Arguably more than any other survival horror franchise, Resident Evil stands out as the most iconic in gaming history. With a legacy that dates back to 1996 with its debut game on the original PlayStation, the series expertly evolved into the modern era and remains equally relevant today. From the Spencer Mansion to the castle of Lady Dimitrescu, Capcom’s legendary franchise continues to both awe us and scare us in nearly every entry.
While there are no shortage of articles online that list out widely accepted opinions of the best games in the series, as a younger player, my opinions enter the fold from a drastically different perspective. My entry into Resident Evil came from the boulder-punching fifth title in the series. Although I since dove deep into the RE library, my nostalgic goggles fit quite differently than veteran gamers who started out in the ’90s.
Now, we sit only a couple months out from a promising remake of Resident Evil 4. With the reimagining of one of the franchise’s most iconic titles on the horizon, here are my top five Resident Evil games so far.
5. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (1999)
Kicking things off, we have the third mainline entry in the series. Bringing Jill Valentine back into the forefront, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis opens up the action to the streets of Raccoon City. Additionally, it introduces one of the most iconic enemies in the franchise in the form of title character Nemesis.
Like Tyrant (AKA Mr. X) in Resident Evil 2, Nemesis is a stalker enemy who will haunt you across the map. However, this time, the lurking threat is even more dangerous with the addition of Nemesis’ capability to wield a rocket launcher. While his inclusion in the RE3 remake left classic fans underwhelmed, you cannot understate his constantly intimidating presence in the 1999 classic.
Another feature that helps Resident Evil 3: Nemesis stand out is its boldness to take things to a larger scale than its predecessors. While the first two games confined you to specific areas in the forms of the Spencer Mansion and Raccoon City Police Department respectively, the third game offered countless unique locations across the apocalyptic Raccoon City. From the clock tower to the hospital, Nemesis offered players no shortage of uniquely creepy locations to explore.
In addition, though Resident Evil 3: Nemesis still utilized tank controls with the classic fixed-angle perspectives, it innovated movement in control in two notable ways. One new feature was the ability to dodge, which became especially useful when dealing with the constant threat of Nemesis. However, the most important addition it brought was the quick turn that became a staple mechanic from that point on.
4. Resident Evil 4 (2005)
Resident Evil 4 is the first major departure for the series. Moving away from the fixed camera angles in favor of an over-the-shoulder perspective is only the tip of the iceberg for the massive shakeup this game brought forth. Most notably, the game saw a drastic shift from its original horror roots to action-heavy gameplay.
However, it didn’t stray too far as to abandon its horror roots altogether as its two mainline follow-ups would. Instead, Resident Evil 4 expertly blended the two genres to provide players with a fresh take for the survival horror franchise. For every corny one-liner and quick-time event, there were plenty of tense moments and scares.
From its gothic locations to the faster, weapon-wielding, Genados, the fourth mainline game shook up the RE formula while retaining core elements that give the series its identity. Managing inventory space remained a critical mechanic, now offering players the ability to rotate objects to strategically make space. And the game’s eccentric bosses made for some of the most memorable enemies in the franchise.
Inspiring countless titles afterwards with its innovative mechanics like quick-time events and the merchant, Resident Evil 4 rightfully earns its spot in the gaming history books. Overall, this game is nearly flawless, providing a rich and replayable experience that would see ports onto nearly every console following its 2005 GameCube debut. While it’s no surprise to see the game on this list, it may come as a shock to see it rank only at the number four spot.
3. Resident Evil (2002)
There’s nothing to say that hasn’t already been said about the first Resident Evil game from 1996. Apart from simply inspiring a rich franchise of sequels and spin-offs, it defined the entire genre of survival horror. However, while the first game may be the most historically significant in the series, its 2002 remake on GameCube managed to improve on its foundation in every respect.
Though we may take it for granted in today’s age of diminishing returns between the eighth and ninth generation consoles, the graphical leap between the fifth and sixth generation of consoles was monumental. Therefore, when the Resident Evil remake first launched, its visuals alone took peoples’ breaths away when compared to its OG counterpart. Yet, the remake was far from a polished reskin of the original game; new features made it an entirely fresh experience.
One of the largest additions to Resident Evil was that of Lisa Trevor. The new boss was not only terrifyingly creepy in her appearance, but tragic in her backstory. Providing a human element to the now-monster, reading some of her old notes makes you feel bad as you must take her down.
In addition, Resident Evil added new puzzles and areas that gave the game a wholly new perspective. Even the famous dog jump scare in that hallway plays out differently in the remake. Overall, it’s the attention to detail and new additions that make Resident Evil (2002) the definitive version of the Spencer Mansion chapter in the series.
2. Resident Evil 2 (2019)
Another remake that proved better than the original game is Resident Evil 2. Following the same story as the 1998 original, the remake follows both the stories of Leon and Claire as they fight their individual ways through a zombie-infested Raccoon City Police Department. However, aside from the story, characters and locations, these titles are very much two distinctly different games.
Utilizing Capcom’s RE Engine, the Resident Evil 2 remake lets you face the nightmares within the RPD like never before. Visually, the game not only looks photorealistic, but the darker lighting creates an even scarier atmosphere than the original game. In terms of sound, the game delivers on atmosphere with both disturbing environmental noise and intense music, especially when Mr. X gets near.
In addition, the remake also greatly improved the core gameplay as well. Switching from a fixed camera angle and abandoning tank controls gave this game a smoother and more fluid feel in terms of movement. Yet, these changes did not take away from the utter dread felt when opening a new door or facing off against enemies.
Enemy encounters here feel as intimidating and intense as ever. From zombies to lickers, choosing when to fight and when to run is just as important as the original game. Add the persistent, powerful and unkillable Mr. X to the mix, and your heartrate will never slow down in Resident Evil 2.
1. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)
Making the top spot is nonother than Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Just as Resident Evil 4 marked a turning point in the franchise with its action-heavy approach, Biohazard saw the series enter its next chapter with a return to pure survival horror. However, this time, Capcom opted to bring you closer to the terror than ever before with a first-person perspective.
In addition, the game took a different approach in its protagonist by introducing an every-man type of character in the form of Ethan Winters. Unlike previous protagonists like Chris Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy, Ethan has no combat training or experience. And placing your vision directly through his eyes, not only helps us relate to him, but builds on the feeling that we are in the game.
Other factors that make RE7 stand out include solving puzzles and backtracking the encourage exploration across the game. Visually, the game offers some grotesque moments, as well as the environment. And the Baker family (particularly Jack) make for some of the creepiest enemies in the series.
As great as all the other games on this list are, however, no Resident Evil game left as much of a lasting impact on me as this one. While Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is not a perfect game, it is easily the scariest game, not only in this series, but out of all the games I ever played. And for that reason, I will die on the rock that it’s the best in the whole series.
Could the Resident Evil 4 remake join the list?
Looking ahead, we won’t have to wait too much longer to jump into yet another haunting Resident Evil adventure. Following suit in the same vein as Resident Evil 2 and 3, Capcom is putting the final touches on its Resident Evil 4 remake. Like its predecessors, the remake aims to retell the story of the original with modernized graphics and controls, as well as darker and more realistic visuals. It launches on March 24 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S and PC.
To learn more about what to expect in the Resident Evil 4 remake, check out our article detailing everything we know so far. In addition, you can hear our thoughts on the first Resident Evil 4 in our official retro review.
What do you think about this list? Do you agree with the unorthodox ordering? Or does this list totally miss the mark? As always, we want to hear what you think in the comments. And be sure to drop your top five Resident Evil games as well!