Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss the history of noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.
This entry marks the second week in 2018’s month of horror game coverage. It forms an ideal follow-up to last week’s coverage of Alone in the Dark, as Resident Evil is something of a spiritual successor to Infogrames’ survival horror pioneer. Please bear in mind now that this article is very long, but I think it’s as comprehensive a single piece of coverage on the series as you’ll find.
Years refer to the North American release unless otherwise noted. I have listed out sources at the end, because it’s a rather long list!
Capcom was established on June 11, 1983 as an outgrowth of Sambi Co., Ltd., itself a combination of two electronic game machine companies of the late 1970s. The name was derived from the term capsule computer, which had entered the lexicon as shorthand for arcade machines in Japan. Capcom built a strong reputation on the back of its action games, published primarily in the arcade market throughout the 1980s; classic machines released by the company during this era included 1942 (1984), Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1985), and Street Fighter (1987).
By the end of the decade, Capcom had begun releasing content on home consoles as well. Though many of their home console and personal computer titles were ports of content already available in arcades, games built specifically for home console owners included Castlevania (1986) and Mega Man (1987). These garnered attention from enthusiasts and helped to establish new design trends in the medium. For much of the 1970s and 1980s, games had been developed with an eye on forcing players to continuously spend money lest a challenging arcade cabinet cut their progress short; this style had persisted into the early days of home consoles, with unreasonably high difficulty and prominently displayed point scores.
It was this transitional period around 1990 that saw the release of Capcom’s Sweet Home (1989) on Nintendo’s Famicom hardware. It was one of the medium’s few horror titles, and was based on a Japanese film of the same name. Taking some cues from the Atari 2600’s Haunted House (1982) and early role-playing games like Dragon Quest (1986, Japan), director Tokuro Fujiwara crafted an ensemble horror experience. Along the way, the player needs to safeguard the welfare of five members of a documentary film crew and put their unique tools to use in navigating the spooky environment.
The game is largely played from an overhead perspective, though this shifts to a first person point of view when opening a door or engaging in turn-based combat with enemies. Tension is kept high with punishing resource management – characters have limited inventory space and need to ditch items on the ground to pick up new items – and permanent character deaths; no revival mechanic is included. Whether due to concerns over the culturally bound nature of horror or Americans’ apparent lack of interest in role-playing games, Capcom opted not to export Sweet Home to the West.
Shinji Mikami joined Capcom in 1990. This young visionary had grown up in a challenging household and had somehow stumbled into game development, submitting his resume to Nintendo and Capcom after attending a hotel-based job fair primarily to obtain a free meal. He was picked up by the latter company and quickly established himself as a competent programmer on Disney adaptations produced for the Nintendo Entertainment System. By the early 1990s, he had come under the mentorship of Tokuro Fujiwara. Mikami was chosen to lead the remake of Fujiwara’s Sweet Home in 1994.
Resident Evil (1996)
Under Shinji Mikami, the Sweet Home remake project rapidly changed direction. The film crew was removed, the setting was altered from Japan to the United States, the supernatural horror theme was replaced by scientific horror, and the gameplay perspective was reoriented. Mikami first opted for a first-person point-of-view, believing this the most reliable way to ensure players felt directly endangered. The first-person shooter design was scrapped when the development team discovered that Sony’s PlayStation, for which they were programming, lacked the necessary specs to make this work. Consequently, Capcom’s Resident Evil team settled upon a cinematic third-person fixed-camera perspective pulled directly from 1992’s Alone in the Dark.
This necessitated a radical reinvention of the control scheme. According to The Game Direct, two alternate options were explored and discarded before the developers settled on the series’ (in)famous tank controls. One approach was setting the camera in the same place for every room, in much the same way that Nintendo would structure Luigi’s Mansion (2001). This would standardize directions, so players could reliably navigate each screen without reorienting themselves. The other control scheme was that of classic point and click adventure titles. Players would navigate a cursor around the screen, clicking on points of interest to move the player character. Both of these approaches were discarded for introducing a greater degree of artifice and distancing the player from on-screen events. In the end, Mikami decided to adopt the control scheme of Resident Evil’s primary influence, Alone in the Dark; tapping up and down would always move the character forward and backwards, respectively, while left and right rotated the character in place. These “tank controls” would come to be celebrated and derided in equal measure.
The setting and plot were largely inspired by the zombie films of George Romero. Shinji Mikami believed that zombies would be scarier than the more supernatural ghouls and ghosts of Sweet Home because they represent an apparently un-ending and constantly growing threat. The fraught group dynamics of Romero’s movies also allowed for heightened interpersonal drama between the human characters.
Resident Evil would be released in Japan as Biohazard on March 22, 1996. It was published in North America a week later with some changes made during the localization process; North American players, unfortunately, received a more challenging version of the game to ensure that they did not simply rent it from Blockbuster and complete it over a long weekend. The name was altered due to copyright concerns over the name Biohazard, while the live-action introductory sequence was edited to feature less graphic violence and remove the image of lead character Chris Redfield smoking a cigarette. While the charmingly under-acted opening cutscene is conveyed through the use of live actors, the game itself consists of fully textured polygonal models overlaid on pre-rendered computer-generated backgrounds; the effect is highly derivative of Alone in the Dark, but the implementation is technically superior. The voice acting for all characters stands out as the very nadir of the form, but this somehow only enhances the game’s claim to b-movie notoriety.
Players choose the role of either Jill Valentine or the aforementioned Chris Redfield as they explore the seemingly abandoned Spencer Mansion in the wooded Arklay Mountains. They are both members of Raccoon City’s STARS Bravo Team, which had been dispatched to investigate a series of mysterious murders that had been occurring nearby; STARS Alpha Team had recently gone missing after being sent to the same area. When their helicopter abandons them, the two are separated from one another and seek shelter from attacking zombie dogs in the Spencer Mansion. Jill is accompanied intermittently by NPCs Barry Burton, a muscular gun enthusiast, and Albert Wesker, the sinister leader of STARS Bravo Team. Chris, on the other hand, only encounters Wesker in the early sections of his campaign. Both characters control the same and explore the mansion in roughly the same sequence, though some side characters and events are exclusive to each. Chris, for example, eventually meets and partners with the only surviving member of STARS Alpha Team, Rebecca Chambers. Each character also has slightly different statistics, as Jill has two additional inventory slots while Chris can sustain more damage.
Enemies are introduced slowly but dramatically as Chris and Jill explore the mansion. The first zombie makes its debut in a disturbing pre-rendered cutscene in which it turns around from devouring the corpse of a STARS Alpha team member. The first zombie dog crashes memorably through a window as the player navigates a first-floor hallway. Finally, the midway point of the adventure is marked by a terrifying first-person sequence in which the player sees through the eyes of a creature quickly moving through areas he or she has just traversed as Chris or Jill; at the end of the cutscene, the player takes control of his or her avatar and encounters the Hunter, a fast-moving reptilian enemy which largely replaces zombies throughout Resident Evil’s back half.
Boss enemies also appear as Chris and Jill explore the Spencer Estate. Yawn is a massive snake which has the ability to poison the player character; poison can only be cured through the use of blue herbs collected around the mansion grounds. Neptune is a shark which can slay the player character in a single bite. An oversized spider and murderous plant are also fought as Chris and Jill move from the mansion to the connected cabin and laboratory spaces.
That cabin and laboratory, through environmental storytelling and documents collected by the player character, slowly reveal the facility’s history. The Spencer Mansion is a test facility, owned by the sinister Umbrella Corporation, which was overrun by the undead subjects of Umbrella’s experiments. The company had been working to develop a virus which reanimates dead tissue, inadvertently resulting in a zombie outbreak. Umbrella’s T-virus is similarly responsible for the estate’s heavily mutated animals and a massive humanoid monster encountered at the end of the campaign. This creature, the Tyrant, is introduced by Wesker in a cutscene where the STARS Bravo captain reveals his true intent – testing Umbrella’s bioweapons by using his staff as guinea pigs. Wesker is quickly slain by the Tyrant as it breaks loose from its test tube and goes on a rampage. In the end, the player must escape the facility and destroy the Tyrant before being rescued by a helicopter.
A variety of endings are possible, depending on the player’s actions throughout the campaign. If he or she saved the other lead character from imprisonment by Wesker and was quick enough to rescue his or her companion from a monster-related demise, the best ending is activated. All endings feature more of the mind-bendingly shoddy live-action sequences that characterize the first Resident Evil. If you have a well-honed appreciation for campy B-movies, as I do, these represent the best reward you could ask for.
Resident Evil is not a long game, but this enhances its replayability. Inventory space is highly limited, while save points require the use of a consumable typewriter ribbon which takes up an inventory slot and must be replenished by further exploring the mansion. Consequently, it is possible for players to encounter a fail state from which they can only continue by beginning the adventure anew. The optimal path is highly linear and players are encouraged to take only what they need from one storage container to another, across spaces teeming with hostile foes, so memorizing routes between safe areas becomes a factor to improve upon with repeated runs through the game. Players receive a letter grade at the conclusion of Resident Evil as well, based upon completion time, damage sustained and number of saves; this system encourages repetition to improve the player’s score.
Unsurprisingly, the game was an overnight success. It sold millions of copies, quickly establishing Resident Evil as Capcom’s first major franchise developed for the 32-bit era. A poorly optimized port was pushed out to the Windows PC and SEGA Saturn platforms by the following year. For reasons that will become clear in the Resident Evil 2 entry below, Capcom had a hard time developing the sequel and instead filled its release schedule gap with a Director’s Cut edition of the first game; this paradoxically censored more of the content originally cut from the North American localization.
The most significant return to the events of the Spencer Mansion Incident would occur in 2001, when Capcom published a full remake on the Nintendo GameCube. If the original game had popularized the survival horror genre, the Resident Evil REmake would perfect it. Lighting is dramatically enhanced, the pre-rendered backgrounds represent the high-water mark of that method of environmental design, and the mansion is expanded to feature new areas and enemies. The live action sequences and deliriously bad dialogue readings are replaced by a competent script and voiceover performances.
The REmake also offers new scares, terrifying series veterans who thought they could predict the sequence of events. A speedy, clawed zombie variant called the Crimson Head now takes the place of felled standard zombies if the player does not proactively burn the bodies with a consumable supply of oil. Lisa Trevor is introduced as a profoundly disturbing new boss character about a third of the way through the game as well; she is an apparently unkillable mutant, kidnapped and experimented on by Umbrella since her youth. Her areas of the game tend to highlight more of the gothic horror that the series had begun incorporating since Resident Evil: Code Veronica (2000).
Finally, a host of engaging post-game content has been added. The funniest of these new bonus modes is One Dangerous Zombie, which has the player character slowly pursued from room to room by a zombie with an explosive vest; one stray bullet and Chris or Jill inadvertently blows himself or herself up. The most ludicrously difficult new challenge mode is one featuring invisible enemies. If the player completes this mode, he or she is offered a heartfelt congratulatory message from Shinji Mikami.
The REmake would not actually represent the final iteration of Capcom’s first Resident Evil. Resident Evil: Deadly Silence would be released on the Nintendo DS in 2006. Little is altered here from the original PlayStation version, aside from a Rebirth Mode that offers new puzzles based on the hardware’s unique features. This port was perhaps most notable for fulfilling the promise of an earlier unsuccessful attempt to capture the terror of Resident Evil on a portable platform.
Capcom had originally attempted to port its survival horror juggernaut to the Game Boy Color in the late 1990s, contracting a small studio that had developed a prototype of Shinji Mikami’s Dino Crisis for Nintendo’s portable device. While the Resident Evil port was heavily promoted, it was eventually scrapped for falling short of Capcom’s expectations. Happily, an almost-finished build of the game was finally leaked to fan communities in 2012. This reveals a project which had, by and large, successfully translated the scope and mechanics of a polygonal PlayStation game to a sprite-based 8-bit visual palette. Of course, horror is the rare example of a genre which tends to be more effective as it grows closer to real-life fidelity; it is understandable that Capcom thought such an abstract representation of the Spencer Mansion might dilute the terror of their new flagship intellectual property.
Resident Evil 2 (1998)
The follow-up to Shinji Mikami’s 1996 survival horror breakthrough would be the first of several troubled development cycles in the series’ history. As would happen at least two more times over the following twenty years, this would result in an immeasurably stronger final product than if Capcom had stuck with their original plans.
The most surprising aspect of the development process was the absence of Shinji Mikami from the role of director. His supervision of Resident Evil had established Capcom’s reputation as the first name in video game horror and kickstarted a rapidly expanding field. Still, Mikami was committed to a lengthy period between releases, believing that frequent sequels would reduce the efficacy of the series’ terrifying atmosphere. He was overruled by a company seeking to capitalize on its commercial success, however, and reassigned to the role of producer as a young designer named Hideki Kamiya was tapped to direct Resident Evil 2.
Like Mikami, Kamiya’s youthful interest in video games was spurred more by action than horror. He was inspired by titles like The Legend of Zelda (1986) and Gradius (1985) rather than Haunted Mansion and Sweet Home. When he was picked up by Capcom in 1994, however, he was given the role of planner on Mikami’s Resident Evil project. By the end of 1996, he would be directing the 40+ person team developing Resident Evil 2. The biggest impediment to this was his outspoken distaste for the horror genre.
Kamiya’s action-oriented approach to game design immediately had the effect of intensifying the stakes in Resident Evil 2. The setting was a zombie-infested Raccoon City rather than an eerie mansion. The weapon roster included machine guns and emphasized confrontation over enemy avoidance. The character roster was expanded to include a comparatively wide supporting cast. Kamiya also managed to fuel the horror side of the series by including as many of his own personal fears as possible – mutated spiders and oversized cockroaches were integrated to keep the player horrified even when not being directly menaced by the living dead.
Leon Kennedy and Elza Walker were the two main characters in Kamiya’s prototype, which would eventually be known to fans as Resident Evil 1.5. Leon was a Raccoon City police officer attempting to defend his station against an onslaught of zombies, while Elza was a motorcycle enthusiast who crashed through the front of the RPD when passing through town. The prototype is entirely set in the police station, which contrasts with the Spencer Mansion by looking like a modern bureaucratic institution full of sparse hallways and harsh fluorescent lighting. The zombies look different from the original game and the characters are menaced by a tall, pipe-wielding mutant who would be revealed as William Birkin in the final game.
Non-player characters in Resident Evil 1.5 included Marvin Branagh, a fellow police officer who aides Leon throughout his quest; John, a helper for Elza whose model would be re-used as the Kendo’s Gun Shop owner in the final game; Sherry, a child hiding away in the station; and Linda, a scientist accompanying Leon who would later be reworked as Ada. The two characters’ paths were fully distinct, unlike the routes of Leon and Claire in Resident Evil 2.
The narrative is largely similar to the final game with two key differences. The first major alteration is the involvement of Umbrella – in Resident Evil 1.5, the sinister company had been shuttered as a result of news on its bioweapon experimentation. The second major difference is the apparent absence of any connection to Resident Evil’s STARS; Claire would offer that connective link in the final version, as she is the younger sister of Chris Redfield and comes to Raccoon City seeking him.
Resident Evil 2 would prove to be quite different from this early build. Shinji Mikami was unhappy with the build being demoed at trade shows in 1996, as he believed that it failed to meaningfully iterate on its predecessor’s foundation. Hideki Kamiya and his team began the project anew in 1997, throwing away a full year of work. This bold decision, which could have been a financial disaster for Capcom, would instead lead to one of the studio’s many masterpieces.
Finally released in 1998, Resident Evil 2 would improve upon nearly every aspect of the preceding game. At a surface level, the environments and character models are more colorful. The textures, too, are universally more detailed than those in Resident Evil. They are more subtly an improvement on the textures of Resident Evil 1.5 as well. Perhaps the most important cosmetic update was the replacement of live-action videos with computer-generated FMVs. Fans are greeted by a genuinely scary short film when they boot up the game, and a handful of other intense FMV sequences appear throughout the campaign.
More significantly, every measure of scope is dramatically enhanced. The character roster is more numerous: each of the two playable characters has a partner who becomes playable at certain points of the story, along with a variety of non-player characters encountered throughout the RPD. Jailed journalist Ben Bertolucci offers an interesting subplot about corruption at the police department in Leon’s campaign, while Police Chief Brian Irons directly reveals the depths to which police leadership had sunk in Claire’s campaign. Both characters also encounter Annette Birkin, an Umbrella scientist, and wounded cop Marvin Branagh in their A scenarios (more on the scenarios anon). Branagh’s appearance is comparatively restricted from his long-term supporting role in Resident Evil 1.5, as he serves primarily to shade in some backstory on Leon and then transform into a zombie.
Resident Evil 2’s plot is fairly similar to the prototype, departing significantly from the tight confines of the first game’s events. Racoon City has descended into chaos following a zombie outbreak caused by T-virus infection. Leon is a rookie cop, rather than a veteran of the force, and arrives on his first day to find the RPD largely abandoned. Along the way, he saves Claire Redfield from a zombie attack; Claire is in town to find her brother, Chris, who disappeared following the events of the first game. The player eventually learns that Chris fled Raccoon City for Europe in pursuit of Umbrella.
That evil organization, in a major departure from the Resident Evil 1.5 prototype, is still in business. Players discover an extensive laboratory beneath the Police Department, in which Umbrella’s scientists were carrying out sinister experiments with Chief Irons’ blessing. One of these scientists, William Birkin, went rogue and was his by Umbrella special ops in a raid on the laboratory; this event led Birkin to infect himself with the new G-virus. A monstrous, reanimated version of Birkin slaughters the Umbrella team in Raccoon City’s sewers and unintentionally spreads the T-virus to the city’s water supply, kicking off the outbreak. All of this occurs in an extended flashback discovered midway through the game.
The impressive sense of narrative scope is accompanied by a variety of environments. The primary space explored by the player is the RPD itself. Resident Evil 2’s version of this building is more baroque and complex than the one encountered in Resident Evil 1.5, resembling the Spencer Mansion more than a modern government facility; the attentive player will discover a document which justifies the RPD’s eccentric layout by explaining its history as an art museum prior to its acquisition by the Police Department. Aside from this building, the player also explores city streets, an industrial complex, and Umbrella’s laboratory. All contribute to the blockbuster scope and introduce new monsters.
These new creatures include lickers, walking plants, a G-virus beast that emerges from either Irons or Bertolucci, an oversized crocodile stalking the sewers, and the ever-mutating William Birkin. The licker, Resident Evil 2’s most notable addition to the series’ roster of foes, makes its debut in a memorable early sequence: it’s first spotted crawling across an RPD window in the background before menacing the player character in a first-person cutscene. Besides the new additions, players again encounter standard zombies, undead dogs and massive tarantulas.
The two aforementioned partner characters play an important role as well. Leon meets up with Ada Wong, a mysterious woman who claims to be seeking her boyfriend but who is actually an operative working for some unnamed corporate rival to Umbrella. Claire is supported by Sherry Birkin, a young girl being stalked by her mutated father below the police station. Unlike the other characters, Sherry is entirely defenseless and can only avoid death by out-maneuvering enemies.
Much of Resident Evil 2’s narrative progression is similar to the first game, albeit at a larger scale. The most ambitious update comes in the form of the zapping system. This odd name belies a genuinely impressive approach to replayability. The player selects either Leon or Claire at the outset of his or her first playthrough, determining an A campaign. After completing this, a B campaign opens up, revealing a second playthrough by the alternative character. This B scenario depicts unseen events which occurred during the A scenario and is impacted by a handful of decisions made in the player’s first run. Mr. X, an updated version of the first game’s Tyrant, also stalks the player character through the halls of the RPD throughout the B scenario. If the player completes both A and B scenarios, he or she is treated to an extended ending sequence on a getaway train which features an even more vicious mutation of William Birkin. After completing an A and B scenario, the player can then switch to the alternative A and B sequence for four total campaigns with unique story beats – Leon A/Claire B and Claire A/Leon B. Never again would the series adopt such an ambitious structure.
Like its predecessor, Resident Evil 2 was an immediate critical and commercial success. Critics lauded its visuals and narrative, while finding no fault in the lack of meaningful improvement to the series’ mechanics and puzzles. Fans appreciated the sheer volume of content, along with the increased enemy variety. Bonus modes are even unlocked once certain conditions are met, primarily centered on completing the game with a low amount of damage sustained, low number of saves, and a short completion time. The first bonus mode, Fourth Survivor, tasks the player with taking on the role of Hunk, the only member of Umbrella’s special ops team left alive after the raid on William Birkin’s laboratory. Hunk must escape the sewers and police station with a limited amount of ammunition and no ability to save.
A final bonus mode is largely identical to Fourth Survivor, but Hunk is replaced by a knife-wielding block of tofu. The presence of these intriguing bonus modes, along with a well-hidden zombie version of STARS helicopter pilot Brad Vickers, led to intense speculation about what else might be lurking around the edges of Resident Evil 2. One popular rumor circulated by gaming magazine EGM in an April Fool’s Day issue – and later conclusively disproved – even suggested that Street Fighter antagonist Akuma was a playable character!
As had occurred with Resident Evil, a DualShock Edition was produced to update the title with support for Sony’s new analog stick controller. This new version also included Extreme Battle Mode, which would be the basis for later series entries’ time attack modes. In Extreme Battle Mode, players choose from among four characters and rush through the monster-infested RPD to defuse bombs.
Ports of the DualShock Edition would eventually be released on the PC, Nintendo 64, Game.com, Dreamcast, GameCube, Wii and PlayStation Store. These are all roughly equivalent to the PlayStation original with exceptions of varying degrees. The PC version is notoriously buggy, while the Dreamcast version includes a readout of character health on the controller’s VMU peripheral. The Game.com version is the weirdest port, as it converts the game to a 2.5D sidescroller and consists only of Leon’s campaign.
Nintendo 64 owners received the most impressive port, which featured 16 unique documents that don’t appear in any other Resident Evil game. These connect Resident Evil 2 to the wider series continuity, including the events of the still-to-come Resident Evil 0. Other small updates were present, including a dead Hunter (these creatures had not appeared as enemies in Resident Evil 2) and the ability to alter the level of violence depicted on-screen. The port, largely developed by Angel Studios with support from Capcom and Factor 5, would be particularly praised for its distinction as one of the only Nintendo 64 titles with FMV cutscenes; cartridge memory restraints had been cited as the reason that these were not typically possible, contributing to the shift of developers away from Nintendo’s hardware in the late 1990s. Angel Studios had somehow managed the seemingly-impossible.
Unlike its predecessor, Resident Evil 2 would not be remade in the 2000s. Fans were delighted in 2015, however, when a full remake was finally announced for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This revision features the over-the-shoulder perspective introduced by Resident Evil 4 and the game engine of Resident Evil 7. Previews suggest that it integrates elements of Resident Evil 1.5, suggesting an alternative vision of what Resident Evil 2 could have been. The game is currently slated for a January 2019 release date.
Shinji Mikami, perhaps unsurprisingly, would accept but never be particularly happy with Resident Evil 2. He thought the emphasis on action shifted the series away from its core identity, and that the zapping system was more or less a thin gimmick. Luckily, he was too busy creating Dino Crisis to keep Kamiya from delivering one of the decade’s best games.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (1999)
Much like its predecessor, Resident Evil 3 would go through some major revisions between its conception and release. Capcom had planned for a direct sequel to Resident Evil 2 and assigned it to Hideki Kamiya’s team as soon as production wrapped on the preceding title. The narrative was to focus on Hunk’s journey smuggling a G-virus sample aboard an ocean liner; this would only be the first of many times that Capcom’s horror series set sail.
Unfortunately for Kamiya, Sony’s announcement of the PlayStation 2 would throw a wrench into his team’s efforts. Capcom opted to cancel production on the cruise ship iteration of Resident Evil 3 and re-assign Kamiya to begin developing a next-generation game. Believing that another game published for the aging PlayStation would be less popular than earlier series entries, yet still needing to fulfill a contractual obligation for three numbered Resident Evil games on that platform, Capcom promoted a spinoff title into the position of Resident Evil 3.
This side-story, originally called Resident Evil: Last Escape, was a relatively confined story about a private detective attempting to flee Raccoon City as it descended into chaos following the T-virus infection. Kazuhiro Aoyama, an inexperienced director who had originally been assigned this gaiden game, was pushed into the spotlight and given a much larger budget. Aoyama would need to leverage his experience working on Resident Evil 2 to inform his new leadership role. The main character was replaced by Resident Evil‘s Jill Valentine and a game engine was adopted fully from the series’ first two releases to cut down on development time.
Resident Evil 3 retains its prototype’s central structure – escaping Raccoon City – but is populated with a host of narrative and gameplay wrinkles which make it a meaningful addition to the core series. The game is visually similar to its predecessors, though it continues a trend of introducing more environmental variety, more varied zombie models, and greater color depth. Character textures and models are broadly enhanced, though zombies have been slightly simplified to allow more on-screen at any given time.
Players take on the role of Jill Valentine as she navigates city streets and a variety of municipal institutions. With regard to its timeline, Resident Evil 3 is set shortly before and then shortly after the events of Resident Evil 2. As though the desire to vacate a rapidly zombifying downtown was not enough motivation, Jill is soon being chased by Nemesis, an oversized humanoid figure with a dark trenchcoat, sharp tentacles, and a rocket launcher. Umbrella has dropped Nemesis into Raccoon City to assassinate all remaining STARS members. Jill eventually teams up with a group of mercenaries on Umbrella’s payroll, including secondary playable character Carlos Olivera, and uncovers a sinister conspiracy that corrupted all of Raccoon City’s institutions. While much of the game is set on the streets, players do have the opportunity to visit a hospital, the grounds of City Hall, a gas station, a park, an apparently abandoned factory, a clock tower, and the RPD in the hours before its exploration by Leon and Claire. By the end of the game, the stakes have expanded significantly: the player destroys Nemesis with a military-grade railgun in the basement of a bioweapon factory and then bears witness to Raccoon City’s annihilation by nuclear missile.
The intensity of the stakes is matched by an increase in the series’ action mechanics. Play remains fundamentally identical to Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, with the increasingly maligned tank controls used to move Jill around pre-rendered backgrounds, but a few concessions to more advanced design make Resident Evil 3 stand out among its survival horror peers. An inconsistent dodge mechanic has been added, allowing players to sometimes avoid attacks by tapping a button when the enemy readies its attack animation. These enemies are faster and more numerous than in earlier games, necessitating the use of interactive environmental features like explosive barrels and bafflingly placed wall-mounted bombs. Both can be targeted through the use of a distinct controller shoulder button.
In keeping with the higher enemy counts, ammunition is more plentiful and can even be engineered using a gunpowder tool; the tool makes use of color-coded gunpowder discovered through the game world to generate pistol, shotgun, magnum and grenade launcher ammo. This inspires a risk-reward metagame in which the player must choose between using low-level gunpowder to develop much-needed pistol rounds or shotgun shells in the short term or accrue and combine basic gunpowder to produce more powerful ammo for mid- and late-game weapons.
The distribution of gunpowder, along with healing items, points towards a feature that would be more fully fleshed out in Resident Evil 4. For the first time in the Resident Evil series, item locations are not consistent. The player’s actions and, at times, his or her skill will determine how much ammunition, healing items and gunpowder appears throughout the city. A less skilled player will typically encounter more forgiving item drops. Some elements, on the other hand, are randomized; players may encounter one of two enemy sets in several areas of the game.
Item curation and enemy randomization occurs without being explicitly telegraphed, but players also encounter a more conscious way to alter any given playthrough. At specific moments in the narrative, the player is offered a decision over which of two actions he she will carry out ( e.g. ‘does Jill push Nemesis off of a bridge or leap off of the bridge herself?’). The outcome typically determines which path the player takes through the next section of the game, though some of these instances lead to Nemesis’ incapacitation or a non-standard game over. These decisions enhance replayability, though they fall short of the more open-ended multiple campaigns of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2.
Even without having the choice between multiple characters at the game’s outset, players do have the opportunity to take on another role. Carlos Olivera, one of Umbrella’s mercenaries, briefly takes over as the player character following Jill’s infection by Nemesis in a sequence set at Raccoon City’s clock tower. He is distinguished from Jill by slightly greater resilience and strength (allowing him to move a bell and access a new area), along with his possession of an assault rifle. Carlos gets to explore a hospital and then race Nemesis as he synthesizes a vaccine and delivers it to Jill.
Encounters with Nemesis are surprisingly varied, and constitute Resident Evil 3’s greatest strength as a piece of art. Shinji Mikami, who produced but did not direct the game, was inspired by the Terminator film franchise and sought to introduce implacable dread to Resident Evil’s thematic palette. Nemesis is first encountered outside the RPD, where he murders helicopter pilot Brad Vickers, and can either be fought or avoided. Jill can defeat Nemesis to obtain powerful weapon enhancements and ammunition. It is generally in the player’s best interest to evade Nemesis, however, since the creature is much faster and stronger than Jill. In most scenarios, evading Nemesis also leads to the most effective scares: the creature can pursue Jill between rooms separated by loading doors, breaking one of the series’ core gameplay rules. The closest an earlier title had come to this was a scripted moment in Resident Evil 2 where Nemesis’ forebear, Mr. X, breaks through a wall separating him from the player character; enemies had otherwise been confined to the environment in which they first appeared.
In the end, Resident Evil 3 was more successful than its messy origins would have suggested. Kazuhiro Aoyama had delivered a terrifying addition to the series’ canon and had bought Capcom a few more years to work on a more ambitious entry built for next-generation hardware. Still, the weaknesses in the format were beginning to show. Tank controls and pre-rendered environments were starting to feel outdated, particularly following the release of Konami’s Silent Hill in 1999. Resident Evil’s mythology had begun to feel simultaneously over-complicated and rote, with themes of sinister corporations and bioweapon experiments not having meaningfully evolved since the 1996 series debut. Happily, the next title would take several strides towards addressing these issues.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica (2000)
Resident Evil: Code Veronica was developed simultaneously with Resident Evil 3, and would be the first core entry outsourced to non-Capcom studios. Flagship, a studio that counted Shinji Mikami among its employees and was heavily funded by Capcom and SEGA, handled the game’s scenario design and overall direction. XAX Entertainment created the environments, which were fully 3D for the first time in the series’ history. Finally, Nextech carried out the bulk of the programming. Capcom took a greater role late in development, sending internal staff to these studios to ensure that the game was in line with their standards.
Neither the development process, nor the absence of a number at the end of the title, suggested a new entry in the core Resident Evil franchise. Spin-offs were being produced by this time, and a casual fan could be forgiven for assuming that Code Veronica fell into that category. In fact, it was a direct sequel to the events of Resident Evil 2 and pushed the series forward in meaningful ways.
Environments, as indicated above, are no longer pre-rendered 2D backdrops. XAX Entertainment worked up 3D areas for the player to explore, though this presents its own set of drawbacks. In particular, the level of detail is necessarily lower due to real-time rendering on the SEGA Dreamcast. SEGA’s new console was more powerful than the PlayStation, but not powerful enough to depict 3D spaces with the level of detail present in pre-rendered CGI backgrounds. Still, the ability to light specific spaces and features with dynamic light sources did offer some new potential for moody setpieces. At the same time, Code Veronica follows the example of Dino Crisis (1999) by integrating a mobile “camera” perspective; it can’t be controlled by the player, but does introduce a dynamism not encountered in earlier Resident Evil games.
While Resident Evil 3’s dodge mechanic and gunpowder system are absent, due to this game’s concurrent development cycle, firearms are enhanced in two unique ways. A handful of weapons can be wielded in both of the player character’s hands and be fired at two separate enemies simultaneously. A sniper rifle and rocket launcher are deployed in first-person mode during the main game, thanks to real-time environmental rendering. The Battle Mode, unlocked following completion of the campaign, also allows first-person usage of other weapons.
The narrative follows up on the exploits of Claire Redfield after the events of Resident Evil 2. She attacks an Umbrella facility in Paris before being taken prisoner and stranded on an island in the South Atlantic. The island is besieged shortly thereafter, letting loose all manner of Umbrella bioweapons. Enemies include standard Resident Evil foes like zombies and undead dogs, along with the newly introduced Bandersnatch; this humanoid mutant attacks using an extendable arm. Claire eventually joins up with Steve, the son of two Umbrella researchers, and escapes the island by plane. The two are pursued by the deranged noble, Alfred Ashford, who ran Umbrella’s prison and military training operation on the island.
Claire and Steve crash into an Umbrella facility in Antarctica, revealing yet another zombie-infested research base. Chris Redfield, meanwhile, arrives at the facility where Claire was being held prisoner. By this time, the island’s infrastructure is thoroughly crumbling and is now infested with Hunters released by Albert Wesker. Wesker has mysteriously resurfaced following his apparent demise in the original Resident Evil, and is simultaneously undermining Umbrella’s operations while attempting to kill Chris. Chris eventually makes his way to Antarctica, where he meets up with his sister. Alexia Ashford, the true heir to Alfred’s noble line and formerly in cryogenic hibernation at the Antarctic facility, is revealed to be a powerful mutant bent on world domination. Following Alfred’s death, she turns Steve into a monster. Chris and Claire, happily, are able to defeat both Alexia and Steve before escaping the frozen wasteland.
As the description suggests, Code Veronica represents a significant departure from the thematic content of earlier games. Zombies are still present, and Umbrella exists in the background, but the game takes on a gothic tone heretofore unexplored by the series. The Ashford family’s fall from nobility is the central narrative feature, underlined by European architectural flourishes that immediately set Code Veronica apart from the distinctively American settings of its predecessors.
The game was fairly successful, but its commercial performance was inhibited by its initial status as a Dreamcast exclusive. SEGA’s 128-bit hardware was a financial disaster, selling few units before its discontinuation in 2001. Code Veronica was among the console’s best titles, however, and would experience a second life on the GameCube and PlayStation 2. This expanded edition was named Resident Evil: Code Veronica X. The base game is fully intact, but additional sequences explore the backstory of Albert Wesker. This character had been absent from the series since its first entry, but he would go on to become a major antagonist over the next few core titles and spinoffs. A few other visual updates were made, including a rather odd revision to companion character Steve’s hairstyle; the developers intended to reduce the similarity of his appearance to popular actor Leonardo DiCaprio, but were less than successful. Resident Evil: Code Veronica X would become the basis of future ports to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
Resident Evil Zero (2002)
Having perhaps taken the story of Umbrella as far as they could, Capcom decided to step back and explore events prior to the first Resident Evil game. This would involve a touch of retconning, the return to an unpopular character from the series’ debut, and the introduction of an entirely new cooperative gameplay mode. Shinji Mikami would, for the first time, not be a director or producer on a core Resident Evil entry. Sadly, Resident Evil Zero would prove to be a creative and narrative dead end, causing the series to wholly abandon its original identity.
Its beginning stages were promising enough, however. The project was assigned to director Koji Oda in Summer 1998. Capcom was interested in developing a Resident Evil title for the Nintendo 64 console, having previously delivered two entries on the PlayStation. This brought certain limitations – particularly on the capacity for FMV cutscenes, so far a series staple – but also offered much more rapid data loading than was possible on disc-based hardware. Oda opted to use the unique cartridge format to his advantage, designing the game around a companion mechanic.
This system, called the partner zapping system, allowed players to switch between two player characters at the tap of a button. Each had unique strengths and distinct inventories to manage. The primary character was Rebecca Chambers, Chris’ partner in the second half of Resident Evil (1996); the secondary character was Billy Coen, a newly introduced ex-con. The prototype was set on a train, revealing what occurred between the arrival of STARS Alpha Team in the Arklay Mountains and Rebecca’s initial encounter with Chris. Item boxes were eliminated to offer a unique challenge and echo the ability of characters to drop and retrieve items throughout the environment in Sweet Home.
Memory restrictions on the Nintendo 64 quickly proved too limiting. A playable demo was revealed to the public at Tokyo Game Show 2000, but the platform was altered six months later. Nintendo had shown off the Gamecube to developers and Capcom sensed the opportunity to significantly upgrade Resident Evil Zero’s increasingly archaic visuals. Though the Gamecube was disc-based, it still loaded much faster than Sony’s previous-generation machine.
The final build of Resident Evil Zero would be published in 2002, several months after the Resident Evil REmake. That game was released to critical acclaim and commercial disappointment, so Capcom was hoping to recoup some of its losses with a bold new adventure. REmake had been beautiful and terrifying, perhaps the pinnacle of survival horror, but Resident Evil Zero offered a new story that fans hadn’t yet experienced.
The basic outline of the final game retains virtually every aspect of the prototype. The environments, in fact, were based directly on the designs of the Nintendo 64 version. It had been reprogrammed, but much of the art design and environmental layout had already been completed.
The first portion of the game is set on the Ecliptic Express, a luxury train that had been traveling through the Arklay Mountains when it was attacked by leeches bearing the T-virus. Rebecca meets up with Billy on-board the train, battling the infected passengers, a mutated scorpion, and even a new strain of zombie composed of leeches acting in unison. Soldiers from Umbrella eventually kickstart the vehicle, sending it speeding out of control and into a secret Umbrella training facility. At the facility, they battle the reanimated form of James Marcus. Marcus is established as the actual discoverer of the Progenitor Virus, from which the T-virus and G-virus are derived, as well as the victim of an assassination directed by Umbrella’s co-founder Oswell Spencer. Rebecca and Billy are able to destroy Marcus’ leech-based mutant form and escape the training facility, parting ways and setting up the events of Resident Evil (1996).
Gameplay is similar to the prototype, with item boxes being eliminated in favor of items being left on the ground when inventory space runs low. This mitigates the need to backtrack to save rooms, but increases the chance of losing items around Resident Evil Zero’s meandering environments. Items are tracked on the map, at least, preventing players from entirely forgetting where their dropped gear might be found.
Control alternates between Billy and Rebecca at the player’s command. This emphasizes puzzles over combat, as the two often split up or cooperate to reach spaces inaccessible to a single character. When together, the two assist one another with cover fire in combat. Both can sustain damage, however, and the game ends if either is defeated.
In spite of its new, unique approach to survival horror, fans did not like Resident Evil Zero. The partner zapping system was decried as simultaneously reducing the series’ characteristic sense of isolation while also imposing a greater level of micromanagement. Switching items between characters and leaving them on the ground was perceived as a step back from the more elegant item box system. The lush visual design was well-received, but the new enemies were largely uninspired and even the world’s best pre-rendered backgrounds couldn’t impress as much as they had in the Resident Evil REmake. Finally, the perennial complaint of antiquated tank controls and stilted camera angles reached an apex. The wider world of game mechanics had simply moved on.
Resident Evil Zero was a critical and commercial disappointment, representing the series’ lowest point since its 1996 debut. This convinced Capcom that the future of the series would not be continuing in its path as the standard-bearer of survival horror. Shinji Mikami was convinced that the sub-genre’s time had passed, and that the studio would need to adapt to an audience more interested in action than scares. The next entry in the Resident Evil saga would conclusively vindicate his perspective.
Resident Evil 4 (2005)
The fourth sequentially numbered Resident Evil game began development in the late 1990s, but would not be released until 2005. Like Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3 and Resident Evil Zero, this lengthy development period reflects a challenging series of false starts. As had occurred before, Capcom would show an extraordinary amount of faith in the project despite these dead ends; this persistence would pay off with one of the medium’s most influential titles.
The first prototype was developed by Hideki Kamiya when his cruise ship version of Resident Evil 3 was scrapped in 1998. This doubled down on the action emphasis of Resident Evil 2, as Kamiya’s greater focus on action over horror had worked out well in that scenario. The main character was to be Tony, a man who gained superpowers after being infected by the G-virus, and Kamiya’s central theme was “coolness.” Flashy gunplay was the core mechanic, as Tony would do battle with demonic entities at an Umbrella facility on the fictional Mallet Island. Shinji Mikami believed that this moved too far away from the series identity, and the project ceased development under the Resident Evil name in 2000. Kamiya’s prototype would instead form the basis of Devil May Cry (2001). Surprisingly, at least one piece of this build would remain in the final version of Resident Evil 4: Beelzebub, an enemy from the prototype, would be reused as Resident Evil 4’s Novistador monster.
The second prototype was directed by Hiroshi Shibata, the leader of the team which had crafted Resident Evil 3’s pre-rendered backgrounds. This circa 2001 iteration is commonly referred to as the Castle Version. Leon Kennedy is already the main character at this early stage, and he explores a gothic castle in pursuit of Umbrella co-founder Oswell Spencer. Leon’s arm was to be infected early in the game, which would lead to surprising abilities as the plot progressed.
Environments are similar to those of Resident Evil: Code Veronica, rendered in 3D but viewed from dynamic cinematic third-person perspectives. The primary antagonist in this version is a seemingly sentient black fog (several years before a similar concept was popularized by the television series LOST). Unfortunately, technical limitations would lead to this prototype’s cancellation. It was simply beyond the capability of any contemporary console to render wispy smoke creatures in real-time. Fans of this version will be heartened to hear that Noboru Sugimura’s script, along with some of the visual assets, eventually formed the basis of Capcom’s Haunting Ground (2005).
Shibata then worked up a third Resident Evil 4 prototype, which would be debuted in a trailer shown at E3 2003 and feature an introduction by Shinji Mikami imploring audiences not to pee their pants. The warning was absurd, but pointed towards a truth about the newest RE4 build – it was terrifying. Leon navigates an abandoned mansion, dogged by mobile suits of armor, living dolls and a ghastly specter wielding a sharp hook. That last foe’s outsized presence led to the demo’s popular name – the ‘Hook Man’ version. Leon would again have been infected by some kind of virus, though this one would cause hallucinations rather than special abilities; Shibata used this narrative device to justify replacing Resident Evil’s historical focus on science-based horror with more supernatural elements. By the time of this build, the game is played from a hybrid combination of the series’ classic cinematic angles and a new over-the-shoulder perspective when aiming.
By the end of 2003, Shibata’s second attempt at Resident Evil 4 would be cancelled. Budget was an issue, and it seems that the cost had ballooned for what was ultimately a rather thin premise. Shinji Mikami replaced Hiroshi Shibata, making this one of only three Resident Evil games to have him in the director’s chair. Mikami reintroduced T-virus zombies to the project, but this prototype would be scrapped before ever being revealed to the public; it was deemed too similar to earlier games. With four failed prototypes behind them, Capcom would finally begin work on the final version of Resident Evil 4.
Shinji Mikami’s magnum opus was released on the Gamecube in North America on January 11, 2005. It was instantly hailed as extraordinary, and that reputation would only grow over time. Mikami had dragged the most popular survival horror series kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
The narrative sees Leon Kennedy exploring a rural Spanish province and rescuing the US President’s daughter, Ashley, from a sinister cult. Umbrella is fully excised from the series at the stroke of a pen – the introductory sequence controversially reveals that the multinational company went bankrupt following revelations about their role in the Raccoon City Incident. Ada Wong, having been presumed dead at the end of Resident Evil 2, returns as an archetypal femme fatale, alternately aiding and manipulating Leon over the course of the adventure.
The enemies are entirely new. Standard attackers appear at first to be deranged peasants, but are actually husks playing host to a parasite known as Las Plagas. These creatures were discovered beneath a Spanish castle by the owner, a weirdly Napoleonic figure named Ramon Salazar. Salazar is in league with Osmund Saddler, a cult leader seeking to infect and use Ashley to spread Las Plagas worldwide. The Mayor of the Spanish village, Bitorrez Mendez, is similarly corrupted and host to a powerful parasite.
Infected human adults – known as Ganados – are not the only creatures infected by Las Plagas. Wolves attack the player first in their natural form and then in a more horrifying guise as tentacled beasts emerge from their heads. Children are mutated into massive Gigantes, towering humanoid monsters that can destroy environmental features. Insectoid Novistadors emerge from invisibility and crawl across ceilings and walls. Blind Garradors must be avoided through sound manipulation, lest they shred Leon with their claws. The game’s scariest addition to the Resident Evil enemy roster is clearly the Regenerator, a pale humanoid with numerous rows of teeth that can regenerate its body parts if attacked; these can only be effectively fought through the use of a heat scope affixed to Leon’s rifle, reducing the player’s ability to keep an eye on the wider area while trying to slay them.
Bosses are a major improvement on those featured in earlier Resident Evil games. Leon takes on Del Lago, a huge salamander that drags his small boat around an isolated lake, after encountering the first of four Gigantes. Mendez, Salazar, and Saddler all transform into grand monsters in the series’ characteristic style. Jack Krauser, a deserter from the US special forces and Leon’s companion during off-screen adventures between 1998 and 2005, first battles Leon with a knife and submachine gun before growing a mutated arm and trying to kill Leon in his transformed state. Salazar’s “right hand,” a hooded reptilian figure known as the Verdugo, also hounds Leon throughout a tense, claustrophobic subterranean encounter. Finally, an unnamed beast reminiscent of Fallout’s Centaur is battled in a multi-tiered boss confrontation in and around a handful of improbably suspended shipping containers. Each one of these encounters is thrilling and unique.
While its narrative is intensely campy and its enemy roster is superlative, Resident Evil 4’s chief contribution to the medium is its approach to action. Zombies have been thrown out entirely, along with the series’ commitment to an atmosphere of dread. Instead, Leon approaches his quest like an action hero equipped with a vast arsenal of firearms. These weapons are typically equipped with either a laser sight or a scope, allowing precise aiming from a third-person or first-person perspective respectively.
The game’s perspective is such a staggering innovation that almost every third-person shooter released in following decade would copy it. Players control Leon from a mid-distance third-person perspective over his shoulder. This permits line of sight to the right and left, but keeps the focus firmly on what is occurring directly ahead. When Leon raises his weapon, the view narrows to a position just to the upper-right of his head, keeping Leon in the lower-left quarter of the screen and focusing attention on his laser sight; some weapons trade this tight aiming perspective for a first-person view. Navigation is still carried out using the series’ oft-criticized tank controls, but this is less jarring due to the camera placement.
Quick-time events (QTEs) were popularized by Resident Evil 4 as well despite the term originally being coined by Shenmue’s Yu Suzuki in 1999. These would go on to develop a fairly controversial reputation as they grew over-used in the decade ahead, but were downright novel in this 2005 title. During some sequences, contextual actions can be performed by tapping the combination of buttons flashed on-screen. Most of these occur during otherwise un-interactive narrative events, forcing the player to remain engaged even when not in direct control of his or her character; some occur during standard play, as Leon must outrun boulders and lumbering statues using QTE prompts. The first boss encounter with Krauser actually plays out entirely through this mechanism. Poor use of QTEs by game developers can come across as a lazy shortcut to raise tension, but Mikami’s use of the technique here reflects its ideal purpose – allowing the player character to carry out contextual actions which would be impossible within the constraints of normal gameplay.
While Resident Evil 4 is overall a linear, tightly scripted adventure, it offers a handful of opportunities for emergent gameplay and customization. The former is exemplified by a well-hidden difficulty slider. As outlined by YouTube’s Mark Brown, Resident Evil 4 constantly adjusts item drops and enemy placement based on the player’s performance. Dying frequently decreases enemy numbers while increasing the rewards obtained from fallen attackers; overuse of a weapon increases the prevalence of relevant ammunition. In the most extreme instances, where a boss cannot be overcome, the player always has recourse to purchase a “one-hit kill” rocket launcher from the in-game merchant.
That merchant is one of Resident Evil 4’s most enduringly peculiar features. Weapons would be discovered through the environment in past series entries, and could sometimes be improved through the use of acquired kits. This is replaced in Resident Evil 4 by a friendly, cockney-accented merchant who appears at specified locations to sell Leon weapons and customize his guns. Little narrative justification is offered for the merchant’s presence, but he is celebrated as a straightforward way to add extensive customization options and flavor to an otherwise rather scripted experience.
A handful of additional modes are unlocked by completing the roughly 15-hour base game. In the original Gamecube version, players gain access to a time-trial adventure mode called Assignment Ada and a combat-focused mode called The Mercenaries. The former isn’t especially noteworthy, though it does offer the opportunity to play as Ada Wong as she infiltrates the campaign’s late-game island environment. The latter set the tone for the series’ bonus content moving forward, emphasizing the strong action mechanics which would come to define Resident Evil in its second decade. Players choose from among several playable characters with unique weapon loadouts and attempt to hold out against an onslaught of foes in a confined space for as long as possible; time extensions and resources can be achieved by exploring and defeating enemies. Harder attackers appear over time, including the delightfully monstrous chainsaw-wielding Dr. Salazar. If the standard campaign had not been clear enough, The Mercenaries states plainly that Resident Evil had abandoned its survival horror roots in favor of action tropes.
Given its critical and commercial success, along with its instantly recognized influence on the wider action-adventure genre, it’s unsurprising that Resident Evil 4 was ported to as many hardware configurations as possible. Shinji Mikami had sternly claimed the title would remain a Gamecube exclusive, but Capcom re-released it on the PlayStation 2 before the end of 2005; this port was technically inferior, but added the Separate Ways campaign. Accessible after completing Leon’s adventure, Separate Ways reveals how Ada’s mission intersected with Leon’s. This is hardly revelatory, and it detracts from the mystery of the narrative in some ways, but it is a nice expansion of Residents Evil 4’s fundamentally strong base mechanics. Separate Ways would be included with all future ports of the game. A middling PC port featuring higher resolutions was also published by Ubisoft in 2007.
The next noteworthy port appeared on the Nintendo Wii, offering support for that console’s famous motion controls. Its input updates were well-received, and many consider this to be the game’s best showing. Capcom next published versions of the game on various mobile platforms, making the peculiar decision to have the campaign broken up into thematic sections. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions made their way to digital marketplaces in 2011, upscaling the game to a higher resolution but not improving the textures. This has the result of rendering environments comparatively indistinct.
A true remaster was finally released on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2015. This version replaced all of the original game’s textures with higher resolution textures derived from the master files and doubled the framerate from 30fps to 60fps. Humorously, this framerate alteration has the unintentional effect of making QTE sequences slightly harder. Fans also had the rare opportunity to discover which cutscenes had been rendered in-engine or pre-rendered in the original release; the former are updated to HD visuals alongside gameplay sequences, while the latter are forced to utilize the low-quality 2005 visuals due to Capcom’s loss of the cutscene source files over the intervening decade. Luckily, Shinji Mikami had followed Hideo Kojima’s lead in rendering the vast majority of narrative sequences in-engine – while all cutscenes from Separate Ways remain at a low resolution, only one brief cutscene in Leon’s campaign had been pre-rendered.
The impact of Resident Evil 4 cannot be overstated. It is a near-perfect game, even thirteen years later, and set the standard not only for its own successors but also for the wider world of action games in the 2000s. Gears of War would notably pick up Resident Evil 4’s third person shooter gameplay and fuse it with cover mechanics in 2006, establishing an action genre template for the sixth console generation. The 1990s vision of survival horror, for better or for worse, had been definitively put to bed by the success of Capcom’s game.
Resident Evil 5 (2009)
The next Resident Evil game would not go through any major developmental woes, putting it in rare company – only the original entry and Code Veronica had similarly straightforward paths to completion. From the outset, the development team (which lacked any involvement from series creator Shinji Mikami but included numerous alumni from the first game) was committed to one core concept. They intended to build on the foundation of Resident Evil 4 while introducing new aesthetic elements never previously encountered by series fans.
To that end, they settled on a largely daylight adventure through a fictional West African country called Kijuju. The main character is Chris Redfield, though he is joined by the newly introduced Sheva Alomar. Both are members of the BSAA, an international organization tasked with monitoring and responding to bioterrorism incidents. They are assigned to stop the sale of a bioweapon in Kijuju, but are quickly caught up in an outbreak of Las Plagas.
Umbrella makes a major reappearance, as Chris and Sheva discover that the company’s original Progenitor Virus was derived from plants in an underground Kijuju laboratory during the 1960s. That lab is now being used by Tricell, the BSAA’s financial backer, to iterate upon Umbrella’s work. This has led to the development of Oroboros, a new and highly dangerous virus strain. Chris and Sheva encounter Albert Wesker, who has reemerged and betrayed his partners at Tricell; he intends to spread Oroboros worldwide and command a small pocket of survivors in the ensuing apocalypse. To that end, he has kidnapped and brainwashed Chris’ former STARS partner Jill Valentine. In the end, Chris manages to defeat a mutated Wesker in hand-to-hand combat within the caldera of an active volcano. With Wesker killed, Jill saved, and the Oroboros outbreak contained, the BSAA’s mission in Kijuju is complete.
Gameplay is almost identical to Resident Evil 4. The development team even eschewed the addition of movement while shooting, which had become common in third-person shooters released between 2005 and 2009; this was done to maintain tension, but it clashes with the increased mobility of Resident Evil 5’s standard Majini enemies when contrasted with Resident Evil 4’s sluggish Ganados. The merchant has been eliminated, despite the development team originally intending to include him again; he is replaced by a sterile shop and customization menu accessed between the game’s discrete chapters. There are more vehicle-based passages, including one where the player fights a massive octopus creature using guns mounted on the deck of a boat. Melee attacks have been enhanced too, culminating in the series’ silliest moment: Chris Redfield destroying a boulder with his fist during the game’s climax.
Resident Evil 5’s most significant gameplay feature is also its most controversial. Chris and Sheva are paired up for the entirety of the lengthy campaign, diminishing the opportunity for players to feel isolated and in danger. A second player can even take control of Sheva, overcoming the game’s shoddy AI and making this a dramatically more successful implementation of paired characters than 2002’s Resident Evil Zero. The emphasis on action also helps to mitigate concerns that a paired character reduces the game’s efficacy; it is not striving for an atmosphere of pure horror, so it has less to lose from this mechanic.
In the months leading up to release, and to a limited extent following its publication on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms, Resident Evil 5 was the subject of criticism for its treatment of Africa. A preview reminded some viewers (including Newsweek writer N’Gai Croal) of 19th Century racist imagery, while a lengthy section in the final game suggested colonialist themes which would not have been out of place in pulp literature of the early 20th Century. Many other players and critics read the work as inherently anti-colonialist, on the other hand, decrying the initial outrage as misguided. The division in opinion over Resident Evil 5’s approach to post-colonial politics and sensitive cultural imagery remains a point of contention ten years after release.
Thanks to the rise in digital distribution platforms during the sixth console generation, Resident Evil 5 is the first title in the series to integrate downloadable content. The first of two expansions is a fascinating look into the period after the events of Resident Evil 4, following Chris and Jill as they explore Oswell Spencer’s estate in pursuit of Umbrella’s co-founder. Within the series canon, this is the house that served as the source of inspiration for the first game’s facility. It also serves as a thematic counterpoint to the main campaign, emphasizing horror over action. In its most audacious twist, it replaces the base game’s over-the-shoulder perspective with the static cinematic angles of early Resident Evil entries. The second expansion, Desperate Escape, returns to Kijuju. It depicts plot events of Resident Evil 5 from the perspective of Jill Valentine and another BSAA member named Josh Stone. Of course, a Mercenaries mode based on the previous game’s Mercenaries content is included as well.
Resident Evil 5 fell short of fan expectations after its superlative predecessor. The biggest issues are poor pacing and a step further away from horror. Resident Evil 4 had definitively evolved from horror to action over the course of its campaign, but it had maintained a connection to the series’ roots through isolation and gothic imagery. Resident Evil 5 was heavily inspired by Black Hawk Down (2001), on the other hand, and its military-shooter approach to the series’ “science gone wrong” themes belies that origin. It would take a herculean effort to attempt fusing these disparate narrative and thematic threads together, but Capcom would set out on exactly that path with their next Resident Evil game.
Resident Evil 6 (2012)
Resident Evil 6 is a mess. There are no two ways about it – Capcom took a bold step with the next title in its flagship horror IP and, sadly, fell short. That being said, it’s an ambitious mess.
The writing had been on the wall since the mid-2000s, as the already-limited audience for survival horror titles shrunk significantly from its late-1990s peak. Capcom was experiencing diminishing returns with new entries in the Resident Evil series, even as they broadened the visual and mechanical foundation with the Resident Evil REmake and Resident Evil Zero. Shinji Mikami swept into a problematic development cycle for the series’ fourth sequential episode and infused it with an entirely new design, putting the franchise on a path towards action and away from survival horror. Resident Evil 5 had reinforced this approach still further.
Capcom’s Masachika Kawata, producer on 2011’s Resident Evil Revelations spinoff, confirmed in a Gamasutra interview what most fans already suspected: the studio would be largely abandoning Resident Evil’s horror roots in an effort to ensure larger sales in the North American market. Like many niche genres, survival horror had flourished in the 1990s while development costs remained comparatively low. Resident Evil 2 had been produced by a team of 40-50 staffers at its peak, while Resident Evil 6 would be touched by more than 600 employees. High-definition visuals and the rising expectations of game enthusiasts had pushed studios to a point where experimentation and niche genres would lead only to financial ruin. In the aforementioned interview, Kawata explicitly drew a parallel with Activision’s Call of Duty, citing that series as the type of game that was popular with North American consumers. Emulating it might alienate old fans, but Capcom believed that this was the only way to ensure Resident Evil’s success in the 2010s.
That intent to cast a wide net led to the most ambitious scope of any Resident Evil title since 1998’s Resident Evil 2. Players take on the roles of four different characters across four distinct campaigns. Each features a unique gameplay style and theme, though all bear some underlying similarities. Each has the same over-the-shoulder third-person shooter perspective that had been a series staple since Resident Evil 4; each features extensive QTEs and the ability to take cover behind objects to avoid projectile attacks. Aside from these similar mechanics, the characters’ paths are quite different.
Chris Redfield is paired up with Piers Nivans for a mission in the fictional Chinese city of Lanshiang. They are tasked with crushing an outbreak of J’Avo, the newest breed of mutated human bioweapon. These were created by a group called Neo-Umbrella, which had been experimenting with a new strain of the Progenitor Virus called the C-virus. Neo-Umbrella has more or less embraced its role as a terrorist group by this point in the series’ timeline. The mechanics of Chris’ gameplay are largely inspired by modern military shooters.
Mercenary Jake Muller, son of Albert Wesker, is paired up with the reintroduced Sherry Birkin for a mission in the fictional Eastern European nation of Edonia. Sherry is attempting to help Jake escape a J’Avo outbreak while being pursued by a monstrous creature called the Ustanak. Due to his lineage, Jake’s blood holds the key to a vaccine against the C-virus. The two are eventually captured by Neo-Umbrella and taken to China for experimentation. Jake’s set-piece-oriented gameplay has been compared to the popular third-person shooter series Uncharted (2007+), though he also has access to a wide variety of melee combat attacks.
The third campaign focuses on Leon Kennedy and his partner Helena Harper; by this point, both are members of the Division of Security Operations, a federal anti-bioterrorism agency in the United States. The narrative begins with their arrival in the fictional American town of Tall Oaks, where the US President is about to give a televised speech to declassify Umbrella’s activities in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The town is subject to a C-virus outbreak, however, turning many of its residents into flesh-eating zombies; President Adam Bedford is among those infected. It’s revealed that the scenario was manipulated by his aide Derek Simmons, who is secretly affiliated with Neo-Umbrella, so Leon and Helena pursue him through the town and across the globe to China. Leon’s gameplay is highly reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, though the enemies behave and look similar to T-virus zombies from the series’ earliest entries. This was a concession to long-time fans who had been earnestly requesting the reappearance of classic zombies.
The final campaign is the only one in which the player character is not paired up with a companion. Ada Wong takes center stage in this mission, which emphasizes stealth and puzzles. When the player takes control, Ada is infiltrating a Neo-Umbrella submarine and seeking to undermine the efforts of Derek Simmons and Neo-Umbrella leader Carla Radames. Carla had used bizarre experimentation to transform herself into an apparent clone of Ada, implicating the real Ada in various C-virus outbreaks.
All narratives eventually cross over in Lanshiang. The protagonists are able to confront Derek Simmons, killing him after he mutates into a massive monster. Carla Radames is simultaneously defeated by Ada Wong during a confrontation in an underwater Neo-Umbrella laboratory. Jake’s blood is used to create a cure for the C-virus and the outbreaks are contained.
Capcom attempted to please all fans with this entry, harmonizing the zombie-oriented survival horror of the series’ earliest days with the action gameplay of its two most recent predecessors. In an appeal to the North American market, they also included elements reminiscent of popular military shooters. As is often the case, this broad approach impressed very few long-time fans and was unsuccessful at bringing in a new audience. Gaining ground with potential new players would necessarily be challenging, as the series mythology was so dense by this point. The gameplay was a pale echo of what had come before, so thoroughly diluting the franchise’s identity that no one fan could enjoy the complete package.
Critics savaged Resident Evil 6 and sales fell dramatically short of Capcom’s projections. The studio had made the highest-budget title in its long-running series but badly misunderstood its appeal to fans. In an admirable – if misguided – attempt to bring Resident Evil into conformity with prevailing market trends, Capcom had alienated its most loyal supporters. The next series entry would require a radical reinvention to avoid slipping into the obsolescence which had befallen so many of its survival horror contemporaries.
Resident Evil 7: biohazard (2017)
As development wrapped on Resident Evil 6, a sequel project was assigned to Masachiko Kawata, the producer who had supervised 2011’s highly successful Resident Evil Revelations. This version of Resident Evil 7 was going to iterate on the systems which had been introduced in Resident Evil 4 and updated throughout its two sequels. Poor reception to the series’ sixth consecutively numbered entry, however, necessitated a reassessment. Kawata’s project was cancelled in 2013.
Capcom’s Jun Takeuchi, who had worked on the series since 1996 and led development on Resident Evil 5, was pulled into Resident Evil 7 following the first version’s cancellation. He had a small team brainstorm ways to improve the series and engage long-time fans. The Resident Evil Revelations spinoff series had been popular in spite of its limited setting, meanwhile, suggesting that survival horror genre conventions still held some commercial appeal.
Takeuchi and Kawata collaborated to keep the scope small, the atmosphere tense, and the graphics at a high level of fidelity. Reducing the overall breadth of the game could keep the staff tighter while still living up to modern players’ expectations of HD visuals.The team was assigned to explore abandoned houses in Osaka and translate that atmosphere to the game setting. Due to hardware compatibility issues, Capcom abandoned the MT Framework engine used to create Resident Evil 5 and 6, opting instead to developed a new proprietary RE game engine (humorously an acronym denoting “Reach for the Moon” rather than Resident Evil). This new engine was combined with the digitization of photographed real-life surfaces and models, including raw meat, to support an unnervingly realistic art style.
Within two years, Takeuchi and Kawata would have a demo ready for the public. KITCHEN was shown off at E3 2015 without any trace of the Resident Evil name. In it, players explore a dingy, grotesque kitchen from a first-person perspective; numerous mysteries and details are present, but little that would suggest an entry in Capcom’s long-running horror franchise. This demo helped the team gauge public reaction to its work.
Resident Evil 7 was announced the following year and an official tie-in demo premiered at E3 2016. The reception to BEGINNING HOUR was nothing short of rapturous, as fans could see that the series was on the way back to its survival horror roots. For the first time, a Western writer had been hired to develop the game’s narrative; Canadian Richard Pearsey would use his familiarity with American culture, along with cinematic influences from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Evil Dead (1981), to inform a more culturally specific brand of horror. American songwriter Michael Levine was simultaneously contracted to write a theme song, riffing on an old folk ballad with vocals by Jordan Reyne. The atmosphere was classic survival horror, but Capcom’s bold approach to development was entirely new. Resident Evil 7 released on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC in early 2017, instantly being hailed as a return to form.
Echoing Shinji Mikami’s original concept for the series, gameplay occurs in a first-person perspective. Items and resources are scarce, ensuring that the player always feels disempowered compared to his or her enemies. Environments are small, dark, and consistently challenging to navigate. Resident Evil 7 is survival horror in its purest form.
The narrative is set at an isolated, crumbling Louisiana bayou house. The protagonist, Ethan Winters, investigates the grounds in pursuit of his missing wife, Mia. He quickly discovers that the house is inhabited by the Baker family, a group of apparently invincible mutants. He discovers Mia in the basement, but she is quickly revealed to have been infected too, attacking Ethan with a chainsaw and hacking off his hand. A boss fight ensues in which Ethan defeats her but, like the Bakers, she shrugs off apparently fatal wounds.
Ethan explores the house, is himself infected (restoring his hand), and defeats the Bakers one by one. Only two members of the family, sinister inventor Lucas and the still-human Zoe, escape annihilation. Ethan and Mia, at this point intermittently lucid, discover a serum with the aid of Zoe Baker. Ethan is faced with the choice of curing either his wife or Zoe, who has been aiding him behind-the-scenes since the beginning of the game. The choice is ultimately not especially significant, as the rest of the game plays out largely identically in either case.
After escaping from the house by boat, Ethan and either Zoe or Mia are attacked by a large creature and knocked into a river. The player then takes on the role of Mia as she attempts to save Ethan while exploring a nearby derelict shipping vessel. It’s revealed that she was an Umbrella staffer – the first indication that this plot is tied to the wider Resident Evil narrative – transporting a bizarre new bioweapon on a tanker when the creature destroyed the vessel and escaped, ending up at the Baker residence. That creature, designed to ingratiate itself with potential targets by appearing as a human child, aged rapidly as it infected the Bakers; the player discovers that the bioweapon has been hiding in plain sight as a silent, wheelchair-bound elderly woman spotted occasionally in the Bakers’ home.
By the end, the scale of the game expands dramatically. Ethan and Mia do battle with a disgusting enemy type known as the Molded, escape a cave system, and destroy the bioweapon. They are eventually rescued by an Umbrella helicopter carrying Chris Redfield. This last-minute twist is fascinating, opening up a series of questions which leave players on the edge of their seats even as the game abandons its early claustrophobic horror.
What disappointment existed among players who felt that the game diminished as it expanded, so to speak, was mitigated by the strength of its first half. Resident Evil‘s writing had risen above B-movie camp for the first time, provoking a profound sense of unease among players. The virtual reality edition of the game is even more intense, and required the commitment of an entirely distinct programming team. Takeuchi and Kawata had stuck the landing with their newest Resident Evil, putting the series’ best foot forward and reminding fans why they had fallen in love with Resident Evil back in 1996.
Not enough time has passed to establish whether Resident Evil 7’s legacy will be similar to Resident Evil 4. In the near term, it will be interesting to see whether the game is ported to other consoles as the series’ last major revolutionary had been. The only major piece of hardware to enter the market since its 2017 release is the Nintendo Switch, which has specifications too weak to handle the game’s high level of detail. That said, Capcom made the bold choice to offer Resident Evil 7 as the first instance of a high-powered piece of software being streamed remotely by Nintendo Switch users – processing is handled by a server, so the player’s device is only being used as an input method, receiving the resulting image as rapidly as the user’s network can transmit the signal. The results were largely disappointing, given the quick reflexes required to master Resident Evil 7’s gameplay and the importance of high visual fidelity to the horror experience. Still, this does suggest that new technology might be leveraged to expose a larger player base to the unique charms of a resurgent survival horror franchise.
There have been so many Resident Evil spinoffs over the past 22 years that attempting an overview feels like a fool’s errand. Still, they are so varied and engaging that omission would severely deflate the value of this article. I’ll do my best to categorize them and offer some perspective on the strange indulgences of this venerable horror series. With this in mind, please forgive the absence of myriad non-interactive spinoff content; at the time of writing, the series has been improbably adapted into comic books, novels, films (live action and animated), mobile phone ARGs, and even a stage play. Many of these alternate-medium spinoffs are worth seeking out but present too vast a corpus to discuss here.
The first video game spinoff was produced for the Sony PlayStation in 2000 by TOSE, a studio which had previously worked on Nintendo’s Game and Watch Gallery series (1995-2002). It would also start the trend that represents our first category of spinoffs – first person shooters. Resident Evil Survivor is set on Umbrella’s Sheena Island, a drab series of gray hallways populated by repurposed monsters from Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2. The main character, an amnesiac who eventually discovers that he was an operative sent to halt the island’s overseer from conducting experiments, is unremarkable and never reappears in the franchise.
Critically, Resident Evil Survivor was developed to make use of the PlayStation’s light gun accessory, but this functionality was excised from the North American version due to the Columbine Massacre occurring only months before release. This effectively breaks the game’s central mechanic, resulting in a slow-paced first person crawl through an uninteresting world full of monsters bearing muddy, repurposed textures only intended to be seen from distant cinematic camera angles.
Surprisingly, this disastrous entry led to a second light gun title available at arcades and on the PlayStation 2 in 2001. Resident Evil Survivor 2 – Code: Veronica was little-improved from the sub-series’ appearance on the preceding home console generation; in some ways it actually fell short of its predecessor! Players take on the role of Claire as she relives the events of Resident Evil: Code Veronica from a first-person perspective. This is depicted diagetically as a dream experienced by Claire when on-board a plane during the middle of that game. Bizarrely, an invincible Nemesis appears as a mechanic intended to keep players from lingering too long in a given area; no narrative justification is provided. Survivor 2 is functionally unplayable, designed to separate players from their quarters with numerous inescapable enemies placed adjacent to doorways scoring cheap hits as Claire enters new areas. With or without a light gun peripheral, Survivor 2 is best left forgotten.
The third Survivor entry was a Dino Crisis spinoff rather than one associated with the Resident Evil series, but a fourth entry returned to the zombie-infested source material. Resident Evil: Dead Aim (2003) drops the Survivor name even as it picks up several interesting mechanical flourishes. Like the original version of Resident Evil 3, Resident Evil Gaiden and Resident Evil Revelations, this spinoff is set on a cruise ship filled with the living dead. The player controls Bruce McGivern, an American defense operative infiltrating a ship overrun by the T-virus. Much of the game is played from a third person perspective as Bruce navigates corridors, but it switches to a first-person point-of-view when he takes aim. This is intriguing as a step towards the mechanics of Resident Evil 4, though the gameplay more generally falls quite short of the mark.
The Survivor sub-series would be something of a dud, but it did lead to a further evolution on Capcom’s perennial notion of a first-person take on Resident Evil. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (2007) would pick up the first-person torch from Dead Aim and infuse it with an on-rails approach to level design. Umbrella Chronicles takes its cues primarily from other on-rails light gun titles like House of the Dead, but is set firmly in the Resident Evil universe and is noteworthy for being built from the ground up for Nintendo’s Wii rather than arcade hardware.
Up to two players take control of characters reliving the events of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3, while also engaging in a third campaign intended to reveal the background to Umbrella’s demise between Code Veronica and Resident Evil 4. Umbrella Chronicles was originally intended to play in a manner similar to Resident Evil 4, in fact, but this was altered due to concerns by Capcom that the game would be too complex for the Wii’s casual player-base. In spite of the design being heavily configured around the Wii hardware, an HD version of Umbrella Chronicles was eventually released on the PlayStation 3.
Another on-rails first-person shooter was published by Capcom in 2010 on the Wii. Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles was similar to Umbrella Chronicles in all but one way: the first-person POV now shakes and moves realistically, rather than the typical steady perspective offered by titles in this genre. The unique interface inspired both praise and criticism, depending upon the player’s patience for missed shots and motion sickness. Three new chapters are introduced, including ones based on Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica. The third campaign tells a new story, filling in the backstory of Leon Kennedy and Jack Krauser with a special ops trip to South America. Darkside Chronicles was re-released in an HD version on PlayStation 3 alongside its predecessor.
The second major branch of Resident Evil‘s spinoffs is the online multiplayer genre. One would suspect that a series oriented around isolation and fear would not lend itself to a multiplayer setting, and Capcom’s executives believed the same in the late 1990s. Shinji Mikami pitched an online multiplayer game during the development of Resident Evil 2 and a prototype was developed. Unfortunately, teamwork was scarce and players instead tended to work against one another in an attempt to conserve resources. In the end, that project was cancelled.
In 2002, Capcom revived the project and began work on what would ultimately become Resident Evil Outbreak. The development team returned to the Raccoon City Incident, placing up to four players in the shoes of average residents as a T-virus outbreak overtakes the city. They incentivized cooperation through the addition of skills dependent on each player character – one has a larger inventory, one can unlock doors, etc. At the same time, Capcom avoided the potential for out-of-character chatter to compromise atmosphere by forcing players to communicate using stock phrases that their characters can utter. The visuals were fully polygonal, echoing Code Veronica, while the camera remained dynamic but out of the player’s control. Strangely, the game was only designed to facilitate multiplayer among remote players making use of the network adapter. Resident Evil Outbreak was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2003, impressing and irritating players in equal measure with its reliance on one of that console’s least popular peripherals.
A follow-up was released on the same hardware in 2005. Little is different between the two, and the developers instead opted to use the same foundation to tell a new selection of stories. Between Resident Evil Outbreak and Resident Evil Outbreak File #2, eleven total maps are available to play. These include genuinely inventive settings, like a zoo full of infected animals and a multi-story hotel. Additionally, both games include the opportunity to get infected and turn into a zombie, hunting down and attacking former teammates. Both Outbreak titles were reasonably well-received, but the player-base was hamstrung by a low adoption rate for the PlayStation 2’s network adapter. North American servers were shut down in 2007, functionally ending the game’s replayability, though a dedicated fan community still runs private servers more than a decade hence.
The next online-oriented game, like Outbreak and Outbreak File #2, was released with the capacity to play in a single-player format. Still, Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D (2011) is at its best as a cooperative online game. As the name indicates, the game was released on the Nintendo 3DS. It is effectively an expanded version of the Mercenaries bonus mode from Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, tasking players with choosing a character and area in which they will attempt to survive an enemy onslaught. Multiple players can join one another through the 3DS’ wifi connection. The game was savaged upon release, as critics and fans believed it to be a low-effort cash-in which brought nothing new to the franchise.
The worst was still yet to come for the series’ primarily online multiplayer games. Operation Raccoon City was developed by Slant Six Games, which had risen to prominence through its work on several titles in Sony’s popular military shooter series SOCOM (2002-2011). True to that pedigree, Operation Raccoon City puts the player in the role of one member of a small military squad dispatched to Raccoon City during the events of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3. Squads are associated with competing interests during the T-virus outbreak and compete against one another, as well as bioweapons and zombies roaming the streets. A host of main characters from earlier series titles even make cameo appearances over the course of the adventure! Gameplay is experienced from a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, similar to the core series from Resident Evil 4 to Resident Evil 6.
Unfortunately, Operation Raccoon City is riddled with bugs and poor design choices. In particular, enemies soak up an unreasonable amount of damage, rendering the experience a grim slog. This return to one of the series’ most popular settings should have been a celebration of Resident Evil’s history, but was instead a rushed mess. Capcom followed up on this concept several years later with the similar Umbrella Corps (2016), but this competitive online shooter was even more disastrous. It recreates a wider variety of environments from the series’ history and offers a wider selection of factions to join, but lacks what little nostalgia Operation Raccoon City provided, presenting its locales as recreations of original locations for the purpose of training operatives. Even moreso than Resident Evil 6, Umbrella Corps represents a desperate attempt by Capcom to cash in on the commercial success of military shooters.
The third category of spinoff is the narrative horror game. These are actually rather similar to the core series, but focus on smaller settings, side stories or non-canon experiences. The first example of this category falls into the latter scenario. Resident Evil Gaiden (2001) was developed by British studio M4 for the Game Boy Color, filling a gap left by the cancellation of that platform’s Resident Evil port. The narrative concerns a mission by Leon Kennedy and, later, Barry Burton on-board – you guessed it – another zombie-infested cruise ship. The two defeat numerous zombies and rescue a girl named Lucia before an ending cutscene reveals that Leon has been replaced by an evil doppelganger. Due to technical limitations, these plot sequences eschew the core series’ cutscenes in favor of still images and text boxes.
The narrative would later be disregarded by Capcom, but the gameplay would remain a memorable one-off in the series’ history. The player navigates his or her character around the cruise ship from a bird’s eye view most of the time. When a roaming enemy is encountered, play shifts to a first-person perspective and the player must engage in a rhythm game to strike attackers; this bizarre mechanic was apparently insisted upon by none other than series creator Shinji Mikami. Missed cues allow enemies to get closer, while critical headshots occur when the player taps his or her button at a precise moment within the attack gauge’s acceptable range. As the reader can imagine, this is hardly conducive to a terrifying atmosphere. Resident Evil Gaiden was released to mixed reviews which praised its audacious storytelling while criticizing its unengaging visuals and lamenting the absence of Resident Evil’s characteristic horror.
The next title in this category would not appear until 2011, when Capcom released Resident Evil Revelations on the 3DS. This game would be ported to virtually every console over the following decade, but it was plainly built for the 3DS’ unique hardware. Textures and models are relatively simple, but are detailed enough to convey an intensely scary atmosphere. Gameplay is similar to Resident Evil 6, as the player character can move and shoot simultaneously. This permits highly mobile opponents, but the game primarily forces the player to confront these creatures in claustrophobic interiors. Gameplay alternates between three protagonists over the course of the lengthy campaign, offering distinct weapon loadouts and a variety of tones, including survival horror, action, and even an attempt at comedy.
The narrative concerns Jill Valentine, who had joined the BSAA at some point after escaping Raccoon City. In 2005, she and fellow BSAA operative Parker infiltrate an apparently abandoned cruise ship, the Queen Zenobia, in pursuit of Veltro, a terrorist group which had destroyed the fictional Mediterranean city of Terragrigia only a year earlier. Meanwhile, Chris Redfield and partner Jessica explore a crashed Veltro plane before setting out to rescue Jill and Parker from the Queen Zenobia. Finally, BSAA agents Quint and Keith explore Veltro’s snowbound hideout, contending with a new strain of invisible Hunters. No zombies appear, but horrifying shambling Ooze creatures are a suitable replacement. The Ooze outbreak is attributed to a new strain of virus known as T-abyss.
More than a few twists occur over the course of the game’s lengthy narrative, shading in the background of Chris, Jill and the BSAA between the events of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. Game segments are broken into episodes, as had been the case in 2010’s Alan Wake. This was done to render the game more digestible on the portable console for which it was developed. Resident Evil Revelations was enjoyed by longtime series fans, as well as the wider world of the 3DS’ massive install base, easily justifying a 2015 sequel.
Capcom’s Michiteru Okabe explicitly identified the Revelations spinoff series as being designed for Resident Evil’s horror fanbase when promoting Resident Evil: Revelations 2 in 2014. While the core series had been growing larger and more action-oriented, Capcom had recognized a persistent enthusiasm for the franchise’s earliest, scariest titles. With that in mind, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 would be developed with an eye to terrifying series veterans. The game was released for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows PC in an episodic format across four weeks in early 2015.
Gameplay is very similar to its predecessor, with action viewed from a third-person perspective set over the player character’s shoulder. Each episode contains two stories – the first concerns Claire Redfield and Moira Burton, kidnapped alongside their coworkers at a bioweapon response NGO called Terra Save, while the second follows Barry Burton’s attempts to save them six months later. Barry encounters an apparently psychic child named Natalia upon reaching the island where Claire and Moira were taken. Both campaigns offer the ability to switch between the two companion characters or have the second character controlled by a second player. Claire and Barry are standard firearm-wielding Resident Evil protagonists, while Moira can reveal items with a flashlight and Natalia can see enemies through walls.
Long-term fans celebrated the return of zombies, which had been absent from the core series between 2002’s Resident Evil Zero and 2012’s Resident Evil 6. The small number of enemies featured in Resident Evil Revelations – a small complaint among critics – was otherwise addressed by a wide variety of new, horrifying monsters introduced in Resident Evil Revelations 2. The most controversial is an invisible creature which can only be spotted by Natalia; players must rapidly coordinate the efforts of Barry and Natalia to defeat or avoid these enemies, as they can kill the player character with a single attack. Those tense sequences reflect the game more broadly, as it offers a host of eerie settings and survival horror in line with series entries of the late 1990s.
If the action-oriented Resident Evil 6 had not performed so poorly and the survival horror renaissance of Resident Evil 7 had not performed so well, Capcom may have remained on course with their plans to keep the series’ horror roots firmly in the Revelations spinoffs. As things currently stand, it is unclear whether the Revelations sub-series will continue to be produced or if the core series’ reintegration of horror themes has rendered it superfluous. It seems that Capcom currently intends to continue publishing Revelations titles to fill in gaps in the core franchise’s history, but only time will tell.
Resident Evil represents both the mainstream breakthrough of survival horror and the medium’s evolution past that unique sub-genre. Capcom historically has a habit of iterating subtly upon its successful titles, a design ethic that functions less effectively when a game’s genre hinges on surprising players. This made evolution within Resident Evil’s original game design problematic, a fact recognized by Shinji Mikami when he expressed skepticism concerning the series’ longevity as early as its first entry. Happily, fans have been treated to bizarre spinoffs and meaningful evolution within the core series over the past twenty years, ensuring its success among new generations of video game enthusiasts. Against all odds, Resident Evil has steadfastly retained its status as the medium’s premiere horror property.
Which is your favorite Resident Evil game? How about your favorite character from the series? Do any T-virus monsters get an A+ from you? Are your nightmares plagued by Las Plagas? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
With regard to sources, I referred to the following and unreservedly recommend them for more information:
- Avalanche Reviews – Resident Evil Retrospective
- CVG – Interview: Capcom chief lifts Resident Evil 0 lid [text]
- Den of Geek – Beware the Hook Man: The Lost Version of Resident Evil 4 That Almost Was [text]
- Den of Geek – Why Resident Evil 6 Failed [text]
- Eurogamer – Yasuhisa Kawamura and the Resident Evil that never was [text]
- The Game Direct – The History of Resident Evil: Part 1
- The Game Direct – The History of Resident Evil: Part 2
- The Game Direct – The History of Resident Evil: Part 3
- The Game Direct – The History of Resident Evil: Part 4
- The Game Direct – The History of Resident Evil: Part 5
- Goomba Stomp – A Critical Look at Resident Evil 3 and its Design [text]
- IGN – IGN Presents the History of Resident Evil [text]
- Retro Gamer – Sweet Home [text]
- Super Bunnyhop – REmake vs. REmake Remake vs. Resident Evil
- VG247 – Resident Evil 3: Nemesis began life as a spin-off [text]
- Watch Out For Fireballs! – Resident Evil
- Watch Out For Fireballs! – Resident Evil 2
- Watch Out For Fireballs! – Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
- Watch Out For Fireballs! – Resident Evil: Code Veronica
- Watch Out For Fireballs! – Resident Evil 4
- Watch Out For Fireballs! – Resident Evil 7: biohazard
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