"You are now entering the world of Survival Horror..."
Few videogame series can claim to have reinvented a genre. Capcom's Resident Evil can, several times over. Coined by the first game in the series, the term Survival Horror has become synonymous with shocks, scares, and a web of intrigue so convoluted - and gaming dialogue so utterly cheesy - that you can't help but be sucked in. There have been pretenders, and several spinoffs (including Capcom's own Dino Crisis), yet none have managed to replace Resi as the first series of Survival Horror.
A big part of that success has been a willingness to innovate. The first game was one of the PlayStation's first immersive 3D Action-Adventures. The second was lauded for its four scenarios, interlocking stories and huge replay value. The third for its heightened action. The series then abandoned Sony hardware and opted for raw power: Sega's Dreamcast got the incredibly polished Code: Veronica; GameCube got an eerie Resi 1 remake and the character-swapping prequel Resi Zero; and then Capcom tore up the rulebook entirely, trading the obscure puzzles and slow-paced trawl for the action masterclass of GC Resident Evil 4.
In this in-depth retrospective, we look at how the series evolved, the key plot points, and prepare for the all-conquering return of Survival Horror in Resident Evil 5.
The Mansion Incident - Resident Evil
(PSone, 1996) (Ports: Saturn, PC, GC, DS as Deadly Silence)
July 24, 1998. The Arklay Mountains on the outskirts of Raccoon City. Reports of cannibalism see Raccoon Police Department's Special Tactics And Rescue Squad (S.T.A.R.S.) despatch their Bravo Team. When contact is lost, Alpha Team, including the two playable characters Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, plus Barry Burton and their commander Albert Wesker, are also despatched. Attacked by vicious mutant dogs, they take shelter in the nearby Spencer Mansion Estate - and the nightmare begins.
The release of Resident Evil on Sony's original PlayStation was greeted with praise, but also reservation. Critics gushed that this was the most eerie, immersive and downright scary game of early PSone software. Combining hand-drawn backgrounds and 3D polygon characters, Resident Evil gave us some of gaming's most memorable scenes. Few gamers will forget that initial zombie encounter, or the first time a Cerberus shattered through those windows.
But Resident Evil was also laughed at for its stilted dialogue ("Here, take this lockpick. I am sure that you, the Master of Unlocking, will make use of it!"), and the oddities of design. Owing much to old-style Point 'n' Click games, the Spencer Mansion was one huge puzzle, with players needing to find, combine and use the right keys, gems, discs and obscure clues to progress past locked-doors and head-spinningly abstract puzzles. They also had limited inventory space, needing to make use of magically linked boxes to place their overspill items, and could only save at typewriters dotted around the labyrinthine building.
Still, the player's journey into Umbrella's secret lab - fighting vicious Bioweapons, being betrayed by a blackmailed Barry and rescuing Bravo Team's Rebecca Chambers as they went - was made more compelling by the diaries and notes left lying around by the slowly dying Umbrella staff, revealing the secrets of their terrible creation, the T-Virus. All of which lead up to the game's pivotal moment, when Chris and Jill were betrayed by Wesker - who had set the whole scenario up, in order to gain the combat data for Umbrella's new bioweapons.
However, before he could steal it for his own ends, he was attacked by the ultimate B.O.W., the Tyrant, and presumed dead. With the lab's self destruct armed, Chris, Jill, Barry and Becca hurriedly defeated the Tyrant and were airlifted to safety by a S.T.A.R.S. chopper as the Mansion erupted in flame, burying the evidence of Umbrella's evil along with it.
Resident Evil was remade several times, most notably for GameCube with vastly improved visuals, reworked puzzles and new super-fast 'Crimson Head' zombies, and is a must-play for series fans.
The Raccoon City Outbreak - Resident Evil 2
(PSone, 1998) (Ports: PC, N64, DC,GC)
Never ones to rest on a potential franchise opportunity, Capcom quickly got to work on Resident Evil's second chapter. Like any good sequel, Resident Evil 2 upped the ante considerably. Set two months after the first game, it placed newcomers Claire Redfield, searching for her brother Chris, and day-one rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy, in the heart of a T-Virus infected Raccoon City.
This time, the outbreak could not be contained. That much was made clear as players, controlling either Leon or Claire, worked their way towards Raccoon Police Station - which, much like the Spencer Estate, turned out to be a converted mansion, joined via sewer tunnels to a mysterious underground Umbrella lab.
Rife with obtuse puzzles, Resi 2 extended the central gameplay of an item fetch quest, this time wrapping it around a far more detailed conspiracy. The story's main thread detailed the reason for the viral outbreak. Umbrella's head scientist, William Birkin, betrayed Umbrella, who sent a squad to eliminate Birkin and reclaim his new G-Virus. Dying on his lab floor, Birkin injected himself with the G-Virus, mutated, and slaughtered all but one of the team who had attacked him. In the chaos, smashed T-Virus samples were spread to the water supply by sewer rats, turning Raccoon into a zombie paradise.
Ingeniously, Resident Evil 2 assigned Leon and Claire's first and second scenarios distinct pieces of the whole narrative, meaning players had to complete the game twice as each character to get the full story. The official version of these events see Leon stalked by a Tyrant-like figure throughout the game. Along the way, he meets Ada Wong; a woman posing as the girlfriend of an Umbrella researcher, but actually a spy sent to retrieve the G-Virus sample - who, after apparently dying, reappears long enough to aid Leon in destroying the Tyrant for good.
Meanwhile, Claire uncovers the truth behind Raccoon Police. Their chief, Brian Irons, is on Umbrella's payroll. Yet he is not her only concern. Early on, she meets Sherry, daughter of William Birkin. However, the pair are soon separated, and Sherry infected by her mutant father. Eventually, Claire manages to locate and cure Sherry after coming into contact with a dying Annette Birkin - mortally wounded by a claw swipe from her now monstrous husband.
With Sherry in tow and the Tyrant defeated, Leon and Claire board the train exiting Umbrella's underground lab - but Leon has one more battle to fight. Eliminating Birkin - now a writhing, mutated blob - for the last time, the train speeds into the sun as the facility explodes. The pair are safe... for now.
Where reaction to Resident Evil had been mixed, Resident Evil 2 was a widely regarded triumph. The dialogue was still inherently over-the-top, but the deeper conspiracy, more gruesome monsters, satisfying replayability and the cult unlockable 4th Survivor mode, where players controlled surviving Umbrella extraction operative HUNK, make it considered, even today, a high point of the series.
Last Escape - Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
(PSone, 1999) (Ports: DC, PC, GC)
With the next official chapter in the Resi narrative planned for Sega's new Dreamcast console, Capcom had a problem - they were still signed up to produce one more Resident Evil for Sony's aging grey box. And so, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was born.
Starring Jill Valentine of original Resident Evil fame, Nemesis was a more action-focused instalment that had players guiding the ex S.T.A.R.S. member through the infected city, pursued along the way by the titular Nemesis - another variant on the Tyrant, sent by Umbrella specifically to target S.T.A.R.S. members.
Where Resident Evils 1 and 2 had taken place largely in mansion-like environments, giving them a sort of hub feel, Nemesis eschewed the indoors vibe, taking Jill and Umbrella mercenary Carlos Oliviera on a jaunt through Raccoon's streets, offices, parks, sewers, and finally, an abandoned Umbrella factory, where the Nemesis was destroyed for good using an experimental rail cannon. Jill and Carlos escaped just in time, as a nuclear strike rocked the city - another explosion ending another Resi instalment.
Resi 3 was well received, but unlike past games, contributed little new to the conspiracy at the series' core. Gameplay also differed significantly; players could now dodge, quick-turn, shoot explosive barrels and collect chemicals to create their own ammunition, and the introduction of the Nemesis gave the third instalment a more urgent, arcade-like sense. The action slant also allowed for a time-attacking high-score Mercenaries mode; which Capcom would revive a few years later.
Moreover, this side-story was the shortest in the series thus far. Playtime weighed in between six and ten hours, which was applicable to the first two games as well - but, importantly, Nemesis was Jill's story, and lacked the replay value attached to a second main character. The Raccoon City setting in was also starting to wear thin. Resident Evil 3 was a decent game, then, but at its conclusion, fans felt the need for the story move forwards - or see the series risk stagnation.
Family Ties - Resident Evil - Code: Veronica
(DC, 2000) (Ports: PS2 & GC as Code: Veronica X)
And move forwards it did, into by far the largest - and arguably the best - of the traditional Resident Evil games. Unlike the first two titles, Code: Veronica focused on one main character from the off, Claire Redfield. However, unlike Nemesis, half way through the focus switched to Chris Redfield, who became playable for the rest of the game. For the first time, we had two character's stories, running in sequence in one extra-long adventure.
Chris's return was fitting, because at the heart of Code: Veronica was a tale of sibling rivalry, pitting the Redfields against two remaining members of one of Umbrella's founding families.
Set three months after Resi 2, C:V's opening sees Claire captured infiltrating Umbrella's Paris HQ. Gameplay picks up after she's transferred to Umbrella's under siege Rockfort Island Facility. The T-Virus released, she dodges zombies and sets about finding a way off the island. Together with fellow prisoner Steve Burnside, an erratic, emotional teenager, she manages just that - but not before coming across the base's commander, the clearly insane Alfred Ashford.
Escaping Rockfort though proves just the beginning. Steve and Claire are soon diverted to Umbrella's Antarctic Facility - where the true evil is revealed (and we don't just mean Alfred's cross-dressing).
Alexia Ashford, once thought dead, has been hibernating in cryostasis for 15 years; adapting to a new virus named T-Veronica. Emerging from her slumber to see her twin brother die before her (thanks to Steve), Alexia unleashes her wrath on the escaping heroes, and everything goes dark...
And then, seeking his sister, Chris arrives on Rockfort. Stumbling into the aftermath of yet another Umbrella Facility self-destruct, he soon meets the leader of the team that attacked the base - the returning Albert Wesker! Back from the dead and working for a company rivalling Umbrella, the yellow-eyed Wesker now boasts super-human strength and speed, leaving Chris just about breathing as he pursues Alexia to Antarctica.
Following the trail to the pole in one of Alfred's jets, Chris eventually finds Claire - cocooned behind the staircase in a remarkable recreation of the Spencer Mansion foyer. The pair are soon separated though, and while Chris battles Alexia, Claire finds a now Virus-infected Steve - who horribly mutates before her eyes. Narrowly avoiding death by axe, Claire sees Steve's humanity return just long enough to tell her he loves her, before dying in her arms.
With that, all which remains is one final battle with the ever-mutating Alexia. Using a new experimental weapon named the Linear Launcher, Chris destroys the insectile evil genius, ending the Ashford bloodline once and for all. Cue another self destruct sequence, a breakneck Harrier jet escape, one huge explosion, and a vow to finally bring down Umbrella.
Incorporating full 3D backgrounds, the action of Nemesis, the twisting narrative of Resi 2, popular characters from the original, plus a time-attacking Battle Mode, Code: Veronica was a real Resi magnum opus. Sadly, the Dreamcast version didn't sell so well, and so a re-edited version with more Wesker-centric cut-scenes, and a plot hole-filling DVD named The Wesker Report, was later released on PS2 and GameCube. Named Code: Veronica X, it's the most complete adaptation, and highly recommended, if you can hunt it down.
Wrath of the Leech King - Resident Evil Zero
Not yet ready to release the next chapter in the series, Capcom instead created the first. Resident Evil Zero was a GameCube-exclusive prelude to Resi 1, following Bravo Team's rookie field medic Rebecca Chambers before The Mansion Incident.
July 23, 1998. the Arklay Mountains on the outskirts of Raccoon City. Reports of cannibalism see RPD's S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team despatched to the scene. Their helicopter malfunctions, crashing them in the forest. Uninjured, they discover an overturned military transport truck with two dead officers, and split up to track down the culprit.
Coming across a train mysteriously stopped on the tracks, Rebecca boards the Ecliptic Express to investigate. She soon discovers that it's infested with zombies, and teams up with the military convict, Billy Coen. Together, they battle mutated passengers, oversized leeches and even a giant scorpion; eventually diverting the Express towards an abandoned training and research facility.
Originally an N64 project, Resi Zero released on GameCube using the Resi 1 remake's graphics engine, making for the most atmospheric original Resident Evil yet. It also delivered a first for the series; "partner-zapping" gameplay, which allowed players to switch control between Becca and Billy in real-time. Many of the game's puzzles were actually based around separating the two and using their individual skills, including Becca's small size and chemical mixing kit, and Billy's larger frame and ability with heavy objects. Item boxes were also gone; with players now able to drop items, which were marked on the map screen.
Entering the abandoned facility, Becca and Billy battle mutated researchers, spiders, primates and more; eventually discovering the fate of Umbrella's third founding member, James Marcus.
Betrayed by his two head researchers; William Birkin and Albert Wesker, under orders from a paranoid Spencer, Marcus fused with his pet queen leech during his death, creating a new type of terror. It was therefore Marcus, now king of leeches, who unleashed his wrath on Umbrella, releasing the T-Virus into both the Ecliptic Express and Spencer Estate.
With that revelation, Billy and Rebecca have but to defeat a now enormous, leech-like James Marcus, and escape the facility before the self destruct kicks in. Managing to do just that, the pair stand on a hill overlooking the Spencer Estate and go their separate ways; Billy to freedom; Rebecca into another awaiting nightmare.
Despite the innovations, Resident Evil Zero felt somewhat stale. The visuals impressed, but the slow-paced puzzle template was now all-too familiar, and the story really needed to move past Raccoon City and its immediate surroundings. Luckily, a Resi revolution was just around the corner...
Shoot Or Die - Other Resi Games
Before that, though, it's worth noting the franchise's other games, including a host of spinoffs of various gamestyles. Here's the pick of the bunch:
- Resident Evil: Survivor 1 & 2 (PS2, 2000/02): First-person lightgun games where the player controls their own movement. The first Survivor saw agent Ark Thompson sent to Sheena Island to destroy an Umbrella B.O.W. facility. The second was inspired by the events of Code: Veronica.
- Resident Evil: Dead Aim (PS2, 2003): Another lightgun game, this time with a third-person perspective for movement, and a first-person shooting view. US anti-Umbrella agent Bruce McGivern finds himself fighting T-Virus infected on board an Umbrella-owned ship, and later, an Umbrella island facility.
- Resident Evil: Outbreak: Files 1 & 2 (PS2, 2004/05): The first online multiplayer game in the series, Outbreak gave up to four players a choice of eight characters to control in escaping the T-Virus infected Raccoon City before a nuclear strike wiped it out. File 2 added more Survival Horror style scenarios and improved online functions. The servers were closed in March 2007.
- Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (Wii, 2007): By far the best lightgun Resi game yet, Umbrella Chronicles offered up lightgun versions of Resis Zero, 1 and 3, bonus scenarios based on Resi 2, and side stories where players controlled Wesker and Rebecca Chambers. Pivotally, it also featured Chris and Jill's assault on Umbrella's last B.O.W. Facility, and filled a lot of the gaps in the story about Wesker's ambitions to acquire Umbrella's legacy.
The Kennedy Report - Resident Evil 4
(GC, 2005) (Ports: PS2, PC, Wii)
2004: Six years after the destruction of Raccoon City. Following the nuclear strike, the government suspends the business practices of the company responsible. Umbrella is dead.
Resident Evil 4 sees Leon S. Kennedy, now a government agent, return as a playable character. This time, he's pursuing the President's kidnapped daughter into a rural Spanish village, where a new type of evil awaits...
Resident Evil 4 did away with the old template, opting for an action-focused approach which revolutionised the series. Gone were exploration, strange puzzles and a hub structure that forced players to backtrack. In their place were linear progression, over-the-shoulder shooting, Quick Time Events, an odd weapons salesman and an arcade-style armoury, plus set pieces that set a new standard in action game design.
With Umbrella gone as the main antagonist, there was also an opening for a fresh bioterror. Step up Osmund Saddler; leader of the cult Los Illuminados - and, more specifically, the Las Plagas parasite he uses to control the villagers, collectively labelled Los Ganados. Captured early on and injected with this very organism, Leon faces a race against time to remove it, find Ashley Graham, and make it out alive.
But Leon soon learns that he is not alone. First, he meets Luis Sera - a former Los Illuminados researcher, who helps him before being killed by Saddler. He also comes face to face with Jack Krauser - a former member of Leon's government training group. They battle on two occasions, and despite a mutated Krauser quite clearly possessing an advantage, Leon wins out.
The most impressive revelation, however, is the return of Ada. Thought dead after Resident Evil 2, the sexy spy survived with the help of Wesker, who had since tasked her with retrieving the Master Plaga parasite. Indeed, Wesker is seen on several occasions in Resident Evil 4 pulling the strings of both Ada and Krauser - though he and Leon never actually come into contact.
Leon heads from the first village across a lake, towards a creepy church, where he finds Ashley, and meets Saddler, who intends to use the girl to infect the Whitehouse; giving the cult leader control over the greatest power in the free world.
Luckily, he and Ashley escape - only to have her retaken by Saddler's flying minions as the pair explore an ancient castle, which itself turns out to hold the origins of the Plagas parasite.
After defeating the castle's leader, the Plagas-infected Ramon Salazar, Leon and Ada head towards Saddler's hi-tech island facility. After battling hordes of Ganados, overcoming several B.O.W. experiments, and killing the parasites within himself and Ashley, Leon faces Saddler one last time - ending the cult leader's existence with a well-placed rocket from Ada. However, the sultry spy takes the Master Plaga sample, later handing Wesker a fake. With that, Leon and Ashley escape on a jet ski as the island crumbles behind them.
Owing more to explosive modern shooters than traditional, tense Survival Horror, Resident Evil 4 was a risky departure. And yet, while a few hardliners accused it of violating the franchise, the wider reception was euphoric. Tremendous sales, universal acclaim and near-unprecedented numbers of Game of the Year awards introduced the series to a whole new audience, while the new-look Mercenaries mode proved popular amongst hardcore gamers.
A PS2 port later that year added Separate Ways, a six-hour Ada Wong adventure; and further PC and Wii versions also followed, solidifying the game's legend. However, Resident Evil 4 raised more questions than it answered; about the fallout of Umbrella's demise; about Ada; about Wesker; and about the other characters we'd come to love over the years. Questions only a sequel could address...
Fear You Can't Forget - Resident Evil 5
(X360, PS3, PC, 2009)
The biggest question, of course, is how do you follow up the most acclaimed action game of all time? In answering that, Capcom have taken few risks. Resident Evil 5 takes the Resident Evil 4 formula and runs with it. Those hoping for a return to wide-scope exploration and abstract puzzles will have a right to feel slightly let down; but everyone else will be elated to know that the new-style Resi is here to stay.
That's not to say Capcom haven't continued to innovate. Indeed, Resident Evil 5 evolves the franchise with a series of key additions. Chief amongst them is the introduction of a second character, which builds upon Resi Zero's "partner-zapping" by offering player two the chance to control newcomer Sheva Alomar, while player one takes on the mantle of the returning Chris Redfield.
Available either splitscreen or online, this will add a new dimension to a series always famed for a feeling of isolated terror. Together with an inventory screen which doesn't pause play, and the constant balancing of weapons and ammo between the two characters, Resident Evil 5 will be the most cooperative, frenetic game the series has yet seen.
Helping you battle the undead hordes will be a Gears of War style control system which places movement (including strafing) on the left stick, turning on the right stick, and aiming and firing on the left and right triggers respectively. It's an addition which will bring the series up to date with modern action game standards - although Resi veterans will also be able to choose the control setup from Resident Evil 4, and two others besides.
The setting too will be a first for Resident Evil. Western Africa's Kijuju region will play host to a rollercoaster ride that starts off in a sandy shanty town full of infected villagers,
and will take Chris and Sheva, both members of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, deep into abandoned Umbrella territory. Hot on the trail of a contact named Irving, they'll face all-new B.O.W.s, a mysterious beaked figure and the enigmatic Albert Wesker, plus uncover the fate of Jill Valentine, before ultimately coming across the origins of Umbrella's original Progenitor Virus.
Reinventing its genre once again, Resident Evil 5 promises fear you can't forget. Get ready for the scariest Friday 13th in living memory, with the triumphant return of Survival Horror.
Article by: Mark 'S.T.A.R.S.' Scott