A fistful of tokens: Zombies still alive and well in Resident Evil

Zombies seem to be a bit passé these days, don’t they?

Sure, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is going strong in its final season, but the mindless, reanimated corpses seemingly everywhere in the mid to late 2000s gave way to the sparkly vampires and teen werewolves of the early 2010s, which itself has given way to the current infatuation with comic book superheroes. Even Capcom’s Resident Evil, which has often involved its characters surviving a zombie outbreak, has shied away from using zombies in favor of other supernatural horrors. The most recent game, Resident Evil Village, featured the 9’6” vampire Lady Dimitrescu early in its story and she remains the main character people remember from it.

For much of its life, the Resident Evil series was synonymous with zombies. The original game was released on the Sony Playstation March 22, 1996 and popularized a genre known as “survival horror,” which refer to games with a horror theme and limit the player’s resources and inventory space to maintain tension throughout the game.

The story focuses on members of the Raccoon City Police Department’s Special Tactics and Rescue Service as they investigate a seemingly abandoned mansion at the heart of a series of grisly murders. Things quickly get out of hand as zombified creatures attack the team, leading to the discovery of a biological weapons lab hidden beneath the mansion and its experiments that resulted in reanimating the dead.

Players take control of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine as the team explores the mansion, with the story changing depending on who the player chooses and their actions during the game. Through it all, Redfield and Valentine not only have to face zombies and mutated creatures, but must deal with betrayal from other members of the STARS team. The game quickly became a best seller.

Sequels expanding on the aftermath of the mansion investigation and the shadowy Umbrella Corporation's activities in Raccoon City were released. In Resident Evil 2, Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy attempt to survive after Raccoon City is overrun with zombies while Valentine is hunted by a hulking biological weapon known as Nemesis while she attempts to escape the city in Resident Evil 3.

Resident Evil borrowed heavily from George Romero’s concept of zombies he popularized in movies like 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” in its sequels and while other monsters could be seen throughout the game, zombies were the main enemies. Resident Evil’s homage came full-circle when Romero was hired to direct a live-action commercial for Japanese TV to promote the second Resident Evil game. Romero would go on to write a script for a film version of the game, though he would get let go from the project and his script was unused. A film version would be released in 2002 based loosely on the events of the first game. It became a massive success itself, with five sequels released between 2004 and 2016. A seventh movie, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” will release Nov. 24.

While Resident Evil’s early games were closely tied to zombie outbreaks, the games have tried to reinvent the idea of reanimated corpses attacking and feasting on the living. Resident Evil 4 featured los ganados, villagers who had been infected with a parasite that allowed them to be more nimble and intelligent than the classic zombie, even allowing them to attack with handheld weapons.

Resident Evil will always be closely tied to the idea of reanimated corpses attempting to seek out and devour the living. Especially for a group of gamers in the late 90s attempting to survive the outbreak in Raccoon City.


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