It’s hard to believe Resident Evil has been around for 20 years. As the pioneer to what became survival horror, Shinji Mikami’s 1996 PlayStation title (known as Biohazard in Japan) modernized the standards that would spawn a genre, influenced by an initial template established in 1994’s Alone In The Dark.
Up until Resident Evil, horror didn’t really have much of a place in gaming outside of monster homages like Konami’s pastiche-filled Castlevania and some NES movie tie-ins; using the advanced 3D processing of Sony’s first console, Mikami and the Biohazard team could craft a new kind of terror-filled adventure, taking advantage of the CD-ROM format to prerender CG environments with canted camera angles that kept players who were grappling with the intentionally stilted controls on edge.
While the game’s polygonal characters had weapons, ammo was scarce – players were underpowered and had to focus on resource management, fleeing from the Spencer Mansion’s overpowered enemies whenever they were too overwhelmed. Resident Evil’s unease spawned from panicking over its B-movie scenarios as well as its design, and as a distillation of zombie films in game form, there was nothing like it — not even Sweet Home, its more direct Famicom inspiration.
But survival horror’s golden age would not last forever, and by the mid-2000s it was languishing. Then came 2005’s Resident Evil 4 – Mikami struck gold again by molding the genre into an action-horror amalgam with fast, smart, weapon-wielding enemies. RE4 sent shockwaves throughout the industry, ditching the series’ faux-cinematic aspirations for a shoulder-cam POV that’s been used to one degree or another in every modern third-person shooter since.
Ironically, this would eventually lead to identity problems for RE, coming to a spectacular head in Resident Evil 6, which might well have brought the series to its ruin. Yet, like the necrotic creatures that propel its ridiculous plots, Resident Evil endures, surviving mutation after mutation.
With Resident Evil 7 finally returning the series to its roots next year – dialing back the bombast with an atmospheric first-person approach that evokes the series’ classic sensibilities – there’s no better time to evaluate everything that’s come before, from the outstanding to the embarrassing.
So, without further ado, throw on your favorite soothing save room track and settle in – we’re ranking every single Resident Evil.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
If you thought Umbrella Corps was the worst Resident Evil ever, you must not have played much of Operation Raccoon City. Admittedly, the two share a lot of DNA. You play as members of an Umbrella hit squad, essentially, only here you’re re-living the events of Resident Evil 2s Raccoon City incident in co-op squad play against the undead hordes. It’s a decent enough idea in practice, but developer Slant Six (yes, this is a western game) failed in execution through incredibly generic gameplay and environments, not to mention horrible friendly AI.
Finally, let’s not forget the lamest, most cringe-worthy cast of characters Capcom has ever approved – a list which tacitly includes Jessica “Me and my sweet ass are on the way” Sherawat from RE Revelations. Raccoon City is just bad.
Resident Evil Gaiden
The only Resident Evil to be released for the Game Boy Color, Resident Evil Gaiden follows the original game’s Barry “What the hell is that thing” Burton as he makes his way through a zombie-infested ocean liner, an idea so great that it would become the premise of two other games in the series. As you might expect, this is a top-down affair, and it might have ranked higher on the list if it had just played like isometric classic survival horror. It doesn’t.
Instead, if you get to close to an enemy, Gaiden transports you into an RPG battle screen with admittedly nice pixel art, but rather than picking commands to attack a sliding reticle moves back and forth on the screen attacking an enemy means timing your hits so that it connects to a small bar in the center. Of course, the speed of the reticle and the size of the hit gauge change depending on what weapon you’re using, requiring almost comically precise timing to dispatch bosses.
Throw in a bioweapon enemy more persistent than the Nemesis — the last 20 percent of the game is basically being chased from fight to fight while your resources deplete — and you’ve got a real pain in the ass on your hands. Trust me, the time it takes to finish isn’t really worth it.
Resident Evil Outbreak File #2
Outbreak was a novel concept: A co-op MMO of sorts where average citizens of Raccoon City, each with their own special abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, join forces to simply survive various scenarios. But there was a major problem – its incredibly stubborn insistence on all the hallmark designs of Resident Evil didn’t mesh well with gameplay that can’t be paused.
Resources were also unbelievably scarce. Enemies could burst into rooms at any time, and death came quickly. Somehow the game did well enough to warrant a sequel, despite being an online game on the PS2; but the second attempt was even more difficult, with levels that lasted over an hour without real save points. The improvements to the design here were minor at best, making this one maybe the hardest Resident Evil ever.
Like Operation Raccoon City, if it were multiplayer only and developed by what could only be a tiny team treating the project as side work. But its weird hook tool melee and a few earnestly interesting ideas, and some fan service, keep Umbrella Corps from being the worst RE ever. If only just.
Resident Evil Outbreak
The original Outbreak debuted its impossibly unfriendly design: Weapons would run of out ammo, or simply break, after one or two encounters. Sustaining more than a bite from a zombie would effectively start a timer that would spread the virus (unless you had ridiculously rare anti-viral suppressants). The odds were stacked so heavily against you it was a herculean task just to survive a first section in one the very long levels. That said, the original is slightly less obtuse than File #2, so it’s a marginally better experience. You’re probably better off avoiding it.
Resident Evil Survivor
Just after the release of Resident Evil 3, the series saw its first spin-off in Survivor. In Japan this was a light-gun game, compatible with Namco’s deluxe Guncon peripheral that was packed in with Time Crisis; in the West, fearing backlash, the Guncon support was taken out. What’s left is a short, neutered arcade game with no damage differentiation – shooting a zombie in the face is the same as capping it in the leg. It’s a nice try for something different, with an inherent 32-bit charm definitely present in its low-res polygonal modeling, that didn’t quite make up for its shortcomings.
Resident Evil Dead Aim
In 2003, Capcom tried again with a follow-up to Survivor (actually the third installment – the Code Veronica PS2 outing never made it stateside). But unlike the previous two entries, Dead Aim used streamlined third-person movement and design, switching to first-person light-gun action (a good use for your dormant Guncon 2) for combat. The second RE set on an ocean liner, Dead Aim knows full well it’s a side-story, featuring a completely forgettable protagonist, villain, and premise. Another okay experiment for its design, but nothing to really write home about.
Resident Evil Revelations
Revelations is in some ways a hard game to love. Originally released as a back-to-RE4-style adventure for the 3DS, it sees original S.T.A.R.S. members Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield on — you guessed it — an ocean liner where a new bio-threat has reared its mutated head. From a gameplay standpoint, Revelations is damn good, particularly in the proper console ports it eventually received.
The quality of the script, however, is one of the few times where the series’ writing is so piss-poor it actually detracts from the overall experience, as you’re shuffled around from one cast of shallow characters to the next. Not that anyone plays RE for its writing, but you won’t find any of the usual fun schlock here.
Special shout-out to the aforementioned Jessica Sherawat, whose cloying, lusty admiration for the brooding Chris is about as far removed from how humans behave as could be conceived. You’ll want to outright turn the game off whenever she’s present.
Resident Evil (Game Boy)
This one is a little bit of a cheat, because the original port of Resident Evil for the Game Boy Color was never actually released despite being essentially finished. (The game was eventually ported to the original DS with some touchscreen additions, but overall the experience wasn’t much changed from how it appeared on the ps one.) Still, it’s included here for the sheer force of will it took to make this happen. A small British team of developers made a valiant attempt at fully emulating the 3D experience of the original on hardware that couldn’t possibly do so.
Amazingly, if you can get over how clunky the controls, et al. are, it works. Clever fans should be able to find it online without too much trouble, making this forgotten piece of RE’s history definitely worth the emulation, if only to satiate your curiosity.
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles
Aside from the so-called “Gun Survivor” series, Capcom would eventually take advantage of the Wii’s motion controls to make two proper on-rails arcade shooters that took a “Greatest Hits” approach to adapting REs lengthy chronology. Umbrella Chronicles was the first, letting players revisit the Spencer Mansion incident, the Umbrella Training Facility from Resident Evil 0, and parts of Resident Evil 3. For an arcade shooter, Umbrella was pretty fleshed out, and it was given an HD release for PS3 which still holds up pretty well today.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D
Don’t pay any mind to the placement of Mercenaries on this list – it’s a simple progression-based port of the famous minigame from RE4 and RE5 crammed onto a 3DS cart. If you like Mercenaries, it does the job fairly well – much better than the under-powered mobile versions – and that’s all it really needs to do.
Resident Evil Revelations 2
Revelations 2 was a sequel that took the overt action game criticisms of the first installment to heart. Starring an older Claire Redfield and Barry, partnered with Barry’s teenage daughter Moira and a little girl, respectively, Capcom went back to the drawing board a little bit here, crafting a much more horror-oriented take on the RE4 formula that took some inspiration from the stories of Kafka.
Aside from a less obnoxious script, the sequel also added an interesting wrinkle in Moira herself, who can only use a flashlight, adding to the game’s focus on puzzle solving.
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
The success of Umbrella Chronicles made this follow-up a tighter, more expansive arcade sequel, this time with former Raccoon City police officer Leon S. Kennedy recalling the events of Resident Evil 2 and Code: Veronica, the latter of which he wasn’t actually around for. Aside from much-improved visuals and an improved cinematic shaky-cam style that made for more challenging gunplay, Darkside also functions as a prequel story to RE4, with Leon and future Plagas-infectee Jack Krauser investigating a new viral threat in South America. For a spin-off, this is pretty damn good.
Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour
The jury’s still out on what to expect from Resident Evil 7’s finished campaign, but as far as an appetite-whetting tease, Beginning Hour shows some promise. Though Beginning Hour’s combat-less snippet is a lot more inspired by P.T. than Resident Evil proper, the tone of its dilapidated southern house, and the generally palpable silence, make for a fun, fresh short that’ll stand on its own even in the unlikely event RE7 fails. Also, it’s free on PSN.
Resident Evil 6
Resident Evil 6 is absolute madness. An incoherent, over-produced Frankenstein’s monster bloated to bursting by self-importance (spread across four full-length campaigns, no less), it’s as close as the series has ever been to buckling under its own insane expectations. The design here gets downright silly, as jumping from Leon to Chris to Albert Wesker’s son Jake all yield different tones of gameplay. Leon’s plays the closest to traditional action horror, Chris is Call of Duty with an RE skin, while Jake favors hand-to-hand combat while confoundingly employing similar controls as his trigger-happy allies. (Even the convoluted UI changes per story.)
But is it a total disaster? Not quite. RE6 may fail in its attempt to satisfyingly kitchen sink you, but it has the slick feel of a project that was lavished by as many millions as a Japanese developer could possibly muster, as if money can make up for spastic design. Still, if you can get over its Michael Bay sensibilities, there’s a good game somewhere under all the fat. At the very least, RE6 never fails to be outlandishly entertaining.
Resident Evil Code: Veronica X
The first true 3D polygonal entry into the series, Code: Veronica debuted on the Dreamcast to rave reviews in 2000, and many fans still find it’s the best game in the series. The first half of the game definitely provides some of RE’s best moments, with Claire stranded on an abandoned Umbrella-operated training camp; exploring also yields the gothic residence of the twisted Ashford twins, whose grandfather co-founded the villainous pharmaceutical in earlier times.
Then halfway through, the game switches protagonists, with Chris arriving on the island in pursuit of his sister, now forcibly bound for Antarctica. Chris gives chase and eventually arrives at the Umbrella facility here, but the pacing loses steam against the blander setting and generally uninteresting plot developments, particularly in the underused (and newly superpowered) Wesker, presumed dead until now. It’s definitely still worth playing, but there are better RE tales.
Resident Evil 0
This prequel stars S.T.A.R.S. rookie Rebecca Chambers and convict Billy Coen, who find themselves in Umbrella’s creepy training facility — they seem to have a lot of those — located near the Spencer mansion. Initially released in late 2002 as a Gamecube exclusive, 0 is great for the same beautiful attention to detail paid to the Resident Evil remake that hit Nintendo’s purple box earlier that year. 0’s old-school design also expanded on that basic template, adding clever tandem puzzle solving and the ability to switch between Billy and Rebecca on the fly, letting you jump between locations. Luckily Capcom remastered this one early this year; obtuse inventory and silly plot aside, it’s one of RE’s better efforts.
Resident Evil 3
The last proper entry for the original PlayStation, RE3 is best known for the Nemesis, an Umbrella BOW that hounded Jill throughout Raccoon City during the events of Resident Evil 2. Unlike the first sequel, RE3 – subtitled “Last Escape” in Japan – upped the ante by massively multiplying the number of zombies in any given scenario, which would appear in semi-random placements through multiple playthroughs. With the Nemesis a constant threat, and one that would chase you through doors, you could never get too comfortable. The idea was so good they would revisit it in the future.
The one that started it all. When Resident Evil debuted on the original PlayStation, it unleashed a kind of terror previously unheard of in video games. The labyrinthine, trap-filled Spencer Mansion proved a crucible for the hapless, poorly voiced S.T.A.R.S. team, and without the games mashup of survivalist action tenets and – essentially – a blood-tinged point-and-click adventure, survival horror would most likely never have existed. Compared to some of the more sophisticated titles, the original game now feels quaint, but even in its low-res violence and amateur, B-movie feel, there’s still something special.
Resident Evil 5
When Resident Evil 5 was released in 2009, people complained that it was little more than a newer rendition of RE4, with vastly improved visuals and a new African setting for Chris and his partner Sheva to explore in lieu of new gameplay. In retrospect, this is largely missing the point. A 1:1 design comparison doesn’t yield many changes from RE4, it’s true – not that anyone could have been expected to create another revolutionary game in its wake.
Yet RE5’s strengths as an excellent co-op experience and an all encompassing finale of sorts that subtly threads the entire history of Umbrella together right under your nose. It’s incredibly well-executed, and a delight to fans willing to pay attention. While the final boss battle mars this one slightly, everything up to that point is wonderful. If the series had ended there, 5 would be a terrific, highly underrated sendoff.
Resident Evil 4
As noted above, Resident Evil 4 single-handedly changed third-person action games forever. The abject panic of seeing a burlap sack-wearing maniac running at you with a chainsaw for the first time – and, in all likelihood, the subsequently gory death scene as the blade messily tore through Leon’s clavicle and neck – is a memory fans wouldn’t soon forget; trading shuffling undead for intense crowd-control battles with increasingly gruesome enemies was a nothing short of a revelation. (Plus, Leon’s one-liners are killer.)
Resident Evil 2
How might Resident Evil 2, a ps one game, have ended up closer to number one than RE4? Simple: the shift between the original and the second game felt like an even bigger revolution. Eschewing the live-action cutscenes the bookended the original game, RE2 felt like a full-blown Hollywood production, with incredible CG (for the era), more detailed environments showcasing the apocalyptic Raccoon City, vastly improved polygonal work and, probably the most exciting for teenagers everywhere, plentiful gore.
Of course, the design was more sophisticated as well, with two campaigns introducing Leon and Claire to the world that intersected and changed in innovative ways depending on various criteria. Even the animation felt smoother and more responsive, adding an extra layer of playability to what would become a horror icon. Even today, RE2 is an eminently playable classic, and with the full-blown remake on the way, it seems likely Capcom aims to completely shatter expectations all over again.
Resident Evil (2002 Remake)
For every shift or evolution Resident Evil has seen, nothing has compared to when Capcom decided to return to the Spencer Mansion, lovingly rebuilding from the ground up to scare the bejesus out of a new generation of players. This would-be REmake gave the Mansion a gothic touch the developers presumably always envisioned, with flickering candles and ornate furnishings rendered in exquisite, animated detail — a great juxtaposition with the hideously decaying zombies that populated the space.
Aside from expanded grounds, and a pervasive sense of dread, the remake also introduced Crimson Heads, terrifying, Nemesis-style zombies that would chase you throughout the mansion. Crimson Heads could be “made” by not finishing off any normal zombie, either by removing its head or burning its body after killing it, an act which you could only do if you had the proper (finite) resources.
For a series that’s often favored intensity over fear, REmake remains a special time in RE’s history where the standards were flipped. It’s still as nerve-wracking today as it was 14 years ago (and thanks to 2015’s remaster, is more beautiful than ever), and it’s all the better for it. Now and forever, an absolute masterpiece of the genre.