Resident Evil 4 Reinvented (and Nearly Killed) Resident Evil

In just a few months, Capcom is giving us Resident Evil 3 Remake. It’s more than the original game with some HD textures and new gimmicks. No, Capcom is, once again, going all out with this game. They’re basically doing everything from scratch like with what they did with their other big remake, Resident Evil 2 Remake. So far, it’s on track for release next month and, since I thoroughly enjoyed the remake they did earlier, I hope they can bring the magic back with Resident Evil 3 Remake.

You can definitely see how the new Remakes in the series owe a lot to another game in the series. That title would be Resident Evil 4. Now, Resident Evil 4 was a turning point for the series. Weirdly enough, by the time the original version of Resident Evil 3 came out, the established “survival horror” formula Capcom established was getting stale. Fans wanted Resident Evil to do something different.

Capcom did hear the fan outcry and took heed. They ultimately decided to go with a different direction with their upcoming fourth installment. This was a big risk on the part of Capcom for several reasons. One of those reasons was Resident Evil 4 was already in development and Capcom had to scrap the entire thing and make everything from the ground up. Ultimately, this did work for Capcom as the result was the Resident Evil 4 we all know and love.

Yet, while Resident Evil 4 did save the series from becoming stale, it also nearly led to the franchise getting killed off. To get what I mean by that, we have to look at the state of the Resident Evil games just before Resident Evil 4 came out and what happened to the series afterwards.

By the time Resident Evil 3 came out on the original PlayStation, fans were getting tired of the general clunkiness of the games. The awkward tank-like controls made controlling your character difficult and disorienting. The fixed camera angles made navigating rooms more difficult than it needed to be. The super-blocky graphics simply had to go. This was fine on the PlayStation because of the technical limitations of the time. But, on next gen consoles like the SEGA Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Gamecube, this was kind of inexcusable. Resident Evil: Code Veronica (which, I still contend is a much better game than the original Resident Evil 3) on the Dreamcast, was able to render some areas that had scrolling screens.

The worst thing about what was happening to Resident Evil was how predictable the games were becoming. While the first game practically invented the idea of the “survival horror” genre, the overall formula was getting stale. This staleness made it so the “horror” aspect in “survival horror” was fading away with every new entry into the series.

Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube changed all of that. It was a spectacular game for many reasons. The graphics looked phenomenal for the time. In fact, Capcom released an HD version of the game and, while I would’ve preferred totally reworked graphics and character models and there are even some fan-made graphical updates that blow the official one out of the water, the bump to high-definition doesn’t look too bad.

But the thing that really caught everyone’s attention was how different it played when compared to the other Resident Evil games. It ditched the tank-like controls and, instead, utilized a third-person “behind the shoulder” viewpoint. This made it much easier to navigate and maneuver through enemy infested areas. Thanks to more advanced technology (for the time), it was possible to put more enemies on the screen, making each battle a tense one. There was less exploration necessary, even though searching through every nook and cranny (and treetops when necessary) to get everything was part of what made the game enjoyable. There was definitely less backtracking and item management needed. Puzzles were also kept very simple as everything could always be found in the same location.

Definitely the crown jewel of all of Resident Evil 4’s changes was its focus to action instead of horror. It was more adrenaline pumping action, with scores of enemies going after Leon S. Kennedy, who we last saw in Resident Evil 2. He isn’t the rookie cop he was before as he could now karate kick and suplex enemies with enough force to blow their heads clean from their necks! He could even jump through the window of a second story house and land without a scratch! Leon S. Kennedy was more action hero than hapless cop now!

I will admit that, when I first played through Resident Evil 4 (when it was released on the PlayStation 2), I was taken aback at the direction it took. It wasn’t scary in the way previous Resident Evil games were. It was frightening because of how many enemies were going after me. But after surviving the first village assault and that wave of relief washed over me for surviving, I was hooked!

Resident Evil 4 became one of the biggest games on the Gamecube. It was receiving critical acclaim and one of the biggest reason to get Nintendo’s system. Eventually, the game was ported to other systems like the PlayStation 2 and it also received high marks for how great it was.

Unfortunately, this change into making Resident Evil worked a little too well.

Capcom saw how ditching the horror angle and making the series into an action game worked so well, they came to the conclusion that making horror games wasn’t worth it. Resident Evil, from then on, was going to be more action focused. The next game in the series, Resident Evil 5, not only borrowed so many elements from the fourth installment but from other action games, like Call of Duty and Gears of War, as well.

In the fifth game, you control Chris Redfield from the first Resident Evil. He’s now has a partner with him at all times, Sheva Alomar (who is never mentioned ever again, which shows you how much Capcom thinks of her), making this the first game in the series with co-op. You can still play the game in single player but it’s much more difficult as your AI partner will eat through ammo and health at a voracious rate! Anyway, Resident Evil 5 still got good reviews but the focus on action and away from the classic horror aspects was becoming a sore spot. Oh, and Chris Redfield punches a boulder.

The next entry, Resident Evil 6, doubled down on the action aspects and even included several campaigns you have to complete in order to actually finish the game. The game sold incredibly well and the action was good. But you know what was the main complaint with Resident Evil 6? It wasn’t scary! It was, for all intents and purposes, a full-fledged action shooter. This was a big problem because, by this time, there were just so many shooters on the market. Besides the name, there was really nothing in the gameplay to make it stand out from the Gears of Wars, Bioshocks, Call of Dutys, Battlefields, Halos, Bulletstorms, Dead Spaces and many more out there?

By going all out on the action theme, Resident Evil lost its identity and what made fans fall in love with the franchise in the first place. This all started with Resident Evil 4. I’m not saying Capcom was wrong in the direction they took by revamping the gameplay. But by stripping away the “survival horror” element, the very thing that gave Resident Evil its identity, it also stripped away the very thing that made the franchise stand out.

Thankfully, Capcom once again listened to the feedback and how fans wanted Resident Evil to return to its horrific roots. Well, maybe it did help that VR was becoming a thing and a little demo called PT was released to the horrified cheers of gamers everywhere. Resident Evil 7 changed the way we played Resident Evil games once again. The game was now played with first person viewpoint, making things disorienting and frightening. It can be hard to play, not because of the difficulty, but because of how scared you would get as you walk around the game.

There are rumors that Capcom is working on Resident Evil 8 and, if the rumors are true, will also be played in a first person viewpoint. Personally, I would love another go with this kind of gameplay, even if it’s drastically different from the third person views the original games and the Remakes used. But mostly because the viewpoint only heightened the terror I felt while playing Resident Evil 7. It made me feel a part of the game instead of feeling as if I was controlling someone who was experiencing the terror.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like Resident Evil 2 Remake. I loved the game and a good reason why I loved it is because it felt like “survival horror” once again but still using some of the gameplay elements that made Resident Evil 4 fun. While the control scheme did lend itself to a more action vibe, the first Remake was still terrifying in its own way. Being stalked by Mr. X all throughout the police station can be tense, especially the first time you encounter him.

As much as I like Resident Evil 4, the game was the biggest reason for Resident Evil 5 and 6, considerably the lowest point of the franchise. Capcom did have to take the series in a new direction and, for a time, going the action route did seem like the right idea as it did reinvigorate the franchise and shake it from its doldrums. In hindsight, however, Resident Evil 4 was almost the start of the downfall of the premiere “survival horror” franchise.

Would you like Resident Evil to change back to an action franchise once again in the future? Let me know in the comments section below!

One thought on “Resident Evil 4 Reinvented (and Nearly Killed) Resident Evil

  1. Pingback: Why Remaking Resident Evil 4 Now Would Be a Bad Idea | 3rd World Geeks

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