What is the best Resident Evil game?
For a series so beloved, the core titles in Capcom’s survival horror series vary wildly in quality. With the Resident Evil 2 Remake set for release in January and looking really impressive, it's time to look back at the main, numbered Resident Evil games and work out which ones are still worth your time.
Here are the core Resident Evil games, ranked from worst to best.
Resident Evil 6
An absolute mess of a game. Three separate campaigns and barely a single good idea between them, it’s bloated, far too long, and far too focused on action. Resident Evil 6 is not a survival horror game - it’s a game suffering from a serious identity crisis, resulting in this mismatch of styles.
First, the good - what little of it there is. Leon Kennedy’s campaign is alright: a nighttime jaunt through a city full of the undead, this comes the closest to capturing the essence of survival horror and the pacing of Resident Evil 4.
Human bicep Chris Redfield and Jake Muller, son of series antagonist Albert Wesker, have much more action-focused campaigns, however. Chris regularly finds himself tucked up behind cover like Marcus Fenix, while Jake runs around battering folk. Leon’s German Suplex in Resident Evil 4 was an occasional delight, busted out on a wounded enemy for a spectacular kill, but Jake can pull off this sort of thing with reckless abandon. The tension is gone and I’m blaming the movies.
The thing is, while it might not be survival horror, this isn’t exactly a stellar action game, either. The controls, especially in the more action-led campaigns, are rough as hell, seemingly trapped between wanting to be a shooter but also wanting to retain the stop/start combat of the previous two games. It doesn’t commit to either and what they’ve ended up with doesn’t feel good at all.
Resident Evil 6 is proof that bigger doesn’t mean better.
Resident Evil 5
So, a bit of history. Resident Evil 4 not only redefined the Resident Evil series, it also redefined the action game genre. In the years following, the third-person, over-the-shoulder shooter was commonplace, with Gears of War leading the charge. Enter Resident Evil 5, a game that takes inspiration from the genre its predecessor inspired and, in doing so, ended up being pretty uninspiring itself.
A fully co-op campaign was a new introduction, puzzles were reduced, and occasional horde battles took their place. In an attempt to appeal to this new, massive audience who wanted more Gears of War, Resident Evil began to lose sight of what made it so special, a mere one game removed from its great reinvention.
Still, Resident Evil 5 can be a fun co-op action game. Played on your own, there are plenty of frustrating sections where you’re split from your AI partner and are left waiting on them. But with a pal, these moments are frantic scrambles as you try figure out how to get back to one another. It was so clearly designed with two players in mind, it almost seems daft to play it in any other way.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Capcom tends to settle when it finds a formula that works, running it into the ground before moving on. Each following installment adds new ideas, at the same time moving away from what made the formula work in the first place.
Code Veronica is the weakest of the classic, fixed camera Resident Evil games, largely because of three things. First of all, this is the point in the series where things started to go a bit stale. It’s far from a bad game, but you know exactly what you’re getting. The jump to full 3D backgrounds instead of the traditional pre-rendered ones seemed like a big deal at the time, allowing for more dynamic camera work. The thing is, it just didn’t look anywhere near as good.
Secondly, it is possible to get into a position where it is near impossible to continue, especially if you’re not staggering saves - and if you are, you can find yourself having to replay some lengthy sections because you didn’t leave a character with enough ammo or weapons to beat a boss. Thirdly, Steve bloody Burnside. One of the worst sidekicks in a series that has its fair share of crap characters, he follows Claire about looking like the bastard son of Edward Furlong and his ginger mate in Terminator 2.
It also marked the return of Albert Wesker. Seemingly offed by a Tyrant monster during the first game, he returns as an evil Neo from the Matrix, cutting about with super powers. This moment heralds the dawning of the series’ overarching plot jumping the zombified shark - as improbable as that seems in a series where you fight a giant crocodile. Again, Code Veronica isn’t a bad Resident Evil game, it’s just nothing special.
Resident Evil 0
A game that had the the unfortunate task of following up the remake of Resident Evil, Resident Evil 0 isn’t as rough as many said upon release, it’s just a bit Resi-by-numbers. There’s not really anything wrong with that, it just fails to stick in the memory.
It doesn’t do anything to piss you off, nor does it ever really excite. The weird maggot enemies aren’t particularly compelling, sandwiched between the iconic zombies of the REmake and the brilliant Ganados of Resi 4.
The other playable character… Bill? Billy? Oh aye, Billy Coen, is a forgettable one off alongside Rebecca Chambers. The ability to switch between them doesn’t really offer any meaningful gameplay changes: Billy is strong and has a lighter, Rebecca is weak but can mix herbs. You’ve basically just got an extra inventory space that walks about. And speaking of inventory, there are no longer any magic boxes to dump items in here. You can either transfer them directly between characters or, in a series first, just drop them on the floor to be picked up later.
It was clear by this point that the old style was running out of ideas. All of the changes to the formula in Resident Evil 0 and Code Veronica are small sideways steps at best, looking for ways to tweak what had previously worked - the series sold millions off the back of it, but there was no big leap forward in terms of what survival horror meant. Not yet, anyway.
Ultimately though, it’s decent. If you’re jonesing for some classic style Resident Evil, you can do far worse than Resident Evil 0. The train setting is pretty cool, the pre-rendered graphics are gorgeous, and there’s a couple of nice nods to the game it precedes in the increasingly convoluted storyline.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
At times feeling like an expansion pack for Resident Evil 2, this title put you back in control of Jill Valentine and had you cutting about Raccoon City with more of a lean towards action. There are many more zombies, a lot more ammo, and blasting your way through areas instead of running is much more necessary.
Heading into the Raccoon City Police Department from Resi 2 is a cool moment, full of nice nods and winks to what took place in that game. A much more open Raccoon City also brings a slightly different pace to the tried and tested formula.
It did, however, have an ace in the hole - the Nemesis. Expanding on what Capcom started with the Mr. X character in the B Scenario of Resident Evil 2, The Nemesis is a near-unkillable bio-weapon that stalks you throughout the game like the bloody Terminator. The first time he travels between areas - something no enemy had done up to this point - was a genuinely terrifying moment.
There’s also the unlockable Mercenaries mode. Very different to the Mercenaries that graces later games in the series, Mercenaries takes a section of the game and allows you to play through it score attack style with a bunch of different characters, featuring different weapons and approaches. It is damn fun.
Resident Evil 3 is the weakest of the three PS1 titles, but like the first three Die Hard films, the weakest is still a damn good way to spend your time.
The original game has aged pretty well, largely because it’s a much simpler game than the others in this list. It lays the foundation perfectly for the series to grow from - you’re in a big, scary place full of zombies, and you have to solve puzzles to slowly open it up, with resource management being a crucial part of keeping the tension ticking over.
The mansion is still a treat to navigate, puzzles are still enjoyable and, for an early PS1 game, it still has a brilliantly-sinister atmosphere. The combat is rough in the original release, however, and we recommend grabbing the Director’s Cut version, which adds auto aim at enemies that are off screen, resulting in less frustrating blind firing.
The mid-game mixup with the introduction of hunters, the dogs coming in through the window, the massive snakes and spiders that make up the boss battles - Resident Evil is still a great game, but is lower on the list than perhaps it deserves because it is eclipsed in almost every conceivable way by the REmake, a game which is also far more accessible to people in 2018.
An undeniable classic, however.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
The third time the Resident Evil series has been reborn, it did so by reacquainting itself with its roots. Resident Evil 7 bares the most resemblance to the original game or its remake. It’s now first-person, bringing you closer to the horror than ever before, and you can even go one step closer and play the entire thing in VR, if you’ve got the stones for it - Resident Evil 7 is a very scary game indeed.
You’re in, for the most part, one large house that slowly opens up as you explore, solve puzzles, and unlock new areas, all the while dealing with inventory management, limited resources and, of course, the inhabitants. It is no longer a game full of the shambling undead, but instead the infected Baker family: mom, sister, brother and, of course, Jack Baker, the angry dad.
While most stick to their own areas (with Mother Marguerite having a freaky, bug-filled outhouse to herself), the highlight is the first couple of hours as you explore the main area of the family home, stalked continuously by the seemingly indestructible Jack. Like the Nemesis, he’s instantly iconic, and the confrontations with him at the dinner table, in the garage, and in the basement, as you duel with chainsaws in a battle to the death, are up there with the series’ best moments.
The latter part of the game splits opinion somewhat, as it turns into a bit of a shooting gallery full of the ‘Molded’, weird slimy humanoids that act as the game’s zombies. They’re simply nowhere near as interesting as the Bakers, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that Resident Evil 7 is a real return to form - a true survival horror game that brings back all the best aspects of the early titles with a new twist.
Resident Evil 2
The best of the PS1 Resident Evil games, Resi 2 expands on the framework of the original game in interesting and meaningful ways. Two characters, Leon and Claire, are split apart in a car accident at the start of the game, and there’s a separate scenario for both characters.
Playing through the ‘A’ scenario with any of the two characters unlocks a ‘B’ scenario for the other that takes place parallel to the events in the first playthrough. It has a few key moments where you can leave certain weapons or items, or even prime lock doors and seal off windows from enemies that affect the second scenario. One character’s story impacting the other is something Resident Evil 2’s upcoming remake will also feature, according to its director.
Lickers, Mr. X, William Birkin… Resident Evil 2 is a game full of memorable Resident Evil moments and the constant changing of pace. The frantic run through the city, the more traditional building exploration of the police station, and the Umbrella laboratories, full of one-off monsters and big boss battles - it all keeps things fresh throughout.
It’s also the Resident Evil game that properly introduced the series’ now traditional bonus unlockables. Finishing the game under certain parameters unlocks unlimited ammo, rad weapons, and the brilliant Fourth Survivor mode, where you play as an Umbrella Soldier called Hunk who has to make it through a section of the game with a limited toolset and escape the city. It’s a lot of fun, and definitely laid the groundwork for a lot of the unlockables to come.
Resident Evil 2 is everything you’d want in a sequel. Unlike Resident Evil 6, it was an example of how to offer a much bigger game but fill it with improvements, rather than wholesale changes that ignore what people loved about it to begin with.
Resident Evil Remake
A genuine survival horror masterpiece, REmake - as it is lovingly referred to - takes the original game and remixes it, retaining the claustrophobic tension of the mansion and the underground laboratory, but improving on it in almost every conceivable way and changing things up just enough to keep veterans guessing. There’s a few brilliant moments where you solve a puzzle from the original game only for it to deviate from what was expected upon solving it, opening up a new area or offering a surprise item. It is a great way of ensuring that even the most hardcore Resident Evil fan never feels comfortable.
Then there are the Crimson Heads - one of horror gaming’s finest enemies. Whenever you kill a zombie, if you don’t blow their head to bits you have the option to burn the body using a finite amount of petrol. If you leave a corpse on the floor, there’s a chance they’ll get back up as a faster, tougher and relentless Crimson Head. On the first playthrough, this is a terrifying moment for newcomers and veterans alike. On repeat playthroughs, knowing that they’re a possibility makes you agonise over every use of the petrol and celebrate every random headshot.
It looks stunning, too. When it was originally released on the Gamecube, you could make a strong case for it being the best looking console game at the time, but with the HD rerelease in the past few years, the pre-rendered backgrounds have really stood the test of time. The B-Movie tone of the original release has been replaced with something a bit more serious, and the result this is an incredible update of a horror classic. Consider this a very high watermark when it comes to remaking and revamping older games.
Resident Evil 4
The King of Kings. Resident Evil 4 was Shinji Mikami’s return to the Resi fold and what a return it was! As the classic survival horror formula became stale, Resi 4 changed things up - it not only rejuvenated the series, but set a new benchmark for action games as a whole. That’s right, action games. Resident Evil 4 popularised a camera style, filled much more open areas with Ganados - infected humans that retain way more of their, well, humanity - and introduced a free aim that coupled perfectly with the much more varied weapon set to allow for more creativite combat.
Every aspect of Resident Evil 4 feeds back into its core - it is a game that never wants you to be comfortable. The Ganados are relentless, but not mindless. They’ll scheme, flank you, attack from range, and generally do whatever it takes to put a sickle between Leon’s eyes. When you take aim, like the older titles, you’re rooted to the spot, the camera pulling in close so you can’t see what is trying to sneak up on you. Rooting you to the spot also means that when you choose to fire, it’s a real commitment. Plant your feet, aim your weapon, make sure your shots are accurate, and pick off the tide of enemies walking you down. Watch that ammo, though!
After the initial trek through the Ganados’ village (a section which must go down as one of gaming’s greatest openings), Resi 4 begins to tread the boards of the older games. There are a lot more interior sections that have you looking for keys, crests, and items that will open doors and let you progress. There are wild setpieces against huge bosses and, much like the Crimson Heads in the REmake, there’s plenty of twists with the basic enemies that keep you on your toes from start until the thrilling climax.
Resident Evil 4 feels like a brilliant action game, like a brilliant horror game, and, ultimately, like the best Resident Evil game.