Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-08-20 05:06:11
The Demise of Resident Evil
Resident Evil needs to stop. Of course Capcom aren't actually going to let one of their most popular franchises die, but just because they can continue the series doesn't mean that they should. With the recent announcement of a Resident Evil 7 in the works, spokespeople at Capcom have suggested that the game will go 'back to its survival horror roots'. The only issue is that Capcom have been saying that for years; they said it during the lead-up to Revelations and they definitely said it when describing Resident Evil 6 to consumers.
As a big fan of the series - its characters, its world and its gameplay - I can say with confidence that Resident Evil 6 was a bad game and a terrible example of the genre. Having enjoyed most of what the series has put out (from the PS1 games to 4 and 5, to spin-offs such as the Chronicles titles) I was amazed at how shoddy and unfinished 6 felt. In many respects, though, the game was an endorsement, if ever I have seen one, for a series to end. The game felt like a cry for help.
Resident Evil 6 didn't need to exist. The silent villain behind most of the series' zombie outbreak-related events was always Albert Wesker, who died at the end of 5. 5 wasn't a perfect game by any means, but it was enjoyable in co-op and had a good sense of pacing. While the narrative was typically corny for a Resident Evil game, it somehow made sense, and after Chris and Sheva finally put down Wesker it felt as if the series was finally at its end. The major enemies had been dethroned and the Umbrella Corporation was no more. That is where the series should have ended.
But then 6 came out, featuring all sorts of pointless villains that didn't really belong in the world of Resident Evil. Friends became enemies; enemies became friends, all in seemingly random and just plain stupid ways - it was an awfully convoluted narrative that turned Chris Redfield into an alcoholic loner and introduced a plethora of new characters for the sake of it. There was Leon Kennedy's new sidekick and Albert Wesker's son...and some generic soldier who eventually turned into a ridiculous superhero with the ability to fire lightning from his arm. It boosted the already bloated cast into even more bloated territory. 6 was a narrative mess, and it didn't help that the gameplay was shoddy and felt entirely low-budget throughout, full of unavoidable situations that could instantly kill the player and events that didn't make sense in the context of the series.
That was Capcom's previous attempt to return to its roots, apparently - one of the worst games in the series. 6 didn't know what it wanted to be - after killing Wesker off, it's clear that the series has no idea where to go next. Any villain who surfaces now is never going to be up-to-par with good old Albert, and it seems pointless at this stage to expect the series to know what survival horror even is to a modern audience. Resident Evil was scary back in the day because there wasn't much else like it; 4 had some creepy enemies like Regenerators, but generally wouldn't scare anyone in their teenage years or older. 5 wasn't remotely scary, but was a decent action game. 6...I don't know what part of that game was supposed to be scary, but I don't remember a single point that could be considered 'horror'. If the zombie on the roof of Leon's car was supposed to be scary, I have to question who is making the design decisions at Capcom, because that shit was hilarious.
Neither was Revelations, the other supposed return to the series' roots, scary. The series just doesn't seem to know how to scare people any more. It relies far too much on throwing copious amounts of enemies at the player. It seems logical to me that after meeting a horrific enemy, an over-saturation of that enemy only serves to make it less fearsome. Resident Evil games used to be scarier because they had a minimalist sense of the form - a desolate mansion with thunder outside; walking by a window and having a zombie dog jump through it. The first time you see that stuff, it unsettles you, particularly back when the games were released. Nowadays, Resident Evil is too much of a 'game' to be scary - it wants to be an action game, but in doing so it loses its edge as a horror title. The more enemies you need to shoot, the less scary the game becomes, and things that may have been scary in short doses become recycled annoyances.
So when Capcom announce that Resident Evil 7 is going back to the series' roots, I cannot help but be sceptical. Unless Capcom completely reinvent the game (as they did successfully with 4) or somehow reboot the series, there's no way that the series can evolve. As it stands, Resident Evil is caught in a limbo, introducing more and more superfluous characters into its games and hoping that the lore of its world can sustain them. Alas, with the main villain/villainous organisation toppled, there's a real sense that Resident Evil should have ended after 5. And, if we must continue with the series, Capcom really do need to make some big changes. As a fan, I can certainly hope that 7 will be a good game that does indeed return to the survival horror roots of the series, but as a realist, I can't see it happening based on the series' output these last few years.