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Resident Evil 2 - Banner Leon & Claire

Resident Evil 2: Horror and Action in one Scary Package

We tested Resident Evil 2 on Shadow

February 21st, 2019 ago

Several generations of gamers have had their first taste of Resident Evil 2 thanks to Capcom's latest remake, following in the footsteps of its predecessor back in 2002.

Beneath the visual overhaul and modern bells and whistles lies a title that, at the turn of the millennium, sowed the seeds of long-term change in the identity of the Resident Evil franchise.

The year was 1996. Resident Evil had recently hit shelves, and even though it borrowed heavily from Alone In the Dark, it built upon the nascent survival horror formula enough to set a new benchmark.

Shinji Mikami, the Director of Resident Evil, was verging on rock star status. Then his Japanese publisher decided to promote Mikami to Producer on Resident Evil 2. That gave him more responsibility, but less influence over the game. In his stead, Capcom took a gamble on a young man who joined the company as a Planner in 1994, something of a jack-of-all-trades. His name was Hideki Kamiya, and he was about to change the face of Sega.

Fear of the Dark

Kamiya's appointment as head of development on Resident Evil 2 triggered a first shift in the evolution of the franchise. The basics of the game stuck close to that of its forerunner - fixed camera angles, screen-by-screen progression, tank controls, combat sequences interspersed with reflective moments - certain nuances distinguishing Kamiya's vision from Mikami's in the original had already started to show.

For Shinji Mikami, fear is something to be suggested and rarely made explicit.

During the development of the first Resident Evil, due to the technical limitations of the era (you couldn't render dozens of zombies in game in 1995) Mikami continued along the path forged by Alone in the Dark. Using all available avenues, he wanted the player to be terrified by what they couldn't see, to sense an intangible threat.

Consequently, he manipulated camera angles so as to lend more weight to what was off screen. The atmosphere was tuned, and the musical score expertly interwoven with silence to unsettle the player. With scares layered long minutes apart, he made ammunition scarce to ramp up the anxiety of the next encounter.

Mikami's brand of fear builds progressively, behind the scenes, by way of staging that could almost be described as intimism. Naturally, Resident Evil 2 inherited some of these characteristics. Yet the distinct style of Hideki Kamiya was already starting to reveal itself. Acclaimed for his later work on Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, he favored a more vivid, visual approach to survival horror, going to even greater extremes and even flirting with the action game genre.

Resident Evil 2 - Leon steht Zombies in einem Bus gegenüber.

Mikami's Second Bite

The dual-director partnership would have substantial impact on the development of Resident Evil 2. Shinji Mikami started out involving himself--somewhat intently--in the creative process, leaving the teams at loggerheads between his direction and that of Kamiya. As a result, he chose to step back in order to help them bring an initial iteration to fruition. The game unfolded like its older sibling in Raccoon City, hit by a second epidemic, and two new characters would be introduced: Leon S. Kennedy, the rookie cop; and Elza Walker, a student back in town to visit her family.

Don't Remember Elza Walker?

Understandable. She didn't make it into the release version. At the end of 1996, when the first prototype--preserved as Resident Evil 1.5 for posterity--was 70% complete Shinji Mikami abruptly decided to abandon it. He said the story wasn't strong enough. The environments were sterile, far removed from the handsome setting of the first installment.

Worst of all, Resident Evil 1.5 wasn't fun. It just hadn't come together and the team went back to the drawing board, now with the help of writer Noboru Sugimura, who would later pen the story Onimusha. Sugimura. Sugimura took charge of reconciling the team's ideas in favor of a more cohesive script. Elza was to be replaced by Claire Redfield, the sister of Chris, hero of the original Resident Evil, in order to tie the two games together.

It was then that Kamiya conceived one of the defining features of his game, called Zapping. Resident Evil 2 would present the same story from two different perspectives, those of the two protagonists. Their paths would cross at several points during the adventure. This proved to be ground-breaking for the era.

Resident Evil 2 - Artwork Leon & Claire

Resident Evil 2 Remake - Leon and Claire

A Twisted Formula

Twenty years after its release, despite having sold millions of copies, Resident Evil 2 is rarely recognized as a major step in the evolution of the series. Nonetheless, it earned Hideki Kamiya his stripes.

Spurred on by the sequel's commercial success, Capcom entrusted Kamiya with a new team. Along with several others, he was tasked with developing a proposal and proof of concept for a future title in the franchise.

Intended to be set aboard a cruise liner, his project missed the boat with Playstation and ended up being set aside. It was only a matter of time, however, before Kamiya definitively stamped his trademark on the series.

With a different prototype for Resident Evil 3, Kamiya was reassigned. He was chosen to develop the first Resident Evil for 128-bit consoles. Even though he eventually handed the reins of its development, Kamiya would set a radical new course for the franchise.

In 2004, Resident Evil 4 put us back inside Leon Kennedy's head, yet the game's DNA had mutated into a third-person shooter. It was more dramatic, more intense, and, more chaotic. Resident Evil 4 set a new standard for the series and horror-genre alike using the over-the-shoulder camera style.

It was Kamiya who created the blueprint for the modern incarnation of Resident Evil, both for better--resident evil 4--or for worse, with Resident Evil 5, and 6.

Overwrought, twisted beyond recognition and unbalanced to the point of no longer inspiring fear, this template has nevertheless been dusted off for the remake of Resident Evil 2. There were high expectations around Resident Evil 2. People wanted something modern and smooth, but most importantly: a terrifying experience. A few weeks after the release of the remake, it's safe to say he delivered.

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