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Capcom and the Decline of Resident Evil

Besides the cartoonish story, the gameplay was also changed again. The enemies called Majini can take cover, use AK-47s and organize sophisticated attacks. The gameplay was much more linear, with no real exploration. There were hardly any intricate puzzles to solve, once an important gameplay aspect of the franchise. Unlike the earlier games, there’s no strategy to playing Resident Evil 5. Redfield turned into Rambo, simplifying the gameplay down to just covering, shooting and blowing heads off infected militants. The worst offense of Resident Evil 5 is cut-scenes announced almost every potential terror and upcoming enemy threat, taking any horror aspect out of the game. Resident Evil 5 is devoid of all scares. There’s nothing frightening about it, besides how much different the game was to previous releases. The series’ unique atmosphere was missing. The terrific pacing and tension were gone. Top to bottom, Resident Evil 5 is an action game:

Was Resident Evil 5 enjoyable to play? Definitely. The co-op element between Chris and Sheva might have contributed to the further removal of survival horror, but it fit with the game’s new style as long as you played with a friend. The AI-controlled Sheva almost ruined the gameplay otherwise. Resident Evil 5 was also a commercial success, selling more than 5.6 million copies as of Sept. 30, making it the second-best selling Capcom release in the company’s history. Obviously Capcom’s goal to broaden the franchise worked financially. However the game further split Resident Evil fans and those closest to the series. Mikami, who didn’t work on the game at all but was directly responsible for why the franchise was so great in the first place, made some striking comments concerning Resident Evil 5, when in October 2008 he said he most likely wouldn’t play the game:

I probably won’t play it. I won’t like it, because it’s not going to be the game I would have made. It’ll just cause me stress if I play it. I think it could be fun for gamers to play it, but not for someone who has developed Resident Evil games.

The newest core game, Resident Evil: Revelations, which is scheduled to release Feb. 7, 2012, has been repeatedly promoted by Capcom as a return to the series’ survival horror roots. In Revelations, Jill Valentine (with another all-new look) needs to find the whereabouts of Chris Redfield, who went missing on an abandoned cruise ship in Europe. The problem? The ship is filled with a new virus strain, which could spread into the Mediterranean Sea then around the world. This is yet another instance where a Resident Evil game has been on a ship and also where Chris needs someone to find him. Revelations is set between the events of Resident Evil 4 and 5. Some sort of floating city called Terragrigia was destroyed by the bioterrorism group Veltro prior to the game’s setting. Veltro is also behind the outbreak on the ship. Revelations appears to have a stronger emphasis on its story and cast of eccentric characters rather than its gameplay. The game’s script is written by Dai Sato, known for his work on several famous anime like “Ghost in the Shell” and “Cowboy Bebop.”

According to Tsukasa Takenaka, the assistant producer on Resident Evil: Revelations, the 3DS release is a new breed of survival horror, merging different elements from past and present games:

We’re saying that this is survival horror, but it is definitely not the feel of those old Resident Evil games. There’s still that really, really nice, smooth feel to the controls, and that’s what’s very different about those older games. At the same time, one of the things that we’re bringing back that was a staple of older survival horror games that has kind of gotten lost is that need to run away from enemies as well as defeating them…We’re pretty confident that we were able to create a really, really scary experience, but still do that without having to make the player fight with the controls.

At this year’s Tokyo Game Show, Capcom released a trailer showing a new character named Rachel. She’s hyper-sexualized, the focus on her breasts, her hair completely covering her face. She’s chased by a monster dripping with white fluid as she screams in fear. Huh, wonder what that’s supposed to represent? A week later Capcom apparently killed Rachel off, showing her death in an extended video. Another new character, Jessica, was revealed as Chris’ latest Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) partner. Her stripper attire doesn’t exactly suit well for the grave danger the team is supposed to be trapped in. If these are some of the fresh ideas and return to traditions in Revelations, there’s definitely reason to worry if Capcom will deliver the experience fans are hoping for:

There’s also “Raid” mode, a new co-op multiplayer section that Capcom revealed at “Capcom Gamers Day 2011.” In Raid, two players run through levels from the single-player, killing enemies to get the best rank at the end of the stage. The gameplay for Raid is different because enemies will have a visible health bar. Knowing Capcom, Raid will turn into a full-fledged game down the road. However parts of the mode will be locked until the player completes certain levels in the single-player. At $50, Revelations will controversially cost $10 more than the average 3DS game, which Capcom said is because of the game’s 4GB memory cart needed to develop an “epic title” that is “a true console experience on a handheld device.”

There’s potential here for the right Resident Evil game, but Capcom no longer has the credibility to make those boasts. Remember, this is the same company that marketed Resident Evil 5 as the “fear you can’t forget.” It’s not hard to forget something that never existed in the first place.  There might not be zombies either, but a new enemy called the Ooze, which can sliver through pipes and ducts to reappear in their full form. This won’t mean immediate failure for Revelations though. As Resident Evil 4 proved, the series doesn’t need zombies to produce a quality Resident Evil game. Maybe Revelations will be a new take on survival horror as Capcom claims, or it might be disguised as one while really being another Resident Evil action game.

So why does Resident Evil need constant spin-offs? Why do the main releases need to be more action than terror? Why can’t it just stay true to its survival horror roots? Kawata explained:

I’m thinking that if we would have brought out all these Resident Evil titles, and they were all focused on survival horror, absolutely I think people would be really sick of Resident Evil.

It’s almost to the point now that people are getting sick of Resident Evil because of the alternative lukewarm releases of the past few years and near future. Just who exactly is asking for these types of games? Are these really the games that players are demanding? These releases obviously haven’t turned out the way Capcom wanted. The publisher’s European head of marketing admitted, “It’s true we haven’t replicated the success of the ‘numbered series’ as yet, but we’re confident that Operation Raccoon City will appeal to a new audience entirely and bring even more people in to experience what makes the Resident Evil universe so popular.”

Some Resident Evil purists may believe that the series only works when it’s about “tank” controls, zombies and Umbrella. That’s not the case. So what made the Resident Evil franchise so good in the first place then? Each game included anxiety, uneasiness, fear, bleakness and a wide range of other emotions that few other games could possess a person with. These elements are all missing from the newer releases. The atmosphere was incredible. You didn’t know what to expect minute to minute. Another fantastic element that has lost a lot of charm in the past few releases was the ability to discover journals and documents scattered throughout the environments, detailing a survivor or prisoner’s horrific experience. Resident Evil’s influence even led to other survival horror juggernauts like Konami’s Silent Hill (Take note Konami. Don’t follow the mistakes of Resident Evil. That goes for you too, Electronic Arts and Dead Space). Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, released for the original PlayStation in November 1999, is one of the best examples of the franchise’s survival horror aspects.

The Nemesis, a creation of the Umbrella Corporation, is programmed to hunt down S.T.A.R.S. members in Resident Evil 3.

The game’s main antagonist called the Nemesis would appear randomly, without warning, to kill you. You would be walking down an alleyway or investigating a room when the Nemesis would arrive. Lowly repeating “STARS” and carrying his trusty rocket launcher, it was the most frightening mechanic of the game. This would happen throughout the entire single-player. Unlike Resident Evil 5, there were no cut-scenes or even signs of the Nemesis’ arrival, which is why it worked so well. You never knew when he would show up. The Nemesis encounters were like the zombie dog spots from the first game but on a terror overload. There were also decisions to make during those moments, like to fight the monster or flee. Players weren’t forced to “kill” the Nemesis in most of the encounters  like they were with the boss battles in Resident Evil 5. Mikami was also involved with Nemesis, working as a producer. Notice a pattern here? Jill is eventually infected by the Nemesis with the T-Virus, but ultimately overcomes the sickness and escapes the apocalyptic nightmare of Raccoon City. The roots of Resident Evil’s action gameplay started to slowly manifest in Resident Evil 3, but it was still a terrifying game. Not many games in any genre have replicated those feelings or intensity of the Nemesis encounters. You can play Resident Evil 3 today and it will have the same effect. That’s powerful.

A brand needs to be protected in the process of growth. The controls from the earlier Resident Evil games needed to be updated from the stiff tank mechanics that now are often unplayable for the newer generation of players. You can’t heavily rely on 15-year-old gameplay mechanics from an era of CD-ROMs to develop games today, especially since some of those old Resident Evil mechanics only existed because of imposed hardware and design limitations that no longer exist. Incorporating action gameplay wasn’t the death of the series, but taking away all sense of anxiety and fear is a serious problem and the most damaging change. The games can still have action elements, just like Resident Evil 2, 3 and Code Veronica featured, and still be a scary experience.

Raccoon City is a great town, but we’ve vacationed there too many times already. Resident Evil 4 might be one of the best in the series, but that was six years ago. That’s a long time since the last true Resident Evil game. Capcom continues its tradition of porting and re-releasing every popular Resident Evil release with Resident Evil 4. The high-definition re-release launched in September for the PS3 and Xbox 360. How many versions of the game are on the market now? Players need new experiences, not reissues of old ones. While some of the writing and dialogue was notoriously bad in the older releases (according to Mikami, due in large part to translation issues and misunderstandings between the American actors and Japanese developers), a “Jill sandwich” is better than the franchise’s current direction. Where are the psychological thrills? Where’s the next Resident Evil game to make us frantically rush to turn the lights on during late night gaming sessions?

The complicated and convoluted Resident Evil storyline could become even more confusing if Operation Raccoon City gets a sequel. Mike Jones, producer for Operation Raccoon City, said in an interview with GameSpot that the game’s alternative universe could branch out in further releases:

So I think people are excited about the new direction for the story…If this game is successful, which we hope it is, I think that opens up a lot of doors for canon, non-cannon, branching storylines, going back in time, going forward in time, etc…So this is a big step for Capcom. I think we’re going out on a limb here to do a full TPS [third-person shooter] game in the Resident Evil universe, and we know that’s a very polarizing idea to a lot of fans, but if it is successful that opens up a lot of doors with what we could do with the sequel.

What? It’s hard to even follow that description. With so many releases, Resident Evil has suffered from plot holes and confusing storylines. This is only going to get worse with Slant Six’s game and future Raccoon City-style releases. Since Capcom expects to sell 2 million copies of Operation, a sequel will likely happen. Capcom knows Operation Raccoon City will polarize and drive away even more Resident Evil fans, so what market are they attempting to gain? The same group it tried with Resident Evil 5; casual players who enjoy action shooter games like Gears of War. Jones told Eurogamer:

We’re hoping it will appeal to more casual action fans and hopefully people who haven’t even played Resident Evil before. We want to invite people into Resident Evil who have never played Resident Evil before. That’s one of the reasons for going so far outside of Japan to do that.

Capcom is stuck in a bizarre place, where it relies on the nostalgia and memories of the old Resident Evils to sell its new releases but fails to actually properly incorporate those elements in the new games. Just because a game has a few Lickers and the undead doesn’t make it a survival horror game. It’s obvious that Capcom realizes the series needs a return to its popular traditions. Look at how its marketing Revelations as a return to the old style of fear. Look at Operation Raccoon City. Many characters and enemies from the vintage releases will be in the game. Even Nemesis makes an appearance. Unfortunately it’s going to take more than a nostalgic marketing campaign to save Resident Evil. Capcom has milked the franchise dry with spin-offs and re-releases in the past several years. Even with a shocking change of style that turned off many fans, games like Resident Evil 5 have sold well. Certainly that’s all that matters now. Profits. Capcom is taking advantage of Resident Evil fans with the ridiculously high price for a handheld game among cheap mobile phone downloads. Capcom knows the dedicated fans will buy Revelations anyway because it’s the game the company has marketed as the one they’ve been wanting for years. During the development of Code Veronica, Mikami said something that those involved with Resident Evil no longer practice:

I want to keep the fans that really understand what Resident Evil is. If we lost the real fans and create the game, it is just “Making money.” We are entertainers but not business men, creators. I don’t want to forget that.

Will Jill Valentine and Resident Evil: Revelations for the Nintendo 3DS revitalize survival horror for the series, or is it another disappointment waiting to happen?

If Resident Evil is now an action-based shooter franchise with unnecessary spin-offs and wacky storylines that has abandoned the genre it made famous and the fans it gained along the way, fine. Stop insulting fans by saying each new game is a return to the core ideas. The business and design choices Capcom has taken are baffling. It’s like Capcom is throwing ideas at the wall, hoping something sticks. Some fans may love the new Resident Evil, others may hate it. Without fail, every time a news article about Resident Evil is published, half of the comments are people venting their frustrations on the series, about how it’s not scary anymore, that Capcom has ruined their favorite game series. Now Resident Evil barely has anything in common with its past. Those at Capcom must have a completely different definition of fear and horror than most gamers and fans of the series. Tsukasa Takenaka, who also worked on Resident Evil 5’s story, told Eurogamer:

I don’t think 4 and 5 are not horror games. What we were trying to do with those games is explore different kinds of horror…It’s not so much that we were going away from horror and towards action. It’s more that we were trying to do different kinds of scary experiences. That’s maybe something that’s got a little confused in terms of the messaging.

Takenaka’s explanation doesn’t make much sense. The message would only get lost because that’s the way the game was intentionally developed. Resident Evil 5 is a pure action game. There isn’t a single scary experience on the disc. Resident Evil has been facing an identity crisis for the past several years. Capcom either doesn’t realize or refuses to acknowledge that it has devolved Resident Evil and taken away what made the games great to begin with. Instead of being the premier series in one genre, it has become below average in others. Today there’s almost no inspiration or direction for Resident Evil. This is just representative of a larger problem at Capcom, with Mega Man in a state of limbo, constant updated iterations of its popular fighters, Devil May Cry being completely altered, and key personal quitting the company after working there for more than 20 years.

Shinji Mikami left Capcom in 2007 after 17 years with the company because of long-standing tensions and creative differences. He went to form what would become PlatinumGames, which released Vanquish (2010) for the PS3 and Xbox 360. He also worked with Grasshopper Manufacture on its game Shadows of the Damned (2011). He started his own studio called Tango Gameworks, which was acquired in October 2010 by ZeniMax Media Inc. Mikami had no role in Resident Evil 5’s development. Maybe without his involvement, Resident Evil will never be the same. Maybe Resident Evil can’t recapture the magic without his guidance and others from the past games who are no longer with Capcom, like Resident Evil 2 director Hideki Kamiya. In September, four Resident Evil games were on the top 20 list for PlayStation Network downloads. Three of them continued to sell in October. Besides the 15th anniversary and a discounted price, those games sold so well for a reason. People want to be terrified again.

Revelations might be the right direction to restore the series, but the real return has to happen with an experience only possible on home consoles. Resident Evil 6 will supposedly be another reboot of the franchise, rumored to make the game the scariest in its long lineage. New rumors have been flying around recently, saying the game might possibly be set in China with the return of zombies. It may not be coming from Resident Evil 5 producer Takeuchi, who said in May 2010 he has sworn off the franchise after extreme pressure to follow-up the classic Resident Evil 4.

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. It can attract both long-time fans who feel abandoned by Capcom and newcomers who weren’t there for the horrors of the haunted mansion or abandoned streets of Raccoon City, only knowing Resident Evil for the action-packed releases of the last several years. Resident Evil 6 can once again make us scared to pick up our controllers and venture through the next door. 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.

Images:

Operation Raccoon City/Capcom

Resident Evil 5/Microsoft

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis by SaikyoMog/GameFAQs

Revelations/Capcom


4 Responses to “Capcom and the Decline of Resident Evil”

  1. SolidShady

    Wow, great article. Wasnt aware of Revelations until I read this, I just have kept off Resident Evil since Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil is one of the biggest names in the industry..that just cant be revamped with new gameplay over and over. Sometimes you need to stick to the “COD wash, rinse, repeat” for it to maybe stick. Who knows, but Capcom needs to save this series and their company.

  2. Brandon

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  3. Zombie_Professor

    This article is well-written and certainly worth a read. I especially with your point that “The Outbreak games were the first to have multiplayer capabilities and might have been the best attempted spin-off, but would have been properly suited on a modern console rather than the PS2′s basic online infrastructure.”

    You might be interested to know that there is a Support Outbreak Campaign currently petitioning Capcom to port the original Resident Evil Outbreak game and Resident Evil Outbreak File 2 to consoles such as the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. We are also asking Capcom to develop a new game in the series – Resident Evil Outbreak File 3.

    I am Zombie_Professor, a senior member of the campaign, and I know that our petition has over 8800 signatures from Outbreak fans who want to see the series revived. Once we reach our goal of 10,000 signatures, we will be sending the petition to Capcom headquarters. http://www.petitiononline.com/042690/petition.html

    Our campaign is also scheduled to be featured in a three page article in the December 2011 edition of Resident Evil Zone’s gamer magazine “Evil-Mag.” Resident Evil Zone is Germany’s largest Resident Evil fansite. Our members are inspired by the enthusiastic support shown by the Resident Evil Outbreak fans over at Resident Evil Zone.

    We have also created a new and improved official Support Outbreak YouTube page. I invite you to visit it here:http://www.youtube.com/SUPPORTOUTBREAK3

    With a few more Outbreak fans voicing support for the series, we might just be successful. So if you enjoyed playing Resident Evil Outbreak, please consider signing the petition and joining our discussion on the Capcom forum: http://www.capcom-unity.com/resident_evil/go/thread/view/7391/18679115/Resident_Evil_Outbreak_Discussion&sort_order=ASC

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