The initial first two hours of Resident Evil games essentially define the experience to come. They’re memorable, but not always for the best reasons. We can all recall our introduction to the Spencer Mansion, complete with cheesy dialogue. Resident Evil 2’s opening exposed us to just how bigger things were compared to the first game. Even the bad games had memorable opening hours.
After years of disappointment with the series, Resident Evil 7 never came with high expectations, at least for me. Those initial trailers and videos did little to spark my interest, mainly due to how similar it looked to PT. As time went by, and more information was revealed, I slowly found myself drawn to Capcom’s latest efforts.
A History of Change
But Why? What did Resident Evil do to deserve forgiveness? In truth, it was as simple as not being Resident Evil. As a franchise, Capcom has never been afraid to try different things. Numbered entries have tended to stay within a set lane, while spin-offs have gone all over. We’ve had light gun shooters with Survivor, Dead Aim, and Umbrella Chronicles. Online co-op based entries in the shape of Outbreak and Raccoon City (please don’t try to remember it, for your own sake).
There’s a whole host of mobile phone titles and handheld console entries, along with the brilliant remake and remasterings. It goes without saying, Resident Evil 4 represented the biggest changing point in the series. Moving away from the expectations set by past games, Resident Evil 4 was a true mouthful of fresh blood. No longer was Resident Evil stuck in the past, flourishing in a new genre, all while kicking off a revolution in video games.
Survival No More
Survival horror had been pushed to one side, all in the name of action horror. At the time of release, it reflected the tastes of the consumer. Video games were becoming faster and faster, the old guard of slower paced ways began to adhere. Even in the cinema, horror was going through a similar transition.
Resident Evil 4’s relentless action was a huge departure for the series. Veterans of the franchise were divided in their views to such change. Some hailed the reinvention, others looked at it as a betrayal. Going from a slow paced survival horror to a straight up action blast was always going to be controversial. But the action wasn’t always the plan.
Ghost In The Cube
It’s fairly common knowledge that Resident Evil 4 went through a long development process. Four different versions of the game had been worked on, with one standing out in particular. Holding onto the horror elements of the series, Resident Evil 4 was once planned as a totally different game. Pitched as something of a supernatural experience, Yasuhisa Kawamura (past works include Resident Evil 3 and Dino Crisis) wanted Leon to take on hallucinations. Inspired heavily by Jacob’s Ladder, Kawamura wanted to make Resident Evil unpredictable.
The idea was to replace physical enemies with ghosts and visions, one of which would haunt Leon throughout the game. Footage of this version is available to watch, showing off some interesting ideas, along with the over the shoulder aim mechanics that made it into the final version. Unlike the released version, this Ghost concept was much more in-line with previous Resident Evil titles.Of course, this version never made it to release, mainly due to how much work it would require.
Given Leon was infected by a virus, that caused him to hallucinate, his perspective would switch throughout the game. The levels and enemies would depend on Leon’s current state, essentially meaning each level would have two forms. As you’d expected, this also meant creating two of each stage, as well as populating them. Nintendo’s Gamecube, which the game was originally developed for exclusively, did not possess the power to handle the game. Production cost was also a major reason to why this version of Resident Evil 4 never happened. Capcom would eventually scrap the concept completely, starting Resident Evil 4 from scratch.
After the success of Resident Evil 4, Capcom had successfully revived their franchise. Leon’s exploits would mark the last big change for the series for over a decade. Resident Evil 5 and 6 went further down the action road, much to the dismay of fans. The addition of co-op was a testament of the time in which both games were released in. There wasn’t a whole lot of survival horror, or pure horror for that matter, games around during the development windows of both 5 and 6. Co-op action games were popular, and Capcom took note. Huge cinematic set pieces formed a major selling point for games of the time, and again, Capcom took note. Combine the two together and the results are Resident Evil 5 and 6.
That brings us squarely to Resident Evil 7. Yet again, Capcom has looked at the market and worked from there. Survival horror has made a comeback, mostly due to the indie scene. Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s intense scares and lack of combat resulted in a modern classic. Avoiding the enemy suddenly became marketable again. Another key element was the fact there was a single enemy relentlessly chasing the player. A large number of games took cues from Amnesia, replacing combat with fleeing and hiding from foes.
2014 saw Creative Assembly release the first ‘Triple-A’ take on the concepts. Alien: Isolation saw players being relentlessly stalked by one major enemy. They could never truly defeat it, only hold it back with various weaponry and gadgets found within the environment. Isolation’s core gameplay forced players to avoid the lone xenomorph while trying to accomplish goals and solve puzzles. Creative assembly succeeds in taking the formula concocted by the indies and making it a Triple-A success.
RE7 is a True Resident Evil Game
Capcom, in need desperate need of rejuvenation, did what they always do. Resident Evil 7 is the accumulation changes and trends throughout the last few years. Much like Resident Evil 4, Capcom looked around the market, saw what was working, and went from there. As a franchise, this is typical of Resident Evil, looping in and out of what is popular, trying to claim that ground. It’s a move that has helped Resident Evil remain relevant, even at its worse.
When people claim that latest entry isn’t a ‘real Resident Evil game’, they ignore the very history of the franchise. Constantly changing, forever trying to reinvent, Resident Evil 7 is very much a real Resident Evil game. If anything, this is far closer to the days of old. Limited ammo, puzzles, mystery and survival horror. All the elements of a classic Resident Evil game.
As a piece of history in a long-running series, Resident Evil 7 fits perfectly in. Capcom’s process of experimenting with their franchise has been mostly fruitful. Some may call it an identity crisis, but in truth, it’s merely a classic series trying to adjust to the times. Credit is due to how successfully Resident Evil 7 has captured elements of the old and blended them with the new. Those who refuse to see the game as a true Resident Evil title are welcome to do so, even if it’s not strictly true.