The Raccoon City arc of the “Resident Evil” saga continued across its second and third installments, “2” and “Nemesis.”

Both games expanded the scope of the series by transplanting its undead enemies from the first game's sedate mansion onto a post-apocalyptic urban environment. The sequels also remedied the first game's most glaring flaws: Poor voice acting, entirely aversive combat and unpolished graphics.

“Resident Evil 2,” first released in 1998, finds then-newcomer Leon Kennedy arriving in the fictional city for his first day as a police officer. Along with Claire Redfield, sister of “Evil” hero Chris, Leon discovers a landscape ravaged by the zombifying T-virus. He and Redfield unite as the only humans in sight, but a catastrophic car accident separates the two and places them on different paths to surviving the horror.

Like the first “Evil,” “2” permits players to choose their character. And while their courses through Raccoon City cover much of the same terrain - such as the Raccoon City Police Department and the city's sewer system -Claire and Leon are at the center of their own unique stories that unfold through “2.” Through the game's scenario system, players can discover what happened to the other character in a second - but different - tale that transpires while their original character choice was escaping the terror.

Though the return of “Evil's” “human tank” directional controls gave players another headache, “2” made combat less disorienting with an auto-aim option. Another compelling change was the relationship between the player's character and their health. As Claire or Leon's condition worsens, their wounds actually appear on their bodies and affect their mobility to spike the urgency of finding health and avoiding attacks.

Players use the sequel's otherwise wholly inherited control system to negotiate another concoction of clever puzzles and close-quarters zombie combat. Through the technological improvements that permitted more foes onscreen than in “Evil,” “2” achieves a dreadful claustrophobia that outdoes its predecessor in sheer terror.

Tying together the action of “2” is a story that feels bigger and better in every way than the first. The dialogue and voice acting of “2,” though not Hollywood-caliber in the slightest, soars above the laughable levels of “You were almost a Jill sandwich” and other gems from the first “Evil.”

Foes like the giant crocodile and the G-Virus-infected researcher, William Birkin, dwarfed the series' first bosses. And few enemies in any game inspire as much fright as the expressionless, black trenchcoat-clad Tyrant that dogs Claire through her “B” game scenario. The punishing dashes and hammering blows that break up his slow saunter always startle, no matter how much firepower you prepare for him.

After “Resident Evil” introduced the survival horror genre to popular awareness with much ingenuity, “2” perfected the fright with grander scope and far more polished presentation.

“Resident Evil: Nemesis” returned players to the fashionable boots of “Resident Evil” heroine Jill Valentine in 1999 for the series' first single-character story, which is chronologically sandwiched between the first game and the second.

At this point in the timeline, the viral holocaust that wiped out Raccoon City was about as widespread as in “2.” As she tries to escape the city's zombified denizens, Jill is threatened by a rocket launcher-wielding Tyrant model known as Nemesis. He pops up repeatedly throughout the game to menace Jill with projectile and melee attacks that make every encounter with him a pulse-spiking affair.

The repeat battles with Nemesis all but define the game, and the character is enough of a horror - he can even follow the player through doors - to sustain suspense throughout “Nemesis.” With a new 180-degree quick-turn control, players are given a fighting chance in these sudden, hectic skirmishes in tight spaces. The Nemesis's arrival is often accompanied by a choice the player must make between trying to avoid the trenchcoat-clad fiend and fighting him, but progressing through the game means engaging him eventually.

Aside from the novel idea of a recurring boss who leaps onto the screen for sudden combat, “Nemesis” did little to reinvent the “Resident Evil” rubric. Conventions like static camera angles, door opening animations and item management once again reappeared while the mix of puzzle-solving and zombie-shooting remained intact.

And while the Nemesis idea injected the “Resident Evil” series with some new life, the Raccoon City-centric scenic overlap between “2” and “Nemesis” ultimately prevents the latter from standing out. For all the differences between them, including “Nemesis's” sharp controls and even sharper graphics, it fails to distance itself from its predecessor in any powerful way. Though by no means a bad game, “Nemesis” was the first “Resident Evil” not to make many new scares.

David Wilcox

253-5311 ext. 245

If you play

Game: “Resident Evil 2”; “Resident Evil: Nemesis”

Score: A+; A-

Parental rating: Mature for animated violence and animated blood and gore

Publisher: Capcom

Platform: Dreamcast, GameCube, Nintendo 64, PlayStation; Dreamcast, GameCube, PC, PlayStation

Play: Single

The final boss: “Resident Evil 2” and “Nemesis” brought survival horror to new heights in the ravaged urban landscape of Raccoon City.

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