Resident Evil 6 launches this October, and we at VGTribune have decided to take a look back at the series that has scared us, shocked us, and kept us coming back for more. How did a small project filled with Jill Sandwiches and Masters of Unlocking turn into one of the most respected names in gaming, with over twenty titles and counting, as well as novelizations, feature films, and a deep mythology to challenge the best of prime time TV? Also, what do the words Resident Evil mean, anyway?
Inspired by their own work on the Japan-exclusive adaptation of the horror film, Sweet Home, the team at Capcom, led by Shinki Mikami, got to work on a horror game set in a mansion. Armed with voice acting, detailed 2-D backgrounds, and a rich, if cheesy, plot, Resident Evil, as it came to be known, launched in March of 1996 for the Playstation. It was also released on the Sega Saturn, but there’s really no need to discuss the Saturn, ever. You heard me.
As the die-hard fans surely already know, Resident Evil is known as Biohazard in its native Japan; however, die-hard fans of Denis Leary know that he starred in an over-looked B-movie called Judgement Night. Relevance? The film’s theme was written by the moderately lame heavy metal band, Biohazard, who had a bunch of records and some success, but never made the jump into superstardom. Either way, there was no way the copyright holders were going to allow Capcom to trademark the name for their game. Some genius marketing executive said, “hey, the game’s in a mansion, and there are Zombies, and zombies are evil, so… Resident Evil! Success!” Presumably, champagne was had.
Anyway, on to the game.
Raccoon City, 1998. Wait, hold on a sec. Raccoon City? I’m not familiar. Where is that? After some online research, I’ve concluded that Raccoon City is ambiguously located in “the Midwest”. But the city is situated near the Arklay Mountains. So… It must be a bit further west than that, right? There are no mountains in the Midwest. To the east are the Appalachians, and to the west are the Rockies, but… Whatever, it doesn’t matter very much. It’s a fictional city located somewhere in the United States. Anyway, Raccoon City, 1998. Wait, hold on another sec. 1998? This is just a little silly. I really don’t have an issue with setting the game two years in the future, or, as of this writing, fourteen years in the past, but it’s just an odd little tidbit.
Raccoon City, 1998. A series of bizarre murders have terrified the town, and the STARS Bravo team is sent to investigate. STARS is short for Special Tactics And Rescue Service, founded by Albert Wesker, the team’s captain. After Bravo Team disappears in the woods, the Alpha Team is sent to rescue them and continue their mission. The A-Team consists of Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Barry Burton, Wesker, and a bunch of guys who we’d best not get too attached to. Also, there’s the helicopter pilot, Brad. He sucks. Before long, the A-Team discovers the B-Team’s crashed helicopter and the remains of an unlucky sucker. Cue the zombie dogs! Brad abandons the team and flies away, prompting the survivors to escape to a nearby mansion, where the game properly begins
Despite atrocious writing and unintentionally hilarious voice acting, coupled with highly cumbersome tank controls and an intense focus on inventory management and key-based puzzles, Resident Evil feels unique in its sheer novelty and surprise. Nobody was expecting this game to blow everyone away the way it did. First, the mansion is populated by zombies and the goal is to find your team and get the heck out of dodge. But what starts as a “haunted house” eventually evolves into a massive conspiracy, circulating around the Umbrella Corporation, pharmaceutical giant by day, dealer in Bio Organic Weapons by night. As it turns out, one of their operatives is your boss, Wesker, who totally dies, with absolutely no hope of ever returning or ever retroactively having a son who grows up to be a protagonist in RE6.
Meanwhile, Brad (who sucks) saves the day, flying our heroes Chris, Jill, Barry, and Rebecca away as the mansion explodes in a massive fireball. It’s worth mentioning that according to the sequels, all of the ‘fore mentioned protagonists do escape, but in the game, depending on the character you choose to play as, either Barry or Rebecca will never be encountered, and thus never escape. Whatever, I guess Resident Evil embraces a “Broad Strokes” approach to maintaining continuity.
From the beginning, a big part of Resident Evil’s appeal lie with the variety of monsters the player would fight or (more often) run from. The Spencer Mansion is filled with zombies, zombie dogs, Lizard Men, sharks, a giant snake, and a Tyrant. All of these are awesome except for the Lizard Me. They are properly referred to as Hunters, and they are about as lame as The Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man, which is to say, quite lame.
Lizard Men notwithstanding, Resident Evil became one of the biggest hits of the era, selling over 2.75 million copies in its original release. A subsequent re-release, adding Dual Shock support sold another 2.3 million units, cementing , the original game was re-released with Dual Shock support, selling another 2.3 million copies. Of course, work got started on a sequel right away.
Check back next week when we look back on one of greatest games of all time, Resident Evil 2.