A few months ago I downloaded Resident Evil 4 HD for my Xbox 360 and was transported into nostalgic bliss. RE4 is one of my top 10 favorite games of all time, and I was surprised by how well it had aged seven years after its release. It reinvigorated the franchise, redefined the survival horror genre and essentially created the over-the-shoulder perspective that has become the staple of every third person shooter since. Simply put, if it weren’t for Resident Evil 4, there never would have been a Dead Space.
But then the franchise faltered with 2009’s Resident Evil 5, which added improved graphics and co-op play but not much else. The game was set before the backdrop of a sun-drenched Africa, and this, coupled with the addition of a human-controlled ally, took all the horror out of the survival horror equation. RE5 was a good game and the co-op was fun, but it wasn’t scary in the least, and it seemed as if once again, the franchise was faltering. What made its predecessor so exciting was how well it meshed the unsettling and brooding terror of the original games with a faster-paced action style. RE4 was more about upgrading weapons and laying waste to hordes of enemies than ammo conservation and puzzles, but it was still frightening, at times downright terrifying. Also, it was gory, another staple of the genre RE5 sorely lacked.
With its upcoming Resident Evil 6, Capcom seems to have finally found its comfort zone. Footage from a pair of trailers imply that the game will be just as action-oriented as the previous two games, if not more so, but it will also feature a distinctly dark and gritty style reminiscent of earlier titles. If all goes well, RE6 will seamlessly blend the old and new flavors of its franchise.
There are a TON of great games coming out this fall and winter, so many in fact that it’s almost as if the publishers are all playing some colossal joke on us. How can we possibly afford to buy Far Cry 3, Borderlands 2, Bioshock Infinite, Assassin’s Creed III, Halo 4 AND Resident Evil 6 when they’re all being released within two months of each other? It’s almost cruel. However, amongst this veritable feast of gaming, Resident Evil 6 still manages to stand out as one of my most anticipated titles.
Last month, three of my friends and I decided to preorder Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, a spinoff that took place during the events of RE2 & 3 and allowed you to command one of several mercenaries in competitive four player co-op. Unfortunately, on release day the game received a completely wretched reception from critics, and we all refunded our reservations. My friends and I are part of a large community of avid Resident Evil fans, so enraptured by the franchise that we couldn’t wait until October for our RE fix. But even we weren’t willing to shell out the $60 needed to play a half-finished misfire.
And this is what Capcom needs to realize if they intend to maintain Resident Evil as a viable franchise. Sure, spin-offs can be successful from time to time, such as the motion control-heavy Umbrella Chronicles and the recent 3DS release Revelations, but in general the non-core RE games have such a poor reputation that only the most diehard of diehard fans bother to try them out. Capcom should focus on the heart of the series, and from what I’ve seen, RE6 seems to be just that.
There’s just so much in it that looks, to put it bluntly, awesome. Six playable characters and three diverging, interconnecting storylines? Chris Redfield and everyone’s favorite wisecracking Secret Service agent Leon S. Kennedy? Wesker’s son? Ada Wong? Co-op and the Mercenaries? The action of RE5 with the horror of RE2? Color me excited.
On first impressions alone, it looks like Capcom has nailed it. Even the tiny details, like the ability to move and shoot simultaneously and the drop-in drop-out co-op are significant improvements that will no doubt uplift the series. Though it’s always been a story-heavy franchise, one can’t exactly praise the quality of Resident Evil’s narrative. At the very least, RE6’s story looks to be… epic. This is the first time in the franchise that an outbreak is a worldwide threat, and as such the game looks to have a wider scope than fans are used to.
I’m actually quite fond of Resident Evil 4’s story and it was also the first time the franchise featured some decent voice actors. Though a lot of the dialogue is cringe-worthy in its cheesiness, it works thanks to the hammy delivery of its actors, particularly Paul Mercier as Leon. What was cool about RE4’s story was how it was connected to previous titles (Leon, Ada, Wesker) but diverged and created a new storyline about Las Plagas and Los Ganados. It felt standalone and was a refreshing change of pace for a series that had become almost hilariously predictable in its plotting.
RE5 tried to combine the story of Las Plagas with the original Umbrella conspiracy, but didn’t quite hit the mark. As cool as it was to launch an RPG into Wesker’s face, his very inclusion felt like a retread. Thankfully Wesker is finally dead, and now we’ll get to follow the exploits of his son, Jake Muller. Like RE4, RE6’s story seems to be veering in a different direction, though the new “C-Virus” seems like a lame attempt at creating drama out of thin air. What exactly is the difference between the T and C Viruses other than a letter? What I’m most excited for is seeing Leon and Chris in the same story, and even better, seeing them come to blows. The very fact that the two are fighting on opposite sides makes me wonder if RE6 will pull a Silent Hill and feature a variety of endings.
As excited as I am for Resident Evil 6, sometimes I pine for the slower-paced survival horror games of days past. RE4 may be my favorite in the series, but I’d argue that both the Gamecube remake of RE1 and Resident Evil 0 were scarier. I’d cite Dead Space as the scariest game of all time, but its sequel, though superior in nearly every way, opted for an on-the-edge-of-your-seat visceral intensity over the more claustrophobic, isolated slow-burn horror of its predecessor. The same is true of the last few Resident Evil games. Whereas the original titles made you feel weak and isolated, now you take control of a walking, talking tank that can mow down enemies with AK-47s, and as such a lot of the tension is taken out of the experience.
I blame much of this shift in tone on Call of Duty. That franchise has been so overwhelmingly successful that every publisher feels the need to replicate it in its own IPs. As such, I wonder if we’ll ever see another old school survival horror game. Every once in a while a gem comes along like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but it seems that for the foreseeable future, the major survival horror franchises will choose action over tension.
If that means we get to play more games like Resident Evil 6, well then… I can’t say I’m complaining.