Initial Opinion: Resident Evil 2 is an old favorite from the PS1 era, one of a few non-SquareSoft PS1 games I still have the discs for. I have an unbalanced level of familiarity with the game on account of numerous plays of early stages but maybe one full clear. The Raccoon City Police Station remains one of my favorite areas in gaming. I haven’t touched this game in at least a decade.
Resident Evil 2 stands with one foot in the old ways of doing things. It’s a game designed to be repeated. You’re supposed to do it at least twice, once with each character, and it’s built under the assumption you will make mistakes in resource and inventory management, so that the next time you’ll get it right, get the faster clear, the better grade. It’s a game of refinement and mastery.
RE2 has an emergent difficulty scale, trusting the player to customize the experience on their own. You can make it as risky or risk-free as you wished. If you don’t want to worry about saves, save whenever man! Want an easier time? Use the expanded pack and the easy mode weapons, it’s cool. You’ll get a D at the end, but you don’t care about that anyway. Just don’t be wasteful with your ammo and healing. That’s on you. The game can’t help you there.
There’s always credit due to a game that assumes failure and provides tools to improve, instead of assuming success and throwing out band-aids when you fail.
RE2 is a strange mix of unforgiving and forgiving, but only within its own rule set. Granted, it certainly doesn’t tell you what some of those rules are, and many of game’s under-the-hood mechanics remain completely obfuscated. You have to go to the old standard: Reading about what others have discovered. But even with everything clearly stated, there’s still a sense of wonder about it, making you look at the game’s mechanics in a new (and optional) light.
Then we have the structure, a sort of broad linearity in level design. The correct sequence of puzzles and rooms is largely fixed, but you’re given some degree of freedom to discover that sequence on your own. Then you play it the second time and everything’s been remixed. The same rooms and mostly same enemies, but a refreshed experience. There’s a pleasing sense of (re)discovery about it. It’s all very clever and elegant in its own way.
The later RE games are ridiculed for their nonsense plots about Bio Organic Weapons and an increasingly ill-defined legacy of the Umbrella corporation/conspiracy, to say nothing of the suspension of disbelief shattering connections between the various characters and villains. The groundwork of both is right there on the screen in RE2. Looking at it now, seven mainline games later, it’s less a feeling of “This is before it all went wrong,” and more, “Oh, it was always going to go wrong.” People always say Resident Evil has gone off the rails, but upon replaying RE2 I don’t think the series was ever on a rail in the first place. There’s a sense there was never a grand plan of the overarching RE plot. Each game just took their initial conditions and made of them what they will.
However, the VO remains charmingly terrible in a way only 90’s VO can be.
Updated Opinion: While much of the game is no longer as mystifying as it was in 1998, I came away with a greater appreciation for the way Resident Evil 2 is put together. It’s much cleverer than I remember, and this replay has only increased my reverence of it. It’s still a complete gem once you get over the somewhat painful character models and, ah, traditional controls.
I played the ‘Dual-Shock Edition’ PS1 discs on a PS3. My ClaireA clear was a C/5:19/19 Saves and I was halfway through LeonB as of this writing.