Capcom’s famous Resident Evil franchise finds itself in familiar territory- almost a decade ago, the series was growing stagnant after three quick releases, the old formula growing thin, the dated premise and the obsolete development and game design sensibilities beginning to show their age. This was mostly becoming apparent with the release of Resident Evil 3, a game which fans felt was the weakest entry in the series. Adding salt to the wound was the fact that its immediate predecessor, Resident Evil 2, was widely regarded as the best game in the series, and one of the best game sequels of all time.
History indeed repeats itself. The reboot of Resident Evil hit gamers with the superbly reimagined Resident Evil 4, which is now held to be one of the best games of last generation. However, the formula seems to be growing stale, and Capcom seems to be losing its grip, as the recently released Resident Evil 5 was criticized widely for dispensing with the scares altogether, and for becoming a poor man’s action game. And yet again, the game held on to some design philosophies that simply have no place in modern gaming. With series like Dead Space becoming the standard for survival horror, Resident Evil is fast losing relevance. Can Capcom reinvent the series yet again, to ensure that one of gaming’s oldest mainstays can be enjoyed even today? And in doing so, will we get yet another brilliant masterpiece like we got the last time the series was reimagined with Resident Evil 4?
The topic becomes more relevant when one considers that Capcom recently teased Resident Evil 6, stating that they want the game out as soon as possible. That’s all we know about it, though. Which platform? No idea. Release date? Nada on that. All we can speculate on is that the game might be unveiled at TGS later this month. But that’s all.
Just what is Resident Evil 6? Does it even exist? And if so, what can we expect from it?
WHAT RESIDENT EVIL MUST DO TO STAY RELEVANT
Here, have a look at this video:
That is some gameplay footage from Resident Evil 5, the latest installment in the saga. Notice something wrong?
Where is the scope for any chills or thrills in that?
Think about it- as a franchise, Resident Evil built itself upon three primary foundations- ambiguity, claustrophobia, and atmosphere. All three were integral to the first three games’ success. Resident Evil 4 moved away from most of that, by negating claustrophobia and ambiguity, but it more than made up for that by doubling on the atmosphere, which was eerie, and, coupled with the main narrative, which was actually genuinely intriguing for a change, made for some scares throughout the entirety of the game. Although the game stoically stuck to some bafflingly anachronistic design choices- slow movement, unintuitive aiming and shooting, items management that made you want to tear your hair out- it all made sense in the context of the game, because Resident Evil 4 was still a survival horror, or at least, a horror adventure game.
Resident Evil 5, however, dispensed with the atmosphere completely. So what we were left with was a slow moving action game with idiotic enemies, all designed around conventions that have no place in an action game in the first place. The game- designed around co-op evidently, from the get go- moved away from made Resident Evil the games they are to the extent that it could have done away with the brand name entirely, and be marketed as something completely new. Unfortunately for us, it would have been terribly received in that case, and Capcom decided that they’d rather risk sullying the Resident Evil brand after all.
In the meanwhile, we got Dead Space and Left 4Dead, two very different games (incidentally, both published by the same publisher), but both of which exemplify what Resident Evil must now strive to be if it is to stay relevant. We’ll get to Left 4 Dead later- for now, let’s concentrate on Dead Space, and how it could possibly influence Resident Evil 6 for the better.
Dead Space possesses in copious quantities what it seems Resident Evil 5 lacks sorely- ambiguity,claustrophobia, and atmosphere. It is what makes the game terrifying and grotesque, and what makes you, as the player, keep guessing as to what could be around the next corner. Dead Space achieves this by a unique combination of deft storytelling and stellar sound design. Whereas Resident Evil, as a series, has always excelled in the latter area, it is the former that it must now work on hardest.
What made Dead Space so terrifying? It was the Metroid Prime-esque seup most of all, the knowledge that we had arrived too late to actually be f any assistance, that a terrible tragedy had occurred aboard the ship, and that it was now overrun by the unknown. Whereas Resident Evil also employs similar narrative techniques, they aren’t as effective due to a variety of reasons:
- We are almost always in constant communication with someone else, which greatly dulls the blow of sheer isolation
- We are always in a desolate city, or something; however, we’re still in a position where we might find other humans. Dead Space took place on a spaceship, where there really was no hope of finding any humanity if the final bastion was overrun
- Resident Evil has used this as a plot device too many times. It’s getting old now.
So what should Resident Evil 6 do then? Whereas I am certainly not the game designer, and thus not in a position to influence storyboard decisions, I do hope that we have some kind of plot where there is hope for utter isolation. Maybe we could have Umbrella having set shop recently in a third world country, any country, it doesn’t even have to be real, where it secretly continued its experiments. Things began to get out of hand, however, and the zombies (or whatever you want to call them) overran the entire country, and are now fast spreading to other nations, leading to a true zombie apocalypse situation. Now, Chris or Leon may have been sent to escort someone important- say the President of the United States- out of the country, since the zombie invasion is imminent. Something goes wrong, and he finds himself alone in a jungle. He has no idea where he is, or how he got there. There is no one i n sight, no sign of civilization except for cities that look like they’ve been deserted for years. And all the while, there are zombies behind every corner.
It’s certainly a good setup, and only one of many that we might suggest. Most of all, it places heavy emphasis on the three pillars of claustrophobia, ambiguity and atmosphere that have been stressed upon so many times already in the article.
But there are several other areas where Resident Evil 6 might take cues from Dead Space- notably, Dead Space’s controls were smooth, and they suited the feel of the game completely. Whereas I don’t expect or want Capcom to copy the scheme button by button for the sixth installment, I do hope they are influenced by Visceral. At the very least, I hope the archaic controls of Resident Evil 5 don’t make a comeback.
Maybe we can even expect some genuinely tense moments in the sixth installment of what was once the premier horror series.
A couple of years ago, Valve finally gave us the multiplayer zombie game we’d always wanted by giving us Left 4 Dead. Unlike Resident Evil 5’s multiplayer modes, Left 4 Dead actually featured the tension you might expect from such a game, and it amped it all up by featuring some of the best designed multiplayer action we’d seen- ever.
Assuming Capcom decide to include multiplayer in Resident Evil 6, then they’ve already got an excellently functioning model for how the mode should be- a co-op, map based, objective based multiplayer mode, local and/or online, that has survivors fighting off hordes of zombies in desolate cities and forests. Moreover, such a mode will also fit in perfectly with the storyline described above for the sixth game. Like I said, I’m not the developer of Resident Evil 6, but if I were, damn, I’d take that direction for sure.
Resident Evil 6, as of now, does not exist. It hasn’t even been officially announced yet. However, we can assume that Capcom is busy working on it out there- it is their biggest franchise, after all- and we can maybe expect an announcement soon. We don’t know how the sixth game will be designed. It may just be the continuation of what we’ve seen in Resident Evil 5, in which case, it would yet another slow action game saddled with poor design decisions, and still more unworthy of the ‘horror’ label. Then again, it might be on the lines of what I’ve described above, which would be kind of awesome. Maybe it’ll be something none of us expected, something that will totally blow our socks away. In any case, we are all intently waiting, because this is one game we desperately want Capcom to get right.