Released in 1996, the original Resident Evil not only shifted PlayStations, but cemented the survival horror genre in gaming history. The game's original intro FMV uses real-life actors and features a scene where STARS Alpha member Joseph Frost is graphically ripped apart by Cerberus. Capcom had the intro toned down for the game's western release, warranting a 15 classification by the BBFC, although the PC port by Westwood a year later retained the intro with an 18 certificate. Either sets the tone.
Unlike earlier examples of survival horror games, including Alone in the Dark and Capcom's own Sweet Home RPG, Resident Evil shuns supernatural shenanigans for the vaguely more plausible T-virus outbreak. No matter how terrifying the infected become, spawning extra claws and superfluous eyes, you can guarantee gratifying damage by ramming a grenade down a Tyrant's throat. This is a game about gore, guns and bullets, without a Ghost Buster proton pack or a Project Zero camera in sight - although the later Spark Shot and Linear Launcher additions raise a few eyebrows.
The gameplay is a combination of lateral thinking puzzles, such as carefully following the V-Jolt recipe to make your weeding job easier, and basic third-person gunplay. It's testament to Resident Evil's fear factor that unlocking infinite ammo really subdues the experience. Resi bosses are just more threatening with only a few 9mm rounds and a knife in your pocket - unless it's Krauser. The artillery hording that many players adopt out of fear often leads to penultimate save-files containing enough magnum and acid rounds to down a gunship. Resident Evil also sports a legendarily hammed-up translation which, rather than detracting from the experience, positively augments the game's B-movie values.
The Cerberus crashing through the window is the classic Resident Evil horror highlight. But this shouldn't overshadow the infected Neptune sharks or, having just returned to the mansion after a run-in with Plant 42, the first-person cut-scene of something "too fast to be a zombie" opening the door you've only moments ago passed through - followed by a harrowing and unforgettable clicking noise. Suddenly your close relationship with the shotgun, and its assurance for continued survival against the mutated hordes, is put into jeopardy by the arrival of the Hunter.
Having had a colourless experience of Resident Evil 2 during its release in 1998, borrowing a friend's NTSC PlayStation to play it on a portable TV which could only manage a 60Hz signal in black and white, I still fondly remember it as one of the tensest and most exhilarating survival horror experiences ever. Capcom makes no effort to rework the tank controls into something more intuitive - new bloods Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield move with about as much grace as their zombie pals - but the sluggish controls add to the fright factor when the gap closes between you and a giant mutated crocodile. You all remember the best way to take him out, right?
Resident Evil 2 retains the combination of pre-rendered backgrounds, fixed camera angles and 3D character models, but replaces the rural mansion setting with the urban streets of Racoon City - and is arguably better for it. It also offers double the replay value over its predecessor, by giving each character a different A and B scenario to play though - complete scenario A with Claire to open Leon's B scenario and vice versa. On top of all this are the new weapons and Leon's custom parts. Modifying his Remington M 1 100-P Shotgun, with a barrel extension and full stock, gives him a shotty that blows zombies clean in half.
Progressing the storyline from the previous game, which concentrates on the exploits of the Umbrella Corporation and Albert Wesker's betrayal, Resident Evil 2 introduces us (in the flesh) to the Birkin family, Ada Wong and the G-virus. William Birkin, who injects himself with the G-virus after being gunned down by Umbrella Special Forces, puts the Tyrant-002 to shame. Mutating around five times throughout the game, he starts off vaguely human, assaulting you with a lead pipe, before later spawning into a quadruped bone pincushion, and finally forming a pulsating mass of tentacles and fangs. Thank god for Rocket Launchers and Desert Eagles with 10" barrels.
In 1999's Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Capcom brings back fan-favourite Jill Valentine and tasks players with helping her escape the zombie-ridden Raccoon City (I'd still take my chances in Raccoon over Silent Hill). She obviously spent time at the gym after her visit to the Spencer Mansion, as here she can dodge enemy attacks and do a quick 180 pirouette - as well as manufacture her own enhanced ammunition. Although Jill's story crosses over with both UBCS (Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service) members Carlos Oliveira and Nicholai Ginovaef, her starring role is really shared with the titular Nemesis.
The name says everything you need to know. Developed by Umbrella with an offshoot of the T-virus, the NE-T virus and the NE-a parasite created a Tyrant that retains enough intelligence to wield weapons and follow basic commands. The second Nemesis, named Nemesis T-02, is immediately tasked with eradicating all the remaining STARS members. Appearing throughout the game after killing Brad Vickers (the STARS helicopter pilot who bails on Jill in Resi 1), the relentless Nemesis is determined to bury Jill in Raccoon City.
After surviving liquid-nitrogen freeze rounds, acid showers and a ride in Umbrella's industrial bio-weapon's disposer, Nemesis, the ultimate mono-catchphrase stalker, emerges in a final bid to take Jill down. Mutating beyond recognition after consuming a dead Tyrant, he takes a near-fatal beating from a railgun and, still smouldering, pathetically limps towards Jill. If the player chooses, Jill will finally put Nemesis out his misery with a volley of magnum rounds. "You want STARS? I'll give you STARS!" (To be honest, if he's after STARS, you have to wonder why Nemesis signed up for the Resident Evil: Apocalypse film).
Capcom's next major title in the series, Resident Evil Code: Veronica, came out in 2000, and uses the power of the Dreamcast to create the first full 3D Resident Evil. Claire Redfield, still searching for her brother, gets captured by Umbrella during a daring raid on one of their facilities. After being deported to Umbrella's Rockfort Island facility, which conveniently gets bombed, spewing A, B, X, Y and Z viruses out everywhere, she meets up with fellow inmate Steve Burnside and puts her Racoon City survival skills to good use. Meeting the sadistic Ashford family along the way, she finally catches up with Chris Redfield at the Antarctic Research Facility.
Code Veronica doesn't detract much from the classic Resident Evil formula, but shifts the focus onto a new virus. By infusing a queen ant viral strain with the Progenitor virus, from which the T-virus was also derived, Alexia Ashford creates the T-Veronica virus. With the help of her cross-dressing brother Alfred, Alexia tests the T-Veronica virus on her father Alexander, which turns him into a mindless Nosferatu abomination that Claire later kills with a sniper shot to the heart. Undergoing cryo-preservation to retain her intelligence whilst the adapted T-Veronica virus develops inside her, Alexia awakens to the death of her brother and seeks revenge upon Claire and Chris. She also slaps Wesker in the face.
However, out of all the new monstrosities in Code Veronica, the Bandersnatch is by far the most loathsome. After the success of the Hunter and Licker on the bio-weapons market, Umbrella felt its portfolio was lacking something yellow and rubbery, with R&D apparently turning to Lewis Carroll for inspiration. It doesn't help matters that Claire's Bow Gun seems a poor imitation of the one she looted from Robert Kendo's corpse in Resi 2, although tipping the bolts with explosive gunpowder is a bonus.
At the end of Code Veronica X, which contains additional cut-scenes, Chris has a showdown with Wesker before their fight is interrupted by an explosion - with Wesker escaping with the T-Alexia strain in Steve's body. We already know that Wesker and Chris will face off once again in Resident Evil 5, but are guns really going to be enough for Chris to make a stand against the now superhuman Wesker? As good as playing Resident Evil 5 will undoubtedly be for fans, a major part of the attraction is discovering what happens next in the Resident Evil universe. I'm holding out for a Las Plagas and T-virus hybrid.
Not long after mature GameCube owners were rewarded for their patience with an outstandingly beautiful remake of the original Resident Evil in 2002, complete with Crimson Head zombies and the new subplot of Lisa Trevor (daughter of mansion-builder George Trevor, and tragic source of the G-virus after being subjected to viral testing at the hands of Umbrella), Capcom went back to the origins of the T-virus with Resident Evil Zero in 2003. With the Resi games having always concentrated on dual relationships - Jill and Chris, Leon and Claire, etc. - Capcom gives players simultaneous control over leads Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen throughout much of Zero.
Zero's story takes place a day before the events of the first Resident Evil, and focuses on James Marcus. Having created the T-virus by combining the Progenitor virus with Leech DNA, Marcus is killed by his former protégés Birkin and Wesker at the command of the Umbrella Corporation president Ozwell Spencer. Marcus miraculously survives the ordeal when one of his experimental leeches merges with his body, linking them to him and restoring him to a much younger age. Out for revenge, he instigates the T-virus outbreak at the Spencer Mansion. Rebecca and Coen get caught up in the ensuing carnage on the Ecliptic Express, before the end boss fight with Marcus' mutated Queen Leech form at the Arklay Treatment Planet.
Although still jam-packed with zombies, including the freaky new Leech Zombies, Zero's mutagenic output boats a strong insect theme including the Stinger and Centurion bosses (read: giant scorpion and centipede). However, Capcom still manages to smuggle in a Tyrant with the twitching prototype T-001, which Rebecca initially faces solo, before a final confrontation with both Billy and Rebecca later. Fielding two shotguns rather than one really comes into its own.
Which brings us conveniently to 2005's seminal Resident Evil 4. Still fresh in many people's minds, Resi 4 modernises the series in so many ways it seems pointless to list them all. It is simply a complete re-envisioning of survival horror. Out go the tank controls and in comes a more action-based system with an over-the-shoulder camera and full laser-sight assisted aiming. Gone are the days of waiting patiently for a zombie to shuffle inches from your face for a shotgun headshot - hallelujah!
Resident Evil 4's brand of horror, although different from the previous games, loses none of its inherent dread. With the Las Plagas replacing the traditional T-virus, Leon's quest to save the president's daughter, Ashley Graham, is more Invasion of the Body Snatchers than Dawn of the Dead. Saddler's minions, from the organised Los Ganados to perhaps the freakiest Resi monster ever, the Regenerator/Iron Maiden, are no less threatening than any radioactive monstrosities still lurking in Racoon City's crater.
It seems Resident Evil 4 could have been quite different, with at least three different versions having allegedly been in development - including what became Devil May Cry and two early paranormal-themed trailers, dubbed the Fog version and Hook version. Not that we're complaining about the one we got; Resi 4 is one of the most enjoyable videogaming experiences this side of the millennium.
And with Resident Evil 5, it seems Capcom is sticking closely to the formula it laid down. Some may lament the lack of modern, run-and-gun controls, but I've always felt Resi would lose some of its charm if the stand-and-shoot mechanic were given the boot. Meanwhile, with all Resident Evil 5's promotional trailers, fans are dying to find out whether the Merchant will return, if the masked figure is Claire Redfield, and what the hell Wesker is up to this time. Thankfully, it won't be long before we finally get some of the answers.
Resident Evil 5 is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 on 13th March and reviewed on Monday.