News was released earlier this week that Capcom’s next installment of the Resident Evil franchise is confirmed for release in the 4th quarter of this year. Although to some this may mean next to nothing, and to those who have only based their opinions of Resident Evil off of the wonderfully terrible Paul W.S. Anderson movies it may mean even less, for me personally it re-kindled a 13-year-long love-hate relationship with the heart-pounding, sweat-dripping, bowel-freezing survival-horror series. However, much has changed since I first laid my clammy, pre-pubescent hands on the game that would ultimately define a genre and act as a benchmark for all others to come.
I feel it pertinent to give a bit of personal backstory. When I was nine years old my parents, for Christmas, purchased my sister and I the original playstation, affectionately known now as the ps1. After about a month of ripping through Crash Bandicoot, my cousin who also owned a playstation lent me the very first Resident Evil game which, at that time, was roughly two years old. Let it be known that up until this point my experience with video games had been contained to games such as Super Mario and Pokémon, so at first I was skeptical of this strange game with guns and (at the time) realistic graphics. After my first encounter with the games famous shambling zombie enemies I immediately turned the console off and shivered quietly in the corner, terrified, until my father came in and asked to play it with me. With my dad there protecting me, we both played through the game and even though my dreams were haunted for days (years) afterward I fell in love with one of the most terrifying series to have ever graced this green earth.
Fast-forward 13 years, five full installments, one prequel, one re-make and four sub-par movies later and one can see that the Resident Evil series, and to a greater extent the survival-horror genre has changed dramatically. The first three RE games and it’s prequel Resident Evil 0 took place in the fictitious town of Raccoon city. The town was a stereo-typical mid-western American city, however unbeknownst to its populous, the evil Umbrella Corporation was secretly running the city and manufacturing powerful biological weapons which ultimately culminated into what the game dubbed the T-virus (and subsequently the G-virus). After an tragic and obligatory lab accident the T-virus is unwittingly released upon the world, zombifying the citizens of Raccoon City and leaving the elite police force known as S.T.A.R.S to battle through the hordes of zombies and biologically mutated creatures to uncover the corruption of Umbrella Corp. Sounds to me like a fucking awesome game. Suffice it to say, all good things come to an end and here we are, years later and miles away from what made RE so great.
With RE4 the series took a drastic turn. Not only did the monsters shift from virus-infected zombies to parasitically-infected rage-monsters (more akin to those from the movie 28 days later but significantly less awesome), but the whole locale changed from post-apocalyptic metropolis to creepy rural villages in Spain (and in RE5 Africa). Granted only purists would really care about those differences, but where the heart of it all lies is in the game play. The original Resident Evil was a game where one misused bullet could be the difference between virtual life and death, where the games fixed camera angles meant that you never knew what was lurking down the corridor, where you were so starved for resources that every move at every moment had to be the best move you could possibly make and anything short spelled death. It was a fiendishly difficult and nerve-wracking experience, but what makes playing a horror game so much more terrifying than watching a horror movie is that you actively take part in the events. YOU have to be the one to turn around the corner and YOU have to make the decision to fight or fly. To me it’s a very masochistic experience, and all of it went out the window with RE4. Run out of ammunition? You can buy it. Huge horde of monsters? You likely have a grenade or two handy. Sure the environment itself is pretty creepy but that is only half of it. The other half is the nagging feeling that you’ll never have enough to get through. It’s a wonderful adrenaline-pumping horror that was, for all intents and purposes sucked out of the series in favour of a more action-oriented and easier play style.
And then there’s RE5, which set the majority of action in broad daylight. Jesus.
But such is the way it seems for similar type games. It seems like due to advances in technology, mechanics and AI that more emphasis is now put on stylized action in games than it is on building an atmosphere which extends beyond setting. I’ll admit that I enjoyed Resident Evil 4&5 and they were great games to play if not only for raw action, but a continuation of story and lore from the previous installments. But few games have captured the heart-pounding intensity of the originals. I would say the more modern Dead Space is leading the front for the survival-horror genre, but wouldn’t it be great for Resident Evil to take back the throne? RE6 is due for release this November, and the re-inclusion of zombies makes for a promising outcome. Let’s hope it doesn’t go the way of the movies. Jesus.
Note: I have watched all the Resident Evil movies more than once…