Capcom's Resident Evil franchise has never been a stranger to innovative ideas and taking risks. In 1998 Resident Evil 2 featured two distinctly different single-player campaigns that saw the player controlling two main characters both of which needed to be played to experience the entirety of the story. In 2019 when Paradox Studios remade the Capcom classic they didn’t shy away from the innovation brought forward 21 years prior. Revisiting RE2 for its built-in second playthrough a year after its release it was only natural for some things to feel better, and some to feel worse, but ultimately the innovation from 1998 made for a really unique way to experience a game I loved for the first time all over again.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone, welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Resident Evil 2 was one of my favorite games of 2019 really only being outdone in my eyes by Control. But while I enjoyed it a lot I only played through one of the two main characters stories telling myself I would come back and play Leon's story eventually. Well eventually finally came and now it's time for us to talk about Resident Evil 2 again.
Some elements of this video might be considered spoilers for a game that has been out for 22 years and again for another year. So…keep that in mind I guess.
For the purposes of this video please keep in mind that I did the first playthrough as Claire and the second as Leon.
A lot of the two campaigns of RE2 are the same. Both Leon and Claire have to do the medallion puzzles in the police station, both characters end up in the sewers, and both end up tackling the crisis in the greenhouse of the underground NEST laboratory. And while a lot of it is the same there is enough variance between the two that they feel significantly different enough to justify the second playthrough. Both characters have to find all the medallions but the second time through the police station the player is under the constant pressure of being pursued by Mr. X. Leon's journey takes him further underground to the jail cells in the parking garage area while Claire's path takes her up to the police chief's office where she learns of his extreme corruption. And both Characters encounter their own companion who accompanies them throughout the night. Combat and gameplay remain the same for both main characters only differing significantly when playing as either Sherry Birkin or Ada Wong. I said it after my first playthrough and it still holds true that while this might not be my personal favorite style of Resident Evil gameplay this is clearly what Resident Evil was always intended to be.
There was a lot in the second playthrough that was essentially if not the exact same as the first playthrough but some elements were better the second time through. Pacing the second time around wasn’t necessarily better or worse than the first but appropriately faster. Where the first run was slow and extremely creepy, knowing the basic idea of what was coming and when made the pacing of the second run feel much more like an action horror game as opposed to a survival horror game.
But where the Leon storyline really stood out head and shoulders above Claire's was in the characters and their development. Throughout my first playthrough, I was all about seeing Leon and Claire getting together at the end of the game. Resident Evil has always been the video game equivalent of a popcorn movie and it's only natural for the male and female leads of a popcorn movie to end up together before the credits roll. But after playing Leon's story I can't help but feel like the relationship between Leon and Ada is better developed and feels more earned. And when comparing the two campaigns there is really no doubt in my mind that I enjoyed both playing as and the story beats covered by Ada much more than Sherry. Ada had her own personality and motivation and was more than just someone for the player to protect and her presence had a much more meaningful and longer-lasting effect on the overall story.
But not everything was better in the second playthrough. Even though Mr. X's presence helped to move the pace of the game along making it feel much faster and shorter the second time through he was still the single largest detractor in my enjoyment of the game. The Police Station has always been the best environment of the game and bringing Mr. X in so early essentially ruined the enjoyment of that area. As the player explores the police station they are able to get their bearings, stock up on their weapons and supplies, and unlock new rooms at their leisure. But bringing Mr. X in so early forces that exploration to directly compete with the rushed nature of constantly running away from the tyrant. This competition forced the two mechanics to fight for their time in the spotlight and rather than complementing one another they just made for a frustrating experience.
Another way the second playthrough fell short was in the inconsistencies in the storytelling, but I do believe this was exasperated by playing Claire first and Leon second. While the storytelling in a vacuum was fine in both playthroughs when evaluated in the context of having already played one the second felt…odd. In Claire's playthrough, Birkin kills Mr. X after Sherry and Claire escape the orphanage, having already known this I told a friend of mine that was watching me play that we had seen the last of Mr. X after his encounter with Ada. But then he continued to show up. He showed up in the greenhouse, and again in for the final boss encounter. Mr. X was supposed to have been long dead at the hand…or claw I guess, of Birkin but instead, I was having to fight him on a very stupid very long elevator ride. And despite his resurgence in the NEST lab and his being the final boss Mr. X's presence was rarely felt throughout the back half of the game. While this would have been fine Leon only crossed paths with Birkin four times throughout the whole game and his story was almost entirely untold. So going through Leon's playthrough there was a distinct feeling of lacking a big bad presence in the back half of the game.
The idea of two separate campaigns was both excellent and extremely innovative in 1998, and while I appreciate the effort Paradox Studios went to in an effort to modernize the sensibilities of the original game I think that some adjustments could have been made to make the game more digestible. Whether they are offered as the default or an option a "modern" mode in which the entire story was told all in one playthrough could have been more fun to play through and overcome some of the challenges faced by splitting the game in two. If the campaign had jumped back and forth between Leon and Claire showing their progress through the night and even allowed the player to experience both Sherry and Ada's sections in the same playthrough it would have been less true to the original but avoided some of the pitfalls brought on by that format. The logical fallacies of both Leon and Claire completing the same puzzles, the absence of a villainous presence being counteracted by Mr. X being inexplicably alive in the back half of the game, and the emotional roller coaster of rooting for Leon to end up with both Ada and Claire could all be resolved by combining the content of both campaigns into one.
But the Resident Evil 3 remake is just a few months away. Originally Resident Evil 3 was intended to be nothing more than a spin-off of Resident Evil 2 built entirely around the tyrant mechanic. It wasn’t until Capcom decided that the benefit of having another numbered entry of the series come out so quickly after the original RE2 would be advantageous that the spin-off called nemesis would don the 3 moniker and the true Resident Evil 3 would become the spin-off eventually known as Code Veronica. So the follow up to my second favorite game of 2019 might be based entirely around my least favorite parts of that game. There really isn't anything I can do besides just hope that Paradox Studios takes more liberties this year than they did last year and the tyrant sequences and puzzle sections are more separated making for a more stop and go experience.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the Resident Evil 2 remake both times I played it. While the second playthrough felt more expedited and was held back in some ways by nature of it being a second playthrough, it still felt fresh and was able to provide that feeling of a first playthrough again better than most games can. So what did you guys think of Resident Evil 2 and what do you want to come after the RE3 remake? Would you rather see Resident Evil 8 or a full-on RE4 remake? Let me know in the comments down below. And while you're down there don’t forget to subscribe for a new video every week. You can see everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.