The Resident Evil Series
PS1, Sega Dreamcast, PS2, Gamecube, PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS
You know, there was a time, about 15 years ago, when this whole Resident Evil idea was pretty damn exciting. Sure, Alone in the Dark had already pioneered the survival horror thing, but it was Resident Evil that had ironed out its kinks and presented it to the mainstream in a package which they would hopelessly devour like the ravenous creatures that they were.
That’s the gamers that we’re talking about.
In any case, this series used to be something that was really exciting. The first entry was a breakthrough hit for Capcom. Resident Evil 2 was a perfect sequel, one that learned real and valid lessons from the mistakes of its predecessor. Like a path of evolution, RE2 improved on its predecessor in every conceivable way, and some inconceivable ones to boot.
This is where the trouble started. The next four games in the series canon: Resident Evil 3, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, the Resident Evil remake, and Resident Evil Zero, really didn’t do a lot to expand upon what had been established by the second game. RE3′s contribution was mainly the Nemesis idea, something that had already been introduced in RE2. Code Veronica was a graphical step up, but its only real change was splitting the characters up, while still utilizing the dual storyline concept of RE2. The REmake, was basically just there to cover up for the embarrassments of the original, while RE0 would offer a sort of switchback mechanic, allowing you to control both characters, but not much else.
Capcom could see they were in trouble with this series. Resident Evil had grown tired and stagnant. If they were to re-capture the hype and energy that had once made this series a killer app, they would have to change for real. They would have to evolve this series for a new generation.
Enter Shinji Mikami. The man who had brought Resident Evil to Capcom in the beginning was brought back into the fold in hopes of saving the franchise, and under enormous pressure, he did just that.
Resident Evil 4 was the kind of game that wowed audiences from the very first trailer. Resident Evil had been completely reinvented from the ground up. The look, the style, the game play, the control scheme—everything had been radically overhauled, and for the first time in years people were excited to play Resident Evil again.
Then…it happened again. Too content to rest on their laurels, Capcom side-stepped any kind of innovation for Resident Evil 5. The lazy rehash simply switched the setting and added in a co-op aspect to capitalize on an industry trend. Capcom was repeating the pattern: minimal effort, maximum profit.
Though a basic success, critically and commercially, RE5 didn’t make a tenth of the splash of its progenitor. Fans simply muddled through a less interesting rehash of silly storylines and boring caricatures. Gone were the MGS inspired espionage and conspiracy aspects, even the G-rated political commentary disappeared. Resident Evil hadn’t just failed to evolve, it had actually devolved, and come out looking more like Gears of War than a real Resident Evil title.
Since then, Capcom has re-entered scramble mode, fretting in a wildly disorganized manner to once again revive the series. With Resident Evil: Revelations (does there even exist a more cliché subtitle than that?) Capcom would attempt to blend the old school and new wave of Resident Evil titles in what was mostly a laughable, if somewhat enjoyable, failure. The direction, game design, and especially the writing, were all over the map — and debuting it on a handheld console showed just how insecure the once powerhouse franchise had become.
Resident Evil 6, while a better game, was even more disjointed. Containing four separate intertwining campaigns, RE6 did not lack for ambition. The problem though, was that it was like that annoyingly vapid, fake friend or co-worker we’ve all had to deal with from time to time in our lives. It struggled, with great insincerity, to be everything to everyone. Was this a stealth game, or an action game? A survival horror or a tactical shooter? The answer was either all of the above, or none of the above, depending on who you asked.
So where does this leave us now? Well, in the exact same place that we’ve been twice before with this series. The Resident Evil franchise is at the most desperate kind of turning point, and the next entry will absolutely be the make-or-break title that determines the survival of this series.
Only one thing is clear: if Capcom is to salvage what’s left of the Resident Evil legacy, they’re going to have to utilize the central aspect of the series’ storyline themselves, and apply it to their artistic model once again.
Bring in the G-Virus: It’s time to mutate, it’s time to evolve.