How Resident Evil 2's Second Playthrough Manages to Still Be Surprising

How one of the year's best games makes its corridors worth revisiting immediately.

I usually don't get to games late. I'm always moving on from new game to new game, with little time to dive back into my backlog. But this year, I made a New Year's resolution to not force myself to play every game that passes by. I'm pacing myself. With that new rule in place, I'm especially late in playing one big game of 2019: Resident Evil 2.

And oh, how I love it. Last weekend, I finally wrapped up my first run through of it as Leon. I light-jogged like hell away from Mr. X; I set fire to viney zombies. I had a great time doing it all too. This past week, I took a break from Resident Evil 2 before diving into what I knew was said by many to be essential: the second playthrough, now as Claire.

It's hard to make a second playthrough of a video game feel worth it. In most cases, multiple playthroughs shift the dialogue and ending, a boss or so, and not much else. They often aren't worth the time invested, especially now that you can quickly go on YouTube to catch whatever ending you missed, even if you are intrigued by the promise of a new outcome and different character interactions. Some games, memorably, use repetition as a strength in encouraging repeat playthroughs, and build upon what came before it with finesse; others spit in the face of repetition.

My worst nightmare. | Capcom

Visual novels do the latter the most often. I remember my time with Long Live the Queen, the Princess Maker 2 inspired visual novel-life sim, fondly. In it, you guide a young queen through her studies and political choices after the death of her mother. In most cases, your playthroughs end tragically, with her own death. Long Live the Queen is a game built to be played time and time again.

Yet, Nier: Automata is perhaps the biggest example of the opposite: a game worth playing through multiple times from alternate perspectives, unlocking a third playthrough upon the second's completion. The third playthrough is basically like a sequel to the first two parts; as you're even treated with a dramatic trailer upon finishing 9S' own route.

I won't lie, I was worried about the Resident Evil 2 remake's second route, knowing I would be trotting through the same areas over again: the police station, the sewers (ugh), and the laboratory. In the first Resident Evil, the differences between Jill and Chris are almost negligible, with weapons and story beats being different, but not much else.

But Resident Evil 2 does something rarely enacted successfully in games. Like Nier: Automata, it both masterfully utilizes repetition and twists the refreshed experience into something surprising with new weapons, different routes through areas, and so on. While the environments are familiar, there is something immediately disconcerting about it. Zombies have overrun the police station again, even now that Leon's long gone. It's terrifying from the start; as your new guns are unfamiliar and a little unwieldy. Early on, I entered a room I remember being safe in my first playthrough, only for it to no longer have a typewriter to save my progress. Resident Evil 2, the game itself knowing that you know what to expect at this point, instead does the unexpected.

You see the ghost of Leon's past journey throughout it; in the zombie bodies on the ground, in the crawling torso in the police office, in a zombified Marvin, in your good ol' pal Mr. X stomping around from the get go. (Which sucks.) It's somehow even more tense than the long stretch of Leon's playthrough where I had no ammo, due in part to being a fool and wasting it early on. My inventory was itty bitty compared to what it was by the end of my Leon run. I couldn't even pick up most of the things I come across, instead staring at my map and wondering if I would ever get back to the items knowing a sound-sensitive Licker was in my path between me and the door.

When I complained about this annoyance in a Discord server ("I honestly don't know if I can finish it," I whined like a baby), my friend and colleague Joshua Calixto shared an article he wrote for the blog Bullet Points Monthly, where he tackled this very topic. "The experience of playing as Claire derives tension from player imperfection rather than weapon weakness," he writes in the article. "If you're accurate with every shot, you're made to feel much more powerful. If you're an average player (and most of us will be), you'll find yourself in far more danger than you’ll ever see in a Leon playthrough."

That's really the source of why the B playthrough is so surprising: it imbues you with a feeling of inadequacy, as if everything I learned in Leon's campaign doesn't matter anymore. This isn't a New Game+ where I'm a master at everything; I'm like a newborn rolled into a harder introductory area of the game I played before. I'm no longer exploding heads with one precise shot with a MAG pistol, nor foolishly waving a flamethrower around. I'm slowly reloading Claire's stronger but slower pistol as I walk backwards down hallways. I'm not as reckless as I was with Leon.

And it's precisely that that makes the Claire playthrough work so well. It's a different kind of terror than what Leon experiences. These hallways may be old news for us at this point, but for Claire, it's a new kind of horror that she's never seen before.

It's the perfect way to make a second playthrough feel more worthwhile, like you're being rewarded for more than just a new side of the story. In Resident Evil 2, the moment-to-moment experience feels like you are a different character with unique skills, rather than a shell to see new cutscenes within. When I jumped into Route B, I expected the difficulty to maybe ramp up, but I didn't expect it to feel like a brand new adventure. And with weirdo acid rounds at my side, I'm excited to see Claire's experience through.

Soon you'll be able to take Final Fantasy 12 on the go. | Square Enix

Major Game Releases This Week: April 29 to May 3

Here are the major releases for the week of April 29 to May 3. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.

Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age [April 30, Xbox One, Switch]: The modern generation remaster for Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age first released two years ago, then a PS4 exclusive. Since then, it's released on PC, and tomorrow, will finally make its way to two notable platforms: Xbox One and Switch. They're both intriguing ports in their own right, with the Xbox One version having Xbox One X enhancements of running at 60 frames per second and the Switch version being, well, a Switch version. (So now you can play Final Fantasy 12 on the go!)

Starlink: Battle for Atlas [April 30, PC]: Ubisoft's Starlink: Battle for Atlas is coming to PC this week. This is just after news that Ubisoft is discontinuing physical toys for the space-adventure game, though new content like DLC will still be made for it. From what we played back on its launch last year, its Star Fox content, exclusive to Switch, was actually pretty great.

VA-11 Hall-A [May 2, PS4, Switch]: A few years ago, Sukeban Games' VA-11 Hall-A blew me away. It bills itself as a "cyberpunk bartending action" game, but in more layman terms, it's a game about building relationships through dialogue choices and learning about the dark and seedy world you live within. It does a really excellent job with worldbuilding, and deals with uncomfortable topics with a careful eye. It's coming to PS4 and Switch this week, and its sequel N1RV Ann-A is aiming for a 2020 release too.

Days Gone released last week after a couple delays. | SIE Bend Studio

This Week's News and Notes

Tagged with Capcom, Horror, Opinions, PC, PlayStation 4, Shooters, Sony, Starting Screen, Xbox One.

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