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'Resident Evil 2' retrospective: Survival-horror smash turns 15

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First Released: 1998 (PlayStation)
Now Available On: PlayStation Network

Resident Evil 2 screenshot

© Capcom



Exactly what it is that makes a good sequel is a subject that has been debated since time immemorial, but Capcom is clearly an authority on the topic if Resident Evil 2 is anything to go by. This 1998 release did what any follow-up worth its salt should - improve on its predecessor while remaining true to its essence.

It's hard to believe that 15 years have passed since the game debuted on PlayStation. There have been numerous instalments in the popular survival-horror franchise since, each more technologically advanced than the last, but the original sequel remains the pinnacle of the series to many.

Although Resident Evil shamelessly pillaged Infogrames' Alone in the Dark for all it was worth, it took the survival-horror genre to new heights and its sequel raised the bar even further. Players were treated to a more cinematic experience with deeper gameplay and a storyline much grander in scale.

Like its predecessor, Resident Evil 2 took place from the third-person perspective and focused largely on puzzle-solving and tactical combat. Puzzles were either inventory or logic-based, while survival-horror staples such as conserving ammunition and health packs were the key to outlasting the oncoming zombie hordes and mutated creatures the game threw at you.

Resident Evil 2 screenshot

© Capcom



The story took place two months after the events of the first game and followed two protagonists - rookie police officer Leon Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield - as they fought to survive the horrors of Raccoon City, a community turned to hell on Earth by a biological weapon known as the T-Virus.

Taking players beyond the confines of the Spencer Mansion of the original game gave the impression of increased depth and made this a far bigger entity. There was still room for claustrophobia and good old fashioned scares when players explored the interiors, such as that doomed police station and underground laboratory, as well as grander set pieces not found in its forbear.

The inclusion of the so-called 'Zapping System' was Resident Evil 2's most significant addition from a gameplay standpoint. This enabled players to switch between Claire and Leon's story threads by completing objectives with each. Playing through a scenario with one character unlocked the option to tackle the same segment from the other's perspective, experiencing different puzzles and plot points.

As either Leon or Claire could be selected for the primary scenario, players essentially had to play through the game four times to devour all of the content it had to offer. While we couldn't fault Resident Evil 2 for its efforts to create replay value, four completions was a tall order given that some of the perspective differences were subtle.

Resident Evil 2 screenshot

© Capcom



Resident Evil 2 was certainly the sequel the fans were hoping for, but it was almost a radically different game. The initial build of the title, now commonly referred to as Resident Evil 1.5, retained the Spencer Mansion setting and had players battling plant-like monsters there. An additional playable character called Elza Walker also featured in the story.

Resident Evil 1.5 is said to have been somewhere between 60% and 80% completed by the time producer Shinji Mikami ordered the project be overhauled, claiming the locations were too "dull and boring". The original build of the game has never seen an official release despite fan campaigns, though footage and screenshots have since been leaked by third parties.

The version of Resident Evil 2 Capcom chose to release ultimately proved to be the right one if commercial success is anything to go by. Resident Evil fever proved just as infectious as the in-game T-Virus when the sequel debuted in North America to 380,000 first-weekend sales. This not only made it the fastest-selling video game of all-time in the territory, it also saw it surpass the revenue of all Hollywood movies released that weekend, with the exception of Titanic.

The game went on to sell almost 5 million copies, making it the bestselling Resident Evil title on a single platform to date. Its runaway success on the PlayStation saw it ported to PC, Dreamcast and N64, with Capcom using a compression technique to sidestep the limitations of the cartridge storage medium on the latter machine. It was even released for GameCube in 2002, by which time it was beginning to show its age.

Resident Evil 2 screenshot

© Capcom



When pressed on the matter of which is the most definitive entry in the Resident Evil series, the majority of fans would rightly cite Resident Evil 4, but the first sequel remains a solid contender for second place. Fans have been crying out for a HD remake of this one for some time, and with 2013 being the year of its 15th anniversary, we think it's about time Capcom granted them their wish.

Do you have any fond memories of Resident Evil 2? Post a comment below.

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