Resident Evil is one of the most successful video game franchises around. With over two decades and dozens of releases across multiple mediums under its belt, it’s hard to think of a more successful survival horror series out there. I originally ranked six games of this series between Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 7, but ever since then I’ve thought about redoing this rank to include as many games as possible. Since there are so many games to play, however, I decided to split this rank into two parts: the mainline releases and the spinoff releases. I’ll be sticking to the main releases first, then I’ll hit the spinoff titles as a separate rank once I’m finished here. As always, you can find the rank itself at the bottom of this blog. So with that said, let’s jump into the remaster of the remake of Resident Evil.
The original Resident Evil has seen many different releases, with some having greater impact over the overall experience than others. For the sake of this rank, I will be playing through two versions of the original game:Resident Evil HD Remaster on the PS4, which is a remaster of the 2002 Resident Evil GameCube remake, as well as the original PS1 version of the game. The reason why I’m playing this version before the original is because I decided to check out the original after starting this game. From here-on, I will trying to stick to the order by release date. Also, since I won’t really talk about this until later, I started the game off with Chris.
I’ve played a fair amount of Resident Evil games before, but with the exception to Resident Evil 7, none of them have felt like this. One of the big obvious contributors to that is its fixed camera, but I think its differences from Resident Evil 4-7 go way deeper than that. The combat is different, the horror is different, the level design is different, the puzzles are different, and the atmosphere is different. I’m not the biggest fan of Resident Evil’s more action-like take on the franchise starting with Resident Evil 4, and playing through the game that started it all only confirmed that for me.
One of the biggest highlights for me with this game is the mansion itself. While other elements of this game feel old-school (though I don’t think that’s a bad thing), the mansion in this game feels ahead of its time. Its Metroidvania level design flows with puzzles and keys rather than abilities, which I think results in a much more addicting game loop. I found myself playing for hours on-end wanting to see what keys open what doors as well as see what every room has to offer. Speaking of the rooms, a lot of rooms feel hand-crafted in such a way that makes each one feel unique and fun to explore. One feature I love about exploring the rooms is that the map will display when each room has been 100% explored, which helps a lot with not missing anything.
What also helps is how the game builds an atmosphere within the mansion that is equal parts scary and mysterious, which is also bolstered by its music and rendered art. Who built this mansion and why is it full of these traps? Who is Umbrella and why are they here? Why is S.T.A.R.S. here? A lot of these questions and the story in general are told through notes rather than cutscenes, but I found this game to be a rare case of me actually wanting to read the notes as I was intrigued in seeing where the story went. What’s interesting about this game compared to other Resident Evil titles is that the mansion and its puzzles take the forefront of the overall experience rather than the combat, but I find this not only refreshing but also as a great choice the game makes as the mansion and its puzzles are in my opinion one of the best parts of this game.
Puzzles aren’t the only thing lingering in the halls of this place though. While I have played many zombie games before, none have felt as claustrophobic and terrifying as this one. Rather than just fill the level with a bunch of zombies and turn the game into a shooter fest, this game instead carefully places each zombie, making each one feel unique and personal. Resources are limited, zombies have a fair amount of health, each one of their attacks can take down a decent chunk of health, and they will come back to life unless you burn them using an extremely limited amount of kerosene or pop their head (which I think happens randomly). All of this culminates in zombie encounters being more terrifying than others as I always had to weigh the pros and cons of killing each zombie versus trying to avoid them. Since zombies are unique spawns, however, fully killing them also means clearing up wherever they were standing until the game spawns a new set of enemies (which the game announces and only happens a few times), and as a result I would find myself carving a safe route consisting of cleared-out hallways and rooms. This game treats zombies as individual threats rather than a collective one, and it results in encounters unlike any other zombie game I can think of.
To combat these threats, Chris has a few tools up his sleeve. The weapons in this game are pretty basic (pistol, two shotguns that operate similarly, and a magnum revolver for Chris), but they get the job done. One set of unique weapons that help quite a bit, though, are defense items like a flash grenade or a knife, which are used as a get-out-of-injury-free card whenever a zombie attacks. What also helps with combat more than any weapon is knowing that zombie positions (the ones not fully killed anyways) reset every time you enter a room, which helps a lot with fully understanding each zombie position and how to avoid them (and as a result further characterizes them).
The combat isn’t perfect though, as there are some issues here-and-there I wasn’t too fond of. If zombies aren’t burnt or left with an intact skull, they will eventually turn into crimson heads, which are way faster and more aggressive zombies. I like the idea of burning a body using a limited resource to fully kill it, but turning the unburnt zombies into super aggressive enemies feels more like the game is punishing me for engaging in combat more than anything else. Also along those lines, I found it annoying that I couldn’t just crush zombie heads while they were “dead” on the ground, as that would also stop them from turning into crimson heads. I also didn’t enjoy fighting any enemy type outside of basic zombies, but I also found the game well paced enough to the point where I felt adequately equipped to handle these enemies. Combat may have a few small flaws, but it is overall a lot of fun and works well as a background element to the game.
Coinciding with the combat is the inventory, which I would normally talk about within the context of combat but felt like it needed its own spot to shine. Like I said with combat, resources are limited, so every move has to be careful. One aspect of the inventory that is limited but not to my liking is Chris’ carrying capacity, as it is super short to the point where I was constantly running back-and-forth to safe rooms to drop stuff off. The one resource worth talking about more than ammo or healing items, though, are ink ribbons. Saving in this game uses an ink ribbon, which means that saving is also a resource. Limiting saves is actually an incredibly powerful tool in adding to the survival horror element as it asks how far you want to go outside of the safety of a save. You can’t save too often or else you’ll run out of ribbons, but you need to save enough so that you don’t lose hours of time if you die. The longer you travel without saving equals the more time that will be lost if you die, and I think having that push-and-pull of deciding whether or not to continue advancing through danger or fleeing to safety plays well into the rest of the game.
Another two elements worth talking about within its own paragraph considering its differences to other games (more modern games in this instance) are the point-of-view and controls. Rather than view the game in the first-person, third-person, or top-down perspective, this game instead has fixed camera angles similar to switching through a bunch of security cameras to follow a single person. As the character moves through the environment, the camera will switch to a different fixed position, and often times it will be at different angles. To complement this, the game has a more unique style of controls. This version of the game has a modern control scheme option that is indicative of top-down controls (which is what I used); but no matter what it, takes some getting used to. The fixed cameras aren’t perfect as trying to fight zombies while shifting cameras a bunch gets frustrating, but once I got used to everything I found this style of play fine. Obscuring the visibility of the environments helps with building the horror, and fixed cameras allow the environments to be pre-rendered 2D environments rather than 3D spaces, which I found fascinating. I think the fixed camera and controls are the worst element of this game, but even the worst part of this game is still pretty dang good and refreshing to me.
The story in this game isn’t exactly a selling point, but events and story bits are littered throughout. The story of the castle and who’s running it is told through notes picked up around the environments, while the story of the S.T.A.R.S. team is told through cutscenes. I like how the story is presented here as it keeps things simple with the main story while diving a bit deeper with optional reading notes and backstory. None of it is crazy complex, but there is enough here to set up a world worth exploring both within this game and sequels. As Chris, most of his story involves him and Rebecca trying to survive, with Rebecca essentially acts as a deus ex machina more than anything. There are small variations to story events such as saving Richard versus not saving him, and I like the fact that these variations come-and-go without really announcing themselves as multiple options, but everything ultimately leads to the same ending (which also has slight variations but ultimately ends the same way). The only issue with the story is with the writing and voice acting as it feels stiff and somewhat poorly localized (though I also heard this was somewhat done on-purpose to capture the notoriously terribly charm of the original version’s writing and dialogue), but overall the story in this game is surprisingly engaging and interesting despite its passiveness and simplicity.
One thing I have noticed with the horror games I have played is how it often feels like a balance between horror and gameplay. The more gameplay elements added, the less scary the game is as it often gives more player agency, resulting in reducing the threat of the game. The thing that Resident Evil does better than most other horror games is being able to have both. Every element of this game (the mansion, the combat, the enemies, the camera, the story, the inventory, etc.) adds something to build up the horror. Not every horror game gets this, and the fact that this game nailed this back in 1996 (assuming the original version plays similarly to this version) makes me appreciate and love the game even more.
After my first playthrough with Chris, I decided to boot up a Jill run as I know there are usually enough differences between characters in a Resident Evil game to warrant a second playthrough. Well, I was right. Not only does Jill have different stats, but the story itself plays out differently too. Jill gets less health and worse defensive items, but she gets to carry more, has a grenade launcher, and can lockpick rather than use generic keys. Despite the health, I think Jill’s run is easier as having more character storage makes a huge difference and the grenade launcher is a powerful weapon with multiple ammo types (including flame rounds that insta-kill and insta-burn zombies).
As for differences outside of character stats, there are a few story and gameplay differences. Rebecca is replaced by Barry, and Barry is more of an involved character rather than a deus ex machina. There is more of a plot and relationship arc with Jill and Barry, though the game still ends the same way. What this also means, though, is more exposure to the game’s poor writing and voice acting. In regards to gameplay, most everything stays the same, but I did notice a few small changes like zombie and item placements (or at least I think there were changes). Since Barry is a more involved character, there are a few gameplay moments with him such as choosing whether or not to trust him with giving you cover as you deal with Lisa Trevor. The runs between Chris and Jill are just different enough to warrant a second playthrough while being similar enough to easily cruise the second playthrough (no matter who you play as), which I think is a nice balance to have because at the very least, the second playthrough shouldn’t take up too much time.
As someone who has played the more action-oriented Resident Evil games, this game left me with one question: how did we ever end up with Resident Evil 6? This game is fantastic in so many ways, and I believe it is the pinnacle of survival horror even after all these years. In the end, this game is going to be number one on my list (as it’s the only one on the list as of writing this), but I think it will stay pretty high up by the end.
1. Resident Evil (HD Remaster)