(Nintendo 64)

Resident Evil 2 (Nintendo 64)

Game Review

Resident Evil 2 Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Zach Kaplan

The horror continues

Leon Kennedy's having a tough first day at work. As with every new job, there are new people to meet and new challenges to face – namely, zombies and killing said zombies.

Capcom's Resident Evil 2 follows two concurrent storylines: that of Leon, a police officer, and Claire Redfield, who's in town to investigate the disappearance of her brother Chris of Resident Evil fame. It's a good thing that she's got those fighting Redfield genes, too as they'll both be on their own after a zombie-piloted 18-wheeler crashes into their vehicle in the streets of now-infested Raccoon City.

You begin here, surrounded by zombies and cornered against a burning wreck. You're thrown right into the action as either Leon or Claire, and it's a while before things calm down. You're not exactly knee deep in the dead, however – for every incorporeal alley there's a creepy uninhabited lane, and every seemingly safe spot is nevertheless suspect, so you're always on edge. The zombies aren't always standing around waiting for you, either – you might walk in on a group of them in the middle of a fleshy meal, or they might burst through a window to come after you just when you thought you were in the clear. You'll quickly grow attuned to listening for their shuffling steps when you enter a dark alley, but even when you're mostly certain that an area is empty, you'll still doubt yourself and tread carefully. Even gunning foes down is somewhat unpredictable, as you'll learn the first time you shotgun one in two, only for the top half to start crawling across the floor in pursuit.

Two major factors help drive the nightmarish feeling that follows you. The first is the soundtrack, the distant moans and haunting music of which still have the power to disturb. Capcom knew how to implement silence as well: when startled by an especially gruesome monster scuttling past a window in the direction in which you're headed, as you freeze in terror you'll become at once aware that no music is playing; a paralysingly still hush surrounds you, and you'll only have the sound of your footsteps to keep you company as you proceed toward the inevitable horror.

The other main ingredient is one with which some have taken issue, though without it the atmosphere would feel far less threatening: the fixed camera. This ties into the game's notorious use of pre-rendered backgrounds – imagine photographs plastered over every surface of every area. As the system simply reads these as flat images, the designers could make them as detailed as they liked within the limits of image capturing. This has a two-fold effect. A lot more detail is visible than would otherwise be technologically possible, and its high level, quite impressive for the PlayStation original, has been slightly enhanced for the Nintendo 64, even moreso if you're utilising an Expansion Pak. On the other hand, surfaces are completely non-interactive and while you'll still be able to pick up items and examine specific areas, it never gets any more complex than that. There's also the much-maligned downside of the limited view: you're often only able to see a portion of each room at a time, and as you cross into hidden territory the view will switch, like a closed circuit security system. There are a few rare times when you'll get cocky and rush smack into a zombie, but this will only put you on your guard and heighten the tension even more. There's nothing much creepier than hearing a moan and a shuffle and having no choice but to move toward the unseen threat, or listening to a nearby dripping or scuttling sound that you can't yet identify. Indeed, the narrow hallways you'll traverse give the adventure a claustrophobic ambience, and the limited view augments this to quite creepy effect.

Dread is your constant companion in Resident Evil 2, and the designers skillfully combine all of the aforementioned features to give every room and moment its own personality. Who could forget the feeling they experience upon entering the police station for the first time, the synthesised chimes and organs filling the air of the capacious lobby with a sense of looming danger as the ominous angelic statue rises up to greet them? What about the strange, dark back corner decorated by a fireplace and cluttered with unused equipment, a bizarre satanic painting of a hanging nude above? And the towering wall overgrown with infected plant life? Every minute detail adds up to create a tone that stays consistent from location to location while remaining fresh and tensely exciting throughout.

While the graphics definitely show their age today and some of the enemies are resultantly less horrific (though the sinewy Licker is still pretty disturbing), it was quite a feat to fit all of the elements – complete cutscenes included, though sometimes with a slightly less crisp look than in the PlayStation original – on a Nintendo 64 cartridge. All in all, the game maxes out the available space with a bulky 64 megabytes, crammed down from the PlayStation's original two-disc set without any of the load times that made Miyamoto averse to the optical format for so long.

Another way in which the presentation shows its age is in the oft lamentable script and voice acting. Though there's nothing too laughably dreadful in this iteration, the characteristically bad timing, cheesy writing and big, swooping arm gestures can easily take one out of the moment. It never ruins the experience, but it's certainly unfortunate that this area of the game suffers so much as to make its shortcomings so notorious.

The action is split between exploration, fighting creatures – usually with a gun – and puzzle solving. The designs of the latter are by no means Layton-worthy, however, as the mind games are rarely more complex than pushing a box or searching for an appropriately shaped object to fit into a crevice. Your limited inventory will tax you more than this as you'll always have to consider what's important enough to take with you and what you must leave behind in spacious storage chests, each containing what you've placed in the others rather than holding their own unique stashes. There are instances when you'll miss a clue and subsequently run around exploring the area for the overlooked item, but Resident Evil 2 won't trip up the average player too much in this area.

The police station is where you'll spend the majority of the game, but these are no ordinary headquarters. The chief has a soft spot in his heart for decorations that suggest the demonic and occult, and the spooky building itself is quite reminiscent of the original's mansion, complete with a library, a darkroom and a clock tower-esque attic. You'll start on the streets and eventually proceed past the station to further locales, however, and the entirety is pretty vast if not exactly sprawling. Unfortunately, the map system leaves something to be desired as there's no key to remind you where you've been and where to go next or what each colour entails.

That's not to say that the game suffers for replay value. There are two difficulty modes, Easy and Normal, and they're so far apart that each is like its own unique game. In Easy, after you master a few strategies you can get through the quest relatively painlessly, though that's not to say it's a cakewalk; there are still plenty of challenging and moderately difficult areas. When you enter a room of zombies, being the good gamer that you are, you can comfortably finish them all off and rarely have to worry about ammo – at least, that is, once you get used to keeping your eyes peeled for boxes of bullets. When playing as Leon, you start out here with a handgun loaded with 18 bullets, a knife and 120 extra shells. Normal mode, on the other hand, simply furnishes you with the first two items, and it doesn't get any easier from there. Enemies are tougher and more numerous, ammo and health are more difficult to come by, and you're wounded more easily. This changes not only the game's difficulty but the player's mindset. You can only eliminate the most dire threats as one bullet can mean the difference between life and death, and you'll spend more of your time running away than standing your ground and fighting. Evasion is a must, and it makes everything much more tense and scary. Ink ribbons, which are required to save your game, are also fewer, a genius move on Capcom's part – you'll most likely barely notice their limited quantity in Easy mode, but in Normal, each one is precious. This means that you'll accomplish a great many challenging feats between saves, so if you die, you lose even more progress than you otherwise may. Everything becomes more important, the tension mounts, and all the atmospheric features that work so well in Easy come alive and teach you the true meaning of "survival horror."

As mentioned previously, the game tracks two concurrent stories – Leon's and Claire's – and both of these are unique enough to warrant exploring both. You'll meet different characters, use different weapons, solve different puzzles and take different routes, though most of the terrain is the same. Both stories inform each other as well, and you're able to play one after the other, some of the actions in your first run-through affecting the events of your second. But there's more – things change dramatically during your return trip as a brand new enemy, the seemingly indestructible trench coat-clad tyrant, will stalk you throughout your quest and serve as a mini-boss who you'll face multiple times and who will add an all new dimension of terror. There are plenty more scares as well, with more Lickers dropping from more ceilings and zombies appearing in places where before there were none. Altogether, then, that makes for eight unique ways to play. There's also the unlockable 4th Survivor mode, which lets you battle your way through a portion of the setting as Umbrella agent HUNK, and the even more secret Tofu Survivor mode that has you go through a similar experience as a knife-wielding block of the titular food product.

Angel Studios, now known as Rockstar San Diego, included a few unique extras for the N64 port that extend the game's life even further. Though the other versions have some extras not featured here, like the Extreme Battle mode, you can unlock an item randomiser as well as alter the graphics for a slightly more family-friendly zombie slaughter, changing the level and colour of blood splatter. While at the time of the game's release some considered this semi-censorship an outrage, today it makes for just one more way to customise gameplay, albeit slightly. Load times are much reduced thanks to the cartridge format, and this version boasts surround sound support, missing from the PlayStation original.

Throughout the game you'll pick up documents that tell the story of the zombies' origin and the backdrop of the nefarious pharmaceutical corporation Umbrella's greed and corruption. It fleshes out the universe and makes everything feel more real and captivating. Unique to this version is the inclusion of the EX Files, a new batch of these documents that better link the plot with Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and Code Veronica while adding another layer to the tale detailing more minute accounts of the former lives of Raccoon City. By no means Pulitzer-quality writing, it's still quite enjoyable to read the back-story of the gun shop owner or of the shame-filled cop who was too afraid to save his heroic friend. Some will feel compelled to collect every bit of documentation and learn as much of the story as they can, and for them, the inclusion of these 15 scraps make the Nintendo 64 release the definitive version of Resident Evil 2.

One cannot talk about the early Resident Evil titles, however, without mentioning what are popularly known as the tank controls. They are what they sound like – you move like a tank. You can turn while walking straight, but your precision is severely limited, and in order to alter your angle more sharply you must be standing still – which will certainly hamper your experience as you clumsily pivot in place during tense situations, trying to turn and face your attackers. After getting used to this, which actually isn't very difficult at all, one might wonder why everyone makes such a big fuss about the scheme. They'll only have to face a corridor of leaping, bounding zombie Dobermans to find out why as their turning speed will nowhere near match that of their attackers. The Nintendo 64 version of the game alleviates this a bit with the addition of what it calls first-person controls: here, you move your character relative to the camera, with the ability to face any direction without all of that awkward pivoting. This is a huge improvement, but the slow pivoting returns when you aim your weapon – in other words, when you need quick-turning the most. Lock-on aiming controls are also included, but these aren't always precise (not to mention taking away the surprise of finding out whether a zombie is alive or dead by being forced to walk past them – instead, you can just press the auto aim button and see if your gun detects an enemy). On a related note, you thankfully don't have to be the best shot to defeat your foes, so the cumbersome controls shouldn't upset your aim too terribly. There's also no way to reload with the press of a button, instead being forced to wait until your ammo runs out or combining it with your weapon on the inventory screen. All in all, the controls are problematic and sometimes frustrating, but experience will alleviate most of these issues and all in all the much maligned system is nowhere near a deal-breaker.

Conclusion

Dread and looming terror accompany those who explore the haunting, unique, blood- and personality-soaked locales of Resident Evil 2. Its once-stunning graphics show their age a bit and the controls take some getting used to, but beyond its niggling flaws lie a game that will keep you entertained for a very long time, featuring what amount to eight unique ways to play and a storyline that, while paling in comparison to some narrative-heavy games of today, will still draw you in and keep you and captivated from beginning to end.

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User Comments (31)

lockelocke

#1

lockelocke said:

it's a brilliant game, no doubt. But I think the ps1 murders the n64 version in terms of visuals. Either way, like I said, it's a brilliant game. Much more action packed than the first.

Sabrewing

#6

Sabrewing said:

I really can't see how "file collectors" will be swayed to pick up this version as the "definitive" cut. The DREAMCAST port of RE2 is by and large the definitive version.

WaveyChristmas

#7

WaveyChristmas said:

This was easily my most anticipated PSOne title, i was extremely excited for Resident Evil 2, since my love for the original was bug nuts. :D Once I got my hands on the RE2 demo disc for the PSOne I was blown away, and the actual game definitly delivered, but I prefered the Mansion over the Police Station, and in no way was RE2 creepy and I just was never a big fan of Leon or Claire....Not to mention the actual theme for the Police Station and the Save Room theme are incredibly depressing, at least for me anyways.lol

It's still easily one of the best RE sequals in my books. But ya, I never actually played the N64 version...Odd that it doesn't look as good. Was it less detailed or something? After all, the N64 was known for it's blurred/fuzzy texturing.

madgear

#8

madgear said:

Sabrewing - I own both the Dreamcast version and the GameCube version but I've failed to see any difference between them other than the fact the Dreamcast version is on two discs. Surely that makes the GameCube version the definative one?

WaveyChristmas

#9

WaveyChristmas said:

And the fact that the Dreamcast doesn't have a Component connection, which gives the GCN version superior visuals, AND you can play the GCN version on your Wii ;)

Still, I wouldn't want to use an Analog stick to play these titles, the original PSOne(none dual shock) is the best fit.

Sabrewing

#11

Sabrewing said:

Except the GameCube port is based on the PSX Dual Shock version, so it's missing a few extra things from the DC port -- image galleries and such. Plus any person worth their salt has a VGA box for their Dreamcast.

Zach

#12

Zach said:

I really loved having the "full" story and wouldn't have been happy with any version without the EX Files, so for a file collector like myself, and I imagine other file collectors like myself, this version was the definitive version. This will not be true of people for whom component cable graphics are more important, or Extreme Battle Mode, or Hard Mode. Certainly different versions of this game were more or less comprehensive than others, and the Nintendo 64 had aspects missing, but for people like myself, those aspects are less important. For others, this will not be true, but I hope I made that clear in the review. As for not looking as good, it does look as good, and better, than the PSX version, though some detail had to be sacrificed in some of the cutscenes - which most will not even notice - and the graphics that were impressive yesterday are not as impressive today, obviously, so there's that. Well, I hope that people are enjoying the review otherwise. Thanks for reading.

DarkLloyd

#13

DarkLloyd said:

Re2 is definitly my favourite game, perhaps cuz it was the first in the series i played long time ago but after playing them all its still my favourite but then came re0 i somehow declared that was my fav but i cant remember

but maybe i'll just put 0 as my second fav

Objection

#15

Objection said:

@Koto-yup, just one. Also, for the record, there was an RE game for GBC too, Gaiden in 2002.

IIRC, the Gamecube version of this is a near-exact port of the Dreamcast version.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#18

Philip_J_Reed said:

I've never played this one, but eventually I will have to get my hands on it. Great writeup, Z-Money.

Ristar42

#20

Ristar42 said:

@madgear - but the PAL Gamecube version is 50Hz (I think, if I remember right!). The Dreamcast also uses the visual memory to show you your health and how many shots you have left, nice extras so... Dreamcast for me!
Either way though, Resident Evil 2 is a great game, however you play it.

Chris720

#23

Chris720 said:

RELEASE THIS ON VC CAPCOM!! NAO!

I've never been a "fan" of the RE series, I'll play them now and again, but they're just a bit too creepy and satanic for my liking. :/

But they sure do get your heart pounding, almost like your gonna have a heart attack.

CanisWolfred

#24

CanisWolfred said:

I'm still thinking they don't want to put a game out on the market when it will cost 4 dollars more than what it already costs on PSN. People already screamed like a banshee when they priced Resident Evil: Director's Cut at $9.99.:P

Slapshot

#25

Slapshot said:

Great Review Zak!

Resident Evil was phenominal and RE2 bettered nearly every aspect of the game. Regardless of what system you play it on, the games are a must for any survival horror fan. RE2 is just one of those games that stood out from the rest, right there with the original Silent Hill wich scared the crap out of me! :O

MeloMan

#26

MeloMan said:

Amazing how many folks didn't know this was out of N64, lol... I guess it was slim pickin' back on the N64 days, so if anything MOVED during that time, I was on it, lol. The one thing I liked best is the option to run around with full 3D control rather than tank controls if you so chose. The bad part was that they lacked the frames of animation to move certain ways and would move jerky, but boy did it save my hide time and time again, lol.

This is also special to me in that it was my entry into the RE universe... yes, the N64 version of all things.

And the grainy-ness and general sucky-ness of the graphics was due to the game being 512MB, a massively (and believe it or not, weighty) cartridge and trumped Zelda OoT's 256MB cart... FMV had to be supremely compressed as a result. I think it was the biggest N64 cart... NL, any thoughts on that?

leon_x

#27

leon_x said:

@MeloMan: Conker's Bad Fur Day also has 512MB.

My favorite games of the series. I prefer it over the PSOne version for its full 3D control, randomizer and more detailed graphics thanks to the expansion pack. Too bad the FMV were so compressed.

TYRANACLES

#28

TYRANACLES said:

Grrr Im guessing they wont release this one on VC because of its size and I just cant pay $30 for the cube version. Capcom still has soo much to give. Fewer 1 game releases each week would be pretty nice.

Objection

#29

Objection said:

I saw this for $12 at my game store recently and foolishly didnt get it. I hope its still there next time I go!!

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