After diving back into one of my favorite gaming series with Resident Evil HD Remaster and Resident Evil: Revelations 2 I have come to an unfortunate conclusion. The series has run its course and needs a reboot if it is going to move forward in any significant way. “Ugh,” I hear you saying already, “not another reboot!” Typically I would be saying the exact same thing. Reboots are usually a last ditch effort to salvage a franchise that was run into the ground. And, you know what, that’s where Resident Evil will be if it keeps going as it is now.
Let’s back up a little bit to explain why this series is so beloved by gamers everywhere, and why more recent entries haven’t been as well received. The original Resident Evil was created by Shinji Mikami. It didn’t necessarily invent the survival horror genre, but it certainly refined and codified it.Chris and Jill’s adventures inside of the Spencer Mansion would be remade, reworked, and referenced for years to come. The immediate sequels to the original masterpiece didn’t hurt the franchise name either. Resident Evil 2 offered up a bigger world and a more significant story, while fleshing out the universe of the series. RE 3 and Code Veronica took some deviations, but still delivered fantastic and scary gameplay experiences.
Of course, everything changed with Resident Evil 4. Mikami’s parting gift to the series was to revamp and rework its entire structure, creating something that would be hailed as one of the greatest games of all time. However, while RE 4 was great, it started the trend torward more over-the-top action, as opposed to the survival horror aspects that had defined the series. This was forgivable because the game was utterly fantastic, but its sequels pushed things too far.
Resident Evil has been too loved for too long for them to reboot simply because they drifted away from their principles
Resident Evil 5 and 6 went way too far down the action route, presenting a world where the player controls a beefy, bulked up hero who has almost nothing to fear. Co-operative play also entered the series, becoming an unfortunate necessity for all future RE games. These elements aren’t inherently problematic, but the Resident Evil series is supposed to be scary and suspenseful, two things that are impossible when you have enough guns and ammo to eliminate a small country, and your buddy is standing next to you screaming out the location of any hidden enemies.
This isn’t to say that sales have stagnated, in fact these later entries are easily the best selling of the franchise, at least when comparing single systems sales and not counting re-releases. However, Capcom was disappointed with their sales as they had pumped much more money into their development than with previous entries. And as far as the critical response, Resident Evil 6 averaged about 7/10 for its reviews. Alternatively Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil Code: Veronica and Resident Evil 4 were in the 9 range. These games were then able to be reworked and reused on mutiple systems, largely due to their high quality. In comparison, there is very little desire for a re-release of Resident Evil 6, and there probably won’t ever be.
So, the series has gotten away from its roots. Seems like a decent enough reason to go back to the basics and start over. However, it’s not enough. Resident Evil has been too loved for too long for them to reboot simply because they drifted away from their principles, they can easily just pump out some classic style games in a spinoff or something. Which is exactly what they tried, and somewhat succeeded with in Resident Evil: Revelations. This, its sequel, and the HD Remaster of the REmake show that Capcom is trying to get things back to where they used to be.
Unfortunately, they aren’t doing it well enough, and at this point I don’t think it is even possible anymore. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 did a good enough job of feeling like a classic RE title. Some of the old thrills and chills were present, enough to make it one of the better entries in the last few years. However, a few things struck me that prompted the feeling that the series needed a reboot.
First up is the extremely bloated and unwieldy backstory. At this point, the series has had so many antagonists, who have used so many different types of viruses with varying effects, that to keep track would require a spreadsheet of some kind. From a series that began in tiny Raccoon City, we now have a main character saving the President’s daughter, shooting said President when he became a zombie, doppelgangers and other clones, mind/spirit transfers, multiple anti-bio terrorist organizations, and much, much more. Even forgoing that, throughout RE: Revelations 2 I simply found myself wondering, what disease caused what creatures, and I was totally lost. The main one seemed to be the T-Phobos virus, which was woefully under explored, but Uroboros also factored in at a few points, and no attempt was made to explain how these all fit together into some world domination plan.
That plan was orchestrated by a newly introduced character who feels so shoehorned into the series that it is absurd. (Spoilers follow for games up to RE: Revelations 2) Of course, up until RE 5 the main antagonist had been the Umbrella Corporationg and Albert Wesker. The apparent destruction of Umbrella and the death of Albert Wesker has left a huge void for the series. Capcom seems to have attempted to fill that void with a carbon copy of the infamous character and a ton of bio-terrorist nonsense. This reliance on the past to legitimize current entries and keep fan’s interest is prevalent elsewhere in the game as well.
References to past games can be fun, especially with a series as long-lived as Resident Evil. However, there was something about the jokes and callbacks in Resident Evil: Revelations 2 that rubbed me the wrong way. Jokes about “Jill sandwiches” and being “the master of unlocking” just felt so forced. Like Capcom was saying to the audience, “see, we like the old games too!” But for those of us that truly enjoyed those old games, the series feels like a hollow shell of its former self. Even in the Revelations titles, where classic elements make a return, Capcom still has jammed in co-op and other mechanics that take away from the survival horror experience. Making references to the past games simply reminds us how different the new ones are, which is why we need to make a full return to them instead.
So, all of that was just to say that the series is too far gone and has too many moving parts to continue moving forward at its current rate. So, what should Capcom do about it? Well, if you read the title then you know my theory. Rebooting Resident Evil isn’t an ideal scenario, but it could turn out much better than Resident Evil 7 or even Revelations 3 will end up being. Drop the huge cast, get rid of the dozen or so different viruses, bring back the smaller and scarier environments and story, and simply get rid of the ridiculous backstory that has built up over the last 19 years.
If Capcom wanted to avoid this and keep the current continuity going they certainly could, but it would require a lot more effort than simply starting over. The former would require a true spinoff series, one that focuses solely on being a survival horror game and takes out the action genre elements. It should also feature a simplified story, and probably avoid any of the ongoing characters or organizations from the main series. They’ve just gotten too absurd at this point to work in a true survival horror world.
Alternatively they could reboot the whole franchise. Bring us back to Spencer Mansion, totally redesigned of course, and taking advantage of the gameplay mechanics offered by modern gaming. Even if they want to avoid making yet another remake of the original game, they could simply dive right into the T-Virus outbreak from RE 1-3. Put players into the shoes of some other person caught up in the original outbreak, or redesign the characters and let us take control of Chris, Claire, Jill, or Leon if that connection is necessary.
It would be challenging, and many fans would be quite upset, but not as upset as they’ll be when Resident Evil 7 comes out and is yet another disappointment. I count myself among those fans, I played Resident Evil 2 on my N64, because I hadn’t gotten my PlayStation yet, and I loved every minute of it. I then went back and got RE1 and blasted through that along with a ton of other RE titles. I have a good portion of the Spencer Mansion layout memorized to the point where I wouldn’t even need to look at the screen. Yet, here I am recommending that they ditch all of that and start fresh. It pains me to do so, but Resident Evil no longer carries the weight it once did, and that is a true shame.