The original Resident Evil remains one of the PlayStation's most successful games. It was so popular, in fact, that it inspired a slew of similar horror-themed action/adventure games for the system. And while many would cite Resident Evil as the originator of this formula, the fact is that the lot of these games took their blueprint from a PC game, Infogrames' H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Alone in the Dark. Resident Evil 2 is no exception, following the familiar formula of suspense achieved through changing perspective and cinematic camera angles. Its PC lineage may explain why Resident Evil 2 makes a successful jump from the PlayStation, but only if you can accept some decidedly foreign design conventions inherent to console games.
Resident Evil 2 begins shortly after the first one ended. Raccoon City has been overrun by the zombies created by the unscrupulous Umbrella corporation. While the heroes of the first game are absent from the story-driven portion of Resident Evil 2, you still have your choice of two characters. Actually, it isn't much of a choice. To finish the game, you must play through each section as both characters.
Most of Resident Evil 2 takes place in the Raccoon City Police Station, where both Leon and Claire have taken refuge from the zombie infestation. Inside, you'll solve a variety of puzzles, which mostly involve finding keys to unlock previously inaccessible areas. The puzzles are simple, and you'll find yourself sliding blocks onto pressure plates and fitting medallions into their resting places. Likewise, the action, while graphic in content, is somewhat on the light side. You just point your character in the general vicinity of a zombie and fire your weapon.
Neither of these points is a criticism. Resident Evil 2 is an action/adventure that puts emphasis on neither. Instead, its strength is its atmosphere. The game is both creepy and, at times, frightening. The creature designs are good, as there are both gory scenes of zombies feasting on victims, and startling moments of creatures jumping out of nowhere.
The translation from the PlayStation is good. The character models are high resolution, though the backgrounds are a bit washed out. The movies, though well rendered, are somewhat grainy, but look better than those in other console ports like Final Fantasy VII. The PC version of Resident Evil 2 includes all the gameplay modes from both the US and Japanese versions of the PlayStation game, and there are enough extras to satisfy you if you still want more once the lengthy "original" mode draws to a close. The PC version also has an exclusive new feature, an art and model gallery that lets you see how the designs evolved. It's not vital by any means, but it's a nice touch.
The music is appropriately creepy, with sad piano music floating in and out of the game. The other sound effects don't fare as well. The groaning of zombies is creepy at first, but over time it becomes tedious and repetitive. The voice-overs are terrible, though they seem appropriate in the B-movie setting.
Resident Evil 2's origin as a PlayStation game is apparent. The method by which you save games will infuriate PC purists, as it is not only sporadic, but requires an item of which there are a limited number. This is part of the game's design, though, and it would lose much of its suspense without it. But if such conventions annoy you, consider yourself warned. If you can brave its shortcomings, however, Resident Evil 2 is good, scary fun.