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Ranking and Revisiting Resident Evil
Writing my fourth book on horror gave me the chance to revisit the entire Resident Evil franchise, and in today's post, I wanted to try and rank them in terms of horror design.
February 26, 2021
22 Min Read
For my upcoming fourth book on horror design, I went and revisited some of the most well-known (and not so known) examples of horror on the market. I had the chance to go through and not only replay all the Resident Evil games in my collection but visit the ones I haven’t played before. With RE 5 in the books, I can now say that I’ve played every main game entry and almost every spin-off. With that time spent, I wanted to share my thoughts on how I would rank them and why.
The Review Process
We’re going to be focusing on the franchise starting in 2000 and their appearance on consoles outside of the PlayStation 1 and working with the single player driven spinoffs. I have not played the Darkside Chronicles, Dead Aim, Operation Raccoon City, Umbrella Corp, or Resident Evil Gaiden, and will not be ranking them.
The reason why I’m not going to be spending a lot of time on the original three is that I feel rating them next to the more evolved examples wouldn’t be fair and confuse the list. However, for those that are wondering, I would rate them quickly as so:
Resident Evil 2—Having the biggest story and reasons to replay with both Leon and Claire’s different stories and the introduction of the alpha antagonist with Mr.
Resident Evil 3 Nemesis—Adding new elements to the formula with the quick dodge, Nemesis being part of the main story, and having an open-ended element to it with exploring the city. Bonus points for also being the first game with “The Mercenaries” mini game.
Resident Evil—Simply being the oldest and the foundation for the other two games.
In terms of ranking these games, I’m going to focus on the general gameplay, how well the design holds up, and if the game keeps with the tone and aesthetic of the Resident Evil franchise. With that said, even the bottom tier games I wouldn’t call them outright “bad”, but they did miss the point of being a Resident Evil title in some form.
11. Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil 5 earned a lot of disapproval at launch for doubling down on the action-horror design of RE 4, and its depiction of Africa. Unlike the previous game that played things a little loose in terms of where the game took place, the enemies in RE 5 are most certainly Africans. The back-half of the game is just killing waves of tribal men who wear masks and throw spears at you.
From a gameplay perspective, you can tell that Capcom was trying something new and didn’t have all the kinks worked out yet. Having a partner who also shares all ammo and item drops with proved to be very cumbersome. Without having a coop friend, the AI doesn’t seem to use grenades and is not really equipped to handle advanced challenges. If we didn’t use a fan patch to get things working on the PC version, I don’t think it would be possible to casually play the game on veteran difficulty solo.
Speaking of the game throws so many more enemies at the player as a way of compensating for having two people, but you’re still using the slower-paced controls of RE 4. I will say two nice things about RE 5. Having the slower control scheme made combat a lot more interesting, and I liked how my friend and I got into back-to-back standoffs with different groups of enemies. From a narrative standpoint, it was good that the game continued the overall story of the games and catching up with Chris, Jill, and of course Wesker. With that said, I would like to make a vote for Ludwig being the worse RE antagonist, which if you played the game, you know why.
The greatest moment in all of videogame history
One aspect that slightly redeems RE5 is the Lost in Nightmares DLC. In a better timeline, we would have gotten a full Resident Evil game similar to this: It’s slower-paced, more about exploration, and using coop to fight the monsters. It’s a shame that it was so short, as it was to me, the most enjoyable part of the game.
Resident Evil 5 is at the bottom of the list as the gameplay just doesn’t work without having a coop partner, compared to the later entries that the AI could at least help out. Every Uroboros fight except for 6–2 was a colossal pain, and I couldn’t imagine doing them casually by yourself. Not only that, but the coop design was handled better in RE 6, despite that game having a weaker story. Too many enemies are thrown at you that it would be impossible for one person to fight them confidently without already knowing the game inside out. A final point on RE5, this game may have some of the worse QTE sections I think I’ve ever seen in a game and proof positive why that design was phased out over the past decade.
10. Resident Evil 0
It’s strange looking at some of the older RE games in light of where the series would end up. Resident Evil 0 would be the first time that Capcom experimented with having multiple characters at the same time, something that from RE5—on would become the standard design. Resident Evil 0’s issue for me is that it’s just a forgettable game. The story has no stakes to it, nor does it introduce anything major outside of the dual-player system which in itself was more annoying than innovative. The problem is that controlling two characters and having to pass inventory items and resources around was cumbersome; a lesson we also saw in RE 5. The general survival horror side does work better than the previous games and why it ranks higher.
Unnecessary slow mo for an unnecessary game
The problem is that Billy and Rebecca don’t offer any real difference in terms of gameplay other than who is used for what in terms of puzzle-solving and being separated due to the plot. When we come to Resident Evil Revelations 2, that game shows a far better model of controlling two characters and making them legitimately different. What drops the game down to the bottom of the list is that the developers have a tendency of throwing boss fights and situations where the two are forced to split up. It’s very easy playing this game casually to enter a soft lock situation where you can’t proceed because the character you’re using doesn’t have the weapons you need.
The biggest shame I feel is that if this game had a true two-player coop system or came out a few years later when online play was possible, the idea of playing a coop survival horror Resident Evil game would have been amazing beyond the Outbreak series.
9. Resident Evil Revelations
Resident Evil Revelations like RE 5 is a game where the developers were still messing around with a new formula and didn’t quite get there. Having to work around the limitations of the 3DS and the episodic nature of the game meant that things had to be sacrificed. In a compromise compared to previous titles, while you still always had a partner with you, they were immortal and could be used as a distraction from the enemies.
If I had to see it, you have to see it
Story-wise, the game’s tone feels more like a rip-off of a 24 clone, with multiple flashbacks, betrayals, and characters that just distracted from the main plot aboard the Zenobia. As a setting, a massive ship will all the crazy designs of past games was great, but I don’t feel the game made the best use of it. The T-abyss stricken enemies are some of the most annoying in the series thanks to having little reaction to your attacks. Tying “dodge” to just pressing in a direction at a time was unreliable for me on PC. With all that said, I did like the weapon parts for upgrading your weapons, and this game did introduce the Raid mode that would be expanded on in the sequel.
Just like RE5, you can see the foundation of a good game that would be expanded on with the next entry in the series. And if I can vote Ludwig as the worst antagonist, I would like to vote Jessica as the worst protagonist in the series and winner of the “most impractical scuba suit” award.
8. Resident Evil 3 Remake
The first of the contemporary games to make the list, and not in the best rank. When I did my review of Resident Evil 2 remake, I warned that Capcom had better avoid the temptation to just remake the games in that style, and to do something legitimately different. With RE3R, we ended up with what could have happened to RE2R: a remake that removes the charm and greatness of the original and ends up being worse for it.
To be fair to Jill, I’ll at least show her at her best
So many of the problems with the remake stem from failing to learn anything about what worked and didn’t work from RE2R. The game is shorter, far less memorable, and cut major areas out of the original. The first RE3 was great for providing the most nonlinear game space in the series at the time. This one relegates it to only the first quarter and was far shorter. The very fact that Nemesis was downgraded so much compared to the original and Mr. X of RE2R was a failure by the developers. The game feels like a tale of two titles: the first quarter being the closest to the original in terms of space and threat levels, and then going downhill after the train ride.
Everything about RE3R feels less than its predecessors: Fewer areas to explore, less bonus content, no Mercenaries minigame. There was so much more potential here as this was Capcom working with a proven and successful concept after RE2R. As the saying goes, it’s better to under promise and over-deliver than the opposite. No one expected RE2R to succeed so well, and if RE3 truly got a similar treatment, it could have ranked so much higher.
7. Resident Evil 6
Our next two games are somewhat special for this list, as they represent kind of the final branches of their style of gameplay. Resident Evil 6 is the game that unceremoniously ended the mainline RE franchise for five years. I didn’t play it at the time of release as I heard nothing but bad about it, and just experienced it for the first time in early 2021.
What I found is a game whose mechanics certainly work, but the story and structure are just not a Resident Evil experience. Mechanically speaking, the game is miles above RE 5, the fact that QTEs could be turned off, for the most part, was a real help, and ammo being instanced instead of shared made coop play a lot smoother. However, the more action-structured gameplay kind of robs the game of that same sense of having to team up to fight enemies.
I don’t remember suplexing zombies as part of the survival horror manual
If RE 6 was just a little closer to RE5, I think it would have been viewed more favorably by fans.
There are some good elements to it that earned it this spot on the list. The sheer size and scope I think ultimately worked in the game’s favor. If you can get a friend to play it with you, there is a lot of game here, more so than any other title on this list: four full campaigns and the mercenaries mode. I have to say I had a lot of fun mowing down enemies, performing suplexes, and diving away from enemies, but that’s not really survival horror or action-horror design. Playing this solo, the AI is serviceable, but once again, this is meant for coop.
After playing both RE 5 and RE 6, I’m reminded of how the original format for RE4 was far more action-focused, which director Shinji Mikami felt went too far, apparently Capcom forgot those lessons and I wonder if that’s what drove him to leave the company.
#6. Resident Evil Code Veronica
Resident Evil 6 showed us how far the series could go structurally with action gameplay, and technically Resident Evil Code Veronica would be the final original game, chronologically speaking in terms of story, to represent the survival horror side. Returning to this one after so long was such a mind flip and having to deal with tank controls once again.
Not a bad RE game, just more on the dated side
RECV is an interesting game looked at through the lens of where the series ended up going. The level design was more varied and featured larger areas for the player to explore. The introduction of new weapons, including those that took up multiple slots was interesting, but not overpowered as what we would see in later games.
The game occupies a place in the timeline as the goofiness and writing was still part of the charm, especially some of the line readings in it.
I feel that ultimately, you could tell that things were starting to fall into a rut. There are only so many ways to use the original formula before it feels like you’re just doing the same thing again and again. The puzzle design was interesting for the time, but the pacing felt off. There’s one part in the first area where you need to run all the way to a castle, simply to get a key to then run all the way back down to the area where it’s used for.
With that said, I do think the gameplay holds up, while it may not be the best example of it, this is just classic RE but on a more powerful platform compared to the original PlayStation.
5. Resident Evil 7
We’re in the top five now and we’re at the game that essentially saved the entire franchise. Resident Evil 7 is a title that I honestly can’t believe we actually got. It’s funny to think now, as the world is in “giant lady vampire fever” over Village, but four years ago no one really cared about a new RE. When I first heard that Capcom was going back to the franchise, I just thought we were either going to get another military shooter or a copy-pasted clone of Outlast or PT.
In some brilliant marketing on Capcom’s part, the multi-updated demo was an amazing way to show off the new engine, tone, and get people talking about it. Structurally speaking, going into the game blind was some of the best survival horror I had seen all decade. Throwing away all the confusing lore, rock punching, and gunplay to start over fresh worked. For the first time in the entire series, we had some of the best antagonists with the Baker family, and I would honestly argue they were the best villains of any RE game to date. Exploring the estate was one of the best uses of environmental storytelling.
Still one of the best intros to a horror game
I felt that the developers achieved a good balance in terms of combat compared to the survival and action horror design of previous entries. Ethan was far more capable compared to previous games, but not so overpowered as 4–6 or other action-horror series. The risk/reward of timing blocks to avoid damage was a nice reward for expert play. I’m also a huge fan of “madhouse” difficulty and how it completely restructured the item placements and pathing through; something that should be a consideration for future RE games.
Despite my praise, and deservedly earned of RE 7, I don’t think the game ended as well as it started. If RE 7 would have ended at the final Jack fight or shortly thereafter, it could have ranked in the top three RE games easily. The final half from the ship onward was such a tonal whiplash that it hurt the game for me. The reintroduction of the RE lore in my opinion holds the game back from being its own thing, and now makes me really curious about how all this is going to be explained in Village. Still, this is the game I feel has redeemed Capcom in the eyes of a lot of fans and earns the accolade of reviving AAA survival horror for a new generation.
4. Resident Evil Revelations 2
I am honestly surprised with how much I enjoyed Resident Evil Revelations 2, not just compared to the first one, but its design from start to finish. Of all the RE games I’ve played, this one comes the closest to nailing the idea of coop survival horror. Both teams are asymmetrically designed, allowing for some interesting pairings and gameplay. Unlike the previous spinoffs and RE 4–6, this one was far slower paced to the game’s benefit. It’s still combat-focused, but the game doesn’t reach the same levels of combat compared to the earlier titles.
Certainly not the best in terms of survival horror, but Revelations 2 was good take on the formula during the low points of the franchise
For me, the raid mode takes the cake as the best minigame option I’ve played in a RE game, beating the mercenaries. The coop play combined with the long-term persistence and progression sealed the deal for me. As I said in another piece, the mode was expanded so far that I wondered why Capcom just didn’t turn it into a standalone game. While the story is just okay, and the gunplay is nothing new, Revelations 2 was a great reminder of where the series came from. Further up I talked about the lost in nightmares DLC for RE 5, and Revelations 2 is the closest the series has come to date of releasing a game like that design.
What keeps it from going higher is that Capcom really messed up with not providing better online functionality for the campaign. If I could have played it with a friend like it was intended, I think it could have pushed into the top three.
3. Resident Evil 2 Remake
Everything that RER3 did wrong, RER2 did right, so much so, that it became a gold standard of remakes. Just like RE7, no one was particularly excited when it was announced that instead of getting a continuation, that Capcom decided to work on remaking one of the best games in the series. Many feared that the remake would turn out like RE 4–6, and Capcom was just repeating the same mistakes.
Instead, what we got wasn’t RE 2 with a new coat of paint, but a redesign of RE 2 for the modern audience. The game hit all the same notes as the original but played with the over-the-shoulder camera and made use of the RE engine. The RE engine in itself is perhaps one of the best aspects of this revival of Resident Evil as a franchise. It allows for some amazing environmental design and detail, and the additions in the remake pushed it over the edge.
For the first time in over a decade, zombies were once again a credible threat. The new aiming system that required players to hold their shots until they can get a strong hit added to the tension. Zombies were durable, moved inconsistently at the player, and were a lot harder to tell when a corpse was really a corpse. But the biggest improvement was that zombies could actually move between rooms and were no longer just confined to their respective areas. This fact alone changed everything about how someone treated zombies as you couldn’t rely on them staying still anymore. The boss fights were all redesigned to allow observant players opportunities for more damage and made the bosses less of a bullet sponge.
X gave us one of the best Resident Evil games
Of course, another reason for how great it was is reintroducing Mr. X to new and old fans. Capcoms’ design of Mr. X fit the game perfectly, and in retrospect, makes RE3R worse. As I said further up, everything that RE2R did right, RE3R did wrong. This is how you want to remake a classic. With that said, what keeps it from the top two isthat just like RE 7 I don’t feel that the game ends as well as it starts, with later enemies and situations that proved a little frustrating if you weren’t prepared for them. You can see the seams in a manner of speaking with how trigger event-focused the scares and surprises were. In the last section I mentioned the raid mode in Revelations 2, and I think that design with RE2R’s combat system could be an amazing title.
2. Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 may have been the game that set the series down the path of almost destroying it, but this is still one of the best games of the 2000s and easily one of the best games of all time. To go from the original style to this, where no one else was even thinking about designing games in this way, is still incredible to think about. I can’t think of any other major franchise that completely redid its design for a main entry like RE 4. Now that I’m talking about RE 4, it makes me think more about RE 5 and RE 6 and why they don’t hold up as well.
No matter what came after, still one of the most iconic games of the 2000s
Coop design, either action or survival horror-based, is a great system, but the technology wasn’t there yet. The industry as a whole didn’t hit the point of online multiplayer saturation until the mid-2010s. Trying to jumpstart it with the other two titles, and building everything around that, hurt those games as a whole. I know that because Revelations 2 came out in 2015, and that was a better-balanced title but still not perfect.
Despite all the chaos of designing and redesigning RE 4, it still holds up to this day thanks to the fact that it was meant to be experienced by one person. Enemy encounters were kept in line by that constraint. There are just so many “firsts” in RE 4 that we never saw before: The village fight, regenerators, el Gigante, even the QTE fight with Krauser. While the push towards action-horror became a series negative, it worked here given the overall vulnerability of Leon. You couldn’t dodge roll out of the way, and careful positioning was just as important as good aiming. So much about modern third-person gameplay was built from the foundation of RE 4.
The only reason why it’s not number one is that there’s one game that represents Resident Evil the very best.
1.Resident Evil 1 Remake
If RER2 is the gold standard of remakes today, then RE1R was the previous, and I would argue in some ways, the better remake. When it comes to striking that right tone of survival horror, RE1R is one of the best of the entire genre. The original game was a classic, and the developers were able to make it better to the point that I would consider this the definitive version.
First, there was a complete redesign of the entire mansion and its surrounding areas. Items and resources were moved around, the path through the game changed, and puzzles were redesigned, and new ones were added in. The differences between Chris and Jill’s campaign were further refined: making the game truly feel like two different playthroughs. I can’t think of anything that was in the original game that was completely cut in the remake.
RER1 is noticeably tougher thanks to the inclusion of one of the best enemies in the entire franchise: crimson head zombies. The crimson heads only showed up the remake and were designed to force the player to weigh the costs of killing zombies at the start. Any zombie killed without burning it or decapitating it would come back as a stronger version. The first quarter of RER1 is one of the hardest in the entire franchise because of that very fact.
And Wesker ends our list
I feel that RER1 is a more complete remake compared to RER2 due to how content was handled. With RER2, there are complete sections and puzzles ripped out of the game in favor of making it more aligned with modern games. The puzzle design was the weakest aspect of RER2, and this would have been a great place for the developers to experiment with new designs. The two original enemies: G Type monsters and plant creatures, were great designs, but only showed up in a few areas.
What makes RER1 the top of my list was the developers’ intent of not only making the best possible version of the original game but exceeding expectations. A lesser example would be something like what happened with RER3, or just releasing the same exact game with better graphics. I should also mention that the remake featured better controls taking use of the analog stick but allowing people to play with the tank-controls if they wanted to.
And that’s that, I hope everyone enjoyed this walk down horror lane.
Game Design Deep Dive Horror will be out sometime late 2021/early 2022, and my third book Game Design Deep Dive Roguelikes is now available for preorder.
If you enjoyed my post, consider joining the Game-Wisdom discord channel open to everyone.
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About the Author(s)
For more than seven years, I have been researching and contributing to the field of game design. These contributions range from QA for professional game productions to writing articles for sites like Gamasutra and Quarter To Three.
With my site Game-Wisdom our goal is to create a centralized source of critical thinking about the game industry for everyone from enthusiasts, game makers and casual fans; to examine the art and science of games. I also do video plays and analysis on my Youtube channel. I have interviewed over 500 members of the game industry around the world, and I'm a two-time author on game design with "20 Essential Games to Study" and "Game Design Deep Dive Platformers."
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