Resident Evil is a pioneer. In 1996, it introduced the world to the kind of scares that platforms prior to the PlayStation weren't capable of. It had this sense of ambiance, suspense, and actual high stakes presented on systems finally capable of graphics that might actually scare people. It has continued its run, with Resident Evil 2 in 2019 showing that even a reimagined version of one of the earliest installments could be shaped into something that would raise the bar and do for younger generation what the original Resident Evil 2 did in 1998. But what makes it one of the best series out there?
Well, part of it is the fact that this is the original "survivor horror" series. There were scary games before, but they never emphasized the sort of desperation Resident Evil did. If you are playing on one of the more classic or demanding difficulty levels, you need to find items to all you to save. Ammunition is limited, so shooting anything that moves isn't an option. Puzzles can have life or death consequences. The games are constantly testing you and forcing you to prove that you are good enough. You have to evolve and grow, because things are going to be far more difficult when you are nearly out of the mansion, super scary house, or laboratory than they were when you first found your way inside.
The characters are another reason why the Resident Evil series has continually been one of the best horror series. These are people who grow alongside us through the years. Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine are our first stars (and S.T.A.R.S.), uncovering the devastating evil Umbrella Corporation has unleashed. They are joined by Leon S. Kennedy, Chris' sister, Claire, and Ada Wong. Rather than cutting and running once these people managed to escape the zombie menace, they kept going back and facing the horrors in the hopes of making sure others might be safer, such outbreaks could end, and a corporation could be brought to task. That's an incredible show of courage, makes them more appealing, and also lets us have these ties that bind everything together.
The kinds of scares Resident Evil provides also helps set these games apart. The series doesn't just rely on gore, jump scares, blink and you miss it creatures in the shadows, and major monsters chasing you down the hall. The series uses all of them. A zombie that you thought you killed could come back to life when you least expect it. The critter climbing through the ceiling might show up later, with foreshadowing leaving you wondering. Enemies you think you know you can surprise you. The environment can work against you and make something familiar terrifying. It employs all of these incredibly effective tactics.
Resident Evil's reach is another reason why it is just so incredible. It takes a special sort of series to not only have masterful interactive experiences, but to also conquer other mediums. The Resident Evil movies, which often take more inspiration from the games than try to always adapt events, have been some of the most effective video game movies out there. The novels do a good job of retelling events of the games and offer additional insight, which is great for people who want more or maybe people who might be too scared to play through a game. There are comics that have been well received. Even animated features exist. All of these things help bring the lore to the forefront, giving us even more things to consider. After all, great horror games, shows, and books aren't afraid to dig deep and make us really think.
Capcom did something special with Resident Evil. It crafted a series that has a huge reach, characters people love, all sorts of scares, and inspire a genuine sense of desperation. This series even inspired all sorts of complementary media that helps make it even better. It's this huge beast now, and one that offers the best sorts of horror experiences you can have in gaming.