Remember the good old days? When survival horror was an actual genre, not just a reference? Remember them well, because survival has died a gruesome…
Do you remember the first time you played Resident Evil? I do. My brother and I were at my cousins house for a sleepover, and he had just rented the last copy of RE from the local Blockbuster Video. None of us knew what to expect; we were on the verge of the internet boom, and if you didn’t have a subscription to EGM (and were too lazy to spend hours in the video game section of a book store), you weren’t privy to pre-release hype. The cover art didn’t provide any help, with Chris looking like he’s being driven insane by his crippling fear of spiders. But I when saw that human eye, and my cousin selected “New Game,” the chilling voice saying “Resident Evil” sent a foreboding shiver down my spine.
However, the live action opening threw us off, and we thought we were in for a 3DO-type experience. We were surprised to find out that wasn’t the case when our human characters made it to the Spencer Mansion in polygon form. Still, we weren’t convinced the game would be any good, until we encountered “clown zombie,” and the game proceeded to tell us what we already knew: “You Died.” From then on, we took the game dead serious, and my cousin immediately bought the game once he returned it… to Blockbuster. OT: Remember Erol’s?
RE (Bio Hazard in Japan), directed by Shinji Mikami, changed the landscape of frightening video games and gave birth to survival horror. Yes, it was influenced partially by 1992′s Alone in the Dark, and mostly influenced by 1988′s Sweet Home, but RE took the inspiration gained from those two games and created something that’s still being improved upon today. In hindsight, Alone in the Dark and Sweet Home were probably the first games to be survival horror in spirit, but make no mistake, RE coined the term. Moreover, it was influence by George Romero’s [blank] of the Dead series. It also popularized the use of pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles, which made turning corners a scary proposition.
As the two protagonists, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, you had to survive Spencer Mansion while dealing with mutated B.O.W.s, cryptic puzzles, and hilariously bad acting. Dialogue like “You were almost a Jill sandwich” occasionally took you out of the moment, but when resumed playing, the ammo was scarce, the healing items were few and far between, and the enemies were powerful. It put you in a constant state of danger and unease. Hell, in order to conserve your ammo you couldn’t kill everything you saw, sometimes you just had to run.
Once you got used to the controls, the standard zombies were easy to dispatch or avoid. Half way through, however, the game dropped the zombies in favor of the much more agile and deadly hunters. On top of them, you also had to deal with tough bosses, and a lot of backtracking. It was all very new and scary to gamers, who had never played anything like it before. Of course today, it’s better known for its ridiculous dialogue and blocky characters, but it tried something new and daring. The response was unquestionably positive, and Capcom — realizing they were sitting on a goldmine — turned it into a franchise that would spawn several imitators, and go on to wrap its tentacles around every aspect of pop culture.
Then with a semi-quick turnaround, the double-disk behemoth Resident Evil 2 emerged from the ashes of Resident Evil 1.5 to even greater acclaim than the original. They ditched live-action cutscenes for a more video game-appropriate CG version. The lengthy campaign followed the same format of the first by having two characters to control – newcomers Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield. They even went a step further by giving each player an alternate scenario that would have them squaring off against the formidable tyrant Mr. X. In the main scenarios, Leon and Claire would periodically cross paths, whereas Chris and Jill only met at the end of theirs. Their scenarios also differed greatly; they met different characters, found different items, and encountered different puzzles, which is more evident in the alternate scenarios.
The stark contrast between Leon and Claire’s alternate scenarios was strangely referred to as the “zapping system.” And much more than the first game, RE2 utilized a larger cast of supporting characters, in particular Sherry Birkin, Ada Wong, and to a lesser degree, Hunk. The story delved deeper into how much influence Umbrella actually had in Raccoon City, and how their experiments ultimately lead to the destruction of the city. This is also when the series decided to have more post-game fun, with the inclusion of The 4th Survivor, Tofu Survivor, and Extreme Battle. The sequel delivered in spades, providing fans with more of what made the original great… including the dialogue (“Why’d he bite me?!”); but hey, at least they were making progress. Today, many consider this to be the best of the PSX-era games, and to some, the best of the entire series.
A year later we get the next sequel, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, which took place before and after part 2. Jill returns sans Chris to anchor this entry which is primarily set in the zombie-infected streets of Raccoon City. It maintained the same structure, many of the same enemies, and the same puzzle types (do City Hall gate really need jewel-based puzzles to open?), but it built upon the foundation laid by its predecessors, and added some new twists to the gameplay. For starters, this version of Jill is more agile than any of the previous protagonists. She was able to side step, dodge roll, and quick-turn her way out of tight spots. She was also able to create her own ammo and use environmental oil drums to take out groups of enemies with a single bullet. But much more interesting was the inclusion of choice. Over the course of the game, the player would be presented with two choices that would alter the path Jill took. It gave players a reason to replay the game to find out how the choices differed.
Furthermore, it expanded on the idea of having an unstoppable adversary by making the entire game a chase sequence. The titular tyrant proved to be a worthy adversary for Jill, sometimes eviscerating zombies just to get to her. I vividly remember one zombie stood in between me and a rocket launched by Nemesis; I like to think that zombie momentarily regained his humanity… Lastly, the game introduced to the prototype for its on-going mercenaries minigame: The Mercenaries – Operation: Mad Jackal. RE3 was a worthy addition to the franchise. Focusing on a single protagonist was a good idea, and you have to love the eleventh hour appearance by Barry. “Are you ready to finish this?!”
Next up was Resident Evil Code: Veronica (as if there were previous Resident Evil Code games). This is the fourth installment in the series, but not the 3rd sequel. Released on the Dreamcast just before the PS2 – which would eventually get Resident Evil Code: Veronica X – came out, this would be the first entry to ditch pre-rendered backgrounds for 3D ones. An awkward transition to say the least, but RECV is an extremely good game. The main protagonists this time around are the Redfield siblings: Claire and Chris. By RE3, Raccoon City had worn out its welcome, so the switch to Rockfort Island was much needed. Claire was sent to the island’s prison after a failed attempt to find Chris. However, she’s soon released, and must escape the island during the aftermath of the T-virus outbreak.
In my opinion, this was one of the hardest RE games. You needed a strategic approach to kill bosses like Nosferatu. And parts like the cannon puzzle required a perfect execution to avoid a game over. Out of the earlier RE games, this one had the most instant game over sequences, and the inclusion of continues is a testament to that. What’s more, the game had some very impressive cinematic moments, such as Claire escaping the ax-swinging Tyrant version of Steve. Speaking of Steve, I don’t hate him as much as some people do; I just feel the relationship between him and Claire was underdeveloped. I just didn’t buy him having feelings for Claire because they didn’t spend enough time together. But that’s beside the point.
RECV also reintroduced Wesker (playable in Battle Game), who up until this point was thought to be dead. But not only was he alive, he possessed superhuman abilities, and easily kicked Chris’ ass. In fact, with Alexia and Alfred, RECV arguably had the series’ best villains (RE4: Here comes a new challenger!). And while the game stands among the best of the series, it was obviously the byproduct of RE’s transitional period. The Dreamcast just didn’t have the hardware specs for RE to realize its full potential.
Other RE games released during this generation were Resident Evil Gaiden and Resident Evil Survivor. The less said about those games the better. Although Survivor did pave the way for the very fun “chronicles” series. However, ignoring those two, the early line up of RE games were all outstanding in their own way. But could the series keep up the level of quality?
Never having been a fan of the gun survivor series, I can’t really say much about Resident Evil Survivor 2 Code: Veronica. All I can say is that it exists. Apparently, it’s a dream Claire had during the end of RECV, and for some reason, the graphics were much worst. This game was just Capcom further forcing RE to be something it wasn’t. But If you really loved the setting RECV, so much that you wanted to experience it in a first-person view, then I guess this game had some value. However, the most relevant progress made came in the form of 2002′s Resident Evil: Remake and Resident Evil Zero. Both are byproducts of Capcom’s deal with Nintendo to make main entries in the series exclusively for the GameCube.
The remake went back to the basics: pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles. But the graphical fidelity was increased dramatically. This game really pushed the GameCube to its limits, and still stands as one of the most beautiful games on the system. If you wanted to see what the creators had in mind when they first made RE back in 1996, then look no further; this is the definitive version of the first game. For the most part, the remake follows in the footsteps of the original, but drastically improved the gameplay. The puzzles were more creative, the controls were more responsive, and the defensive weapons added a new dimension to combat. Defensive weapons were designed to improve ammo conservation and facilitate escapes without taking damage, but killing a zombie without decapitating it will lead to the creation of a Crimson Head. Easily the most frightening regular enemy in the entire series. You could burn zombies that had their head fully intact, but limited kerosene forced you to take tactical measures, like killing zombies in a pile in order to burn multiple bodies at once.
The remake relied on difficulty by design, rather than difficulty by controls. This created a fun, but challenging experience. Made even tougher by the inclusion of one of the series’ most feared bosses – Lisa Trevor. The remake retroactively integrated the stories presented by previous games, while in the process making every plot thread up until that point flow flawlessly. The biggest addition was the George Trevor and Lisa Trevor subplot. Lisa Trevor was an unfortunate test subject, along with her mother. They shot her up with so many drugs that she could’ve became a posthumous rock legend 10 times over. And the end result was an immortal creature who lurked in the shadows of Spencer Mansion. If you were ever unlucky enough to encounter her, odds are you ran for your life – as she could never be truly killed. Even in the final encounter, she just falls into a deep abyss (possibly still alive in present-day RE). In my humblest of humble opinions, the remake is the best game in the entire series. If we had to send one RE game into space for extraterrestrials to find, this is the one I’d choose.
In the fall RE0 was released, and followed the exploits of Bravo Team’s youngest member, Rebecca Chambers. Joining her was the ex-soldier-now-convict Billy Coen. The zapping system from RE2 makes its return by allowing the player to alternate between both Rebecca and Billy throughout the entire game, and when they’re on the screen at the same time, one of the characters is controlled by the CPU. Like Chris and Jill before them, Rebecca and Billy excelled in different areas. Rebecca could mix herbs and chemicals, but couldn’t move large objects. While Billy was the complete opposite; after all, everyone knows herb mixing is exclusive to S.T.A.R.S. (and BSAA) members. Using both of them at the same time was paramount to solving puzzles. Also to make puzzles more difficult, the creators got rid of the forth-dimensional item boxes and allowed players to drop items on the floor to be retrieved later.
It didn’t branch out too far in terms of enemies, but did introduced a few new ones, with the leech zombie being the most notable. Overall, RE0 was a great companion piece to the remake, with the story feeding straight into the events of the remake. There’s a few standout locations like the initial train, and later the well-furnished facility (it seems every entry has a Spencer Mansion facsimile) that maintained the atmosphere of its predecessors. However, the ending didn’t really do anything new, and while Rebecca was given a chance to shine, you couldn’t help but to think, if Rebecca was this competent before the events of the Spencer Mansion, why was she portrayed so weakly in Chris’ scenario in the original?
Anyway, after the remake and RE0 came Resident Evil: Dead Aim, staring Bruce McGivern, A.K.A. the poor man’s Leon and Fong Ling, A.K.A. the poor woman’s Ada. With Dead Aim, Capcom once again tried to force the gun survivor series on gamers. This one at least attempted to separate itself from the other gun survivor games by combing third-person exploration with first-person action. It was a decent outing, but it felt like it would’ve been better served by either being fully third-person or fully first-person . On the bright side, at least you were able to move while aiming. Eventually, this type of RE game would get better by evolving into a rails shooter, but in the mean time Capcom decided to experiment again – this time with online gameplay.
Resident Evil Outbreak: File’s #1 & #2 struggled to extend the concept of the traditional RE games to an online setting. Both games took place in Raccoon City, and were supposed to reveal how a few regular civilians managed to survive the outbreak of the T-virus. It used the scenario-character format in which the games were divided into scenarios that could be played offline with the CPU or online with other players. You could select characters with different back stories, skills, and item loadouts, and depending on the combination of characters used, you could observe how they reacted to each other. They had the right idea, but the problem was Capcom didn’t have the infrastructure to support online capability. It was just frustrating using archaic game matching and ad-libbing communication, especially when other PS2 games utilized headsets and had more stable servers. But there was fun to be had; if you couldn’t play online, you could play offline with the CPU, and it was more or less functional. There were some cool mechanics, like switching puzzles based on difficulty, turning into a controllable zombie, and having durable weapons, but the scenarios were limited and online play was more trouble than it was worth.
This era of RE games started off strong with the remake and RE0, continued with the less than stellar entries of Dead Aim and the Outbreak series, but would certainly end strong with a game that provided the perfect balance of horror and action.
Let’s talk about Resident Evil 4: some people feel its overrated and lead to the current state of RE games. But most people absolutely love it; count me among them. RE4 was the last game to be released under Capcom’s exclusivity deal with Nintendo. It started off as an RE title called Devil May Cry, but that was scrapped and became its own series. Then it was conceptualized as a game in which Leon contracts a disease and has to navigate a haunted building, all while battling paranormal enemies like dolls, ghosts, and a hook man. Wow! How come they didn’t just go with that idea? I mean, I like the finished product and all, but it really seemed like they were taking RE in a new direction. Whereas previous games were based on scientific mutations, this one would’ve been predominately paranormal. Needless to say, they obviously chose to go in a different direction, and assets from that concept were used for Haunting Ground, among other properties.
With RE4, a main entry finally took place in a year other than 1998 – in this case, 2004. In the game, Leon has somehow evolved from a wet-behind-the-ears rookie to an expert, kick-ass federal agent. So much so, that he was sent by himself to rescue the president’s kidnapped daughter, who was being held somewhere in rural Spain. To compound the situation, the entire regional population was being controlled by a parasite known as Las Plagas. This marks the first time the series eschewed traditional zombies for more intelligent enemies. The new enemies, the Ganados, were not just going to allow Leon to take potshots at his leisure. They surround him, use various weapons, and collectively strategize to take him down. On top of them, the game also introduced the most innovative boss battles the series had ever seen. And aside from the inability to move while aiming; which is weird considering lesser titles like Dead Aim and Outbreak implemented it, the controls where flawless. Melee attacks felt powerful, and the laser sight streamlined aiming. And instead of fourth-dimensional item boxes, a grid-based case that could be upgraded was used.
Other new gameplay features included quick time events, interactive environments (kicking down ladders, jumping out of windows), and everyone’s favorite eccentric merchant. Furthermore, weapons could be upgraded to significantly increase their effectiveness. The only downside was constantly having to escort the albatross known as Ashley Graham. All the improvements paved the way for a fun, well-choreographed action game that was still able to maintain elements of survival horror. Thematically, it differed once enemies started using guns, but even then, there were suspenseful moments to be found. The action played well with the engrossing story that — for the first time — wasn’t centered around Umbrella. The voice actors were actually really good, and other than a cheesy line here and there, an RE game finally overcame its B-movie origins. If you want pure horror, stick with the remake. But if want a game the balances horror and action so well that an RE game has yet to replicate it, RE4 is the game for you.
Not much happened after RE4. Another remake of the original, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, was released for the Nintendo DS, and Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles was released for the Nintendo Wii. But after RE4, I wasn’t interested in revisiting the lore of yesteryear; I was more interested in moving forward. The Umbrella Chronicles wasn’t bad, it was just different. It retconed some story elements, and integrated Wesker a lot more, so if you fancied an RE-themed rails shooter, you’d find The Umbrella Chronicles is a satisfying entry.
After those radar blips, Resident Evil 5 finally gets released on the (then) next-gen consoles PS3 and Xbox 360. Everyone was expecting great things from RE5; basically just more of what made RE4 great. But Capcom had something else in mind. They wanted to compete with the Battlefields and Call of Duties of the world that appealed to a wider audience. Ganados, which replaced zombies, are in turn replaced by Majini. Umbrella is replaced by Tricell. And Chris is replaced by boulder-punching Chris. And while I don’t hate RE5 like most people, I definitely understand where they’re coming from. None of the locations contained the foreboding element RE was famous for. Sun bleached towns, murky swamps, and industrialized buildings felt like they were visualized for another game. But for the most part, the gameplay was actually an improvement over RE4; namely with its efficient UI. Unfortunately, they got rid of the merchant, and upgrading weapons felt more gamey than ever before.
RE5′s saving grace, however, was its excellent co-op mode. Mind you, human co-op, not CPU co-op; CPU-controlled Sheva proved to be a greater burden than the aforementioned Ashley. But playing with a friend, either during the main campaign, or the surprisingly addictive Mercenaries minigame, was loads of fun. RE5 had great action setpieces and provided a very rewarding co-op experience. It was just missing a few things, specifically the scares and the atmosphere. RE4 comfortably lived in both worlds, but RE5 went full-retard in one direction. You can call RE5 a great action game (which it is), but hold your tongue if you say it’s survival horror. They did try to perform a post-mortem with Lost in Nightmares, which is everything we wanted in the main campaign; just too little too late.
Fast-forwarding past the forgettable Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D and the fun, but inconsequential Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, a Nintendo system once again returns RE to its roots… Well, sort of. Resident Evil: Revelations was an exclusive title for the Nintendo 3DS, although its HD remake would later be released for multiple platforms. It took place after the events of RE4, but before the events of RE5. Jill is the main character this time around, but occasionally you took control of Chris and his terrible partner Jessica, and some other new, but unmemorable characters. Weapons could still be upgraded, but gone is the currency system, which was replaced by scattered upgrade kits. Another change is the addition of the Genesis scanner, which revealed hidden items and enemy data. But what Revelations managed to do, that RE5 didn’t, was bring back the element of survivor horror.
Again, no zombies, but the newly introduced ooze monsters were infinitely more creepy than the Majini. The level layout also played a huge part in establishing atmosphere by adding a feeling of claustrophobia with its narrow hallways. And the Queen Zenobia (another location modeled after the Spencer Mansion) stands as one of the better RE locations. Another improvement came in the form of enemy designs, which introduced the players to Ooze Rachael and Scagdead (“Mayyyydaayyy!”). The final boss also proved to be one of the most challenging tyrants in the entire series; rather than relying on brute strength, it actually used illusionary tactics. Jill’s chapter’s were intentionally paced slower to accentuate the morbid atmosphere, but other chapters weren’t so discerning. Chris’ chapters, in particular, greatly contrasted with Jill’s, and the addition of Jessica only made matters worse.
A character like Jessica would never exist in the Mikami-era RE world. It’s one thing to have ridiculous outfits in Mercenaries Mode, but an entirely different thing for a character to have one in the story proper. RE’s crazy character outfits probably began with Ada, but at least her design was actually inspired (by La Femme Nikita), and moreover, you liked Ada. Jessica, on the other hand, is a vapid character; she wears cute outfits while fighting B.O.W.S, and has the most impractical wetsuit ever conceived (with vaginal infection an inevitability). But I digress; the Jill chapters within Revelations are filled with nostalgic callbacks to the older entries, and Raid Mode was an interestingly implemented minigame. But with Jessica, the strange character designs of Raymond and Quint, and Chris’ uninspired chapters, Revelation’s overall impact is somewhat lessened. Nevertheless, the series was headed in the right direction.
That is, until they decided to make a squad-based RE game, which was a bad idea from the get-go. Especially, if it’s going to be poorly executed, like Slant Six’s Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon
shittyCity. This the bottom of the barrel as far as RE games are concerned. I’d rather seen an HD remake of RE Gaiden than this monstrosity, which single-handedly shook my faith in Capcom’s commitment to the series. You get the A-team to develop games for your flagship series, not a third-party who’s unfamiliar with it. Though blame shouldn’t be placed squarely on Slant Six, as they just co-developed the game. The game had poor teammate AI, poor cover mechanics, seemingly ineffectual weapons, but probably its biggest sin is that it was an incomplete game released with a full price tag. Half of the touted 12 playable characters came later in a free DLC package. That’s inexcusable. Mind-blowingly enough, some people actually like this game, saying it’s best when played with friends. But any game can be given a conditional caveat that allows you to stomach playing through it. And with Operation Raccoon City, you and your friends will suffer together.
Following the travesty that was Operation Raccoon City, Resident Evil 6 was released, and was supposedly bigger and better than the previous numbered entries. I don’t know about the “better,” but with four different scenarios spanning 5 chapters each, it was definitely “bigger.” I like to think of RE6 as the Neapolitan ice cream of the entire series. You have three flavors of gameplay to choose from: traditional, action, and hybrid. But unlike Neapolitan ice cream, you’re forced to eat it all – whether you like the flavors or not (if you include Ada’s scenario, this entire analogy falls apart!). The four main characters are Leon, Chris, Sherry, and Ada. Each one was accompanied by a newly introduced partner, with Ada’s being an after-the-fact nameless Agent.
Playing Leon’s first two chapters really recaptured the feeling of the earlier RE games. However, the feeling subsided in later chapters, and yet Leon still has the better of the scenarios. Sherry’s scenario was like RE3 on steroids, but lacked the overall atmosphere of Leon’s. Although, I think it utilized co-op puzzles the best. And Chris’… Well, the best thing about Chris’ scenario was his partner Piers. His development probably felt the most genuine out of all the characters. The different scenarios provided a lot of replayablity, but suffered from repetitive, intersecting gameplay segments. The gameplay itself was a mixed bag; some parts were fun to play, but overall it contained too many instant-death OTEs. Also, you weren’t sure how much damage you were dealing to bosses, which often lead to wasting ammo on a boss who couldn’t be damaged until certain requirements were met. Lastly, maxing out your skills required multiple playthroughs, and some segments were just too annoying to replay. And other than the main campaign, Mercenaries mode made its return, and the Demon Souls-inspired Agent Hunt mode was added. RE5 made me love Mercenaries mode, and in RE6, it was fun… for a while.
I liked RE6, but it wasn’t as focused as it should’ve been; it was all over the place in terms of tone and story. As an undergrad, one of my computer science professors would always use the phrase, “keep it simple, stupid!” Unfortunately, Capcom complicated matters by expanding the story on a global scale, and involving too many parties. The timelines jumped ahead months at a time, and there was no real narrative flow from beginning to end. They definitely need to reign it in for future installments. And you know there’s going to be more games, despite fans crying for a series reboot. However, I’m surprised that RE6 has been out for over a year, and yet no story-based DLC was released. Just DLC, like Onslaught, that enhanced online playability. And oddly, every single piece of DLC was released last year; it’s as if Capcom just decided to cut their losses.
RE6 is not a bad game, but it doesn’t nearly reach the heights that the remake, RE4, or the PSX-era games did. It’s okay. But where does the series go now? For starters, they could refocus the series on fan-favorite, overlooked characters. Capcom was more occupied with creating new characters than exploring its old ones. Did you know some characters haven’t been conically updated since 1998? S.D. Perry novelizations aside, we don’t know what happened to certain characters who were integral in past storylines. I appreciate new characters and exploring different points of views, but I also appreciate closure – even if it’s unsatisfying. Barry, Barry, wherefore aren’t thou? And it’s a shame that RECV is the only entry to feature both Claire and Chris. However, there’s still a chance for Capcom to right its many wrongs. With the merchandising, the dreadful live-action movies, and huge fan awareness, this series will never die. But what this series needs is a course-correction.
Shinji Mikami departed Capcom a while ago. His last survival horror game was RE4, and his new one, The Evil Within, looks like it should’ve been the natural evolution of RE. Just imagine “Resident Evil: The Evil Within.” Capcom definitely missed out, but they recently stated that the next RE will appeal to core fans, and it’s good that they finally got the message. RE has been a series that mutated from something appealing to something grotesque. Yet, like most final forms, it could end up transforming into a perfect, powerful specimen… Then again, it could also grow more tentacles and rape our sensibilities. Let’s just hope for the former.
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