The Resident Evil ready reckoner

More zombies than you can shake a leg bone at. Aaron Birch takes a look at one of gaming's longest running series

A good franchise sells, and a great franchise sells a lot. Create a good character, game world, or weave a particularly intriguing story, and you can keep a name alive for one sequel, maybe even two. Some companies know this all too well, and are able to keep flogging that cash cow till it comes home, when it’ll be flogged again for good measure.

Capcom certainly knows this fact, perhaps more so than anyone else, and has been known to milk the living daylights out of its biggest sellers. Street Fighter 7 EX Plus Alpha Ultimate Edition Super Hyper Fighting, anyone?

One of the biggest selling titles from Capcom’s impressive stables is the mighty survival horror ambassador, Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan). Hugely successful, and the major reason why the genre has become so prevalent (even if it didn’t create the genre. That accolade falls to Alone in the Dark). And, while the horror element of more Night of the Living Dead than Ring, it’s still amongst the best licenses around.

So, here, from the initial release , all the way to the present, is the long, and not always grand, history of everyone’s favourite zombie smashing bloodbath.

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Resident Evil (1996)

The original, and some might say, still the best. One of the first titles to show what the, then newborn Playstation could do (until it was ported to almost every platform around), Resident Evil took the groundwork laid by Alone in the Dark et al, and refined it into one hell of a good romp. Taking place mostly in a creepy old mansion, the game introduced us to the main characters Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, one of the best villains in gaming, ‘ultimate traitor’ Albert Wesker. And, of course, the downright dodgy Umbrella Corporation, the root of all problems zombie related.

Packed with puzzles, exploration and, of course, zombies and other hellish foes, Resident Evil was unparalleled when it came to tension. You really did value every single bullet, and tried desperately to conserve ammo for that next big threat. Yes, the acting was ludicrously bad, the controls a little stodgy, but the story and constant surprises made this a classic. Visually, it’s aged badly, but the game is still as good as it ever was.

Resident Evil 2 (1998)

The public asked for more zombies, more locations (Racoon City in particular), more weapons, and more story, and so, that’s what Capcom went and did. Spanning two discs, Resident Evil 2 introduced us to Leon S Kennedy and Claire Redfield as the main characters, and shifted the action from the Arklay mountains, to Racoon City itself. This time the visuals were beefed up, there were more varied enemies, more puzzles and many more locations, including the city streets, Police Station, rail depot, and the now trademark secret underground labs.

One of the most interesting aspects to Resident Evil 2 was the ability to play the game through up to four times, as Leon and Claire each had an ‘A’ and ‘B’ scenario. What you did in a character’s ‘A’ scenario could directly effect the other character’s ‘B’ scenario, such as choosing to leave ammo or a gun during the ‘A’ game, which would see the gun sat there waiting for the other character (the two scenarios ran side by side in the same timeframe). Very clever.

RE2 was a big hit, selling by the bucketload, and to be honest, until a later release of RE, this was my personal favourite. But, many thought it lost the edge of the first, tried to do too much, and was too unfocused. The shock horror element was almost entirely gone, with only the occasional jump thrown in, and while the game was long, it wasn’t as challenging as the first. But, it’s worth a play if only for the custom shotgun you eventually get. Surely one of the most satisfying head-poppers in gaming.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (1999)

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Hmmm. Something went wrong here in my opinion. Despite showing us some of Racoon City in RE2, Capcom was still inundated with requests for more urban decay, and so Nemesis played out almost entirely in the streets and various buildings. This time starring only one character as the main protagonist, RE1’s Jill Valentine, the game was all about Jill’s battle with the Nemesis, a Tyrant-class Umbrella creation (the boss of the first game) on steroids. As the game progresses, Jill would be constantly chased and attacked by this beast, and sometimes it would even shock the player by breaking through seemingly normal background walls. This was a good idea, and even the safest looking area made you keep your guard up, just in case.

But, the overall story, and the lacklustre return of the series’ arguably most deadly foe – the Hunters (how easy were they to kill this time?), was enough to knock points off. Puzzles were so, so, and nothing new was introduced really. Add to that an easy mode that started you off with enough ammo to wage a small war, and this wasn’t the finest RE outing.

Resident Evil: Survivor (2000)

Perhaps seeing that RE was becoming a little stale after three instalments, Capcom made a radical change for the next RE release. In RE: Survivor, the familiar fixed, third person cameras were replaced with a first person view. Creating a mix between the standard FPS and a light gun title, this sounded, at least on paper, to be a promising idea. Sadly, this wasn’t the case in practise, and the dubious controls and overly simple puzzles let the side down. Gameplay was very repetitive too, with none of the variety of previous games. The story was also a bit of a letdown, and is best forgotten in the RE world.

A nice idea, and fusing RE gameplay with the FPS should have worked, but not this time.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica (2000)

With the debacle that was Survivor, RE: Code Veronica was very important for the series. First appearing on the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast, this was Resi’s first foray into proper 3D. But, rather than retaining the FPS style of Survivor (although a special FPS mode could be unlocked), the game returned to the familiar fixed, third-person camera view. But, with the new 3D view, things were a little more dynamic (much like Silent Hill’s system, in fact).

The protagonists this time were Claire and Chris Redfield. Although, this time you didn’t choose who to play, but took over as Chris about half way through the game.

RE:CV took the action away from Racoon City, and even America, and instead began on Rockfort Island, a remote Umbrella prison facility that Claire wound up in after being captured mooching around Umbrella offices. Later on in the game, things moved to the Antarctic, and the inevitable escaping before the whole base explodes (yes, Capcom does love its base-destroying countdown escapes, doesn’t it?).

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RE:CV did everything right, and while the new visuals were fantastic, the gameplay was shifted back to good old RE staples. Plenty of puzzles, exploration and combat, as well as limited supplies and varied enemies helped bring the series back to form, and the game’s antagonists, Alfred and Alexia Ashford are some of the most memorable (Alfred especially). Oh, and Wesker made a much welcomed cameo too.

The game was also re-released on the PS2 as a remixed Code Veronica X, which added some content, including a fight with Wesker. But little changed overall.

Resident Evil: Survivor 2 – Code Veronica (2001)

Capcom, why don’t you listen sometimes? If RE:Survivor wasn’t bad enough, another comes from out of the dark. This time nothing more than a dream Claire has while travelling from Rockfort Island to the Antarctic in RE:CV, Survivor 2 features settings and enemies from RE:CV. Still struggling with dodgy controls and the same lack of decent puzzles, Survivor 2 might have been slightly better than the first, but not by much. It was also very, very short, and come on, the whole thing as a dream? Well, I guess it worked for J.R.

Resident Evil: Gaiden (2002)

A special Resi, just for the Nintendo Game Boy Colour, this incarnation of the series saw fan favourite Barry “I hope this isn’t Chris’ Blood” Burton take centre stage. Non-canonical, and simply a side story, this sees Barry take on a mission aboard the Starlight ocean liner, the base of an anti-Umbrella cult, after contact is lost with Leon Kennedy.

The usual, warped, top down view is used for the game, and the familiar RE gameplay is replaced by a watered down action title with limited puzzles. There’s no inventory management to speak of, and almost no suspense or atmosphere. True, handheld’s were limited back then, so you have to give Capcom some slack, but overall this was a forgettable RE instalment.

Resident Evil: Gamecube remake (2002)

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Okay, so it’s not really a new instalment. But, this 2002 Gamecube remake of the first RE game deserves its own place in the list. Taking the original and giving it a major overhaul, both graphically and sonically, the game also features a remixed mansion and grounds, with whole new sections of the woods to explore. There are new creatures to fear, including the panic-generating Crimson Head zombies, and even totally new puzzles and weapons, as well as extra game modes and secrets.

Better still, it oozed even more atmosphere than the first game, thanks to the improved visuals, and was just as challenging. Considered by many to be the best RE game of all time, this is arguably even better than the first, and should be in any self-respecting RE fan’s collection.

Resident Evil: Zero (2002)

You wait ages for a good RE game to come along, and two arrive at once! With the remixed first game colliding with the Gamecube, we also saw the arrival of this prequel. Starring medic Rebecca Chambers, and convict Billy Coen, the game takes place shortly before the first game, and charts the events after Bravo Team’s chopper crash lands in the Arklay Mountains.

This time, players didn’t choose a single character, but instead switched between the two at will. This not only added variety to the game, but also built on the puzzle element, with the two characters required to work together to overcome situations.

Although not in the same league as the Resi Evil remake, Zero still garnered good response from most, and was a great game in its own right. It was also notoriously difficult, and is viewed by many as one of the hardest RE titles of all.

Resident Evil: Outbreak (2003)

Oh dear. When Capcom was on a roll, after releasing two excellent RE games, along comes Outbreak, basically, an online Resident Evil in which players team up to fight the undead and solve puzzles, all in the familiar Resi universe and the same third person, fixed camera view.

Unlike Survivor, which sounded good on paper, this abomination doesn’t even sound good in your head, let alone committed to ink. Fixed camera angles, and the usual, tank-like controls, in a multiplayer game? What was Capcom thinking?

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The game enabled players to communicate with each other via simple commands (“come here”, “give me that” etc), and kept the limited ammo mentality of the other games. People could team up to fight, or help friends out of a mess in each of the five scenarios.

You may be thinking “That does sound quite good! I’d like to play Resi with friends”. Well, did I forget to mention that Outbreak in Europe wasn’t even online-enabled? Yep, the single selling point of the game, the online multiplayer, didn’t make it into the Europe edition, and to replace other real people, we got some of the most pathetic AI ever seen in a game instead. Bah!

A horrible mess and a shameful release; Capcom should have left the idea firmly on the shelf, or at least spare European gamers from the atrocity we received.

Resident Evil: Dead Aim (2003)

Not willing to let the Survivor series die, Capcom decided to release Dead Aim. Ditching the Survivor name was a good idea, and it wasn’t only the name they dropped. While combat in this incarnation was still a first person, light gun affair, the exploration moved to third person, which was a very good idea indeed, and greatly helped the game shake off some of the stigma the previous two Survivor titles accrued.

While not a great game, Dead Aim was a definite marked improvement. Controls are far better thanks to the third person movement, and the light gun combat is decent enough. Sadly, the game was very short, and gameplay overly simple. But, decent looks, and a good setting helped to make this a worthy RE title.

Resident Evil: Outbreak File 2 (2004)

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Iiiiitttt’s baaaaccckk! Perhaps the worst Resi spin-off of all time gets a sequel, and to be honest, little changed from the first. Yes, Capcom actually saw fit to bestow us lucky, lucky European gamers with an actual online mode, but this doesn’t make up for its faults (and the fact that at the time, the PS2’s online service was hardly setting the world on fire). A few refinements were made to the controls and communications, and for those playing on their own, the AI was given a bit of a seeing to, but it was still pretty poor.

AI was still laughable, item management was a total nightmare, and the levels were shoddily designed. Yes, it’s a bit better than the first, but only by the smallest fraction.

Resident Evil 4 (2005)

Resident Evil was, even to the most hardcore fan, beginning to run out of ideas, and games were starting to get a little long in the tooth. Capcom needed a major breakthrough to keep the licence alive. Luckily for both Capcom and gamers everywhere, the developers managed exactly that.

Throwing out every Resi convention in the book, Resident Evil 4 was an almost entirely new game. Starring RE2’s Leon Kennedy, Resi 4 took place in a remote European village, with Leon on a mission to find the President’s kidnapped daughter. On entering the village, Leon soon finds all is not well, and rather than zombies, he encounters 28 Days Later-style crazed assailants.

Viewing the action from a third person, behind view, the game switches to a Splinter Cell–style over the shoulder camera for shooting. The whole game was in proper 3D, much like an FPS, and Capcom introduced a slew of new gameplay elements.

There was a new inventory system for managing the items Leon can carry, and a shop where he can buy and upgrade weapons. Also featured were a range of quick time button events, and some of the best enemies ever created for the series, with the highlight being the crazed villagers. These are no slow-poke zombies, and they’ll rush at Leon with pitchforks, torches and even chainsaws. Combat was excellent, and the ability to target foes’ limbs for more damage (or to make them stumble over with a leg shot) added masses to the game.

There’s not enough room here to go into all of the reasons why this is such an epic title, save to say that both myself, and many, many others see this as the best RE game ever, even better than the first. If you only play one RE game, this should be it.

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Resident Evil: Confidential Report (2006)

A mobile phone outing for Resi, this rather odd release is actually a turn-based, isometric strategy effort, similar to the X-Com series. Two ‘files’ are available, each with a different story, and the usual Resi hallmarks, such as zombies, limited ammo and typewriter saves are present.

Decent enough for a mobile phone, this isn’t a bad game really, but it’s not Resident Evil, despite the content. Turn-based play doesn’t work here, and there’s really little to draw fans in.

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (2007)

The latest game to be released from the Resi universe, this Wii incarnation takes the Survivor series, drops the manual character control and replaces it with simple, non-stop light-gun style blasting.

Encompassing a range of Resident Evil titles and charting the downfall of Umbrella, the game drags you through some of the most memorable locales in the Resi world, including Racoon City, Zero’s train, the Police Station and, of course, the first game’s mansion.

Eight characters are playable, including all the major series protagonists, as well as Albert Wesker.

As far as light-gun games go, RE:UC is a good game, and is Capcom’s House of the Dead, if you like. Graphically pleasing with satisfying combat, the game does most things right. But, an on-rails shooter isn’t what Resident Evil is about, and as such isn’t going to stand up to the other games in the series.

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Resident Evil 5 (2009) Little is known about the next Resident Evil instalment due on PS3 and 360 in 2009. It’s been said that the game will take place in the Middle East somewhere, and with the massive success of Resi 4, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same basic gameplay return. Being next-gen, expect amazing visuals and the usual physics and advanced AI. Whether we’ll see classic zombies, or more Resi 4 style foes is anyone’s guess. I just know that I can’t wait. Bring it on, Capcom!