Game of the Month: January 2018
Resident Evil 2 - PS1/N64/PC/DC/GC
When something truly special comes along in the video game world it leaves that perfect mixture of immediate fixation and addiction followed later by deep rooted memories the average person will remember more fondly when compared to anything in the present time. It's a long held scientific fact that human beings memories often exaggerate past events in order to emotionally connect experiences to long term memory, whilst we each have numerous examples of either wonderful or awful things that happened to us as younger individuals it's often the case that things simply didn't happen that way, or to that extent.
If it's a wonderful memory it's because it often connects to a time before real world events took hold and changed your core personality, more so as we move from being children to becoming adults. For less happy memories it's how humans leave themselves a sort of post-it note to warn a future self against repeating similar mistakes in order to protect themselves down the road. Having said all that though there are times when an event or experience is so impactful that you can immediately return to the exact moment like it was yesterday. Important things seem to always sit in the forefront of our mind, often right behind our eyelids, waiting for us to relax a bit and close our eyes for a few seconds so we can once again go on that magical memory carpet ride.
One of the most important aspects of a memory is when you place a number upon it, usually in the form of an anniversary. Simply counting how long it's been quite often triggers waves of thoughts and feelings and it's this that usually unites fans of hobbies, memory is how passion is built. It's this passion that created, crafted and sustained an industry, especially through it's low points when it seemed like it wouldn't last and it's this driving force that keeps those who love to play videogames engaged with the entertainment of now whilst at the same time remembering those important moments that shaped where we are now.
With anniversaries in mind and because our Game Of The Month articles are about how we at RGG connect to the history of this hobby whilst (hopefully) inspiring those who are still new to a lot of this to try these games for themselves, it's the perfect moment to take a look at something special. A game that stood out on release and 20 years later remains as important, fun, fresh, exciting and definitive as it ever was.
For the month of January 2018 it is an absolute delight to take a trip with you all down memory lane with one of the finest games a legendary developer/publisher ever unleashed on to the world. It's time to remember why sequels are not just inevitable but why they are essential. Ladies and Gentlemen and everyone hiding behind the sofa because ammo and health is running low and the save room is miles away, it's time to fall back in love with a Capcom masterpiece on a console that quite literally changed gaming forever. Why not take a trip to Raccoon City and remember Resident Evil 2 with us, word of advice though... bring a shotgun!
After releasing the original Resident Evil game on March 22nd 1996 (Japan) Capcom knew they had a massive hit on their hands. Whilst very popular with Japanese gamers it's release in the west was the perfect game to really push an already exciting games console into the atmosphere. Now whilst many will cite the first game as creating a genre that's not even remotely true. Horror games have existed since the Atari 2600 VCS was the system to own and games with survival / adventure / puzzle elements have also been around since the dawn of the industry. What Resident Evil did however was perfectly fuse powerful new technologies and fresh ideas together to transform the genre to the point where it absolutely felt like nothing you had ever played before. Capcom were so confident of the first game's inevitable success that they began work on it's direct sequel a month after completion of the first game. Technology was moving so fast that before the first one had even hit most gamers homes the possibilities for a second one were already far ahead.
The concept for this second game would introduce two brand new characters, Leon S. Kennedy, a police officer and Elza Walker, a college student and motorcycle racer vacationing in Raccoon City, her hometown. The location for this adventure would be that of Raccoon City itself and be set two months after the events of the first game where a zombie outbreak had occurred. The thinking was to connect an underlying theme whilst at the same time having each subsequent game as very much a standalone adventure with original characters.
Unfortunately during Resident Evil 2's early development there was a bit of a conflict of ideas at Capcom regarding both the pace and direction of it all. To cut a very long story short development of the game was halted around the 60-80% mark and everything was shelved in order to re-focus on connecting it into a sustained franchise rather than a set of individual adventures. This early game concept is now known as Resident Evil 1.5 and a playable version even exists on the internet and although some things seem sort of familiar it's very much a different gameplay experience. It's a lot slower in story pacing and lacks real variation of locations or graphics. Capcom decided what they had done was essentially too slow and boring, thank the heavens somebody made that call.
The final version of Resident Evil would then start to take shape using several ideas from this original 1.5 version however after taking advice from film writers a much stronger connection to the first game was implemented. Whilst the 1.5 version had more zombies on screen, thanks in part to a lower polygon count and music that changed to incite panic and terror it was decided that a more fleshed out back story with characters that gamers would connect to more was the way to go. Leon S. Kennedy was kept with a few slight alterations to his character but Elza was completely scrapped and instead Claire Redfield was introduced. Claire was the sister of the main protagonist from the first game, Chris Redfield, and it was this direct connection into the people and events of the first game that would be the bridge to allow gamers to more easily accept a different leading cast and also this brand new Leon character.
All of these changes and the completely new build of the game engine from the ground up meant that the initial release date of May 1997 was eventually pushed back. Fans of the first were going to have to wait, thankfully it worked out perfect. On January 21st 1998 Resident Evil was released in North America, 8 days later Japan got their hands on it and 3 months later on April 29th 1998 Pal gamers got to see what all the fuss was about.
Resident Evil 2, as originally designed, begins in the town mentioned in the events of the first game, Raccoon City. A zombie outbreak has completely devastated the entire town and it has essentially turned into a mixture of a war zone in look with the feeling of a ghost town due to the almost complete lack of living people. Both the police force and the public have been completely overrun and zombies litter the streets and buildings looking for fresh meat. Into this mess steps two new protagonists, Claire Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy.
Claire Redfield is a college student who has come to the city to look for her brother who has completely vanished after going to look for possible survivors from another STARS team. Leon S. Kennedy is a rookie cop who is reporting in for his first day of duty for the Raccoon City Police Department. It's in the confines of this city that they quickly meet and essentially work together to get the bottom of the events that have turned this once friendly community into flesh eating zombies.
Graphically this sequel feels instantly familiar to the first game with polygon characters and items placed over the top of pre-rendered backgrounds viewed from fixed camera angles. It's the locations that are the real change however with a much larger and vastly more detailed set of locals to explore. Character models are also more defined and there's a wider scope of difference between enemy types and creatures you encounter.
Gameplay is also instantly familiar in that it's still a survival horror game with limited ammunition and health supplies and a small number of other living humans to interact with or help you out. Your character can only save in designated safe areas and supplies are scarce so a small amount of strategy is once again in order. Whilst the basics of Resident Evil 2 are very much a continuation of the first game it's how it executes it's story and character interaction which propels it to a whole new level.
Each of the two main characters has two specific scenarios, labeled A & B. Based on your actions in the game and depending on who you choose to start the game as means that different events will play out and you may even lose access to some items. Starting with Claire's scenario A will lead into the player having to play Leon's Scenario B and vice versa. This instantly gives the game a longevity cycle vastly superior to the first game in that in order to see the events surrounding the two protagonists you essentially need to complete the game in full at least twice to see everything to story has to offer.
Capcom's masterful development and expert storytelling goes even further however by the application of the ranking system that gives you an overall performance grade upon completion. Should you complete the game inside certain parameters you will also unlock 2 other characters to control that also fit into the main story arc, a mercenary called Hunk and a rather superb and odd character called To-Fu. In later versions of the game another mini game called "extreme Battle" appeared. Costumes and special weapons also appeared to aid players on subsequent playthrough's to make things a bit easier.
The story of Resident Evil 2 is once again set around the Umbrella Corporation. It's a very deep and fascinating tale of corruption, cover ups, treachery, heartbreak, betrayal and character redemption. Bio-Weapons and how/why they are developed seem to be able to transcend the TV or monitor screen to re-inforce just how playing around with such things are a terrible idea outside the realms of made up video games. Over the course of the adventure you meet several memorable characters, some of whom you partner up with and take control of in order to solve certain puzzles. Events from the first game are explained in more detail and links to games released after this sequel are superbly set up to allow for a deeper and continued story arc to flourish. You will laugh at times, gasp at others and even question your own morality at times, it even managed to leave gamers with moments of genuine wonder over the survival of certain characters which in a pre internet forum world was a killer I can tell you.
Better looking, bigger, more detailed and with a vastly superior story that I won't spoil here to allow those who never played it to really sample it's excellence this second game, is for many, the pinnacle of the series. Along with games like Sonic 2, Treasure Island Dizzy, Streets Of Rage 2 etc it's one of those perfect moments that showcase why games get sequels. Most never manage to reach either the sales or critical acclaim heights of the original however ever so often one arrives that in every single way blows the original clean out of the water. Make no mistake, Resident Evil 2 is a superior game in every single way to the first. It delivers on the promise all sequels set out to do.
After the initial Playstation release other versions were soon made available, for the PS1 that meant editions where the rumble feature was included for the then new Dual Shock controllers and also Japanese gamers got a version that contained the North American version with it's differing difficulty level. Soon after the PS1 version was released Windows PC gamers got their hands on a graphically superior edition with a higher resolution and better quality FMV sequences. The Sega Dreamcast also kept this visual clarity but added in real time health monitoring via the consoles VMU units. The Nintendo GameCube version although still awesome was merely an un-modified PS1 Dual Shock port.
The Nintendo 64 version however is a real treat for fans of the game. Using FMV which was something unheard of for cartridges at the time meant that it was a more expensive to produce cart and therefore very expensive. It also had numerous extras such as an item randomizer to make subsequent playthrough's way more interesting, alternate costumes, the ability to adjust the degree of violence and to change the blood color. Lastly it also contained 16 new in-game documents known as the "Ex Files", these documents went into the back story in way more detail and also connected the story to both the first game and later games too. Better character models, a higher resolution and smoother textures featured as well as a Dolby soundtrack. A total of 1 million dollars was spent to port it over by a team of 10 dedicated people from Angel Studios. It's considered a real high point for the console and possibly the coolest of all the versions.
On it's release Resident Evil 2 both exceeded Capcom's sales targets and absolutely blew the minds of critics and gamers alike. Receiving huge scores in games magazines it became part of most gamers collections overnight. Many fans, myself included own multiple copies of the game on several formats. Although it's mostly controlled (N64 version aside) via the use of the old "Tank" control system it somehow became more fun and easier to control thanks to more open environments and a bigger scope of play area in general.
As time has gone on and with it celebrating it's 20th Birthday this year it's aged superbly well and due to it's sheer size and replayability it's easily the best game in the PS1 trilogy and without a doubt one of the best games in it's genre ever. Although fans seem to be very split over 2 or 4 being the best Resident Evil game, it's here, in this 1998 sequel where the entire shape of the series would be shaped and characters that would stick with gamers forever, like Leon, Claire and Ada would first come to prominence. In 2018 it's still every bit as essential as it was all those years ago, a great story, great characters and great games never seem to age, they just mature... and get better and better.
If all else fails it's worth knowing that no matter how much you might think your first day in a new job might suck a bit or going to see your brother in a big city might be a bit scary, at least you won't ever have to have a day like Claire or Leon. Talk about a rough day! Although saying that... At least Capcom gave them a shotgun eh? Life's always better with a shotgun!
Thanks Capcom, thanks for giving us all 20 years of zombie blasting memories and that pretty cool Tiger Game.com version too ;)