Resident Evil Has Always Been Lackluster, It Just Took You 16 Years To Realize It

I hate roping people into things unknowingly, so I want to preface the rest of this editorial by saying that this is an interactive article. For this article to be effective, it requires the reader to take part in something that is somewhat difficult. I promise that if you meet me halfway, we will all be better off by the end of this. I will be here through the whole fiasco and we will be stronger for it. I should clarify that this is for people who feel that RE6 somehow “betrayed the series”, anyone who feels RE6 was lackluster as a game in general is excused.

Before you read on, I want you take a deep breath and access the part of yourself that is willing to face the worst. I want you to delve into your heart of hearts and know that I mean nothing malicious by the next request.

Can we please, please, please stop pretending that the Resident Evil franchise was better than it actually was?

Do not get me wrong; I am not here to convince you that any of the Resident Evil games were wholly terrible. I am fine with the people who love the games. I’ve played a majority of them myself, and I enjoyed every one I’ve played. I even bought a copy of Operation Raccoon City of my own volition and defend the purchase to this very day. (I enjoyed it, sue me.) Would I recommend it to others? Probably not, it’s a nice little project that bridges RE 2 and 3, but I wouldn’t put anyone out of sixty dollars for what amounts to the video game equivalent of  “Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…”

Giving credit where it’s due, RE popularized the survival horror genre that gave way to such great games as Silent Hill, Dead Space, and Left for Dead. It inspired a culture out of a minimally explored genre of gaming. It introduced characters, dialogue, and tropes that will forever stand out in the medium…

…And almost all of it was mediocre at best. The most memorable lines in the original Resident Evil are some of the most poorly written ones. Merit of quality had nothing to do with it; the laughably terrible localization of the original Resident Evil is what makes the dialogue so endearing. I wouldn’t take away Jill sandwiches or “master of unlocking” for the world, but I also can’t help but point out that a lot of the notable lines fit in the “so bad it’s good” category.

This isn’t about maligning Resident Evil, it’s about understanding that RE6 averaging out to a 6.5 did not spell out the end of the series in any way that hadn’t already occurred. If you disliked the game thematically, that is understandable, if not a bit late. Resident Evil 6 was not the end of RE as you knew it. The culprit behind the “death” of the RE that you knew and loved is the highly acclaimed Resident Evil 4.

Largely regarded as the high point of the series, Leon’s frolicking adventures in pseudo-Spain set the tone for the future titles by creating tension through over-the-top action and body horror. It worked wonders, but one could hardly blame Capcom for sticking with what fans claim saved the series. It’s a near-sighted play on Capcom’s part, but the idea of people being surprised by Capcom’s myopia is far more terrifying than anything that has come out of RE in some time.

Survival horror requires the player to acknowledge and at least mildly fear the danger the protagonist is in. The original RE accomplished building tension and fear for your protagonist almost unintentionally. The dogs and zombies provided the aesthetic, but almost all of the “horror” in Resident Evil was a byproduct of the game’s terrible movement system. When people complain that they want RE to go back to its roots, I wonder if they forgot just how infuriatingly slow turning was in that game.

Advancing the gameplay, giving more freedom to the player to navigate and react to attackers has long since done away with the tension that the RE franchise built through gameplay. The general advancement of third party shooting does not inspire any feelings of horror in and of itself, hence Capcom’s choice to give the infected guns in the latest installment.

This bears restatement, the franchise that brought you running zombies, infected dogs, lickers, and Nemesis couldn’t find a way to make a zombie apocalypse intimidating without putting guns in the hands of the undead. Resident Evil has taken to escalation and power creeping in a way that would make Shonen Jump blush. Instead of an intriguing conspiracy that chilled us with the thought of civilization being wiped out via bio-terror, Capcom decided bigger was better. The bad guys got stronger, and the protagonists needed to step it up if they were going to believably survive.

Chris Redfield is not a protagonist you fear for. The guy’s been doing this for years, and it shows. Boulder punches aside, I find it surprising that he doesn’t burst into hysterical laughter any time an infected comes at him. There’s a reason Chris and Wesker feel right at home in MvC3, and it’s because they have long since stopped being the humans we could actually feel a modicum of fear for.

There’s one last thing worth noting, and it’s that we’re not eleven anymore. Lowbrow physical horror is simple, and it worked like a charm when the thought of zombies in and of themselves (and not all of the societal implications of a zombie apocalypse) could actually instill fear in us. Almost all Zombie fantasies are ones in which they’ve already won. The Walking Dead, Zombieland, I am Legend, The Last of Us, Night of the Living Dead and so on. We’re far more chilled and intrigued by the prospect of soldiering forward in a world where survival is minimal, where other humans are as much or more of a threat than any shambling mess looking to turn your skull into a lunchable.

Think about it for a second, when was the last time the undead scared you in a video game? (Hell, when was the last time the undead were scary in any genre?) The most common answer I get to this question is Left for Dead, to which my general response is “Was L4D scary because of the zombies, or because you’re playing as a regular, run-of-the-mill human being?” Inspiring terror is often easier by reinforcing one’s helplessness rather than turning the amp to 11.

All of this adds up to something that even I wasn’t happy to admit: Resident Evil worked because of the novelty, not because of the quality. The last step in the process is acknowledging it. The people who are crying out just now, as if the series only recently took a left turn have let their nostalgia re-imagine the series as gourmet parmigiano-reggiano when it barely qualified as cheez-whiz. And that sucks, because cheez-whiz can be damn enjoyable in its own way, so long as you know what you’re eating.

Join the Discussion

  • guest

    “Can we please, please, please stop pretending that the Resident Evil franchise was better than it actually was?”
    So which are those third person shooters that were much better than RE4? seems like you just complaining and jumping from point to another without providing really any clear point to the reader, you could do much better than this Paul.

    • You may want to rephrase the question, because I never once slammed RE4 by saying it was bad. Resident Evil 4 was a good game, but it did set Resident Evil down the path toward action and linearity.

  • Resident Evils 1, 2 and Code Veronica are still amazing games. They are filled with atmosphere, great puzzles, and non linear level design (similar to Metroid or Castlevania).
    The fixed camera angles actually make the whole experience more cinematic and the buildings are designed in ways that you feel they are real buildings. Exiting the mansion in Resident Evil 1 only to later come back and see even more creepy sides of it you had no idea were there was awesome. Actually checking out you map and planning which route would be the best way to accomplish you next goal and or avoid enemies was awesome. Being able to approach many of the puzzles in different orders and really slowly explore a place was awesome. With Resident Evil 4 and on (even though I like RE4) it became a linearity fest with puzzles that pretty much didn’t need to exist because the game practically solved them for you. I truly wish some developer would make a game just like the old resident evils again. They are games with great design and some of the most memorable locations and level designs ever.

  • Faris

    “as if the series only recently took a left turn have let their nostalgia re-imagine the series as gourmet parmigiano-reggiano when it barely qualified as cheez-whiz..”
    So I guess it’s not possible to enjoy an old video game at all huh? ok.

  • RandomReduX

    I would also like to remind folks that RE5 and 6 were not the first time a gun was put into the hands of your enemy in RE. Am I the only one who remembers that Nemesis carried around a freakin’ rocket launcher?

    I love the RE series, but it hasn’t actually been SCARY since RE2 (and IT was only really scary by virtue of my never having been exposed to anything like it before) – I liked RE3, but it wasn’t creepy. By the time series like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame really started amping up the horror, RE’s zombies were nowhere near an actual scare (BOO moments do not a horror game make). So the series evolved to survive, and I personally still enjoy it – in a different way than I enjoy SH, FF, or even Dead Space, which creep the hell out of me.

    I mean, come on – Code Veronica introduced us to Super Wesker, and for a while the main antagonist in that was a loon who believed he was his sister as well as himself. RE4 had that ridiculous Salazar character. Let’s be honest, RE was pure b-movie fare from the start. They weren’t bad (controls aside – can we please stop insisting we go back to those terrible tank controls?), but it wasn’t this incredible series somehow destroyed by current entries.

  • Sum Pro

    Resident Evil Director’s Cut and RE: 2 for the PS1 are two of my favorite and memorable games of all time, what honestly happen to the series? I never got into RE: 4 on the Gamecube and never played 5 or 6. I am one of those that wish they’d go back to the very beginning where it all started.

  • Like most things truly powerful, the more a franchise is
    diluted the less potent it becomes, and you’d be hard pressed to find a
    franchise more diluted than Resident Evil, no matter what the T/G-Virus/Ororobos/Las
    Plagas/whatever is spewing out these days. The argument that it was never
    really that good though is a tough pill to swallow, especially given the long
    history of critical acclaim, genre defining game scenarios, inspired gameplay
    systems, insane storylines and, most of all, nostalgia generated by the RE
    franchise over its history. Now, you can argue that nostalgia tints everything
    a lovely shade of rose, but in the case of RE, it’s a bit justified… to a
    point. Though you cite the voice acting of the first game as an example of a
    low mark, the terror that game created (Cerberus window jump) will always be a
    high mark, that was the point of the game, and RE had a lot more high marks
    than low. The environments were atmospheric masterpieces and you genuinely
    feared for the safety of your character. This carried over into RE 2, but
    started to fall away (like you said) in later iterations, until RE 4, but then
    again in 5 and 6. The series quality had bounced up and down like the EKG of a
    speed freak until the last few years, where it’s just flatlined. Capcom seems
    content to just let it shuffle forward now until someone comes along and puts us
    out of its undead misery.

    Of all the things you mention though, I’m surprised that you
    didn’t mention the departure from setting. One of the major downfalls of the RE
    series over the years is the abandonment of horror atmosphere and the tension
    created by the unknown. This is why RE 1 and 2 will always stay near and dear
    to the hearts of the players who grew up with them. It’s why 3 was a bit of a letdown,
    and why 4 brought us back with such a vengeance. It was atmosphere that made RE
    4 really tense, much more than big action. Both RE 5 and 6 abandoned those
    settings completely (though Leon’s campaign in RE 6 tries to recapture it), and
    just went action. It’s a shame, because the RE 1 remake for the Gamecube was a
    great example of where the series could have gone if they had stayed true to
    the horror atmosphere while updating the game on the whole. Fans of the series
    still clamor for an RE 2 remake in the same vein because the game quality is so

    Somewhere along the way Capcom forgot that action and horror
    aren’t mutually exclusive, probably right around the time Shinji Mikami left
    the company. It is possible to have amazing controls, frantic 3rd
    person shooting, huge action set pieces, and still maintain an atmosphere of real
    terror. That is what creates the tension players want in the first place. You
    only have to look as far as series like Gears of War and Mass Effect, both
    critically acclaimed “action” games, yet both with long stretches of truly
    terrifying atmospheric gameplay.

    Resident Evil was good. There are stand out instances of the
    series that are genuinely great, even people who aren’t fans of the series know
    that. So in that regard, the headline of this article is questionable. Some of
    the points raised are true though and the series has really fallen off to where
    it is now, some kind of weird, pseudo, mutated, amalgamation of left over game
    parts and systems. Capcom seems to have forgotten, as with a lot of their best
    franchises, that players have more choice in game selection these days. So now
    they’re just playing a game of sub-par copycat catch-up instead of
    reinvigorating their brands with the originality and creativity that made them
    a household name in the first place.

    • Anon

      Can this post replace the article? It’s a lackluster ‘editorial’, lucky I managed to realize it right away.

    • Well written. Problem is, I never thought any of the RE’s were scary.

  • You hit the nail on the proverbial undead head.

  • anonman

    People are not upset because it’s not like the original, they are upset because it copies the same cookie cutter bullshit call of duty formula, which is basically one bit interactive set piece, good games let YOU play.

  • Kalamarosoupa

    Campy horror game is one thing,
    forced action game is another