Resident Evil is one of the biggest franchise in gaming. It has seen six sequels spanning four console generations. Countless spinoff titles and even two soft reboots.
The number of games sold in the franchise is well north of 40 million and it boasts one of the biggest and most dedicated fandoms of any game series.
And yet, through all this success, reimagination and reinvention it finds itself in a rather unique position. Resident Evil fans fall firmly into two camps with very different ideas on what Resident Evil actually is;
- Those who were fans of the original, survival horror style tetralogy.
- Those who were fans of the soft rebooted horror/action trilogy.
What these two subsets of fans like about their chosen games are incompatible with one another. (For the purposes of this post I will only be considering mainline, numbered entries of the franchise).
The original tetralogy took away the empowerment of players; through key design choices Capcom ensured that the most powerful thing in the ‘Resident Evil’ universe was not the player, but the enemies! This shifted the balance of power and forced the player to adopt different strategies for dealing with threats and forced them into treating every encounter with respect – much like what ‘Dark Souls’ would do 10 years later in fact.
The fact that you had to manually save made everything even more tense – the fear of knowing that if you die you lose a couple of hours progress is enough to make even the toughest man nervous!
However there are other reasons why fans of the originals prefer them over the more contemporary sequels;
First off are the settings; the mansion and raccoon city are exquisitely designed. The places the games are set in feel organic and lived in; the mansion with its bizarre lock system pushes this a little but in the game’s world it makes perfect sense. Every screen is also directed to perfection – it tells a story and gives the player just enough information to make logical decisions. It also obscures the dangers constantly and allows the atmosphere to pervade into you psyche; it is here that the amazing sound design takes centre stage.
Every scare is choreographed and telegraphed by carefully selected sounds. We hear the dogs run outside of that corridor (although the sound has been changed because of rot), we hear the groaning of zombies and even more crucially the music will change.
Weapons and ammo are scarce meaning that every encounter is testing the players on-the-fly decision-making skills. All the while the tank control scheme is fighting the player, taking away any grace of movement and heightening the fear of these encounters.
In ‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ the concept of the nemesis is exquisite! He is not like the other enemies – he is invincible, constantly stalks the player and can follow you through doors- the fear that this creates is unparalleled in gaming (except ‘Alien Isolation’).
Finally the pace of the original four games are purposely slow. They allow the atmosphere, threat and scares develop and build organically. This is incredibly effective and it is the biggest thing that 4 changed.
The newer trilogy of 4/5/6 take most of these design choices and change them around.
Over the course of three games they completely reversed the balance of power – no longer was the player character weak and vulnerable; now they grew into killing machines! 4 (and to an extent 5) weren’t that bad in this respect; the characters still cannot move and shoot and they begin the game quite weak; although the weapon upgrade system does turn Leon and Chris into one man armies.
However 6 is an all out action game; it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise – I have completed the first two chapters as Leon meleeing 90% of the enemies I have encountered; I feel invincible and while the campaign is not bad, it doesn’t feel like Resident Evil.
What this change has done is three-fold; firstly it picks up pacing and secondly it means that scares are almost impossible to create – how do you scare a player who knows they can mow down almost anything that appears in their way? Thirdly, the subtle change of save system (to check points) means that the forboding atmosphere has turned into one where the consequences feel minor if not non-existant.
When it comes to settings only 4 comes close to the originals; however gone is the exploration and instead the player is funnelled to the next checkpoint to progress the story. It is because of this change that ensures that it is not a patch on the mansion or Raccoon City. While the Spanish village is iconic, it lacks the detail and set design of its precursors. This applies double to 5. Whilst 6 is a collection of unconnected places. As the trilogy progressed everything about setting has changed, gone is the condensed and interconnected settings (in an almost metroid style may I add) and in its place is Hollywood style set piece bottlenecks. It could also be argued that the settings of 4/5/6 exist only to house a set piece – be it a standoff, boss fight or chase sequence.
Pacing has never been an issue with the new trilogy; for my money RE4 is the finest paced videogame ever made. It starts slow and builds up the pace in an organic way and the player moves through environments with a pleasing regularity – not one overstays its welcome. As the trilogy progressed this pace sped up – 5 is 4 only played at x1.5 speed and 6 is a full blown Hollywood action movie that plays out at breakneck speed. While it is not to everyones tastes they are all well made games that appeal to differing audiences.
And it is here that the core problem lies; Resident Evil has embraced two very different audiences and it puts VII in a very difficult position as a game. ‘Resident Evil VII’ cannot possibly hope to satisfy both sets of fans; but this is what I feel Capcom are trying to achieve with the game!
I feel they are trying to consolidate those two subsets into one! Perhaps its a move that must be made; ‘Resident Evil’ has been walking the tight rope for the longest time now and the shovelware spin off titles are not strengthening its marketability.
Capcom need all their RE fans to buy this title and for that to happen to have to appease both sets of sensabilities and appeal to what made each style appealing to gamers. Time will tell if this move will pay off; or if it will go down as the title that killed the franchise.
What trilogy did you prefer and what is Resident Evil to you?
Tell me in the comments/facebook/twitter!