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The insane story of Resident Evil explained

Here's what you need to know about Resident Evil: the story is strange, convoluted, and yet seriously compelling. Over the franchise's more than twenty-year life span, over thirty games have been released on various platforms because let's face it: the series has a premise that's hard to beat. Resident Evil made zombies into bigger, better monsters, and the T-virus made us all be more mindful about washing our hands. The Capcom games invented and arguably perfected the survival horror genre and managed to frighten the heck out of players even with '90s-era graphics.

Like the zombies in the games, the Resident Evil franchise is practically immortal, even if the story sometimes seems to shamble and stumble here and there. Typically, players can make it through a game shooting and dodging rotten, dripping creatures without really knowing what's going on, the gameplay is powerful enough to propel players without a backstory. However, we're going to dig in and chronologically decipher the whole story thus far: Resident Evil from start to finish.

Resident Evil Zero: snakes on a train

Resident Evil Zero was released in 2002, but is set in July of 1998 and serves as a prequel to the very first game. There's something shady and cannibalistic happening in the Arklay Mountains outside the metropolis of Raccoon City. The Bravo Team of Raccoon City police's Special Tactics And Rescue Service (STARS) is investigating when their helicopter crashes. They split up like any group in a horror movie, leaving Officer Rebecca Chambers alone. She discovers a crashed train that had been attacked by leeches, who transmitted the transformative T-virus to the passengers, turning them into zombified monsters.

Escaped convict and wrongfully convicted Marine Billy Coen is also on the train, which they both become trapped on as it starts moving again. Diverting the out-of-control train, they find themselves in an abandoned facility that is also crawling with mutated insects, apes, and a sizable bat. They discover that the facility is the birthplace of the T-virus: the Umbrella pharmaceutical corporation wanted to make a bio-weapon by combining the Progenitor virus with leech DNA. The body of assassinated scientist James Marcus had been possessed by his infected Queen Leech, and she — believing herself to be Marcus — has a vendetta against Umbrella, leading her to attack the train.

Rebecca finds out that the rest of her team are investigating a nearby mansion, but first she and Billy have to take down Marcus. Upon escape, Rebecca goes to meet up with her team, and Billy has his freedom (he was "killed in the train crash," after all).

Resident Evil: Scooby Doo in Spencer mansion

Resident Evil gives murder mansion a whole new meaning. The first game was released in 1996, but remade in 2002. The day after the helicopter crash, the STARS Alpha Team are searching for the Bravo Team when they are attacked by mutated dogs. The helicopter takes off without them, so they take refuge in a local mansion which turns out to be filled with more monsters. The gang splits up and Jill Valentine (or Chris Redfield if the player wants to try hard mode) discovers that there are tons of booby traps and puzzles among the terrors in the mansion, which is actually another testing facility for Umbrella. Creatures — human and animal — that were exposed to the T-virus have mutated.

In an underground lab beneath the mansion, the player discovers that it was their teammate Albert Wesker who had been working for the unscrupulous Umbrella all along. But wait! Barry has also betrayed the player! But only because the dastardly Wesker has his family held hostage. Wesker is working on unleashing the Tyrant, a horrifying monster that is part-super-soldier and all-ugly. Barry manages to snipe Wesker, but the monster is unleashed. Meeting up with the rest of the STARS, the player fills them in and hits a convenient self-destruct button. Depending on which of the four endings the player gets, the Tyrant either escapes or is blown to smithereens, after which the survivors fly away in a helicopter.

Resident Evil 2: Leon's first day on the job

Resident Evil 2, released originally in 1998 and remade in 2019, is set two months after the STARS Team had their adventure in the Arklay Mountains. The ultra-infectious mutagenic T-virus was released into the water supply of Raccoon City, transforming the population into nightmarish zombies. The game has two main characters, which creates two plotlines: that of Leon S. Kennedy and that of Claire Redfield. Leon is on his very first day of his job as a rookie cop. One of the only living souls left in the city is Claire Redfield, capable college student in search of her older brother Chris, who isn't in the city at all.

Claire finds a lost little girl named Sherry Birkin who is being pursued by a monster. Leon meanwhile finds Ada Wong, who is looking for her boyfriend, an Umbrella researcher. It turns out that the police chief had been in Umbrella's pocket and had helped conceal their research into the new G-virus, which turns people into bioweapons. He tries to kill Claire, but she and Sherry escape into the sewers. There, they become separated, and Sherry loses her golden pendant, which Ada finds later.

Leon discovers Ada in the sewers after a few run-ins with a Tyrant in the police station. She's not into teaming up, but Leon is willing to take a bullet for her. Which he does.

Sherry's strange family

The woman who shot Leon is Annette Birkin, Sherry's mother and wife of William Birkin, creator of the G-virus. He had injected himself with it to save himself after being double-crossed by Umbrella, turning himself into a horrible creature that pursues his daughter. Annette falls off a railing in a scuffle with Ada over Sherry's pendent, which contains a sample of the virus. Ada, less steely than she seems, helps to nurse Leon after saving her life.

Claire and Sherry find out that Sherry's ethically questionable father, the monster known as "G," wants to implant a G-virus embryo in her. Which he does as they try to escape him in yet another underground Umbrella facility. However, Annette tells Claire with her dying breath that a vaccine can be made after she also spills the beans: Ada is a spy sent to steal the G-virus. Ada, wounded from a fight with G, saves Leon from the Tyrant because she has somehow fallen head over heels for him in their short time together. She dies, but Leon, Claire, and Sherry live on to self-destruct (aren't those buttons convenient?) a train that G has taken over. Sherry is orphaned but cured, Claire is still on the hunt for her brother, and Leon now has his own grudge against Umbrella, who managed to get their hands on the G-virus after all. Ada's story isn't over either; she still has the pendant with the G-virus sample.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis - Mushroom Cloud City

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was released in 1998 but takes place the day before the events of Resident Evil 2. Jill Valentine is back and caught in the middle of Raccoon City. Before she can make it back to the police department, she runs into a whole new breed of creature that makes zombies look wimpy: Nemesis. This creature was formulated to seek and destroy the STARS members who witnessed Umbrella's sins. Also dodging the T-virus fiends are three members of the Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service (UBCS), who are trying to escape the city via helicopter. If they ring the bell in the town's bell tower, rescuers will be summoned.

In the journey there, one member of UBCS disappears, the other dies, and Jill is infected with the T-virus by Nemesis. The final member, Carlos Oliveira, manages to find a cure after Jill has been unconscious for three days. Back in action, she discovers that the UBCS member who disappeared, Nikolai, was an Umbrella agent all along (notice a theme here?). Carlos reveals even more pressing news: the US government is ready to nuke Raccoon City to prevent the spread of the virus. To make matters worse, Nemesis is still on their tail, uglier than ever after a bath in acid. The endings vary, but Nemesis is defeated via overkill with a railgun and Nikolai tries to waylay the protagonists. Via helicopter, they escape just before Raccoon City becomes Mushroom Cloud City.

Resident Evil: CODE Veronica - twins and tentacles

Remember Claire? She's still determined to find her brother, Chris Redfield. In 2000's Resident Evil: CODE Veronica, which is technically meant to be the third game in the series rather than Nemesis, she is captured three months later by Umbrella in Paris and taken to an island prison. Naturally, there is a T-virus outbreak so she and fellow escapee Steve Burnside try to flee the island and the evil commander Alfred, who sometimes believs himself to be his twin sister Alexia.

Alfred hijacks their escape plane, diverting it to an Antarctic Umbrella facility which has also been overrun with zombies. There he unleashes his sister Alexia, who had been cryogenically frozen fifteen years prior after giving herself a dose of the T-Veronica virus. She's super smart, super pissed, and can control tentacles.  

Chris looks for Claire on the island, and runs into none other than the two-faced Wesker, who is naturally after the T-Veronica virus, this time as a free agent rather than an Umbrella henchmen. Separately, they head to Antarctica on their respective missions. Chris saves Claire, but Steve is a goner. Having been injected with the T-Veronica virus, he tries but fails to kill Claire, maybe because he loves her. That's what he confesses with his dying breath after knowing her for a hot second. Chris and Wesker take on Alexia after smacking that oh-so-convenient self-destruct button, defeating her before the facility blows. Wesker steals Steve's corpse while Claire and Chris escape the explosion.

Resident Evil 4: my date with the president's daughter

Six years after Raccoon City, Umbrella has been shut down and we revisit Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil 4, released in 2005. The president tasks him with finding his daughter, Ashley, who has been kidnapped by a cult in rural Spain. After being infected by crazed villagers, Leon is told by Luis Sera, a researcher, that the cult has utilized an mind-controlling parasite called "Las Plagas" to take over the locals.

When Leon escapes and finds Ashley, he learns that the leader of the cult, Osmund Saddler, injected her with the parasite in order to gain control of the president and take over the world. They evade Saddler and find that their helicopter out had been shot down. They hide in a castle until another can be sent for them. In true Resident Evil form, the castle is filled with monsters and traps … and Ada Wong, who is after another parasite sample for her mysterious employer. Luis brings drugs to suppress the parasite when Leon and Ashley start to feel its effects, but is killed by Saddler.

After defeating the master of the castle, Leon and Ada have to team up to go to a military research island where Saddler has taken Ashley and the sample Ada is after. Escaping Saddler with some help from Ada — who gets her sample in the end — Leon rescues the girl, kills the villain, and jet-skis away as the island inevitably explodes.

Resident Evil 5: Wesker's doping scandal

Five years after the events of Resident Evil 4, we catch up with a boulder-punching Chris Redfield in Resident Evil 5, which was released in 2009. Chris is a member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) and he and partner Sheva are sent to Africa in order to stop the black market sale of a bioweapon. They find locals infected with Las Plagas and that their team has been killed. Rescued by the surviving members, Chris happens upon rumors that Jill Valentine is still alive, presumed dead after having taken out traitorous Wesker. As they resume the mission, Chris is willing to go AWOL to figure out the truth behind Jill.

This leads him and Sheva to defeat the would-be weapon dealer and discover the source of the Progenitor virus, a flower called Stairway to the Sun. Exploring yet another underground lab, they find out they have been — shocker! — doubled-crossed. Tricell, the company that funds the BSAA had taken over a defunct Umbrella lab and continued human experimentation, including on Jill, who has been mind-controlled into becoming Wesker's lackey. The CEO of Tricell had been working on plans with Wesker to launch missiles containing the monstrous Uroboros virus across the globe.

Wesker has been doping up with precise doses of virus, making him super strong and super fast. Jill is freed from her mind control device and tells Sheva this, so she compromises his dose, turning him into a monster that attempts to drag them all into a volcano. Cue the rocket grenade explosion.

Resident Evil 6: Ada's evil twin

The sixth installment in the series, released in 2012, occurs a few years later. Wesker is absent, but his son Jake has antibodies fit to make a cure for the new super-powered C-virus that threatens the world. Before a vaccine can be made he and Division of Security Operations (DSO) Agent Sherry Birkin (yes her) are captured by a woman calling herself Ada Wong. She is the leader of Neo-Umbrella and soundly defeats Chris and the BSAA, leaving him so traumatized that he gets amnesia.

Later, as the president tries to reveal the truth about Raccoon City with DSO Agent Leon Kennedy in attendance, they are all attacked by bio-terrorists. Leon finds the real Ada and together they pursue the traitorous NSA agent responsible for the attack, Simmons, to China. After some alone time, Chris and partner Piers are out for revenge, but are stopped from attacking Ada by Leon, who directs them to the fake Ada. The real Ada helps Leon kill a mutated Simmons and Jake and Sherry are rescued by Chris and Piers. Piers makes the ultimate sacrifice and turns himself into a monster with the C-virus in order to defeat an even bigger monster to allow Chris to escape. He destroys the facility, but there's still one final showdown with the fake Ada Wong. Her real name is Carla Radames and Jake, Sherry, and the real Ada destroy her and the Neo-Umbrella lab.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard - a family affair

At long last, the franchise returns to the survival horror heart of the series with 2017's Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Ethan Winters is looking for his wife Mia, who disappeared three years prior. He is led to a dilapidated house in the Louisiana swamp where his wife has apparently lost her memory and become deranged, just like the rest of the creepy Baker family in the house. Trying to save his wife, he has to dodge the mutated Bakers and creatures made out of mold in order to create a serum to cure Mia.

Ethan is nearly killed by the father Jack Baker. To save himself, he uses one of the two doses of the serum on him. This leaves Ethan with a terrible decision: save Mia or Zoe, the eldest Baker sister who had helped him along the way. Whoever the player chooses, they next discover a shipwreck of a tanker. This is the ship that Mia had been working on, escorting a sentient bioweapon named Eveline. Eveline wanted a family and Mia as a mother, so she infected her and lured Ethan to the Baker house. Ethan discovers an abandoned salt mine-turned-lab that the Bakers' son, Lucas, had been using to observe and study Eveline, who can produce psychotropic mold with transformative abilities. Here Ethan makes a toxin to kill her. Backup comes in the form of the BSAA and Chris Redfield, and Ethan defeats Eveline and, depending on player's priorities, is able to save his wife.

Resident Evil 7: Not a Hero and End of Zoe

The two DLCs following the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard give more perspectives on the end of the game. The first, entitled "Not A Hero," follows franchise favorite Chris Redfield as he comes upon the scene of yet another bioweapon gone awry. The Umbrella Corporation has apparently reformed, and the new villain is "The Connections," who created Eveline. After sending Ethan to safety, Chris is after evidence and Lucas, who has booby-trapped the underground lab. He is able to defeat him and prevent Lucas from sending information on Eveline to this shady new organization, but only after making his way through bombs and mold men galore. Returning to the Umbrella base, there is a urgent call waiting for him.

"End of Zoe" follows the tragic tale of Zoe, who bitterly bid goodbye to Ethan and Mia after he decides to cure his wife. Umbrella soldiers discover her, only to be attacked by her Uncle Joe. Joe is apparently totally normal, and made the understandable assumption that Umbrella was to blame. However, Umbrella has a cure, and Joe and Zoe must try to find it while escaping the Swamp Man, a giant monster. This is actually Joe's brother and Zoe's father Jack, who Joe must defeat in order to get the cure and save Zoe.

All the other games, movies, and more

The above ten titles are the essential canon of the series, following the Resident Evil formula of bigger, badder viruses, inevitable and unsurprising betrayals, and exploding research centers. However, there are a significant number of Resident Evil games that revisit main characters like Leon and Chris. A lot of these are more action than horror, with the exception of Resident Evil: Revelations and Revelations 2. In the former, Jill and Chris dodge monsters on a cruise ship; in the latter, Claire Redfield returns as a protagonist on an infected island.

Other games are a little more shoot-em-up, like 2016's Umbrella Corps, which centers around mercenaries working to recover the now-defunct Umbrella's bioweapon research. There are also a ton of manga series and CG movies that propel the gang on further adventures in bioweaponry and generally only complicate and confuse the already twisted lore. The live-action Hollywood-produced movies have some cameos of the original survival horror survivors, but center around a wholly new character named Alice. Netflix has also expressed interest in making an original Resident Evil series.