Back in 1996, Playstation players around the world walked down a spooky corridor to be greeted by one of the most iconic, defining moments in gaming history; the first zombie encounter in Resident Evil. This moment alone catapulted Resident Evil into the limelight, creating a franchise that encapsulates various mediums, and paved the way for a very lucrative future for publisher Capcom.
Then Call of Duty happened. Survival Horror as a genre was no longer as popular as it was back in the late 1990s. People wanted action and explosions. Or at least, that’s what publishers thought people wanted. Nevertheless, survival horror games weren’t selling as well as the bigwigs hoped, and so began Resident Evil’s identity crisis.
Ironically, the start of the franchise’s decline can be attributed to the 2005 Gamecube title Resident Evil 4, one of the most successful and critically acclaimed games ever made. Resident Evil 4 took the series in a brand new direction. Gone were the static camera angles and pre rendered backgrounds. Players could now roam a fully 3D environment with an over-the-shoulder view, giving total control over aiming.
Along with these gameplay changes, the enemies were also revamped. Slow, braindead zombies were replaced by cunning, relentless hordes of villagers, cult priests and soldiers. This made the once slow, deliberate gameplay more fast paced and spontaneous, creating a more action oriented style.
Whilst this change of paced was predominantly welcomed by fans back in 2005, it wasn’t until the 2009 release of Resident Evil 5 that Capcom’s decisions were starting to backfire. Despite becoming the fastest selling Resident Evil of all time, fans turned on the series for completely losing the sense of horror that the earlier games has done so well. Resident Evil 5 had taken the action gameplay from its predecessor, and turned the dial up to 11. Nobody can forget the moment our once humble protagonist Chris Redfield proceeded to pick a fight with a giant boulder in an active volcano.
The focus on action within Resident Evil took an even bigger, more depressing turn for the worse with the sixth entry in the main series, Resident Evil 6. With Capcom actively trying to capture the larger military FPS audience whilst also trying to appease longtime fans of the franchise, they created a game far too big for its boots.
Four full campaigns were forced into the game, with each one trying to appeal to different types of gamers. However, not even fan favourite Leon Kennedy could save this entry, frequently performing bizarre wrestling moves on rambling zombies, resulting in a game that fans of the series simply didn’t recognise anymore.
The mixed to negative reception for Resident Evil 6 had a large impact on sales, with Capcom lowering their financial estimations upon release. Some may say this was a blessing, and this writer is inclined to agree. Earlier in the year, Resident Evil Revelations was released on Nintendo 3DS, and whilst selling a fraction of what Resident Evil 6 sold, it was met with considerably more positive reaction.
Capcom decided to continue down this route with Resident Evil Revelations 2, released in 2015, to much more positive reaction despite the divisive episodic route. Fans were pleased with the renewed focus on horror, which brings us to 2016 and the upcoming release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Hoping for a clean slate, Capcom has revamped the formula once again with the first main entry in the series utilising the first-person perspective, much like the acclaimed Kojima/Del Toro collaboration on PT (Silent Hills). Making use of VR, players take control of Ethan, who lacks the combat skills of Leon, Jill and other series’ protagonists.
A renewed focus on exploration and puzzle solving harkens back to the roots of Resident Evil, and whilst combat is present in the form of melee weapons and certain guns, ammo will be limited. This brings survival horror back to the forefront in Resident Evil, and fans around the world could not be happier. Time will tell if the game proves to be a success both financially and critically, but it’s clear that after the hotchpotch development of Resident Evil 6, Capcom are on a more focused, deliberate path with the series. As a long time fan of survival horror games, I personally wish them all the best, and I can’t wait to dive in.
Welcome to the family, son.