Adam's Rant: Resident Evil Needs A Long, Long Break

By Adam Ma on February 12, 2013, 3:25PM EDT

Sometimes a franchise just runs for far too long. It can be fast and viciously worn down like Activision's Guitar Hero, which like a dying star left a brilliant mark upon the gaming universe before eventually fading into darkness. Or it can be like Mega Man, a series which saw so many changes and spin offs over the years it eventually looped back around the product life cycle and returned to the original 8-bit retro formula which made it so iconic in the first place before being left to the wayside.

Eventually developers and publishers alike must come to terms with stepping away from an idea that just isn't living up to expectation. There are quite a few franchises out there have taken their fair share of breaks before coming back from the dead, and despite a good attempt on Capcom's part, the time may finally be right to let Resident Evil take a well earned rest.

That's not to say that Resident Evil 6 didn't do a fantastic job at pushing the franchise back on the right path, or that Capcom doesn't have the best intention for its own IP either. At the very least we can say that each iteration of the game has tried to slightly tweak the mechanics we know, or provide us with a unique enough story that fans weren't simply rolling through the exact same game over and over again. Sure there's a sinister laboratory, mutated creatures, and zombies in every game, but they're generally delivered to us in an interesting fashion. For example sometimes we're on an island, or sometimes we're in Africa, which makes a huge difference. The trouble is that after years of trying to adjust a formula that only really ever worked well for a few select entries in the franchise, Resident Evil really doesn't know what it is anymore. It's mutated too many times.

You could argue that having a long list of mainstream movies and characters so recognizable they're practically gaming history would be a good thing, but that all depends on the reason those characters became famous in the first place. No one would argue that the impact the original Resident Evil titles had was anything short of positive, but games were all a little different back then. It was a time when illogical door puzzles, backtracking to save development data and fixed camera angles were all acceptable because they were the norm. There were different limitations that needed to be overcome, and the presentation that Resident Evil used to provide was more than enough to mask the technical issues of that generation.

But when the player community recognizes an iconic survival horror franchise from its matrix dressed super villains, frequent and confusing lore additions, evil scientists, body double/clone tropes, and rocket launcher wielding assassins, the publicity no longer becomes good. Maybe it's because the developers genuinely have no idea what they're doing, or perhaps it's because Capcom now insists on putting out at least one Resident Evil game a year, but it's clear that we're dragging the bottom of the idea barrel at this point. Like many Japanese developers who have yet to really understand the global market, Capcom needs to give the franchise a break.

Part of this stems from the series having gone from being a definable horror experience to just a plain action game with a zombie backdrop. While it should probably now be compared to Call of Duty in the speed and scale of its single player, instead Capcom insists on having the game run head to head against Dead Space; and while Visceral may have their own faults Dead Space has done an incredible job in delivering the atmosphere they promise.

Late to the party at almost every turn, there's nothing remarkable in the Resident Evil franchise on any level of recent development. We can praise the graphics and sound as technical accomplishments or take note at how well the game controls as of Resident Evil 6, but what really matters in the horror genre is story and atmosphere. Where are the scares? What happened to anxiety inducing moments that aren't reliant on poor AI or Gears of War style cover system gunplay? Is planning out a story that doesn't eventually devolve into searching for a hidden research station and finding everyone there overcome by a zombie virus really that hard? Why kill main characters if you're just going to say they were clones? The questions I have for Capcom's developers are endless and heartbreaking, and given the disappointing sales following the strong initial launch of Resident Evil 6 it's clear that I am not alone.

In fact even series producer Masachika Kawata has admitted recently that it may be time to revise their internal opinion of the game; a perfectly reasonable look at fan reaction to the series these past few years. But slowly and methodically including horror elements back into the franchise the same way they've slowly tweaked their combat and narrative away from it is a waste of time and money. Resident Evil doesn't need a facelift or cosmetic patch, it needs to be re-imagined.

Take a break, Resident Evil. Collect yourself, gather some new ideas, and learn from a few of the mistakes you've made so far. Most importantly don't be afraid to drop the whole 'horror' gig if you can't find a way to do it right. No one will hold it against you for moving on.

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