From confusing spin-offs to failed attempts at replicating blockbuster movies, years of an schizophrenic identity crisis for Capcom’s longstanding brand finally imploded into a total meltdown with Resident Evil 6. Capcom learned the hard way that putting profits first at any cost can result in disaster.
I’ve been a fan of the Resident Evil franchise since 1997, when I first saw the original game played in a darkened room on the Sony PlayStation. Around every corner in the survival horror game hid the paralyzing fear of an impending death. The franchise was masterminded by Shinji Mikami, known for his recent work on Vanquish (2010) and Shadows of the Damned (2011). Over the years Resident Evil became one of my favorite series with each new game on the PlayStation and into the next generation of consoles. Unfortunately I saw the franchise changing and slipping a few years ago and wondered what was going on at Capcom. After debuting in 1996 on the original PlayStation, the series became one of the cornerstones of the survival horror genre. Not only did the survival horror that Resident Evil popularized start to fade way, but so did those elements in the newest games of the franchise at an alarming rate.
Resident Evil 6 released Oct. 2, 2012 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. More than a year ago I wrote an in-depth look at the Resident Evil franchise, explaining why the brand found itself in a downward trend. Before the official reveal of Resident Evil 6 in January 2012 I wrote, “Capcom needs to move forward by looking backwards. Whether it be with zombies or a new unknown threat, Resident Evil 6 is the perfect opportunity to reinvigorate the franchise…After rejecting its heritage for so long, Resident Evil 6 is also Capcom’s final chance to redeem itself and the Resident Evil franchise as the king of survival horror.” Once I saw the massive explosions and Hollywood-style action in the first trailer reveal I knew this wasn’t going to happen. The Resident Evil I loved throughout the years was officially taken off life support.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Review scores for Resident Evil 6 are mostly negative. These are consistent across many publications. Besides the numbers behind reviews, sales figures for the game aren’t matching Capcom’s expectations either. Last May it was reported that Capcom expected to sell seven million copies of Resident Evil 6 by March 31, 2013. Resident Evil 6 initially shipped more than 4.5 million copies worldwide, a record for the company. In October the game sold 808,039 copies in Japan and 806,000 in the U.S. for more than 1.6 million total. In the U.S. it was the second-best selling game for October, according to Siliconera.
The game started off hot but almost immediately began to cool after the first month once the word got out about its poor quality. At the end of October the company revised its high expectations for the game to 6 million sales. Capcom said in a financial question and answer on Nov. 1 that Resident Evil 6 had been successful to a certain point. “We therefore believe it is too early to reach a conclusion about how users view this game. We always listen carefully to the feedback from users and use this information when developing games.”
Even though Capcom lowered its forecast, the company still felt it could reach the new sales target. “We believe that prospects are good for reaching our goal of 6 million units. We are confident because of the approaching overseas Christmas and New Year selling season, past sales of titles in this series, and for other reasons.” In December Capcom was forced to lower its financial earnings estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31 by $39 million, partly because sales of Resident Evil 6 “were initially strong but subsequently weakened,” according to the company. Resident Evil 6 sold 4.8 million copies as of Dec. 31. These are terrific sales numbers under normal circumstances. However the game fell way short of Capcom’s initial 7 million goal. Now Capcom recently revised its prediction again, down to 5 million copies sold by March 31. Fans, critics and Capcom are all disappointed with how Resident Evil 6 turned out.
To address what happened with its original sales predictions, Capcom said in a Feb. 4 third quarter earnings report:
We are currently analyzing the causes, which involve our internal development operations and sales operations. We have not yet reached a clear conclusion. We believe that global sales of 5 million units are proof that this is a popular title. However, we believe that the new challenges we tackled at the development stage were unable to sufficiently appeal to users. In addition, we believe there was inadequate organizational collaboration across our entire company with regard to marketing, promotions, the creation of plans and other activities. We will have to examine these results from several perspectives. We will reexamine our internal operating frameworks in order to identify areas that need to be improved concerning development as well as sales and administrative operations.
Getting away from the corporate speak, what exactly went wrong?
A Blown Opportunity
Zombies are now firmly engrained in popular culture. With popular television shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” crazed individuals across the U.S. eating people’s faces off while on bath salt binges and the zombie apocalypse attributed to an increase in American 2012 gun sales, this was the perfect time for Resident Evil’s return. There is zero reason why Capcom couldn’t deliver a survival horror masterpiece. No ’90s “tank” controls. No bad camera angles. No dated gameplay. Just a well made game, crafted after years of experience developing more than a dozen titles in the series. There’s no excuse why a game from 1996 should be better than a game released in 2012 with a multimillion dollar budget and a staff of more than 600 people, with 150 of those in Japan.
There’s several underlining reasons for Resident Evil’s crash, many of which I covered in my earlier piece. Resident Evil 6 was the unfortunate combustion of many negative elements boiling underneath the surface for many years now. The excuses for the game’s quality and reception piled up higher than the game’s zombie-infected rate. The reviewers are biased. The western press hates Japanese developers. Hardcore Resident Evil fans are afraid of change. People played the game “wrong.” Nostalgia is getting in the way of progress. These are all wrong. The blame lies solely with Capcom.
Christian Svensson, Capcom USA’s senior vice president, addressed rumors in July 2011 that Resident Evil 6 wouldn’t be a reboot, but that the franchise would be seeing some alterations. “We’re making some drastic changes to a series to update it and keep it relevant,” he said. “We’re not ready to talk about it any time soon but let’s just say it’s ambitious.” Relevancy for Capcom is a game that can make it the most money above all else. Today the series’ current direction falls under “dramatic horror” and “horror entertainment,” terms created the past year by Capcom to dodge the franchise’s history while still trying to save face for longtime fans. Capcom labels dramatic horror as a combination of action and survival horror. Horror entertainment is defined as, “horror that entertains as many people as possible.”
While many expected Resident Evil 6 and its developers to make positive changes for the series, Capcom wasn’t honest with what the game would ultimately be. In an April 2012 interview with Prima Games, Hiroyuki Kobayashi, executive producer on Resident Evil 6, said the game would be going back to its roots:
We’re taking survival horror to next level. Your worst fears lurk behind every corner. We’re going beyond the boundaries of everything you’ve ever experienced before. We have some really special creatures in this game designed to really frighten you. We’re going back to the original game where you were scared all the time. We’re putting back all the spills, thrills and chills of Resident Evil games. We’re maxing out everything to deliver something really huge, something you haven’t experienced before.
This clearly wasn’t the way everything turned out.
No Hope Left
Resident Evil 6 is a game that’s sold on the nostalgia, history and name of Resident Evil. Zombies are back after a 10 year absence. Tall Oaks, where Leon Kennedy’s campaign partially takes place, is essentially a copy of Raccoon City. A scenario during Leon’s story takes place in a gun shop, similar to the opening sequence in 1998′s Resident Evil 2. Old characters like Sherry Burkin from Resident Evil 2 are playable in Resident Evil 6. New character Jake Muller is the son of Albert Wesker. Another new character named Helena Harper bears a striking resemblance to Claire Redfield of Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica (2000) fame. In the game she said,”This is a nightmare…It can’t be real!” Sadly Helena, it’s all real. (Warning: Major spoilers for Resident Evil 6 ahead)
The story goes that a new C-virus breaks out during a bioterrorism attack. Tall Oaks is infested with 70,000 people struck with the virus. In Lanshiang, China, all hell breaks loose in another attack. The streets are filled with weird creatures and a blue gas transforming people into zombies. All the good guys believe that Ada Wong, Leon’s old “friend,” is responsible for the attacks alongside Neo-Umbrella, but a bigger conspiracy surrounds the events.
Resident Evil 6 is an over-bloated mess. Each of the game’s four main chapter feels extremely long and unnecessarily dragged out. The game plays like four different studios made Resident Evil 6 and combined it all into one package. You replay several of the same scenarios and boss fights throughout all the chapters. This is supposed to give you a different viewpoint of the story, but it made the game even more tiring and unbearable. The flow of Resident Evil 6 is painful. Lengthy Quick Time Events fill a lot of the gameplay, where you’re liable to break your analog stick to keep up with the speed. Resident Evil 6 is a balls-to-the-wall action game that gives you ammo amounts straight out of a survival horror title. The overall gameplay simply isn’t that good.
With Resident Evil 6 many staples of the franchise are gone. There’s no solving puzzles, giving players a challenge of the mind. There’s no strategy determining what bullets to save for later and what gun to blow away the bad guys in the moment. There’s no option to really explore rooms and laboratories to find files and journals like in the classic games, which would give players a better understanding of the character and storyline. Instead these are unlocked by shooting 80 emblems hidden throughout the game. Besides some sections of Leon’s campaign, most of the game’s environments are bland and dull. Resident Evil 6 is a mindless and boring action game on all counts.
Resident Evil 6 borrows the over-the-top content of the Hollywood movies based on the gaming franchise and takes it up about 10 notches. At the end of 2009′s Resident Evil 5, Chris Redfield kills top bad guy Albert Wesker in a fight that takes place inside a volcano (not to mention moving enormous rocks with just his fists). I didn’t think Capcom could ever top that nonsense. I was totally wrong. In an October 2012 interview with 1UP, Yoshiaki Hirabayashi, producer for Resident Evil 6, said a blend of reality and imagination is important to the franchise:
But when I was working as a designer, I was working closely with Mikami-san on these games. He always said that the key to presenting the world of Resident Evil was this balance of real and unreal. You mix the two together and it creates this verisimilitude of a realistic world, even though you have all these fantastic elements that are a part of it.
It’s impossible to suspend belief playing Resident Evil 6 with so many outlandish sequences repeatedly happening. I could imagine I was stuck in a creepy old mansion, fighting for my life against the occasional zombie or running away from a rabid dog. Resident Evil 6 takes place in a world where everyone suffers from spontaneous combustion and then are reborn into different animals of the Raccoon City zoo. It exists in a world where you’re affected by the virus only when it’s convenient for the game, even if directly facing enemies giving off the contagion.
Contributing to this disbelief is the awful way the story is told through the characters. Conversations were never a strong point of the series, but sometimes Resident Evil 6 is dangerously close to Resident Evil: Survivor (2000) levels of terrible when it comes to its dialogue. Almost every conversation is painfully bad, especially in Leon’s campaign. The game is filled with dozens of clichés and classic lines like, “I…I just shot the president.” No real person talks like they do in Resident Evil 6. Bad dialogue was kind of cute in 1996. It’s inexcusable for a 2012 release aiming to be the game industry’s next Hollywood-style draw.
Goofy sections follow one after another throughout Resident Evil 6. While playing I continually asked myself, Why is this even in the game? Multiple driving sets make it feel like you’re playing Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games or Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Blowing up other cars chasing after you. Climbing up the side of a skyscraper on a thinning rope as a huge monster claws at your feet. Silently killing a room full of bats by meleeing them. Yes, that actually happens.
Zombies can do wrestling take downs and you can also give enemies German suplexes. Enemies never fully die the first time you encounter them either. They constantly mutate into a new creature, so you’re fighting the same guy two or three times. New enemies introduced like the Rasklapanje, with a name that looks like somebody came up with after falling asleep on their keyboard, continually respawn so you can’t fully kill them. These aren’t frightening. These aren’t cool. They’re annoying and infuriating when exploring a level for passwords or buttons you need to press to advance to the next area. At one point I was doing a Quick Time Event to fight off a lone hand that was attacking me. A hand.
To be a game for every single person on the planet, Resident Evil 6 combines several elements from many different genres and popular franchises. The real question is, what game doesn’t Capcom borrow ideas from? To name a few of the aspects Resident Evil 6 lifts from: Gears of War, Battlefield 3, Call of Duty, Left 4 Dead, Uncharted, Killzone, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. Capcom even takes ideas from its old, forgotten franchises like Dino Crisis. Derek Simmons, the game’s main villain, turns into a T-Rex much like the final boss you face in 1999′s Dino Crisis. Boss fights and regular enemy encounters are something out of “Transformers: Beast Wars.” Further on in the game another boss is a mutated spider the size of a skyscraper. If it sounds like all this is made up, it’s not. Resident Evil 6 doesn’t feel like its own game. It feels like a poor imitation of every other game on the market.
There’s so much going on in Resident Evil 6 that killing the zombie-infected, president of the United States is an afterthought throwaway moment in the first few minutes of Leon’s campaign.
Chapter two of Jake Muller’s campaign is one of the absolute worst levels this generation of games. It’s so bad my co-op partner and I went into a laughing fit as the stage progressed. The developers couldn’t find a good reason to cram a snow level into the game so players got this mess. As you can see from this video, most of the level is spent walking around where you can’t see anything, looking for data chips that flew out of Sherry’s cell phone after you both jumped out of an exploding plane. The only explanation why you’re in the middle of a blizzard fighting superhuman soldiers is to look for tiny memory cards buried in the snow that fell out of Sherry’s pocket during the 30,000 feet fall. After you find them, something inspired by SSX Tricky happens. In this video, you need to escape an avalanche, racing past enormous glaciers falling and popping out of the ground. Somebody important at Capcom seriously thought this was good enough to pass into the final release. During the ride Jake says,”This is not a good idea!” Sherry responds, “Too late now!” That exchange sums up a lot of Resident Evil 6′s problems.
During chapter four of Jake’s story a large neon sign falls from a building, flips over a bus that then explodes, revealing an open pathway to a door. Absurd examples like this happen all the time throughout Resident Evil 6. Capcom’s love affair with volcanoes and lava that’s prominent in Resident Evil 4 (2005) and Resident Evil 5 continues on in this game. Jake and Sherry fight a boss in a room surrounded by lava and then barely escape a fiery ride hanging on for their lives. Jake’s campaign painfully ends with the most horrible, cheesiest song during the credits, something a Taylor Swift fan might enjoy but doesn’t fit at all with the tone of the franchise or Resident Evil 6′s gameplay style.
In the beginning of Leon’s first chapter, he and Helena are on a college campus where the U.S. president was set to give some sort of speech. The college is a dump. There’s boxes everywhere, paint chipping on all the walls and large fridge-sized heaters in almost every room. Why is the president even coming to this run-down spot? How did all this mess happen in just a few short hours of the new outbreak? During a cut-scene in Leon’s campaign when they’re driving away from the college campus, a zombie appears on their police car causing it to spin out of control. The car rolls over several times, with nearby vehicles exploding in a huge ball of fire. Leon and Helena casually get out of the car like it’s no big deal. Immediately their HQ contact Ingrid Hunnigan calls Leon asking how they are. He casually tells her,”Hangin’ in there. But we need another way to the cathedral.” This would kill any normal human being, and it did several times to other civilians throughout the game. Ridiculous scenes like this happen so frequently in the game that they lose all shock value.
Leon fighting a huge monster fish underwater in chapter three is another silly scenario in the game. Chris Redfield’s campaign isn’t much better than the others either. It takes place in China as he faces enemies similar to those in Resident Evil 5. Chris teams up with new BSAA member Piers Nivans, which sounds like the most made-up name imaginable. Later the two fight an army of enemies that look straight ripped off the Helgast from Guerrilla Games’ Killzone series. These non-stop action sequences simply don’t work with a lack of ammo and continual waves of transforming enemies. You never get to catch your breath in Resident Evil 6. Something is always exploding or trying to kill you.
As bad as it is, there are a few small things the game does alright. Players can finally move and shoot their weapons at the same time, a severely needed addition to the series. Leon’s first chapter showed what could’ve been, with a small town thrown into chaos and escaping a moody college campus. The new Tyrant-type named Ustanak that continually hunts after Jake is an excellent addition too. However he doesn’t come close to the Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 (1999). Ada Wong’s campaign is the only one worth anything. Her chapter even included a few puzzles here and there like the franchise used to have. Surprisingly the Mercenaries online multiplayer is actually fun, a mode that’s coming into its own since Resident Evil 5. Capcom supported Resident Evil 6 with several updates in an attempt to fix some of the complaints from players and add more free content, but that’s not enough to restore the game’s image or overall quality.
Show Me the Money
Resident Evil 6 represents everything wrong with the current mindset of many game developers and big publishers in the industry. Resident Evil’s collapse is about more than just a few bad games. It has everything to do with with unchecked greed and corporate cluelessness.
Capcom desperately wants to play with industry giants like Activision and Electronic Arts. Capcom executives want a piece of that Call of Duty pie, which has the power to earn more than $1 billion in only 16 days. The company wants its own Call of Duty and Resident Evil is its meal ticket. This was admitted publicly during the months before the March 2012 release of the spin-off Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Dave Turner, Capcom UK’s head of marketing, said in a January 2012 interview with CVG, “The dream would be that the millions of Call of Duty fans that are enjoying these fast-paced online games are attracted to this Resident Evil.” He was talking specifically about Operation Raccoon City but that philosophy also applies to Resident Evil 6.
During another interview with Hirabayashi on 1UP last October, he said reaching a mass audience would be key to Resident Evil’s future:
We’re making games and we need to have mass-market appeal in order to survive. It becomes an issue of tracking one way or the other. How far do we go into horror before we lose the support of the average player? How far are we going to lessen the horror elements at the risk of losing core fans, including Resident Evil fans? Where’s the Venn diagram that shows the happy medium of those things? The challenge is trying to push it as close to the edge either way, so that we can satisfy both groups of people. I think we can do it. personally speaking, I really do like horror. I like it as a genre. I’m fine with pushing it up to 11 in terms of horror. But maybe that’s not what we can do and still be saleable.
In the same interview Kobayashi said, “With Resident Evil, we’re trying to be as inclusive as possible. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible.” These sentiments were mirrored by others involved with the Resident Evil series. In an interview with Gamasutra in March 2012, Masachika Kawata, producer for Resident Evil: Revelations, said he believed the market for a survival horror title isn’t as big as the Call of Duty franchise and therefore Resident Evil needed to expand its horizons out of the genre. “A ‘survival horror’ Resident Evil doesn’t seem like it’d be able to sell those kind of numbers,” he said. The idea that Resident Evil 6 desperately needed a dumbed down, mainstream appeal and a drastic gameplay style difference from survival horror doesn’t hold weight considering the franchise’s previous sales records. As of Dec. 31, Resident Evil 2 is the company’s third best seller in its almost 30 year history with close to five million lifetime sales. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is seventh with 3.5 million and the original Resident Evil takes the 10th spot with close to 2.8 million sold.
Not only are those some of the best selling in Capcom’s history, they were also some of the highest selling games on the original PlayStation as well. These weren’t horror niche titles like Silent Hill or Fatal Frame. These Resident Evil games were mainstream enough. With the Resident Evil name, Resident Evil 6 would have sold regardless if it was survival horror or a Call of Duty clone. Modern Warfare 3 released in November 2011, selling close to Capcom’s first 7 million goal in just one day, with 6.5 million copies bought in the the UK and North American markets at its launch. Capcom tried to run the same race and gassed out way before the finish line.
In that same CVG interview Turner said, “We’ve seen the popularity of Resident Evil increase massively as the series became more action oriented-Resident Evil 5 is the biggest seller in the series. So, it makes sense for us to follow this action area more fully.” Capcom saw dollar signs after Resident Evil 5. The game is the second best-selling title in company history, having sold 6 million copies. The infusion of action into the series isn’t the problem. Resident Evil 4 was the game where original creator Shinji Mikami mixed up the formula and moved farther away from the survival horror found in previous games. Resident Evil 4 included much more action elements that were only a slight part of games like Resident Evil 2 or Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.
The roots of Resident Evil’s current problems do go back to Resident Evil 4. However it still has great pacing and an intense atmosphere, and can still be considered a survival horror game in different ways. As good as the game is, the new enemy type away from zombies and the focus on action set the stage for bigger problems down the road. Since the second half of the game became so focused on action, with waves of enemies and fights, many of the horror elements from the first half disappeared. With an arsenal of upgraded weapons aiding you in combat, the element of fear was gone. Most of the ridiculous elements in Resident Evil 6 can be traced back to Resident Evil 4. Without someone like Mikami overseeing the project, the vision gets completely out of control. That’s when you get people transforming into dinosaurs and Olympic races to avoid dying in an avalanche.
A former Dead Space writer told NowGamer in February that Dead Space 3 had to take a more action-oriented style to increase awareness of the series. The change for Visceral Games’ franchise was what he called a necessary evil to reach a wider audience and more sales. Dead Space always had a heavy action focus to begin with and the series never had anywhere near the brand strength of Resident Evil. However it’s the closet example of a mainstream game with horror elements incorporated into its gameplay and storyline, similar to Resident Evil. Dead Space is representative of the problem plaguing the industry, where the proposed solution to higher sales is a “bigger is better” mentality alongside ditching elements that made a franchise popular to begin with.
Even after Resident Evil 5 became the financial success it did, Capcom was already looking for other games to take Resident Evil’s place. At one point Capcom wanted the Dead Rising franchise to take over for Resident Evil. “The goal for Dead Rising 2 is to replace the Resident Evil franchise and become number one IP within Capcom,” Keiji Inafune told Eurogamer in September 2010. Capcom proved in the past that its main concern wasn’t quality but finding the company’s next big thing.
After playing Resident Evil 6, I didn’t want to go back to the ’90s games. Ironically I wanted to play Resident Evil 5 again, which is actually a competent action game. Resident Evil 6 can’t even compare to what Capcom plunged into with Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil 5 was a success for Capcom financially and a failure for fans of the series. Resident Evil 5 is a terrible Resident Evil game. Ironically it was almost a replica of Epic Games’ Gears of War, a game that was heavily influenced by Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 5 could’ve been renamed “Gears of Evil” with the way it plays. However despite the obvious drawbacks it’s still a good game, unlike Resident Evil 6. I’m open minded but I find it extremely difficult to defend Resident Evil 6 in any way, even stepping away from the lens of a hardcore fan.