By Adam Leonhardt:
In 1996 the world of video games was in a state of change with consoles like the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation pushing a narrative of more intense and mature gaming into the mainstream space. More realistic 3D graphics and immersive cinematic experiences were starting to take the spotlight away from the more family-friendly platform offerings that used to rule the gaming world. The gaming demographic was growing up as well and the games themselves were reflecting that change. One franchise that took the idea that console based games can offer something more in this new age was Capcom’s Resident Evil.
Resident Evil was the first horror video game that I ever played and the first game I played on my newly acquired Playstation back in 1996. It was my introduction to the new generation. The 32 bit era would hold many milestone experiences for me that would ultimately turn me into the gaming enthusiast that I am now and that all kicked off with the game that defined the term “survival horror”. I have a lot of fond memories with this series through the years, and while it has certainly been a bumpy road, as the franchise has tried new things, Resident Evil is an important thread in the video game tapestry deserving of all of its earned praise and accolades.
It is this reason that Resident Evil is our focus this month on The Mega 5, a new regular series breaking down five of the greatest things in different video game categories. Some months we may analyze Boss Battles, another month our favorite video game composers, or maybe even the greatest power-ups. The Mega 5 is our chance to spotlight something we love in the gaming space and go in-depth with you about what it is that invokes so much joy from us as gamers. So sit back, turn the lights out and take a trip with us through the very best games of Resident Evil.
The Resident Evil trilogy debuted on the Sony Playstation and was considered a staple in the Sony library of titles, that is until the fourth entry in the series took a startling turn when it was released exclusively for the Sega Dreamcast in February of 2000. Resident Evil Code Veronica was a highly anticipated title as it was the broadly thought to be the actual sequel to Resident Evil 2. While there was a numbered sequel sandwiched between the two games, Resident Evil 3 was more of a side story that ran parallel to the events in RE2. This made Code Veronica the next chapter in the saga of our heroes in their quest to topple the Umbrella Corporation.
The game follows the story of Claire Redfield and her brother Chris as they face off against the products of yet another T-Virus outbreak, this time in two separate locations far away from Raccoon City, A prison island located in the South Pacific, and a remote Umbrella facility in the frozen Antarctic Tundra. While the main antagonist of Code Veronica is a truly demented Alfred Ashford, a maniac who suffers from a split personality disorder which causes his deceased sister’s persona to take over his body, the real villainous treat in this game is the shocking return of Albert Wesker, who was last seen being slain by the monstrous Tyrant at the end of the original Resident Evil. Tyrant himself also makes a return in an epic battle in the back of an open cargo plane mid-flight.
Resident Evil Code Veronica, while familiar in mechanics and enemies has a unique story and setting and takes some interesting steps towards threading the different stories together to create a broader universe for Capcom to play with for years to come.
The original horror that started it all is our number 4. If you don’t know the story by now, Resident Evil follows a doomed police task force as they respond to a distress call from one of their units who were in the midst of investigating a series of grisly murders in the mountainous outskirts of the rural Raccoon City. When your unit arrives they get much more than what they bargained for and the ensuing events are a desperate fight for survival against the horrors of the isolated Spencer Mansion in which you find yourself trapped.
I was lucky enough to play Resident Evil when it was first released and when the mystery of this franchise was still intact. I can distinctly remember playing on the edge of my seat, wondering who would live, who would die, what the mysteries of the mansion were and who ultimately was behind the betrayal that set these events into motion. Resident Evil was a genre defining game when it debuted on the original Playstation in 1996, blending action, horror and science fiction. The game was truly ahead of it’s time, but if you really want to treat yourself you’d better get your hands on the remake of this classic which has been released on current generation consoles. The remake features new dangers, a greatly revised mansion and a new side storyline featuring a truly grotesque monster that takes the top spot as the scariest Resident Evil creature to date.
Resident Evil 7 gets massive kudos for being the antidote that the series needed after a long string of iterative sequels. After the absolute train wreck that was Resident Evil 6, many fans were left wondering if there was any life left in the bones of this once towering franchise. With each new game we were treated to more of the same, but Resident Evil 7 changed that by throwing nearly every single series norm out the window to deliver a shocking new vision of horror.
RE7 features a new location, a new protagonist, a new threat and most iconic of all a new point of view. Putting players in a first person perspective amplified the terror which was already cranked to 11 in this gritty take on survival horror. Locking you in a filthy, dilapidated home in the Louisiana bayou, you are constantly on the run from a family of blood thirsty hillbillies who seem to lure people to their home in order to kill them in horrific fashion. The first person perspective makes each encounter hair-raising as you creep around every corner and hide in every shadow as you are stalked one by one by the Baker family.
The absolutely brilliant turn in Resident Evil 7 is how Capcom strips away what you think you know about the series to get you off-balance from the get go. Nothing is familiar, and no-one is safe as you string together the mysteries of the Bakers and just what it is that connects them to the greater Resident Evil mythos. RE7 is a landmark game and brought this series back to form in admirable fashion
Resident Evil 4 was also a benchmark for the series eschewing the tank controls and locked camera angles for an over-the-shoulder action fest starring Leon Kennedy from Resident Evil 2. Leon’s quest much like RE7 was a huge departure from series norms as you travel to a small rural Spanish village in search of the President’s daughter. It doesn’t take long of course for everything to unravel in frightening fashion and before too long Leon is on the run from a maniacal cult with mysterious ties to the now crumbled Umbrella Corporation.
RE4 has wonderfully unique locations for the series as you flee through the small village, through the forests and surrounding caves and eventually to a towering gothic castle. The villains in this entry are equally refreshing and mysterious as the residents turn on you they display zombie-like characteristics, but it isn’t long before you realize these are not descendants of the T-Virus undead to which you are accustomed to facing in the series.
Perhaps the most action oriented entry in the series, Resident Evil 4 stands tall as one of the best the series has to offer. It is also another shining example of why Leon Kennedy is perhaps the strongest and most iconic hero in the franchise.
Resident Evil 2 is the undisputed king of the series. This game has everything, from quiet moments of tension and fear, to loud and boisterous action set-pieces which find you firing rockets at impending death on a speeding underground bullet train. You would be hard pressed to find a better example of everything good that Resident Evil has to offer. Simply put, this game is a ride.
Original released on the Sony Playstation in 1998, this follow-up to the iconic horror franchise had you taking control of either rookie police officer, Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield, sister to the original game’s main protagonist. At the outset of the game you arrive at Raccoon City as it has already fallen to the zombie plague. Down every alley and around every corner the undead stalk the heroes as they attempt to flee, but somehow only end up going deeper and deeper down a path of darkness.
This path takes you through to the heart of the fallen Raccoon City as you uncover the true misdeeds of the Umbrella Corporation. The pace of this game is perfect even as the story veers wildly from horror, to sci fi to straight up action. It is a true testament to game design and storytelling that Capcom never loses the player and manages to create a momentum that only builds and builds until the explosive finale.
Resident Evil 2 was remade last year for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 and it was one of the best games of the year, proving that great games, great stories and great franchises never die.