We’ve had a relationship, your company and I, for well near three decades now. The Capcom brand has always synonymous with a quality gaming experience for me. Ghosts’n Goblins, Street Fighter, Speed Rumbler, Commando, Gunsmoke, 1942, Bionic Commando, Mercs, Captain Commando, Section Z, Strider … and that’s just naming the obvious ones. Capcom was for me and many of my close friends the company that made the games we wanted to play.
When the first Resident Evil was released for the PlayStation, it was the breath of fresh air that I and apparently millions of others needed — a horror game with great gameplay, instantly quotable dialogue and genuine scares. I remember it as being one of the first games that made me completely uneasy, a testament to the mood and atmosphere that the game oozed in spades. Well, that was then. While some franchises benefit from a change of pace, others end up a mere shadow of their former selves when they stray too far from what initially made them a household name. I fear the latter is what has happened with Resident Evil.
Resident Evil 4 is considered the best game of the series and with good reason. It featured just about everything a successful Resident Evil game needs. But that’s also the installment where the seed of the current blossoming problem was first planted. When I initially played through that game, I noticed the last act became slightly more of an action movie than anything else, right on down to the retro ’70s blaxploitation music that pumps from the soundtrack. At the time I didn’t mind. The unexpected shift in tone actually made it a more memorable experience. However, it was this shift that signaled the beginning of Resident Evil‘s full-on crossover to the action genre, a move that’s now reaching disastrous proportions.
Resident Evil 5 is described by many gamers as “the Resident Evil game designed by Michael Bay.” I actually quite like the game, though I’ll admit it’s not truly a Resident Evil game. The co-op play works very well, and it has high replay value. It’s graphically impressive and has a great soundtrack. Purists, however, tend to knock the game for a variety reasons, most of which are tough to argue against. There’s no doubt that its biggest flaw is that there’s simply nothing about the game that is remotely scary, let alone moody. The most you’ll get in the way of atmosphere is right at the very beginning, as you make your way through the Majini village. It’s ominous and a promising beginning to the horrors sure to come, a promise that the game breaks when it trades in the scares for all out action. The Lost in Nightmares DLC brought back warm feelings of old with a setting recognized instantly by series fans, but it was too little, too late.
And now Resident Evil 6 has arrived, and it seems the series has fully jumped the shark (although really you could make a strong case that occurred with Operation Raccoon City). I haven’t played the retail edition yet; I’ve only gone through the demo and read the reviews. But the demo was underwhelming and the critics have been savage, so as a lifelong Resident Evil fan, disappointment has already set in. The scales apparently have now been tipped completely in favor of action beats and quick-time events rather than seeing a return to form of great survival-horror gameplay. I was willing to forgive Resident Evil 5‘s slight missteps in the hope that the following chapter would bring back the scary. Clearly, that’s not the case. Reports of a loss of focus in the game’s nearly incoherent storyline make this sound like something I need to avoid, not the game I was looking forward to buying.
The Resident Evil series needs to return to its roots. The fanbase is there, and, even with the misfire that RE6 seems to be, they’ll continue to hope that Resident Evil will come back with a vengeance to take its place among the current crop of survival-horror games that have usurped the throne, Dead Space chief among them. The next iteration of Resident Evil needs to stop pandering to the Call of Duty crowd. Sure, that’s where the money’s at, but the Resident Evil games shouldn’t be held down by the burden of trying to please the masses, especially not the ones who only want to play military-themed first person shooters all day long.
Resident Evil needs to frighten me again. A little bit of action is fine, but what the series needs right now is a lot more George Romero and a lot less Michael Bay. Make it happen, Capcom.