Love/Hate: Resident Evil 2

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the original Resident Evil 2! Often considered the best of the “classic” era of Resident Evil, its popularity has been overshadowed several times over the years – first by Resident Evil 4, then by the cult reappraisal of REmake, then by the remake of Resident Evil 2 released twenty one years later. Given that REmake 2 was the game that started this whole Love/Hate rundown of the Resident Evil series, I’ve been excited to check the original and see how it compares. Does it still hold up or, like its predecessor, is it doomed to be eternally overshadowed by its remake? Read on to find out…


  • Scale and Scope – The original Resident Evil was a rather claustrophobic, isolated, and intimate affair, taking place within a single mansion grounds in the deep woods. Resident Evil 2, on the other hand, takes the James Cameron approach to sequels – bigger and better. This game takes place in a full-on zombie outbreak in a crowded city. It feels far more like a Romero-style zombie apocalypse, complete with an opening escape sequence with more zombies attacking you than there might have been in the entirety of the first game. You also encounter survivors who actually get to do more than just die the moment you meet them, making this feel like a massive event that everyone’s struggling to survive through.
  • Everything is Improved – Rather than making a ton of repetitive bullet points for all this stuff, I really need to emphasize just how much everything has been improved in Resident Evil 2:
    • First of all, the presentation. The environments in this game are SO much more detailed than they were in the original Resident Evil. The Spencer Mansion’s environments were sparse to an extreme, whereas every frame of Resident Evil 2 is packed with details, whether these be for mood-setting, environmental storytelling, or to draw you towards objectives and items.
    • Secondly, the voice acting and writing have improved immensely. While not exactly up to modern standards, it’s passable even now, and a damn sight better than most of its contemporaries.
    • On a related note, this game’s CG cutscenes are solid and far more impactful than the laughable live-action FMVs from the original game.
    • They also didn’t waste much time improving a lot of the annoyances I had with the original Resident Evil. The new in-game map is significantly improved, actually showing you what doors are locked, colour-coding them by the key needed to open them, and allowing you to check maps of areas other than the one you’re currently in. Everything just feels like it’s faster too – stair-traversal, text scrolling, discarding useless key items, etc. I would have expected such improvements to occur over the course of a few games, but Resident Evil 2 has already improved to the point where even it makes the original game feel archaic.
  • Refined Design – I was very annoyed with how unfair the original Resident Evil could feel to a new player, especially in the early game when health and ammo are in short supply, zombies are everywhere, and there isn’t much room to maneuver around them. Resident Evil 2‘s environments have been designed in such a way where dodging zombies and Lickers is far more consistently doable, making it a far more reliable strategy to fall back on. Tying into this, this game also gives you way more HP than the original did – at one point, I took three zombie bites (which would have killed me in the original Resident Evil) without dropping out of green health. In addition, button mashing to escape a zombie grab actually works in this game and there’s actual animation and visual feedback to show that it’s working. Similarly, the game also has visual indicators to show how low your health is, so no more just dying out of nowhere – if you’re in danger, you are going to know it and try to heal ASAP.
  • RPD – Okay, I said that the Spencer Mansion was arguably the best environment in the Resident Evil franchise, but that was kind of a mistruth… because I would be the one to argue that RPD is straight-up better. It’s smaller, and we don’t spend quite as much time here, but it has a similar design where two floors are split up on each side of a central hub area. However, the biggest leg-up that RPD has is that several shortcuts are opened up as you explore the area, cutting down considerably on the amount of backtracking required to reach any given area.
  • The Story – You should know by now that I’m always ragging on how disappointing Resident Evil stories are, and I knocked REmake 2 for this very thing… but, man, I was surprised by how much more effective the story of this game is told in the original Resident Evil 2. In REmake 2, the game’s actual plot is “escape the city”, with Leon and Claire just happening to bump up against a more interesting story that’s going on every once in a while that they have no real reason to be involved in. However, everything makes a lot more sense in Resident Evil 2. First of all, it takes actual effort to tie this game’s story into the events of the first Resident Evil. Additionally, the game slowly draws Leon and Claire into the G-virus research and Umbrella politicking going on, and the way it played out made more sense to me for these characters to be getting involved in the unfolding mess. Furthermore, the A and B scenarios are integrated into the story far more organically and make way more sense as overlapping events compared to REmake 2.
  • Lickers – Lickers are easily the coolest non-boss B.O.W.s in all of Resident Evil, so I have to give major props to Resident Evil 2 for introducing them. They’re not even all that difficult to deal with here (either by avoiding them, or by blasting them with a single acid grenade round or 2-3 shotgun shells), but they are such iconic, disgusting monsters and can potentially be such a big threat that you can’t help but be intimidated any time you encounter them.
  • Impressive Gore – The original Resident Evil had some pretty gnarly PS1 gore (even if the best stuff was censored in nearly every release of the game), but Resident Evil 2 kicks it up a notch. In addition to everything that was in the previous game, you can kick downed zombies’ heads off, explosive grenades blow individual limbs off of zombies, Chief Irons gets nearly torn in half from the inside out by a G parasite, and the bowgun violently impales zombies with multiple arrows (which puts the piddly arrows from Code: Veronica to shame). Probably most impressive though is the shotgun: not only can it explode heads (like in the original), but if you blast a zombie with it, it can blow off entire chunks of their body, or blow them in half, causing the lower half to dawdle about for a moment, while the top half falls to the floor and then starts crawling after you. My jaw was on the floor when this happened to me the first time, it’s seriously impressive and unexpected in a game this old.


  • Hidden Items – This game’s more detailed environments are definitely a huge step up from the original Resident Evil, but the one big issue I have with them is that they make it a lot harder to determine where items are. The original game’s items were all pretty obvious – they were on the one table/desk/shelf in the room, or the one object in the room that was a 3D model, and were usually modelled in the game. In this game though, many of the non-key items are not physically present in the game, so you’re expected to just inspect everything to you come across to make sure you’re not missing any items. This does seem to be at least partially intentional in order to get you to investigate your surroundings, but it can also be finicky about your inputs and exact placement. I also nearly missed the grenade launcher in Claire’s playthrough, which would have made completing the game orders of magnitude more difficult.
  • Zapping System & Alternate Scenarios – I’ll fully admit, me putting this in “mixed” largely comes down to how hyped this system was for me before playing it. All through the reviews of REmake 2, old-school fans would complain that they nerfed the A and B scenario differences, that it was so much better in the original in comparison, so I was expecting some pretty big changes and for the overlapping stories to make more sense… and then my game starts and I immediately am rupturing the same water tower that Claire did to put out a fire that Claire put out, opening the same safe and locked doors, opening up the same shortcuts, etc. Maybe it’s a bit unrealistic of me to expect this to have been changed more, but it was somewhat disappointing and the unmatched hype left me deflated. That said, I will admit that the A and B scenarios are more fleshed out in the original than the remake in a couple ways:
    • First of all, in REmake 2, an A and B scenario will establish where and how the characters start at RPD, but each character’s plot will play out the same otherwise. In this game, each characters’ A and B scenarios can have some pretty big effects on how the story plays out, which bosses you fight, and what areas you end up visiting.
    • While there is a lot of gameplay overlap in the A and B scenarios in this game, it will heavily remix the order in which events play out in each area (eg, in Claire A you start out exploring the first floor wings of the RPD, whereas in Leon B you’re running around all over the second floor and east wing for the first stretch of the game).
    • In addition, this game has it’s aforementioned “zapping” system, where actions you take in the A scenario will have an effect on how the B scenario plays out. These decisions, admittedly, will barely affect how your B scenario actually plays out, but they’re a cool idea.
    • What this all comes out to is that this game incentivizes at least four playthroughs to see everything its main story has to offer, and makes each of those playthroughs feel fresher in the way it has done this. REmake 2, by contrast, crams most of the content from these four playthroughs into two playthroughs, although the second playthrough is a lot less “unique”. Your mileage will vary on which approach is better and, honestly, I don’t really know myself which option I prefer. I like to move on to new games after beating one, so I’m not going to experience a Leon A/Claire B run anytime soon. I guess it can be said that, when I do get to it someday, that experience will be more interesting, but there’s also something to be said about just getting the experience I wanted the first time around instead of having to do it all over again two more times just because.


  • No Auto Lock-On (By Default) – I was not too happy when I started Resident Evil 2, saw how many more zombies there were coming at you from all directions this time, and then realized that the game was forcing me to slowly, manually point my character at any zombie I wanted to shoot instead of automatically snapping to them like in every other Resident Evil game I’ve played to this point. However, I did soon discover that there is auto lock-on available, but that it’s found in the controls menu and has to be toggled to. This is baffling to me, why would this not be the default option? You know that there are probably a large portion of this game’s audience who didn’t discover this and ended up playing through the whole thing without it.
  • Sherry Babysitting – While playing as Claire, Sherry will follow you around during a few sections of the game. She’s helpless, so the game will make her stay at a little bit of a distance to avoid getting damaged… buuuut, she will also stop moving if you get too far away from her. What this means is that, on multiple occasions, you’re going to reach an exit, only for the game to say “I can’t leave without Sherry!” because she decided to crouch down an hide somewhere back along the route you took. It’s a minor inconvenience at the end of the day, but it is annoying regardless… and, honestly, nitpicking is about the worst that I can say, that tells you all you need to know about how good this game is.

Resident Evil 2 is fantastic. It’s a massive improvement on its predecessor and it’s easy to see why it was considered the gold-standard of the franchise for so long. It’s basically flawless for its time and I daresay that I enjoy it a bit more than its remake (although REmake 2 is certainly better in its own ways, but I’d have to give the original the slight edge overall). I wasn’t really expecting that going into this game, but it made for a pleasant surprise!

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