I have an inkling that Resident Evil 2 may have been the first game I ever preordered. Sure I’d looked forward to games before – even pored over every detail in catalogues before release – but Resident Evil was my first foray into the sort of bona fide fandom where I cared about the characters on the screen so much I would lay down a few bucks in advance to see it continue. So where Capcom – and its shambling horde – went I would follow.
And despite various trajectory changes I was right up there along for the ride. While there is no doubt in my mind that Resident Evil 2 is where the series hit its peak, I’ve found something to love in every entry, and from the Nemesis of RE3 to Terragrigia of RE:Revelations I’d be there playing along with rabid fervour.
That was until Resident Evil 6 came along, which between releasing right around the time of my XCOM fixation and the horribly negative reception it received at release, couldn’t manage to compel me enough to commit to playing it. So there it sat neglected on my shelf for almost half a decade as the only Resident Evil game I’d not played since 1996. It seemed I’d fallen out of love with the series I’d loved so much for so long.
Capcom’s rediscovered love for Resident Evil with its remastering of the last three numbered games – on its 20th Anniversary no less – has presented the perfect opportunity to rekindle my not-dead-just-sleeping love for the series. And while starting with Resident Evil 6 seems a completely non-sensical place to start, for me it was picking up right where i left off in the hope that I’d spark something magical in my brain.
And wow did it do just that. The impossible situations, the ridiculous over-the top mutations (I think the Tyrannosaurus Rex mutation is my favourite thing in the series, ever), the rambunctious dialogue; the memories quickly came flooding back of the many joyous hours I’d had with the series. It may have started as a quaint little survival horror game, but regardless of how over-the-top Resident Evil 6 is, it is still chock-bloody-full of those oh-so-sweet ingredients.
But – and I’m happy to have shit smeared in my face for this – its the characters that made me crack a fat for the series. And Resident Evil 6 is filled to the brim with not-so-minor cameos from the pantheon of the scarily incestuous and intertwined Resident Evil universe. Chris, Leon, Jill, Claire, Barry, Albert : they’re the fabric that holds the universe together. Don’t even get me started on how excited I was the moment a now-very-much-adult Sherry Birkin appeared.
In the years Between 1998 when the first Resident Evil is set and its fifth sequel’s 2012 setting there is a recurring theme of unlikely reunions. How Chris and Leon manage to both be after Ada Wong in Resident Evil 6 is beyond any sort of reasonable logic. And how Ada Wong continues to cross paths with Leon is ridiculous in its probability that they both should buy lottery tickets. And then there’s the brilliant way in which the most super of super villains, Albert Wesker, manages to somehow find his way into masterminding these ridiculous plots up until his timely death. Even his son Jake manages to get in on the action as a main playable character.
Resident Evil may be a slave to its own characters and lore, but what it does with it all never feels like it’s just running on the fumes of what equates to official fan fiction. It’s silly, absolutely, but it feels like the writers of the games are absolutely self-aware about just how much it feels like a ridiculously violent soap opera at times. I’m sure the guys in charge of the series know the sort of reverence fans have for its characters, and viewed through that lens, each and every game feels like a vessel to deliver cool and pulpy stories for them to star in. Take the guns and ultra-violence away and it’s basically Neighbours and Albert Wesker is Paul Robinson.
So after years of playing Resident Evil it’s impossible to come to any conclusion on the series other than “it is what it is”. I’ve never asked Capcom to explain its art to me and nor should they have to. But years later I find myself with a new found respect for the decisively action-heavy turn the series took after Resident Evil 4. For starters it makes sense that what starts as an isolated incident turns into a catastrophe over time when not contained. But when you look it as a character-driven serial it becomes clear that the package the action comes in matters diddly to the overall experience. Resident Evil was the first game I played where I cared about the plight of the characters; and that’s a legacy worth celebrating.