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Resident Evil 2 Exercises Players' Trigger Fingers and Brains

March 12, 1998|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Few things warm the heart like a zombie on fire. And few things are cooler about Capcom's Resident Evil 2 than the scene in which a couple of the dreaded undead meander around in flames.

From burning helicopters to runaway trains, the sequel to the smash Resident Evil is everything a sick and twisted video game player could want in a title. Flesh-eating zombies. Jugular-hunting guard dogs. Winnebago-sized alligators.

Sure, the past month has seen dozens of new games hit the shelves. But who cares? This is all the game most players can handle. And it may be too much for quite a few--including small kids and folks who fail to see the fun of dashing through rendered sewer tunnels in search of some unholy monsters.

For everyone else, Resident Evil 2 takes the ambience, strategy, story and, yes, the gore of its predecessor to stunning new levels. Fans of the original won't be disappointed. And newcomers to the series will probably want to pick up the first installment to fill in some of the story holes.

Available now on Sony PlayStation and later this year for the PC, Resident Evil 2 combines the shooting skill of violent twitchers like Doom or Duke Nukem with the strategy and planning of thinking games like Myst or Final Fantasy VII.

Action picks up about two months after the original Resident Evil ends--but the zombie infestation once isolated to a forest mansion has spread throughout Raccoon City. Players assume the roles of either Claire Redfield or Leon Kennedy, both of whom end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Each character follows a slightly different path through the streets, sewers and tunnels of Raccoon City. And how a player pursues the game as one character affects play as the other. For instance, taking things from a room as Leon may mean they won't be there when players try to finish as Claire. Along the way, both Leon and Claire run across a cast of characters who advance the story in different ways. Think of it as "Rashomon" with flamethrowers and mutant plant monsters.

It turns out the zombies of Raccoon City are the products of biological testing gone awry, and they love nothing better than sinking their fangs into fresh flesh. The streets are littered with junk and the alleys are full of newly recruited members of the undead armies. Worse, the cops may be in on the whole thing.

As a new cop, Leon finds out his colleagues on the force have all been "zombiefied." Claire's looking for her brother, another cop who was part of the original mission to the zombie mansion in Resident Evil. All of this sounds ridiculous, but it comes off without a hitch thanks to some great animation, eerie sound effects and a pacing that would do most Hollywood directors proud.

The cinematic feel of the game makes it a joy to play. Environments are creepy and laden with clues. The wandering camera angle reveals only as much visual information as players absolutely need. Audio cues give strong hints as to what lies around the next corner. Usually, it isn't someone friendly.

Puzzles are complicated, but not so obscure that they become tedious. The parsimonious distribution of essentials such as bullets and first-aid kits forces players to conserve ammo and pick fights carefully. Players who follow the standard video game rule of shooting everything that moves will quickly find themselves on the wrong side of an empty machine gun.

Resident Evil 2 delivers that all too rare combination of action and intellect. Parents concerned about gore and violence should steer clear, but older gamers who love a good mystery and don't mind getting a little bloody won't be disappointed.

*

Starting Monday, Gamers' Corner moves to the Business section's Cutting Edge, where it will run weekly. Cybertainment will be a weekly feature in Calendar Weekend.

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