I feel strongly about the Resident Evil series. It kickstarted my love for both horror games and all things zombie related simultaneously. My introduction to the series was the remake of Resident Evil on Gamecube, having missed the PS1 titles due to owning nothing but Nintendo hardware until 2008. I eventually progressed through the entire (main) series, including the DS version of the PS1 original, though the Gamecube remake remains my favourite and one of the pinnacles of survival horror games for me.
I really don't like where it went. I'm going to refrain from passing judgement on Resident Evil 6 since I've only played the demo, though from that I can say it is the first game in the main series that I have little interest in playing beyond the demo. After feeling Resi 5 had pushed the IP a bit too far from its roots and then seeing this apparently repeated in 6, I feel my interest waning. Which makes me sad.
Much like Nemesis, the series' original form has mutated throughout its life to a point where the survival horror elements that popularised it have been shrouded by the sprouting tentacles of 3rd-person shooters and action games. It has also struggled to maintain a grip on the horror elements as a result of Capcom's decision that since horror simply cannot compete on the level of other AAA titles, they might as well copy them.
I look back now and wonder; how did we get from tiptoeing through a creepy mansion to punching boulders in an active volcano and suplexing zombies?
Well, it started with Resident Evil 4.
Fourth time's a charm
Those who didn't follow the development of RE4 as fervently as I did may know little of the turmoil it went through during early production. Originally planned for the Playstation 2, three different potential iterations of the game went into pre-production only to be scrapped part way through development (although one was turned into Devil May Cry instead). Shinji Mikami, director of the original Resident Evil, began work on the project as producer but stepped in to direct after the other ideas fell through. Production duties were taken up by Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who also produced the Gamecube remake.
RE4 was also the first game since the orginal (and the remake) that Shinji Mikami took up the role of director, having served as producer on Resi 2, 3 and Code: Veronica. According to the game's producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, the reason for the drastic change in direction from previous titles was because "the whole concept of RE4 was to reinvent the game...in the past installments, we were stuck in the cookie-cutter RE mold."
It's true that the games were consistently formulaic up to that point. There were a couple of attempts at branching-out with mediocre lightgun-shooter spin-offs, while Code Veronica introduced fully rendered 3D environments and Zero innovated with the 2-character "partner zapping" system, the gameplay was largely unchanged since the original.
Transitioning a videogame series to a different genre or style isn't a bad thing in itself, if done in a way that makes sense for it. In fact it can be a blessing for franchises that are dwindling in quality or just becoming tired, a good example being Castlevania: Lords of Shadow which became the most successful Castlevania game to date.
This turned out to be a good thing as Resident Evil 4 was hugely successful and highly praised, and rightly so. It was incredibly well-made and one became of my favourite games, and thus had little difficulty accepting that this was what Resident Evil had become. The lack of traditional Resi scares was still a bit disappointing, but at least they tried to emulate the creepy-factor in some sections of the game.
You forgot the Fear!
Resident Evil 5 was obviously going to go in the same direction. Sure, they did a good job with RE4 so it should be easy to get right. Unfortunately they got some things wrong...
RE5 followed the same template as 4, but with an even higher emphasis on action and subsequently lower on horror. It had it's share of nerve-wracking moments (wading through a giant-alligator-infested swamp for example), and combat was sufficiently exciting for the most part, though mostly due to having more enemies thrown at you at once rather than being vulnerable through lack of ammo or health, which was always plentiful. And, if all else failed, you could always be revived by your partner.
Overall though, the scare factor was countered substantially by the addition of Sheva, your permanent co-operative partner/herb-bank. Adding another playable character pretty much kills most of the tension, the same problem I felt Zero had.
With the increased focus on action and shooting, being tethered to a co-op partner throughout the game and the questionable setting of bright, sunny Africa, the "Fear You Can't Forget" that was advertised seemed to be, well, forgotten...as expressed in this infographic I made:
That's not to say it wasn't a good game; tight combat, some cleverly designed 2-person puzzles and a co-op system was well-implemented and made playing with another person enjoyable. What let it down most for me (besides the lack of fearful scaryness and terror) was the increasingly ridiculous story and terrible character changes. I find it hard to forgive what they decided to do with Jill and Weskers' characters. I mean, for fucks sake, a mind-controlled ninja super-warrior and a generic supervillian who had apparently been freed from The Matrix? Ugh. It is pretty funny in places, I'll give it that though...I laughed out loud when Chris started punching that boulder, with his muscles the size of his head.
So in the wake of Resident Evil 6 failing to meet Capcom's expectations, despite it selling around 5 million, I hope they take the right message from it and do the right thing. I suggest a good old-fashioned reboot.