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Resident Evil: Why I love it

Matthew Pellett looks back at a horror institution

To us, in 1996, the Spencer Mansion was home. A trap-riddled home with giant sharks, snakes, killer dogs and zombies lurking within its walls, sure, but home nonetheless.

The odd run-in with the undead left sticky red patches on the décor, but remember the happier times: rediscovering Moonlight Sonata on the grand piano with friends; helping colleagues out of a jail cell before they were burnt to a crisp by a crazed boss intent on eliminating all evidence of his wrongdoing; or, simply conversing with co-workers using some of the cheesiest dialogue ever spoken aloud...

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Then there were the decapitations: waiting for a zombie to shuffle in close, then rapidly aiming up and firing the shotgun to blow that skull into itty-bitty shards before you became a zombie entrée. The Magnum eventually made distant cranium-capping an easy task (how Barry failed to kill the very first zombie with three shots has always stumped us), but it took fun out of the hunt.

DOUBLE TROUBLE
After a development misstep and a scrapped project, the zombie contagion finally worked its way to Raccoon City and the series went pandemic. A two-disc beast with inter-connecting scenarios, Resident Evil 2 propelled horror gaming into the big time thanks to its giant running time and some iconic scenes.

Debutants Claire and Leon admirably shouldered the responsibility of carrying the brand to new heights, and their altering 'A' and 'B' scenarios meant gamers had to think carefully both about who they picked to play as first, and about their actions at key crossover points.

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The first Resident Evil had already done character selections; Chris and Jill had different abilities (Jill's extra inventory slots and lock-picking ability made her the beginner's choice) and entirely separate story reveals, but RE2's characters enjoyed unique campaigns from start to finish. A bonus ending - complete with extra boss battle - even awaited those who finished both.

It would be seven years before the series would be improved upon, but Resident Evil did not stagnate. RE3 reined in the focus by removing character selections (a decision that sadly stuck with the franchise) but in the Nemesis it introduced a hulking stalker with a nasty habit of popping up at the worst possible moments.

It was a fine instalment, but one almost instantly bettered by Code: Veronica and its 3D environments. While Nemesis managed to instil panic into gamers' experiences, Code: Veronica was a far creepier, more unsettling game with a borderline incestuous vibe and a handful of environments that came close to making you scared of your own house.

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Spin-off games came thick and fast. None matched up to the quality of the core series, but none tainted the brand, either. S. D. Perry's tie-in books, meanwhile, turned out to be largely decent novelisations of the game (although a couple of original books devolved at times into a kind of wacky fan-fic). The films were far less successful (we can excuse and even enjoy the first, but the canon-wrecking nonsense of two and beyond was an insult to fans) while the comics were weak - but it wasn't long before Resident Evil enjoyed its richest vein of form.

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