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FULL TILT: Capcom's Resident Evil 2 at 20

Contributed by
Feb 11, 2018

Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Full Tilt, a new monthly retrospective of iconic and influential video games celebrating their 20th anniversaries in 2018.

1998 was a banner year for the video game industry, and avid gamers were ramping up their catalogs of RPGs, first-person shooters, SIMS, and classic arcade style favorites in every imaginable genre. Faster processors and next-gen graphics engines like Unreal were steadily improving, and freshly founded gaming studios were glimpsing a glorious billion-dollar future of limitless possibilities.

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Platforms like Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and GameCube were enjoying an epic wave of advancements like the first narrative-driven shooter, the first 3D Legend of Zelda game, the first Japanese RPG, and directors employing Hollywood-style angles, editing, and more sophisticated narratives. Games developed during this period would form the foundation for modern mega-franchises like Resident Evil, Gears of War, Bioshock, Destiny, and Mass Effect. 1998 also saw the debut of Rockstar Games and the Sega Dreamcast!

First out of the Full Tilt blocks is Capcom's radical sequel to the original Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2! So grab some green healing herb (no, not that kind!) and hunker down for this nostalgic trip down memory lane to the glory years of classic video games.

SPOILERY TERRITORY AHEAD!

Back in the late 1990s, one of my favorite midnight indulgences centered around a trusty PS1 console, Entenmann's raspberry coffee cake, a frosty glass of Diet Coke, and Resident Evil 2 screaming into the night with its mutated zombie horrors as the gurgling waters of Spring Creek rushed past my rustic Colorado cabin.

Resident Evil 2, known in Japan as Biohazard 2, was a brutal survival horror amusement by Capcom originally released for the first generation PlayStation on January 21, 1998. It was directed by Hideki Kamiya, orchestrating the madness and taking the reins from Resident Evil's Shinji Mikami, who stayed aboard to oversee and produce.

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Hurried into the ravenous marketplace less than two years after the debut game, RE2 was the second installment in the now-legendary Resident Evil series, and was later ported to Microsoft Windows, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and GameCube.

It was hailed as a breakthrough chapter for Capcom, described as a perfect amalgam of story, mood, sound, scares, and music that sold over one million PS1 copies, a company record for a game sold for a single platform. RE2 went on to sell a total of 4.96 million units, bolstered by a massively hyped $5 million marketing campaign injected across a multitude of media outlets.

The narrative and gameplay follow a familiar path of deadly discovery and are set two months after the bloody events in Resident Evil, with the diabolical doings of the evil Umbrella Corporation back with more T-virus mayhem.

This time, rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy of the Raccoon City Police Department joins collegiate firebrand Claire Redfield in exploring the ruined town infested with shambling citizens who must be dispatched with no mercy. Claire is searching for her brother, Chris, a member of the S.T.A.R.S. commando squad from the original Resident Evil.

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After fleeing into the sewer system chased by hungry ex-cops, murderous monsters, and brain-eating residents, Leon and Claire are joined by a little girl named Sherry, and Ada Wong, who claims to be looking for her lab tech boyfriend. Ada is actually a spy sent in to find Umbrella's new G-virus, which mutates a human into a hideously malformed bio-weapon.

Sherry ends up being the daughter of Umbrella's chief mad scientist, William Birkin, who, jacked up with the G-virus, is mercilessly stalking our heroes around every dark corner. It's revealed that Birkin implanted a G-Virus embryo inside his daughter to preserve his work and spawn unholy offspring.

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After more madness inside Umbrella's underground research lab involving lickers, tyrants, and other sordid abominations, the horribly transformed William monster is killed by an exploding subterranean escape train and a last-second vaccine saves Sherry's life. Whew!

Like the first game, polygonal charcters are navigated through nasty nests of infected zombies, puzzle challenges, and mutated beastly bosses. Pre-rendered backgrounds provided some well-detailed building details and interior realism. Resident Evil 2 amps up the atmosphere and dread with a beautiful synthesis of all the essential components of an absorbing Hollywood horror movie.

RE2's music was composed by Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, and Syun Nishigaki, and the sensational score contains a combination of sweeping orchestral tracks, ambient electronic pieces, and suspenseful industrial passages all meant to immerse players in its unnerving environment

The climactic sequence with the final stage of the William G-Virus Monster has always felt a bit rushed, but with such an incredible story, eerie soundscape, and addictive gameplay leading up to this point, who's gonna complain?

Resident Evil 2, even 20 years later, holds up as a Hall of Fame favorite that still incites midnight chills and Diet Coke spit takes.

In 2015, an HD remake of Resident Evil 2 was announced by Capcom without the involvement of Kamiya, and development work continues on this project with no official release date set.

Where do you rank Resident Evil 2 in the pantheon of classic video games, and what was your favorite snack to munch on while trying to survive Raccoon City and Umbrella Corporation test subjects?