Fueling our nightmares since 1996
The Resident Evil series is unarguably a hugely influential series in gaming history. Largely credited with establishing the survival horror template, and creating numerous iconic characters and moments. And that's just installments 1-3. Resi 4 then went on to pretty much establish third person action as we know it. And there's Resident Evil 7 on the way which looks set to start a whole new chapter in first person and VR.
But there have been mixed offerings along the way - between the diminishing returns of the main series lifelessly rehashing number four's template, and a slew of spinoffs building out the timeline and action in all sort of directions.
All in all there are 24 games in the series, which is why we've compiled this list of the 10 best.
10. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles is a wonderfully simplistic side dish of Resi fan service: a light gun shooter originally released for the Wii and later given an HD facelift for the PlayStation 3. The scares aren't that scary and the action's not that intense, but what this game lacks in style it makes up for in substance. We're talking a massive campaign that can easily last you 12 hours or more, plus an extensive gun unlocking and leveling system.
That campaign is a reimagining of the first three Resident Evil games. Think of it as the CliffsNotes' version of Resident Evil: you get to see at the iconic scenes and moments, without the hours of running around looking for hidden keys. Plus, there are a handful of bonus missions that help fill in some lingering plot holes left by the original games. Umbrella Chronicles is Resident Evil comfort food. It's cheap, easy, and once you start you just can't put it down.
9. Resident Evil
Jokes about Resident Evil are still shuffling around almost 20 years later after it arrived. Who wants a Jill sandwich? Master of lockpicking...? and so on. It’s easy to forget the very real, very excellent game beneath. Resi's original and devious puzzlebox mansion still holds up after all this time, a slick series of steep challenges for anyone that can acclimatise to those tank controls.
It's shorter than most of the sequels, but still incredibly dense with some surprisingly innovative ideas for the time - choosing to not help certain characters, or failing to do so in a set amount of time, can totally change the outcome. The original masks all of these choices, though, never telegraphing what you should and shouldn’t do. It encourages replays and patience, milking scares out of quiet hallways and confusion. Plus, there’s a timeless eeriness to it all even now, and that very first zombie you see is still incredibly disconcerting.
8. Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is what Resident Evil 5 should have been: a more tonally consistent follow-up to Resident Evil 4. But, unlike Chris and Sheva's adventures in Africa, here the two-player dynamic doesn't upstage the unsettling atmosphere, nor does it diminish your feelings of vulnerability.
Plus, Revelations 2 introduces Moira Burton, one of the coolest characters in the whole Resident Evil series. She's a wonderfully complex character, at times foul-mouthed and abrasive and at others kind and compassionate. Learning about her troubled relationship with father, Barry ‘Jill Sandwich’ Burton, and seeing her budding friendship with Claire develop makes for a far more engaging backdrop for zombie-killing.
7. Resident Evil 5
Let's be clear: Resident Evil 5 may not be the best Resident Evil game out there, but it is a damn fine action game with lots to enjoy whether you're playing solo or with a friend. The lengthy campaign is well paced with a steady stream of new and challenging enemies throughout, and you're constantly awarded new weapons to bolster your arsenal. And while it does utterly kill the spookiness of the predecessors, the emphasis on gunplay played up a gnawing tension instead.
Why? Well, like 4 before it, RE5 don't let you move while attacking. This drew some criticism at release (feeling a touch outdated at the time) but forcing players to stand ground while firing simultaneously places you in a position of great strength and vulnerability. You need to take shots quickly and carefully so you can start moving again, and avoid the dude with the hatchet rolling up behind you. And that one-two-three rhythm of lining up a shot, popping an enemy's kneecaps, and finishing it off with an uppercut always feels immensely satisfying.
6. Resident Evil Zero HD
Previous Resi games featured multiple characters, but Resident Evil Zero is the first time players can actively switch between them. This means you need to be extra careful about who carries what and how much ammo you split - after all, you're surviving for two now. Puzzles are more complex and brain-teasing (if still illogical and just plain weird), stand-offs are more tense, and these characters are genuinely interesting.
Zero gets a lot of flak for being more of the same. But when "the same" is fabulous environments, tough-as-nails boss battles, and a genuine sense of dread… well that's just fine. Since Zero is a prequel it's able to largely free itself from explaining things. We know Rebecca Chambers will eventually make it out alive but we don't know what she'll have to endure to get there...
5. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Resident Evil 3 revisited Raccoon City for a familiar mix of puzzle solving and urban zombie escapes but threw something new into the mix: Nemesis. One of the most terrifying and relentless stalkers to ever the prowl the gaming landscape.
Knowing this brute could smash through a window at any moment adds another layer of anxiety to an already frightening experience. It haunts you as you scavenge for ammo, or backtrack for that missing piece of a puzzle. It's not a puzzle to be solved, or a challenge to be conquered. It's simply there to terrorize you.
Fleeing with your tail between your legs is always the most sensible option, and the most humbling. When it inevitably comes crashing down upon you, the pace of RE3 changes completely. Slow, careful exploration is replaced with a mad dash to safety, or a desperate fight against overwhelming odds and when the encounter ends, you press on knowing it's not over. It will all happen again.
4. Resident Evil Code: Veronica X
Resident Evil Code: Veronica marked an early start for the series' drift to a more action orientated template. The shift in tone is obvious from the start: Claire Redfield isn't wandering unknowingly into a zombie-infested city, she’s a corporate terrorist, invading the Umbrella Corporation headquarters firing double pistols and doing flips like a pro-grade Matrix cosplayer (hey, it was 2000 after all).
The structure is still classic Resident Evil, though. Claire’s shipped off to an island prison for Umbrella’s private army (and researchers), and she has to hunt for items while exploring its spooky locales. Everything works thanks to excellent pacing and smart environmental design. By the time you take control of Chris - as he and Claire try to escape an arctic base taken over by a tentacle monster - the whole thing has reached a delectably absurd fever-pitch. Not even the appearance of Steve Burnside, gaming’s most famous whiner and '90s Leonardo Dicaprio proxy, could bring it down.
3. Resident Evil 2
We came this close to missing out on Claire and Leon's gruesome journey to the Raccoon City Police Department. A simpler version of Resi sequel- deemed too similar to the original by creator Shinji Mikami - was scrapped, and a young upstart named Hideki Kamiya was tasked with rebuilding Resident Evil 2.
The structure still recalls its predecessor: Leon and Claire must trundle through a mysterious locale overrun with zombies and mutants, just like Jill and Chris did the first time. But Resident Evil 2 is Aliens to Resident Evil's Alien with the Racoon City Police Department and the sewers/secret lab beneath it hiding whole lot more stuff to shoot than the Arklay Mansion.
This is a sequel that adds submachine gun fights against skinless, sharp-tongued freaks to all the inane puzzles in the original. Ammo’s still precious here, but there’s just more opportunity and cause to use it. Kamiya’s penchant for bombast, as embodied in Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, started right here, in a game that lets you trick a giant alligator into chomping on a fire extinguisher so you can blow up its stupid face. It's artfully blended though and the action never overwhelms the atmosphere, a balance the series struggled to get right again.
2. Resident Evil HD
Resident Evil had already been re-released and tweaked multiple times when Shinji Mikami announced that he’d be remaking his original survival horror freak out as a Gamecube exclusive. The game, now affectionately known as REmake, changes a hell of a lot more than a couple of pre-rendered backgrounds (Resident Evil: Director’s Cut) or character models (Resident Evil on Sega Saturn). Massively expanding Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield’s sojourn at Umbrella’s Arklay Mountain mansion, REMake is the evolutionary peak of the classic survival horror recipe of dropping you in a haunted puzzle box and making you hunt for items.
REmake doesn't just rearrange the mansion and shuffle items about. It adds entirely new territories to the map with horrifying new story elements and enemies (like the malformed Lisa Trevor). Even the fundamentals of survival are changed, as zombies can’t simply be killed - burn them, or embed a knife in their head, lest they return as super strong, ultra fast Crimson Heads. The 2015 update - which finally freed the game from Gamecube exclusivity - further enhanced things with refined controls. Pour on the most atmospheric, deliciously wrought pre-rendered backgrounds - turning the mansion from a campy spook house into a nightmare maze of shadows - and you have one of the greatest 'classic survival horror games' ever made.
1. Resident Evil 4
Combining horror with genuinely clever, exhilarating survival combat and coated in an oppressive atmosphere of creeping malice, Resident Evil 4 is a perfectly distilled, flawlessly balanced high-point the series has never bettered.
It continued the series' previous focus on life-or-death evasive play, only rather than wrestling with a few shuffling zombies, it ramps up the tension with vast swathes of just-smart-enough-to-be-deadly enemies, and an endlessly malleable, environmentally focused game of cat and mouse. The new control scheme means that survival now involves maximising every slim opportunity, cleverly controlling space and manipulating the hordes to do maximum damage with minimum risk. Or at least ensure that you always have a clean(ish) line of sight for running away.
And, while you might have a lot of guns and ammo in RE4, you never have any power. It was the dynamic, invigorating semi-reboot the series drastically needed in 2005, but its greatest achievement is in how fresh and vital it still is 11 years later.