The Resident Evil series is more than two decades old at this point, and like any game series that reaches that milestone, it’s seen some ups and downs. While the latest title, Resident Evil 2 has received plenty of praise for recapturing what made the original Resi games so wonderful in the first place, including that creeping sense of fear, there are a number of other titles that haven’t been nearly as successful. Time has not been kind to some of the older games in the series.
We’ve decided to rank the very best and worst this classic horror series has to offer, from the spectacular Resident Evil 7, which completely changed the way we experienced this franchise, to Resident Evil 6, a game that tried to do too much with very little innovation. What won’t you see on this list? Remakes and remasters, which means that the new version of Resi 2 wasn’t considered for our ranking.
So, which titles stand out as the last survivors and which are little more than zombie fodder? Read on…if you dare.
19. Resident Evil Survivor series
Capcom’s first attempt at an on-rails, lightgun version of Resident Evil is pretty forgettable. Three Survivor games were released from 2000 to 2003 for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 but they failed to make a splash for a variety of reasons. For one thing, Capcom hadn’t quite nailed the balance between the series’ slow, strategic gameplay and the fast-paced action that’s at the core of a lightgun game. Luckily, the studio would get this combo right a few years later on the Wii.
All three games take place after the Raccoon City incident but don’t really add much of note to the canon. The third game, Dead Aim, might be the best of the lot, with a mix of first-person and third-person gameplay that is a solid attempt at marrying the two gameplay styles together. Unfortunately, it still comes up very short.
18. Resident Evil Gaiden
For reasons that only Capcom understands, the company really, really wanted a version of Resident Evil on the Game Boy Color in the late ‘90s. At one point, the developer had apparently nearly finished a GBC port of the original Resident Evil game that featured every room and scene in the PlayStation original. While technically impressive, imagine if a 5-year-old with cataracts drew every scene from the game. It looked a lot like that. There are screenshots online. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and Capcom realized that it was kind of dumb to release a 32-bit horror game on a handheld slightly more powerful than the NES.
Well, for a while at least. Instead of cramming the original Resident Evil title into a GBC cartridge, Capcom commissioned Gaiden, an overhead adventure game with a shoddy first-person shooting minigame set on a cruise ship. The story, which follows Leon Kennedy and Barry Burton in their search of Umbrella’s new bioweapon, actually is pretty well told, but the braindead gameplay gets old fast for all but the most dedicated Resident Evil fans.
17. Resident Evil Outbreak 1 and 2
Capcom actually toyed with the idea of multiplayer Resident Evil prior to the release of the second title in the series back in 1998. This was scrapped because it didn’t really work but somehow was resurrected for two full-fledged releases on the PS2. Spoiler: multiplayer Resident Evil still didn’t really work then either.
While the scenarios in each game differed, the gameplay is almost identical in each Outbreak game. Up to four players can tackle various missions in any order, cooperatively solving puzzles and shooting zombies. Curiously, while the games were largely built as an online experience, there was no voice chat and players could only communicate with pre-set commands. Capcom eventually pulled the plug on the servers in 2007. Few people are clamoring for their return.
16. Umbrella Corps
Umbrella Corps is the Resident Evil game that literally no one asked for. With this online multiplayer title, Capcom looked at the crowded shooter market and thought, “me too,” but brought little to the table besides zombies and bad, crowded maps.
The game feels nothing like previous Resident Evil titles, the singleplayer is boring, and the multiplayer has nothing on the current kings of the genre. At least the servers are still online (for now) in case you love the series so much that you just have to try this regrettable spinoff.
15. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Of all of Capcom’s misguided attempts at making Resident Evil a full-fledged multiplayer game, Operation Raccoon City is the best, but that doesn’t mean much. The game is pretty janky and you can almost see every corner that was cut, but there’s fun to be had here.
It’s hard to deny the basic joy of teaming up with three other players as one of the game’s dozen playable characters to take out the undead hordes of Raccoon City, but the fun probably won’t last long. Poor level design, questionable AI, and more than its fair share of glitches bring Operation Raccoon City down in the long run.
14. Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D
The Mercenaries mode was a fun diversion in earlier Resident Evil games that let players rack up high scores by killing baddies either solo or with a friend. The thing is, it was always intended as a minigame and not a full release. When Capcom brought The Mercenaries to the 3DS as a full-fledged release, not a whole lot was added to the box to justify the higher price.
That said, this spinoff is still one of the best-looking titles on the 3DS, more of a fun early showcase for what the system could do than a classic fans need to play. Frankly, if you really like Mercenaries, you’re better off playing it in one of the main games in the series. The Resident Evil 5 version is particularly good.
13. Resident Evil 6
Resident Evil 6 is proof that there can be too much of a good thing. One might even call this sequel gluttonous in the way it mashes up the innovations of Resident Evil 4, such as its over-the-shoulder camera, with the more action-oriented approach of Resident Evil 5 and its big Hollywood set pieces. The result is a Resi game without depth or a particularly strong narrative.
Resident Evil 6 took the things that made its predecessors great, added even more action, and expanded them into a massive campaign divided into four unevenly-paced scenarios of varying quality. While it certainly has a lot of highlights, and Leon’s campaign, in particular, is a lot of fun to play, there’s just too much going on in this game. The result is a generic third-person shooter set in a survival horror universe. Thankfully, Capcom took a hard look at the series before moving on to the next numbered sequel.
12. Resident Evil Revelations 2
The second Revelations game is an odd title. Though the first installment was intended to close the divide between the franchise’s survival horror and action gameplay, the sequel leaned much more heavily on action. There are some sections that require playing as characters that can’t use guns, but these are the minority, and the weakest sections of the game.
Then there’s the story structure, which is made up of four different episodes (plus bonus episodes), each of which can be purchased individually. The result is a somewhat uneven, but not terrible game. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 just doesn’t do much to stand out from the rest of the series.
11. Resident Evil Zero
Resident Evil Zero came out at a weird time for the franchise. Players were growing tired of the tank-style controls and methodical pace of the early installments, but Capcom wasn’t quite ready to reinvent the franchise yet. Instead, the studio took the gameplay that players were already familiar with and added in a second playable character that you could switch to at will. Items could also be dropped anywhere so players no longer had to use storage boxes.
Oddly enough, these changes weren’t instituted for innovation’s sake, but because the title was originally in development for the underpowered cartridge-based N64. The lack of storage boxes and swappable characters just worked better with the aging console’s architecture, but the tweaks ended up being carried over to the GameCube version. Designing games around technological constraints doesn’t always pay off, though. While the original release was praised, this one hasn’t aged very well.
10. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles
Not all Resident Evil experiments end in disaster. The Umbrella Chronicles follows much of the story from the first game and Resident Evil 3 but turns the adventure into an on-rails shooter, a genre perfectly suited for the Wii’s controller.
Yeah, that sounds a lot like Sega’s House of the Dead series, and Umbrella Chronicles basically is a less gruesome version of the classic on-rails series, but it still holds up. The world of Resident Evil is actually perfectly suited to this kind of game. Plus, there are a ton of unlockables, which gives this spinoff much stronger legs than most lightgun shooters.
9. Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
The one thing critics and fans didn’t like about The Umbrella Chronicles was that it omitted material from some of the other early games. The on-rails sequel, The Darkside Chronicles, fixed that by focusing heavily on the events of Resident Evil 2 and Code: Veronica.
With a few gameplay tweaks, like easier headshots and scaling difficulty, it easily outdid its predecessor. Given the lagging popularity of the Wii after Darkside Chronicles’ release, Capcom seems to have given up on Resident Evil lightgun games (aside from the PS3 ports), but maybe the popularity of the Switch and its joy-con controllers will make the company reconsider another entry in this fun spinoff series.
8. Resident Evil Code: Veronica
Code: Veronica looked great back in 2000 when it was first released on the Dreamcast. Sega’s final console was a huge leap forward graphically compared to the blurry textures of the PS1 and the N64, and this was the first Resident Evil game to ditch static pre-rendered backgrounds. Code: Veronica garnered critical acclaim for its impressive cinematic approach and storytelling, as it finally reunited Chris and Claire Redfield for a fight against Albert Wesker.
In terms of gameplay, Code: Veronica sticks to the classic Resident Evil formula. It provides the same, slow survival horror experience of the first three games but with a shiny new coat of paint. Unfortunately, as graphics have continued to improve, what looked great back in 2000 just doesn’t hold up very well today. But if you’re interested in playing through the complete Redfield saga, Code: Veronica is an absolute must.
7. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis didn’t actually start out as the third game in the series. While Capcom was originally working on a different concept for Resident Evil 3 — HUNK fighting zombies on a luxury cruise liner — it was eventually scrapped for Nemesis,whichfeatured Jill Valentine trying to escape Raccoon City before its destruction.
Like Resident Evil 2‘s Tyrant before it, the eponymous Nemesis is central to the plot and gameplay, as it chases Jill with all of its advanced weaponry across the streets of Raccoon City — a first for a series that had mostly taken place inside buildings at this point. The result is pretty solid, even if it does come off as a bit formulaic. A gamechanger for the series would come a few years later, though…
6. Resident Evil
There are two ways to look at the original Resident Evil: from the perspective of when it was released and its legacy in the years since. In 1996, the game was amazing. Nothing else in gaming up to that point had ever managed such a creepy atmosphere through level design, lighting, and sound. Many regard the game as the father of survival horror and even more consider is a defining title for the original PlayStation.
Looking at Resident Evil more than 20 years later, there are a few flaws that are hard to ignore. The atmosphere still holds up, but the human tank controls are just plain bad. The obtuse puzzles are more annoying than fun and the backtracking starts to feel like a chore after a while. The latest HD release of the 2002 remake fixes some of these issues, and it’s the best way to experience the game now, but it’s still doesn’t eliminate these problems completely. Still, you could do way worse than this horror classic.
5. Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil changed forever with the fourth entry in the series, so expectations were high for its sequel. Resident Evil 5 continued to move away from the series’ survival horror roots, adding even bigger action set pieces than ever before. Borrowing freely from the plot of Black Hawk Down, Resident Evil 5 follows Chris Redfield he fights his way through a parasite-infested African village.
The game also features a second playable character, Sheva Alomar, which allows a friend to jump in and lend support. While some feared that adding a co-op would make Resident Evil less frightening, having to constantly watch your partner’s back and manage items between the two of you becomes incredibly tense as the game progresses. Overall, stunning graphics and a lengthy replayable campaign make this sequel one of the finest co-op games ever made and one of the best games of the PS3/Xbox 360 era.
4. Resident Evil Revelations
Revelations was Capcom’s attempt to finally unite the disparate survival horror and survival action genres that the series had spent the last decade exploring. Set on a creepy ghost ship, Revelations marries the much better camera angles and controls of the later games with the atmosphere and resource management of the earlier titles. It’s a mix that should please pretty much everyone.
Originally released exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS, the game looked and played phenomenally on the portable, but it’s now readily available on every other major platform and best experienced on current-gen consoles unless you really feel the need to see the game in 3D.
3. Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 2 is a perfect sequel that takes everything that was great about the original and improves upon it. The setting moves from the mansion of the first game to the entirety of Raccoon City, which also means way more action. The story is much better told and lacks the cheesy moments of the first game, as series mainstays Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield fight their way through the zombie-infested city. Even the puzzles make a lot more sense. Of the series’ early titles, this is easily the best.
This sequel also features an innovative “zapping” system where playing a scenario through the perspective of one character directly affects the other character’s playthrough. The result was two storylines that felt unique and replayable. We’d love to see this sort of open-ended gameplay return to the series down the line.
2. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Sometimes starting over from scratch is a good thing. Resident Evil 7 feels like a complete reboot of the series. The characters, enemies, and setting are all new, and the first-person perspective completely changes the way people have played the series for the last two decades. Yet this terrifying trip to the hellish Baker House jells perfectly with the slow-paced methodical horror that made the series so great in the first place. By moving past the influences of its recent predecessors, Resident Evil 7 ends up being the franchise’s strongest return to its survival horror roots in years.
And while the game is great on a big screen, the absolute best way to play is with the PlayStation VR, which adds a whole new level of terror to the proceedings, as the Bakers hunt you down through the long, cavernous hallways of the house. More often than not, you’ll be unable to do anything to stop these murderous psychopaths but run…
1. Resident Evil 4
Capcom worked on several other versions of Resident Evil 4 (including one that turned into Devil May Cry) over the period of six years before releasing the game that would revolutionize the horror genre. And what a game it is. Gone are the pre-rendered backgrounds and stiff controls of the earlier games. In their place is a smooth third-person shooter that emphasizes quick aiming against hordes of enemies. And these enemies are much smarter than the braindead zombies featured in the first four installments. It takes real skill to avoid the weapon-wielding Los Ganados, chainsaw-wielding villagers, and much worse.
Packed with secrets, new gameplay modes, and an almost infinite number of ways to play through this Spanish nightmare, Resident Evil 4 is not just the best game in the series, it’s one of the greatest games of all time. It still continues to influence survival horror to this day.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.