I’m a classic Resident Evil fan who prefers the older games of the series, but even I can grudgingly admit that complaining about the series becoming action-oriented just on that basis alone — whether it’s a valid complaint or not — is little more than an appeal to personal preference; it isn’t going to convince anyone.
I do think it’s strange to have a series suddenly redefine itself, especially in such a way that it alienates its prior fanbase, but there are valid circumstances for such a thing, and it’s happened before in the video game industry. So rather than complain about that, I want to take the time to compose a decent argument about the problems present in the modern Resident Evil games (mainly Resident Evil 4 and 5) other than them simply not being horror games. Problems in the redefinition itself as well as in the games. I don’t hate the games, so I hope fans of the modern games are still reading and hear me out. After all, you’re always free to disagree.
Horror and action aren’t mutually exclusive
My problem with the action focus of Resident Evil 4 and 5 actually has nothing to do with the action itself, but rather it dropping the horror, which are two different things. What most people — from both sides of the argument, modern fans and classic fans alike — don’t seem to really understand, is that pretty much every horror game has elements of action in it, including the original Resident Evil.
It’s funny when people complain about the “controls” of Resident Evil 4 and 5, because they’re literally exactly the same controls that were in the old games, with minor alterations. You can’t tell me that two genres can contain good games with the same basic control scheme and not be otherwise compatible in nature.
Any good horror game has atmosphere, immersion, and danger. Atmosphere and immersion are relevant in any video game, including the action genre. And danger — not in the sense of just having foes but in the sense of having something truly threatening that you should fear — is easily possible within an action game, and even Resident Evil 4 and 5 go partway with this with the particularly dangerous enemies, like the chainsaw guys. Aside from the obvious concept of having a spooky or unsettling theme, these are the three necessary elements to make a true horror game, and they transcend genre. Games like Amnesia or Slender are proof of this: Both nail the three aspects, but otherwise, Amnesia is basically a puzzle game, and Slender is Pac-Man.
What I’m getting at here is that it’s one thing for a game to evolve over time — change isn’t always necessary but many series do make appropriate evolutions as time goes on — but quite another for a series to entirely shed its core tenet. Arguably if the single most basic and important aspect of a game wasn’t popular or good, then you probably shouldn’t bother with a sequel at all. Resident Evil’s core tenet is — or was, anyway — just survival horror, and the modern games are not scary (barring the rare occasional scene that manages to be).
It’s weird, too, because both Resident Evil 4 and 5 milk the concept of an angry mob for large portions of the game, and mobs can be horrifying. The latter halves of both games, on the other hand, deal with particularly alien mutated horrors that trump some of the monsters of previous games in the series, in lab environments that the series is no stranger to. Resident Evil 4 in particular had a lot of potential to be terrifying to a degree that no prior Resident Evil was, but even 5 could have pulled this off. I don’t understand how or why Capcom skipped out on this, because they didn’t have to sacrifice much if anything of what they were already doing with both games to do this.
Had they skillfully combined action and horror, Resident Evil 4 and 5 would have been indisputably deeper, more intense experiences.
The modern games are flawed even as action games
Clearly a lot of people disagree with me considering the games have critical acclaim, but I can’t play either Resident Evil 4 or 5 without regarding them as games with numerous flaws. I would never call them great games (though they are certainly solid and fun). I don’t say this as a classic Resident Evil fan out of distaste at the alterations made. To the contrary, I focused on these games enough that I rarely thought about the old games while actually playing them.
Both games start with pretty solid opening portions, with dynamic enemies, interactive and well-designed environments that encourage strategy and maneuvering, and just fun, quality combat scenarios. Resident Evil 5 in particular nailed this; the first couple of chapters have very impressive level design.
The later areas, however, quickly devolve into less-inspired, generic corridors, and you largely follow a linear path through straightforward levels that don’t encourage this variety, fighting against mostly the same enemies over and over again. Often new areas introduce a new set of foes, but that variety quickly becomes stale as those enemies are recycled in the same way. That’s not to say that you need to have tons of enemies, but you do need variety. It can come from the enemies, it can come from the level design, or other places. But any game where you do the same thing over and over again can get stale, and this is particularly true of the action genre.
To be fair however, Resident Evil 5 improved on this somewhat from 4, and it does seem like Resident Evil 6 will improve the action even more (though obviously this remains to be seen). So, if nothing else, they seem to be improving at the action side of things, which is good if they intend to keep with this direction for the series.
Cheesiness and other plot issues
Small point really, in comparison to the rest. Sort of ties in with the last… simply that this aspect is poorly handled in the modern games.
In a horror game, where a sense of danger is crucial, you obviously can’t have a badass protagonist who can pull off barely human feats and whom nothing fazes. But this is also true of an action story if the story is serious, and despite the over-the-top action of the modern Resident Evil games, they are still serious — even grim — storylines. Leon’s one-liners and Chris’s “Incredible Hulk” constitution are just generally not helpful to Resident Evil. I know Chris was always a badass, but he never used to do ridiculous things or behaved like an unstoppable bodybuilder.
And it’s not just the characters who do over-the-top things: the plot itself does as well.
Resident Evil 5 is actually the most guilty here, with a plot about not only world domination but a complete forced evolution of the human race and villains who want to become gods. Not only is it a total departure from the goals — stated or implied — of the villains in previous games, but it’s just generally a difficult to swallow concept. With the story trying to do bigger and badder things every game, the series is getting entirely removed from the interesting plots it used to have. Resident Evil 6 also seems to be continuing this trend, with over-the-top action sequences and an overreaching plot involving a seemingly worldwide catastrophe.
Again, this sense of absurdity would be fine in a less serious or less realistic story, but Resident Evil is trying to be taken seriously, and given what it’s doing now, it’s trying to be too serious. Sure, the original Resident Evil was corny as hell, but that was just bad acting and didn’t come with over-the-top, ridiculous exploits or storylines, and it was quickly corrected and only got better and better in the following games.
Why was it changed in the first place?
Admittedly this point comes the closest to simply whining about Capcom changing the genre in the first place, but there’s still two valid points I’d like to raise:
First, I really don’t understand Capcom’s business decision to do it in the first place. The series was doing well and selling many copies with each sequel. Yes the modern games are selling more (and for obvious reasons), but this wasn’t relevant at the time Capcom initially made their decision, and I don’t get why they actually decided to change the series so much at the time.
My second point ties in; it doesn’t make sense to me to redefine an already successful game in a way that strips it of its identity and alienates its fans unless it’s selling poorly, which Resident Evil was not. Furthermore, why not just make it into a different game, or at least a spinoff? There was already a precedent for this in the series:
Devil May Cry first began during the development of Resident Evil 4. At some point during development, they realized their ideas didn’t fit the Resident Evil series and made their ideas into Devil May Cry instead. This was unquestionably a good idea, as it spawned another critically acclaimed series that went on to help pioneer the action genre and inspire games like the massively popular God of War.
The creator of the Resident Evil series also later went on to make Shadows of the Damned, a game with very similar gameplay to Resident Evil 4, but in an entirely different series. There’s also Operation Raccoon City, an action-based spinoff of the Resident Evil series. But even before all of this, they were making light gun shooter Resident Evil spinoffs; there was an established precedent for the action side of Resident Evil being in the form of spinoffs.
I don’t understand how Capcom could have so many examples of taking these ideas and putting them into a new action game (or at least a spinoff rather than the main Resident Evil series), and not make the connection to how weird it is to randomly redefine the main Resident Evil series itself, or why, in the time since, they haven’t tried to reclaim this separation.
None of this is said in hatred of the modern Resident Evil games, because as I said, I actually do find them to be fun games. But I think they receive a little too much praise for being amazing games that they really aren’t, and I think a lot of their fans write off the classic Resident Evil fans’ complaints far too quickly. I think I’ve laid out a pretty good argument for Capcom to either revert the series and implement their action concepts into a new game (or a spinoff), or to meld the elements more to make a new game that’s the best of both worlds. I don’t think there’s any possible way that either route would produce bad games or not be met with massive commercial success (especially with such a deficit of quality horror games lately, barring the aforementioned Amnesia and Slender), not to mention I think either would please all fans of the series.
Of course you’re free to disagree, though, and I’m very interested in knowing what you think.
I’m also aware that in many ways Resident Evil: Revelations did sort of attempt to revive the old formula. I do appreciate that, but Resident Evil 6 appears to continue the current formula, and that bugs me. That said, I’m sure it’ll be a solid game and I like that they seem to be improving the action aspects. I haven’t played the demo yet, but I should shortly, and of course the game is about to come out. I long for a deeper experience, but in the meantime, there’s still fun to be had.
(Credit to Resident Evil Wiki for most of the images.)