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Where Resident Evil Went Wrong & How it Can Find its Way Back - Part I - VGChartz
Where Resident Evil Went Wrong & How it Can Find its Way Back - Part I

Where Resident Evil Went Wrong & How it Can Find its Way Back - Part I - Article

by Ben Burnham , posted on 29 April 2015 / 15,138 Views

There’s little doubt that the gaming landscape has changed in a major way since the 32-bit era.

It was a change that happened gradually; one that took the form of a natural evolution, with the art of gaming spreading beyond those who were traditionally defined as “gamers”. With that, we’ve seen games become more accessible, far more cinematic, and for the most part easier to master.

Resident Evil was a series that, upon its debut in 1996, featured game design that couldn’t possibly have been more at odds with where gaming (and the series itself) would wind up heading years later. Playing Resident Evil was an exercise in exploring your surroundings, fighting off zombies with ridiculously small ammo reserves, and figuring out what to do and where to go on your own. Those first Resident Evil games didn’t hold your hand whatsoever, dropping you into their settings with little direction or any sort of clue as to what to do first.

Resident Evil 1 Dining Room
You’d explore the isolated settings and solve tricky puzzles, sometimes going for hours with no human interaction or narrative. You’d read journals in search of clues or information, seek out keys to unlock barred doors, and look for ways to arm yourself against the undead. Everything about the game was meant to be challenging.

One thing that’s become standard in the industry over the years has been the ease with which your game is saved. In the early Resident Evil titles, not only could you only save at designated save points, but you had to possess ink ribbons to be allowed to do so, making an action as necessary as saving your progress something that had to be done sparingly and with careful thought. The inventory management system, similarly, was about as unforgiving as they got, with rules in place that made even dropping an item to make space for another an impossibility unless you happened to be at an Item Box to store it.

It’s hard to believe, especially looking back from this point in time, but Resident Evil, despite its inaccessibility, was a majorly popular franchise during the 32-bit era. It was a series that sold millions upon millions of copies, was ported to nearly every platform under the sun, and was a key figure in gaming. But even then, the industry was going through major changes. From its heyday on the PS1, Resident Evil saw diminishing sales numbers as the years went on, with Capcom and creator Shinji Mikami eventually forced to re-imagine and modernize the series in order for it to fit in with the games of its era.

Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 was the result, a game that brought the series fully back into the spotlight and revolutionized both horror and action games in the process. It featured a more forgiving weapon and saving system, was more cinematic in its storytelling, and kicked the pacing up a major notch from anything the series had seen previously. The game was such an incredible success not only because at the time there was nothing else like it, but it for the most part thrilled both series fans and invited in newcomers, finding just the right balance between “action” and “survival horror.”

But then things changed. Mikami departed Capcom, leaving Resident Evil in different hands, and the series’ shift in focus was undeniable. Resident Evil 5, to many old school fans’ dismay, stripped away many of the remaining horror elements left in the fourth installment, introducing frequent auto-saving, co-op play, and very linear gameplay that took on a level-to-level structure. With a huge marketing campaign and the hype engine running in full gear thanks to the popularity of its groundbreaking predecessor, Resident Evil 5 went on to become the best-selling entry in the series, though fans were polarized by its dramatic shift in direction.

Resident Evil 6
Resident Evil 6 followed, demonstrating a Capcom unwilling to listen to the dissenting voices. It continued full-steam ahead into Action Game territory while ditching the core gameplay mechanics featured in Resident Evils 4 and 5, replacing them with something far less satisfying and original. Poor reviews and disappointing sales would follow, ending the series’ winning streak and leaving Capcom at a crossroads. Spin-off games in-between (such as the Revelations series, most notably the first installment) have tepidly re-introduced some of the horror, and the recent HD re-release of the original Resident Evil seems to have done well, though I’d imagine that most of its audience consists of people who have played it in the past.

What’s become incredibly clear in the wake of the misfire that was the sixth installment is that Resident Evil needs a major change in direction in order for it to remain relevant. There's little doubt that Capcom’s attempts to emulate popular action series like Call of Duty haven’t worked well, and it’s my belief that the time has come to once again chart a new course.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I discuss what that course should be.


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36 Comments

Wright (on 29 April 2015)

As someone who loves every single entry in this franchise, I don't understand why you give such praise to Resident Evil 4 and then point at Resident Evil 5 as the start of the problem. Either consider Resident Evil 4 part of the "problem", or enjoy RE5 and RE6 for what they are, for what they offer and for the huge amount of fanservice they throw at the player.


Heavenly_King (on 29 April 2015)

the "bad" thing about RE6 is that the developers (as other japanese developer) wants to do their own "take" on the genre they are involved; and they wanted to "reinvent" 3rd person shooters, and the gamers in the west hated it, but if you give it time it is enjoyable, you just need to get acquainted.


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sundin13 (on 29 April 2015)

Because RE4 held on just enough to keep the heart of the series despite reinventing many aspects of it. RE5 on the other hand just kept going in that direction.

Lets say we had a Horror <-> Action scale (with totally arbitrary numbers!). The early RE games could be placed on 3, with many aspects of the games working towards the feeling of disempowerment and fear. RE4 then took a few steps towards action and say, was about a 5. The game had more things to make you feel like a badass, but it still held on to enough horror elements to make it feel like a balance. RE5 and to a greater extent RE6 assumed that the positive response to RE4 meant that people wanted EVEN MORE ACTION, which wasn't exactly true for many fans. They wanted the action creep to stop around where RE4 was, but instead, they turned the action up to 11 (hyperbole alert) and now build the game around that instead of around horror.

Its become some sort of strange mashup that doesn't really understand what it wants to be, which is why a lot of people can't look past the fact that they are tied to the franchises history. I see a lot of interesting mechanics in RE5/6, but they seem to be shackled by some strange design decisions made in the name of Horror. Being three quarters action and one quarter horror does not a complete game make.

Its hard to say that RE4 is "part of the problem", because while it did start moving in the direction of action, it didn't cross the line...


  • +3
GhaudePhaede010 (on 29 April 2015)

I agree with Sundin. Resident Evil 4, while different, was not so different that it was a downside in the series. Plus, while it is different, it is still an exceptional game. However, Resident Evil 5 and 6 went too far in the wrong direction and the balance of what the series was got lost.

I am not holding Resident Evil to any standard either because after Resident Evil 4, I was understanding that the series can change and still be excellent. However, until Revelations, the games were simply not very good. Revelations is a step in the correct direction and I hope they continue to explore that direction in future titles.


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GhaudePhaede010 (on 29 April 2015)

I agree with Sundin. Resident Evil 4, while different, was not so different that it was a downside in the series. Plus, while it is different, it is still an exceptional game. However, Resident Evil 5 and 6 went too far in the wrong direction and the balance of what the series was got lost.

I am not holding Resident Evil to any standard either because after Resident Evil 4, I was understanding that the series can change and still be excellent. However, until Revelations, the games were simply not very good. Revelations is a step in the correct direction and I hope they continue to explore that direction in future titles.


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Benb (on 30 April 2015)

I disagree that Resident Evil 4 was a part of the problem. It introduced one or two aspects that I wasn't necessarily thrilled with (campy villains, radio contact with HQ) but the game still did something that neither RE5 nor RE6 did, which was allow you to explore environments at your own pace. After the initial action scenes you got to wander the village and figure out the next step, and that was something the game allowed you to do throughout. It was an explorable world, not a series of levels.


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viewjet (on 30 April 2015)

Agreed. With RE4 people will give a pass because the level design is just too good. I consider RE4 a masterpiece. I also like RE5 because it copies Re4 and adds co-op; it also completes the Wesker story arc which makes it interesting. By the time RE6 comes around, we are introduced to a boring, mindless action 3rd person shooter. But clearly RE4-6 are in the same camp of 3rd person action shooters with some horror elements and are different from what was before in the RE series.


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garywood (on 30 April 2015)

Well it's because RE4 still had one foot in survival horror. A bit like Revelations did. They could've conceivably tried to continue that in RE5 and 6 but instead they tried to ditch the horror more and more.


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Wright (on 30 April 2015)

While I can understand were you are coming from, guys, I don't consider Resident Evil 4 to be horror. Tense, to an extent, yeah. But so is Resident Evil 5, perhaps to a lesser extent, but tense still. I didn't find Resident Evil 4 scary. It features a superb combat system, but all is centered around Leon being able to outshine hordes and hordes of enemies and protecting Ashley from time to time. Ey, here comes Dr. Salvador; alright, time to get a bit worried but you're still an unstoppable tank. It doesn't help that you can gather more weapons by spending money on a random dude who happens to sell you those. I dunno. It's a great game, but one that vastly differs from its predecessors.

@Sundin13 What exactly did RE4 hold enough for it to keep the heart of the franchise? Saving on typewriters and... I guess campy villain, plus Leon S. Kennedy fanservice with Ada Wong. For everything else, there's always some random thing going on. The spanish people talking mexican, enemies giving you ammo, a Van-Damme / Steven Zeagal QTE boss sequence, escorting a killable companion, and overall some interesting transitions in the map design that goes from a rural town to a water bike escape sequence before a whole island gets blown up. There's a laboratory section there, too, indeed reminiscent of the old days (plus the escape before everything goes to hell thing), but it's just not the same.

It might look like I'm hating on Resident Evil 4, and that is not the case. I absolutely love Resident Evil 4. But swap the characters and the game's names and no one would have ever associated it with Resident Evil because it's a completely different game. Everyone helds this game very dear because it is an absolute joy to play. All I'm saying is that it changed the core formula of the franchise, and RE5 and RE6 just follow suit, which is something I don't understand why they're criticised too much.


That's my view on it, though.


  • +3
Anfebious (on 30 April 2015)

I compeletely agree with wright! Just a thing though... the Resident Evil games where never horror to begin wtih. Some monsters look ugly but that doesn't make it horror. The "B movie" dialogue and ridiculous plot elements is what makes RE stand out and make it less of a horror game.

I rather consider them survival action games. With time the series evolved from survival to action and that's perfect, because RE 4 is probably the best TPS to date and it paved the way for many others.

If you want to play horror games go and try Silent Hill or Amnesia and you will understand why they don't enjoy the commercial success that RE has.
They play ugly, they lack action and they are just not as fun as RE. That's why Capcom takes the approach they take with their series, RE is meant to sell, not to satisfy a small niche of people who want to torture themselves with boring, scary looking games.



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DonFerrari (on 04 May 2015)

Agree wright, for me re4 is the root of the problem, i couldn't even bl
other even finishing it (not a tps fan), while I finished re 1 to veronika


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ReimTime (on 29 April 2015)

One point I'm glad you brought up that I would like to touch on is hand holding. That is a feature that is more indicative of video games at large. First, I'll ask a question: Wasn't exploration of a game world more fun when you had no idea where to go? You're right, many modern games hold your hand and tell you where to go, what you need to do, and what you'll face on the way. Boo, I say! Half the fun was finding these things out as you went! We live in an era where many of the gaming population demand instant satisfaction. Maybe they've grown used to it due to the fast paced action and instant reward system of franchises like Call of Duty, which are hugely popular. Maybe other devs saw the success and were afraid they would be left out. Maybe gamers just don't have as much free time as they used to in an evolving world. Whatever the case, I miss the organic playthroughs. The time you spent walking through a world without a million quest markers hanging over your head. I know of some games that duplicate this and I truly hope more follow suit. Good read.


Xeon (on 30 April 2015)

Great point. I'd like to add that the games without hand holding are more memorable as well. They forced you to think and make decisions and learn from your mistakes. Without a good challenge, some modern games just seem to be a blur for me.


  • +2
Germaximus (on 30 April 2015)

That's hilarious. Part 4 was exactly the point when the series started going downhill. Fixed camera angles were the main reason the games were so suspenseful.


Daisy (on 29 April 2015)

True RE fans know that the real problems in the franchise started with Resident Evil 4. It was an "ok" game but can not compare to those three that came before during the PS1 era.


AlfredoTurkey (on 30 April 2015)

100% correct. Although, Code Veronica should be thrown into the first 3.


  • +2
AlfredoTurkey (on 30 April 2015)

I played the first Resident Evil on PS1 in 1996 and I was a HUGE fan of the series buying part 2 and 3, along with Code Veronica on Dreamcast, as they launch. Let me tell you this... I knew, even when RE4 launched, that the party was over. That game was NOT Resident Evil. It changed everything. Vets of the series, for the most part, didn't care for it. The only reason it sold so well was because of the growing Gears of War fans or... the dude bros. I have slowly watched people evolve into my position of thinking since RE4 came out. At first, people mocked me everywhere I went when I chastised it for derailing what RE was. Then, it sort of hit a 50/50 after RE5 came out and exposed the obvious. Now? It seems like 90% of the internet agrees with me that RE4 was when the series went wrong. If Capcom wants to bring the series back, they're going to have to bring the man behind the series back along with his original team and tell them to make a modern RE1-3. Anything else at this point is just going to secure it's total death imo.


DonFerrari (on 04 May 2015)

Yes. RE HD is a good start but a true resident evil 4 after 2 gen gap is what we need. Survival horror. Evil within is very good.


  • 0
Chazore (on 01 May 2015)

Just go back to making the older Resi series type titles and you'll be golden, try making more action explosive packed bay action flicks with little undead as possible and you're going to fail again.


StuOhQ (on 01 May 2015)

@Wright. That's where I draw the line as well. I played "5", but even before doing so, a short demo was enough to tell me that things were going down hill. "4" did something new and made a game that was both modern and true to the series' roots. "5" was a generic action title with "Resident Evil" characters. I consider "Umbrella Chronicles" to be more of an "Evil" game, and it's basically a "House of the Dead" knock-off.


Wright (on 01 May 2015)

There's no shame in saying Umbrella Chronicles is a Resident Evil game, because that game is actually a love letter for all Resident Evil fans <3


  • +1
cfin2987@gmail.com (on 30 April 2015)

RE5 was terrible. I remember playing it for 5 minutes and powering down the ps3 in disgust. A few thousand human beings in need of a tissue chasing me around while I blow their brains out. The setting was rubbish too and wasn't even close to horror.


chidori-chan2 (on 29 April 2015)

The Evil Within is the new Resident Evil.. so no loss for Survival Horror games.


Heavenly_King (on 29 April 2015)

it just need to be like the mansion dlc of RE5, that is all. Without the tank controls obviously.


kljesta64 (on 29 April 2015)

just make it as the old games


zippy (on 03 May 2015)

Its not all doom, im playing through Revelations on my Wii U and i think it's a great Resi game.


Rogerioandrade (on 30 April 2015)

ZombiU gave me some feelings that only the first RE games had given me before.... RE should be more like ZombiU


Mnementh (on 01 May 2015)

Ah, nope. While ZombiU isfine as it is, it has no horror-elements. The hospital was scary, I agree, but besides that it isn't really horror. It has the survival-ascpect though.


  • -1
Anfebious (on 30 April 2015)

The series is fine as it is. Playing RE 5 and 6 in co-op is some of the most fun I ever had in my life.


Wright (on 30 April 2015)

100% agree. :)


  • +1
cfin2987@gmail.com (on 30 April 2015)

Hated RE5. Not even sure why it was called resident Evil. If I had wanted a shooter, I would have bought COD.


  • -1
oniyide (on 02 May 2015)

yes...the problem is when you ARENT playing co-op


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DonFerrari (on 04 May 2015)

As long as you pretend they aren't RE


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bretonf (on 30 April 2015)

Resident Evil 4 was the turning point. It's a very good game, but it had two big problems : 1 - It strayed away from the formula of the previous games, and should have been a new franchise. 2 - Its 100% action formula meant being somewhat repetitive, and as such, should not have had sequels. If Capcom wants to make good Resident Evil games again, they need to abandon the "100% action" and add some real adventure into them. Which means bringing back the puzzles and the fixed camera angles. I really miss both of these, because they were unique and worked really well for a survival horror adventure game.


Xeon (on 30 April 2015)

Excellent write-up! Can't wait to see what you have in store for part 2.


SR388 (on 29 April 2015)

I believe the departure of Mikami was the end of Resident Evil. Out of the ashes Capcom created a new video game series which just happens to share the same name. Resident evil is not the first or the last causality of "mass appeal". I also believe the Roman Empire is more likely to be revived than our beloved classic Resident Evil series.