Resident Evil’s Move Away From Horror Means I Won’t Be Playing
I never got around to playing Resident Evil 5. I should have — I’ve been a huge Resident Evil fan for years, and Resident Evil 4 is among my favorite games of all time. The first trailers for Resident Evil 5 had me giddy: more huge monsters, more plodding terrors, more convoluted stories. More horror.
But I never played it, and the reasoning behind that was largely a combination of strange circumstances. First, I was in college and short on funds. Second, and much more importantly, however, was the fact that it didn’t sound like Resident Evil.
Sure, Resident Evil 4 had its issues. A greater emphasis on action and adjusted controls, plus escort missions, pushed it away from the core Resident Evil gameplay that had marked the series for nearly a decade before RE4′s release. But I loved the game, mostly because what changed felt like things that were improving. The over-the-shoulder camera made aiming easier, and that made combating monsters more immersive than earlier games’ spray-and-pray approach. Becoming a more effective fighter required skill as well as fast-twitch reactions, and the game ramped up its requirements of the player alongside giving them more power. It maintained the balance that made me feel like I was just capable enough to deal with situations, and that kept them tense.
Resident Evil 5, at first, sounded like a continuation of all that was great about RE4 — and then I heard that it would be cooperative, and I lost interest; especially after I heard that the AI teammate accompanying Chris Redfield was pretty much useless at best, completely annoying at worst.
Cooperative play is actually at odds with what I’d hoped to get out of Resident Evil 5, or any Resident Evil game. Though I loved playing Resident Evil Code: Veronica with my best friend late at night on the Dreamcast, having him actually in the game with me in Resident Evil 5 meant that every danger was made less dangerous. Two sets of eyes see horrors before they become threats, two guns mean enemies die more quickly, and two players means your back is covered and you’re always a few steps away from help when things get dire. All these things are at odds with the very concept of “survival horror”: no pressure on your survival means no horror.
That’s not to say more than one person can’t have a good time in a horror game — look at Left 4 Dead for a perfect example. But where Valve added friends that can be helpful, it also added a lot of other elements, like a highly oppressive, dark environment and a lack of capabilities for players in fending off zombies. Left 4 Dead sufficiently weakens you in order to keep you afraid, and thereby maintains its scares and its horror elements in a positive way even through multiplayer.
One of the saddest things I’ve ever heard was a statement by Capcom producer Masachika Kawata stating that a survival-horror Resident Evil wouldn’t sell:
Looking at the marketing data [for survival horror games] … the market is small, compared to the number of units Call of Duty and all those action games sell. A ‘survival horror’ Resident Evil doesn’t seem like it’d be able to sell those kind of numbers.
Capcom helped start survival-horror as a genre, and in many ways helped bring horror gaming to the mainstream, and while I haven’t done any market research, I’m surprised to find that Capcom doesn’t think it can get by more than comfortably on the popularity of a quality survival-horror franchise. (But then again, chasing Call of Duty-type numbers isn’t about a developer getting comfortably by, is it?) What’s more, there’s nothing near a shortage of third-person action games — there are decidedly fewer games in the realm of what Resident Evil once was. If there’s anything gaming doesn’t need, it’s additional homogenization of good ideas. We don’t need any more clones.