Resident Evil 6 fit into the survival horror mold wouldn’t be a flop if Capcom still created a high quality game. Kawata told Gamasutra, “If you’re going to be selling a game based on its good gameplay, then you don’t have to worry about the market in which it will be sold.” Maybe this is the real problem. Maybe the Capcom team is simply incapable of creating a game in this style anymore. Taking a risk away from the safe and boring third-person shooter might show that Capcom doesn’t have the creative talent that it once did. Are we supposed to believe that nobody in the game industry could possibly re-imagine both the survival horror genre and the Resident Evil franchise?
Another damaging aspect to the series is that too many disappointing games released the past several years under the Resident Evil name. There were three games in 2012, Operation Raccoon City, Resident Evil 6 and Revelations, the only good one in that bunch. In 2011 there were other spin-offs too, like The Mercenaries: 3D for 3DS, which was also poorly scored. Kawata acknowledged to VideoGamer.com there were too many Resident Evil games on the market:
I think certainly looking at the last year or two, there probably were a few too many…I think we learned last year that putting on a lot of titles would not necessarily win over gamers. At the same time, I don’t think we should just stagger them out artificially because that’s the solution to the problem we have.
We should always start by asking how do we make the games better. And if the solution to making the games better is to have a more staggered release than we’ve had recently then that’s something we’ll do. But we’ll do it for that reason and not just for flipping what we’ve done already.
Even though Operation Raccoon City sold more than two million copies worldwide since its release, the game really hurt the franchise’s image. Developed by Western studio Slant Six Games and Capcom, Operation Raccoon City is a cheap cash in using the Resident Evil name. Capcom hasn’t found much success with earlier spin-offs either, including a light gun game that didn’t even include light gun accessory support. With all the spin-offs and how disappointing Resident Evil 6 turned out, the franchise now has that stigma of producing bad games among the general audience. The brand strength is severely diminished because of sub-par releases and the almost universally disliked Resident Evil 6.
Don’t Forget Your Roots
Perhaps the Resident Evil 6 development team thought that putting zombies in the game would be good enough to satisfy longtime fans who missed the experience of the older titles. Capcom tried the same nostalgia trip with the poorly received Operation Raccoon City, where virtually every character and enemy from the classic games were thrown together into one big disappointment. Resident Evil 6’s end result simply makes no sense because many of the head people on the team have been with the Resident Evil franchise for several key releases.
Executive producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi is a longtime Capcom developer, having worked on the first game in the series as well as being the producer for the 2002 Resident Evil remake and Resident Evil 4. Besides being the director for the Wii game Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (2007), Resident Evil 6 producer Eiichiro Sasaki also worked as the director on Resident Evil: Outbreak (2004) and Resident Evil: Outbreak File 2(2005). Other lead members on the design team worked on Resident Evil 5 and Capcom games like Lost Planet 2 (2010).
These games were drastically different from the core titles, both in quality and style. Still, these developers have been with Capcom for many years and have seen what makes a Resident Evil game successful in terms of quality and fan reactions.
With their experiences developing Resident Evil games, the Resident Evil 6 team should know better. Resident Evil 6 is a massive step backwards for the series. Resident Evil 5 ended a lot of the franchise’s drawn out storylines involving the Umbrella Corporation and Albert Wesker. Resident Evil 4 is much the same way, with an entirely different storyline that had little to do with previous games. Resident Evil 4 is set in its own universe and could even be considered a stand-alone title. Why not start fresh with Resident Evil 6? Why go back to outlandish gimmicks and an abysmally generic story involving a Neo-Umbrella group and government conspiracies?
Looking back, Resident Evil 6 wasn’t the only game that had goofy boss fights and questionable content too. Resident Evil 4 did as well, which Resident Evil fans often seem to forget. One of the game’s bosses changes into a bizarre creature, hopping around a barn after you rip apart his torso. There’s also the dumb story about Leon saving a defenseless blond girl who happens be the president’s daughter from a cult in some random area of Spain. This cult only captured Ashley so they could infect her with Las Plagas, the game’s new version of the virus, and then infect her father, giving the cult complete control of the U.S. and its population. It also had really bad dialogue, with one-liners and jokes from Leon. Besides all these aspects Resident Evil 4 is still genre-defining, a game that breathed much needed life into the franchise.
What’s incredible is the difference between Resident Evil 6 and Resident Evil: Revelations. Revelations released in February 2012 on the Nintendo 3DS. After playing Resident Evil 6 it’s shocking to see how anyone involved with Resident Evil at Capcom made this game. Revelations takes place on an abandoned cruise ship and features Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield and a set of new characters. New enemies called the Ooze infest the cruise ship as the team tries to solve the mystery behind the terrorist group responsible for the outbreak on the open waters. Revelations has almost everything you want from a game; a cohesive story, good mixture of gameplay elements, challenging boss fights and most importantly to Resident Evil, a nod to survival horror with legitimate scares.
Revelations is the exact opposite of Resident Evil 6, in terms of pacing, gameplay and quality. The story is easy to follow, something that hasn’t been true in a Resident Evil game for many years now. Revelations is now being ported to home consoles on the PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U and PC for a May 21 launch as a high-definition release with some new features and a focus towards online multiplayer on those systems’ network infrastructure.
Resident Evil: Revelations shows the Resident Evil concept can still draw in players today. Revelations has a much higher overall review rating than Resident Evil 6. The game doesn’t match the classic titles but it’s leaps and bounds better than Resident Evil 6. Sales numbers for Revelations weren’t what Capcom had wanted according to the game’s producer, but the 3DS release isn’t viewed as a failure like Resident Evil 6 is.
Revelations’ producer talked to NowGamer in February about the game and the survival horror genre. He said:
Survival horror is a really popular genre but at any given time, there really aren’t that many games or many games on the shelves you can say are survival horror, certainly compared to other genres anyway. So I don’t think it’s in any danger of being overcrowded any time soon and also, as long as we keep working hard at it, we’re not going run out of ideas.
The vulnerability of previous games is completely gone from the main titles like Resident Evil 6. You’re no longer scared. You’re no longer challenged. You’re not thinking about what’s coming up in the next room. If Capcom honestly made a quality survival horror title and marketed it the right way, the game would sell well. People are dying for a great survival horror game on consoles again. The company can make good money since there are so few major survival horror games on the market. There are so little games in that style that this Resident Evil would be unique and fresh to many players, especially considering how expansive gaming has become in different demographics since those early releases. The Resident Evil remake on the Nintendo GameCube, a re-imagining of the original, demonstrates the potential of this type of game in the modern era. Here’s a sample of Jill Valentine’s section in the remake:
This updated version of Resident Evil released April 30, 2002 in North America. The game sold more than 1.35 million copies, which is excellent for that era, considering it was an exclusive game on a Nintendo console that didn’t have anywhere close to the marketshare that the PlayStation 2 did. At the end of March 2003 the GameCube only had close to 10 million systems sold worldwide. The remake is absolutely terrifying. It’s 70 percent different from the 1996 original, with new areas to explore and a reworking of the game’s puzzles. The Remake stayed close to the series’ roots while incorporating some of the newer gameplay elements the franchise had up to that point. For a game that released almost 11 years ago, its look and feel still rivals modern releases.
However as good as the Remake was, Kawata believes designing a game that brings back all the old elements with new twists for this generation might be too hard for Capcom:
I think it’s very difficult to literally go back to our roots on that and take gameplay mechanics and styles that we did fifteen years ago and redo them now. Revelations’ goal was to go back to the series’ roots in terms of the content and horror, while at the same time trying to modernize the gameplay, because we think that’s what gamers want.
He’s right. You can’t design a game just using 17-year-old mechanics and gameplay styles and expect that to be both financially and critically successful. What Capcom can do is reinvent the genre again, if it’s up to the challenge. The other difficulty lies in bringing together both of the franchise’s fanbases.
Struggle of Opposing Sides
Hiroyuki Kobayashi, executive producer on Resident Evil 6, gave a revealing view of the franchise’s problems with its fans during an October interview on the PlayStation Blog:
The way I always think of it is that if Resident Evil represents a child, then the fans and us as creators are the two parents. The resulting games are like the children that are born between both of us. And just like real parents, you’re not always going to agree on what is best for raising that child.
Now, we do always have our ear to the ground and listen to what the fans are saying and we try to take that into account when we’re making the game. But it’s our job to create a new gaming experience and to offer them something that’s fresh and challenging. We want to make sure that what we do pleases them but the initial reaction might not always be positive. We do listen to the fans but we can’t be beholden to them at every turn or I don’t think we’ll ever make progress in terms of the series’ development.
When you release a game that has the name Resident Evil on the box, there are certain expectations of what that game should be and play like. Resident Evil fans aren’t spoiled teenagers going into a hissy fit because their parents didn’t bend to their will. In this case the children do know what’s best more than the parents. According to Kobayashi, Resident Evil 6 can’t please everyone. Apparently judging by the game’s quality, Capcom can no longer please anyone. If you’re not making the Resident Evil games for the fans and gamers, then who are you making them for? Investors? Shareholders?
I don’t believe Resident Evil fans are asking for much here. It’s almost as if Capcom has a complete disdain for the old Resident Evil fans. What is progress according to Capcom? Resident Evil 6 is bad. The latest spin-off in Operation Raccoon City is also bad. The Mercenaries 3D isn’t worth it either. The fan base is so split that it’s almost impossible to bring these two sides together. Many players’ first experience with Resident Evil took place this console generation on the Xbox 360 or PS3. They either weren’t involved in gaming or even born yet when the old school games were popular. At this point it almost makes sense for Capcom to create a release system similar to the Call of Duty series. One release could be action-packed while the other is more focused around survival horror. Everyone wins. With Resident Evil 6, nobody wins.
Christian Svensson told Rock, Paper, Shotgun in February about the split fanbase:
Well, you have to understand, we have a couple different sets of Resident Evil fans. We have those who love Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, Code Veronica, and Zero, and then we have those who came along during the RE4 era and like things a little more action-oriented, and RE5 even more [action-oriented]. And then RE6 was even more action-focused than that.
This problem is really unique to the Resident Evil series since more than most it has gone through drastic changes, both to its gameplay and fanbase over the years. Svensson also told Rock, Paper, Shotgun that Resident Evil 6 had a big goal-be a game for everyone:
The hard part is taking all these things and figuring out how to make something for everyone. That was especially the aspiration of RE6. I don’t know that it worked out exactly the way we hoped, but moving forward, I think you’re going to see a bit more focus-as opposed to trying to be all things for all people.
That’s the big problem. Not everyone is going to like the game! In trying to get everyone on board the developers crafted a game that few seemed to enjoy. The plan backfired in a major way. Capcom backed themselves into a corner by switching up the franchise to the extremes it did. The true problem is that these games cost way too much to create an imitation of a Hollywood summer blockbuster. Pauline Jacquey, the managing director of the Ubisoft Reflections studio working on the upcoming Watch_Dogs, spoke to GamesIndustry International recently and said big games need teams of 600 people at different development sites to get a finished product. Releases today now have to appeal to as many people as possible to generate a sustainable profit revenue. How could five million sales of a game be considered a failure otherwise?
Before Resident Evil 6 the brand teetered on the edge of disaster, but now the Resident Evil name has lost most of its credibility and strength. Much like a celebrity flirting with insanity but finally going off the deep end, Resident Evil is a shadow of its former self. The first Resident Evil back in 1996 almost bankrupted Capcom. The studio had no idea the game would become the huge success it did. Throughout the years Capcom milked Resident Evil too many times, spoiling a good thing. Besides the rift between fans, there’s a sense of a tension between the Resident Evil developers and Capcom executives, who want a mega-blockbuster hit at any cost.
In the October feature with 1UP mentioned before, Eiichiro Sasaki discussed some of the lessons he learned working on Resident Evil 6:
I guess if I’ve learned anything, it’s about universality, if I could use that word… It’s difficult to think about games in terms of global appeal now. It can’t be just about the Japanese market or the North American market or the European market. It’s the whole world now. Trying to find that commonality that bridges all these cultures and creates an entertaining game, that’s where the challenge lies. I learned that on this project.
What bridges different cultures together in gaming? They want to be told a good story. They enjoy good gameplay. With a game like Resident Evil, they want to be scared again.
New Beginnings, Old Influences
After bombing with Resident Evil 6, Capcom are finally beginning to possibly explore its options for one of its most important franchises. In January Masachika Kawata discussed with Eurogamer the possible changes to the series after how Resident Evil 6 was received:
If we did [go with an open-world], we would want to preserve what Resident Evil is and what makes it appealing to fans, while also making it accessible to new players. It would almost entail having a slight reboot to get the series into a place where it would work with open-world gameplay. That’s just a personal opinion.
A reboot for Resident Evil is somewhat similar to the way Capcom rebooted Devil May Cry this January, with DmC: Devil May Cry, developed by Ninja Theory. Capcom took a risk with DmC, and depending on who you talk to the gamble paid off. A soft reboot is the best way to go for Resident Evil. Calm the story down. Simplify it, getting back to the basics of what made Resident Evil unique to other franchises. The series went from a small town outbreak to billions infested in China and around the world, with chaos happening seemingly every few minutes.
Basically this hypothetical reboot is what Resident Evil 6 was rumored to be and should’ve been. The Resident Evil franchise is accustomed to reboots and turbulent development. Resident Evil 2’s development started over when the game was almost finished. Resident Evil 4 scrapped its progress several times as well, parts of which later became the first Devil May Cry (2001) game. Why? Mikami felt these games weren’t up to the standards set by the previous installments. Mikami cancelled and restarted two projects that were near completion. That’s the type of dedication it’s going to take to turn around Resident Evil. Capcom is dangling the future of the series solely on the fans reactions (purchases) to console versions of Resident Evil: Revelations. This is the only language these companies understand; money. A lot is riding on the success of Revelations on consoles, namely the future of the series. Kawata explained to Eurogamer:
Once we see Revelations released on consoles, we’ll be looking very carefully at how the title is received and what feedback we get. I think we’ll get a lot of input from the fanbase and the media on what it means for Resident Evil, and what it could mean for the future of the series. We’ll definitely be looking at that as a signpost for where we need to be going next. Moving forward I can see us focusing even more on the horror aspect and fear in the series, and see us making something scarier than we have already.
Tsukasa Takenaka, producer for Resident Evil: Revelations HD, spoke to Joystiq last month and said fan feedback drove Capcom to port Revelations to home consoles, many from fans who didn’t own a 3DS and wanted to play a throwback Resident Evil game on their home systems. Kawata said a return the game’s roots was the main reason for Revelations’ success. “Probably the most important feature or concept of the game that earned us that incredible reception was the concept of returning to the series’ roots,” he said.” He went on to say that the team, “really wanted to bring back the fear and the horror” to the series. Fans have demanded this change for years and it’s partly up to them to show Capcom the company needs to continue to move in this direction.
Some at Capcom are now even reconsidering the action influences in recent games. Kawata told VideoGamer.com in early January:
Looking at user feedback from the last couple of games, I’ve started to slightly revise my opinion on that matter. I still think that, for example, bringing Resident Evil: Revelations to consoles falls within what I was saying where, it’s a game that contains classic Resident Evil elements but it also has features that modern gamers expect in a game. Hopefully it can appeal to both camps.
He further said, “No matter what, we’re always going to have to focus on horror and fear as the main core pillar of the series. That’s something I think that is not going to change.” This coming from the same person who said just last year that focusing on survival horror wasn’t justifiable from a business standpoint.
It’s hard to trust Capcom when its people say these sorts of statements. They’ve said them before and it turned out to be highly misleading. Today it’s different though. Now the developers are in an incredibly tough position. It’s time for some drastic decisions and changes from Capcom. Capcom and those closest to the Resident Evil franchise don’t have a choice anymore. They can no longer mislead fans after how much they damaged the brand. They can’t continue on the same path that Resident Evil 5 and 6 went down. Without this rude wake-up call, the inevitable Resident Evil 7 would probably have turned out even goofier. Maybe Chris and Leon would battle a new global threat that’s turning the world’s volcano’s into three-headed flying monsters. It’s been eight years since Resident Evil 4 first released on the GameCube. That’s a long time for stagnation. By the time the next mainline Resident Evil releases, the franchise might be at its 20th anniversary. Twenty years.
There are few games with the development size and budget of a major blockbuster title that failed as bad as Resident Evil 6. A staff of 600 people and they still somehow managed to release a game of Resident Evil 6’s quality. In a July 2012 interview with CVG, Mikami mentioned why he was hesitant to play Resident Evil 5. “Whether the game was good or bad, I knew that someone other than me had made it so it would be different to my style. I didn’t like the idea of that.” As I stated previously, maybe without the creative vision of Shinji Mikami Resident Evil will never reach the heights and quality it did under his supervision. With Mikami, Resident Evil 2 director Hideki Kamiya and others long gone from Capcom it’s going to be extremely challenging to turn around the franchise. That doesn’t mean the next Resident Evil team can’t try to restore the brand. Revelations shows that Capcom could possibly live up to the task. Even if Revelations under performs on consoles, Capcom can’t go back on its word yet again and move even further away from the franchise’s history. “For myself, I see it as something that would be very difficult to pull off,”Kawata said on returning completely to Resident Evil’s roots in the future. That sounds like a defeated mentality and not the mindset the developers will need to overhaul Resident Evil’s image again.
Now Capcom is forced to make a move. The company needs to stop focusing entirely on its financial forecasts and start looking back at Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and the Resident Evil remake on the GameCube. Look at some of the large-scale elements of Resident Evil: Outbreak. Take some of the gameplay aspects of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 6, especially being able to shoot your weapons while you move. Examine Tall Oaks, a city torn apart by the destruction of the viral outbreak in Resident Evil 6. Look at Revelations and how to combine some action elements with an updated take at survival horror. Keep the multiplayer additions of Resident Evil 6 and improve on them. Capcom doesn’t need to do an exact copy of a game from almost 20 years ago for the next Resident Evil. It would be boring if all fans got in the past 10 years were survival horror games based solely on the classic formula. By the time Resident Evil 4 came out, the gameplay style of the classic games became extremely stale and safe. In a September 2004 interview with GameSpy, Hiroyuki Kobayashi, then producer for Resident Evil 4, said:
The reason why we went through all these ideas is because the whole concept of RE4 was to reinvent the game. We wanted to give the gamers something new. In the past installments, we were stuck in the cookie-cutter RE mold. We had to break those shackles holding us down before we came up with something new.
The new shackles for Resident Evil are overbearing corporate influences and a profits-at-all-costs mentality. Now the cookie-cutter mold is the generic action gameplay of the last several games, specifically Resident Evil 6. It’s time for the next Resident Evil team to break these shackles and create a new vision for survival horror. Capcom has the perfect blueprint from its previous games. The developers just need their confidence back. Star over fresh, with a new take on the series from a survival horror aspect the franchise made popular. Forget about horror entertainment but keep some of its gameplay elements so the next Resident Evil doesn’t feel like we’re playing a 20-year-old game. History is important, but it’s time Capcom started making some new and exciting history with the Resident Evil series again. It’s been long enough for a return to survival horror. The time is now for innovation.
Capcom needs to see Resident Evil 6’s disappointing sales numbers and negative critical reception from players and the press as people rejecting the company’s vision for the franchise. In the current climate of the game industry it’s easier to throw away history and a loyal fanbase for easy profits than take a chance to reinvent a proven formula. That’s worse than any virus the Umbrella Corporation could cook up. Capcom learned a difficult lesson with Resident Evil 6. Now is the time to save the Resident Evil brand. If not now, then when?