This month saw the release of Capcom’s Resident Evil Village, the latest in the venerable and venerated survival horror series about zombie outbreaks and (fittingly) hideous viruses. Over the course of its nearly twenty-five year existence the series has gone through some serious highs and some serious lows. Here’s my countdown to the very best Resident Evil games…beginning with the very worst.
Resident Evil 6 (2012)
Prior to release Capcom promised that Resident Evil 6 would be the series’ biggest and best title yet, and with a single player mode spanning seven characters, four campaigns and more than thirty hours of gameplay it certainly offered a lot of content. It’s just a shame that content was so poor. Sure it looked expensive, with its flashy graphics and spectacular set-pieces, but Resident Evil 6 was crippled by poor controls, tedious gameplay and an overlong, convoluted and insipid plot that was little more than a pale re-run of previous titles. The reaction from critics and fans alike was pretty negative; for all its blockbuster intentions Resident Evil 6 ended up proving that more is sometimes less.
Resident Evil 0 (2002)
A prequel to the events of the original Resident Evil, Resident Evil 0 suffered by comparison. Despite an atmospheric first act set aboard a train and new mechanics allowing you to control two separate characters, it quickly fell into a well-worn routine, slavishly aping the Resident Evil survival horror formula and never doing enough to differentiate itself from its superior predecessors. It also managed the neat trick of making the series’ fiddly inventory system even more irritating, and contains possibly the series’ worst villain, a laughably non-scary opera singing goon in a dress. Initial critical feedback was relatively positive but sales were lower than expected and the game simply has not held up as well as the other early titles.
Resident Evil (1996)
The game that started it all, Resident Evil not only became one of the original Playstation’s defining releases but also kickstarted the survival horror genre. You played as one of two members of a police special forces team, sent to investigate a series of bizarre murders. Trapped in a mysterious mansion, you had to discover the truth behind the attacks by solving puzzles and avoiding or killing the gruesome monsters stalking the halls.
With bullets, healing items and save points in short supply, the game could be nail-bitingly tense and at the time was genuinely scary. It has dated pretty badly – with its hilariously cheesy script, bizarrely terrible voice-acting and blocky graphics it looks every one of its twenty-four years – but it retains a certain level of charm, and its influence even over modern games remains undeniable.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica (2000)
By the time of Code Veronica‘s release the series’ formula (including its awkward controls, fixed camera angles, irritating inventory system and tedious backtracking) was starting to show its age, and even for this famously camp series the characters and dialogue could be over the top.
Yet despite these persistent annoyances Code Veronica still has some things to recommend it – the more involved storyline was an improvement on the previous games’ more straighforward efforts, making good use of its by-now established characters, and it remains a creepy, atmospheric experience. It also foreshadowed the more action-packed nature of the later Resident Evil games in some respects, with the ability to dual-wield weaponry, a first-person mode for certain weapons and a new ‘continue’ option which allowed you to replay the scene in which you died rather than having to go all the way back to the last save point. As a game caught in the transition period between two eras for the series it’s far from perfect and it has dated considerably, but still worth a play for old-school survival horror fans.
Resident Evil 5 (2009)
For many fans Resident Evil 5 is the point where the series finally jumped the shark. Jettisoning any pretense at being a survival horror game, Resident Evil 5 – set in a fictional African country – was instead an out-and-out action title, replacing puzzle-solving and exploration with fast-paced gunfights against waves of enemies.
Many found it to be an overly linear experience, and its final act was nonsensical even for a series not exactly famous for being grounded in reality. More queasily, it was dogged by not entirely unjustified accusations of racism – its depiction of spear-chucking zombie Africans was…insensitive, to say the least and the light skin of the African protagonist (as compared with the mostly darker skinned enemies) didn’t help matters.
But from a pure gameplay perspective Resident Evil 5 was a top-notch action game, providing visceral thrills while retaining the nerve-shredding tension the series is renowned for. It’s a long way from being the best in the series, but it does produce some of Resident Evil‘s most intense moments.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (1999)
Resident Evil 3 got a bit of a raw deal at the time of release. Coming out just a year after the release of Resident Evil 2 and set in the same location over the same time period, many fans considered it more of an expansion to its predecessor than a full release in its own right, a view seemingly backed up by its comparatively shorter play-time.
But to dismiss Resident Evil 3 is to do it a disservice. It made better use of its blasted cityscape location than its predecessor. It also introduced an aspect of player choice – depending on the decisions players made, the game could play out slightly differently. But Resident Evil 3‘s real selling point was the Nemesis itself – a terrifying hulking creature which pursued you relentlessly through the game. The result is one of early survival horror’s most intense games.
Resident Evil 3 Remake (2020)
Released just a year after the Resident Evil 2 remake and perhaps the victim of a rushed development schedule, the Resident Evil 3 Remake met with mixed reviews, with some criticising its very short length (the whole thing can be finished in under two hours), missing content from the original, and heavier focus on action.
But though this is certainly one of Capcom’s lesser remakes, it’s hardly a disaster. There’s plenty of tension to be found as you flee the terrifying Nemesis through the streets and sewers of zombie-overrun Racoon City, and main character Jill Valentine is one of the series’ more engaging protagonists. In some ways it’s a missed opportunity, but it’s still a worthwhile entry in the series – just not a great one.
Resident Evil 2 (1998)
If the original Resident Evil helped define the survival horror genre, then Resident Evil 2 helped refine it. Set shortly after Resident Evil, you played as one of two characters, trapped in the American metropolis of Raccoon City by an outbreak of the zombie plague.
Each character had a branching storyline and faced different obstacles, with the wider scope providing greater replayability and allowing for a more interesting plot. It offered more varied environments than its predecessor, particularly during the early scenes set out on the streets of Raccoon City. And though, like the original, Resident Evil 2 still revolved around puzzle solving, exploration and a creeping sense of dread, it was also more action-packed, helping to maintain a consistently more exciting pace.
Like most of the older titles, Resident Evil 2 is plagued by awkward controls and camera angles, that tedious inventory system and some deeply goofy dialogue. But for all that it remains a hugely compelling title for survival horror fans.
Resident Evil Village (2021)
After Resident Evil 7 had successfully reinvented the series, Capcom’s next sequel reinvented it again with this campy, high-octane outing. At its best it’s a gloriously over-the-top outing in the best Hammer Horror vein, as your character battles his way through hordes of monsters in an Eastern European village to find his missing family. The all-out action sometimes sits uneasily alongside the more survival horror elements however, and parts of Village feel out of place, as if they’ve been awkwardly imported from another game entirely. Still – when it all comes together it’s great fun, if only intermittently scary.
Resident Evil Remake (2002)
Nowadays HD remakes are ten-a-penny, but that wasn’t the case back in 2002 when Capcom released this update of the original game for the Gamecube. But far from simply updating the graphics, Resident Evil Remake was actually an impressive and lovingly-made redesign, adding new enemies, areas, and even sub-plots (they also, to the chagrin of many fans, re-wrote the script to remove some of the more laughable lines, although many of the new ones remain pleasingly odd.) These small but significant improvements to the overall game experience once again rendered Resident Evil a scary, deeply tense game and still, nearly two decades on, one of the best in the series.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)
The negative reaction to Resident Evil 6 forced developers Capcom to go back to the drawing board, and Biohazard represented a real change to the Resident Evil formula, with a new first-person perspective and an emphasis on stealth over combat. There was also a significant change in tone (it’s noticeably less camp than its predecessors) and setting , as you attempt to escape a mutated redneck family somewhere in the Louisiana bayou. In fact, for most of the game it barely ties in with the wider series at all.
Some purists were horrified but the results speak for themselves – Biohazard takes familiar survival horror tropes and wraps them up in a game that feels thoroughly modern and relevant. It’s a nerve-shreddingly tense and often genuinely frightening title, and on release was easily the best instalment in the series in over a decade.
Resident Evil 2 Remake
If the 2002 remake of the first Resident Evil represented a refinement of the original’s gameplay, Capcom’s remake of its sequel was far more sweeping. As with the original Resident Evil 2, the game sees you explore a besieged police station in the midst of a zombie outbreak. However the remake offers more than just a graphical overhaul (although the inky shadows and bloodstained corridors of the police station are a sight to behold). They also upgraded the controls and gameplay for the 21st century as well, replacing the fixed camera angles and tank controls of old with a behind-the-shoulder third-person perspective that put you in the heart of the action (and made your heart leap into your mouth every time a zombie suddenly lunged out of the darkness at you).
Perhaps at it’s core it’s structurally a little too faithful to the original, rendering it a touch over-familiar at times despite its shiny new coat, and several of the series’ persistent issues (that damn inventory) make an unwelcome return. But in terms of sheer tension and terror it delivers in spades – it’s a wonderful reboot of a classic game and it reasserted Resident Evil‘s status as the benchmark for the survival horror genre.
Resident Evil 4 (2005)
By the mid 2000s, the once vaunted Resident Evil series was starting to struggle, as gamers tired of the same old survival horror formula. The franchise was in need of a jumpstart. It found it in the superb Resident Evil 4.
You played as Resident Evil 2‘s Leon, now a secret service agent sent to rescue the US president’s kidnapped daughter from a mysterious Spanish cult. It was the first game to be set entirely outside of the United States, but that was hardly the most significant change. Gone were the fixed cameras of old, to be replaced by a behind-the-shoulder third person viewpoint. Gone too were the small groups of traditional zombie foes – in their place were mobs of implacable cult members who could run, talk and even shoot at you. But the biggest shift was a new focus on action – rather than encouraging you to avoid enemies where possible as previous titles had done, Resident Evil 4 placed a much heavier emphasis on combat.
But crucially, unlike Resident Evil 5 and 6, Resident Evil 4 hadn’t forgotten its survival horror roots. Puzzle solving and exploration remained key focuses of the game, bullets were still limited enough that you had to make every shot count, and frights were still a high priority – portions of this game are as scary as can be found anywhere else in the series.
In short, virtually everything about Resident Evil 4 works, from its rewarding weapon upgrade system, to its alluringly beautiful but dangerous environments, to its challenging boss fights (the best in the franchise). Even the occasionally silly dialogue and camp characters are oddly charming. It’s not just the best game in the series. It’s one of the best games ever.