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).
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