Gaming History 101

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Now & Then: Resident Evil 2

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

Resident Evil 2 (RE2) hit the market with a steep price; like other series favorite RE4, this title was scrapped and redone after it was more than 60 percent complete.  In order to keep hype and demand strong for the series after the extremely popular original, the sequel began production one month after the release of Resident Evil.  This first version, dubbed Resident Evil 1.5 by Capcom when production stills and videos released, featured a similar plot without crisscrossing paths.  Leon was still the male protagonist and Elza, a motorcyclist college student, as an early version of what would eventually become Claire Redfield.  Graphically the game was much uglier, looking the same (or worse) than the original, but only so that more zombies could appear on-screen.  In 1.5 Umbrella had already closed down, the outbreak still occurred, and the police station looked a lot more modern.  Players could equip different clothing, which changed their appearance (as did combat damage).  There were also many more survivors for players to encounter along the way, some of which played new roles in the final version of RE2.  Producer Shinji Mikami scrapped the project when it was near beta (60-80 percent completion) because he found gameplay and locations to be “dull and boring”¹.  Originally the series was supposed to end with the sequel, but supervisor Yoshiki Okamoto wanted a more open-ended series.  As a result Elza became Claire Redfield to connect to the first game and the plot was made more big budget movie style to get Capcom to the 2 million copy sales goal.  Graphics were updated, adding more polygons to each character, and items were made much more scarce to increase tension and fear.  Since it would miss the planned early 1997 release date, the Resident Evil: Director’s Cut and Complete Edition were released instead and included a demo of RE2.

Then: What I remember most about Resident Evil 2 was just how prevalent it was at the time.  That game released on almost every console imaginable and with plenty of advertising behind it.  It released in late January and thanks to my January 6 birthday I was able to get both RE: Director’s Cut and RE2 in a homemade bundle from Babbage’s as a present.  I also owned a Playstation by this point so there was nothing holding me back from enjoying the next installment to its fullest.  I even replayed the original, this time playing as Chris instead of Jill, and finally completing the game (I got the so-so ending).

Raccoon City Police Department – my most coveted location in the game

Not only was this game the sequel, it had two discs, one for each character.  Not knowing back then that the easy version of the campaign was the female’s, I started up Claire Redfield’s campaign.  Since I was playing it for the first time along with everyone else (and didn’t yet use the Internet/newsgroups for walkthroughs) I remember being extremely frustrated with this title.  Unlike the original, there was a scant amount of ammo and I wasn’t yet accustomed to dodging zombies, so I kept dying in the disorienting intro.  I’m sure critics at the time applauded the fact that your overall futility mirrored the character’s situation for immersion, but I was ticked off that every time I died I had to restart the whole game, including unskippable in-engine cutscenes.  The first game started you off with a typewriter and an ink ribbon; RE2 required you to run like hell for the first 15-20 minutes before reaching some sort of solace with the Police Department.

These guys were nastier than anything in the original

After reaching the Raccoon City PD, however, it was back to a familiar ground with an all new intriguing story.  Graphically the game was gorgeous, generating great backgrounds and high polygon renders that felt like a well-deserved sequel.  New enemies like the licker gave you a run for your money and the upgraded G-virus made the bosses and bigger uglies more mutant-like and horrifying than ever before.  Still, the game had that familiarity that I was thankful for.  RCPD was basically a bigger version of the mansion, complete with an underground passageway and subsequent lab, just like the original.  Two campaigns and branching storylines also assisted in creating that similar but different feel.  I also liked that the game ended with an obvious setup for multiple sequels.  It was satisfying, especially since that cheap opening was the only truly unfair part of the game – of course this was solely the opinion of my 16-year-old self.

Now: Ironically enough, I find the love and hype surrounding this title to be very questionable, even for nostalgia’s sake.  Back when I first got the game I merely completed the campaign for both Leon and Claire to learn the story, but I never touched the B scenarios and had no idea that Hunk and Tofu were unlockable characters.  Even with those in mind, this game is little more than the next step to what Mikami was finally able to produce in Resident Evil 3: a scenario where you’re literally running the streets of an abandoned Raccoon City.

My only guess is that RE2 was offered on so many consoles – this was the only iteration to get a port on N64, which I still can’t believe – that it’s most familiar to the largest number of players.  This campaign is predictable, short, basically the same path as the original and gets super easy at the end.  It’s one of those games that can be very difficult if you don’t know what’s coming but boss battles don’t even have me batting an eye now that I know all the little tricks.  Remember the first time you took on the big crocodile and he took thousands of hits to kill?  Man was I ticked to find out that one flipped switch and a single bullet could end him quick and easy.  To me, this game just feels too in-between so it doesn’t hold significance in any regard.  Everyone was clamoring for a fleshed out remake after the original’s release but I can’t see why it’s necessary especially considering the sequels.

This is your final boss – have fun!

Fact Sheet

  • Release Date: January 21, 1998
  • Consoles Released For: Playstation, N64, PC, Dreamcast, Game.com (modified ver), Gamecube, PSN (PSOne)

Fun Facts

  • Pre-rendered cutscenes were created using stop-motion videos of action figures and adapting them to CG.  Ada Wong’s figure couldn’t be created in time and for this reason she’s the only character not to appear in a pre-rendered cutscene.
  • Ironically, given the circumstances of the original, Resident Evil 2 was given a more gory “game over” screen in the US and was also more difficult to prevent rentals of the title.  In Japan you can’t rent games so it wasn’t a concern.
  • Director Hideki Kamiya and Shinji Mikami apparently disagreed greatly on what RE2 was supposed to be.  Mikami frequently tried to get staff to adjust the game to his liking before eventually deciding to go hands off of the title save for a once-a-month visit.  This would result in the scrapped RE 1.5, although Kamiya was still director and Mikami still producer on the finished product.
1: Various sources have been cited in the past for Mikami’s comment, mine was found in an old copy of Tips & Tricks in regards to a Famitsu interview.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 25, 2011 at 10:12 am

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