This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on August 18th 2015.
Alongside Silent Hill, Resident Evil is credited as one of the founding fathers of the survival-horror genre. True these games also had their precursors (Clock Tower and Alone in the Dark come to mind) but generally speaking, they’re the ones who made the longest lasting impression on the genre. However horror games are now a dying breed. There’s the occasional flash of a resurgence (hello Alison Road) but the reality is that the field is now considered a niche. Going up against the more market friendly FPS and action based titles, publishers just don’t have the confidence in things like this anymore.
This apprehension is what resulted in the unmitigated disaster that was Resident Evil 6. Never before has a game seemed so reluctant to be unattractive to ANYONE. Desperately trying to appeal to the broadest market possible, it threw everything and the kitchen sink into the mix, to create one of the most unfocused, unpolished, and inconsistent games of all time. The whole experience reeked of a developer wanting to emulate the current heavy hitters- ‘Put in a Gears of War cover system’, ‘That Call of Duty’s big. Make it more like that’, ‘Have you put in a Left 4 Dead versus mode?’, ‘Where’s the driving section?’.
Having played through said train-wreck, it’s a strange thing to recall the franchise’s humble origins. However in order to put the brakes on the well-documented fall from grace, that’s exactly what we need to do. Even if it seems to be counter to broader public taste.
1) Resident Evil is a horror game
AAA gaming is going through a turbulent period right now, so ensuring major profits is more important than ever. That’s perfectly understandable. However turning something like Resident Evil into a pitiable Frankenstein made up of other games does not ensure broader appeal. No Call of Duty fan was won over by Resident Evil’s attempts to be an action game, because it wasn’t very good at it. Likewise the game’s attempts to be anything other than a horror game felt desperate and fell short. It ended up alienating the core fanbase, whilst simultaneously failing to draw in a new crowd. Yes action games make a lot of money, but niche markets exist for a reason. If horror gamers are starved for new titles, then maybe providing them with a good one would facilitate a lot of sales. If Capcom could realise that, then they’d make more money by catering to a hungry audience, rather than to an over-saturated market. Resident Evil doesn’t need to try and be anything else. It’s Resident Evil. It’s the definitive horror title.
2) Don’t be afraid to go against the grain
On that note, Resident Evil 6 saw the franchise change a lot of its signature features for modern day norms. Whilst this process did admittedly begin with Resident Evil 4, which saw the jettisoning of fixed camera angles and limited saves, that game was near perfect. Resident Evil 6 meanwhile took things too far. So limited saves became unlimited saves, which then became regular auto-saves. Restricted movement was opened up, and all of sudden you were practically doing parkour. Most notable of all, you could now simultaneously move and shoot, something that you were infamously unable to do up to that point. Whilst these additions may seems like a logical evolution, they all reduced the tension and fear that the series was known for. It all comes back to the niche audience thing. Horror gamers like those restrictions. Horror gamers like different things to action gamers, who like different things to strategy gamers, it makes sense. So Resident Evil doesn’t need to try and keep up to date with modern norms. Hinder us. Don’t let us run and shoot. Don’t save for us every five minutes. We can handle it. We actually quite like it.
3) Keep it small
Remember when video games used to be set in one self contained location? Perhaps the most famous example of this is the first Resident Evil, which was set entirely within the confines of one mansion. You backtracked a lot, and came to learn everything about every nook and cranny. You became intimately familiar with the location, and everything was meticulously detailed as a result of the tighter focus. Whilst the first game did this due to technical limitations, it doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea. It worked really well. It’s a format that’s kind of died out, and maybe should be resurrected. At the very least Resident Evil should not be a globetrotting adventure like the previous two games.
4) Single player
An epidemic that has been plaguing modern gaming for a while now is the corporate insistence that every game must involve some kind of online mode. I can imagine them all sat around in a boardroom, trying to figure out how to crack the same level of popularity as Halo, looking like Joey when he’s trying to pass for a teenager. “Yo!” they’d say, “that Battlefield’s whack, we should put in a mode like that. It’d be so rad”. The thing is, most of us would rather not have multiplayer if it doesn’t fit. There’s a time and place for it, and horror games are probably the worst place of all. There’s nothing scary about a game when you have a friend there to back you up. Alien: Isolation is probably the best horror game of the last couple of years, and one of the reasons for that is that you were fucking isolated!
5) Ignore the series continuity
The Resident Evil storylines have become so convoluted and messy by now, that even the most die hard fans struggle to keep up. Resembling a macabre soap opera, everyone’s died, come back, had an evil twin, or suffered from amnesia. Each new game strains noticeably to bring back old characters and force them into the story somehow. Chris Redfield alone has had John McClane levels of bad luck in his mission selection. Anyway, let’s be perfectly frank, no one plays Resident Evil for the continuing narrative. So in keeping with the back to basics approach, start over with new characters and simplified plots. Just return it to the ‘survival roots’, make it about that basic instinct to get through alive. It’s easier to get invested that way.