PSU re-introduces Part 3 of our ‘History of’ series for Resident Evil as the brand celebrates its 20th anniversary.
In The History of Resident Evil, we examine the acclaimed franchise from its inception in 1996 through to present day, offering our readers a comprehensive look at each major canonical entry in the series, while delving into some of the projects that never saw the light of day. If you missed the first two installments, check them out here and here respectively. 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 REvolution.
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Resident Evil: Survivor (a.k.a. Biohazard: Gun Survivor)
Release Date: January 27, 2000 (Japan) August 30, 2000 (North America) March 31, 2000 (Europe)
Platform: Sony PlayStation
Global Sales: Unknown (Japanese Sales: 0.29 million)
A radical departure for the series at the time of release, Resident Evil: Survivor controversially took the survival horror franchise into the first person perspective, transporting players away from the confines of Raccoon City onto the remote metropolis of Shena Island. You play as Ark Thompson, a fellow acquaintance of RE2’s Leon S. Kennedy suffering from a bout of amnesia following a near fatal helicopter crash moments before the game begins. With no knowledge of his identity or whereabouts, Thompson eventually regains his equilibrium and ventures out into the streets only to be confronted by hordes of shambling zombies and all manner of grotesque bio-weapons.
Survivor employs 3D backgrounds and regurgitates much of its assets from Resident Evil 2. As such, the game isn’t the prettiest in the series, and the first person perspective only works to exacerbate the aging hardware limitations of the PlayStation in the occasions where you get decidedly up close and personal with your assailants. The game plays out as a rudimentary shooter, featuring branching pathways and multiple boss encounters as you progress through each area. Although the usual array of healing herbs, multiple weapons and BOWs crop up, the item boxes have been completely removed from the equation, with Thompson able to lug a seemingly infinite supply of items about his person.
Despite a heavy reliance on old assets, Capcom did introduce a couple of intriguing foes to battle, notably the MP5-equipped Sweepers, along with the obligatory new Tyrant-esque final boss. Furthermore, attempts were made to flesh out Umbrella’s global activities, with files in the game revealing that the conglomerate had been kidnapping adolescents from the around the world in an attempt top fuel its mass production facility on the Island. Further documents seemingly confirm the survival of Resident Evil 3’s unscrupulous Russian U.B.C.S. grunt Nicholai Ginovaef, though fans largely attribute this to a mistranslation of the original Japanese text.
Although heavily criticized by the gaming press and fans alike, Survivor nonetheless deserves its recognition as part of the franchise. While the game’s canonicity has been a topic of heated debate over the years, Capcom cemented the game’s events as part of the core franchise in 2002’s Resident Evil Zero, when the incident at Shena Island was mentioned in the prequel’s opening sequence as one of the many locations in which the T-Virus leaked. While a sequel to Thompson’s exploits has yet to materialize, the Gun Survivor series continued for the next couple of years with Gun Survivor 2: Code Veronica and Resident Evil: Dead Aim, both available on the PlayStation 2.
Resident Evil Code: Veronica (a.k.a. Biohazard Code: Veronica)
Release Date: February 3, 2000 (Japan), February 29, 2000 (North America), May 26, 2000 (Europe)
Global Sales: 1,140,000
Resident Evil Code: Veronica X (a.k.a. Biohazard Code: Veronica Complete)
Release Date: March 22, 2001 (Japan), August 21, 2001 (North America), September 14, 2001 (Europe)
Platform: PlayStation 2
Global Sales: 1,400,000
Resident Evil Code: Veronica was the first entry in the on-going survival horror franchise to debut on a format other than PlayStation, having been unveiled at the tail end of 1998 as an exclusive for Sega’s 128-bit Dreamcast console. Taking place in December 1998 – three months after the events of RE2/3 – Code: Veronica reacquaints players with Claire Redfield as she infiltrates an Umbrella research facility in Paris on the continued hunt for her MIA brother Chris.
After a brief encounter with some of Umbrella’s armed goons, Redfield is apprehended by guards and imprisoned on Rockfort Island, home to one of Umbrella’s three founding families, the Ashfords. Inevitably, the complex is attacked by an unknown organization resulting in yet another T-Virus spill, allowing our young heroine to abscond from her dank prison cell and traverse Rockfort in the hopes of finding an escape.
Aesthetically the game boasted a number of advancements over the PlayStation games, chief among which included the presence of fully 3D rendered backgrounds, replacing the pre-rendered locales of past iterations. The added graphical prowess of Sega’s machine (itself a full generation ahead of Sony’s aging gray box) afforded various other visual delights including meticulously crafted facial animations, gritty textures and real-time shadows. Bizarrely, the sequel remained a decidedly less bloody affair than past games, removing the decapitations and limb dismemberment the series had become renowned for up until that point.
Disappointingly, the game failed to expand upon Nemesis’ innovations, removing the dodge mechanic and a couple of other inclusions, though did implement dual-pistol wielding, allowing gamers to target two separate enemies at once. A couple of interesting tweaks also managed to sneak in, such as the ability to wear a gas mask at certain points in the game, along with the chance to cap enemies in first-person view with the sniper rifle. Redfield is also aided in her quest by a second companion, Steve Burnside, a cocky, rambunctious 17-year-old also imprisoned at Rockfort who falls under the player’s control for a short period.
Interestingly, the developers seemingly toyed with the idea of offering some form of online multiplayer component, though this ultimately failed to transpire. “It can only be done by network. Even for Codename Veronica, networking is difficult,” explained the game’s producer, Shinji Mikami.
Crucially, however, Code: Veronica offered a meaty campaign, surpassing the 10 hour mark, putting it ahead of predecessors length by a considerable margin. Furthermore, the game signaled the return of Chris as a playable character, with gamers switching over to long missing Redfield sibling half way through the game while Claire remained cooped up in Umbrella’s Antarctic facility. While technically backtracking over locations previously traversed by his sister, Chris also had access to a few new areas and could arm himself with anything previously used by Claire via the item chests.
It’s also under Mr. Redfield’s command that the one of the series biggest revelations comes into light, namely the return of ex. S.T.A.R.S. captain Albert Wesker – perpetual sunglasses and all – who was presumed dead at the climax of the original Resident Evil. Elsewhere, the game also unleashed an obligatory batch of new enemies to combat including the lumbering, Tyrant-esque Bandersnatcher, contaminated bats, and the slithery, T-Virus infected Salamander known as the Albinoid. A couple of new armaments also cropped up, such as the explosive bow gunpowder rounds, dual sub-machine guns, Linear Launcher and the AK-47 Assault Rifle.
Fortunately, Code: Veronica doesn’t skimp on post-completion goodies, throwing in a Battle Mode and additional weaponry to enjoy, the former of which allowed players to chose from either a third or first person view, as well as taking control of Wesker (albeit non-canonically) for the first time in the series. Ultimately, while the game was met with favorable reviews by critics, Code: Veronica fared considerably worse at retail than previous installments, a factor primarily attributed to the Dreamcast’s substantially lower consumer base in comparison to Sony’s console.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the franchise, Capcom launched an expanded port for PlayStation 2 (along with a Japanese-only Dreamcast version) in 2001. Dubbed Resident Evil Code: Veronica X, this update featured all-new cut scenes fleshing out Wesker’s role in the game, as well as an exclusive DVD narrated by the enigmatic villain himself detailing his exploits during the series up to that point. The port also included some minor graphical tweaks and, bizarrely, a new hairstyle for Steve Burnside, presumably in an effort to nullify comparisons between the floppy-haired hero and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Code: Veronica X was eventually ported to Nintendo GameCube in 2004.
Resident Evil (a.k.a. Biohazard)
Release Date: March 22, 2002 (Japan), April 30, 2002 (North America), September 13, 2002 (Europe)
Platform: Nintendo GameCube (exclusive until 2015), PS3, PS4, PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360
Global Sales: 1,350,000
Officially unveiled on September 13, 2001 as part of Capcom’s newly announced exclusivity contract with Nintendo, Resident Evil for GameCube – colloquially known as REmake – signaled a complete overhaul for the original survival horror classic, coinciding with the franchise’s sixth anniversary in March 2002.
Helmed by series mastermind Shinji Mikami, REmake reverted back to the static, pre-rendered shenanigans of past games, which, thanks largely to the GameCube’s graphical muscle, resulted in one of the most visually stunning games ever conceived. Backgrounds are meticulously realized and lack the staleness of past iterations thanks to the layers of FMV thrown in to simulate effects such as rushing water and swaying tree branches in the wind, while characters models are an equally sumptuous visual feast, with both enemies and humans alike casting ominous shadows across the game’s dark, decrepit environments. Nintendo’s purple box also facilitated dynamic particle affects such as blood, water and fire, with the near indiscernible line between pre-rendered and real-time a fine testament to the raw talent emanating from the Capcom code house.
Obstinately, Mikami and his team decided not to subject this updated horror fest to any significant changes, instead relying on the tired and tested formula of old, though the general consensus among hardcore fans was of unanimous praise despite some criticism from the mainstream press. REmake wasn’t completely devoid of tweaks, though, and the developers attempted to cater to those fed up with the series stagnant control scheme by way of an alternate way of manipulating your characters using the shoulder buttons of the Cube’s pad. Elsewhere, the introduction of defensive weapons was also employed for the first – and to date, only – time in the Survival Horror franchise, allowing players to tackle assailants with a variety of weapons in close proximity.
Aside from a major visual overhaul, the game also boasted several new areas to explore (graveyards, estate rooms, and an eerie stroll through Raccoon Forest) while existing locations received noticeable decor adjustments. The narrative also saw a completely new sub-plot in the form of the mournful tale of Lisa Trevor (daughter of the architect responsible for the construction of the Mansion) who was subjected to a variety of horrific experiments at the hands of Arklay researches since the late 1960s, eventually leading to the discovery of the G-Virus.
Furthermore, standard zombies would mutate into a fiercer, deadlier form of undead known as a Crimson Head unless properly disposed of, forcing you to either burn or decapitate the lumbering fiends. Meanwhile, although the core layout of the mansion and its grounds is largely unchanged, the puzzles were completely redesigned, adding a flavor of ambiguity to the brainteasers in comparison to their PlayStation counterparts. Aurally, Capcom tossed in a plethora of new sound effects and eerie compositions serving as the perfectly compliment to an already terrifying package, with a raging storm now taking place outside, punctuating the action with growls of thunder and eye-opening flashes of lightning. In typical fashion the dialogue remains inherently dodgy at times, though fortunately, Capcom saw fit to revise the script and hire new voice actors, substantially improving the overall plot making for a far more compelling tale. Capcom ported the game over to the Wii in late 2008 for Japanese audiences, with a North American release confirmed for 2009. The game finally arrived on PlayStation and Xbox formats in early 2015 with high-definition visuals.
Resident Evil Zero (a.k.a. Biohazard Zero)
Release Date: November 21, 2002 (Japan), November 10, 2002 (North America), March 7, 2003 (Europe)
Platform: Nintendo GameCube (exclusive until early 2016), PS4, PS3, PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360
Global Sales: 1,250,000
Originally penciled in for release on Nintendo 64 in 2000 (though rumored as far back as the late 90s), Resident Evil Zero quickly jumped ship to the GameCube after it became abundantly clear that the cartridge-based N64 was rapidly losing steam in the on-going console war as the millennium rolled by. After a lengthy hiatus, Capcom reiterated that the project would arrive on Nintendo’s purple box alongside REmake following the publisher’s exclusivity contract with Nintendo in fall 2001.
Zero takes place a full 24 hours before the events that unfold in the Spencer Mansion from the original Resident Evil, kicking off as the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team conducts an aerial patrol of Raccoon Forest before running into a spot of engine trouble, prompting an emergency landing in the woods. Hopping out of the chopper to take a peek at the surrounding area, The Bravos (consisting of Enrico Marini, Forest Speyer, Richard Aiken, Kenneth J. Sullivan, Edward Dewey, Rebecca Chambers, plus R.P.D. officer Kevin Dooley) soon discover an overturned military transport riddled with mutilated corpses.
Further investigation reveals that the vehicle was transporting a prisoner – ex. Marine Lieutenant Billy Coen – to the nearby Ragithon Base for execution following a court marshal that found the 26-year-old guilty of murdering 23 African civilians. Dewey deduces that Coen must have been responsible for the massacre to facilitate his escape route, prompting Captain Marini to order the Bravos to split up and locate the missing felon. Having separated from the rest of the team, the inexperienced Chambers stumbles across a seemingly abandoned train in the middle of the forest and decides to hop on board and check the place out, where she falls under your control.
A landmark release, Zero incorporated partner swapping for the first time in the series, allowing players to switch instantaneously between Chambers or Coen at the push of a button, letting you tackle the action solo or with backup. Furthermore, the ubiquitous item boxes of old were completely removed, forcing you to drop any unwanted items on the fly in order to free up storage space. The constant juggling between key items, ammunition and healing herbs became paramount to your survival and – while criticized for the copious amount of backtracking – accentuated the difficulty level and sense of realism more so than any previous installment, with ammo in particular an even rarer commodity. Conspicuously, the game omitted the defensive weapons and the Crimson Head zombies found in REmake.
Aside from the usual array of brain-busting puzzles, the prequel introduced a fresh load of BOWs to duke it out with, including an infected bat, humanoid leech, proto-tyrant and lurkers – a mutated amphibian with a penchant for using its tongue to gobble down prey in a single bite. A couple of new armaments also raised their head, including the Molotov Cocktail and Hunting Gun, while unlockable content ranged from alternate costumes, infinite weapons to a special Leech Hunter mini-game, requiring players to obtain as many leech charms as possible while battling various enemies.
Built on the same technology as the REmake, Zero featured intricately designed backdrops and character models, though the script contained a number of discrepancies with fans, most notably the absurd incarnation of the late Dr. James Marcus. Nonetheless, the game did establish some crucial facts surrounding the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, revealing that it was Marcus who created the T-Virus by combining the Mother Virus (also known as the Progenitor Virus) with Leech DNA, before company founder Oswell E. Spencer ultimately had him assassinated under the watchful eyes of fellow trainees Albert Wesker and William Birkin.
Uncompromising and often frustrating, Zero fortunately didn’t stray from its roots, providing an incredibly challenging, vigorous bloodbath of obtuse puzzles and BOW bashing. The title is also noteworthy of possessing the distinct honor of being the final canonical entry in the series to employ the ‘classic’ RE formula. For many doubters, however, the game’s aging control scheme compounded the proceedings to the point where some began to question the relevance of the series – after all, this was 2002, and the ‘Halo Generation’ was already in full swing. Zero was ported to the Wii in 2009 and arrived on current and last-generation PlayStation & Xbox consoles in early 2016 complete with a HD facelift.
Resident Evil 4 (a.k.a. Biohazard 4)
Release Date: January 27, 2005 (Japan), January 11, 2005 (North America), March 18, 2005 (Europe)
Release Date (PS2): December 1, 2005 (Japan), October 25, 2005 (North America), November 4, 2005 (Europe)
Platforms: Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, PC, Wii, PS3, Xbox 360 (PS4 & Xbox One coming summer 2016)
Global Sales: 3,600,000
Resident Evil 4’s tumultuous development cycle can be traced back to early 2000 when the sequel was originally planned for release on Sony’s PlayStation 2 console, where an early conception of the game would ultimately go onto form the stylish hack ‘n slash adventure romp, Devil May Cry. Development eventually shifted to GameCube after Nintendo nabbed exclusive rights to the franchise the following year, with the first footage rearing its head in late 2002.
The title shifted through no less than three different versions, from the ‘Cradle of the Progenitor Virus’ concept – which had Leon Kennedy infected with the mother virus following an attempt to infiltrate Umbrella’s European headquarters – to the now infamous ‘Hookman’ version, which saw Kennedy battling supernatural enemies and hallucinating all manner of grotesque creatures inside a spooky mansion-like setting. An unseen concept also included the use of Zombies as standard enemies, though this was ultimately ditched before the public could clap eyes on it. More information on these early builds can be seen in our dedicated feature here. All of the above merely served as the precursor to March 2004 when the final version of the game was unveiled, signaling a drastic shift in focus for the long-running Survival Horror franchise.
Set in 2004 – six years after the destruction of Raccoon City – Resident Evil 4 reunited fans with Leon S. Kennedy, last seen escaping from the smoking ruins of the mid-western town at the end of Resident Evil 2 (or non-canonically, teaming up with Barry Burton aboard a cruise ship in the Gameboy Color outing, Resident Evil: Gaiden). Now a trained government agent, Kennedy is tasked with the mission of rescuing the President’s daughter, Ashley Graham, after she is kidnapped by a mysterious organization and taken to a backwater village in Europe.
After some initial snooping, Kennedy is attacked by a local villager – whom he promptly dispatches – and finds himself at the mercy of the hordes of local savages that inhabit the area as he begins his search for Graham. In strike contrast to previous entries, however, RE4’s enemies came not in the form of undead zombies and Umbrella-developed BOWs, but rather human-like adversaries controlled by a parasitic entity known as the Las Plagas.
Though Resident Evil by name, this fourth installment is unequivocally an entirely different beat when stacked up against its predecessors. Gone are the pre-rendered backdrops and dramatic camera angles, replaced by fully 3D rendered environments and a viewpoint permanently fixed behind Kennedy, allowing for precision aiming. Utilizing this new engine, director Mikami-san introduced players to a far more action-orientated experience, pitting gamers up against hordes of human-like foes sporting heightened intelligence and mobility in comparison to their lumbering, undead counterparts. Melee attacks and Quick Time Events (QTEs) were introduced for the first time in the series, while an RPG-esque weapons upgrade system was also incorporated, letting gamers tune up or buy armaments via a mysterious Merchant who pops up at various intervals using cash or treasures collected throughout the adventure.
Baby-sitting the frail, defenseless (and often irritating) Graham punctuates the solo antics from time to time, requiring Kennedy to cooperate with the damsel in distress to solve a couple of minor road bumps such as protecting her while she operates a piece of machinery or drives a vehicle. Elsewhere, the likes of puzzles, ammo conservation and backtracking – key components of the original Resident Evils – are conspicuous in their watered down state, with game’s linearity affording little excuse for missing key items. As such, the game relishes in mammoth, intense shootouts with dozens of foes, while the boss encounters – ostentatious though they may be at times – make for some truly memorable battles, packing in Lord of the Rings-esque trolls, giant marine life and mutated monstrosities, many of which required some inventive strategies to topple.
RE4 also offers up perhaps some of the most comprehensive array of post-completion goodies seen to date up until that point, including the popular Mercenaries mini-game, alternate costumes a well as a unique side mission called Assignment Ada, which has the sultry spy attempting to recover five Plagas samples for elusive boss man, Albert Wesker. A couple of extra weapons were also included, such as an infinite rocket launcher and .50 caliber Magnum, dubbed the Hand Cannon.
A PlayStation 2 version – much to the surprise of Nintendo loyalists – was announced in late 2004 prior to RE4’s GameCube debut, and eventually hit stores in October 2005 packing in a batch of exclusive content. Chief among the extras is Separate Ways, a side-story depicting Ada Wong’s exploits that runs concurrently with Kennedy’s own antics, revealing a little more insight into both her and Wesker’s lofty ambitions. Meanwhile, Kennedy and Graham received new costumes – a mobster outfit and suit of armor, respectively – with the port also throwing two new weapons in the form of the PRL412 and explosive Bow Gun. It’s humorous to note that Shinji Mikami previously mentioned he would cut off his own head if the action horror sequel ever made it over to Sony’s console, having pledged its exclusivity to GameCube on several occasions in the past. A Wii port featuring all of the PS2 extras was released in 2007 alongside a PC release.
Phew, still with us? This is where our original feature wrapped in 2009; obviously, we’ve come a long way since then, so in light of the series’ 20th anniversary, we’ve cooked up a whole new part to celebrate this milestone. Part 4 is coming later today (March 22, 2016), so reload your Beretta, revitalise yourself with a Green Herb, and join us for more Resi goodness later today!
[Author’s note – credit goes to OPM UK [Christmas 1996] and GamesMaster [August 1999] magazines for the interview quotes.]