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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Retro Review: Parasite Eve 2 (PSN Download/ PSP and PS3)

This is one of the great tragedies of our industry – where Resident Evil has gone from strength to strength to become one of the most important franchises of Capcom’s stable, Parasite Eve has been all but lost to history, with just a half-hearted PSP attempt to resurrect Square Enix’ horror franchise.

So the point of this game is legs... horror. Yes. Horror.

Parasite Eve 2 does much of what the early Resident Evil games did, just better, and indeed it's arguably the best horror game that was released on the PlayStation. It’s atmospheric, addictive and intelligent.

Most of the conventions of the early-era horror genre is present and correct in this game. It stars an admirable and strong woman thrust into a nasty and inescapable situation. Her allies are in short supply, her enemies are numerous, ugly and out for her blood. Even the nature of those enemies – genetic mutants – aren’t so different in application to the zombies (and other horrors) of a Resident Evil game - in both cases they're human beings horribly twisted by a virus. It's a primal horror that we experience through this game, and because of that, it gets away with looking primitive - there's still that kind of lonely fear where anyone you come across is likely to be an enemy.

Like other horror games from the time, Parasite Evil 2 featured some irritating gameplay quirks. It required excessive backtracking. The game’s idea of a puzzle is to ask you to track down key Y for lock Z. It’s an artificial way to lengthen an otherwise short game – again like the first few Resident Evil games – but it still works at creating tension as the enemies become more powerful and the ammo starts to run down.

So for better or worse, this is a horror game of its era, and in terms of gameplay it doesn’t do much to think outside of the box for better or worse. There’s a halfway developed RPG system (this is a Square game, after all), but it doesn’t have a great impact on the game, and luckily it doesn't mean you'll need to grind away levels - the game quickly forgets that it has RPG levelling, allowing you to get on with slaughtering the genetic spawn.

It's hard to be scared by these games now, but they're still great fun

There’s a magic system too, which some flashy weapons to your repertoire. Again, it’s little more than a palette swap for conventional weapons; magic points are resourced out like ammunition, but it’s a perceived variety that does help make the game feel somewhat fresh.

What pulls Parasite Eve 2 into the realm of forgotten classic is the storytelling. Where Resident Evil aimed for the B-grade laughs (at least, I hope “the master of unlocking” was a bit of self referential humour) and revelled in its inherent silliness, Parasite Eve 2 was a bit more of a serious game. It’s still B-grade much like Final Fantasy games are B-grade fantasy tales, but it’s rarely cringe worthy. Aya Brea is an interesting character, both sexy and strong. The monsters, while completely alien, are also much more intimidating in their own simple way compared to the RE zombies.

... and a shower scene to cap things off. Claire Redfield, you got nothin'

It’s just a pity the series has all but disappeared. As I’ve said in the past, the RPG/ horror hybrid is an interesting concept that gets far too little airtime. While Parasite Eve 2 was extremely light on the RPG elements, it was a step in an interesting direction, and it was enough to separate the game in other examples of the genre.

Hopefully we see a proper and triumphant return of Aya in the future.

Retro Review: Parasite Eve 2 (PSN Download/ PSP and PS3)
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