Resident Evil 2 Classic (1998)

Resident Evil 2 Classic (1998)

A review of the original Resident Evil 2 released for PlayStation in 1998.

David Craddock

I’ve finished Resident Evil 2 eight times in the past six months. If you’ve played the original RE2 on any of the myriad systems it’s been ported to since its release in 1998, you know that’s not as big a time investment as it sounds. Once you know your way through the Racoon Police Department, sewer system, and Umbrella’s underground lab, you can finish the game in under an hour and a half. I’m not fast enough to get sub-90 minutes, but I’ve finished Leon’s and Claire’s two scenarios often enough lately to get the highest possible rank, which requires you to finish in under 2.5 hours and not use any first aid sprays.

There’s a reason RE2 was one of Capcom’s most anticipated remakes before a remake was announced in the summer of 2015. This game is one of the best survival horror games ever made, a crown jewel in the RE franchise—and one of the easiest. I’m playing again to earn challenging achievements (more on that in a bit) and even challenges like kill 200 zombies is leaving me with plenty of ammo for those and other enemies.

I’ve always finished RE2 with a surfeit of ammunition for all of my weapons left over. Ammo I swore I’d use in the mid- to late-game when monsters tougher than zombies became the norm. I used mounds of it during these most recent playthroughs and still never came close to scraping the bottom of my item box. To be fair, it’s hard for me to judge difficulty fairly. I’ve been playing this game for 26 years as of January 2024, but given all the ammo, weapons for each character, and healing items lying around, even new players should find the game inviting.

And that’s a good thing. I’m not saying Resident Evil 2 is easy. I’m saying it’s one of the easier classic titles in the series. That relative ease accounts for why it was the gateway into the series for so many players in the late ‘90s. The atmosphere and level design are two others. Raccoon Police Department (RPD) is more than one of the most iconic locations in RE lore. It’s one of the most iconic locations in video games. It’s very video game-y; the remake does a much better job of explaining why a police station would require its employees to solve puzzles to move through it… and it has a functioning bathroom. Yes, it’s true: There is no bathroom in the original RPD. I guess Raccoon City cracked down on spending.

But that video game-y-ness is part of its charm. Classic RE titles are as much adventure games as they are survival horror. Puzzle solutions seem arcane at first, but they’re more logical than anything you’d find in point-and-click adventures from the late ‘90s when the genre went off the rails (I’m looking at you, Gabriel Knight 3). Puzzles also break up the tension of exploration, jump scares, and combat. All those elements, plus the absurdity of the writing and voice acting, come together to create a pleasant flow from one experience to the next. RE2 will scare you, entice you, and excite you, but it’ll never bore you.

That goes double if you’re playing with Retro Achievements activated. This is going to make me come across as a shill, but it’s not. If you haven’t heard of Retro Achievements, it’s a free service that activates in-game achievements for hundreds of classic games. To use it, you sign in to RA through emulators that support it, pick a game, and start playing. I’ve never been an achievement hunter, one of those people who plays games just to increase their achievement score. Nothing wrong with it; it’s just not my thing. However, I love achievements that challenge me to think about or play a favorite game differently. For instance, there’s an achievement in RE2 Classic for getting through the game using only green herbs. It’s like the in-game requirement to forego first aid sprays if you’re gunning for an “A” ranking; the difference is you cannot use red herbs, either. Single, double, or triple greens only.

Another achievement dares you to fight and defeat Mr. X every time you encounter him. You can always run away, but he drops items such as weapon upgrades and ammo every time you bring him down. It leads to fun risk-reward scenarios: Do you stand your grand and hope for a good drop? Or run and live to fight another day, but miss out on an achievement you can tout as proof of your courage? Challenges like these illustrate how achievements can make games more enjoyable.

Capcom uses backtracking effectively. Instead of growing tired of seeing the same rooms and corridors as you move around looking for items to progress, you’ll learn the RPD as well as you know your neighborhood. Every area and the leit motif accompanying it is distinctive. The decision you make in those areas bind you to them. As you explore, you’ll find a cord you can wire to one of two fuses boxes. The fuse box you fix will pull magnetic shutters down over broken windows. Later on, zombies will break through windows near the other fuse box, forcing you to think twice about moving through there again. The kicker is that your decision comes back to bite you in the other character’s second scenario.

Scenarios comprise the big differentiator between RE2 Classic and RE2 Remake. In both games, Leon and Claire have two scenarios each. Finishing one character’s first scenario unlocks the other character’s second; so, finishing Claire A opens Leon B, which is the canonical order to play in, if you’re interested in such things. The A and B scenarios show what each character is up to while the other character is doing their thing. In Claire A, she radios Leon after detonating the helicopter wreckage outside the police chief’s office. In Leon B, you see what Leon was doing when he received that call. Mr. X, the subject of copious internet memes after the remake’s release in 2019, doesn’t appear in the original game’s A scenarios at all. That makes your first encounter with him quite a shock the first time you play a B campaign.

The scenarios don’t align perfectly (why do I need to unlock doors with both characters when one would have gone through first and left it open for the other?) but that doesn’t matter. Game design takes priority over narrative, and both elements are compelling enough that you’ll want to play through the original game’s four scenarios just to see where they diverge and where they come back together.

In the remake, however, the A and B scenarios are very similar. The only differences are how you enter the police station at the beginning, when Mr. X comes into play, and a few remixed puzzle solutions. There are differences in Leon’s and Claire’s scenarios—Claire gets a heart key to open certain doors, while Leon gets another key and explores other rooms—but those differences are the same in each B scenario as they are in the A games. True, the original RE2’s B scenarios share lots in common, but they’re much more unique on their own than their counterparts in the remake.

Resident Evil 2 is one of very few early 3D games that holds up for me, perhaps because it was such a leap forward from the first RE, which can be difficult to go back and play. Even though I prefer the remake, the original remains one of my favorite games and one of the best classic-style RE games.


Unlockable content such as infinite-ammo weapons increases replayability

Diverse second scenarios for each character

Flow between puzzles, story, exploration, and combat

RPD location is still iconic


Tough to get into if you didn't play it in its time

Easy even for beginners

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