The Resident Evil franchise turned twenty this week. Let’s all take a second to appreciate a franchise that has lasted two decades, has not been afraid to try new things and has provided me with dozens, if not hundreds of hours of enjoyment. That’s right, this is all about me!
In all seriousness, Capcom have had some ups and downs over twenty years and have reimagined the series more times than I care to count. I think it is fair to say that most people revere the original Resident Evil for scaring the pants off us in the 90’s in a way that had seldom been done before (or since). The free reign we were given of the infamous mansion, the brain-teasing puzzles, the horrifying enemies and the astounding showdown all went in to build a game that was one for the record books. It was Survival Horror, and it owned it. Many younger gamers had their first taste of Resident Evil with the critically acclaimed Resident Evil 4. There were so many changes to the fundamental gameplay that it shouldn’t have been recognisable as a Resident Evil game but it was. Even if you had sniper rifles, machine guns and a helpful merchant who would sell weapons that only just fell just short of a Panzer Tank.
It is the general opinion of gamers that this was when the action horror genre was born, after gestating for so long, it burst through like a Plagas, but Leon S. Kennedy and the action horror genre didn’t start with the Gamecube title. It started long before that in the guise of Resident Evil 2. Finding ourselves in the zombie outbreak in Resident Evil was like a scary movie, it was like the Evil Dead. We were in the wilderness, no one knew we needed help, we were on our own with limited resources (and Bazooka if you played as Jill but that’s not helping the comparison). Resident Evil saw a special ops squad thrown into something that they should have been able to handle better than they did, I mean these guys are supposed to be damn heroes, the best of the best. How can you feel scared when you have a helicopter waiting to lift you to safety at the end of the game? When you are not alone, when to the best of your knowledge, there is a finite amount of flesh eating zombies walking around a large house? Resident Evil 2 took us from the fantasy, make-believe world of “a cabin in the woods” and put is in the middle of civilisation. An American city that teeters on the brink of annihilation and all we have, is a rookie cop and a young woman.
Resident Evil 2 exponentially ramped up the amount of danger, and in doing so it gave us more tools to combat the threats. How many thousands of zombies must be walking the streets of Racoon City? So yes, Capcom gave us a shotgun in the early stages of the game. Lickers and other BoW’s force the matter further, so we get an assault rifle, but even with the bigger guns, we didn’t feel safe. There were more enemies than we had faced before with mobs of undead choking corridors or reaching through the slanted blockade of a boarded up window. It wasn’t just a dog jumping through the glass we had to worry about (that damn interrogation room still haunts my dreams).
One of the huge factors that I feel makes Resident Evil 2 one of the best Resi games is simply this: Scenario A and Scenario B. It gave us two games in one, and not the slight tweaks we had in the previous title. It was an entirely different storyline with the same interconnecting points but it gave us perspective, it allowed us to see the game from a different angle and not just a simple easy-hard game mode setting.
I could go on for hours at the horror I had when I saw my first Licker or William Birkin morphing into an ever more mutated and dangerous beast until his humanity was lost in its entirety. I could talk your ear off on the debate as to whether I take the shotgun for an easier run through or if I skip it so I can get the special key for Scenario B. I could go on forever on the complexities of tackling a half dozen zombies in a narrow corridor or the corruption of some of the few surviving humans in the city. Resident Evil 2 was the birth of the action-horror genre, there can surely be no denying it. We were armed to the teeth: upgraded shotguns, automatic weapons and the leeway to make it all count. Our backs were only ever against the wall when fighting bosses and we had enough firepower to put them down (for the most part). It is still an incredibly tense game and one that I will admit, terrified me as a young nine-year-old boy but it lacked the utter horror aspect of its predecessor. It changed the approach, we didn’t just want a new game in a new setting with the same bells and whistles, so Capcom made a call and changed it to make it more action orientated. It was the right call as it paved the way for Resident Evil 4, not purely as an origin story for our would-be hero, but as the first mutated offspring to venture deeper into action.
Without Resident Evil 2 we wouldn’t have any of the others and it laid the groundwork for so many that followed. More ammo isn’t a bad thing, as long as there are more enemies and other threats that will keep you on your toes. The voice acting is dated now and it hasn’t aged well in terms of looks, but with a remake on the way that will soon change.
And that, ladies and gentlemen of the internet, is why we can thank Resident Evil 2, not simply for being a fantastic game, but moulding the future installments of the franchise and setting the tone of the genre. Without Resi 2, we wouldn’t have Resi 4, and without Resi 4, we wouldn’t have Dead Space. The list goes on, so in celebration of the 20th birthday of the franchise, I urge you all to go back and visit this little gem.