Editor's note---HAPPY 20TH ANNIVERSARY! In light of Capcom marking 20 years of Resident Evil on March 22, 2016, PSU decided to re-publish our 'History of Resident Evil' series (originally published in March 2009) to celebrate this special occasion. We've also knocked up a whole new chapter of this feature to bring everyone up to date with the franchise.
“Be smart! Fighting foes isn’t the only way to survive this horror…”
Few video game franchises can boast at having such a profound impact on the industry as Resident Evil. Although never one to adhere to the concept of modern game design – from the static, pre-rendered backdrops to fidgety, restrictive control mechanics – Capcom’s zombie masterpiece has become synonymous with horror gaming for 13 years, spawning countless spin-offs, side-stories, merchandise and a movie trilogy, calving out a tenaciously loyal fan base in the process. Owning much of its inspiration to legendary film maker George A. Romero, along with early video game horror entries Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark (the latter of which coined the term ‘ambient survival horror’) Resident Evil offered a critical turning point for the ailing brand, propelling the now infamous Survival Horror genre onto the mainstream consciousness and going on to accumulate a staggering 34.5 million sales globally as of February 2008.
With the release of the hotly anticipated Resident Evil 5 this month, and as a fan of the series for over 12 years, I felt obliged on behalf of PSU to take a look back at this venerable franchise from its inception in 1996 through to present day, offering our readers a comprehensive look at each major canonical entry in the series, along with delving into some of the projects that never saw the light of day. With that said, strap on your Shotgun, bag a fresh pack of underwear and fork out a First-Aid Spray as we delve into the History of Resident Evil.
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Resident Evil (a.k.a. Biohazard)
Release Date: March 22, 1996 (Japan), March 30, 1996 (North America), August 1, 1996 (Europe)
Platform: Sony PlayStation
Global Sales: 2,750,000
Directed by a then relatively unknown Capcom designer named Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil made its Japanese debut under the name of Biohazard on March 22, 1996 exclusively for Sony’s PlayStation console. Originally conceived as a First Person Shooter, the game’s concept endured several transitions throughout its lengthy development cycle, with early designs toying with the idea of a two-player cooperative mode via link cable. Said Mikami: “I thought about it for the first Resident Evil, but we gave up – technically it wasn’t good enough.” After flirting with these ideas for a while, the young Capcom producer eventually plumped for the single player horror romp we know and love today.
Set in the fictional mid-western town of Raccoon City on July 24, 1998, Resident Evil kicks off following the insertion of the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) Alpha Team in nearby mountainous region of Raccoon Forest, who have been dispatched to locate and rescue the missing Bravo Team. The Bravos had been instructed to conduct a search of the area earlier in the day for missing hikers following an onslaught of several cannibalistic homicides in the region over the past few months. Lead by Captain Albert Wesker, the Alphas (consisting of Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Barry Burton, Joseph Frost and Brad Vickers) eventually locate the Bravos' missing chopper, only to find it abandoned with no discernible trace of the team nearby. Upon conducting a search of the area on foot, the team are attacked by a pack of large, dog-like creatures that overwhelm and kill Frost, prompting Vickers to flee the scene, leaving them stranded. Spying a mansion in the middle of the forest, the remaining Alphas leg it through the woods and scramble inside the ominous structure, where the game begins.
Resident Evil offers the quintessential Survival Horror experience – a sublime cohesion of puzzles, combat and exploration, combining intricately designed pre-rendered backdrops with fully 3D rendered characters, creating an (at the time of release) unprecedented level of immersion and fear among players. Taking control of either Redfield or Valentine, player find themselves battling against legions of Biological Weapons including zombies, giant snakes and infected canines as they explore the mansion and its nearby grounds in an attempt to uncover the twisted, malevolent operations of a pharmaceutical giant known as the Umbrella Corporation.
Along the way, players are required to solve a vast array of brain-teasing riddles and puzzles, while carefully managing ammunition and healing items in order to progress through the game in one piece. Secreting gut-wrenching terror and suspense from every pore, Resident Evil also boasted ample replay value, featuring multiple endings, additional costumes and extra weaponry. Marred only by a cringe-worthy script, Capcom’s original masterpiece captivated audiences around the globe and ultimately secured its place as one of the best selling PlayStation games of its time.
Unsurprisingly, Capcom was quick to capitalize on the game’s success, and the following year saw numerous ports including a release on PC and Sega Saturn. The former included sharper visuals, an uncut introduction sequence and a couple of new weapons, while the latter featured an all new enemy know as the ‘Tick’ (in reality a pallet swap of the Hunters), a second Tyrant to battle in Chris’s campaign, alternate costumes, and a Battle Mode. Unlocked after completing the game, this Battle Mode mini-quest had players battling against various enemies – including a zombified version of the traitorous Captain Wesker – with limited ammunition and healing items in a battle against the clock.
A DS port, dubbed Deadly Silence, cropped up in 2006 and added in exclusive microphone and touch-screen functionality, along with fresh puzzles and all-new first person knife battles. An ambitious GameBoy Color iteration was also planned, but was ultimately canceled due to Capcom’s dissatisfaction with the port in 2000.
Resident Evil Dash (a.k.a. Biohazard Dash)
Release Date: N/A (Canceled)
Biohazard Dash (commonly abbreviated in the west as RE Dash) represented Capcom’s first attempt at creating a follow up to the original Biohazard, conceived (and subsequently canned) prior to the announcement of Resident Evil 2 in late 1996.
Sadly, the Japanese software giant neglected to divulge many details on the project before it was shelved, though what we do know is nonetheless an intriguing piece of Resident Evil’s illustrious history. According to Capcom’s Yoshiki Okamoto, Dash was a spin-off game centered in and around the crumbling ruins of the destroyed Spencer Mansion, with players hopping into the shoes of two new characters of unknown identity.
In addition to featuring bizarre, plant-like monstrosities to battle against (which may have been an early conception of RE2’s “Ivy” BOWs), the game featured a host of new areas to explore, with many of the original mansion’s rooms were tweaked in order to accommodate the flow of time (Dash allegedly took place three years after RE1). In particular, Okamoto noted that the action would have kicked off in a hidden location found underneath the Tyrant’s incubation room in the laboratory.
Dash was an interesting concept, but one that would have ultimately pushed development of Resident Evil 2 back some time, which resulted in the decision to scrap the title indefinitely. Rest assured, if we manage to dredge up anymore details on this elusive gem we’ll be sure to update this article for your viewing pleasure.