I take a look back at one of my favorite survival-horror franchises and why I’ve stuck with it through thick and thin.
A morbid fascination
I’ve always been intrigued by horror in all forms of entertainment whether it was movies, comics or video games. I’m not sure what exactly drew me to it initially, but truly and honestly, as a pre-teen boy, it was probably the copious amounts of violence, cursing, blood and gore, nudity and sex that’s so prevalent in this genus of media. That and of course the nightmare inducing jump scares and grotesque monsters that kept me coming back for more.
My parents were never very strict when it came to my media consumption. I was able to watch my fair share of thrilling slashers and blood curdling creature features, short of the more explicit films. That was relegated to sleepovers at my friends’ houses. Thinking about it now, I honestly don’t know how we got away with it! The only condition was that if I got nightmares from it, it was my own fault. Which I was more than willing to deal with and regret at a later date.
There was, however, one thing missing. Something I hungered for that my soon to be decrepit VHS copies of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street just wasn’t giving me. And that was the presence of horror in my gaming life. Sure you could find horror here and there on many consoles, but generally speaking the games there never really portrayed that sense of terror I was looking for. I wanted mature, violent, atmospheric scenarios like you’d see in the movies, only interactive! Now, I won’t discount the presence of these types of games on non-console gaming platforms such as the PC, but at the time, I never had access to them. Otherwise, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have been all over it.
Beginning of a beautiful relationship
Then one fateful day in 1995 the PlayStation was released in North America! With promises of full motion video, CD quality audio and state-of-the-art 3D graphics, the possibilities were endless!! I feverishly followed every ounce of news about this console, longing to try it for myself and begging my parents to get it for me no matter the cost! I even convinced them to rent it for me a few times over the next several months with games like Battle Arena Toshinden, Destruction Derby and Discworld. But it wasn’t until one year later, in March of 1996 that my dreams of being scared pant-less by a video game would become realized. This was the month that cemented my want, nay my need, to have a PlayStation in my life. This was the beginning of a life long partnership with one of my favorite game series ever brought into existence. This was the release date for Resident Evil!
I recall seeing that illustrious cardboard long box sitting on rental store shelves, entranced by it’s disturbing cover art. And after reading over it’s synopsys and drooling over it’s screenshots, I knew in that instant I absolutely needed to play this game! Luckily my birthday was just around the corner, so I could hope and pray that I would find a shiny new PS1 of my very own next to my cake. And if not, I could at least play the ole “but it’s my birthday” card and convince my parents to rent it for me again. One thing was for sure though, I was predestined to play Resident Evil, and no one was stopping me!!
A few months rolled by and my long awaited birthday reared its beautiful head. And so did that chunky cardboard box with the words “Sony PlayStation” emblazoned upon its front. I finally had one of my own!! And in order to celebrate, I ripped that sucker open, which I more than regret doing thinking back on it, and called to order a sleepover with all my friends! We would then decree a trek to the video store in order to rent Resident Evil!
Corny and Delicious!
I was not disappointed either. Although the FMV cutscenes were hoaky and the voice acting left something to be desired. Resident Evil was exactly what I was looking for in my journey to find a little terror in my video games. It was unlike anything I’ve seen or experienced up to that point in a video game. It was atmospheric, mature, violent and filled with everything gameplay-wise that I’ve come to appreciate and love for many years to come!
The puzzles were fun, the story was intriguing and the jump scares kept me hooked and wanting to play more! Despite not being able to sleep afterwards. Classic scenes like the zombie dogs bursting through the window or fighting the giant venomous snake cemented my love for the genre in video game form! And to this day, it’s still one of my favorite games on the PS1.
Over the course of the series and across console generations, my love for the franchise hasn’t faltered despite its ebb and flow in quality. I have fond memories of having playthrough races in Resident Evil 2 with my brother, trying to see who could complete the game more quickly and efficiently. Or the first time I encountered the Nemesis in Resident Evil 3.
I remember getting my hands on Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube, wondering if the change in perspective and gameplay would hurt the series. And then being blown away by just how amazing it turned out to be and how satisfying it was to take down the killer El Gigante! Even when the series took its deep dive into the more action oriented latter years there was still fun to be had. Resident Evil 5 and 6 may have stepped away from the gritty claustrophobic zombie outbreak where your only hope of survival was in a few mixed herbs and an ink ribbon. And you may no longer have been the helpless ragtag police force in a small town, but a biohazard force to be reckoned with spanning across countries and continents. But the games never tarnished in my eye.Regardless of the bad rep the series may have suffered because of it.
Aside from a few of the non-mainline games in the series such as Resident Evil 0 and Resident Evil Revelations 1 and 2, it unfortunately seemed like Resident Evil was losing its identity and losing touch with it’s horror roots. It moved away from that creepy mysterious mansion where you were afraid to turn every corner to an all out zombie massacre simulation. It was really too bad and a bit of a disappointment. As a fan of the franchise it was what initially made me fall in love with it. On top of it all it didn’t help that Shinji Mikami left Capcom. My faith in it ever returning to its origins was on a wobbly tightrope. Although, other franchises were picking up that slack by now, like Dead Space, Silent Hill and even Shinji Mikami’s own The Evil Within.
However, because of that, the hard transitions being made to the franchise, especially in 5 and 6, were getting a little easier to overlook Resident Evil’s trajectory toward blockbuster action. It was my “horror-lite” video game comfort food. And I would stick with it through thick and thin. I could always hope that someone at Capcom would get a clue, and bring the series back to its heyday.
Back from the Dead
And then someone at Capcom did get a clue! It actually seemed like their developers were really listening to the laments of Resident Evil fans. They released Resident Evil 7: Biohazard! I was a bit sceptical with their whole “throw a wrench in the gameplay” and making it a first-person survival horror. It didn’t take long though for me to realize that it wasn’t the camera perspective that made these games great, but their atmosphere and their mixture of stressful action and puzzle solving. And Resident Evil 7 did it beautifully.
The franchise really did go back to its roots and I was ever grateful for it. It revitalized my passion for Resident Evil and its quirks and I look forward to sinking my teeth into the rotted zombie flesh of whatever the series has in store for us in the future!
There may have been many ups and downs in it’s 22ish years of existence but I loved every minute of playing and collecting each new release regardless of its critiques. There are still a few gaps in my collection such as the Resident Evil Survivor games on the PS1, Resident Evil Gaiden on the GameBoy and Resident Evil Code Veronica on the Dreamcast and I hope to find them one day. I even have duplicates of some of my favorites both physical and digital (I have four copies of Resident Evil 4!). But one thing’s for sure, I’ll always proudly display these games on my game shelf for many years to come!
Are you a fan of the Resident Evil series? What was your favorite game in the franchise?