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The Resident Evil series is now more than 20 years old, and one of the most loved franchises in gaming. From 1996 onward, gamers everywhere have been blasting zombies and eating green herbs even the ever-changing series. But Resident Evil is also known for switching up genres, characters, and its incredibly complex history. It’s hard to tell where to start with Resident Evil, especially with the release of the seventh entry in the franchise.

So, with all the new players in mind, your pals at Fandom have pulled together a handy beginner's guide. We'll take you through every mainline entry in the series and explain the plot, the history, and how approachable it is for new players. Let's start with the first entry.

Resident Evil

Under the broad directive of "make a horror game," former Capcom developer Shinji Mikami spearheaded the production of Resident Evil, which would release to great acclaim in 1996. Borrowing a bit from George Romero's 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, Resident Evil's debut has players taking control of the S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team as they explore a spooky mansion in the hopes of finding out what happened to the team who arrived before them. Of course, this sinister dwelling is home to biological experiments that threaten to wipe out not just the S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team, but the entirety of Raccoon City.

This first Resident Evil would set the basic formula for the series until 2005's Resident Evil 4 went for an entirely different approach. The series' debut features everything that would come to define Resident Evil for its first decade of existence: adventure game puzzles in labyrinthine environments, limited resources and limited inventory space, and, in general, a very hostile attitude towards the player. And while the initial version on PlayStation might not have aged as well as some of its sequels, the 2002 GameCube remake remains the ideal way to experience this first chapter in the series—luckily, it's available on all modern gaming platforms.

Resident Evil 2

The title "Resident Evil" immediately loses its relevance in this first sequel, which expands the scope of the experience to more than the interiors of a single mansion. As the zombie outbreak spreads throughout Raccoon City, we meet Leon Kennedy, a cop starting his job on the worst possible day, and Claire Redfield, who's in search of her brother Chris following the events of the previous game. With its adventure set across the entirety of Racoon City, Resident Evil 2 focuses on the evil Umbrella corporation and how its ties to the local government led to the current chaos in the city. Trapped in a half-destroyed city swarming with zombies, Leon and Clair have no choice but to team up to survive—and maybe figure out what exactly happened along the way.

Resident Evil 2 plays much like the first game, but with some of the rough edges sanded away. It still features many of the same limitations set in stone by the first title, but it's not nearly as punishing, and overall has a much better presentation. What really makes a difference, though, is how its two protagonists lead to two very different experiences. As with the first game, each potential hero has their strengths and weaknesses, but this time around, they each take a unique path through the campaign, occasionally meeting up with each other throughout. And to add to the replay value, starting the alternate character's path after finishing the game gives you a mixed-up scenario with the added challenge of a hulking enemy named "Mr. X" who has a habit of showing up suddenly to scare the pants off of you.

Resident Evil 3

The third Resident Evil game is set just 24 hours after the explosive ending to Resident Evil 2, but things have changed quite a bit.Developed by a mix of old and new Capcom team members, a team out to tweak the series to a degree in its final appearance on the original PlayStation. Original costar Jill Valentine is back in Resident Evil 3, but with a very different look as she searches Raccoon City for new information on the T-Virus.She makes some new friends, but also new enemies, including one of the most threatening villains in series history: the seemingly unkillable, unstoppable Nemesis.

The game was well received back in 1999, with fans loving Jill's new design, as well as the new combat mechanics and initial approach to Quick Time Events and branching paths. Not only that, but the addition of Nemesis made for some of the scariest moments in Resident Evil to that point. However, Resident Evil 3 hasn't aged all that well, with its forced perspectives and sharp polygons not looking stupendous on HD displays. Maybe RE3 will be the next core entry to get a remake after RE2? Until then, this one is more for franchise completists, not noobs.

Resident Evil 4

Leon Kennedy takes the starring role in Resident Evil 4, as he embarks on a journey to a very Spain-like country to find the President's missing daughter. This Resident Evil pushes aside most of the Umbrella conspiracy subject matter for the sake of exploring an entirely different take on zombies. While the zombies of the first three games amount to slow, shambling piles of rotting flesh, the ganados of Resident Evil 4 still have most of their wits about them. The "zombies" of this revolutionary Resident Evil not only use weapons; they also communicate and cooperate with each other for the sake of offing Leon. With its host of varied settings and a newfound focus on action-based gameplay, Resident Evil 4 would set the standard for the next ten years of Resident Evil games.

While it keeps many of the same themes and a focus on limited resources, Resident Evil 4 couldn't play any more different than the games that came before. For one, it pulls the camera behind the protagonist's back, completely removing the prescribed camera angles of previous Resident Evil. More importantly, though, it emphasizes killing enemies over avoiding them. While you still have to make smart choices with how you upgrade your weapons and use your ammo, Resident Evil 4 amounts to a third-person shooter set amid a series of well-designed and varied action set pieces. Despite making such a left turn from the series' trajectory, Resident Evil 4 remains a very tense experience, rather than one that empowers you too much. It's incredibly rare to see a series reinvent itself so drastically and remain relevant, which speaks to the pure excellence to Resident Evil 4.

Resident Evil 5

After RE4 completely changed the franchise, the next entry looked to expand and enlarge the action-shooter elements. The fog and the zombies were replaced with deserts, blistering suns, and more intense enemy encounters. The first game's co-star, Chris Redfield, returned after appearing in the CODE: Veronica spinoff, once again battling the series' greatest super-villain, Albert Wesker. Chris also got a new co-op partner in Sheva Alomar, a constant companion in battling some truly monstrous enemies and over-the-top challenges. It all made for a bombastic arrival to the HD console generation.

Resident Evil 5 is another great starting point for people looking to understand where the series began and where it would be heading. You get the big monsters, the history of the S.T.A.R.S. Team dating back to the first entry, and the payoff to more than a decade of teases. RE5 also took the series in a bold new direction by embracing the then-new co-op shooter gameplay that was all the rage during the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 years, making for a fun time whether played alone or with friends. Even some cheesy characters or annoying enemies add to the action movie fun of Resident Evil 5, which stays exciting all the way to the game's volcanic conclusion.

Resident Evil 6

Resident Evil 4 added shooter elements to great effect; then Resident Evil 5 expanded on them with even more action (with co-op on top). What could Resident Evil 6 do to top that? How about with even more huge, blockbuster film action that covered the entire planet and told four different stories at once? Resident Evil 6 is the biggest game that the series ever saw, bringing Leon, Chris, Ada Wong, and Sherry Birkin all into the same sprawling adventure, next to new co-op buddies including Jake Mueller, the son of Wesker. It's a globetrotting, massive adventure where the very existence of the world hangs in the balance, and it's one of the biggest production in Capcom history.

Resident Evil 6 chooses to split the campaign into four separate adventures, which allows the game to play differently depending on who you want. Leon's campaign has more of the old school zombie feel of the original, with darker corridors and more undead to shoot. Chris' story plays more like RE5, with a bigger focus on coordinated co-op attacks and bigger monsters to battle in a more aggressive style. Meanwhile, Jake's plays more like a modern adventure game, with crazier super powers and more specialized skills. It leaves players with many options in just what version of Resident Evil 6 they find most fun, but all campaigns have something to offer.

Resident Evil 7

And that history brings us to the most recent entry in the series, the mysterious Resident Evil 7. The game looks to change the series substantially. Gone is the bombast and military action of the last three games. Instead, Resident Evil 7 not only takes the franchise back to its horror roots, but it also enhances them with Resident Evil's first ever first-person viewpoint. Changing the gameplay style so drastically means the scares are back in a big way as players explore the haunting house on the Bayou full of terror you can't turn away from. Also, while it's connected to the previous games, RE7 looks to break so much from the previous games' mythology that it feels like a great jumping on for new players. So, if you're looking for where to start with Resident Evil, this might be just the place.

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Bob Mackey
Bob Mackey is Games Editor at Fandom. Since joining the games press in 2007, he's written for sites like 1UP, Joystiq, The A.V. Club, Gamasutra, USgamer, and many others. He also hosts the weekly podcasts Retronauts and Talking Simpsons. Follow him on Twitter @bobservo.