One month after Resident Evil was completed, work began on the sequel. As one of the most anticipated games on the PlayStation, high expectations would need to be met. During development, the difficult decision was made to scrap what had been developed so far and start from scratch, leading to a delayed release date.
RESIDENT EVIL 1.5
Taking place shortly after the destruction of the Spencer Mansion, Resident Evil 2 would change the setting from an isolated building to the heart of a midwestern American city, called Raccoon City, located near the Arklay Mountains where the original game took place. The protagonists were also new characters, replacing Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. The reason for this was to return to the sense of terror from the first game, with inexperienced characters to relate to.
Leon Kennedy, one of the protagonists, was a rookie police officer in the Raccoon Police Department tasked with defending the police station from the sudden zombie infestation. His supporting character was Marvin Branagh, a fellow officer trying to survive the disaster. He was to be playable during certain sections of the game. A scientist called Linda was also to feature during Leon’s campaign. She was an ex-employee of Umbrella, which had been defeated and shut down after the events of the previous game. Ambiguous as to where her overall loyalty lay, the decision was made to rename the character Ada, in reference to a letter and puzzle from the previous game where a character named John mentions his girlfriend Ada.
The other playable protagonist was a young college student and motorbike enthusiast Elza Walker. After returning from a holiday, she would return to Raccoon City to find it overrun with zombies, and seeks shelter in the nearby police station. Her main supporting character was a man called John, a fellow civilian seeking shelter at the RPD. His story was to have involved him finding his friend Roy, a wounded officer. John would be forced to end his friend’s life before they became a zombie. The other supporting character for Elza was a girl called Sherry Birkin, daughter of two Umbrella scientists, one of whom had created a deadlier version of the virus responsible for the outbreak at the mansion. She would also be playable during certain sections of the game.
Neither protagonist would meet over the course of the game, essentially creating two separate stories. There was various characters involved in both scenarios, such as Annette and William Birkin, and police chief Brian Irons.
Gameplay features would be improved upon from the first game. The characters costumes would sustain damage following attacks from enemies, and close range kills would leave blood stain on the characters. Their were costumes that would cause different effects on the player, such as increased inventory space or damage protection. A larger selection of weapons was available, with multiple melee options such as a lead pipe, and throwable weapons such as grenades. A larger amount of on-screen enemies was possible due to lower details and polygons on the in-game models, leading to frantic attempts at surviving overwhelming odds. Zombies were also more dangerous, now being able to climb obstacles in their path during their attempts to turn you into lunch.
When the game was between 60-80% complete, the decision was made to start again from the beginning, rendering months of game development obsolete. Producer Shinji Mikami stated this was because the product would not be of high enough quality, and found the gameplay and locations “dull and boring”. The story’s ending was also deemed to be “too final”, and a more open, ambiguous ending was instead required if the series was to continue beyond the second game. As an apology to the fans waiting patiently, Capcom released Resident Evil Director’s Cut, an updated version of the previous game which also included a demo for the upcoming sequel.
RESIDENT EVIL 2 – 1998
After a rocky start, the final game started to come together albeit with a few alterations. The most notable change was a new main protagonist in the form of Claire Redfield in place of Elza Walker. As the game would star new characters rather than returning ones, it was decided that a stronger connection would help tie the two games together. Claire would retain Elza’s love of motorbikes, but was no longer a student returning to the city. Instead, she was the sister of Resident Evil star Chris Redfield, who had disappeared prior to the events of this game. Claire had arrived in Raccoon City to look for her brother, and wound up getting caught in the outbreak of a new virus.
Like Elza, she would also encounter Sherry Birkin, whose character remained essentially the same as the daughter of two Umbrella scientists, one of which was now a mutated monstrosity searching for her. Sherry would be playable on occasions, and would form a strong bond with Claire over the course of the game as they try to escape.
However, only one supporting character would feature in each character’s plotline, and the role of John was cut. His character model would be reused as the owner of the gun shop players enter at the start of the game. His name was changed to Robert Kendo, and he would be the first human you meet on your journey. However, things do not end well for him, and his appearance in the game is very brief but memorable.
The other protagonist, Leon Kennedy, remains essentially the same as before. Whilst a rookie officer for the RPD, the introduction for him is slightly altered. Rather than already working at the police station when the outbreak starts, he instead has been transferred to Raccoon City, and travels by road for his first day working in his new precinct. He arrives just after the city has been overrun. Meeting up with another survivor, Claire Redfield, the two make their way to the police station but are separated after narrowly avoiding an out of control oil tanker.
Support for Leon would again be retained by Ada Wong, previously named Linda. No longer an Umbrella scientist, she would still be a mysterious character, with Leon unsure as to her true nature. originally assigned to retrieve a sample of the new G-Virus, her allegiances were tested as she grew closer to Leon as they progressed through the story. Whilst her tale ends in what seems like pretty deadly circumstances, she would reappear throughout the franchise’s run, most often whenever Leon showed up.
Like Claire’s scenario, there was only room for one supporting character, so Marvin Branagh was cut to a small role like John was. Marvin had been injured prior to the player arriving at the police station, and after filling you in on the back story, would force you to leave the room at gunpoint. Later, he would reappear, but his injuries lead to him transforming into a zombie in front of you.
Both Leon and Claire would encounter a few other characters, some exclusive to a particular storyline. Leon would find the journalist Ben Burtolucci hiding in a locked prison cell, whilst Claire would come across the Chief of Police Brian Irons, who has an unhealthy obsession with taxidermy, and slightly worryingly watching over the corpse of the Mayor’s daughter. Neither are met by the other character, and are involved in the build up to one of the earlier boss encounters.
Along the way, both characters bump into the parents of Sherry, Annette and William Birkin. Annette is half-crazed by the time you encounter her in the sewers beneath the city, believing you to be spies sent by Umbrella to steal the work of her husband (correct, in Ada’s case). She appears sporadically to try to shoot you, or further the plot with lengthy exposition. fiercely protective of her husband and his research, she neglects to keep Sherry safe, not realising her daughter is in danger until it is too late, leading to the maternal bond that develops between Sherry and Claire.
Her husband, William Birkin, was the creator of the G-Virus, a more potent strain of the T-Virus responsible for the events of Resident Evil. After completing work on the G-Virus, he is mortally wounded by a group of Umbrella Special Forces agents, who steal the samples from his lab under the orders of Umbrella. As his wife goes in search of help, William injects a sample of the G-Virus into his body, mutating into a nightmarish abomination and slaughtering the agents sent to kill him. It is this attack that causes the samples of both T and G-Virus to contaminate the rats in the sewers, causing the outbreak in the city above. William would appear throughout the game, mutating into a new form during each encounter, and serve as the main antagonist.
The player would encounter many enemies through the game. Zombies, dogs, and giant spiders would be creatures returning from Resident Evil, but new additions would increase the levels of fear. Chief among them would be the iconic Licker, first encountered early in the story. A skinless monster with giant claws and an exposed brain, it would attack the player with its giant, deadly tongue, which could reach a considerable distance. Dangerous up close and far away, the creepiest thing about this creature was the noises it made. A distinctive tapping sound and whispering moan indicated the presence of one of these monsters, so be prepared for a surprise attack from one of these devastatingly fast enemies.
Whilst William Birkin made up a large portion of the boss battles in the game, Resident Evil 2 also featured other stronger enemies, and are among some of the most well-known in the history of the franchise. One of these would also work as a puzzle, in which the player must use the environment to defeat the monster before you run out of space to fight it.
Like the first game, Resident Evil 2 gave players the choice to play as either main protagonist from the start. Unlike Resident Evil, the two campaigns would not be an isolated from each other, but would play out in tandem with one another, incorporating choices made by one character directly affecting the other, for instance the player could take a sub-machine gun, or leave it for the other character to collect. This was achieved through the use of two different scenarios; A Scenario and B Scenario. The player would choose the character they wanted to play as first by selecting the game disc for either Leon or Claire, and by starting a new game would play through that character’s A Scenario. Upon completing the game, the player could save their data, then switch discs and play through the other character’s B Scenario, which ensured the player witnessed the full story, including an extended ending sequence complete with new boss fights and hinting at the survival of a major character. Whilst the locations would be the same, B Scenario would ramp up the difficulty by including more enemies and tougher boss battles. Another inclusion was Mr X., a Terminator-style character who towered above the player and would relentlessly stalk them throughout the game. It would appear at different points during the story, even smashing through walls to catch the player off guard. Mr X. was incredibly tough to take down, and as he would always reappear, it was often wisest to escape his clutches rather than use up precious ammunition.
With both characters having two scenarios each, the longevity of the game was a lot higher when compared to the first game, as the player had to complete the game FOUR times to witness everything. However, even after doing this, there was more to see. If certain criteria was met, another scenario was unlocked, in which the player took control of an Umbrella Special Forces agent using the codename Hunk. Titled “The 4th Survivor”, this scenario would challenge the player to fight through increasing numbers of enemies between the sewers and the roof of the police station, as Hunk tries to complete his mission and deliver a sample of the G-Virus to Umbrella. With limited supplies and a strict time limit, this was a tough challenge for those who had mastered the core game. Once mastered, there was one more challenge in the form of yet another scenario. Following the same layout as Hunk’s scenario, players would this time control… a giant piece of Tofu. Armed only with a knife, this would be the toughest challenge available to hardcore players, and something of a myth early on in the games lifetime, as it was hard to believe you could control something as bizarre as a huge lump of Tofu.
The gameplay for Resident Evil 2 was similar to its predecessor. Featuring the same pre-rendered environments and locked camera angles, the control scheme was somewhat improved with the addition of quicker animations and an auto-aim feature. The player’s character would also show signs of damage, unlike in Resident Evil, and would have different animations depending on the severity of their injuries. Healing would again be achieved through the use of either a first-aid spray or a combination of medicinal herbs found throughout the environment. Weaponry would also be similar, with the choice of a knife, pistol or shotgun being the main choice. Also available, and new to the game, was a Magnum (in place of the Colt .45), a crossbow and a sub-machine gun. Other weapons were also on offer, contributing to a larger amount of firepower on offer to balance out the tougher challenge facing the player. Also returning was the use of various keys to unlock new areas, and puzzles involving the collection of certain pieces to continue the story. This would cause a lot of backtracking for new players as they manage the items in their inventory to accommodate everything needed.
An improvement in the character models, enemy design, special effects and script insured Resident Evil 2 would surpass it’s predecessor in almost every aspect. Replacing the live action introduction used in Resident Evil and replacing it with a computer generated FMV cinematic helped to introduce the right tone to the audience, and was amongst the most impressive seen at the time of release.
Another aspect that blew my mind at the time was the transformation scenes involving William Birkin, which were both disgusting and fascinating in equal measures, and the fact they were performed using the in-game engine was all the more astonishing. The environment was a departure from the original game, but still felt linked to it. The police station was gothic in style, harkening back to the Spencer Mansion, whilst both games would feature an underground laboratory owned by Umbrella, with the one featured in Resident Evil 2 covering a much larger area.
The soundtrack hit all the right notes to keep the player on edge constantly, get their adrenaline pumping during frantic periods, and to convey the emotions in certain cut scenes correctly. The acting was superior to Resident Evil by miles, with the main characters performances standing out the most. With less cheesy quotes, the characters felt more believable and you found yourself invested in their plight, eager to see what would happen to them and if they would survive.
Resident Evil 2 would later be ported to various other systems, but the original Playstation release stands out as one of the defining chapters in video-game history. Not only was it a sequel that improved upon its predecessor in almost every aspect, but was also regarded as one of the best games of all time when it was released. After a troubled production, the wait was definitely worth it, and in my opinion, Resident Evil 2 is still one of the best games, one that is an essential part of any gamer’s collection. With a remake having been confirmed to be in development, the 1998 release still holds up to this day, so it will be interesting to see how the remake fares. The remake to the first game was incredible, but can Capcom improve upon an already near-perfect game?
Following the success of Resident Evil 2, fans were eager to get their hands on more undead-action. However, the next game would not be a continuation of Leon and Claire’s tale, but involve a returning character as they attempted to survive the same outbreak in Raccoon City…