You'd expect Resident Evil 2 on the Nintendo 64 - a port of a game that came out nearly two years ago on the PlayStation - to feel dated. Heck, the third game in the series, Resident Evil 3 Nemesis, was released on the PlayStation two weeks ago, and the fourth installment, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, is due out for the Dreamcast in Japan in a few months, with a US translation trailing only a bit behind. Somehow, though, RE2 doesn't feel old or tired at all. And it's as impressive today on the N64 as it was in January of '98, when it first debuted on the PlayStation.
Part of that is due to how impressive it is as a port. The game takes the contents of two PlayStation discs - including all the FMV sequences and the bonus Hunk and Tofu missions - and fits it into one 512-megabit N64 cartridge, which ends up being twice the size of The Legend of Zelda cart, for the record. The only thing missing in this edition is the extreme-battle mode from the Dual Shock edition of Resident Evil 2 on the PlayStation, but the omission is made up for by new features, such as a randomizer (which shuffles items around after you've played the game through once) and files (which you can find to learn details about the Resident Evil story, some of which have bits that tie in with Resident Evil 3 Nemesis and Resident Evil: Code Veronica). You can also change the blood color from red to green or blue, or set the violence to low, medium, or high.
Sure, and the gang's all here. You play as Leon Kennedy, the rookie cop who has reported for his first shift on the day the T-virus outbreak turns the whole town into zombies, or as Claire Redfield, who has come to Raccoon City to find her older brother, the male lead from the first Resident Evil. To make matters worse, the creator of the T-virus has developed a more perfect virus, which he ingests when the nefarious Umbrella Corporation sends in troops to steal it from him. (In the process, he's become a monster that could even give RE's Tyrant pause). Yes, as either character, you end up in the middle of company politics and a lot of sharp, gnashing teeth.Resident Evil 2 on the PlayStation was full of moments that made you sense that something was going to pop out and attack you (and invariably, something did as soon as you stopped expecting it), and that's reproduced perfectly here. The sound effects are fantastic, whether it's the moan and shuffle of a zombie that's just around the corner or the crunch of your footsteps as you step over broken glass. And save for a slightly tinny quality, the sounds and the dramatic score of the game are just as good on cart as they were on CD.
The graphics are even more of a wonder. If you use the N64 expansion pak, the visuals are bumped into hi-res mode, making them look even better than those in the PlayStation version. But even without the pak, they're still very impressive. Sometimes, the backgrounds look washed out while the characters remain brightly hued, making them stand out strangely, but it's a very rare occasion when that happens. The game's frame rate also slows down a bit when numerous monsters are onscreen at once, but not enough to affect gameplay. And though the computer-generated FMV sequences look grainy in comparison with the PlayStation version, they still look fantastic considering the cart format.
Of course, the same complaints relevant to the PlayStation original still apply to the N64 version. You'll find that the camera is your worst enemy: When you move into an area of the room that you hadn't been able to see before you'll get ambushed by several zombies that were standing just into the next screen. Or when you're blasting away at a boss or sub-boss, the recoil of your weapon will knock you into another screen, and you'll get killed because you don't know which side you're going to be attacked from. And you'll continue to believe that the strange inventory system should've long since been changed to something more like Diablo's "smaller items take up less space/big items take up more space" system.
But even with those few detractions, Resident Evil 2 is still as much an experience as it is a game. A huge improvement over the first title, RE2 succeeds in making you feel as though you're in the middle of a horror film - one in which you'll jump many, many times. If you've already played the PlayStation or PC versions of RE2, there's really no reason to buy this game, but for N64 owners who haven't tried yet, it's an absolute must-have.