What Lurks Beneath the Mansion: Celebrating Resident Evil
In 1996, survival horror existed, but it wasn’t exactly widely known that way. Games like Clock Tower, Alone in the Dark, and numerous other takes on the horror genre existed, but even the best-selling games of the type enjoyed a moderate to cult following. Capcom wanted something greater. The company wanted to reinvent the wheel in a way that would appeal broadly to horror fans everywhere. Little did they know how big they were about to hit it. Originally released and known in Japan as Bio Hazard, Resident Evil would hit shelves and turn heads around the world, single-handedly becoming arguably one of the first survival horror blockbusters and creating a franchise that now spans decades.
When development for Resident Evil began, it was originally meant to be a then-modern remake of another classic Capcom game: Sweet Home. Sweet Home was a survival role-playing game that took place in a mansion and used the concept of collecting items from around the house to proceed as well as giving each party member a special item only they could use. These concepts would make it through to the final cut of Resident Evil with the broken down mansion setting, as well as the main characters’, Chris and Jill, lighter and lock picks respectively.
Throughout its early development cycle, Resident Evil was originally conceptualized as a first-person shooter, but the idea didn’t lend itself well to the desired theme and feel for the game. This idea was scrapped and the developers looked to another popular horror game, Alone in the Dark, for inspiration. The tank controls, firing mechanisms and third-person fixed camera angles were adapted into the stylings for Resident Evil and the game moved more towards the way we would come to know it for the first 4 entries of the series.
When Resident Evil was released in 1996, the world had never seen anything quite like it. The production values were amazing for a video game at the time, blending live-action vignettes with cinematic CG cutscenes, as well as bringing about a truly atmospheric experience in-game bursting with scares and blood. The creative mutations and monsters of the game were brought to life in a way that truly brought chills to first time players. Just as well, much of the original content (especially those live-action sequences) may be laughably dated, but it’s hard not to feel a bit nostalgic for that ridiculously cheesy B-movie dialogue. Jill sandwich anyone?
Regardless of its aged quality, the game sold quite well. In fact, in a 1997 issue of GamePro Magazine, Resident Evil was said to be the top-selling PlayStation video game well into that year and leading up to the release of its forthcoming sequel, Resident Evil 2. According to Capcom, the original PlayStation, Dual Shock version and GameCube remake of the game have moved a combined total of over 11 million units since 2013. In addition, Capcom announced that the HD Remaster of the GameCube version released in 2015 has moved over one million units as well, as reported by Game Informer.
Resident Evil spawned a ridiculously popular franchise that has seen numerous sequels, spinoffs, novelizations, comic books, and movies across the world. The franchise may not have invented survival horror, but it made the term commonplace in the video game industry and became synonymous with it. It has seen its shares of ups and downs, especially in terms of transitioning to more action-oriented entries on several occasions in core sequels and spinoffs, but it nonetheless remains the one of the most textbook examples of the survival horror video game, able to draw a crowd like the masses of living dead contained within each entry of the game.