The whole story starts, innocently enough, with some lovely flowers. Inspired by the writings of Henry Travis, Drs. Oswell E. Spencer and James Marcus set out to find the Stairway of the Sun. Travis wrote that the Stairway of the Sun is a West African flower believed by locals to bestow amazing powers. Turns out the flower contained a virus that is capable of scrambling up a host’s DNA. I know the 60s were all about flower power, but this seems a little intense. With the newly dubbed “Progenitor Virus,” Spencer believes he can create an improved human race. All he needs is some time, research and of course, cold hard cash. And what better way to fund a eugenics-based science project than by starting a pharmaceutical company?
And so, along with Edward Ashford, Spencer and Marcus found Umbrella Pharmaceuticals as a front for their research into the Progenitor Virus. Spencer sets up a research base in the Arklay mountains, complete with its own booby-trapped mansion to keep intruders away. Perhaps Spencer should have settled for a quaint log cabin, because these Three Stooges started running out of money for their research! To pick up the financial slack, the three agreed to independently develop strains of the Progenitor Virus as Bio-Organic Weapons, and sell them to the US military. This scheme would come to be known as the t-Virus Project.
With the help of his son, Alexander, Edward Ashford had been doing his own Progenitor research. When an accident occurs at the research base (that was all too convenient for Spencer, if you catch my drift), Edward Ashford is infected with the Progenitor Virus and dies. Alexander is left as the sole head of the Ashford family, and inheritor of his father’s research. Unfortunately for him, Alexander was more into genetics than viruses. He couldn’t make heads or tails of the Progenitor Virus! So, to reclaim his family’s status, he puts his noggin to use the only way he knows how: cloning! Using DNA from the Ashford family matriarch, Veronica, Alexander launches the “CODE: Veronica” project.
After three years of research in the Antarctic base, CODE: Veronica is complete, and the twins Alexia and Alfred are... born? Created? Yeah, created sounds better.
After years of research, James Marcus completes development of the T-virus! Rather than dying, like with the Progenitor Virus, hosts infected with the T-virus became mindless, flesh-hungry zombies. NOW we’re getting to the real meat and potatoes of Resident Evil! But, Oswell E. Spencer wasn’t there to pop the bubbly over Marcus’ success. By this point, the two had been in a BOW [Bee-oh-double-you] arms race to crack the code of the Progenitor Virus first. Marcus’ development gave him a solid lead in the fight to control Umbrella. It’s alright, though, because Marcus doesn’t celebrate alone! He hires two young, ambitious upstarts to his team that same year: William Birkin and Albert Wesker. I bet those two have a bright future ahead of them!
Who let that happen.
Back in the frozen hellscape of Antarctica, things are starting to boil over. Alexia and Alfred discover how their “father” came to create them, and resent him for it. So, the gruesome twosome begin experimenting on Alexander. A bona fide virology genius, Alexia combines the Progenitor Virus with genes from a queen ant. Then, naturally, she injects that concoction into Alexander. The experiment fails, and Alexander is morphed into a terrible genetic monstrosity known only as “Nosferatu.” But Alexia is not deterred! She injects herself with this new “T-Veronica” virus—lovingly named after her cell donor. To avoid Alexander’s fate, and contain the virus, Alexia puts herself into a fifteen-year cryo stasis, and tasks Alfred with overseeing her sleep.
James Marcus had spent plenty of time tinkering with his fancy new t-virus, making all kinds of fun, horrible creations. While he’s working on his latest project, the Queen Leech, Marcus is assassinated by the Umbrella Security Service under orders from Oswell Spencer. I guess Spencer finally let his paranoia get the better of him, because he sent his best boys Wesker and Birkin to do his dirty work! Marcus and his Queen Leech are discarded, and William Birkin is given official credit for developing the t-virus, along with all of Marcus’ research. Yikes! That’s like, Edison levels of unethical science.
And what a year for unethical science it was! Using Marcus’ research, Birkin begins development of the T-002, better known as the Tyrant. Meanwhile, across the pond Umbrella Europe creates a parasite lovingly called “Nemesis alpha”. Tyrant and Nemesis?! I’m feeling S.T.A.R.S.-struck with all these classic Resident Evil villains!
Even though William Birkin’s name doesn’t have the panache of say, Tyrant or Nemesis, he’s still a pretty villainous dude on his own. Using the Nemesis Alpha parasite developed in Europe, he discovers a new strain of Progenitor Virus: the Golgotha Virus (or G-Virus, if you’re hip). Unlike the t-virus, which causes the host’s mind and body to deteriorate, the g-virus lets its host repair dead cells. Spencer must have smelled the possibility of immortality in the air; he’s so jazzed about the G-virus that he builds Birkin a whole new laboratory underneath Raccoon City to research it. That’s some prime real estate!
So far, we haven’t even touched the games! Umbrella has spent the last 30 years researching and experimenting, with few hitches (from Spencer’s point of view, that is). All the zombie dominoes have been lined up (Zombinoes? Dombies?). Anyway, it’s time to party like it’s 1998! Enter the survival horror!
Remember our old pal James Marcus? Turns out his Queen Leech project had spent the past 10 years fusing with his mind and body. And so, as an act of revenge, the new and improved(?) Marcus causes a total containment failure at the Arklay Laboratory. The t-Virus infects the staff, infected dogs escape into the Arklay Mountains, and the nightmare begins.
After reports of multiple Zombie and dog-related deaths, the Raccoon City Police Department deploys the Special Tactics and Rescue Service to investigate the area via helicopter. The STARS Bravo Team is forced to crash land after their helicopter “malfunctions”, and conduct the rest of their investigation on foot. What a convenient “malfunction,” eh Umbrella?
But Bravo Team aren’t the only ones snooping around. Umbrella sends their best boys, William Birkin and Albert Wesker, to find out what happened (and possibly hand out some pink slips). Birkin activates the self-destruct sequence for the facility to cover the whole thing up.
Meanwhile, Bravo Team’s rookie medic, Rebecca Chambers, destroys the Queen Leech. From there, she heads off to the Spencer Mansion to find the rest of Bravo Team.
Who rescues the rescuers? STARS Alpha Team of course! Alpha ventures into the Arklay mountains to find the now-incommunicado Bravo team. Their squad leader? The incomparable Albert Wesker! A double agent? I knew I couldn’t trust those sunglasses.
Under Umbrella’s orders, Wesker searches the Spencer Mansion for any and all incriminating evidence, and promptly destroys it. Except of course, for Umbrella’s research that he keeps for himself. A triple agent?! Wesker, you rascal!
Once the rest of the STARS team discovers they’ve been duped, Wesker releases the now-finished T-002 Tyrant. The Tyrant promptly gores Wesker, but not before Wesker injects himself with a prototype virus given to him by William Birkin. That explains Wesker’s whole teleporting, red-eyed trench coat look.
But Wesker underestimated the Resident Evil dream team: Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. With a rocket launcher, a helicopter, and an ever-so-useful self-destruct button, the two destroy the Tyrant, and the entire Spencer Mansion! Chris, Jill, their comrade Barry Burton, and Bravo team’s Rebecca Chambers all escape the explosion. You better believe Wesker escapes too! With his new highly-confidential souvenirs, he decides to flip Umbrella the bird and join a mysterious rival organization known only as…”the organization.” See Umbrella? That’s doing corporate espionage right!
Like Wesker, William Birkin is pretty fed up with Umbrella! Despite all his breakthroughs, Spencer never had the decency to promote him to an executive position. So, Birkin agrees to hand over himself and all his research the the US military. Unfortunately, Umbrella gets to him before he can make the deal. Led by HUNK, the Umbrella Security Service has Birkin at gunpoint. At the sound of a crashing coffee mug, HUNK and the USS gun Birkin down and confiscate his work.
But with his last moments, Birkin injects himself with a remaining sample of the G-Virus. Because it’s Resident Evil, Birkin’s body reacts poorly to the G-Virus, turning him into a horrible mutated monster. Birkin slaughters almost the entire USS team (HUNK and his pal Miguel make it out). During the fight, Birkin accidentally spills some t-Virus into Raccoon City’s water supply...what a klutz.
Now infected with the G-virus, a heavily mutated William Birkin is wandering around Raccoon City in search of his daughter, Sherry. That sounds sweet, but he’s not looking for her out of paternal instinct. Instead, Birkin’s G-virus side is just looking for a compatible host, and knows Sherry is a good choice because of her blood relations… not nearly as sweet. Eventually, Birkin implants Sherry with a G-virus embryo, and the clock starts ticking.
Not to worry though, Sherry! She’s in good hands; the hands of Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield! Who are they, you ask? Well, Leon’s a rookie cop and Claire’s… Chris Redfield’s sister… who’s still in college. Okay, maybe there are more qualified folks that Sherry could have run into. Like her mom, Annette Birkin!
Before she’s killed by her now-unrecognizable husband, Annette tells Leon and Claire how to create a vaccine to stop the G-embryo inside of Sherry. Sure enough, the two underdogs pull through and subdue the virus… subdue not destroy. This is Resident Evil! You think it’s ever that simple.
Of course not! And one of the least simple characters in the whole series is Ada Wong. A spy for the enigmatic organization that rivals Umbrella, Ada is sent to Raccoon City to retrieve a sample of the G-Virus. After several run-ins with Leon, Claire and company, Ada retrieves the G-Virus for the organization.
But what of our sweet Billy Birkin? Well, as Claire, Leon and Sherry are escaping the city via train, Birkin attacks in his last act of desperation. The gang evades the now-blobbified Birkin, flips the self-destruct switch on the train and puts Birkin out of his misery for good.
Remember those stuffy Ashford twins, Alexia and Alfred? Well, they and their t-Veronica virus eventually piqued Wesker’s interest, along with his organization. He and his Hive-Host Capture Force are dispatched to Rockfort Island, the headquarters of Alfred Ashford. While Wesker is investigating, he encounters Chris Redfield, who is searching for his sister Claire, Umbrella’s prisoner at Rockfort Island. Wesker shows off his neat new powers, and Chris finds out that Claire (and her new prisoner pal, Steve) were actually transported to Antarctica (after handing Alfred Ashford his own ass).
No match for Wesker at this point, Chris books it to Antarctica, where he encounters a no-longer-dormant Alexia Ashford. In the subsequent battle, Steve kicks the bucket, but Chris destroys Alexia, rescues Claire, sets the Antarctica base to self-destruct, and escapes back to civilization. Damn, Chris! No wonder your arms are so freakishly big by Resident Evil 5! You’re a straight up action movie star! If only Steve could have survived to witness your glory!
While the Redfields were kicking ass and taking names, Umbrella was shuffling around with its tail between its legs. After the Raccoon City incident, the US government came down hard on Umbrella, forbidding it from doing business in the US and federalizing all the company’s assets. Add the destruction of the Rockfort and Antarctic bases into the mix, and Umbrella was left licking its wounds.