Where Resident Evil Went Wrong & How it Can Find its Way Back - Part II - ArticleBen Burnham , posted on 30 April 2015 / 5,003 Views
In my prior article, I discussed how the Resident Evil series has fallen into a rut. Simply put, Resident Evil needs a change in direction, but the question then becomes what form that direction should take.
An option, of course, is to release a new Resident Evil game in the “classic” format of the old Resident Evils. While a part of me would love to see another game made in that style, what I’ve come to realize is that as much affection as I have for those older games, going back to that style of gameplay wouldn’t be the right move either. It’s a format that’s inherently outdated, and even back in the day it was evident that an evolution had to take place, hence the need for Resident Evil 4. Going back to that old style would alienate many of the series’ newer fans, and the game would have trouble growing the audience and finding its place among other games of today.
What Resident Evil 7 instead has to be is a complete rebirth of all that is Resident Evil. It would tie into previous games somehow, but on the surface at least, my vision for the ideal Resident Evil 7 would need to shed all that came before it. That means new characters, new enemies, a completely different setting, and a new storyline.
I say this as someone who has nothing but love for the Resident Evil series. Characters like Jill, Barry, Claire, and Wesker are classics, but in Capcom’s continuing effort to sell copies, these characters are repeatedly being brought back for a storyline that’s become so convoluted that it’s barely worth following.
The best comparison I can make would be with the Saw movie series, which began with humble origins but the plot and characters were stretched beyond the breaking point in order to keep the series going far past its expiration date. Resident Evil has essentially become that, and with each game I see less and less of a need to return to these characters; a group of people who bear little resemblance to their former selves, becoming involved again and again in new viral outbreaks, conspiracies, and catastrophes.
Capcom needs to realize that enough is enough, and that it’s time to put an end to a journey that should have seen its end at the conclusion of Resident Evil 5. In fact, the story itself needs to take a major backseat going forwards. It was never placed front-and-center in the earlier games anyway. While there were certainly cut scenes, twists, and suspense, these features were all used sparingly, and the narrative itself was never the center of attention in the same the way it seems to have become in recent installments.
Resident Evil 7 would ideally feature a new main character in a new setting. He (or she) would be completely isolated, with no partner character tagging along, no HQ getting in contact over the radio, and no catastrophic plot device in place to stop him. Instead, the tension and dread would build, slowly, as he realizes the nature of whatever situation has befallen him. In theory this would all lead to an incredibly epic showdown, but it would need to start somewhere; there would have to be some sort of build-up, some kind of downtime so that the action - when it does arrive - feels intense, and even terrifying.
This same principle should be the driving force behind the entirety of Resident Evil 7. The game should not be afraid to slow down, to let you get lost, to let you figure things out on your own. There can still be action-packed moments and ferocious, intelligent enemies that require plenty of ammo to take down, but there also need to be quiet moments; times when you’re peering around corners, your heart racing, afraid that something’s lying in wait, only to find out that maybe there isn’t. Or maybe there is. But there needs to be that tension, and that sense of dread.
If a game presents itself immediately as a source of non-stop action, it becomes numbing and tiring, not scary. The scare factor comes from the unknown, and if you already know exactly where the game’s going because it auto-saves for you before every encounter, or because every room you enter features enemies charging at you ready to be gunned down, it’s hard to be scared or surprised by anything, and that’s a trap that the series has sadly fallen into.
This all comes with the understanding that Resident Evil does need to be aware of what gaming is like today. I’d love to see the auto-save feature eliminated in favor of save points, but I'm also able to understand that the ink ribbon save system should probably remain a thing of the past. I think in today’s world, having an easily-managed and forgiving inventory screen is also something that must remain, and I also don’t mind the game making your objectives clear to you and letting you know where you should be headed, though this shouldn’t be confused with having a waypoint constantly on the screen.
The fact of the matter is that times have changed, and Resident Evil shouldn’t lose sight of that fact, and certainly shouldn’t return to 32-bit gaming mechanics. However, it’s also important for Capcom to realize that appealing to a modern audience doesn’t mean eliminating the ability to get lost by designing environments which are so linear that the game’s simply a walk forward to the next waypoint. That’s not what Resident Evil ever was and it doesn’t make for particularly scary or compelling gameplay.
I fully believe that implementing these steps would revitalise the series. However, I also realize that there are several things standing in Capcom’s way, and though I certainly don’t agree with the company's handling of the series in recent years, I can at least understand why those decisions were made. Call of Duty became nothing short of a phenomenon, attracting an audience of millions upon millions of people, and I don’t doubt at all that, as a result, a large portion of today’s gaming audience has become accustomed to always knowing exactly where to go, of having their objectives clearly defined to them at all times, of having the game save for them before every big confrontation, and of having non-stop, cinematic action around every corner. And it’s true that some of these people simply may not be able to get into a slower, scarier, less accessible Resident Evil 7.
The question then becomes - how long can gaming hope to remain fresh and interesting if game after game feels like an attempt to replicate the Call of Duty series? One thing that Resident Evil 6 has proven is that Capcom is unable to do Call of Duty as well as Activision does, and you have to wonder how many times companies such as Capcom will try (and fail) to make the next Call of Duty game before people lose interest. It’s something that I think the industry is slowly realizing, and it’s a realization that I hope hits Capcom soon, if it hasn’t already.
The other thing that I acknowledge as a potential roadblock is the level of fandom surrounding the series' staple characters. I’m sure that a Resident Evil game with an entirely new cast would at first be met with some resistance from fans of those classic characters, but it has been done before. Resident Evil 2 didn’t continue the adventures of Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, but instead introduced the new characters of Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield. People seemed to get past the new faces, and it would be my hope that the same would be true of a re-cast Resident Evil 7.
Change will bring about controversy. It always will in long-running franchises like Resident Evil, which has, over the years, developed a diverse fanbase incorporating many differing gaming preferences and skill levels. A lack of co-op play and a more open-ended adventure might seem like a big loss to people who have been fans of it since Resident Evil 5, and I can understand that, but I also think it’s important for a company to correct itself when what it does continues to not work. Resident Evil needs that correction - it needs a daring new entry.
This is a franchise that has had the good fortune of remaining a major face in the horror gaming landscape for nearly 20 years now. Instead of trying so hard to capture the Call of Duty audience, Capcom should be trying to develop and grow their own Resident Evil audience, and they could do that by creating a new game with an identity all its own. I’d love the chance to be scared by a Resident Evil game again, and I’m hopeful that Capcom is in the process right now of trying to make that happen.
I suppose only time will tell.