A History of Resident Evil
The year is 1996 and something truly wicked has just made its way onto Sony's chunky grey box. Known as Biohazard in Japan, Resident Evil is the brainchild of Capcom designer Shinji Mikami and it's a game that will prove instrumental in introducing survival horror to the world (although from the shonky B-movie intro, you wouldn't have thought so). Resident Evil's opening FMV wasn't the most audacious fanfare you'd expect for the game that pretty much shaped the genre we know and love today. Living on in infamy as one of the worst seen in a videogame, the live-action sequence has acting and production values that would make Roger Corman blush. As far as revolutionary videogame franchises go, no one could have guessed that Resident Evil would be so influential, especially given its ropey prologue. If Alone in the Dark is credited with inventing the modern survival horror genre, then it was Resident Evil that refined it and turned into something that truly appealed to almost every gamer.
Begin playing the game proper and you begin to understand why Resident Evil became so hugely popular even though its hokey dialogue and stilted animations may seem incredibly dated by today's standards. What mattered most was that it provided some genuine scares even with its uneven tone of semi-seriousness. Was the script intentionally bad in typical B-movie tradition? We'd certainly like to think so. Unlike the relentless psychological horror of Silent Hill, Resident Evil has always been about more obvious shocks and enough creepy, crawly body horror to make David Cronenberg proud. Anyone who played the original RE will gleefully recount jumping out of their seat when the mangy, mutated dogs came crashing through the windows of a narrow corridor, the fast-paced music invoking panic as they rushed for the nearest door. Or leaving the mansion to explore the sewers, only to return to a house full of deadly Hunters, vicious clawed reptilian creatures who could cut your head off with one swift swipe, bringing about a total sea change in how you had to approach the game. Fans will also recall the anticipation when facing the Tyrant at the end of the game: a seven-foot tall, clawed biological creation, grown in a giant test tube. Waiting for Brad to drop the Rocket Launcher from the helicopter during the final rooftop tussle stands up as one of gaming's most frustrating moments and one that the GameCube remake recognised and duly fixed.
In the finest of Resident Evil traditions, there is always one of Umbrella's twisted biological monstrosities you'll have to face, whether it's the fearsome Tyrant from the first game or the ruthless Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 that mercilessly pursues you for the duration of the game. Take a look at Resident Evil 2, which saw crazed scientist William Birkin inject himself with his own experimental G-Virus, transforming his body into a gooey, biological weapon complete with a huge eye set into his shoulder and an enormous claw. The numerous metamorphoses he goes through during the course of the game makes Jeff Goldblum's Brundle Fly seem like a nasty cold by comparison. Now that's body horror. Birkin is a cautionary tale on the dangers of messing with Mother Nature. He goes through several painful transformations, bursting into pustules of blood and viscera, changing from a humanoid monster into a dog-like creature able to impale you upon his circular mass of teeth and finally a gigantic worm-like mass of pulsating slime, eyes and teeth, hell bent on chasing you to the ends of the earth.
Resident Evil 2, which is considered by many to be one of the best in the series, not only featured the series' greatest boss in Birkin, but also encouraged repeated play in its unlockable B scenario; a great reward for completion and a completely fresh take on the story. It was during these B missions that the seeds of RE 3's Nemesis are sown, with the ultimate iteration of the Tyrant (aka Mr. X) following you through the game's tight corridors to the final showdown as you attempt to make good your escape. What makes these encounters truly terrifying is the scarcity of the ammunition for your weapons. Managing the items in the limited slots of your inventory meant you could only have so many weapons with you at any one time, making for some moments of genuine panic as your ammo reserves steadily dwindle. It was perhaps the original Resident Evil that really put the greatest emphasis on this particular factor, rationing ammunition at exactly the right moments but making sure that you were never comfortable with the number of shots at your disposal. Of course there was always the sanctuary of a save room with its soothing music, typewriter (for saving your game) and huge steel chest to store away any unwanted items. Yet there was always the lingering sense of dread that you might not have enough ammo to make it through meaning that running and evading became required skills. Each time you moved to a new area, having to endure the loading screen of a slowly opening door would cause tension to mount even more, as you wondered what lay in wait on the other side and whether you have the resources to overcome it.