Resident Evil 20 years later: the many faces of Biohazard

Two decades. That’s 20 whole years of hoping this isn’t Chris’ blood. 7240 days of asking whether or not that dude actually just said “Jill sandwich.” 173,760 hours of Albert Wesker insisting on wearing sunglasses at night. You’re almost old enough to buy a bottle of whisky to go with those green herbs, Resident Evil. May you shamble for 20 more.

What’s fascinating about Capcom’s self-described survival horror game that launched a genre is how many different forms it’s taken over the years. Foundational classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Halo: Combat Evolved get remastered and touched up in editions like Super Mario All-Stars and Halo Anniversary, but the first Resident Evil took multiple forms on multiple consoles.

PlayStation - 1996

When people think of Resident Evil, this is the version they think of. There was nothing quite like the first time that CG zombie slowly turned towards the camera in one of the game’s evocative cutscenes. The series’ formula was established here, from the careful item management to the slowly unlocked, puzzlebox environment. While it looks a little shabby even compared to its other PlayStation sequels, its polygonal monsters and pre-rendered backgrounds looked exceptional compared to other 3D console games at the time. The American release was also heavily censored compared to the Japanese Biohazard, from shots of post-zombie snacking bodies to scenes of Chris Redfield smoking.

Windows - 1996

Capcom supported PC versions of its horror games right from the start, but some weird changes made it into the Windows release. All the censored content from Biohazard appeared in the international PC version, but stranger still was the fact that the campy live action intro was in color rather than black and white.

Director’s Cut - PlayStation - 1997

Resident Evil 2 was supposed to come out in 1997, but after series mastermind Shinji Mikami decided it was too similar to the original, the game was handed off to Devil May Cry/Bayonetta director Hideki Kamiya and pushed to 1998. Fans desperate for more survival horror got this remixed version of the original. New costumes for Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield and new background angles like an overhead shot of the Arklay mansion foyer aren’t exactly exciting changes, but the remixed version of the game remixing all of the major items in the game made it worth checking out. The original was included as well, with a brand new easy mode for anyone that never beat what is still a dang hard game.

Sega Saturn - 1997

Poor, poor Sega Saturn. It simply never had a chance. Resident Evil was one of those series that became increasingly associated with the PlayStation in the ‘90s even though it also came out on that machine’s chief rival. Due to the differences between the hardware, Chris and Jill looked markedly different in this version. This is also the origin point for later games’ arcade-style Mercenary mode. The Battle Game minigame let you fight enemies in a series of closed rooms trying to get a high score. That’s something to keep your warm at night, right, Saturn fans?

Dual Shock Version - PlayStation - 1998 

Third time’s the charm! Never shy about re-releasing its games as many times as possible, Capcom put out one more version of the original to coincide with the 1998 release of the PlayStation’s first analog controller, the Dual Shock. This Resident Evil did have one notable addition to the actual game: a fully orchestral soundtrack replacing the synthesized music from earlier versions. It also came with a bonus disc of pre-made save games so you could play in a variety of ways.

Game Boy Color - 1999 (unreleased)

So it could only display 56 colors and 40 sprites on the screen! Who cares? The Game Boy Color was awesome, so why not shove a version of the original Resident Evil on there? Capcom hired the London-based developer Hotgen to make a port, and make it they did, cramming in almost all of the content from the PlayStation version save a few items. They even planned to add new enemies and a quick save function, but Capcom killed the project. Beta versions of the game actually made their way onto the Internet in 2012, so curious fans can play this lost, strange artifact.

"REmake" - Gamecube - 2002

Arguably the pinnacle of classic, puzzle-based survival horror games, the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil is effectively a different game altogether. The mansion remains and the STARS task force from Raccoon City still have to fight zombies there, but the game was expanded dramatically. New areas were added, items were shuffled, and a whole side story involving the ghastly Lisa Trevor transformed the well-trod PlayStation version into something new. Added mechanics actually made the game harder as well. Zombies couldn’t just be shot, they had to be destroyed by stabbing in the head with single-use daggers or burned using a limited supply of oil. If they weren’t properly disposed of, they’d return as sprinting, jagged-toothed Crimson Heads that could kill you even quicker.

Resident Evil: Deadly Silence - Nintendo DS - 2006 

Resident Evil celebrated its tenth anniversary by finally releasing a portable version on a Nintendo handheld. The DS remake includes a touched-up version of the original that incorporated mechanics from sequels like Resident Evil 4’s devoted knife button for slicing up zombies in close encounters. It also had the Rebirth Mode, a remixed version that added in DS hardware-specific puzzles and fights, like first-person Knife Battles where you slash zombies on the touchscreen or blow into the microphone to heal fellow STARS members.

Resident Evil HD - PC/PlayStation 4/Xbox One/PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 - 2015

Thirteen years after it hit Gamecube, Mikami’s glorious remake got a wide release on nearly every contemporary gaming machine with a widescreen, high-definition upgrade to the visuals. While token additions like new costumes for characters don’t distinguish HD too much from the 2002 remake, the new control system certainly does. After two decades, HD finally did away with the awkward tank-style controls and replaced them with full three-dimensional control of the character. More than a cosmetic change, the new control scheme actually speeds up the game, making it easier to avoid enemies and less frustrating to explore cramped environments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I've been playing games since I turned four in 1986, been writing about them since 1987, and writing about them professionally since 2008. My wife and I live in New York City. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game ever made, Hum's Downward is Heavenward is my favorite album, and I regularly find myself singing "You Won't See Me" by The Beatles in awkward situations.
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