In the 2010s Resident Evil Updated Old Ideas to Survive
Survival horror has changed a great deal in the last ten years. It’s still recognisable as what it once was though. The 2010s were the decade where the two juggernauts of survival horror, Resident Evil and Silent Hill, ground to a halt and to this day only the former has kicked back into full gear. Contrary to popular belief (and design) the best horror games are not about being helpless in the face of overwhelming odds with only a camera or lighter to drive back the dark. Not that there’s anything wrong with Outlast or Amnesia or P.T. (RIP) but being able to fight against and even conquer your fears is what made Resident Evil and others like it so special and innovative. This past decade Resident Evil was teetering on the edge of the grave, now it’s back with a moaning growl and the sharp smell of gun smoke.
When the last decade ended Resident Evil 5 had released to good but not great reviews. It certainly wasn’t met with the critical praise that had been heaped on the revolutionary Resident Evil 4. Accusations of racism buried an otherwise campy, fun story meanwhile players and critics alike were rapidly tiring of the Quick Time Events (QTEs) that over complicated the arbitrary yet beloved combat system. It was to be expected then that the developers at Capcom would look either backwards or forwards in an effort to update the long-running series for it’s sixth main entry.
They did not.
Resident Evil 6’s reception was a real back-to-the-drawing-board moment. Rather than changing anything Capcom merely updated the graphics and doubled down on all of the unpopular features in Resident Evil 5. Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield were no longer the vulnerable slow walkers of the original or even the more action-oriented sequels. Instead they were overpowered muscle men who looked like they’d been rejected from boy-bands for being too buff.
Combat was now relatively fast moving, at least in Resident Evil terms. QTEs were in abundance and gameplay segments would be inter-cut with rapid fire cut scenes that often revealed nothing that couldn’t have been shown while playing. The campy, fun stories remained but there were now four of them that all interconnected; far too many even for a series known for repeating on itself. By contrast the smaller, more survival horror focused Resident Evil: Revelations sub-series received a much better reception. Something had to be done and Capcom knew it.
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Outside of the numbered entries Resident Evil has kept up a consistent stream of weirder spin-offs. The likes of 0, Code Veronica and Revelations all fit neatly into that delightful weirdness, we won’t talk about Umbrella Corps. It was strange then when Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was announced and, to all intents and purposes, looked like a spin-off rather than a numbered entry. The first person view was new to the series as was its initial Outlast style of survival horror gameplay. That all quickly changed with the introduction of the Baker family.
As new protagonist Ethan players found themselves fighting the Baker family in a crumbling house on a remote bayou in Louisiana. Ethan finds himself up against unkillable monsters in the form of Jack, Marguerite and Lucas Baker and that’s not to mention the goopy, tar-like creatures in the basement. Resident Evil 7 eventually grew too big for its boots but the first two-thirds of the game show a developer newly committed to what made the series so great in the first place.
The random Nemesis-like attacks of Jack and Marguerite, occasional puzzles and the nightmarish atmosphere of the decaying mansion all brought the best elements of the original numbered entries together with some of the idiosyncratic design choices of the weirder spin-offs. But as the decade wore on the developers at Capcom would look even further back to even greater success.
A great deal of Resident Evil history is widely available to any that want to experience it. From the very first game through to nearly every numbered entry as well as the likes of Revelations 1 and 2 or Code Veronica the series is one of the few where it’s history isn’t lost to players once every new console generation rolls around. But like everything there are blind spots. With that said Capcom are putting a considerable amount of time and effort into making these blind spots visible to everyone.
A remaster is never going to make everyone happy. Do you keep the original’s flaws because they’re inherent to its identity? Do you smooth and sand down the rough edges and bolt on fancy new features? In Resident Evil 2’s case it took what everyone loved best about the preceding games and built a new, improved Resident Evil 2.
Though the new camera lost the original’s scary, what’s-out-of-frame horror it gained a much faster pace. This really helped once Mr X started getting in Leon or Claire’s way. Being able to see what you’re running from helped a great deal and never killed the tension of being caught by the giant, trench coat-clad mutant.
Stepping away from the future of the Resident Evil series proved to be a huge benefit for Capcom. The series, even with 7’s scaling down, has gotten out of hand in terms of storytelling. Every game in the series ends with a confrontation between the player and some hideously mutated monster.
Further Reading: Anxiety ASMR: Resident Evil 2 as Relaxation.
The problem as the series got older was that the monsters began to feel more removed from the player character. There was always a personal attachment between man and monster in Resident Evil. In Resident Evil 2 Leon and Claire are continuously stalked by Mr X. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis pitted Jill against the ever-present, ever-stalking Nemesis. Even Resident Evil 5 had you kill long-time bad guy Albert Wesker. Resident Evil 6’s villains existed at a remove and the boss fights felt like slogs rather than tactical combat.
A remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was announced on Wednesday 10 December 2019, hot on the heels of Resident Evil 2’s runaway success. After updated designs of main characters Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliveira and the monstrous Nemesis were uploaded onto the PS4 store in early December 2019 the remake was announced for April 2020 a few months after the game’s 20th anniversary. Although looking backwards can often spell doom for a game company Capcom’s willingness to draw from their history to improve on old games is a sure sign that the Resident Evil franchise is far from the shambling corpses it made famous.