COPS AND SLOBBERS
From petrifying precincts to slavering Lickers, we revisit Resident Evil 2’ s original incarnation
Police stations are pretty freakin’ scary. Boxy interrogation rooms that exist solely to intimidate. Cells full of prisoners who want to show off their body art. Considering their purpose is to process society’s criminal element, it’s only natural the average cop shop is scarier than any haunted house. Now imagine how much more terrifying a regular precinct would be if it were stuffed full of the undead, had a giant alligator prowling around its sewers, and slavering monstrosities scuttling across its ceilings. Resident Evil 2 turned 20 earlier this year, and Capcom marked this milestone by finally giving us the first glimpse of the upcoming PC, PS4, and Xbox One remake. You’ve just seen how the gorgeously gory, reborn horror icon is shaping up over the last few pages. And now we’re here to celebrate PS1’s original survival horror sequel in all its gruesome glory; a game that, alongside Final Fantasy VII, Gran Turismo, and Metal Gear Solid, established Sony’s debut
console as the must-have gaming machine of the late 1990s.
Like James Cameron’s Aliens, Resi 2 took the terrifying core of its predecessor, then spread the scares out onto a wider canvas. Whereas the original Resident Evil confined Chris and Jill to the claustrophobic corridors of Spencer Mansion, the sequel drops you into a city overrun by the undead. Granted, you only spend a few minutes on the streets of Raccoon City before being funnelled into RCPD headquarters, but as an opening salvo, the citywide outbreak showed Capcom was committed to creating an ultra ambitious follow-up.
Zap of honour
Enter the ‘zapping system’. A strange term coined internally at Capcom, it actually refers to Resi 2’s pioneering dual campaigns. Both Leon S Kennedy and Claire Redfield are granted an A and a B scenario, and what happens in one character’s playthrough is saved to your memory card, subsequently affecting the next. For example, the relentless T-00 Tyrant – or Mr X, to his victims – stalks you throughout the B scenarios because Capcom wanted to combat the complacency that came from finishing the A playthrough by introducing a near-unstoppable enemy. Looking back, it’s clear this sparked the genesis of Resident Evil 3’s utterly terrifying Nemesis. Cheers for that, X.
In an age where people were even more obsessed by the lengths of games than they are today, these crisscrossing campaigns were instantly celebrated. Surprisingly though, key members at Capcom were initially against the zap-happy antics. Noboru Sugimura, the writer of Resi 2, was one such cynic. “To tell you the truth, I was
“took the terrifying core of its predecessor, then spread the scares out onto a wider canvas”
actually opposed to the zapping system,” he told JP Games Magazine back in 1998. “I knew how much work it was going to be to weave together multiple narratives… but [Hideki] Kamiya wouldn’t back down.” Thank the horror heavens the game’s director didn’t budge.
Intriguingly, the Raccoon City spook-’em-up you know so well was originally a much different beast. A month after the launch of the original Resident Evil in 1996, a team of over 50 developers began work on a follow-up. Provisionally titled ‘Resident Evil 1.5’, this ultimately scrapped project differed from Resi 2 in key areas. For one thing, Umbrella had been shut down in 1.5, while Claire Redfield never existed. Instead, Leon would occasionally team with a college student, called Elza Walker. Whereas Claire had a ready-made dramatic arc tied to finding her brother, Elza was merely holidaying in Raccoon City. Mercifully, the game was scrapped even though it was 70% finished, which ultimately led Capcom to redesign the sequel as the petrifying police station frightfest you adore.
Not that the RCPD’s home is even remotely like an actual precinct. A labyrinthine structure that can be as opulent as it is ghastly, it was once an art museum… which explains those fancy ceilings. After Umbrella took over the building, it installed sinister underground labs to develop the G-virus in, then paid off the corrupt Chief Irons after the po-po moved in. Regardless of its overwrought origins, it’s one of the most evocative environments to ever grace PlayStation.
While Spencer Mansion remains Resi’s most iconic locale, Raccoon City’s police station is a close second. It’s a complicated, twisting structure filled with elaborate key puzzles, devious traps, and a horrid sewer system where rhino-sized tarantulas roam. By mixing the banality of a normal precinct with gothic stylings, Capcom created an environment that constantly kept you off balance.
As survival horror settings go, they don’t come much more tightly terrifying than this. Whether you’re being pecked to bits by crows in a partially collapsed corridor after a helicopter crashes into the side of a building, or barbecuing a monstrous moth with a flamethrower in Umbrella’s frosty cold storage labs, there’s so much more to Resi 2’s police station than initially meets the eye.
Even though zombies are ostensibly the stars of the sequel, it’s the Licker that nabs the limelight. An appalling cross between what looks to be a skinned gibbon, a frog, and possibly some sort of sturdy dog breed, these elastic-tongued
“when it comes to standout scares, resident evil 2 is top of the decomposing pile”
abominations replaced Resi 1’s athletic Hunters as the series’ deadliest foe.
The introduction of this monstrosity is superbly handled. While everyone talks about that doberman smashing through the window in the original’s standout jump scare, the Licker is debuted in similarly nerve-shredding style. During Leon’s A scenario, shortly after he enters the precinct, the rookie cop passes a large, rain-lashed window. As he does, a shadow darts past outside, its form obscured by rain. It’s only when you’re in the next corridor, a distant, spine-tingling groan and the pitter-patter of dripping blood greeting Leon, that Kennedy comes face-to-face with the Licker.
The next shot, all exposed brain, sinew, and sticky saliva, as the beast hovers above him on the ceiling, is perhaps the series’ most iconic. Spend a second too long drinking in this G-virus monstrosity, and the terror will use its scythe-like claws to decapitate the policeman. Who said the fourth game’s Dr Salvador had the final word on Resi beheadings?
Lick of the bunch
Over the course of both Claire and Leon’s scenarios, dozens of moments rival the Licker’s unveiling. Watching a helpful gun store owner being eaten alive by a pack of shamblers. A brief playable cameo from scientist-turned-secret-agent Ada Wong. Mr X barging his way through a wall. That Licker one-way mirror scare. A mutated William Birkin trying to skewer Leon on a tram ride. Blowing up a giant ’gator (see ‘What A Croc!’). When it comes to standout scares, Resident Evil 2 is top of the decomposing pile.
While not as seismic as either the debut of the original, or the release of Resi 4, Capcom’s first zombie follow-up had a big impact when it launched in early 1998. With PS1 at the height of its pop-culture-courting powers, the buzz around the game was immense. So much so, the late, legendary George A Romero directed Resi 2’s commercial. As for the legacy it passed onto future games, its trench-coat-sporting tyrant not only inspired Resident Evil 3’s titular Nemesis, it also ensured Resi 4 had a broken-in hunky hero to take its rebooted limelight.
The fact Capcom is releasing a remake of Resident Evil 2 speaks volumes for not only the PS1 classic’s enduring appeal, but also the reverence Capcom treats the original with. If the current-gen redux can capture half the magical terror of Leon and Claire’s 20-year-old frightfest, horror fans are in for one hell of a treat this January.
Even 20 years on, Raccoon City’s police department is still a wonderfully chilly (if tad blocky) location to shred your nerves in.
Mr X is a constant Terminator-esque nuisance throughout certain of the game’s scenarios. Even grenades barely slow him down.
Just like the ones in the original Resi, the sequel’s puzzles can be a little obtuse. What are we supposed to do with those dratted gears again?
The Lickers may be fiendish, but a couple of well-placed shotgun rounds will usually put the drooling abominations out of action.