Like any good Resident Evil villain, Resident Evil 2 refuses to stay dead. If you missed the headlines, Capcom producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi recently posted a video to the official Resident Evil YouTube channel exclaiming "WE DO IT!" in celebration of RE2 being approved for an HD remake. This should come as no surprise, as RE2 is considered to be one of the series' best entries. But even the best games have their drawbacks. Let's take a trip back to 1998 and the release of this survival horror gem to see what complaints critics launched against this classic.
Reading over reviews from GameSpot, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Nintendo Power, and others, the consensus for Resident Evil 2 can be summed up with that exploding head guy from GamePro's review scale. People loved this game with a fiery - nay, explosive - passion, hoisting it up as a sequel that improved upon everything that made Resident Evil great. From the stylish, pre-rendered backgrounds to the spooky sound design, critics were near unanimous in what they liked, and disliked, about RE2. Let's dive into the game's biggest detractions:
Resident Evil 2 is a good reminder that - even back in '98 - clunky tank controls were never, ever fun. "The play control hurt me more than any zombie," Nate Bihldorff wrote in his Nintendo Power review, "but it's part of this type of game." John Ricciardi echoed this sentiment in the pages of EGM, stating, "The control is still a bit annoying, but improved, and the whole atmosphere more than makes up for it." Surprisingly, GamePro's Major Mike praised the controls, but noted the "absence of a custom controller configuration" as the only thing keeping "RE2's controls from earning a perfect score."
With only a few precious slots for weapons, healing items, random keys, and more, Resident Evil 2's inventory system vexed reviewers to no end. "The menu system still sucks," said EGM's Dan Hsu, "but everything else is just about perfect." However, it was GameSpot's Ryan Mac Donald who truly took umbrage with this system. "You must mindlessly keep bringing items to and retrieving them from these 'magical' storage bins that somehow share contents with aother [sic] bins," he wrote, "and always seem to be really, really far from where you are. If realism is what the developers were shooting for...then you should have the ability to set items down wherever and pick them back up again at your leisure."
Awkward controls and interface woes were definitely the top complaints, but a few called out some of RE2's puzzles as well. From GameSpot's Ryan Mac, "Some of the puzzles just seem a little out of place and might make more sense in a different setting...a police station that has a room with three large statues, one with a ruby in its hand, and some sort of pressure-sensitive floor that triggers the ruby to fall out of the statue's hand? C'mon!" IGN's Rick Sanchez had the opposite problem, adding "The puzzles are better paced, but less interesting than in the first game, posing little challenge to the experienced adventure gamer."
These criticisms - in particular awkward controls - have haunted the Resident Evil series, and it's interesting to see how Capcom's efforts to correct them eventually drove it in a radical new direction. In Resident Evil 4, Leon returned faster, stronger, and more responsive than he ever did in RE2, but the game still managed to balance that control with the haunting, isolated dread indicative of the Resident Evil series. This balance was lost in the games that followed, which gave you even greater control over your heroes, transforming the RE cast into monster-slaying superheroes.
Fixing a clunky control scheme or inventory system shouldn't come as the expense of what made this series great. Critics adored Resident Evil in spite of its issues because of the terror and anxiety it instilled in them. And they loved RE2 because its improvements built upon the game's strengths. As Shawn Smith wrote in EGM, "With this upgrade though, not one ounce of that 'Resident Evil' feel is lost. If anything, the enhanced big screen style gives you that much more of that feeling." Hopefully, the RE2 HD will remind us why we fell in love with this series in the first place.
Sources: GamePro (March, 1998); Electronic Gaming Monthly (March, 1998); Nintendo Power (November, 1999).