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Only three things are certain in life: death, taxes and pointless lists ranking shit for clicks. Welcome back my friends. It’s that time again. With Resident Evil: VIII only a week from release it’s time to look back at the main games in the franchise once again and arbitrarily rank them in order to annoy people with too much time on their hands. Well, not really, the truth is I’ve loved Resident Evil ever since I played the 2002 HD remake of the first game a few years ago. So, I’m no authority on the subject but I am a fan who also happens to be a Gaming editor giving me the power to infuriate Resident Evil 6’s eleven fans.
I’m kidding! Resident Evil 6 has no fans. So from worst to best here’s HeadStuff’s (read: my) ranking of all the main Resident Evil games. On with the list!
Resident Evil 6
Ugh! Where to start? The ludicrous story? Action heavy gameplay? Bad voice acting regardless of the theoretically heavenly talent? OK it’s true that basically every Resident Evil video game has at least two of the above. Resident Evil 6 simply had too much of all of these things. With four intersecting storylines revolving around fan favourites Leon “K-Pop” Kennedy and Chris “The Boulder-Moulder” Redfield as well as Vogue cover model/Chinese super spy Ada Wong and Jake Muller the dull son of series villain Albert Wesker Resident Evil 6 went heavy on international intrigue, zombie terrorism and explosions. A traitorous mind would say that the problems began with Resident Evil 4’s full handbrake turn into action but that just isn’t true.
Resident Evil 6 is kind of like being on a too-long rollercoaster ride. And yes that rollercoaster ride may be on fire and assailed by the living dead from every side but that gets tiring and eventually frustrating the longer you’re on it. What’s worse is doing a loop-the-loop that was breathtaking at first but is just exhausting on the third time. Not to mention everyone on the ride is dumb as rocks and dull as rusted iron. By the end of it you’ll want to throw yourself into the embrace of the closest flaming zombie. Still, at least they kept the wrestling moves in.
Resident Evil 3 (Remake)
I thought there was stuff missing so I played it again. And again. Nope that was all there was. After the lovingly detailed and labyrinthine remake of Resident Evil 2 I was very excited to play Resident Evil 3 after it had been given the same treatment. I had never played either of these games in their original, tank control, fixed camera versions and, lacking the original copies and consoles required, this was the best way to play them. To be clear I think that Resident Evil 3 is a pretty decent action game with some passable boss fights but Resident Evil 4 is a better action game with incredible boss fights and that came out 16 years ago. See the issue?
The Resident Evil games, particularly the more action oriented titles, are fairly linear which is why the first game along with the Resident Evil 2 remake appeal to so many. They’re not open worlds but they don’t hold your hand when it comes to exploration. There’s always a way through a locked door, you just have to find it. Resident Evil 3 barely hints at this satisfying sense of exploration which, along with its short length and cut features from the original, is the reason it disappointed so many.
Resident Evil 5
For what it’s worth the opening to nearly every Resident Evil game is usually pretty good. The cottage siege in 4, the sheer horror of the unknown in the Spencer Mansion and the race against the hordes of Majini in Resident Evil 5. Concerning racial politics aside for just a moment that opening with newly beefed up boy Chris Redfield and his new partner Sheva Alomar is pretty damn good. Faster and more frenetic than even the village battle in 4 the slum shoot out in Resident Evil 5 is a desperate last stand at only the start of the game.
Further Reading | Heart of Darkness: Resident Evil 5 at 10.
Of course once the zombies gangs and that massive executioner are dealt with Resident Evil 5’s quality takes a nose dive. When Chris and Sheva leave the village and mines to head deep into a crocodile infested swamp it becomes clear that the tension of the opening will be not be repeated. Dull, frustrating and over-long the swamp level saps all energy from Resident Evil 5 and no amount of boulder punching or even the return of Jill Valentine AND Albert Wesker can breathe life back into it. With all that said Resident Evil 5 was still pretty goofy and fun in its characterizations, QTEs and story. Shame about the racism.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
A good friend of mine always said that Resident Evil 7 always felt liker one of the odder, outside-the-mainstream Resident Evil titles. Closer to the likes of the Revelations duology or Resident Evil 0 than to an actual numbered entry. After the critical backlash directed at 6 Capcom knew it needed a new direction. Action had its place in the series but this was the granddaddy of survival horror and if Capcom is good at anything it’s remembering the past. So they looked back at what had made the series so popular and took Resident Evil’s isolated setting, the exploration of 2 and 3 and a slowed down version of 4’s combat. All of this was framed in a first-person perspective.
Now the advantage of that viewpoint was the immediacy of it. It proved that combat in games like Outlast or Amnesia was not only possible but fun too. The disadvantage was that player character Ethan Winters was a damp squib. He wasn’t like the beloved uber-menschen that Leon and Chris had become. He was an everyman with enough know-how to use a gun and solve a puzzle. He was also very boring with seemingly no interior or exterior life other than loving his equally boring wife. Still, that opening may be the best one of any Resident Evil game and the boss battles are some of the most frightening and tense this side of Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 2 (Remake)
Just for the people in the back no I never got to play RE 2 in it’s original form. Regardless its 2019 remake is pretty much universally beloved. Dumb as he may be Leon’s a pretty loveable guy whether he’s in rookie cop mode or emo band member mode. Still much like the first game it’s the women that take charge here. The majority of the main cast from Claire Redfield to Sherry Birkin to Ada Wong are women and compared to the men of the game, Leon aside, are a lot more resourceful and interesting. As Jean Luc-Godard said “All you need for a survival horror game is a plucky college student, a grenade launcher and a precocious little girl in need of rescue”.
Resident Evil 2 brought the satisfaction that came with exploring every inch of a space into the 21st Century. With a setting just as iconic as the Spencer Mansion the Raccoon City Police station was a joy to explore regardless of allthe Lickers, zombies and sewer worms the game threw at you. It’s crowning achievement was the Tyrant. A grey-skinned mutant decked out in a black leather trench coat and fedora, looking for all the world like he’d stumbled out of the back row of a Tool gig, this new version of the Tyrant known as Mr X stalked the halls of the station, hunting Leon, Claire and Ada wherever they went. Although you could predict some of his movements by tracking the thudding footsteps it was always a shock to open a door and find it filled by his expressionless, deathly grey face.
Resident Evil 4
Something happened between the original Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4. Leon Kennedy, former rookie cop and full-time Ada Wong simp, grew up or at least he did his version of growing up. Dressed in a sweet new Rugby Dad jacket, an unusually high-necked t-shirt and boot cut jeans and sporting an emo Backstreet Boy haircut that said “Here I am world, not that I ever wanted to be here or anything”. But like everything else in Resident Evil 4 the redesign fucking worked. Gone were the fixed camera angles replaced with an over-the-shoulder, warzone documentary style. Ditto the well-loved tank controls. Leon still moved fairly slow in comparison to characters in literally any other genre but at least now he wasn’t in any danger of walking into an unseen wall.
Sent to Spain to rescue the US President’s daughter – because we all love a Time Crisis plot don’t we boys and girls? – Leon finds himself battling an evil cult seeking to infect the world with a parasite called Las Plagas. The move from a virus to a parasite sealed the deal. This was a whole new Resident Evil complete with more intelligent enemies, the biggest bosses yet and more diverse puzzles. Even if everything that sought to replicate its success afterwards felt like a pale imitation we’ll always have zombie suplexes, weird knife fights and monster fish as fond memories.
This list could have only ended one way. You knew it, I knew it, so it’s on you if you’re surprised I’m putting the best survival horror ever made at the number one spot. Main characters Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine looked and felt vulnerable. Every unlocked door, solved puzzle and popped zombie skull was satisfying in its own unique way. The story was far-fetched sure but it felt intimate and grounded in a way that none of the sequels ever quite captured again. Though the enemies were often mindless zombies or horribly mutated animals there was a quiet tragedy to some, like Lisa, learned through journal entries and lab reports. But more than story and gameplay Resident Evil offered something a great many people find in horror: escape.
Ironic enough considering you’re trapped in a mansion whose halls are stalked by the living dead. But in between the combat there’s a calmness to Resident Evil where the only sounds are the occasional roll of thunder, frequent piano melodies and your own footsteps. It’s why I find myself coming back to Resident Evil more than all the others. I know the halls and secrets of that house on the slopes of the Arklay Mountains like the back of my hand. And sure a dog bursting through a window or running from a forty foot shark might briefly disturb my peace but I appreciate the calm more after I’ve dealt with whatever’s disrupted it. That’s Resident Evil to me. It’s more than a game, it’s home in it’s own way.