Resident Evil is one of the most recognizable names in gaming, spawning multiple sequels and spin-offs, including entire cinematic and animated universes. Capcom coined the term “survival horror” shortly after the 1996 release of Resident Evil on the Sony Playstation. The player had to adapt to their perilous environment, while also managing a rather unforgiving inventory system that consistently demanded only the necessities.
Prior to the release of the excellent Resident Evil 7 and two subsequent remakes, Resident Evil had a bit of an identity crisis while trying to appeal to a wider demographic. Resident Evil 6 – now accepted as the series’ low point – attempted to balance both action and classic survival horror that the series was known for through multiple campaigns. Though selling around 4.9 million units and becoming Capcom’s fourth best-seller in the company’s history by the end of 2013, Resident Evil 6 was still considered a disappointment due to its massive production budget.
Capcom took note of this, and the series has since been on an upward slope in terms of quality and innovation. Resident Evil 7’s new take on perspective opened up a new avenue for horror without sacrificing the series’ core mechanics, while the recent Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes offered a fresh coat of paint for those who were previously unable to play the originals. As Resident Evil Village approaches, let’s take a look at the components of a great Resident Evil game:
Contained Stories Within a Larger One
Resident Evil 6’s scale was ironically the cause of its downfall. Sometimes bigger doesn’t always mean better. The four campaigns with equally different gameplay styles and timelines proved to be overwhelming. At its core, the idea of a new virus ravaging the world is interesting, but somewhere along the production pipeline, they lost focus.
Resident Evil 7 is a contained story within a much larger event. Ethan Winters, an ordinary guy, traces his long lost wife back to Dulvey, Louisiana. What begins as a simple descent into the deep South, quickly transforms into the video game iteration of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Focusing on the smaller stories in relation to the much larger one concerning the t-virus makes every character feel more human, and their situation more believable.
Resident Evil 2 and 3 see Jill, Leon and Claire trapped in Raccoon City during the height of the virus, while Revelations pits you against Lovecraftian-inspired abominations aboard the Queen Zenobia in the middle of the Mediterranean. These smaller scaled stories are much more engaging and encourage more creativity.
Resident Evil’s success has inspired many games to borrow heavily from its ideation of survival horror with mixed results. Crafting difficult, yet balanced survival horror is no easy task, which is why the series had previously sought after new genres. Survival horror isn’t about low ammo and consumables; it’s about that underlying tension that permeates throughout the entire game.
There are rarely any moments within the series’ best entries where I feel completely confident and safe. Sometimes I’ll find myself in situations with only a couple of bullets at my disposal and no herbs nor potions to restore my quickly depleting health. Managing your tight inventory, while also conserving ammo for more tankish enemies will more often than not, save you from death. Not knowing what’s ahead, but being prepared for the worst is the beauty of this genre.
In the case of Resident Evil Zero, sometimes the puzzles littered throughout these games are nonsensical. Why in the world would someone go through the trouble of blocking your path through human-sized chess pieces? Other times, puzzles are creatively implicated into the surrounding environment.
In Resident Evil 7, some puzzles come in the form of simplistic optical illusions, while in the Resident Evil 2 remake, progression is halted until finding all of the chess keys littered throughout the sewer. Though incredibly inconvenient for anyone working there, it makes for some great added tension – especially when an enemy is close behind.
Figuring out the solution, while also fighting back the enemies committed to eating you are not only some of the best moments in the series, but also in gaming.
I will never forget my first playthrough of Resident Evil 2 remake when Mr. X appears in all of his fedora-wearing glory. RPD being the giant architectural puzzle that it is becomes all the more terrifying to explore with that hulking tyrant on your tail 24/7. Nemesis, who arguably is underutilized in the remake, can shoot guns, climb buildings, sprint, and grab you from farther distances with his tentacles.
In the earlier segments of Resident Evil 3 remake, Nemesis proves to be much more of a threat than Mr. X. Even the smaller enemy types like the infected can cause some trouble. Each enemy has a distinct weak point, but it’s how the player tackles their encounter, while also managing their inventory that determines the outcome.
Resident Evil 7 meanwhile may have lacked enemy variety, but there’s no denying the threat of the Baker family.
It’s important to note that these are only a few of many components of a great Resident Evil game. Capcom seems to be on a fantastic track with their recent entries, and we eagerly await Village’s release in 2021.
I’m not a huge fan of several games in the series, but it’s interesting to recognize them all when analyzing the series’ progression. Resident Evil Village launches in 2021 on Xbox Series X/S, Playstation 5 and PC, with current-gen consoles still in consideration.