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

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

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.


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.


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.

  • Resi 1: Loved it despite even as a teen at the time I realised how f**king shocking the dialog and voice acting was. Top gameplay though.

    Resi 2: Amazing game. At the time it was probably the best sequel I ever played. Enjoyed the remake too but didn't have the same feeling that the original had.

    Resi 3: Can't remember it so might give the remake a shot.

    Resi 4: Probably the first game I pumped over 100 hours in, despite being able to clock the playthroughs in less than 90 minutes. Gem of a game.

    Resi 5 & 6: Never touched.

    Resi 7: In parts I loved it, could have done without the shit swamp moster type stuff. But overall a great experience and really looking forward to Village.
  • This was a good read! I think you're mistaken about only Chris having the magnum though; I'm pretty sure Jill can get it too. Chris's advantage is that he can take more damage and I think Rebecca can heal you. In the REmake he has other advantages, but I think that's basically it for the original game.
  • @melee if you let Barry die you can get his magnum but only 6 rounds in the whole game
  • Mhmm, good article.

    Simple fact, this and the Silent Hill series paved the way into the Survival-horror genre. Especially the regular playthrough lenght of RE:CVX was something fresh. I am still waiting for a Dead Space 4 though. :(
  • As great as the game was and is, to basically claim that the whole of the horror genre would not have happened without it sounds somewhat exaggerated.
  • Even if RE 1 was one of my favorite Resident Evil alongside Code: Veronica despite the cheesy voice acting and the infamous Jill Sandwich scene. For me RE doesn't belongs to the survival horror genre. The TRUE survival horrors are those whose protagonists does not rely on any kind of weapon to survive (Clock Tower/ Echo night/Haunting Ground... ).

    I prefer static camera angles and tank controls to OTS in these games.
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