FEATURE – Resident Evil: Identity Crisis?
After the release of Resident Evil: Revelations 2, it seems that Capcom have realised that the older games create more hype than any of the newer releases and perhaps that is why they have recently been focusing on HD remasters as opposed to new releases. The Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster will soon to be coming to consoles and now speculation is circulating that Resident Evil 2 will also possibly be getting its own remake. With the newer games becoming rather generic and more action-based as opposed to survival-horror and puzzle-based – the Revelations games do a good job of blending the two together, but let’s face it, what Resident Evil fans really want is another game that truly goes back to its roots – it’s no surprise that Resident Evil fans are yearning for a true Resident Evil experience once more, and with the Resident Evil GameCube Remake HD Remastered version (what a mouthful!) having been very successful, with over 1 million copies having been sold in its first three months of release, it more than cements the likelihood of more Resident Evil HD remasters to come.
But with Resident Evil: Revelations 2 receiving mixed reviews, just what happened to the series and where did it all go wrong?
Resident Evil has been around for many years now, and a long running game franchise can be compared to a long running TV series, and when something is going wrong, there are many warning signs that pop up, including bringing in popular characters; focusing on background characters; adding new characters to try and freshen up the franchise; focusing on the family members of main characters; becoming self-aware; trying new ways to tell the story, and even changing the gameplay to try and appeal to wider audiences – it wouldn’t be surprising if Capcom killed off a popular Resident Evil character soon, just to add some spice to their most well-known cash cow.
These are all warning signs that exist in recent Resident Evil releases, a rising trend ever since Resident Evil 4 raised the bar on the quality of the Resi games. A game series may need a bit of a face lift after a while to prevent it from becoming stale, but any person with half a brain will tell you this franchise has been going down a cliff for many years now, hitting many rocks and falling apart along the way. Since the changes to the series from Resident Evil 4 onward, the games have truly lost their heart and no longer invoke fear into people who play them and have steadily become more and more lacklustre, lacking any sense of tension or suspense.
The franchise as a whole is now a confusing mess and it seems to be borrowing from other, more popular games; it doesn’t know whether it wants to be like Call of Duty, The Walking Dead, Silent Hill, Uncharted or any other recent game that has built a popular fan base, clearly showing that Resident Evil is now in the midst of an identity crisis. What made Resident Evil a massive achievement was its survival horror elements, controlling and following the journey of one lone character and exploring claustrophobic and eerie environments, all contained in one location and building up suspense as you worked your way through well-thought out puzzles and fought off creepy enemies. The main characters were likable because they were relatable; they were regular people going up against extraordinary circumstances, and that’s partly why the game was successful. People like the idea of being the average Joe who becomes a hero or gets involved in something unexplainable, and this is what the original Resident Evil represented. Players got the chance to go into the unknown, playing as realistic and down-to-earth characters. The characters of the Resident Evil of now are not realistic, with Chris hulking up as though he’s been on steroids and others being bland, boring and forgettable, with some dressed in skin-tight outfits that make them look like superheroes – lots of comments have been made about the peculiar choice of clothing for Jessica Sherawat from Resident Evil: Revelations. Do you even remember who she is?
None of the original characters are interesting any more – it’s as though Capcom expect players to know who the characters already are and so have put little effort into making them stand out; it is plain to see that many character traits have been sacrificed, and they are not as likable as they used to be and it seems Capcom have no idea how to evolve the characters further. Newer characters have been introduced in recent games, though little effort has been made with them, with most, if not all, being rather pointless additions. A cheap gimmick used in Resident Evil: Revelations 2 was to bring back Barry Burton and include his generic teenage daughter, Moira, in the plot. As mentioned earlier, bringing back a popular character that Resident Evil fans can relate to does not automatically guarantee success, and Capcom butchered any remaining dignity the series had by making cheap references to infamous jokes the series created, such as the ‘Jill Sandwich’ comment made popular by Barry. Some might say this is good fan service, but it really is just a cheap self-awareness ploy that seems like a rather forced connection to previous games and fans alike.
*SPOILERS* As mentioned earlier, the series lacks any sense of suspense or tension, and has become rather predictable, and it is laughable that in Resident Evil: Revelations 2, a character is brought in that has not been mentioned or even slightly referenced in previous Resident Evil games. The character is called Alex Wesker – yes, Capcom resorted to bringing in a character that is related to the most popular villain of the series, Albert Wesker, and it comes completely out of left field. It is definitely a desperate choice to try and add some shock value to the series by adding a character that is related to another popular character, but it just doesn’t work as Alex Wesker is as generic and basic of a villain as they come. Another family addition to Resident Evil 6 is the appearance of Jake Muller, the prodigal son of Albert Wesker, another addition that was supposed to add some sort of shock twist, but failed miserably as Jake was yet just another generic bad guy-type character. Why the decision to bring in the son of Albert Wesker fails on so many levels is because it makes Albert Wesker seem very much out of character; his intentions from the beginning has been focused on destroying and building a new world with the virus – would this Albert Wesker seriously be interested in developing a relationship and creating a child?? It is completely unbelievable that Jake would even exist. Of course bringing in two characters related to Albert Wesker was all to try and spice up the now tired story-line, but it just doesn’t work, and is another clear sign that Capcom have no idea where to take the story.*SPOILERS END*
It also feels as though the Resident Evil series has forgotten that the enemies were once regular people, but this is an argument that can be directed at most zombie games these days. The main protagonists in the game have an ‘us or them’ mentality and the zombies are just mere monsters that need killing at all cost, but in the first Resident Evil games, the enemies were treated as human beings. A memorable enemy from the Resident Evil remake was Lisa; all she wanted was to see her mother and even killed herself once she had, letting out a bloodcurdling scream as she fell to her death. The series, and many other zombie games, seems to forget that the enemies in these games are victims themselves, and now just treat them as generic bad guys that must be killed and dulling any sort of creepiness or disturbance the player should feel from murdering another human being, but this is an argument for another feature…
The original Resident Evil games really knew how to toy with a players emotions, with the use of its evocative soundtrack making you wonder just what will happen next; one minute its simple, yet haunting, composition could bring about fear, the next you would enter a save room with the gentle melody giving you a sense of safety and relief. You never knew what would be around the corner, with scares used effectively and sparingly, doors rattling as zombies tried to work them open or the sounds of their footsteps as they lurked towards you when you entered a corridor. From a save room, you did not want leave to return to the horrors that awaited you, yet curiosity and intrigue would keep you moving along. Recent Resident Evil games really do lack that fear factor, and it’s a case of wanting to complete the story as opposed to wanting to know what is happening.
The Resident Evil franchise is clearly struggling to compete against other innovative survival-horror/zombie games such as The Last of Us, Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, Dying Light, Dead Island, Left for Dead, Dead Rising, The Evil Within etc. Even though the game is seen as a pioneer for all of these, it seems that Capcom have no idea how to further the story or characters and continuously tread over old ground. It is great for a company to experiment with their products and take it in a new direction, but whilst Resident Evil is still in the midst of crafting said new direction, it is getting lost in a sea of zombie games and is not offering much to stand out from the crowd. As with any game franchise, there are bound to be a few duds, but it has been 10 years since the last stand-out Resident Evil game that got people talking. Capcom have been making more of an effort to merge horror-survival, puzzle and action elements in their recent Resident Evil releases, but with them now deciding to focus more on releasing HD versions of the old games, it could be some time until we see another ground-breaking Resident Evil game.