Resident Evil 7: No Creative Direction is Safe
Whether atmospheric survival horror or straight up action, Capcom has some tough decisions to make for the next sequel.
When Capcom first revealed Resident Evil 6, I – like many other fans – was enthused by what it had to offer. A Resident Evil title that sought to include characters from all past releases? Several styles of gameplay that provided a different play through and story? Tons of Resident Evil lore to draw on and the return of several fateful characters that helped defined the series’ highs? An outright war between bio-organic weapons and the zombie apocalypse finally reaching a global scale? Everything about the game just seemed so cool that day.
That was the day I learned that trailers can make a game look a LOT better than it actually is.
"Unfortunately, with Resident Evil 6, Capcom decided to go with all out action. Puzzles (and caution) were thrown to the wind."
First, some context: When Resident Evil Zero released, Capcom were shocked to discover that its sales were significantly lower in its home country than they’re used to seeing. The game more or less bombed in Europe and North America and the writing was on the wall: Fans wanted something different. They didn’t want the same tank like controls and improbable puzzles. They didn’t want to “survive” and run away any more. The environment was sure pretty thanks to some pre-rendered CG but it stopped feeling like, well, an actual environment that you inhabited.
It was Resident Evil 4 that eventually broke the mold and scooped up several awards as a result. It introduced the new famous (and infamous) over the shoulder shooting mechanic but interspersed the typical RE experience with tons more action, quick time events, water cooler moments and set pieces and just an outright insane abandon that made it all the more frightening. Resident Evil 5, though lambasted for not doing anything different, further evolved this model and gave it better visuals, a fairly reliable co-op mechanic, even more harrowing enemies and set pieces, and more action than its predecessor.
There was no doubt another crossroads reached by Capcom. Resident Evil 5 had performed decently sales wise but fans were beginning to tire of the same over the shoulder mechanic. You could blame Gears of War to some extent since it took the aiming system and made a whole other awesome franchise on it. But gamers had been saturated much faster than before. It was time for something new – some fans even wanted a game that felt more horror-oriented like classic Resident Evil titles.
Unfortunately, with Resident Evil 6, Capcom decided to go with all out action. Puzzles (and caution) were thrown to the wind. The pacing was all over the place, with long treks through corridors interspersed by cut scenes, followed by more long treks and more cut scenes. The new set pieces felt clunky. Stealth mechanics were thrown in and just felt awful, despite being some of the more unique sections in the game. Chris Redfield’s campaign felt out and out like a Call of Duty-esque romp with horrible controls and cover systems. The game’s visuals had somehow deteriorated from the fifth release but the expansive lore – something which should have been celebrated – was outright ignored in favour of a film plot that would have suited the works of Paul W.S. Anderson better. It wasn’t that this was a bad Resident Evil – it was just an overwhelmingly bad game in general.
"Resident Evil 7 needs to feel familiar and yet different. It needs to be scary, sure, but it can't just go back to being the plodding adventure title it was before."
Now with rumours of Resident Evil 7 abounding, Capcom is again left with a decision. Does it implement the same survival horror mechanics that defined some of its best games in the past? Does it try to use action-oriented mechanics that took the series to new heights but lead to admittedly one of the worst main titles of all time? Does Capcom try for an uneasy balance as with Resident Evil Revelations and somehow get by without offending anyone in the process? Does it try to blaze a trail and do what no one else has thought of?
The last point seems incredibly hard at this point. Trademark series like Gears of War and Dead Space transitioned to a more shooter-based approach with their last titles rather than falling back on horror. The horror genre itself has seen a renaissance but with first person exploration titles that emphasize atmosphere, audio design puzzle solving, survival and out-and-out scares over bleeding edge visuals. It’s obvious that Resident Evil won’t fall into the latter category – but then, there has been a game that managed to meld first person shooter mechanics with genuinely frightening gameplay. And that’s F.E.A.R.
This isn’t to say that Capcom should outright copy any one, as Resident Evil 6 has proved. But F.E.A.R. stands as a testament to properly implementing horror while balancing it with great shooting. Resident Evil 7 needs to feel familiar and yet different. It needs to be scary, sure, but it can’t just go back to being the plodding adventure title it was before. It can’t go full action either because my heart can’t take another Resident Evil 6.
"Whatever direction the developer may take, this will certainly be the most interesting Resident Evil in recent times."
There’s no denying that Capcom is at an impasse as to the creative direction of its next big sequel. One solution is to go with an open world sandbox style game but with straightforward missions. It could offer mechanics similar to Dead Rising 3, in which you make your own weapons and level up abilities, but in a more serious tone. There’s no better way to avoid long-winding cut scenes and implement as much of the series’ rich history. It could take an approach in this respect to GTAV, which had a strongly compelling story and missions even with a ridiculously large open world to it.
Or Capcom could just remake Resident Evil 2, slap on some open world mechanics and a revamped over the shoulder aiming mechanic and sell it to the public. That would solve a lot of problems.
Whatever direction the developer may take, this will certainly be the most interesting Resident Evil in recent times. Stay tuned for an announcement at E3 and hopefully whatever creative direction Capcom ends up with, it’ll at least attempt the same in a competent fashion.