Resident Evil at 25 - We Never Left the World of Survival Horror

Resident Evil at 25 - We Never Left the World of Survival Horror

9
Richard Walker

What you're about to hear, is the admission of a terrible, heinous crime: I was 14 years old when I first played the original, 15-rated Resident Evil. At the time, it was the stuff of playground legend, and for a while it lived only in my head, as bizarre images that were described to me by friends. “It's set in a massive mansion full of zombies! There are these frog things called Hunters that can chop your head clean off! You fight this big grey dude called the Tyrant who has a massive claw!” It all sounded beyond anything I'd experienced in a video game before, and soon the game I'd jokingly referred to as 'Resident Weevil' for months was finally mine to borrow and discover for myself. And, boy, did it ever live up to what I'd created in my mushy teenage brain.

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Preceded by a schlocky live-action intro, which was just as laughable in 1996 as it is today, the first Resident Evil very quickly grew into an obsession, as I acquired my own copy, purchased Jill Valentine and Tyrant action figures (I couldn't afford any others at the time), then played it endlessly. To this day, I still know the layout of the Spencer Mansion like the back of my hand, I have intimate knowledge of its secrets, and I can't even remember how many times I've trod its marble floors, creaky floorboards, and bloodsoaked carpets. Capcom's survival horror opus remains one of the most iconic video games around, and while it's rather dated now, what with its tank controls, suspenseful but necessary door-opening load screens, hilariously stilted dialogue, and static, pre-rendered environments, Resident Evil remains uniquely memorable.

Presented with a choice between S.T.A.R.S. agents Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, it always seemed pointless to me to choose the former. Jill had a lockpick and a larger inventory (those two extra slots were a godsend), while Chris had to fanny about with individual little keys, while contending with a paltry six-slot inventory. Over time, I learned to go without the immortal 'sandwich' line, delivered by Barry Burton during Jill’s storyline, growing to relish the beefy Magnum that only Chris had as a powerful and gratifying weapon - his compensation for a lack of ‘Jill sandwich’ - and a smaller carrying capacity. The Magnum proved ideal for popping zombies heads or efficiently dealing with those pesky, head-lopping Hunters, and made it worthwhile to venture off-piste in an effort to track down the scarce drops of ammo for it. Completing the game in three hours or less unlocked the infinite rocket launcher, too, transforming the game into a far less scary shooting gallery – a hard-earned reward for enduring the gruelling survival horror: suddenly, nothing can touch you.

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But it's that inaugural discovery of the mansion and its hidden spaces that stays with you. We all take it for granted now that any Resident Evil game will eventually lead you to an underground laboratory where a menagerie of bio-organic monsters is being stored for safekeeping in tubes, but in 1996 it was a revelation: a proper twist. Zombies and frog beasts give way to weaponised sharks (not that you need to weaponise a shark any more than it already has been by nature), massive spiders, and a gigantic snake, affectionately known as 'Yawn', which almost gives him a sleepy, cuddly quality, when he's anything but. Beyond Resident Evil's monsters, it's the chucklesome B-movie script, intricately crafted mansion, and fiendish puzzles that still stand out.

Playing Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' on a piano that then opened a doorway into a secret alcove immediately signified that Resident Evil was going to be something special. And indeed, Capcom and director Shinji Mikami's first attempt at survival horror remains one of the most iconic games ever made, even if Alone in the Dark is credited as being the first 3D example of the genre (Capcom’s 1989 ‘Sweet Home’ movie tie-in game left its own 2D imprint), it was Resident Evil that refined the formula and popularised it. Arguably, Resident Evil 2 bettered its predecessor in almost every conceivable way, with a larger facility to explore, more puzzles, a more varied gallery of ghoulish nasties to confront (including the ever-changing, G-virus-addled William Birkin), and two different storylines, with A and B scenarios spun out across a pair of discs. But the original game will always be the one that I gravitate towards, even if I am still upset at Brad Vickers for not dropping the rocket launcher from his helicopter sooner.

It seems odd now, too, that the 2002 remake of Resident Evil, originally released for the GameCube, isn't often mentioned in the same breath as the recent Resident Evil remakes, both of which flex their visual might with the impossibly stunning RE Engine. The first RE remake introduced welcome twists on puzzles you may have been all-too familiar with, as well as a new, macabre yarn involving Lisa Trevor, an Umbrella test subject with a tragic backstory. I'll never forget poring over Lisa's diary in the wooden shack on the grounds of the Spencer Mansion, before hearing the door creak open to reveal her horrific fate – in terms of generating atmosphere and tension, both Resident Evil and its remake managed it with a deftness of touch that you seldom see in modern survival horror.

Without Resident Evil, it's hard to imagine what the landscape of the genre would be today. We almost certainly wouldn't have had the Silent Hill series, and you probably wouldn't have the subsequent rich tapestry of horror experiences that emerged, psychological, survival, or otherwise. Games like The Medium, Layers of Fear, SOMA, Amnesia, Outlast, Eternal Darkness, Dead Space, and Mikami's own The Evil Within all owe a debt to the original Resident Evil. Twenty-five years on, Resident Evil might seem a bit hokey and unsophisticated, but its influence can't be understated; and everyone remembers the infamous corridor with the dogs, right? Shudder.

Comments
9
  • I still listen to REmakes save room music.
  • I played Resident Evil on my PC when it first released, but those being the days of no internet help, I got stuck in the very early part within the mansion, and so never completed the game. Jump forward many years (and two wives!) the next in the franchise that I played was Resident Evil 5, I've subsequently played through all the games that followed, including the remakes of both 2 and 3. I have also played through the, now old, remake of the first game. I have still to play through Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil Veronica, and (most criminally, by all accounts) Resident Evil 4, though in my defence, I bought the game and then read the rumours that it is being remastered, and so decided to await that instead. Cannot wait for Village, which I pre-ordered within minutes of it becoming available on the Xbox Store...
  • RE5 was my 1st RE game, which I played in 2010. Never did I think that I would subsequently play almost the entire series.
  • Shame the series has gone to shit, the series is dead to me especially after they went to a first person viewpoint.
  • @#4 I know its really popular but I considered it dead when 4 released and yes I played it.
  • It is interesting to see what a series has done for the horror genre, although many of their newer outings ended up action-based, with horror taking a backseat.

    Does anyone else remember Clock Tower? That used to be a fun one, too.
  • Love RE games, even the old ass bad ones. Not sure how you could dislike 4 and 7 though..
  • the later games aren't really that bad they just didn't have the feeling of the older games, RE2 is the pinnacle they hit very early and never have or will be able to hit that again.
  • I love RE1 remake, its my fav RE equally to Code Veronica and one of the best 6th gen games. I would even says its one of the best games ever made period. BUT, the OG RE1 should definately be rereleased on modern systems with an HD lift and cheevos, along the OG RE2 and 3, if only for nostalgia, classic cult status and because they are very different than their remakes. I don't get why Capcom do not give them to us.
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