Resident Evil 2 Story Recap: Everything You Should Know Before Playing The Remake
By Phil Hornshaw on
A Long History Of Evil
Resident Evil's story might seem simple at first blush: Evil corporation develops virus that turns people into monsters; virus escapes. But years of sequels, prequels, and retcons have changed the details pretty significantly. Yes, much of Resident Evil is still about an evil corporation, its zombie virus, and the struggles of some really unlucky people to survive attacks from tons of ridiculous monsters, but it's also littered with twisted characters, horrifying creatures, and complex conspiracies.
With Resident Evil 2 remake now available, there's a lot of story to revisit--from the remake of Resident Evil, from Resident Evil Zero, the GameCube prequel that added a whole lot of Umbrella-centric details to the lore, and from Resident Evil 5, which filled out Umbrella's history even more. Whether all that stuff will change as more and more Resident Evil games get the remake treatment is anybody's guess, but for the time being, the convoluted story of Umbrella remains canon.
Here's everything that happened leading up to the Resident Evil 2 remake, and everything you need to know to navigate the halls of its maze-like story. Also be sure to check out our Resident Evil 2 review to see what we thought of the new game.
The Founding of Umbrella Pharmaceuticals
The evil Umbrella Corporation got its start when three rich guys--Oswell Spencer, Edward Ashford, and James Marcus--decided to start a company. It all began with Spencer, who in his early life stumbled on a description of an African flower called Stairway of the Sun that supposedly had powerful properties. Spencer, along with his university friend Marcus, eventually set out to try to find the Stairway of the Sun flower in 1966. They discovered it, and the rumors were true: the plant contained an RNA virus that could be used to genetically alter other organisms.
Together with their buddy Ashford, Spencer and Marcus started Umbrella to give them cover to research the virus, which they dubbed Progenitor. The three men thought they could use Progenitor to turn humanity into a race of super men to remake the world into one they would rule. They founded Umbrella Pharmaceuticals to fund their research toward that goal. The three founders weren't always in lockstep, however, and each started pursuing his own agenda.
Project Wesker And The T-Virus
Spencer wanted to use the Progenitor virus to usher in a new era of humanity through eugenics, with himself as its ruler. To that end, he created Project Wesker, a research program to create new superhumans using the virus. The project kidnapped hundreds of children, with the plan of guiding their upbringing and brainwashing them to be loyal to Spencer. They were also eventually infected with a strain of Progenitor in order to speed their evolution. Many of the Wesker children died from the exposure, but a few survived. One of these children was Albert Wesker--more on him later.
The Umbrella founders started using Progenitor to create biological weapons they could sell to the U.S. military, while continuing to fund their even more evil eugenics endeavors. They also grew to distrust each other, often hiding their Progenitor research from one another. Ashford built a lab in Antarctica, but he was the weakest of the virologists, and he worried the other two founders would push him out of the company and the new world order they were creating. He was right: Spencer had Ashford assassinated in 1968. Ashford's son Alexander, a geneticist, continued his work for years, away from the rest of Umbrella.
Umbrella built underground labs in the Arklay Mountains outside of Raccoon City, a town in the Midwestern U.S. Marcus ran one, which also included an Umbrella training facility he was supposed to run. Spencer commissioned a mansion to be built atop the second underground lab, one that was full of esoteric locks, puzzles, and maze-like corridors to confuse (and maybe kill) anyone not authorized to be inside. When the mansion was completed, Spencer had the architect and his family killed in order to hide its secrets. The architect's daughter, Lisa Trevor, was kept alive as a human test subject, and Umbrella experimented on her for decades.
Marcus eventually made a breakthrough in turning Progenitor into a weapon. He created the T-Virus, a version of Progenitor that wouldn't just kill anyone infected with it, but would mutate them into hideous creatures and turn them murderous. That made the T-Virus both effective as a weapon to eliminate a population, and capable of easily spreading. The trouble was, in any given population, about 10 percent of people were naturally immune to the T-Virus. In order to make sure nobody could escape a T-Virus deployment, researchers at the mansion facility started creating B.O.W.s, or Bio-Organic Weapons, which were mutated creatures that could be used to hunt down and eliminate survivors and other targets.
Over time, the remaining two founders of Umbrella started to become more and more suspicious of each other. At the same time, Albert Wesker, who had studied to become a virologist, and Dr. William Birkin rose in the ranks of the company at Marcus's training facility, and started working closely with Marcus.
As time went on, Marcus started experimenting with using the T-Virus to mutate and enhance leeches, and using his own staff as research subjects. He became a greater and greater liability, and eventually, Spencer decided to have him killed, too. Spencer ordered Umbrella soldiers to assassinate Marcus, with Wesker and Birkin aiding the betrayal and stealing Marcus's research. But Marcus had created one last creature, the Queen Leech. When the traitors dumped Marcus's body at a nearby sewage treatment plant, the Leech was dumped with it. The Queen Leech survived and spent years consuming Marcus' body and brain, which caused it to absorb his memories. After years, the Queen Leech began to believe it was a reincarnated Marcus, and hungered for revenge against Spencer, Wesker, Birkin, and Umbrella.
Marcus's facility was pretty much abandoned for years, while Birkin and Wesker continued his research. Wesker also had another role: he infiltrated the Raccoon City Police Department, where he became the leader of the S.T.A.R.S., or Special Tactics And Rescue Service, created by Chief of Police Brian Irons.
In May 1998, strange murders began cropping up in the Arklays. Umbrella facilities in the area had started to suffer sabotage, which included a T-Virus containment failure at Spencer's mansion facility. As a precaution, staff weren't allowed to leave or contact the outside world, and T-Virus infection began to spread through the lab.
The outbreak at the Spencer mansion facility allowed infected dogs to escape into the forests around the facility. The bodies of hikers and some Raccoon City residents were found soon after, and the crime scenes suggested the killer or killers had eaten the victims. The incidents seemed perpetrated by cannibals or even a cult, and were horrific enough to draw a lot of public attention.
In July 1998, under pressure from the media, Irons and Wesker dispatched the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team to the mountains to investigate the murders. But discovering the murderers wasn't Wesker's mission: Instead, he had instructions from Umbrella to enter the mansion facility and salvage B.O.W. samples from the lab and destroy it. In the meantime, he was supposed to use the S.T.A.R.S. to gather combat data on the B.O.W.s in the facility, while also eliminating any witnesses.
Resident Evil 0
The exploits of Bravo Team are the subject of the 2002 prequel game, Resident Evil 0. Bravo headed out into the mountains by helicopter, only for a mechanical failure (the result of sabotage by Wesker) to force them to make an emergency landing. Trapped in the mountains, Bravo Team started its investigation anyway. Instead of heading to the Spencer mansion as Wesker had intended, however, the group discovered an abandoned military convoy, with documents inside suggesting the vehicle had been transporting Billy Coen, an accused murderer. With the soldiers escorting him now dead, Bravo started to suspect Coen might be the killer they were looking for.
While most of Bravo wound up at the Spencer mansion, rookie Bravo Team medic Rebecca Chambers, one of the player characters in Resident Evil 0, discovered a stopped train, the Ecliptic Express. Boarding it, she discovered that its passengers were all dead--and then started to come back to life as zombies, thanks to the T-Virus. Escaping the creatures, Rebecca discovered Coen hiding on the train. The pair decided to work together to survive whatever was happening.
Since the Spencer mansion facility was being destroyed, Wesker and Birkin had sent the train, filled with Umbrella researchers, to restart work at Marcus's former facility, which hadn't been in use since his death. But the Queen Leech, which was responsible for the other attacks and sabotage at Umbrella facilities in the area, attacked the train and killed everyone aboard. After the Ecliptic Express was stopped, Wesker and Birkin dispatched Umbrella soldiers to restart it, but they were attacked and killed by the Queen Leech too, sending the train careening toward the Umbrella facility. Rebecca and Billy managed to slow the train down, surviving the crash. The incident made it clear to Wesker and Birkin, finally, that Umbrella was being attacked--ostensibly by the dead James Marcus.
Rebecca and Billy eventually destroyed the Queen Leech and escaped, while Wesker and Birkin separately activated the facility's self-destruct system and wiped out the T-Virus and the creatures there. Rebecca released Billy, whom she now believed was innocent, and maintained that he'd been killed. She went looking for the rest of Bravo Team; her search soon took her to the Spencer Mansion, where things got even worse.
That brings us to the start of the original Resident Evil. Back in Raccoon City, Bravo Team had been missing for 24 hours. Wesker, still playing the role of the leader of S.T.A.R.S., took its Alpha Team via helicopter into the mountains to search for their comrades. The squad included the player characters, marksman Chris Redfield and former cat burglar Jill Valentine, as well as weapons expert Barry Burton. The team landed in the mountains, but were promptly attacked by dogs infected by the T-Virus. The team's pilot, Brad Vickers, panicked and lifted the helicopter away, forcing the team on the ground to retreat into a nearby structure: Spencer's maze-like mansion facility.
The team worked their way through the mansion in an attempt to escape, fighting off the zombified staff, various experiments and research subjects (including the hideously mutated Lisa Trevor), and B.O.W.s created specifically to kill them. Along the way, they discovered some Bravo Team members, including Rebecca Chambers, and learned details about Umbrella's plans and programs. When they found Bravo Team's captain, he told them he thought there was a traitor in the unit, but Wesker killed him before he could definitively identify the S.T.A.R.S. leader as an Umbrella operative.
Meanwhile, Wesker forced Burton to lure the remaining S.T.A.R.S. into various traps by threatening Burton's family, while he continued to gather combat data from the team's encounters with B.O.W.s. Unbeknownst to the rest of Umbrella, the incident the day before with the Queen Leech had caused Wesker to decide to steal B.O.W. samples and data and leave Umbrella for a rival company. After he was revealed as a traitor to the remnants of Alpha Team, Wesker unleashed Umbrella's most powerful creation, the Tyrant, on the S.T.A.R.S. However, as soon as it was released, the Tyrant promptly killed Wesker.
Redfield, Valentine, and Chambers fought the Tyrant and managed to escape the facility before it self-destructed, thanks to Burton's help and the timely return of Vickers. What they didn't know was that Wesker had also survived. Guessing he wouldn't be able to control the Tyrant, he'd infected himself with a prototype T-Virus strain before releasing it, which allowed him to live through the Tyrant's attack and escape the facility before its destruction. Umbrella thought Wesker died in the mansion, which aided his plan--but he didn't manage to make off with what he'd hoped to steal.
Back In Raccoon City
The remaining S.T.A.R.S. managed to return to Raccoon City. Despite what they learned, their unit was disbanded and their investigation squashed--and no information about what Umbrella had done leaked out to the public. While the S.T.A.R.S. have gone their separate ways, Jill Valentine is still in Raccoon City. What happens to her there is the subject of Resident Evil 3, but we'll save that story for another time.
That brings us to September 1998, two months after Resident Evil and Resident Evil 0, and the start of Resident Evil 2. Raccoon Police Department recruit Leon S. Kennedy is on his way to the city to join the force. At the same time, Claire Redfield, Chris's sister, is headed to Raccoon City to find her brother, whom she hasn't heard from in months. Both have no idea what to expect in Raccoon City.