It’s a good time to be a gamer. Fellow game geeks have spent the past few months relishing in the latest releases to their favorite franchises with the 2013 version of EA’s Madden franchise releasing at the end of August, Gearbox’s Borderlands 2 in September, Halo 4 set for an early November release (the first Halo title not developed by series creator Bungie), and the latest installment of Capcom’s survival horror franchise Resident Evil 6 released yesterday, October 2.
Resident Evil has been one of those up and down franchises over the years. It earned immediate acclaim and attention from gamers and critics when it first released in 1996. The game’s bloody content earned the ire of parent’s groups and anti-gaming activists as well (inspired by horror films like Dawn of the Dead, the game contained more bloodshed than most Romero movies and it was actually scary).
I, for one, was hooked from the moment I picked up a controller and led Jill Valentine around that creepy mansion in the first game. I was able to forgive the terrible voice acting and awful localization. This was something that we’d never seen before. Let them refer to Jill as “the master of unlocking things” if they want to. I had zombies to kill.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Resident Evil (known as Biohazard in its native Japan) tells the story of a biological weapon’s accidental release on the residents of a midwestern American town known as Raccoon City. The “T-virus,” created by an evil, faceless corporation known as Umbrella, turns people into flesh-eating zombies and other horrific mutations. A group of Raccoon City police special forces officers (known as S.T.A.R.S.) are dispatched to investigate a series of bizarre murders in the outlying areas and find themselves in the middle of the outbreak and Umbrella’s attempts to cover up the truth of what really happened. The game follows one of two storylines which are only slightly different depending upon whether the player chooses to play as Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield.
The concept of a female protagonist was still relatively new in video games at the time, but because Eidos’ Tomb Raider released around the same time as Resident Evil, Lara Croft easily stole some of Jill’s thunder.
Resident Evil 2 carried on the tradition of gore and horror established by the first game and offered up a story that takes place in the same time frame as that of it’s predecessor. So, while there is some re-hash of details between the two titles, it is still a completely different (and some may say superior) gaming experience. The sequel also upheld the tradition of letting the player choose between a male and a female character, but took it a step farther. The game was on two discs, one for the male character Leon S. Kennedy and one for the female, Claire Redfield (the sister of Resident Evil‘s Chjris Redfield). At several points in the game the player would encounter scenarios where two people would be required to perform a specific task such as activating a compouter system or unlocking a special door. while playing the game as Claire, for example, the player would perform the first person’s part of the task and then complete it on a second playthrough with Leon.
For Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Capcom changed things considerably and released the first Resident Evil title that left a sour taste in fans’ mouths. The third game kept the action in Raccoon City, but takes place in the days immediately following the initial outbreak. The singular protagonist this time around was Jill Valentine, fighting her way through a story that involved Umbrella’s continued attempt to cover up the outbreak by dispatching the titular “Nemesis” creature. The Nemesis makes Resident Evil‘s tyrant look like a play toy and it is on a mission to hunt down and eliminate any surviving members of S.T.A.R.S.
Resident Evil: Code: Veronica became the fourth title released in the series and is the first not set in or around Raccoon City. Instead the game takes place in a mansion owned by the Ashford Family (Edward Ashford is revealed to have been one of the founders of the Umbrella Corporation during the course of the game) on Rockfort Island. Code: Veronica features both Claire Redfield and her brother Chris as playable characters and, for the most part offers similar gameplay to the series’ first two games. Code: Veronica does serve to provide considerable back story on the creation and rise to power of the Umbrella Corporation as well as to re-introduce the character of Albert Wesker as one of the series’ main villains. Wesker was introduced in the first game as the captain of the Raccoon City S.T.A.R.S. unit, later revealed to have been working for Umbrella all along.
After Code: Veronica the future looked doubtful for Resident Evil for a while. Series fans had played through four titles so far that were all built on the same concepts and themes. For many the series was getting stale. In a surprising move, Capcom signed an exclusivity deal with Nintendo that promised all new Resident Evil titles (all direct sequels, anyway) would be released solely on Nintendo’s Game Cube console. Many fans, myself included, were taken aback by this move as the previous titles (save Code: Veronica) had all been released on the Sony PlayStation and then ported to other systems later. Capcom made good on the deal, releasing a prequel Resident Evil 0 and a re-make of the original Resident Evil solely on the Nintendo system. Then they did the same thing with Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4 changed things considerably for the series. Gone was the series’ traditional “tank” controls for movement of the characters, as was the one male/one female protagonist formula that had been featured in most of the previous games. Our hero in this game was Leon S. Kennedy from Resident Evil 2. No longer a police officer, Leon is working as a Secret Service agent for the US government as has been tasked with rescuing the kidnapped daughter of the US President from a small Eastern European country. The Umbrella Corporation doesn’t figure in to the game’s story at all and the zombies that Leon has to fight are not zombies at all, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead they are persons infected by a parasitic plant known as Las Plagas (it translates in Spanish as “The Pest,” but I’m almost sure the creators of the game were going for something that sounded like “The Plague.”). The parasites are being implanted in people by the leaders of a bizarre religious cult, and those infected are turned into mindless, violent followers.
The critical and commercial success enjoyed by Resident Evil 4 led, inevitably, to the release of Resident Evil 5 which kept the majority of the changes introduced in the pervious game such as the control scheme and camera angles, but added the possibility of split-screen and online cooperative play, with one player controlling main character Chris Redfield (now a former police officer working for the “BSAA” or Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, a government organization designated to prevent terrorism attacks using biological weapons) and the other his partner in the game, Sheva Alomar. Resident Evil 5 enjoyed considerable success as well, although it did not fare as well critically as Resident Evil 4. It was, however, the best-selling game in the series’ history, possibly because it is also the first to have been released on multiple platforms at once, rather than being exclusive to one particular console. The exclusivity deal with Nintendo’s Game Cube was a thing of the past, because the Game Cube was a thing of the past by the time Resident Evil 5 released in 2009.
The Resident Evil 5 “zombies” are again parasite-infected individuals, though Resident Evil 5‘s villain turns out to be none other than Albert Wesker who winds up forcing Chris to fight his onetime partner Jill Valentine, her mind controlled by Wesker via some bizarre form of hypnosis coupled with a cybernetic implant of sorts that the player must eventually rip from Jill’s chest in order to free her from Wesker’s control.
And now, three years later, we have Resident Evil 6. This may well be the best thing to happen to the series since that original outbreak in Raccoon City. The new game keeps the partner concept from the last title and still supports online or split screen cooperative play and the over-the-shoulder camera concept launched in Resident Evil 4. Of course, Resident Evil 6 offers some changes and improvements on the formula as well. Finally players are able to move and shoot at the same time (only took sixteen years for us to get there!) and the zombies are once again actual rise from the dead to eat your face off honest to goodness zombies.
Resident Evil 6 spreads it’s story over three separate campaigns, offering a whopping six playable characters. Players can play the campaigns in any order they choose and can control either the “main” protagonist character in each (Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, or new character Jake Muller, who is revealed to be the illegitimate son of Albert Wesker) or that character’s “partner” (US Secret Service agent Helena Harper for Leon, Piers Nivans with Chris, and BSAA agent Sherry Birkin who originally appeared as a child who was rescued from Raccoon City by Leon and Claire in Resident Evil 2 for Jake).
I’ve not played enough of Resident Evil 6 just yet to formulate an opinion worthy of an actual review, but so far I have to say I love the game, despite a few flaws that I have noticed early on. First of all, there are far too many Quick Time Events and I’ve found myself going back to a checkpoint too many times because I was unsure if the game wanted me to rotate the left stick or merely shake it back and forth. That kind of thing only leads to frustration and annoyance. Didn’t Call of Duty 3 teach us anything? Also, while I love the new combat system for the most part, it can sometimes cause the problem of disorienting the player if his character is knocked down. It’s frustrating to get back on one’s feet only to be pummeled by an enemy again because I got up facing the wrong direction and never knew the fucker was there. So far these seem to be only minor gripes, however, and I am truly loving this game.
I would be remiss to talk this much about Resident Evil and not mention those fucking movies. In fact, I’m a little surprised that I’ve not mentioned them before, despite my unnatural love for all things zombie that I have written about here before. while I was playing the game at Tara’s house yesterday, her ten year-old daughter (yeah, I know the game has an M rating, but Boo’s a big girl. She can handle it.) Aurore asked me, “So, where’s Alice?” She was referring, of course, to Mila Jovovitch’s character from the suckjob Resident Evil films.
“Alice isn’t in any of the games, just the movies,” I replied.
“If she’s not in the game, why is she in the movies,” Aurore asked.
“Because Paul W.S. Anderson is an asshole and a shitty filmmaker” is what I wanted to reply. Instead I said some elitist line about how Hollywood loves to fuck up almost any IP (intellectual property, kids) it gets its hands on.
The truth is, the Resident Evil movies are something of an anomoly for me. They all suck, I know they all suck, I know the newest one is going to suck like an ass sandwich with a chest wound before I ever enter the theater, and yet I keep watching them. I think its because, as bad as they are, the each have small snippets taken directly from the games that for some reason I love seeing on the big screen. For example, the first film, Resident Evil, is set in a mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City, for about five minutes. The bulk of the story takes place, however, in an underground Umbrella lab called “The Hive” which is run by a maniacal super computer known as the Red Queen. The Red Queen is presented personified as a ten year old girl with a snooty British accent. None of these things (save the mansion, Umbrella, and Raccoon City) appear in the games. But, in The Hive, Alice and company do encounter both Lickers and the zombified dogs that the games are famous for.
Later installments in the film series took things a step further by including characters we know from the games. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (the second film), for example, features Jill Valentine, Carlos Olivera (a minor character in the original Resident Evil storyline, he’s a S.T.A.R.S. member who doesn’t make it), and the Nemesis. They even dressed Jill as she appears in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis… how could a gamer geek not love that? Resident Evil: Extinction features Claire Redfield and hints at the motivations of Albert Wesker, who does figure fairly prominently in the next two films. Resident Evil: Afterlife features Chris Redfield. And, finally (we can only hope), Resident Evil: Retribution features Jill Valentine again (this time appearing as she does in Resident Evil 5 in a purple catsuit with a mind control device clamped into her chest) along with Ada Wong (a character of dubious alliances ever since her first appearance in Resident Evil 2) and a guy they call Leon Kennedy (though he looks and acts nothing like the Leon we know from the games).
Still, for all my fanboy bitching, the Resident Evil film series does have the distinction of being the only film series to have each successive sequel do financially better than the previous film and is the most commercially successful series of films based on a video game ever (is there another “series” of films based on a video game? There is a Silent Hill sequel on its way, but I can’t think of another game series that has spawned more than one movie so far). A quick check of Wikipedia and IMDB has confirmed that there was a second Bloodrayne movie made. So, there you have it. Resident Evil has done collectively better than both Silent Hill and Bloodrayne as far as movies are concerned. I’ll sleep a little easier knowing that, won’t you?