Ultimately, William Birkin manages to impregnate his daughter, at which point his wife, batshit crazy shrew that she is, after shooting Leon and threatening to kill Claire, tries to “protect” her “husband” and gets promptly cut down by the monstrous shadow of a once brilliant-but-selfish man. At least she manages, in her dying breaths, to give Claire instructions on how to cure Sherry from her infection.
Meanwhile, Leon goes on his own adventure, with its own cast of supporting characters. While Claire is being pursued by the G-Type Birkin, Leon is chased by a nigh-indestructible abomination, an upgraded version of the Tyrant from the first game. Clad in a classy trenchcoat, this Tyrant is on a mission to retrieve a sample of the G-Virus for Umbrella, but it seems to prefer hunting Leon, appearing at the most inconvenient times just to scare the living daylights out of the player.
Leon also encounters one of the most enigmatic characters in Resident Evil, the lady in red, Ada Wong. She claims to be searching for her boyfriend, John (a claim confirmed by a file in the first game in which a researcher refers to his girlfriend, Ada; how’s THAT for continuity, eh?), but she is later revealed to be seeking a sample of (you guessed it!) the G-Virus. For whom, you ask? That, my friends, is a mystery. For now.
Just as Leon’s adventure gets exciting, tragedy strikes when he stumbles into a shootout between Ada and Annette, and ends up shot by the latter. After Ada shoos Annette away, she decides to take pity on the rookie officer and patch his wound. They travel together for a little while until, deep within Umbrella’s underground lab, they are attacked by the Tyrant. Ada shoots its eyes, but gets thrashed about pretty badly. The Tyrant falls into a deep chasm, landing in a pool of molten steel (every secret underground lab has a pit of molten steel, right?). A dying Ada tells Leon that she loves him (that was fast!) and then expires in his arms. Leon then shouts to the heavens, “ADAAAAAAA!”, a feat he will perform quite frequently, to a wide variety of names, in the future.
Eventually, Leon and Claire meet up again, Claire having finally seemingly dispatched William Birkin in a hail of gunfire. Claire and a cured Sherry are waiting on a train which will take them away from the lab (which, of course, is about to SELF-DESTRUCT) while Leon gets the power started.
Just as Leon is getting the power started, a terrifying creature attacks; it is the Tyrant, having survived its lava-bath, having mutated into a horrible form. It’s even bigger, stronger, and faster than before, and Leon is in serious trouble. That is, of course, until Ada, who managed to survive her world-class thrashing (maybe Leon should have checked for a pulse!), shows up, throws Leon a rocket launcher, and then disappears. Leon then lets loose an ill-advised one-liner, “Game Over!” and blows up the Tyrant. If this all sounds a little
surreal, that’s because it is, but at this point in the game, knowing that the end is near, the tension is high, and with the countdown timer on screen at all times, it absolutely works.
Finally on the train, fleeing Raccoon City for good, Claire, Sherry, and Leon finally relax, catch their breath, and silently celebrate. But it’s not over yet. The ever-resilient G-Type managed to sneak aboard the train, albeit in a severely mutated form, completely unrecognizable as ever having been a man. After mowing down the G-Type one last time, the self-destruct sequence on the train activates (everything Umbrella makes is programmed to explode, apparently), giving our survivors just enough time to run away from the blast radius before the train explodes, taking William Birkin down for good.
Needless to say, Resident Evil 2 is a white-knuckle thrill-ride, and the game which really opened up the Resident Evil series. It was no longer a haunted house and an evil corporation, it was a full-fledged soap opera, with lots of characters with backstories, crosses and double-crosses, all balanced out by healthy doses of hammy acting and cheesy writing.
With these factors in mind, it’s not surprising that the next chapter of the Resident Evil story actually splits into three;, one story telling the ultimate fate of Raccoon City, and one story that nobody liked, and one story to follow up on the events of Resident Evils one and two. Come back next week for part three in VGTribune’s Brief History of Resident Evil for the three-pronged tales of Nemesis, Survivor, and Code Veronica.