Opinion: Finding Resident Evil Again Requires Letting Go Of Resident Evil

Resident Evil 7 might not be the Resident Evil sequel we dreamed of, but this is the flipside of AAA's lack of innovation: fans who can't let the recent past go.

Article by Mike Williams, .

What is Resident Evil?

Maybe this?

The problem with any long-running franchise that innovates in any fashion - see Final Fantasy - is that the answer varies from person to person. Resident Evil isn't the same game as Resident Evil 4 or Resident Evil 6. The series shares an aesthetic and narrative wallpaper, but mechanically the games themselves are quite different.

The first Resident Evil is about the knowledge of the Spencer Mansion you're trapped in and the tension that comes from not knowing what's behind the next door. Resident Evil 4 is an action-heavy game whose tension comes from adaptation. It's a fairly linear affair that throws Leon into overwhelming odds and charges you to think on the fly. Resident Evil 6 tries to be all things to all people, roving across a number of different concepts and ideas.

So why is Resident Evil 7 the one that's seen by some fans as "not Resident Evil"?

For Capcom, Resident Evil 7 is seen as a "back to basics" game, trying to recapture the feeling of the original release from 1996.

"Resident Evil, as you know, has always been a horror game, but it's branched off into other tangents across the years, and one of the main focuses of this title was to focus on the series' main strength," Resident Evil 7 director Koshi Nakanishi told PCGamer last year. "Instead of trying to do everything in one title, let's try to do its strongest suit right, the best we can, and that's horror. And also, to do that in a modern game. Like Resident Evil 1 or the remasters of Resident Evil 1, which are kind of the old-style game ... let's do that in a modern setting, with modern technology."

The early looks at Resident Evil 7 recalled P.T., the playable teaser that was supposed to precede Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro's Silent Hills. Switching to a first-person viewpoint, early demos showed a protagonist trapped in a run-down home in a swamp, somewhere in the American South. No weapons, no mutated horrors, and none of the familiar extended cast of heroes and villains that had characterized the series up until then. Instead, you're held captive by a family that recalls the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Perhaps that was a misstep by Capcom, trying to present something different under the "Resident Evil" name.

Since then though, Capcom has shined a light on the other aspects of the game and what's been shown feels like classic Resident Evil. The focus is a weaker protagonist trapped in a single place, the sprawling, remote estate of the Baker family. Resident Evil 7 is about learning the layout of the Baker complex and using that knowledge to survive.

The early demos lacked weapons, which gave fans like myself pause. There are guns and other equipment in Resident Evil 7 though, but unlike later entries in the franchise, they don't make you a powerful force of destruction. Instead, you have to decide if you want to stand and fight with your meager resources, or run away. The tension comes from that choice, because you never know if you'll find more bullets or health items right around the corner or several rooms from where you are.

Players of the first Resident Evil remember ducking back into a previous room after running into enemies you weren't prepared for. We all remember the first zombie in Resident Evil, the dog breaking through the windows, or when the Hunter broke our barrier of safety by opening a door. Every door mattered, because you never knew what was on the other side and this created tension. Resident Evil 7 wants to recapture that.

"We felt that as Resident Evil progressed, the enemies were more frequent, more abundant, and at the same time it almost lessened them, almost cheapened the feel of each encounter," Nakanishi told Eurogamer. "We looked back and thought, what is a Resident Evil adversary all about? What do those encounters mean? At the end of the day, each adversary should represent a fear. Something that means when you encounter them you are scared. At the same time, because you're scared, when you do overcome them you feel a greater sense of triumph, so that's definitely something that we were trying to strive for."

The Spencer Mansion, the esoteric puzzles, the physical inventory system, the tense, singular monster encounters: these things defined the early Resident Evil titles until Shinji Mikami returned to the series and turned it on its head with Resident Evil 4. Capcom is bringing them back for Resident Evil 7.

Resident Evil 4 changed everything.

Have fans' perceptions of Resident Evil changed too much? Resident Evil 4 launched in 2005, making it over a decade we've spent with a specific type of Resident Evil. Is it the lack of known Resident Evil characters that turns people away? RE7 takes place within the Resident Evil universe post-RE6, but it lacks the familiar faces of Leon Kennedy, Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, or even Wesker. If a game returns to the mechanics of an older version, but the aesthetics are different, does it still deserve to occupy the same franchise?

Let's look at other series. Final Fantasy at this point is largely a connection of aesthetic choices. The mainline games have wildly different styles of play and the connective tissue is a shared history of concepts and characters: Moogles, Chocobos, Thunder/Blizzara/Firaga, Ifrit, Titan, Ramuh, etc. Final Fantasy left behind this idea of a shared type of mechanical play long ago.

In contrast, there's the Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed franchises, which carry the similar mechanics forward from game to game. These major titles have to do this because they're trapped by their own success: change too little and your series is seen as stale, change too much and your fervent fanbase feels left out. In the latter situation, if a new demographic of fans doesn't appear, then you've lost a core group without gaining anything in the process. This fear leads to safe development.

The horrific Baker family will be your host.

Resident Evil currently occupies this space between Final Fantasy and the Call of Duty. Certain games share specific mechanics, but the grouping of games diverge from each other sharpely. Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, and Code Veronica, versus Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6 as a sliding baseline. But over all of this, Resident Evil has had a consistent aesthetic and narrative shell.

It's that latter part where Resident Evil 7 diverges the most, which brings me back to the original question: What is Resident Evil?

If you make a game that's mechanically a successor to the original design of Resident Evil, but it has a different aesthetic and first-person viewpoint, does it automatically become "not Resident Evil"? There's not one answer to this question, because games are ultimately a combination of mechanics, aesthetics, and narrative. We all prize different things. Probably the logical answer is, "It's Resident Evil because Capcom says it is," but history is littered with games that carried the name, but not the spirit. That's not always the best answer.

We can't control the publisher or developer, but we can control how we percieve their efforts. We cannot lament a lack of innovation and risk-taking, while also forcing a developer or publisher to stick closely to our personal concept of what a series is. There has to be a sense of give-and-take; an understanding that developers may make mistakes trying to reach the soul of a game franchise, or through their experiments, find an entirely new space for a franchise. I want the familiar play of Assassin's Creed, but I also understand that Ubisoft may have to break that play in order to find a better way forward for the series. Imagine forcing Mikami to make Resident Evil 4 play like the Resident Evil games that preceded it.

Resident Evil 7 is and is not like what came before. Capcom is revisiting the feelings that the first game engendered in players, even while they discard some of the ideas that fans have come to love over the years. One can react to what they've already seen, but at the very least, I'll allow Capcom some room to see if this experiment is a success or failure. It could be a new start for Resident Evil.

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Comments 29

  • Avatar for Obsidian-Ox #1 Obsidian-Ox A year ago
    Excellent piece. I for one, cannot wait for RE7. It comes out on my birthday, and is currently engendering the same excitement I had for RE2 and RE4 (my favorites), which also came out around my birthday.

    I got a PSVR, not soley to experience this game in VR, but it was a deciding factor in taking the VR plunge. I'm not about to listen to the naysayers slamming this game or the VR aspect. I've already given "Beginning Hour" a spin in VR and it is intense. This is both a blessing and a curse. I can only do the bare minimum of finding the back door key and getting the "bad ending" because I'm too freaked out to delve any deeper. I now question my ability to even play this game completely in VR. Either way, I am completely stoked for this.
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  • Avatar for fstim82 #2 fstim82 A year ago
    Who on Earth was holding a torch for the recent Resident Evil? Haven't we all been complaining about getting back to survival horror for years now?
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #3 UnskippableCutscene A year ago
    They should have just not called it RE if they didn't want to endure the point of comparison. Without similar gameplay and without any of the usual characters, this all the trappings of a gaiden game or even a new IP than a numbered entry in the series.

    I can't blame fans for getting upset, because they're going for "familiarity == sales" here when the same game without the RE name would be just as good but get less attention (see how much attention The Evil Within received without an existing name to attach itself to). I'm not certain going with RE7 will make any difference in it's fortunes, though. The public may just starting to be tiring of horror themes.Edited January 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for siamesegiant #4 siamesegiant A year ago
    I loved the last 3 entries. You can argue the point that they became more and more absurd, but that element was there in the fourth entry (mecha-Napoleon statue anyone?) and I loved it. The ridiculous b-movie action and dialogue is part of what makes the series so much fun. Admittedly, I played RE6 long after launch, so maybe there was a certain amount of jankyness patched out, but there is a certain sniffiness towards it from critics that has always struck me as being a little po-faced.

    I'm sad they're probably not going to make any further games like 6. I feel that with PT, Layers of Fear, Outlast etc the market is already full of first person horror, whereas the chances of having a mega budget game where you punch a zombie shark in the face are comparatively slim.
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  • Avatar for Darkarm66 #5 Darkarm66 A year ago
    After playing the demo, I felt some tense, even pants soiling scares. As long as the game is good, it won't matter how scary it is or if it lives up to a title. Even if it was action orientated, the RE games up to 4 were some solidly designed games. All scares and tense atmosphere won't matter if the game is no good to play.
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  • Avatar for Darkarm66 #6 Darkarm66 A year ago
    After playing the demo, I felt some tense, even pants soiling scares. As long as the game is good, it won't matter how scary it is or if it lives up to a title. Even if it was action orientated, the RE games up to 4 were some solidly designed games. All scares and tense atmosphere won't matter if the game is no good to play.
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #7 Mooglepies A year ago
    Decently argued article. If Capcom don't want to invite comparisons with their previous work though, they should consider launching new IP instead. That's fraught with its own dangers - so they had to make a choice there on which risk to take. I think they chose the safer option to be honest. That's not a criticism, just a statement of opinion.

    That being said, RE was always more about body horror (possibly the one constant across every single entry in the series) and B-movie schlock to me than anything else. Even as far back as RE2 you could start to see the action influences chipping away at the survival horror aspects. The series has seen such a variety of approaches to gameplay that it's hard to pinpoint what the name on the box represents anymore.

    For my part, I have little to no interest in first person horror so I'll be skipping this and checking out a YouTube playthrough or some other summary at some point.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #8 MetManMas A year ago
    It's taken a little getting used to (the series has traditionally had more of a B horror movie vibe to it and the new one looks like it leans more towards indie horror), but I'm more than happy to give Resident Evil 7 a shot. Dunno if it'd be the direction I'd want the series to head from here on out, but it's great to see a return to survival horror instead of just another horror themed co-op shooter.
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  • Avatar for dimasok #9 dimasok A year ago
    The FF comparison is stupid - every RE had some relation to each other compared to most of the FF games.

    This game may be great (although not for me as I am not into outlast type of horror) but RE it is not.Edited January 2017 by dimasok
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  • Avatar for orient #10 orient A year ago
    It's funny how a change in perspective can completely alter fan perception. If RE7 was in third-person with fixed camera angles, people would be hyping it as a return to form. Obviously there are material differences between third- and first-person games, but the knee jerk backlash to it being in first-person by some is a lazy dismissal in my opinion. Just because a game is first-person horror doesn't mean it's going to play like Slender Man, or Outlast, or any other game.

    Since RE4 they've released a dozen behind-the-shoulder action games, some paying lip service to the series' horror routes, some not. The point is, this style of Resident Evil has been flogged to death and it's time to move on, and the same applies to the characters. I'm a huge childhood Resident Evil fan, but the canon needs a fresh start. By all means, remake older games in the series, but it's abundantly clear that Capcom doesn't care if these games stitch together cohesively, so why should anyone else?

    It bummed me out when "hardcore" RE fans claimed that RE5 was more of a Resident Evil game than RE4...because they threw some old characters in there :-/ Sure, if you ignore the co-op and the bright outdoor environments and the fact that it isn't scary whatsoever, I guess you're right!Edited 2 times. Last edited January 2017 by orient
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  • Avatar for reptilio #11 reptilio A year ago
    Well I'll be honest... I genuinely did not know there's a group of gamers out there who played 5 and thought "Yes!.... More plz!!!" I thought we were all in agreement we wanted to get back to the horror roots of RE, and this looks like the game to do it. I love 4. but by some of the logic spelled out in this article that game wouldn't be considered Resident Evil as the mechanics were completely overhauled, the only connection it actually had to the series was Leon and Wesker. Anyway, this is probably my most hyped non-Nintendo game out there
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  • Avatar for matthewcooley77 #12 matthewcooley77 A year ago
    The original blew my mind when it came out on PS1. The sequels were fine, then RE4 did it again, but it definitely planted to the seeds for everything after, which was just aimed at a different audience than me. I tried 5 and it led me to abandon the franchise.

    I'm not sure about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe going but I am glad they are trying something different. I miss the haunted house/mad scientists thing from RE1. This looks closer to that then the generic scifi shooter action games they've been pumping out, at least.
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  • Avatar for Octopumpkin #13 Octopumpkin A year ago
    I've been a Resident Evil fan since the original. I even enjoyed the heck out of the Japanese version of Gun Survivor. I'm also a big fan of Resident Evil 5, it wasn't until RE6 that I lost my love for the series. RE6 was too much of the same. I'm excited for the new direction in RE7, I wouldn't mind another solid action entry with all my favorite characters either.
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  • Avatar for Soapfish #14 Soapfish A year ago
    @siamesegiant This, this exactly.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #15 MetManMas A year ago
    @siamesegiant I seriously doubt Capcom will abandon the B movie shooter branch of the Resident Evil tree completely. There's room for both the campy horror-themed co-op shooters and the more seriously creepy survival horror stuff like RE7.

    And c'mon, Capcom loves milking the series for all it's worth. Just before Resident Evil 7: Biohazard we saw an episodic sequel to Resident Evil Revelations.
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #16 Monkey-Tamer A year ago
    I can't remember the last time I ran scared in a Resident game. Maybe it was three when Nemesis was making me pee my pants. I've enjoyed the horror based ones and the action based entries, some more than others. I'm glad to see it swing back to horror. Today's technology should produce something truly horrifying. Now about that Fatal Frame remake . . .
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #17 cldmstrsn A year ago
    No mike no!!!! I want to but I cant. I love you and everyone but I cant. I will patiently await to see whats happening with RE2make.
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #18 mattcom26 A year ago
    I'm looking forward to playing this game sometime very soon. I sometimes wonder though why the series has never ventured into a Japanese setting. I think that getting back to basics is great, and sure they've trotted the globe throughout the history of the franchise, but Louisiana does feel a little default. Too much an official horror setting. Something in the Canadian wilderness or South America, or a more ironic locale could have been much more interesting on paper ahead of the launch. I'm sure the results are still great, because I believe Mike's review. But still the extra twist seems to be absent.Edited January 2017 by mattcom26
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  • Avatar for Dante1930 #19 Dante1930 A year ago
    Not a good move, just showing us an old piece from 16 days ago now that the game is out...Makes you guys feel cheap. Write something new, especially now that you've played the game.

    To answer the article, RE7 is the most Resident Evil title I have played since...the original. It just NAILS it. Ambiance, graphics, sound, gameplay, boss battles...This is a very coherent, deliberately designed game. I can't wait to see where they go from here.

    I'm saying this as someone who actually enjoyed RE4 5 6 quite a lot, as third person action shooters. But this is survival horror. The game on Madhouse is the purest survival horror experience I've had in years, literally.

    I'm glad Resident Evil is back.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #20 brionfoulke91 A year ago
    I disagree with the premise of this article. There is NOTHING innovative about the new Resident Evil. If they had gone back to doing a game like the early games, that at least would have been original. This game is not original at all, and frankly I'm saddened that every horror franchise has to be in first person these days. The world needs more quality 3rd person horror games, which this series was an important part of. WAS an important part of.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #21 MHWilliams A year ago
    @brionfoulke91 Having played the entire thing, it's pretty much Resident Evil in first-person.

    This fan mod of REmake in first person?

    Yeah, RE7 is pretty much the same, professionally done. I can understand disliking the camera angle, but nah, RE7 is the old strain of Resident Evil in gameplay otherwise. Edited January 2017 by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #22 mattcom26 A year ago
    @Dante1930 Guess you missed Mike's piece yesterday on his favorite moments from the game, now that he's played it.
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  • Avatar for kevinbowyer34 #23 kevinbowyer34 A year ago
    Great article!
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #24 brionfoulke91 A year ago
    @MHWilliams Well to me, it's not really "Resident Evil" if it's in first person. The camera angle completely changes the feel of the game, and it's not a style I enjoy. I'd prefer to be able to see my avatar, and the feel of movement that goes along with that. Not to mention I'd love the cinematic style of camera angles from the old games, which to me define Resident Evil.

    Besides, if you want to talk about innovation, originality is what's important. RE7 changing to be like other modern games is the opposite of originality. Since games like the old RE don't come out anymore, ever, going back to those basics would have an amazing freshness in today's game market. But unfortunately, RE7 decided to go the timid, safe route. And that's a shame. Edited January 2017 by brionfoulke91
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #25 KaiserWarrior A year ago
    Having spent a fair bit of time with the final product, I can say that the name on the box is justified. RE7 is the closest this series has felt to the original game in over a decade.

    The perspective is different, the cast of preposterous recurring characters is nowhere to be seen, and the aesthetic is shifted away from the B-movie zombies to something much closer to RE Revelations... but Capcom has really nailed the feeling of the original trilogy. RE7 plays like, and feels like, exactly what I would have imagined RE1 to be like in first-person. Every bullet counts, every encounter is significant, and there is value in learning the layout of the mansion, planning your routes and managing your inventory for the runs you're going to be doing across the house.

    The game will, unfortunately, suffer from both ends -- from people that grew up with Big Hollywood Resident Evil (4~6) and from strict purists that won't accept anything that's not in third-person with tank controls (RE 1~3). I sincerely hope it can overcome those trials and put a bug in Capcom's rear to make more games like this.
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  • Avatar for sloth-machine #26 sloth-machine A year ago
    I remember the moment RE6 released Capcom was asking fan opinions about a reboot due to the backlash (at the time it felt weird to think of a game without Jill, Leon, Chris, etc.). RE6 sold very well, they could have just kept it going, but listened to their fans, which is nice.
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  • Avatar for DedicatedDark #27 DedicatedDark A year ago
    Resident Evil was always cheesy, campy and fun. From the very first game. The remake tried to change it, but failed at the time. RE4 embraced the chesse, camp and fun; and brought the gameplay forward. RE5 and RE6 are the results of a game trying build upon itself. The spirit of the series was always alive and kicking with camp, cheese and fun. But yes, the gameplay went off the rails a bit too far. The Revelations games were the ones that didn't feel like RE for me, the gameplay was quite good and it nailed the balance b/w action and horror but the characters started looking more real, less cheesy and very little camp. Revelations 2 continued that. And to be honest, I don't consider the revelations games to be in the same line as the main. Anyway, basically RE7 was what happened from what Revelations was slowly building into, along with the VR tech and the PT director the franchise eventually turned into RE7. To me RE1-6 are the RE games, the rest are simply games masquerading as Resident Evil. And with RE7 the series has gone for a new beginning. I think that's fine, it is the eventual result of any franchise that runs too long. My only regret is that Jill Sandwich wasn't there in the final game, but considering what she went through in 5 its fine.

    Anyway, the death of something is the beginning of another. RE7 even if it uses the rest of RE it is a reboot, it is a reboot of character, tone and gameplay. I feel I have made peace with the franchise, where-ever it goes from here I'll still follow but with different and new expectations. No game can survive without changing and nothing is great unless it ends.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #28 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    Having finished RE7, it's a good game. It feels like RE but it totally fails at bringing fresh ideas to the genre or to the franchise. I don't know if this is the innovation people are looking for when you're still wandering around a house looking for keys.
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  • Avatar for JiveHound #29 JiveHound A year ago
    Most people I've seen have counted this as a success and certainly something to build on. I'm yet to play it but will do soon.

    If anything it's made me want Capcom to take Dead Rising back in house and take it back to basics after the speed in which the formula has been diluted.
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