Much of my childhood video game history is riddled with happy-go-lucky plot-lines and cute, cartoonish characters, and that worked for me because I was a pretty wussy kid. But eventually I was bound to delve into something a little darker, and when I did it was with one of the most popular horror survival games of all time: ‘Resident Evil’.
In early 1994, game designer Shinji Mikami began work on a big new project. He had spent the era of 16-bit gaming working on Disney games for the Super Nintendo, but now the industry was shifting to the three-dimensional world, and Mikami wanted to aim his new project toward more mature players. He took influence from everything from George Romero’s zombie flicks, to a French game called ‘Alone in the Dark’, the later of which gave him the formula for the perfect blend of action and adventure, poured into a zombie survival scenario.
In March of 1996, Capcom finally released the first ‘Resident Evil’ game for the Playstation, and in a little more than a year it sold a million copies, joining ‘Street Fighter’ as one of Capcom’s biggest blockbuster games ever. From then ‘Resident Evil’ became one of Capcom’s biggest and most-loved franchises.
In the original installment, the player would begin the game as one of two characters – Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine – who are both members of an elite task force known as S.T.A.R.S. As their chosen character the player would set out to investigate the disappearance of fellow S.T.A.R.S., a mission that would take them to the outskirts of Raccoon City. The next thing the player would know, they’d find themselves trapped in a creepy old mansion, beset by zombies and other monsters. The player would then have to set out to explore said mansion, recovering clues to the mysterious outbreak, and solving puzzles to aid in survival. Throughout the game, different actions could be taken by the player that would affect the game’s ending.
In addition to the creepy setting and the relentless, undead antagonists, one of the things that made ‘Resident Evil’ suitably frightening was the fact that the playable characters were designed to be significantly weaker than many gamers would have been used to beforehand. Even though they were highly trained operatives, Chris and Jill were programed to be as fragile as any normal human, as opposed to being the kind of fantastical powerhouses that most games employed. This meant that gamers had to be extremely wary when using the limited ammo and healing items hidden throughout the mansion. This system added a second layer of difficulty to survival, and an extra punch to the panic gamers would feel when running into zombies.
I’m giving you the background of the original ‘Resident Evil’ because it is iconic, but the first game in the series that I actually played was ‘Resident Evil 2’. My best friend and I rented it one night back in our last year of junior high school, and it scared the beejeebus out of us. This installment was the first to introduce the Licker, a new mutation with enormous claws, an exposed brain, and an extremely long tongue. These days the dated graphics make the reveal a lot less powerful, but at the time it was top-of-the-line technology and seeing that horrible creature stalking toward us was like guaranteeing that I’d have nightmares for the rest of my life.
‘Resident Evil 2’ wasn’t my only experience with the series, of course, but over the years I’ve done a great deal more watching than playing when it comes to these games. The best example would be ‘Resident Evil 4’, which my husband became mildly obsessed with for quite a spell when we were dating. The story follows Leon S. Kennedy, a U.S special agent who is on a mission to rescue the president’s daughter from the sinister cult who kidnapped her. Shortly after arriving in remote rural Europe, Leon is faced with the realization that a new mutation of the zombie virus has overtaken this land. It was an amazing game with an interesting and clever twist on the limited-resources system, and I spent hours watching my husband play it when we were first dating. That, to me, is a big sign of an excellent game, that someone can thoroughly enjoy it without even actually playing it.
Have you played any of the Resident Evil games? Which is your favorite? Least favorite? Scariest moment? Please share!
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