The survival horror genre has been thrown around a fair bit over this last generation of video gaming and it’s interesting to see how far it has moved from the initial concept but one name will always arise when breaching the subject with the fans: Resident Evil.
Known as Bio Hazard in Japan, Resident Evil first infected our homes on the Playstation 1 in 1996 and has seen an unbelievable number of sequels, prequels, spin offs and side stories that it can be difficult to pin down the actual timeline of the ongoing story. Currently there are 45 different official Resident Evil releases, including multi-platform ports like Resident Evil 2 on PSX, Dreamcast, Gamecube, game.com, PC and even N64. There’s also 5 near finished games in the series that were scrapped very late in their development and I’ll touch on those later on. For now though, lets turn out the lights and reminisce.
The general idea behind Resident Evil was spawned from the series creator, Shinji Mikami, when he was pissed off at seeing an old Italian horror movie called Zombie, saying he wanted to show how a B grade horror flick should be done. Funny note, the game he worked on before this was Disney’s Aladdin on the Super NES but I’m going off topic here.
The plot for Resident Evil was simple. A deadly virus that turns the infected into flesh eating zombies breaks out and a crack squad of special forces go in to investigate, only to get caught up in a big corporate conspiracy, all with fabulously bad B grade acting to boot. There are obviously other details but this is the crux of it all and insanely humble beginnings from the crazily convoluted story that the series now holds cannon. Playing Resident Evil 1 today, its pretty obvious that CAPCOM didn’t expect the critical and commercial god-like status that their little B grade project would go on to receive but then, CAPCOM were really only known for the Megaman and Street Fighter series at the time as well as some one off hits like Aladdin and Final Fight.
A lot of people credit Resident Evil as being the first survival horror game but there was a series before it called Alone In The Dark which had 2 releases before Resident Evil even saw the light of day. Alone In The Dark was made by french game makers Infogrames and it had all the staple marks that made Resident Evil 1 stick out. Fixed camera angles with very pretty pre-rendered backgrounds, a control scheme that gave the game a very cinematic feel and atmosphere so thick you couldn’t cut it with a chainsaw. But, alas, poor Alone In The Dark would end up left in the dark and the last 3 instalments of the series being so terrible that they were the final nails in the coffin for video game industry creators and publisher Atari. Again, I’m getting side tracked but there’s just so much history here!
Since these early and simple days, Resident Evil has now become a franchise with many titles being made by different developers. The main series is still made by CAPCOM themselves with each of their releases having the numerical system in the title and they still prove to be the superior experiences with one exception where they co-developed the game with another company. Because of the franchise flexibility, there are even different genres of Resident Evil games like the linear shooter style Resident Evil Survivor games and the online Outbreak series. Hell, the lead characters Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield and Albert Wesker have even been included in the Marvel VS Capcom fighting series. All that’s left is for them to do a kart racing game.
The linear shooter style titles for the series have always copped the brunt of hatred towards the Resident Evil name and rightly so. Let’s face it, they’re shit. Poor graphics, a disgusting draw distance and frame rate and no story to speak of just show that even if the name was different, they’d still suck. Because sometimes, it’s that Resident Evil brand that raises our expectations to unreachable heights. A perfect example of this is Resident Evil Dead Aim and the latest installment Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City. These games are not badly made games. They have qualities that do exceed the standard shooter release but because they carry the Resident Evil name, we want to see familiar faces, names and events and when we don’t, we as fans of the series tend to just dismiss their existence. When Resident Evil Mercenaries was released on 3DS, all that was talked about was that there was no appearance of Leon Kennedy, the main character of Resident Evil 2 and 4, rather than the fact that they had pushed the 3DS graphical capabilities into the next gen category.
Now for the bits that even some of the hardcore Resi nuts don’t know. The games that got cut. Some of them were very close to completion. Like the Gameboy Colour adaptation of Resident Evil 1 which was 90% complete at the time it was scrapped. Having played a rom of the work in progress, it’s a surprise they didn’t just finish it. For a Gameboy Colour game, it was mega impressive. You could play as Jill or Chris and the story was largely intact. If you ever played the GBC version of Alone In The Dark The New Nightmare, you’d know what to expect but that version had significant changes to the game world to fit everything into the cart. And if the idea of a Gameboy Resident Evil is turning your head, there was a port of Resident Evil 2 going to Gameboy Advance! You only played as Leon and the cutscenes were still pics with subtitles but, believe it or not, they were cramming all the voiced in game dialogue onto the GBA cart and, scariest of all, it looked just as good as the PS1 original. The company making the game, Raylight Studios, were told to can the project at 75% completion. Geez they must have been PISSED!!! Out of the port cancellations, the one I’m glad about is Resident Evil Zero which was originally intended for release on the N64 but Nintendo had their Gamecube coming out soon and handed over an early development kit to CAPCOM for them to make the game for their new hardware. Another interesting note: Resident Evil Zero would go on to be one of the best games released for the console.
Besides cancelled ports, did you know there were entirely different versions of the sequels we know that were well into production and changed at the last second? For example, Resident Evil 2, originally did not include Clare Redfield. Instead, players could choose Elza Walker, a blonde uni student. The footage of gameplay looks very similar to the Resident Evil 2 we ended up with but apparently, this original take was cut because it felt too much like Resident Evil 1. Personally, I think Resident Evil 2 was intended to be as camp and B grade as the first but CAPCOM had realized that it was outselling all their other games so they decided to take the series a bit more seriously. So the first cut sequel has now been dubbed Resident Evil 1.5 but there was another cut later on that was a much more significant change.
CAPCOM and Nintendo had made a deal where the main Resident Evil series would be exclusive to Gamecube so CAPCOM had totally revamped their first Resident Evil into a beautiful high resolution remake and had used to same engine to take Resident Evil Zero from N64 to GC but they were working on a new Resident Evil the whole time. The videos can be found on YouTube under Resident Evil 3.5 and my god what a different game it would have been. In the original version, you still played as Leon Kennedy but the camera would take the more traditional fixed and semi-fixed position to give the most dramatic and cinematic viewpoint to the player but once you readied your gun, the camera would instantly change to an over the shoulder perspective, giving you the best of both worlds. Enemies seemed a bit more horror intensive like hook-handed apparitions tied to doors with chains and screeching possessed plastic dolls and whilst the Resident Evil 4 that we got is amazing and an absolute masterpiece, it does trade the horror element for a bit more of an action based gameplay. It would have been interesting to see if the series would have kept with the extreme horror direction if the original Resident Evil 4 had been released. This time the title was 60% complete before going back to formula.
Then there’s the official releases that people hardly know about like the before mentioned Resident Evil 2 for game.com which was a handheld, black and white, dot matrix games console. The console itself is barely known about and this would be the only game of note available on it but it’s not the only handheld Resident Evil. Resident Evil Gaiden was released on Gameboy Colour and used a top down view for exploration and a first person view for the combat. Neither of these portable titles were much good but the 3DS releases are excellent and in my opinion, Resident Evil Revelations is the best Resident Evil I have played to date.
It’s a series that still carries weight where other horror series like Alone In the Dark and Silent Hill only seem to get worse with every release, Resident Evil seems to keep it’s quality a bit higher than the others. Resident Evil 5 wasn’t even a horror game but is still held with high regard within the Resi fan community and with Resident Evil 6 scheduled for release this november, we’re all looking forward to being scared once again.