Why I like Resident Evil 2
1) I'm fairly certain that Resident Evil started the zombie renaissance. When I got into the horror genre in my tweens, the most recent major zombie story was the Return of the Living Dead franchise, which was several years old at the time. The genre was leaving the franchise slasher era of the 80s and entering the ironic slasher franchise era of the early 90s, with a handful of supernatural horror tales interspersed between. Nobody was doing anything with zombies at the time. While 28 Days Later probably brought the zombies into the mainstream audience, the Resident Evil franchise brought the subgenre back to horror fans my age.
2) I started playing the series at the second game and I'll never forget the very first game screen:
It's an old trick that gets me every time: if you tell me I'm about to see SOMETHING HORRIBLE, I'm going to work myself into a tizzy worrying about whatever it could possibly be.
3) Both Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid were the first games that crossed the line between games and movies for me. Both used a lot of cut scenes to great effect. I remember the intro movie to RE2 very well. Having not played the original game, I came in to the story as the two lead characters did, alarmed as I found myself trapped in a city under siege.
4) I don't remember who I played as first. I usually play female characters if given the choice, but Leon Kennedy was a cop and had a gun. Either way, I remember the first nerve-wracking slog through Raccoon City's ruined streets. The characters are hard to control, the zombies are all over the place, and you were constantly under assault. Much has been made of the tank controls that early RE games used, but they definitely added to the vulnerability. I was used to playing agile characters, but now I was stuck in a clumsy shell. It amplified the horror, making my video game avatar an extension of myself.
5) The interesting thing about the Resident Evil games is that they took place in a Universal Horror reinterpretation of our world. The characters and the technology were all modern, but the spaces that the characters resided in had a Gothic architecture and sense of decay. Puzzles all involved clockwork architecture, the police department and mansion all concealed areas that looked like Dark Ages castles, and the crazy villains were operatically, House of Usher-crazy. Underneath all the modern trappings, the mad experiments that birthed the T-Virus came from Frankenstein's Castle.
6) Because I started the series at Resident Evil 2, I bypassed the worst of the bad voice acting that characterized Resident Evil 1. No master of unlocking cracks for me. Because of that, I took the series deadly serious. I wanted to know everything about the world, about the T-Virus, about the horrible Tyrant that relentlessly stalked you through the police station.
7) The game pulled me into the world so effectively. I found all the little clues in the police station, I read all the reports, I heard about the doomed efforts to keep the monsters out. It created a thoroughly engaging fictitious world. The longer I played, the more I accepted the quirks of the control scheme. I developed a particular strategy for moving through corridors and fighting different monsters, which I had to constantly reevaluate in the face of new threats.
8) The game has a palpable sense of loneliness. You spend so much time fighting alone for your life that it became a relief every time I ran into another human being, especially Claire/Leon.
Conclusion: Horror gaming has a different rhythm than most other media, in that it doesn't follow the same peaks-and-valleys structure that more passive media often follows. The games are relentless exercises in horror, and I loved slipping deeper into the madness of the Raccoon City's zombie infestation.