Resident Evil, known in Japan as Biohazard, is a horror game franchise created by Japanese video game designers Shinji Mikami and Tokuro Fujiwara, and has been credited for the re-popularization of zombies throughout the late 90s and into the 2000s.
Initially conceived as a survival horror game, later iterations would change up the formula to be more action-focused. However, in recent years Capcom has made an effort to return to the series’ roots, with both 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake offering an updated version of the original formula.
With a rumored Resident Evil 3 remake planned for the future, we’ve created a timeline to highlight the history of Resident Evil, specifically the main series games. We’ll be updating this list in the future, so make sure to check back. And if you’d like to receive more gaming recommendations, consider reading through our other curated lists:
Resident Evil (PS1) – 1996
As the first game in the series, Resident Evil on the original PlayStation is responsible for establishing many of the features and mechanics that would go on to be the standard for a majority of RE games—limited inventory space, ink ribbons required to save the game, multiple playable characters, and a third-person camera perspective. The game is a remake of series’ co-creator Tokuro Fujiwara’s earlier horror title Sweet Home, which released in 1989.
The plot sees Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, members of an elite task force known as S.T.A.R.S., conducting an investigation in the outskirts of Raccoon City before finding themselves trapped in a zombie-infested mansion. Playing as either Chris or Jill, players were tasked with uncovering the mansion’s secrets while dealing with a host of deadly creatures.
In 2002, a Resident Evil remake was released the GameCube as part of an exclusivity agreement between Capcom and Nintendo that included three new games. The updated version added a host of new gameplay elements, environments, story details, as well as improved visuals and sounds. This version would later be remastered for modern consoles in 2015.
Resident Evil 2 (PS1) – 1998
Two years later, a sequel would release for the PlayStation and introduce two new protagonists—rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and a college student named Claire Redfield, younger sister of Chris Redfield from RE1. The game is set two months after the events of RE1 and sees the duo attempting to escape Raccoon City after its citizens are transformed into flesh-eating zombies by a biological weapon.
While gameplay remained largely unchanged from the original, Resident Evil 2’s story was much more ambitious, including branching storylines for both playable characters in which unique events and challenges would unfold. The game was widely praised for its atmosphere, setting, visuals, audio, and for pushing the limitations of the PlayStation’s hardware.
In 2019, a Resident Evil 2 remake was released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It features completely redone assets, a host of QoL improvements, and a reworked story that gives supporting characters a much more prominent role.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (PS1) – 1999
Set in Raccoon City just one day before the events of RE2, Resident Evil 3 features a number of events that connect the two games. In a departure from the first two games, RE3 removed the option to play as multiple characters, with a majority of the game spent controlling S.T.A.R.S. member Jill Valentine as she tries to escape Raccoon City.
This is the point where the series begins to take a more action-orientated approach to gameplay, with RE3 featuring a larger number of enemy encounters as well as introducing Nemesis, a villainous creature that would periodically chase the player even during unscripted moments. Additionally, the game introduced the ability to dodge and spin the character 180 degrees, allowing the player to escape or turn to face an enemy much more quickly.
Resident Evil CODE: Veronica (DC) – 2000
CODE: Veronica stands out as the first entry in the series to use fully-3D backgrounds in place of pre-rendered environments found in previous games, resulting in more immersive environments. It’s also the first RE title to debut on a non-Sony platform, releasing on the Sega Dreamcast.
While the option to play as multiple characters returns, players are unable to pick freely. Instead, the first half of CODE: Veronica sees you playing as Claire Redfield while the other half is spent with her brother Chris, as the two try to survive zombie outbreaks at a remote prison and a research facility.
Resident Evil Zero (GC) – 2002
By this point, the series had hit its stride and was about to benefit from a new generation of more powerful consoles. Initially designed for the Nintendo 64, Resident Evil Zero would be rebuilt to debut on the GameCube after the dev team encountered multiple issues with the 64’s memory storage. This would mark the first instance of a RE title debuting on a Nintendo platform.
The story is centered on police officer Rebecca Chambers and a convicted criminal named Billy Coen as they explore an abandoned training facility for employees of the pharmaceutical company Umbrella. While gameplay is reminiscent of earlier entries, a new “partner zapping” system allowed players to switch back and forth between both characters in order to solve puzzles using their unique abilities.
In 2016, Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster was released, featuring many re-touched assets from the original as well as improved special effects. This version would be included in the Resident Evil Origins Collection alongside Resident Evil HD Remaster for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. In 2019, the collection would be made available for Nintendo Switch, with Resident Evil 4 now included.
Resident Evil 4 (GC) – 2005
Resident Evil 4 debuts on the GameCube as part of the “Capcom Five,” five new GameCube-exclusive titles intended to boost hardware sales and show third-party support for Nintendo’s new console. However, RE 4’s sales numbers would be undercut following an announcement of a PlayStation 2 version prior to the game’s release.
The story marks the return of Leon S. Kennedy, one of the protagonists from RE2 who has since been promoted from rookie cop to U.S. government special agent. Kennedy is sent on a mission to rescue the U.S. president’s daughter after she’s kidnapped by a cult. After travelling to a rural village in Europe, Leon is forced to defeat hordes of infected villagers who have been corrupted by a mind-controlling parasite.
Resident Evil 5 (PS3, Xbox 360) – 2009
Despite having several staff members from the original Resident Evil handling development, Resident Evil 5 would be the series’ biggest departure from the survival horror genre up to that point. As the first entry designed for 2-player co-op, the game sees players controlling special agents Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, Africa.
While many critics and players took offense with the game’s new action-orientated approach and awkward control scheme, RE5 would go on to become Capcom’s best-selling game, a title it would keep until the release of Monster Hunter: World. As of 2019, RE5 still holds the title for best-selling Resident Evil game.
Resident Evil: Revelations (3DS) – 2012
Although some RE spin-off titles had released on handheld, Resident Evil: Revelations is the first main series game to release on a portable device, debuting on the Nintendo 3DS. As a reaction to criticism from RE5, the game features many of the survival mechanics of earlier games, such as limited ammo, health, and movement speed.
The story is set between the events of RE4 and RE5 and follows special agents Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield as they try to stop a bioterrorist organization from infecting the Earth’s oceans with a deadly virus. The game was positively received, with many critics considering it a return to form for the series.
Resident Evil 6 (PS3, Xbox 360) – 2012
That same year Resident Evil 6 would release for the most popular consoles at the time, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game shares a lot of similarities with RE5 in terms of gameplay, returning to a more action-heavy formula. However, a majority of criticism was targeted at its story, which featured four scenarios with intertwining storylines.
Each scenario saw players controlling one of four protagonists—Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, Jake Muller, and Ada Wong. Reviewers took issue with the fluctuating quality of each campaign, reporting that a majority of the game’s content played like a generic third-person shooter, Leon’s scenario being the exception. RE6 would go on to become the third-best selling Capcom game after World and RE5.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC) – 2015
With the release of Revelations 2, players were able to return to the classic horror survival formula offered in the first game and earlier entries. Set between the events of RE5 and RE6, the game follows Claire Redfield and her peers at the biohazard prevention agency Terra Save, where a group of masked assailants kidnap and transport them to a deserted island.
It features four playable characters—Claire Redfield, Barry Burton, Moira Burton, and Natalia Korda, with the main campaign supporting both single-player and two-player co-op. While the game is praised for its story and gameplay, a number of technical issues negatively-impacted critical reception.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – 2017
By this point, it became clear that Capcom had to make a decision regarding the direction of the series going forward and either fully commit to the action-focused formula of RE5 and RE6, or return to their horror survival roots. It would become clear they had chosen the latter as Resident Evil 7 explored what made the franchise popular in the first place—exploration, limited resources, and immersive environments.
Players control Ethan Winters as he searches a Louisiana plantation for his missing wife while being confronted by a sadistic family of cannibals. As the first full-length game to be developed using Capcom’s RE engine, RE7 introduced some changes, such as a first-person POV, an entirely new story and protagonist, and VR support. The decision to include “Biohazard” in the title was a nice touch as well, celebrating the series’ rich-history of Japan releases.
Whether its PC or console, AAA or Indie, New-York born and raised Justin has a natural curiosity to seek out hidden gems and share them with other gamers. He also maintains his own YouTube channel in addition to writing and managing the social media profiles for GamingScan.