Resident Evil 2
The horror, the horror
Moaning zombies! Exploding heads! Murderous genetic mutations! Bad acting! It can only be Capcom's Resident Evil 2, and now, more than 18 months after it spewed blood over PlayStation owners, it makes the jump to the tombstone-like slab of an N64 cartridge.
Since N64 owners have been denied a chance to witness the events of the first Resident Evil game. Resident Evil 2 has some extra files lying around the place that help fill in the history. The overall villain of the whole series is the corrupt Umbrella corporation (don't you love it when the Japanese just apply English words at random?), which has been experimenting rather sloppily with viruses that can alter the genetic make-up of living beings. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that almost every human that comes into contact with the virus turns into a flesh-eating zombie!
The first game focused on a pair of cops, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, who uncovered Umbrella's plot and had to battle way to safety through an army of zombies. Now, the heroes are Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, a rookie cop having a miserable first day on the force and the sister of Chris paying him an unexpected visit respectively. It's up to them to escape from the zombie-filled environs of Racoon City (more great Japlish) and do what they can to stop the Umbrella conspiracy from opening wider.
For a long time, naysayers insisted that it would be impossible to transfer Resident Evil 2 to the N64, simply because of the size of the game - the PlayStation version came on two CDs, or a hulking 10400Mbits in Nintendo terms - that's the equivalent of over 160 carts the size of Super Mario 64! Yet the game is all here. Developer Angel Studios has taken a pint pot and managed to squeeze a supertanker into it.
Impressively, the game contains all c the PlayStation's FMV cut-scenes - and that's quite a lot. Even with a massive 5i2Mbit cart to play with (that's a whopping 64Mb, or the memory of a typical modern PC) the footage has had to be massively compressed, which often results in graininess and major pixelisation, but it's still dear enough to show you all the gory, nasty details.
Resident Evil 2 is played out with polygon characters superimposed over pre-rendered backdrops. If you have an Expansion Pak, all the characters are in hi-res, but the backgrounds stay the same whatever mode you're in. As for as we could tell, the N64 version of Resident Evil 2 is an exact translation of the PlayStation game, I with a couple of extra features added to I keep people on, their toes. The compression used to fit all of the backgrounds into the cart does give an odd Scooby Doo kind of look to things - all the polygonal characters and objects stand out a mile from the slightly blurry pre-rendered scenery. On the plus side, it makes spotting objects easier.
Dawn of the Dead
The biggest change in gameplay - and a most welcome one - is the addition of a proper analogue control system to the game. Although you can play with the PlayStation's d-pad move-rotate-move system if you want, the 'first person' (actually nothing of the sort) method is a lot better. It does take a little practice to get used to it, because the system that the programmers have used to deal with changes in camera angles as you move about a room isn't always 100 percent effective, but it's massively superior to the digital control once you get the hang of it. Dodging crowds of zombies is no longer the nightmare it was - now you just point the stick in the direction you want to run, and leg it!
There are initially two ways to play the game. At the start, you get to choose between controlling Leon or Claire. Leon's mission is slightly harder, because Claire is able to carry more items, and also has a lockpick that she can use to get extra first aid sprays out of locked cupboards. Their missions are also slightly different, the two meeting different people along the way.
Capcom calls the Resident Evil games 'survival horror', which in practice means they're adventure games with a lot of fighting and the occasional shock moment. If you're not expecting the latter, they really do make you jump - we can vouch for that! Helping the atmosphere enormously are the sound effects and music, which create an uneasy feeling that something horrible is about to happen. It's a technique that's been utilised in films for decades when directors want to get the audience shivering with anticipation for the next fright, and it works just as effectively on a videogame.
The adventure part of the game comes from the numerous puzzles that have to be cracked to open up new areas. If there's one area where Resident Evil 2 suffers, it's here - in a game where such effort has been put into making everything feel realistic and creating a suitably unnerving atmosphere, the realisation that the puzzles are as contrived and illogical as anything you'd find back in the days of text adventures on the ZX Spectrum is a bit disappointing. Having to find hidden jewels and medals to unlock doors almost feels out of place. One moment you're blasting zombies in the face with a shotgun, the next you're poncing about pushing statues onto pressure pads.
Fortunately, the game as a whole is strong enough to overcome this annoyance, and also the terrible acting in the plentiful cut-scenes. Even so, one missed opportunity with this cartridge- based incarnation of the game was the chance to fix the long pauses in conversations as the PlayStation loaded in each piece of speech from CD. It might have meant having to re-time the animation in the cut-scenes, but it would have avoided the inadvertently comic Pinteresque pauses when characters talk. "Take this!" Pause "But-" Pause "Go now!" Very long pause until your character twigs that the object being thrust into their face is actually a gun and not, say, a piece of cheese
Gore and horror are what the Resident Evil games built their reputations on, and N64 Resident Evil 2 lives up to the family motto of 'Goreus Maximus Splattus'. If you're a wuss, you can lower the level of violence (within limits - firing a crossbow into somebody's stomach is hardly a caring act, even if the victim is already dead) and change the colour of the blood to green, or even blue for that aristocratic feel. Hey, they've got to do something now the House of Lords has been dumped. However, any normal person will instantly whack the violence level to full and the blood to the reddest of all reds so they can play the game as Its makers truly intended.
Zombies are everywhere, but luckily they're neither smart nor quick on their feet. They can take up to eight pistol shots to put down for good, though, so it's often to your advantage simply to dodge them and save ammo. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other enemies, and they're not as easy to get away from! The giant spiders lurking in the sewers are probably the most unpleasant monsters on the N64, and they're by no means the most deadly creatures you'll encounter.
This is a game that offers a lot of challenge. Even If you know exactly where everything is and can take out each monster with the minimum number of shots, completing the game will still take you over two hours. First-time players can expect to multiply that estimate by at least five, and can also expect to have their character tom to pieces and eaten at regular intervals. Completing the game isn't enough, though - to get the 'good' ending you have to have already beaten game characters, and then play through it again - this time with the vital objects you need scattered throughout random locations! We didn't have time to find out if the two secret characters (Hunk and Tofu) are in the game, but since everything else made it across from the PlayStation we're pretty certain that they are. That's a future Scorezone challenge sorted out, then!
Resident Evil 2 is not just a great game, but also proof that the N64 can do the supposedly impossible when developers put their minds to it. Fitting a two-CD game onto a single cart is an incredible achievement, and N64 Resident Evil 2 plays exactly the same as the PlayStation game - it even has a few extras. It's also a very welcome move away from the legions of character-led platform games that have recently been infesting the console, giving gamers the chance to play something a bit different. Given the choice of fighting cartoon crocodiles by bombarding them with fruit, or blowing the living dead clean in half with a 12-bore and having their rotting torso keep crawling after you, there are plenty of people who would much rather do the latter.
Sure, there are some people who'll complain that the backgrounds aren't as sharp as they should be, or that the speech is rather tinny; but since it's a choice between either compressed audio and video or no game at all, that's a pointless argument.
What you get with Resident Evil 2 is not only the best version to date of a fantastic game, but a new N64 title with enormous longevity, vast challenge and enough brain-exploding gore to choke Jason Vorhees. So it's a PlayStation port, and a fairly old one at that. So what? It's also an absolute must-have game. If you're old enough to buy it, buy it. If you're not, get someone else to buy it for you and 'assure' them you'll play it with the gore turned off. What better way could there be to start a new century than with gored and blood-soaked ultra-violence?
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**When Capcom revealed that they'd decided to join Nintendo party, we were pleased. When they told that their first game on the N64 would be a Tetris game starting Mickey Mouse, we were a little disappointed. It was a bit like booking David Bowie to play at your birthday party, only to be disappointed by him performing only his 'fantastic' new material. **
Thankfully, by the time Magical Tetris Challenge appeared, Capcom had come to their senses, and proceded to port their hugely successful Resident Evil 2 from the PlayStation to the N64/ It was always going to be a huge undertaking, especially as the plan from the start was to squeeze everything –including the game's impressive pre-rendered cut-scenes- into a 512Mbit cart. Have Capcom managed to puli it off? Read on to find out…
Until Leon takes the train to the Umbrella Organisation's secret laboratory, the Raccoon City Police Station is where much of Resi 2 takes place, with new areas of the cop shop opening up as you solve puzzles and find keys - think of it as a smaller, zombie-infested, indoor version of Zelda's Hyrule Field if you like. At first the number of cryptic messages, hidden jewels and keys in the police department seems to stretch credibility - but a twist in the tale late in the game reveals that the officers of Raccoon City aren't quite as innocent as they seem...
Resident Evil 2 utilises the expansion pak, and to stunning effect. With enhanced visuals, the real time 3D of Leon and his zombie friends is virtually indistinguishable from the incredible pre-rendered backgrounds, and moves slickly at all times. In high-res. it's also a lot easier to see your way (and make out lurking nasties) in the murkier areas of the game.
Make The Undead Dead
Only half of Rea 2's puzzles consist of finding keys - you'll also need to track down bigger and better guns if you're hoping to stay alive.
Useless. A zombie will only succumb after approximately 25 stabs with the knife, so it's imperative never to run out of ammo for your guns.
With at least three shots needed to take down the weakest of zombies, the pistol is pitifully poor.
Handy for shooting the beaks off crows, though.
This noisy beauty is able to knock down several of the undead with one shot, and it's the only option against the crawling, head-eating Lickers.
This is more like it. When you bump into Resi 2's bosses, or a giant acid-spitting spider, the booming Magnum is the weapon of choice.
The range of blood-sucking bad guys in Resi 2 is surprisingly small, but they're a horrifying bunch, and have a habit of bumping into you just as you sprint around a blind comer. The default shambling zombies are bad, the advanced, 'naked' version is worse, and the 'Look mum no legs!' torso-only variation, which claws its way forwards and bites into your shins, is truly skin-crawling.
Honourable mentions also to the man-sized tarantulas, the mutant leaping dogs, and the giant moth near the end of the game, which sadly can't be killed by putting a lightbulb nearby and waiting for it to bum its own wings off.
The first words that you see as the Resident Evil 2 cart starts up are "This game contains excessive violence and gore". And it isn't joking. We can't find a more appropriate phrase to describe a young man's body splitting in half from neck to waist and a blood-drenched insect crawling out of his ravaged intestines and scuttling away into the sewers, than 'excessively gory'.
Capcom's Resident Evil series has been serving up this unique brand of stomach-churning magic on the PlayStation for several years. The first game - which we'll never see on the N64 - featured a crack police squad being bumped off one by one as they explored a zombie-filled mansion. This sequel, arriving on Nintendo two years after its first appearance on Sony's grey box, stars another policeman, another giant building (Raccoon City police station), and another batch of the moaning, shambling undead.
Despite Resident Evil 2 being hailed as state-of-the-art back in 1997, this version is bound to disappoint you at first, because it has its roots in an era before Super Mario 64! arrived to carve up the rules and boundaries of gaming. The awkward 'rotate and run' controls (the most effective control system of those on offer) belongs to a time before analogue sticks - which is why using the D-pad feels more natural - and the need to actually press a button to climb stairs is almost endearingly antiquated. Frustratingly, even the infamous Resident Evil door-opening animation - designed to mask loading times on the original CD version - pops up between rooms on the N64 cart.
However, thanks to its power to shock, surprise and scare half to death, Resi 2 is still an utterly absorbing adventure. The map is small, and filled with only a handful of different monsters, and yet you'll never get the chance to relax. At every turn you'll find impressive pre-rendered cut-scenes, stunning backdrops, haunting movie-quality music and ingenious camera angles employed to maintain the intense atmosphere of foreboding and fear. Whether Leon is slowly backing away from approaching zombies, tip-toeing around a mutant dog feeding on human remains, or sprinting down a darkly-lit corridor towards who knows what, you will be scared rigid.
Admittedly, since Resi 2 appeared on the PlayStation, we've been spoiled by the character acting in games like Acclaim's Shadowman, and, subsequently, the 'quality' of Resi 2's cut-scene acting occasionally ruins the moment. Leon often reacts to grisly deaths and bleeding colleagues with a nonchalant "Oh, man!", as though he'd just dropped a pound coin down a drain, and his hopeless flirtatious asides to various females will make you squirm. The visual acting isn't any better: near the end of the game, a woman is crushed beneath a falling roof support. It's meant to be dramatic - instead, it's unintentionally hilarious.
But not even hammy acting can dampen the thrill of Resident Evil 2's many shocks and scares. Your enemies are genuinely frightening - zombies which make sudden lunges as you sprint past, cockroaches which envelop and kill you if you pause for a second, dogs which won' run unless you do - and they're topped off by some of the most hair-raising moments in gaming history. We won't spoil them for you, except to describe the feeling of utter dread we experienced as we searched a dead body in an eerily quiet corridor, and found ourselves reading the words, "It's head is missing. 11 seems to have been twisted off".
Unsurprisingly, in a game based so heavily on one-off incidents, the actual game takes a back-seat to jump out of your seat moments. The most you'll be expected to do is work out that a diamond-shaped key fits a diamond shaped lock, or find a missing cog for a broken clock. In fact, the puzzles soon begin to get in the way of the continuing story, with all the running back and forth needed to fetch, store, retrieve and use objects and keys. More than once, when we found Leon's tiny pockets full at precisely the point where we needed to grab a vital object, we intentionally wasted a first aid spray in order to avoid running all the way back to one of the game's item storage chests.
It's lucky, then, that most of Resi 2 involves shooting the limbs off increasingly gruesome monsters. The controls will frustrate you, with the nonanalogue aiming making some of the boss battles more difficult than they should be, but every moment with a monster is so perfectly pitched - you'll never have enough weaponry or ammo to make any fight a formality - that the game is pleasingly challenging from start to finish. That's something that few non-Nintendo N64 games can boast.
There's not all that much to Resident Evil 2 - the main game will only take a few hours to complete, the bonus quests featuring Leon's sidekick Claire and other characters are gimmicky, and the N64-exclusive 'object location randomizer' doesn't add much in the way of longevity. But what there is will hook you immediately and completely - and if it doesn't have you leaping from your chair in shock at least once, you must be dead.
Zombie came is Resident Evil 2
As we revealed a couple of months back, Capcom is definitely releasing a Resident Evil game for the N64. More details have now come through -- development will be handled by American software house Angel Studios, and the game itself will be based on PlayStation Resident Evil 2... with some improvements.
Many people were sceptical about fitting a Resident Evil game onto a cartridge, but Angel Studios has developed some special compression software for the numerous detailed backgrounds for each scene. The software works so well that N64 Resident Evil 2 may even be in hi-res! Exploding zombies in 640 x 480 resolution... mmm.
Resident Evil 2 is due for a Christmas release. How the PlayStation's story-advancing movie scenes will be translated has yet to be decided, but the N64's instant loading should at last see the end of those annoying waits to open doors!