How to play the Resident Evil franchise in as few games as possible

With Resident Evil Village finally out, GameCentral offers a spoiler free history of the best, and worst, the series has to offer.

It’s the 25th anniversary of Resident Evil this year, the series that invented the term survival horror and which has remained at the forefront of the genre ever since. One of its more unappreciated achievements though is that it has the longest running narrative of any major video game, with the same characters and plotlines running through all the games, with no reboots or retcons.

That can make it a little intimidating to know where to start, if you’re looking to get into the series, but there are relatively few mainline entries, most of which are easily available on modern formats. More importantly, many of them can be skipped as they’re either not that good or don’t add that much to the overall mythos.

So if you’re looking to do a Resident Evil speedrun this is the bare minimum you can get away with. Although we also offer some suggestions for what might be worth coming back to later, if and when you find yourself becoming a fan.

Resident Evil 0 (2002)

Chronologically speaking Resident Evil 0 is the first game in the series, although it was actually the fifth mainline entry and originally intended as a N64 exclusive. It was the GameCube era before it actually appeared though and was very obviously reusing assets and technology from the Resident Evil 1 remake that came out the same year.

As a prequel there’s a lot of background lore but none of it has ever really come up again and main characters Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen have never had leading roles again. All of this is for the obvious reason that the game is not very good, and nobody liked it. It’s basically just a copy of Resident Evil remake but where everything is turned down from 11.

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Resident Evil remake (2002)

If you’ve any interest in Resident Evil at all you’ve got to play the first one, especially as it’s arguably still the best in the series – assuming you play the GameCube remake, which itself was remastered for modern consoles in 2014. The GameCube version had some of the best graphics of its generation but while they look less impressive nowadays the use of fixed camera angles still works well, maintaining the gameplay largely as it was in the 1996 original – albeit with new control options.

You play as series legends Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, members of the elite S.T.A.R.S. police special forces unit, as they investigate reports of cannibalistic murders in the forest outside of Racoon City. It’s THE classic Resident Evil set-up and one that’s copied and played homage to numerous times in subsequent games. The remake also added some new locations and enemies though, so if you want to play the original exactly as it was at the time you’ll have to look out the PlayStation original.

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Resident Evil 2 remake (2019)

Settling on what counts as the best Resident Evil game is not easy, with 1, 2, and 4 all in the running for different reasons. Resident Evil 2 is very similar in style and structure to the first game but expands the action to include the whole (well, some) of Racoon City, with the curiously old-fashioned looking police station filling in for the Spencer Mansion at the beginning of the game and more revelations about pharmaceutical company Umbrella.

It’s a classic example of the bigger, better, more approach to making sequels and the recent remake features some staggeringly good graphics and a more modern third person camera system.

Resident Evil 2 is the first appearance of would-be police rookie Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, sister of Chris. They each have their own slightly different storylines that you play separately, using many of the same locations but adding unique encounters as well. The remake is a near perfect combination of new and old style Resident Evil and if you only play one entry in the series it should probably be this one.

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Resident Evil 3 remake (2020)

Originally intended as a spin-off featuring a new character, Resident Evil 3 has always been the weakest link when it comes to the original trilogy of PlayStation 1 games. The story is much smaller scale than the previous two and follows Jill Valentine as she tries to escape from a zombie filled Racoon City while being chased by the Nemesis, a near indestructible foe obviously inspired by the T-1000 from Terminator 2.

With the plot beginning shortly before the start of Resident Evil 2 and ending shortly after, there’s very little new story in the game – which only makes it seem even more like an afterthought. The remake also cuts a lot of content from the PlayStation 1 original, that only emphasises that this is just an inferior rerun of Resident Evil 2.

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Resident Evil – Code: Veronica (2000)

The dark horse of the series was originally a Dreamcast exclusive and, depending on who you believe, was initially intended to be the real Resident Evil 3 – until Sony used their influence to have it demoted to side story and Resident Evil 3 promoted as the numbered sequel.

You start off playing as Claire Redfield, as she searches Umbrella facilities for her brother and bumps into a few other familiar faces. Code: Veronica is far more ambitious than Resident Evil 3 and was the first time the series used full 3D visuals instead of pre-rendered backgrounds. A lot of the game still uses fixed camera angles but it’s a fascinating halfway house between the old games and the newer style.

There are also some very important story moments that underpin the whole series. Although, like Resident Evil 0, they don’t get referenced a lot because fewer people have played the game. Nevertheless, this is the hardest entry to know whether to recommend or not, since the controls are pretty awful and it’s only ever been remastered, not remade. We’ll go with skip it and maybe come back later if you’ve become a fan.

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Resident Evil 4 (2005)

Regardless of its place in the Resident Evil chronology, Resident Evil 4 is a must play simply because it’s one of the best, and most influential, video games of all time. Prior to its release the concept of third person shooters existed only in a few niche games, but Resident Evil 4 went on to influence Gears Of War and basically every other game where you shoot a gun but not from a first person perspective.

The second game to star Leon S. Kennedy, as he tries to rescue the president’s daughter from a weird cult in Spain, it’s also the first to not include zombies as the default enemy. Although there have been innumerable remasters, with the game appearing on almost every format imaginable, there’s never been a remake and so the graphics are starting to show their age, no matter how amazing they were at the time.

The controls, that don’t let you move and shoot at the same time, are also a sticking point for newer players but they’re intrinsic to the rhythm of the game and if, as rumoured, Capcom is planning a remake it’s hard to know how they’ll be replaced without ruining a lot of the game’s appeal.

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Resident Evil 5 (2009)

Resident Evil 4 was the last game that series creator Shinji Mikami worked on and the effects of his exit were immediately obvious. Much as Resident Evil 3 was to 2, Resident Evil 5 is basically just Resident Evil 4 but worse. The controls and structure are very similar but not nearly as imaginative or well paced. And while Resident Evil 4 wasn’t very scary either, its sequel abandoned almost all attempts at being a proper survival horror, in favour of straight action.

That said, this isn’t a terrible game, just a major step down from its predecessor. It certainly has the best co-op options of any of the main games, as you play as either Chris Redfield or never-to-be-seen-again Sheva Alomar.

The setting is Africa but the way it’s handled seemed less than tactful at the time and even more problematic nowadays. Thankfully though, and despite a wonderfully cartoonish turn by series villain Wesker, the plot doesn’t really amount to much and can easily be skipped.

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Resident Evil 6 (2012)

Not every Resident Evil game is a classic, but this is the only one that’s outright bad and should be skipped simply because it’s no fun to play. It takes everything that was bad about Resident Evil 5 and makes it 10 times worse, with a horribly bloated mess of separate campaigns featuring almost all the main characters, and several new ones, and absolutely no sense of tension or coherence.

At this point in the franchise’s history Capcom were desperate to turn Resident Evil into a pure action series, openly admitting they wanted it to be their equivalent of Call Of Duty. Needless to say, that didn’t work out and the next game in the series had to be a soft reboot that tried to return to the series’ roots.

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Resident Evil 7: biohazard (2017)

There was no guarantee that Resident Evil would ever come back from the disaster of Resident Evil 6 but like one of its own zombies it rose from the dead as strong as ever. Although it’s not obvious at the start of the game, this retains all the key elements of the older games and even mirrors the structure of the first entry quite closely.

The reason that’s not obvious is that the game now uses a first person view and you play as a brand new protagonist called Ethan Winters. There are no zombies, no Umbrella, and only one returning character. The game also has a slightly more serious tone, despite how silly everything that’s going on is if you stop to think about it. Importantly, the game is a proper survival horror and can be very scary, especially if you play using the PlayStation VR.

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Resident Evil Village (2021)

You can read our review of the new game in the link above and while it’s not the best entry in the series it’s very far from the worst. It’s a direct sequel to Resident Evil 7, with you once again playing as Ethan Winters, but incorporates a lot of homages to Resident Evil 4 and a much more fantastical plot and set of characters.

It doesn’t have quite the sense of invention or cheesy charm as the best of the series, but the action is excellent and Lady Dimitrescu has already gone down as one of the franchise’s most popular characters. A short epilogue also gives a hint at where the story might be going in the future, in what could be a radically new direction for the series. How that will work out only time will tell but few would bet against Resident Evil making it to another 25 years after this.

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