Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Mercy Side: The Transformations of William Birkin (Resident Evil 2)

Warning: This article contains many spoilers with regards to Resident Evil 2 (but not other games in the series). If you haven’t played it, and don’t want to know the events of the game, I’d recommend you avoid this article.

Hey everyone, I want to do something slightly different today, and that is pay homage to visually, one of my favourite villains in video game history. Now my favourite character in all of Resident Evil is actually Albert Wesker, the mastermind behind a rough estimate of 80% of the events in the entire series. But William Birkin, not the man, but the monster, visually, is an image that has always stuck with me as a fan not only of Resident Evil, but also of video games in general. But before I talk of Birkin, I want to just talk a bit about Resident Evil 2, the game he was in.

Resident Evil 2 (from now on I’m going to refer to it as Resi 2) was initially released in 1998 on the Playstation, but has since been ported to a few different consoles. This isn’t a major review on the game, the title above tells you what I’m going to discuss in great detail, but if I were to review the game, I’d probably give it either ****1/2 stars or ****3/4 stars. The game has dated a lot since the fantastic experimental days with graphics in the mid to late nineties. At the time, everything was new and all consoles and game designers were trying to outdo each other, graphics wise in the market. At the time this was a lovely looking game, but now it’s quite badly pixilated and even the FMVs look quite naff. The game is well due a remake (although I might write that article another day). The sequel to the original, Resi 2 had improved graphics, dramatically improved voice acting  (but it’s still quite poor), better controls and a decent advancement in storyline. The best thing about the storyline was that you could either be Claire Redfield (sister of Chris Redfield, main character in the original) or Leon S. Kennedy (you can’t forget the S. in his middle name). At the start of the game, regardless of who you choose, you both end up on separate sides of a tank explosion and make your separate ways to the police station, and continue from there. If you play as Claire, and complete the game, you have the opportunity to play as Leon, and see what happened from his perspective in the backgrounds of Claire’s game. This is referred to two different games, Claire A, and Leon B. The reverse also applies, in that if you choose Leon first, you end up on the side of the fire Claire was on in her “A” game, and Claire also switches to where Leon would be. So in theory, you have four games, Claire A, Leon B, and the reversal, Leon A, and Claire B. These games are slightly different with the same outcome – you both survive, along with the horribly annoying Sherry. There are suspicious that Ada also survives, and you find that answer out in another entry into the series. But along the way, regardless of if you do Claire A/Leon B or Leon A/Claire B, you go against William Birkin many, many times, as well as Tyrant in the “B” scenario with either character.

William Birkin’s story is a sad one. He has a wife named Annette, and his daughter is the frustrating Sherry I mentioned earlier, and he is a scientist. He has spent a large portion of his life creating the G-Virus, one of the viruses responsible for the zombie outbreak, the main one responsible for the zombies in Resi 2. He liases with Umbrella, the pharmaceutical company who are responsible for the T-Virus, but there is an agreement between the company and Birkin that no matter how much they co-operate, Umbrella will never take his research and most importantly, the G-Virus, away from him.
William Birkin in his human form.
As expected, Umbrella break this promise and send an armed squad to retrieve the virus by force from Birkin. Two squadrons find Birkin first and hold him at gunpoint, but he was expecting them. Birkin, being the clever scientist he is, knew Umbrella would turn on him, and his plan was to pack up some samples of the Virus in a container, one that they would take by force if required. He kept the G-Virus on his person. At the heat of the moment, the two squadrons threaten to kill Birkin if he refuses to hand over the G-Virus; Birkin has a gun to the two armed men. Retreating backwards, William Birkin accidentally knocks over a metal instrument, which gives him a shock. The two squadrons shoot at him, taking advantage of the situation, and grab the container with samples in it, as Birkin planned.

William Birkin was mortally wounded by the gunshots to his upper torso and was lying in a pool of his own blood. In his hand however, is the G-Virus, his life’s work, the work that is precious not only to him and his family, but to Umbrella as well. He had a choice – die, and let someone else take the virus off him? Or use the G-Virus on himself, possibly curing him, but more likely, turning him into the biggest monstrosity the city of Racoon had ever seen. He took the latter option, and he slowly started to mutate. He had cheated death, but paid the price. He quickly took revenge on the two squadrons that took the samples. They saw him coming, and started unloading machine gun bullets into him. It was no use. He ran at them, slashing them up with his newly developed arm, which was developing into a mutated claw with a large eye. The squadron holding the container of samples dropped it as he got killed. Birkin, still with some human consciousness, goes crazy and starts breaking the samples into his own skin, making him mutate further and further. Rats then start to devour the remains; these rats start the infection of zombies in Racoon City.

The Transformations of William Birkin

So now that you know how Birkin became the monster that he is in Resi 2, let’s go through the different transformations. These transformations are in canon order, so that’s why it’s important to know that while, for instance, Leon A takes place ‘live’ at the same time as Claire B (and vice versa with Claire A/Leon B) only one of the two characters take him on at a time, and that in the timeline of the game, if you only play an “A” campaign, you don’t see the transformations that only appear in “B”.

Mutation #1

Scenario: Claire B or Leon B
Location: Claire B – the secret underground passage belonging to Brian Irons; Leon B – the pool leading to the sewer entrance
Difficulty: 4 out 5
First Mutation.
The earliest time you see Birkin properly in the timeline of the game is in the “B” scenario. He has a lot of his human appearance here, the main mutation being on his right arm. The confusion for me is that as I explained earlier, he took out the two squadrons with what is implied as a claw. A swipe action is seen, and blood spurts in a cross direction. However, in this mutation, Birkin’s claw has not quite developed yet. There is an argument to be made that he could have taken the two squadrons on after this fight (you go to the sewers after this fight, so it’s possible, just unlikely), who knows. Anyway, his right arm has mutated and is a pinky-red colour, and has a large eye in the shoulder area. Because William Birkin hasn’t quite developed yet, he prefers to use a steel pipe to beat you down with. I’ve given it a difficulty rating of 4, because while you should be able to load him down with a decent weapon before he gets an attempt to hit you, IF he hits you, it’s quite difficult to get away from him. One hit from the steel pipe brings you to your knees, utterly winded, in which he basically gets a free second hit on you. If you’re on decent health, this at least brings your health down to half. If you’re stuck in a corner at this point, if you beat him, he gets angry and starts flailing his steel pipe around, something that is also quite difficult to dodge. After the fight he simply walks off and jumps to the lower areas of the sewers.

Mutation #2

Scenario: Claire A or Leon A
Location: Underground Gondola
Difficulty: 3 out of 5
Second Mutation. Note his human face seeping to his pectoral.
Because you have to play through the “A” scenario to get to the “B” scenario, this is officially your first fight with Birkin. He starts off the fight by throwing his steel pipe at you (it’s a cutscene so it never hits). This, naturally, is reference to his first fight with the opposite person in the previous mutation. At this point however, he has grown in stature, probably about an inch in height and his shoulders are quite bulky. His face has started to seep downwards towards his pectoral. He starts to develop a new head, a weird grey coloured one. His right arm, earlier mutated, has now developed that claw that we spoke of earlier. The battle with Birkin in this instance is actually slightly easier than the previous one. He walks a lot quicker, yet his attacks are quite easy to dodge. If he hits you with his claw, he usually hits you a second time, and attempts a third, but you can relatively easily dodge the third attack. These attacks waste a lot less than the ones in the first mutation, and you recover much quicker. About two-thirds into the fight, he seems to squirm inwards, and starts to develop a very small second set of hands, under his torso. These have no affect on the fight however, and at this point onwards he is very easy as he is weakening, he slows down dramatically. When you finish him off he falls to the ground.

Mutation #3

Scenario: Claire B or Leon B
Location: Underground Gondola
Difficulty: 4 out of 5
Third Mutation. This is my favourite mutation.
Yes, the same place, the opposite character. When you play the “B” scenario, you have to call the tram back up (as the other character rode it down to the bottom, you have to get it back up to get to the chemical plant). When your opposite character has to take on Birkin for the second time (it’ll be the same character taking on Mutation #1) his mutation stage is an advancement on #2. Remember the two arms that were premature and served no purpose in the fight above? Well, they’ve now developed. They’re now claws that form a new set of arms and are where the previous arms used to be. And left arm of old has now developed its own claw, equal to his right one. These claws? Well that’s the thing, they’re now absolutely huge, a good 150% broader than Birkin’s shoulders. So yes, if you didn’t figure it out by now, William Birkin now has four claws.

For me personally, this is my favourite looking mutation of the ones in the game. He just looks so badass, with his two huge claws above his shoulders, and the two smaller ones on his sides. And yes, the difficulty has gone up too. He has now developed the ability to jump up on top of the tram and jump as close to you as possible. He walks a slightly slower speed to Mutation #2, but quick enough to be a threat. But the main snag here is when he gets within around three feet of you, he raises his two massive claws even higher, and the two below are also raised. This makes him look even bigger, and most certainly harder to avoid. If you’re cornered at this point, chances are you’re not going to be able to dodge his attack. That attack is a four-claw slice combo, which can easily take you to near half health. The good news is that he usually lowers his claws after this combo, giving you the chance to run around him and recuperate. After the fight, he jumps off the tram onto the side of the grid, his blood trickling downwards.

You actually see this mutation of Birkin at the chemical plant in the Claire A scenario (I’m unsure of another one), you see his wife Annette finds him and tries to talk sense. At this point any humanity in Birkin has completely gone, and kills her with one claw. He jumps into a vent afterwards.

Mutation #4

Scenario: Claire A or Leon A
Location: Train Platform Elevator
Difficulty: 4 ½ out of 5
Fourth Mutation. He's now a six legged beast.
This is the final boss in the “A” scenario with either character. William Birkin breaks through the ceiling and drops a great height to the elevator platform. You can make an argument that the fight starts of at Mutation #3.5 as he is a slightly different looking monster at this point, although it’s hard to pinpoint where he has changed. He has another eye, now on his left shoulder. His stomach has started to open up, although the beginning of that may have started in mutation #3. Either way, you start this fight early, and after unloading a certain amount of bullets into him, he then transforms officially to Mutation #4.

The fourth mutation sees Birkin fall to his knees, where his stomach rips open. It literally, develops into a new base, a very large mouth full of many, many teeth. We’re talking probably hundreds of tiny teeth. His arms now turn into a set of six legs. His head (the one that developed in Mutation #2), has now doubled in size. and William Birkin no longer resembles anything close to a human any more. His skin has turned to that blacky-grey colour I mentioned earlier and he is a four/six legged beast. He can jump onto the beams on the platform with ease, and runs faster than he ever has in the past. This is definitely the most difficult mutation to fight. The worst thing that can happen is Birkin jumping from a beam into you ‘mouth’ first, and then grabbing you with his massive mouth, chomping at you and then throw you a good eight feet away. This two move combo can easily slash your life in half if not more. He mainly runs around after you, and you have to just shoot at him and hope for the best. When he eventually goes down, he literally shrivels into a heap, seemingly sulking; his head and arms all contract inwards into his many teeth and a pool of blood.

You think this is it, as you complete the “A” scenario. And  in the “B” scenario, the majority of the bosses that fill the game other than the two mentioned above, is Tyrant. As you play the “B” scenario, and get the exact same ending as the “A” scenario (that is, the two games now combine each others ending and you now have the full story about what happened to both characters) everything looks good. Until the FMV isn’t finished after all, and train all of a sudden starts to shake.

Mutation #5: The Final Birkin Transformation

Scenario: Claire B or Leon B
Location: Train
Difficulty: 2 out of 5
Final Mutation. They just went too far.
I hate to talk about this. I love William Birkin and his transformations are excellent. Up until this one. I think Capcom and the makers of Resident Evil 2 went too far with this. But here we go.

After the storyline twist FMV, the person playing the “B” scenario must investigate what on earth is going on with the train. When they go into the second carriage, they suddenly see a tentacle break a metal plate from above. The character runs in the opposite direction towards the first carriage, as what is seen is an amazing thing to describe. Amazingly stupid anyway. This is the final boss in the “B” scenario.

What you see is a four tentacled William Birkin, with an extremely large mass fall to the train carriage. I like to call him Gelatinous Birkin. It literally, uses it’s four tentacles, which are around 15 feet long each, to grab the sides of the train corners to pull it’s ridiculous body forwards towards the character. All you see is the many teeth from earlier, the mouth, and a body full of dead corpses and flesh around it. As I said, it literally takes the entire train carriage, pulling himself towards you. Just unload your weapon, unsympathetically into him, and he’ll fall quickly. He’s so big and slow that he’s hard to actually struggle with, he falls with ease. When he falls, he turns into a disgusting huge mass of purple goo, his gelatinous body starts to seep in your direction, in which your character reacts to retreat closer towards the door.

In the official scenario “B” ending FMV, Gelatinous Birkin still didn’t die when you beat him down in the final fight. Leon, Claire and Sherry manage to apply the emergency break on the train and run out of the tunnel. The train self-destructs taking Gelatinous Birkin with it, and this is finally where Birkin meets his end, much to the relief of the three survivors.

It’s a sad ending in many ways. It’s sad because the four mutations before the final are excellent and are what I remember fondly of Birkin. I don’t think I like any other set of physical transformations in any other series than I do of the first four in this game (apart from Magikarp to Gyarados of course). It’s sad in other ways as I said, as it’s sad that William Birkin was so relentless in his pursuit of the survivors that he had to take such a dramatic form. It’s also sad for William Birkin the man, the human, he was so obsessed with his research, his project, his virus, that he would rather turn himself into this extremely persistent monster that only wants to feed itself humans and other virus samples than die a proud man, having completed what he thought was his life’s task. I mean the virus is highly dangerous, illegal and he shouldn’t have been conducting this type of scientific experiment, but the passion in which he took the project, where he would put it in front of even his family, is admirable yet ultimately a sad thing. He is a sad human being for having his priorities this way.

To conclude it’s a sad ending for William Birkin as a human and as a monster. Yet myself, and some of you too I hope, will forever remember the rise and fall of William Birkin, as one of the greatest monsters in video game history, one that doesn’t seem to get the recognition I believe it deserves. The transformation sequences, the artwork, the ideas and imagination, in 1998, there was nothing like it, at least I struggle to think of anything remotely close. I was and still am to a certain extent, astounded to how great he looked. A remake would do his transformations even more justice, graphically. Pun intended, William Birkin, is a beast of a monster and I thank everyone who contributed to his greatness.

Do you agree? Disagree? Are there any other monster transformations that you like, or prefer to Birkin? Comment below and tell me your story if you want. I hope you enjoyed this slightly different article. Thanks for reading.

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  1. I also think that the transformation of Birkin was one of the best of all the Resident Evil saga. Without a doubt this mutation was in my memories. Resident Evil 2 was also one of the best games I ever played in my life.
    (if my English is bad is because of GoogleTranslate, because I speak Portuguese in Brazil)

  2. Your English looked great, thanks for the comment! =)

    Também usando GoogleTranslate: O Inglês estava ótimo, obrigado pelo comentário! =)

  3. His last blob-form was the result of all the damage he took from the previous fights, causing a malfunction in his cellular structure. If he were to mutate without trouble, there's no knowing what sort of a machine he might have turned into.