Resident Evil 2 is an amazing horror sequel, and an immersive, mysterious venture into the darkness of Raccoon City.
Resident Evil had a story that took many twists and turns but was ultimately very self-aware and cheesy. It wasn't really a game about story. Instead, it was about soaking up its fantastic atmosphere and presentation. Exploring the mansion was tense and lonely, and meeting up with characters felt like a safe haven. This is the strength that Capcom sticks to. This time involving two new characters - Leon Kennedy, a rookie cop for the Raccoon Police Department, investigating the city - and Claire Redfield, a college student looking for her brother, Chris, one of the protagonist's of the original. A disaster involving a biological weapon called the T-virus has turned the community of residents into zombies, creating a panic across the country. It is up to Leon or Claire to explore the city and discover the secrets of the event.
Resident Evil 2 nails its presentation, thanks to its solid FMV cinematics that are a true reflection of what Capcom is going for in the series. The writing is unsurprisingly camp, but it wouldn't be Resident Evil without it. As for the visuals, Resident Evil is still working with pixely animations and effects, but the pre-rendered environments are great. The FMVs look good and the overall style is perfect for this world. As for the sound, the voice acting is over-the-top and the dialogue is cheesy, but not as much as the first game (Jill sandwich, Chris' blood?). The music is absolutely brilliant and really adds to an already fantastic atmosphere. The audio cues of enemies, the growling of zombies and unsettling use of music in specific areas combine to create a tense, immersive horror world.
The gameplay in Resident Evil 2 can best be described as a survival horror action-puzzle hybrid with some light platforming elements. It feels like an adventure game in the back-tracking, item-collecting sense, and this approach to the series is what makes it engrossing. The game is built around finding items, defeating enemies in the way of the objective, using those items, and venturing back and forth between collecting and exploring. Exploring more of the world will net you items such as ammo, herbs and first aid sprays, which are useful for later (and progressively tougher) encounters. The system may sound jaded, but its very effective and actually something you won't mind doing. It is certainly methodical, so trigger-happy gamers definitely need not apply.
The shooting elements revolve around the zombies and other enemy types of the game. The zombies are scary and fighting one and one is the way to go. Slow, patient gunning is important, but seasoned gamers will likely avoid fights in order to conserve their supplies for the long road. This aspect of choice is surprisingly exciting. It gives an added layer of player importance, as your actions may effect the likelihood of taking down a boss later on in the game. Save rooms, scattered around the world, are very well laid out and effective. As before, this is a safe haven from outside threats, and the momentary respite is both rewarding and relieving. These rooms contain item chests, too, where new puzzle objects can be placed and swapped for weapons, ammo or health items. It's this resource management that really sells the role-playing aspect of Resident Evil 2. There is no RPG aspect to the game per se, but your choices are important and using ammo and items sparingly is vital to your future successes in the game.
The puzzle design of Resident Evil 2 is slightly easier than what we saw in the original, but the puzzles are more fun to me. They are smart, require some brainpower and are rewarding, making you feel happy upon completion. The puzzles aren't frequent, but they placed in the perfect locations in the game and arrive at the best of the times. Most puzzles may require items that you may have collected from earlier, so venturing back to chests is rewarding to overting the challenge. There is a slight issue I have with this aspect, but its more of a personal one. I wish some of the puzzles were harder. I like to think of myself as a big Resident Evil fan, and I wish some of them perhaps incorporated elements that require prior knowledge, for example scouring the environment, reading pictures and photos, and having that knowledge effect the basis of the puzzle.
The shooting mechanics work just about the same as Resident Evil, but here they feel a little quicker and more effective. Swapping out weapons and manually reloading is easy, and finding ammo is a great feeling, and blasting zombie heads, limbs and legs off is satisfying, and blowing away some of the later enemies is rewarding, but the gameplay has some imperfections. The controls aren't mapped to any scheme other than the D-pad. This is okay, but if you are utilizing a DualShock, the analog sticks are rendered useless. This is a shame, because it would have made the controls a lot smoother, but the controls thankfully aren't bad in any way.
Also, the camera still has issues. If you back up to a wall or staircase when facing zombies, the camera will omit the zombies from vision, and you'll be shooting randomly at nothing. You have to wait a while until they come into view, which can be annoying. Also, for some, entering every room, walking up every staircase and picking up every item involves loading screens. I don't mind them, but some may find these to be exasperating, especially considering the frequency of exploration.
The inventory system is solid, but has its own problems. Only nine items can be carried at any one time, and finding new items means walking back and forth between safe rooms in order to free room in your inventory. This can feel tiring, especially if you find important items to advance the story. However, those who explore enough will find a solution to this problem, but for most, its a troublesome one. Next, the map isn't all that useful. I saw it once in a whole playthrough, and even that was a mandatory scene. It's there, but I didn't need it at all, so it felt unimportant.
There are also some breaks from the usual zombie killing, and thats with new enemy types. There is a creepy creature called the Licker, and these fights are tense. The cerberus dogs return from the original and there are some poisonous vine plants that provide a stiff challenge. Add to that some awesome boss fights, good enemy design and creepy environments, and you can see why Resident Evil 2 is a brilliantly atmospheric adventure.
The game has a lot of replay value, too. Once you complete either Leon or Claire's game, there is a scenario "B" to play, which is essentially a second playthrough with totally different item locations, new and challenging enemies and different places to explore. This is awesome, and increases the replay value immensely. Also, there are special bonuses and unlockable depending on your rankings. Upon completing the game, you'll be rewarded with grades based on different categories: completion speed, number of saves, items used and more. If the highest rank is achieved (S), you can unlock special weapons like rocket launchers and miniguns, along with an infinite supply of ammunition, which is cool. You can also acquire different costumes and weapons if you explore the world and its intricacies.
Resident Evil 2 is a triumph of a sequel. Despite the marked deficiencies, the frequency of their obtrusive nature may ultimately depend on the gamer. Despite a wobbly camera (literally), and some issues with gameplay systems, Resident Evil 2 nails its puzzles, atmosphere and presentation, and is ultimately an amazing follow-up to an innovate kind of survival horror.
Presentation 9.0 - The presentation is top notch: good FMVs, great atmosphere, solid (if limited) item management and immersive environments.
Graphics 8.5 - Great pre-rendered backgrounds, with some great creature designs.
Audio 9.0 - Though the voice work is a bit campy, the sound effects and music are fantastic.
Gameplay 9.0 - The gameplay issues notwithstanding, Resident Evil 2 nails its exploration, boss fights and great puzzles.
Replayability 9.0 - Resident Evil 2 lies on the strengths of its great second scenario playthroughs, multiple character and weapon unlocks and more.
Overall - 9/10