This is possibly the greatest survival horror game ever made
By the time I was introduced to the Resident Evil franchise, it was already a popular, blockbuster series that was inspiring the emergence of an obscure gaming genre known as "survival horror." The first game I played was the Gamecube remake (affectionately referred to as "REmake" by RE fans), and if you were to press me, I'd probably argue today that it's the best game in the entire canon. When I first played it, it was an eye-opening experience for me, something altogether new, exciting, and awesome. I had never experienced a game that deliberately held the player back by restrictive camera angles, limited supplies, slow movement, unexpected encounters, and an inability to save often. It seemed crazy, but it works; it keeps you off-balance enough to scare you, making for an intense experience that is unmatched by any other type of game.
I became a rabid fanboy, eagerly gobbling up Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil Zero, Resident Evil 4 (to this day, I still haven't played Resident Evil 3), and even the increasingly absurd and ridiculous Resident Evil movies. Resident Evil 4, which was released only a year or so after I finished REmake, marks a dramatic turning point for the franchise, but at the time, I didn't see it. I enjoyed Resident Evil 4 immensely, and I still have fond memories of it. Even then, though, I think I knew, deep down, that it wasn't the same as the original games. Though the atmosphere was right--with dark graveyards, a looming, decrepit castle, etc.--the enemies, which weren't zombies, moved quickly, brandished weapons, and dropped supplies. It seemed like the franchise was moving closer to a more mainstream type of game, sacrificing many of the things that made Resident Evil unique.
I ignored my lingering concerns when information started trickling out about Resident Evil 5. I allowed myself to get hyped, to hope that this new game would be a next-gen version of what I experienced on the Gamecube. Without picking off the scab too much, I will admit now that I was deeply disappointed. Resident Evil 5 is the franchise's complete transformation into a third-person shooter. It has neither the "survival" nor the "horror" that made the series famous. Despite this, it has sold at least 5.8 million units, making it the best-selling single release in the RE library.
Is this Resident Evil or Call of Duty? I honestly can't tell.
With that in mind, the preview for Resident Evil 6 and its reception should have come as no surprise to me. The game apparently includes squads of marine-like troops with assault rifles, a cover system, plenty of explosions, enemies that work cooperatively, and frenetic action. The general reaction to this has been excitement from the gaming public at large. Over at GameTrailers, for example, the game is listed as the fourth most anticipated title of 2012 by both fans and the GT editors, more anticipated even than Halo 4.
Indeed, there can be no doubt that the RE franchise is now an action franchise, first and foremost. With plenty of side releases that focus on gleeful gunplay, such as The Umbrella Chronicles, The Mercenaries 3D, and the recently released Operation Raccoon City, it should be obvious that the survival horror aspects that launched the series have proven far less popular and profitable than the shooter mechanics that now define it. I understand this and don't blame Capcom for the choices it has made, but at the same time, I can't help but be deeply discouraged and annoyed. I constantly tell myself that I want my blog to focus on the positive instead of the negative, and I am not here to tell excited fans that they are wrong to love something I don't. Just so I'm clear, a lot of what I'm trying to say here has to do with preference, and that is entirely subjective.
A couple of months ago, I played through Resident Evil: Code Veronica for the first time (the X HD release, if you must know). Code Veronica is the last RE game to be true to the series' survival horror roots, and thus marks their pinnacle. (Resident Evil Zero, which was released after Code Veronica, is arguably the start of the franchise's transformation, as it was the first major release to focus on cooperative play.) Playing Code Veronica reminded me of everything I love about the original Resident Evil and helped me to realize that I really wish the games had continued in that direction instead of rebooting with Resident Evil 4.
It's hard to feel afraid when you've got night-vision goggles, tactical body armor, and an assault rifle with extra clips
I miss not knowing if I have enough bullets to tackle whatever is lurking around the next blind corner. I miss the panicked sprint through lumbering zombies in search of just one green herb to keep me going. I miss long walks through empty hallways that lull me into a false sense of security. I miss unexpected boss battles that don't have obvious solutions. I miss having to weigh the chances of dying in the next room against the risks of using my last ink ribbon to save my game. I miss secret tunnels, backtracking, and keys of various shapes and colors. I miss that feeling of constant, dull anxiety that won't let me play for more than a couple of hours. Resident Evil 6 will have none of that. Resident Evil 6 will have plenty of ammo, enemies at every turn, a camera that will illuminate every shadow, plenty of chances to save, hand-holding tutorials, easy boss fights, enemies that give you health when they die, and plenty of squadmates to help you out.
What I have to remember is that survival horror, though struggling, is not dead. The Silent Hill franchise appears incapable of producing a good game these days, but Alan Wake is a worthy new IP, Dead Space continues to push the horror genre forward, I Am Alive manages to introduce some bold new ideas on the survival front, and The Last of Us looks promising. It just saddens me to know that the standard-bearer of the genre, Resident Evil--the first title to come to mind whenever anybody mentions "survival horror"--has forsaken it completely.
I hold no ill-will to those who will continue with the series, but as far as I'm concerned, Resident Evil died shortly after Code Veronica. Wesker and Umbrella are still out there, zombies are still the primary threat, and whenever an outbreak occurs, the only things you can be sure of are that you will be alone, that you will be struggling to stay alive, and that dread is far more potent than adrenaline.