Resident Evil 2

Survival horror title reviewed

A Fearful Proposition

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Admittedly I was worried about this port. Having sat through an exhibition of how great the game was by my PSX-owning mate (that's as in "friend", not sexual in any way, you understand... erm...) several thousands of times, I wasn't entirely sure how the hugeness was going to fit into the little plastic thing. Still, wonders will never cease with this magic box of...magic...things. Anyway, all my fears were soon expelled (like a big Odour-Eater had come into the room and stamped gratuitously all over them) when I started up the console, jumped straight into the game and was mesmerised by what appeared to be a five minute long segment of FMV... on the Nintendo. FMV. Nintendo. Five minutes. This was superb, and I was amazed. Either I've been missing out on something, seeing as I was a late starter with the Nintendo and all, but I was truly astounded, I really didn't think this was possible. The short movie was the same as the one placed in the PSX version, and what the superbly rendered piece does is to set the scene perfectly, and before you even start to play the game the tentacles start to reach out of the screen and pull you into into the game's sick little world. But then I realised what Capcom had done to fit all this stuff in the cart, as I noticed quite heavy artefacting on the video, and that familiar mp3-style "warbling" on the audio samples, both the remnants of heavy compression techniques. But without getting into the piddling technicalities, I was still pretty excited by the time the opening in-game scene began and I was plopped into a flaming scene surrounded by the brain-craving living-dead.

"I live! Again!"

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When I started the game, I was given the choice of playing as either Leon or Claire (I chose Leon, natch, because he's a MAN. Like me) but the game (as well as the intro) differs a significant amount depending on which character you pick, aside from just a gender difference. There also comes the opportunity at certain points to swap between the two characters. Also, with the completion of the game, you can replay it with the other character in different twists on the scenario... this is a genius touch which extends the life of the game far beyond the one, single experience (which takes long enough). From the very start of this game, I was frankly terrified. I suppose that's what the developers were after, but surely a game shouldn't be scary as so to put me off even playing the damned thing? I'm a very sensitive person to these sort of atmospheres (as a kid, I always had my eyes scrunched shut in ghost trains and haunted houses at amusement parks) and I had the same sort of anxiety playing System Shock 2 and even Half-Life/Opposing Force, so perhaps I wasn't the best person to pick for this review... moments which genuinely made me jump out of my chair proved that I was totally sucked into the games world. Quite an achievement, then, considering I was sitting in a room full of people talking, on a big cushy armchair about 8 feet from the television - the level to which I was reluctant to go any further in the game just seemed wrong. As did my hesitation to turn the thing on just to play it.

Abandonment

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The playing areas are generally sparse, particularly in the Racoon City police station (where much of the game takes place), but are punctuated by segments of gory zombie related violence. I still seemed to spend most of my time attempting to solve the numerous puzzles (several of which you can be attempting to conquer at the same time, and are not easy in themselves without being scared witless). Never was I bored of running back and forth through areas I'd seen a lot, because the game keeps you on your toes by adding new threats in areas you thought you'd cleared. The graphics aren't too shabby - definitely as good as the PlayStation incarnation, but with the added bonus of Expansion Pak support, it really does start to look quite pretty (as pretty as half-decomposed walking corpses can, I suppose), however some niggling animations have survived the port. At times the characters "skate" across the floor and it really does dampen the atmosphere sometimes. Also the BLOODY door-opening animations have stayed. This is clearly wrong, as they were inserted so the PSX could load the next scene, but we all know the Nintendo can load them almost instantly, so why are they still there? There's nothing more irritating than being made to wait for these things to finish their run so you can actually get on with your game. Grr. In Capcom's defence, I suppose they do heighten the air of tension a little as you wonder what could be lurking in the next room. But still... we could do without, thank you very much. Another little niggle were the awkward pauses between each characters senetence during game-engine cutscene conversations. I'm not quite sure why this was happening, but it was enough to make me cringe a little. As for sound and music... well, I could hardly fault it. Aside from the slight compression artefacts, the speech was nice and clear, the gunshots were nice and meaty, and moaning was nice and... moany. Or something. The music was really quite beautiful, and I couldn't have hoped for something more spine chilling than the distant pianos and brooding strings plucking at the hairs on the back of my neck. It did seem eerily familiar to music from the X-Files, actually.

Conclusion

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To summarise, then, the game is a fantastic piece of work, and hasn't been done any less justice on the Nintendo 64 - it remains a genuinely scary, thrilling and totally engaging action/adventure. If you fancy having yourself a good month or so to finish a game in its entirety (and I'm not talking on and off gaming, here), then you can't go far wrong with Resident Evil 2, as long as you keep a few spare pairs of pants handy. Not that I... oh, never mind.

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