Which era of Resident Evil has delivered the best moments, and what’s the best way forward for the survival horror series?
It’s hard to think of another major video game franchise that has radically and successfully reinvented itself as many times as Resident Evil. Over the course of twenty five years and dozens upon dozens of games, Capcom’s survival horror series has had three very unique and equally successful eras, each offering completely different kinds of experiences with their own merits and demerits.
And of course, the question that series fans often ask themselves and each other is- which of those is the best? Fixed cameras, third person, and first person are three very distinct styles and flavours of Resident Evil, and neither of them has any shortage of people who swear by them.
Given the fact that the series started off with fixed cameras and delivered not only some of its own highlights, but also among the best horror games ever made, there’s little doubt that there’s a massive number of Resident Evil fans who still feel like fixed camera RE games are the best kind of RE games. Resident Evil 1, its remake, and Resident Evil 2 are genre-defining survival horror titles. Resident Evil 3 and Code – Veronica are excellent games that fans of the series hold very dear in their hearts. RE 0 is much more divisive, but still a solid game in its own right.
Clearly, the fixed cameras era of Resident Evil isn’t lacking in highs- and that style of game design has some very clear advantages that suit the survival horror genre perfectly. At a time when Resident Evil was defined by slow, deliberate gameplay and methodical exploration and puzzles, fixed cameras served as the perfect foil for what Capcom was trying to achieve with those games. You’d be walking down a hallway, and though you could hear something shuffling around or growling close by, the camera would ensure that you couldn’t see it until you got much closer to it, and that, combined with the purposefully impeded movement brought about by tank controls would lead to genuine moments of fear.
That was a trick that Resident Evil games used countless times during the series’ earlier years, and each time to great effect. It’s also worth mentioning that Capcom had a knack for creating some truly beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds in their fixed camera RE games, which is something that doesn’t get as much praise and attention anymore as it should. Sure, a big reason for having fixed cameras in those earlier Resident Evil games might have been financial or technological constraints, but Capcom made it work spectacularly nonetheless.
Resident Evil 4 was a major departure for all those reasons and more, of course. An over-the-shoulder third person perspective is a staple for third person games now, but when RE4 did it back in 2005, it was a revelation- especially for Resident Evil as a series. With each successive entry in the series, Resident Evil had already been leaning more heavily in favour of action, and the switch to Resident Evil 4 allowed Capcom to do that to much greater effect, and that excellent action was something that they delivered more of with Resident Evil 5 not long afterward. The switch to third person also went hand-in-hand with better production values and a much greater emphasis on storytelling, which has become progressively more important for the series as time has gone on.
Of course, “action” is a word that makes Resident Evil fans uncomfortable. Resident Evil 5 was an excellent game when judged on its merits, but there were many who were disappointed by how it was basically just a third person shooter and had given up nearly all pretenses of being horror. Then there was Resident Evil 6, which wasn’t even an excellent game by any stretch of the imagination- it was basically a video game version of a mindless Michael Bay film full of needless explosions, ridiculously over-the-top action sequences, and terrible plot twists that existed only to enable more of those terrible set-pieces.
But though Resident Evil’s third person is the one that has been the most divisive among series fans, it has had some incredibly high highs as well. There is, of course, Resident Evil 4, which is not only one of the best games in the series, but one of the greatest games ever made, period. It strikes a balance between high-octane action and pulse-pounding horror (or tension, at least) like very few other games have ever managed to do. Resident Evil 5 is also a great game, as I mentioned earlier, and even better when you play it co-op. It’s also full of incredible fan service, and wraps up some major narrative arcs of the series in satisfying fashion- most notably in how it gives a fittingly memorable and dramatic sendoff to Albert Wesker.
Resident Evil Revelations and Revelations 2 also have their own share of fans, with Revelations 2 in particular being the kind of horror experience series fans had been starved for when it first came out. And, of course, more recently, we’ve had the remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3. While the latter is a bit of a disappointing, it’s not without its strengths. RE2 remake, meanwhile, is simply spectacular, and quite possibly the best game in the series. To say that it represents the peak of the franchise in more ways than one would not be an understatement in the slightest.
And then there’s the first person era of Resident Evil– which is the youngest, and so far has only had one game (soon to be two with Village). First person has some obvious strengths that benefit horror games immensely, in that the horror itself is cranked up significantly as soon as the perspective is brought in for a first person view. You’re that much closer to everything that’s going on around you, that much more immersed in the environment, and the scares, as such, are much more intimate than they would be in a third person game, or a game with fixed cameras. First person horror games have seen their stock rising astronomically over the past decade, with games like Layers of Fear, and the revelation that was P.T., and Resident Evil 7 is definitely one of the very best first person horror games we’ve ever seen.
RE7 also made use of first person to bolster other game design choices that fans of the series were very pleased by- from a greater focus on exploration, backtracking, and puzzle solving, to a much more slowed down and much more deliberate pace that prioritized atmosphere build-up and pervasive horror rather than fleeting moments of action or spikes of adrenaline with set-piece moments. After the disaster that was RE6, with RE7, Capcom made the very smart decision of going back to the basics and delivering a much more traditional Resident Evil experience, and doing that with a first person perspective instead of with fixed cameras proved to be an absolutely genius decision.
Of course, that’s not to say first person doesn’t have knocks against it either. Storytelling is an important part of Resident Evil, and that was something that took a bit of a hit in RE7 (the faceless Ethan Winters being the game’s protagonist didn’t help matters either). Third person games aren’t inherently better at storytelling than first person games as a rule, but that does tend to be the case more often than not nonetheless, and that’s very much been the case in Resident Evil as well- so far, at least. Of course, we’ve still only had one first person game so far, and Village might well be significantly better at spinning its tale than its predecessor, so… you know, fingers crossed.
Circling back to the original question though- which of the three styles of RE games is the best? Well, as any fan of the series would tell you, that’s a very difficult question to answer. Most RE fans would think about that question long and hard for a minute, then just give up trying to land on a single answer and tell you that each is excellent for very different reasons. And honestly, that’s kind of the best answer to such a question.
If we had to pick one though? Third person Resident Evil is, in many ways, the ultimate realization of the series’ formula. It’s capable of capturing everything that makes the series as good as it is. Third person means we get to have great stories that are told very well. Third person means we can have finely crafted action sequences every now and then. Third person means we can have excellently crafted mechanics and movement. And as the Resident Evil 2 remake proves, third person also works really well for more traditional Resident Evil experiences with deliberate pacing, a focus on exploration and puzzles and backtracking, and an emphasis on atmosphere and palpable horror.
But what does the future hold for each of these three distinct styles of Resident Evil experiences? Well, for starters, first person obviously isn’t going away anytime soon. Resident Evil Village is going to be first person, and I, for one, am glad about that. Capcom crafted something truly special with RE7, and there’s every reason to be optimistic about how they could improve that style and formula even further on their second go around. If Village can deliver a more engaging story, it might just cement first person as the definitive style for a Resident Evil game. It’s quite likely that we’re going to see more than a few first person games in the series over the coming years.
It’s also almost a given that third person Resident Evil isn’t going away any time soon. When RE4 introduced series fans to an over-the-shoulder perspective, that was a hard cut for the fixed cameras era, with the series being singularly focused on its new style going forward (unless you want to count the Chronicles games). Resident Evil’s transition to first person wasn’t quite as strict though. Capcom has delivered two third person RE games since RE7 came out, and though there are none that are currently officially announced, there’s definitely going to be many more. Resident Evil 4’s remake has been heavily rumoured and relentlessly leaked, and that’s obviously going to be a third person game. Then there’s Resident Evil Outrage, which insiders have pegged as Revelations 3 in all but name, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that taking the third person route as well.
That leaves us with the fixed cameras era- and things are much murkier here. The last mainline RE game with fixed cameras was Resident Evil 0, all the way back in 2002- though 2003 and 2004 also saw the releases of Outbreak and Outbreak: File #2. Either way, it’s been a very, very long time since Capcom have made a fixed cameras Resident Evil game, and honestly, it looks unlikely that they ever will. Given the blockbuster nature of the franchise and the fact that Capcom clearly wants every new game in the series to be a major AAA production, fixed cameras just might not fall in line with where they want to take the series.
There is still a sliver of hope though. For starters, it’s not like Capcom haven’t given any thought to fixed cameras in Resident Evil whatsoever in recent years. The Resident Evil 2 remake was originally being developed with fixed cameras, after all. Capcom did eventually settle on third person as a result, but it’s clear that they’re at least willing to consider making a new mainline RE game with fixed cameras. Meanwhile, as the commercial success of Bloober Team’s The Medium has recently shown us, clearly, old-school fixed camera horror games are still very much commercially viable. Isn’t it possible, then, that Capcom might decide to make a relatively lower-budget small-scale Resident Evil title with fixed cameras? How perfect would something like that be for the Switch? It doesn’t seem that farfetched- or I hope so, at any rate.
The one thing we can be sure of, though, is that the future looks bright for Resident Evil and its fans no matter how you look at it. As long as the series sticks to its core tenets, it can take whatever direction it wants- first person, third person, fixed cameras, something else entirely. It’s clear that each style has a laundry list of merits that suit the franchise very well, and that Capcom are perfectly capable of delivering memorable Resident Evil experiences no matter what approach they take. And that, perhaps, is one of the best and most exciting things about this franchise- it can keep changing its identity, keep switching up its style, but one way or another, it keeps finding ways to wow audiences. Here’s to many more years of that.
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