There was a time when Resident Evil was synonymous with the term “survival horror.” For a while there was no game series that had gained such a following for being able to create tension and scare its audience. The series evolved, due to the increased demand for action in the market, with Resident Evil 5 and – more recently – Operation Raccoon City. While RE5 managed to keep some of the scares and generally get good reviews, Raccoon City’s more complete switch to action was poorly received by many.[drop]Resident Evil 6 seems to be Capcom’s attempt to please every fan of the series, from those who want a return to the pure survival horror to those who prefer action and gunfights. By now you’ve seen the split in opinion that the latest offering has received, ranging from scores as low as 3/10 to as high as 9/10. While, in my opinion, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t deserve a score as low as a 3, neither does it really deserve the 9s.
Leon’s campaign is the one where Capcom seems to have tried to go back to the glory days of tense survival horror. And for the first section it really does feel like Capcom has tried to capture the atmosphere of those older games.
Walking through a large banquet hall with floors creaking, lighting flashing and unexplained shadows on the wall managed to create a section where I was legitimately on edge, wondering what could be waiting around the next corner. However, that atmosphere kind of fades away and that’s largely because of zombies. I don’t think zombies are scary anymore.
This isn’t really Capcom’s fault but more the fault of over saturation in the gaming landscape. The fascination with zombies within gaming has brought us titles like Dead Island, Lollipop Chainsaw, Left 4 Dead and add ons for Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption and, soon, Sleeping Dogs.
As gamers we’ve been exposed to so many waves of the undead that they’re no longer a scary horde that could end civilisation as we know it, they’re just fodder to be destroyed by guns, baseball bats and fists. When the first group of zombies appeared in Resident Evil 6 there was no fear for me, just a group of enemies that were in the way.
This could mean then that Capcom moves on from zombies, instead focusing on a new enemy type. The J’avo are the other type of enemy that feature in Resident Evil 6, providing opposition in Chris and Jake’s more action-oriented campaigns. The J’avo are different from zombies in that they are the product of the C Virus, are intelligent, use weapons, and also mutate if shot in different limbs which gives them different powers.
The problem here is that within these campaigns, it feels like Capcom just wasn’t confident enough to fully commit to pure action, maybe due to the backlash that Operation Raccoon City received for trying to do that. Instead, what’s left are all the action sequences and gunfights, but an added attempt to create tension through a severe lack of ammo – something else Capcom has tried through game modes and handheld releases of Resident Evil.
Sure if this kind of thing happened rarely, for example when facing certain tougher enemies for the first time, the tension and perhaps fear could have been there, but when running out of ammo occurs in almost every area this feature becomes incredibly frustrating. It’s not scary, just annoying.[drop2]Couple this with the fact that many of the J’avo just aren’t as dangerous, bar a couple of examples, as they were made out to be and pretty soon you’re not sure whether to trust the game as it sets up another fright or whether you’re heading for another mild anti-climax. A major point with the J’avo is that they if they gain damage to certain areas of their body, they’ll mutate, again not a wholly original idea – it’s pretty similar to the Lambent from Gears of War.
There are a couple of mutations, such as the one where the enemy can pull you out of cover, that did help create tension and change the fight. However, many just made enemies harder to hit without making them any more dangerous – further wasting scarce ammunition without increasing tension. Sadly that’s where they fall short of the Lambent – they always felt dangerous when they mutated.
Tired and predictable enemies are one of the reasons why the atmosphere in Resident Evil 6 is almost non-existent. But they don’t break the atmosphere, or the immersion within the game. No, that immersion is broken with quick time events (QTEs).
Where in the past these QTEs may have helped add to the game, in Resident Evil 6 they do nothing but, ironically, prolong tedious parts of gameplay and take you right out of the game world. The worst example of this is when whichever protagonist you’re in control of has to climb something, often during boss encounters. There was nothing worse than being engaged in a gunfight and then being forced to climb a rope, using QTEs. There was no need for it, and really no need for QTEs in the Resident Evil universe anymore, or at least to the extent that they are used.
The online co-op mode has great potential, but that also comes with its hazards. When you team up with a good player it can really add to the enjoyment, as well as creating a new level of tension from trying to keep your partner alive. However, immersion can once again be broken if you join someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, or is making the same mistakes over and over. Having a partner die due to failing at the same task and bringing the game over screen up through no fault of your own is frustrating.
Maybe, and this may prove an unpopular opinion, the campaign modes of future Resident Evil titles should be single player only. Multiplayer could still be a part of the series but not something that would have much bearing on the single player portion.
Of course, capturing the old feeling that Resident Evil used to be a master at conjuring might not be where Capcom thinks the series should head – in which case, perhaps it would be better to commit to the more action oriented gameplay and get that to work more effectively.
Resident Evil 6 felt more like an experiment than a full game, trying to work out how to move the franchise forward. What RE6 shows is that Capcom need to make a decision. Do they decide to go out for all action, or go for the dark corridors of a scary game?
Maybe they don’t have to decide to choose either. Instead the series could be split between two development teams working on spin-off series in that game universe. One team that focuses on trying to create a horror game, which there is still a market for – Dead Space and Amnesia: The Dark Descent are proof of that. The other team could focus on the purer action titles in the Resident Evil world, crafting the narrative behind missions that the BSAA (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance) are sent on.
Resident Evil isn’t a dead franchise that should be left behind, but it is a franchise that hasn’t quite been able to adapt to a more demanding audience and an industry that is constantly pushing boundaries in games. There are a lot of issues for Capcom to address and spreading their focus hasn’t really worked in Resident Evil 6. Maybe a break of a few years for the franchise could be a good thing? It would allow for time to really decide where the series should go and to get the focus right before risking development of another title that disappoints core fans or splits opinion so wildly.