Happy birthday Resident Evil! The survival horror franchise was born 20 years ago with the original Playstation 1 release. Since the original game pitted you largely alone inside a mansion of flesh eating zombies and monstrous horrors, we’ve seen the series take many different twists and turns, and stray (to varying degrees) away from the survival horror formula, so in this article we’ll be exploring just that.
I’ll never forget my own experiences of Resident Evil; I’d waited patiently for the Sega Saturn port (I brought my Playstation 1 later on), drooling over screen shots in magazines and the odd ad which played on UK television. Finally the day came, and I plopped the disk into my machine and was glued to the TV as the original B movie opening cinematic played. “Ahhhh… Ahhhhhh!” the (at the time) unfamiliar man screamed, blood spurting over the screen. “RESIDENT EVIL!” exclaimed the announcer as the title screen appeared, taunting me to choose the “new game” option.
My original experience with Resident Evil was something new – I’d certainly played games with horror elements before (for example, Doom… or Exhumed on the Saturn) but nothing quite like this. Being rather young, it took me a few “New Games” to really start getting a feel of the tank controls, of the limited ammo and that not every enemy was there to be killed.
I remember playing the game and almost jumping out my skin when the dogs jumped through the window, marveling at how their torn and ragged forms growled at me (before I ran through the nearest door).
Sure, the voice acting was cheesy – but that wasn’t a bad thing. I was engrossed in the storyline, and even today the story and setting of the mansion are some of my favorites in video gaming. The mansion was a special, horrifying place. With the brief respites of the save room music being the only interlude of the oppressive and real doom of other rooms and areas.
Backtracking through certain areas (for puzzles) is less frightening once you know zombie placements – and bar the odd dog jumping through window, you feel familiar with the environments. But you’re still glued to the game, realizing letting your guard down is fatal.
The magic for me began when I realized many of the folks working in the mansion had opted to try and kill themselves to avoid their ultimate fate. And then I ventured out of the mansion, into the garden – armed with my trust shotgun, and wondering what awaited me in first the guard house then the sewers. Seeing Plant 42 or running from enhanced sharks, or more first meetings with Hunters (which eventually replaced Resident Evil’s zombies) was terrifying.
And then finally meeting the T-Viruses ultimate creation – Tyrant. I remember being virtually out of ammo at this point, literally taking about half the Tyrant’s life with only my pistol and fully expecting to resort to the knife by the end of it.
There’s so much more I could say about the first Resident Evil, but I feel I need to at least speak some about RE2 and Code Veronica; my other 2 favorite entries in the series.
With Resident Evil 2, I played the demo distributed with the official Playstation magazine in the UK. It was time limited, giving you just about enough time to make it into the police station and look around. Needless to say, I bought the game on day 1 – and was hooked, finishing first Leon A scenario then Claire B, then vice versa in just a few days.
I loved the police station – it felt a perfect compliment to the mansion in the first Resident Evil, not quite as horrifying, but just as twisted in its own, special and unique way. Then, then there were the labs of course… and the way the story interspliced with the other.
Code Veronica is next, which wasn’t a day one purchase as at the time I didn’t own Sega’s DreamCast, instead I was saving my pennies for the PS2 (ironically, the reverse situation of the first Resident Evil…) and only played it briefly around a friends. I could have played more, but I wanted to save it – save it so I can enjoy it all.
Completing the game by myself once, a friend and I completed it together. He (the same chap who I’d played the DC copy on) brought his DreamCast around my house, and we setup 2 copies of the game. Each playing our respective version of the game. We’d gotten the game basically memorized by the time we’d gone through our 3rd time together – so much so we didn’t bother to save the game (apart from the forced DC save for the second disk).
I loved Code Veronica – the pacing of the game, the switch from Claire to Chris. The antagonists (the Ashford’s) and of course, the entire setting of the game. It had the dingy, gloomy atmosphere of the first two games mentioned here, but so much stronger and bigger. And I loved it, I loved facing the Hunters, the zombies. I loved the first encounter with the Bandersnatch and mouthing “WTF is that?” to the Tyrant on the plane and panicking the first encounter, down to methodically discovering the ammo needed to blast it off the plane.
Resident Evil Code Veronica is awesome – and easily a contender for my favorite memories in the series.
I bring these moments up because I believe this is what makes the series special – the story, the horror and the characters. After having read the pretty damn fine books by S.D Perry (novelizations of the games), I can say that I really do love the Resident Evil lore. I’ve probably spent a bit too much of my spare time considering what the T-Virus is, or who would win out of William Berkin or Nemesis.
Sure, Konami have (… had) Silent Hill, but to me Resident Evil was more special. I do feel the latter titles in the series (RE6, I’m looking at you) has lost their way, and with any luck we’ll see the future games return to form. Fortunately, we’re fully aware Capcom are remaking Resident Evil 2 (and with any luck, they’ll do the same for RE3 and Code Veronica too) and all of this is after the positive attention of Resident Evil Revelations and its sequel (which is worth checking out, if you’re into the older school RE… even though it’s not quite there).
I do wonder what we’ll see if Resident Evil 7 – to my mind, Resident Evil lore started losing its way slightly towards RE5 (and completely in RE6). I must confess to being slightly biased though – considering my love of antagonist Albert Wesker. I always felt that a DMC style game with Wesker (but using your hands / guns) and set in the Resident Evil universe would have worked perfectly. Though perhaps not have him quite as strong as the ludicrous RE5 Wesker… perhaps more like RECV Wesker which fights Alexia (briefly).
I digress – 20 years of Resident Evil and I’m wanting more – so Capcom, what’s next?