Has Resident Evil Lost Its Bite?

Has Resident Evil Lost Its Bite?

Confusion, Disappointment, Frustration. That is what I felt as I sat down for another round of Resident Evil 5’s Mercenaries mode with my brother. Was it entertaining? Yes! Co-op definitely works – it’s the perfect way to while away a rainy afternoon. Unfortunately, it isn’t Resident Evil, a series that used to be known for its gut wrenching terror and perfectly constructed tension, pockmarked by brief moments of respite and safety (never had I been happier to see a typewriter). So what was it that made the series so good? And when did it all go so wrong?

Well I have a confession – I may consider myself a bit of a Resi veteran but I am not one of the old school. My introduction to the series was with the Gamecube remake of the original, way back in 2003. The game looked beautiful, I had never seen anything look so scary and I was desperate to brag about how Nintendo was serious about mature content on their shiny new console. So I spent an intense weekend exploring all the nooks and crannies of the Spencer Mansion, piecing together the hideous story behind the horrific experiments. I was captivated and enthralled yet terrified – THIS was horror!

For me, it was the intensity and familiarity of the setting and story that made it so good. Everything that happens takes place over the course of a single night, making the experience feel all the more real. There are no chapters or levels, the only break in the game is when the player switches off. On top of the relentless tension and dread is the isolation, you are left to fend for yourself for the majority of the game radically ramping up the fear factor. The occasional interaction with other characters becomes a welcome (and exciting) prospect, luring the player into a false sense of security. These pockets of interaction suggest that its okay, that you aren’t alone. However, as the dust is blown off of some of Umbrella’s dark secrets, it becomes apparent that not everyone can be trusted.

Encounters with other members of your team make for brief moments of relief amongst the horror.

In the final moments of the game, dawn comes as a welcome relief, bathing the blacks and greys of the Umbrella labs in pale sunlight.  After braving the dark halls of the Spencer mansion, the labyrinth like grounds (full of some of the game’s most twisted horrors) and the coarse industrial maze of Umbrella’s testing facilities, reaching the end of the game feels like a genuine accomplishment.

Resident Evil has always had a penchant for giant animals - Neptune being one of the most chilling.

Unfortunately, latter installments seem to have shirked the slower pacing of the series’ earlier titles in favour of something much more arcade like. Admittedly, the old formula had become rather stagnant, in fact, when playing through Resident Evil 2 and 3 I never got the same thrill as I did with the remade original, even Zero didn’t quite have the same edge. To be honest, I was never a fan of the Raccoon City installments, their city setting meant that they lost the sense of claustrophobia and isolation that made the original so frightening.

Resident Evil 4 was an anomaly that managed to bridge the gap between the old style survival horror and the arcade shooter style of the more recent games. This was mainly down to the new enemies that Capcom decided to introduce, as well as the new environments. The opening stages of the game were the strongest, suggesting that environments had to be entered with some degree of trepidation. Unfortunately, many segments of the game descended into a more trigger happy affair – a sign of what would follow in later games.

Resident Evil 4 introduced a more action focussed gameplay style, a move that didn't see the same critical success with the fifth installment.

Still, the game was a welcome change and rightfully received very positive reviews from critics. Unfortunately, Capcom seem to have taken steps back with the more shooter-centric gameplay of the 5th game and the wealth of Wii spinoffs we’ve seen over the last few years. The next major game in the series, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City already seems geared to disappoint – it relies ever more heavily on the shooter mechanics of the Mercenaries mini-game and uses the tired Raccoon City setting (as well as all the old enemies) and apparently you can ‘kill’ Leon Kennedy, star of the second and fourth installments. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of horror, and to be honest, it all just looks a bit silly.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City ramps up the ridiculousness...can Resi 6 bring back the horror?

There is hope yet however – at Comi-con this year Capcom announced that it is developing Resident Evil 6 and will reveal more information at this years TGS.

Alas we have to wait, but until then, root around on eBay for a copy of the Gamecube remake, or pick up the Resident Evil Archives edition for Wii and see what survival horror is all about.



6 thoughts on “Has Resident Evil Lost Its Bite?

  1. Well, one thing that is always going to detract from the horror is the fact Resi 5 and Operation Raccoon city are co-op. Is it even possible for a co-op game to be scary?

    Co-op instantly diminishes any sense of isolation or claustrophobia. Co-op has it’s own strengths certainly, but the fear factor ain’t one of them.

    1. Fair point bud, I never played the originals but I did play number 5 on the PC, it just felt like any old action game with zombies. Fun, but not groundbreaking and ‘omg so scary’

  2. I completely agree, whilst the new games are great fun in their own right and I have enjoyed and completed 4 and 5, I could play them in the dark by myself no problem.

    Gone are the days you panic when you here a shuffling noise and only have 3 bullets. That sheer terror and dread of ‘whats in the next room’ has been lost with the focus on an action packed game.

    With the demands of the consumer, I don’t think we will see a game that could possibly have the same pacing and shock factor mixed evenly with moments of serenity and genuinely mind boggling puzzles.

    Great post, reflected my sentiments exactly.


  3. Resident Evil 1 was the first game I owned for my Playstation, I got it before even owned a memory card.

    The fear factor was magnified greatly by the knowledge that if I died I’d have to watch the appalling voiced intro again,

    1. Haha oh yeah I remember getting my PlayStation but not getting a memory card as well, so much time spent playing the training level of Tomb Raider 4 before I got one :D

  4. It seems to me that Capcom can’t see the wood for the trees – they keep coming back to the Raccoon City story arc. What they need to do is think smaller: strip away some of the more absurd backstory, introduce a new, claustrophobic setting and focus on making the enemies as disturbing as possible (humanoids rather than animals please). Oh yeah, and limit the voice acting…over 10 years on and they STILL can’t get it right…

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