It’s one of those moments that pings across the collective memory of a generation of gamers. You’re one of a team of federal agents investigating a mysterious zombie outbreak in the sleepy town of Raccoon City. The mansion you’ve holed up in for the night feels off; danger hangs in the air like cheap cologne. Steered to walk down a dark hallway by your commanding officer, you see it before you hear it. A wet, pulpy noise that repeats cyclically, interspersed with, what is that, growling? Turn the corner and there it is: A rotting, wild-eyed zombie. And not only do you see it, it sees you. Quick, fumble through your weapons! Kill it before it gets too close. No, no, it… it’s grabbed you and–ohmyGod–it’s biting you!
That was “Resident Evil” on the first PlayStation and, if you played this game back then, you surely screamed or jumped or dropped your controller. To some extent, the dozens of mobile and console games that have followed all try to replicate that first primal scare and succeed to varying degrees. Nevertheless, the “RE” games keep chugging.
Known by the “Biohazard” name in its native Japan, “Resident Evil” debuted all over the world at various dates in 1996. (The U.S. date was March 30th.) Aside from the gore and zombies, the key feature of the games was how little resources you were given to survive the horror unfolding around you. Every bullet and healing herb was precious and how you played the game could make things infinitely harder, sending you right back to beginning to try and get a better result.
Of course, “Resident Evil” exists as more than just a popular game series. It’s also spawned a successful film franchise that’s gleefully B-movie in its over-the-top casting, set design and execution. Like the games whence they sprang, the Milla Jojovich films don’t need to make sense; they just need to deliver impulses to your brain. Which they do.
So, 15 years after the game that intentionally skimped on resources to keep you alive, even more titles in the franchise are on the horizon. “Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D” brings the characters from popular installment “RE5” to Nintendo’s just-launched 3DS handheld. Meanwhile, the forthcoming “Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” takes players back where it all started, supposedly offering four-person co-operative play to survive in the blighted burg this time.
We’re likely to get even more “Resident Evil” games in the future. Here’s hoping they keep scaring the bejesus out of another generation of gamers.