With the recent announcement of Resident Evil 6, and the admission it is aimed at the Call of Duty crowd, HCF decided to have a look back at how the game has changed since we first visited that mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon. We’ll be taking a look at the games we loved, hated and didn’t know even existed, as well as the films and where the franchise is heading. In part 1 of our retrospective, we have a look at Resident Evil from its humble beginnings to its brief but brilliant exclusive run on Nintendo’s GameCube.
Although Resident Evil wasn’t the first survival horror game (there’d been a couple of Alone in the Dark’s preceding Capcom’s first foray into the shuffling dead), it pretty much reinvented the wheel, paving the way for many sequels and several imitators. Released to critical acclaim in 1996 on PS1, Sega Saturn and PC (and much later on DS under the subtitle Deadly Silence), it was a game the likes of which had yet to have been seen. Two teams of specialist police units are dispatched to a remote mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City, to investigate some strange goings on. This, as game so cheesily puts, is the beginning of their worst nightmare!
The formula was a combination of awful B-movie acting, including a live action opening and closing video, tense atmosphere and music, combined with fixed camera angles meaning you can’t see what’s coming in some cases, and the walking dead. It’s a formula that worked better than you’d expect. The story unravelling and getting through the mansion by shooting your way through the shambling dead, in the goriest fashion you could, was an utterly fantastic experience. There was a choice between two characters, Jill Valentine – Normal – and Chris Redfield – Hard – (members of Raccoon P.D.’s STARS – Special Tactics and Rescue Squad), which meant there were two stories to get through. It also introduced Barry Burton, Albert Wesker and Rebecca Chambers into gaming pop-culture. And it wouldn’t be the last we see of them, either. While they may have been bit-players in the game, the woeful scripting and voice acting made them as popular, if not more, than the games main protagonists. The monsters, characters and the game itself were all amazing and made for a gaming experience like no other.
Resident Evil is known as Biohazard in Japan
A year later saw the release of Playstation exclusive, Resident Evil: Directors Cut. While virtually the same game, Directors Cut, had alternative camera angles, different puzzles, Dualshock compatibility and most exciting of all, a demo of the forthcoming Resident Evil 2.
Taking the terror from the isolated mansion, down to the streets of Raccoon City, RE2 improved upon the visuals, the scares, the monsters you face and the scale of the game. It took the player from the streets, to the police department, through the sewers and to Umbrella’s secretRaccoonCitylaboratory. Released in 1998 on PS1 and PC and later to be released on N64, Dreamcast and GameCube, Resident Evil 2 had a massive story unravelling throughout the game, and ties neatly to what we already know from the first game. The biggest addition to RE2 however, is the fact there are four different ways to finish the game. Spread across two discs, you get the choice of two characters, much like the first, only this time it was Leon Kennedy (rookie cop) and Claire Redfield (Chris’s sister), with one disc for one character and one for the other. This time though, each character had two scenarios, with one characters intertwining with the others, meaning there were technically four games to get through. And rather than the choice of character dictating the difficulty, there was the option to choose between Easy and Normal, regardless of whom you chose. The monsters this time around were more varied and in greater detail, breaking up the monotony as a result of the limited enemies experienced in the first game, and making it that little more gory. The ‘Lickers’ were a particular nasty piece of work, and for anyone who has played this game, all I need to say is two-way mirror. Scary stuff! Resident Evil 2 remains a firm fan favourite, with it not just being one of the best games in the franchise, but one the best games of the 32-bit generation.
The third instalment, Nemesis, released on the same systems as RE2 (except N64) in 1999, stripped things down a little, with there only being one main character this time, and returning to the fold was Jill Valentine, the heroine from the first game. Again, this saw the game take to the streets of Raccoon City, taking place simultaneously to Resident Evil 2, Jill had to escape the city. Things were not quite so simple, as many things, as well as the walking dead, stood in Jill’s way. Worst of all was the titular beast, the Nemesis. A massive hulk of a monster with one aim, to kill all remaining STARS members. Nemesis, when encountered, made things even more difficult than they already were. He took a lot of firepower to take down, but he’d always be back, seemingly stronger than before. Like its predecessor, Nemesis boasted even better graphical improvements, more monsters and gore, and another great story. One complaint would be that normal mode took away some of what made the survival horror aspect so great, by starting the player off with several amounts of ammo and even an automatic rifle as well as infinite saves. On the whole it was another brilliant, welcome addition to the series, receiving many perfect scores in several reviews. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was the last of the series on the 32-bit consoles.
What came next was the first ‘next generation’ Resident Evil game. Originally intended as Resident Evil 3, Code Veronica was a Sega Dreamcast exclusive. This time, the action moved away from the devastated city ofRaccoonCity. Released in 2000, and later on the GameCube and PS2, Code Veronica saw the return of Chris, making his first appearance since the original game, and we were once again acquainted with his sister, Claire. Rather than choosing between the characters before the start of the game, like RE3, there was no choice. The game starts off with the player taking control of Claire, who has been held captive by Umbrella on an undisclosed island. With it being Resident Evil, it’s not long before all hell breaks loose and the dead once again, rise up in search of the delicious living. In a change from what was the norm, Resident Evil Code: Veronica was fully 3D, with no pre-rendered backgrounds, making the horror look even better than it ever has done. Obviously with the game running on a next gen console, there was a vast visual improvement, and the game was a lot bigger than what we’d seen before. New creatures were introduced, as well as the player getting reacquainted with old ones, and Code Veronica proved to be the toughest Resident Evil yet. Although the game was a visual improvement, it seemed to run on the same engine as RE2, and felt like it had something missing compared to the previous games. Regardless, it was vintage RE, on one of the greatest consoles ever.
Following on from Resident Evil’s singular Sega exclusive, Capcom made one of their best decisions ever. They were going to remake Resident Evil, with current gen graphics, from the ground up. Not only that, the title will be exclusive to Nintendo’s then forthcoming console, the GameCube. Released a few months after the launch of the ‘Cube in 2002, Resident Evil (or REmake!), received massive acclaim, with good reason. The graphics were some of the best seen on that generation of console, the game was (reportedly) 70% brand new, including the introduction of a new B.O.W. and a new type of zombie, the dreaded Crimson Head. The new version of the mansion where it all started was a thing of gothic beauty. While the story was pretty much the same, and the general locations were the same, this did feel like playing a new game, but with an old friend. Above all, and possibly most importantly, REmake was damn scary! The previous games were all terrifying in their own rite, but this one upped the ante, making it one of the most chilling video gaming experiences around. This reverted back to the old method of choosing your character at the beginning of the game, with Jill again being Normal mode and Chris being Hard. With the greater graphical capabilities came greater gore, and better detailed enemies. The better detail in the environments added to the scares, things looked more realistic adding a little more edge to proceedings.
As part of Capcom’s deal with Nintendo, the GameCube saw rereleases of the previous titles (apart from the original). At the time it was rumoured they would also be remade, but no such luck (though if anyone from Capcom happens to be reading, RE2 remake. You won’t regret it!), although the graphics did appear to have a slight improvement over the previous console versions. Following these releases was another new title, but this time it was a prequel.
Resident Evil 0 followed the REmake a few months later, and starred Rebecca Chambers (bit player from Resident Evil), as she gets embroiled in an Umbrella conspiracy, and eventually winds up at THE mansion. Rebecca meets escaped convict Billy Coen, in the opening stages of the game, and a train crash results in them fighting together to survive. Apart from the bog-standard shufflers, most of the monsters in 0 are all new. RE0, like Code: Veronica and Nemesis, didn’t give you the option of which character to start off with, but during the game, you could choose between the two leads whenever you wanted to, although they would get separated at times as the characters had to take separate routes from time to time. Much like one of the later games in the series, both characters were present at the same time and had their own inventories. As with the REmake, RE0 is a visually stunning game, with some of the best graphics of its time, but wasn’t as memorable as its predecessors. This may have been down to the sub-standard plot or less likable characters. Unfortunately, Resident Evil 0 was one of the last true survival horror titles of the series, although both REmake and 0 were re-released on the Wii in 2010 under the title Resident Evil Archives.
The next game completely deviated from what had come before. Gone were the fixed camera angles and various corridors and rooms, and in had come a new over the shoulder third person view, with vast outdoor terrain. That game was Resident Evil 4, and the Resident Evil we all knew and loved would never be the same again…