It’s taken me a little time to get to this point, being a fan of the Resident Evil series. I love it’s camp humour. I love the fact it’s not subtle, it is a little predictable and taken out of context, there are a million and one filthy jokes hidden within the franchise. I also have loved it as a story, I’ve fallen for many of the characters and I find it a lot of fun.
That said, creatively the franchise has had to have a fair few reboots already, and that is a real problem for a franchise that has had 18 entries in fifteen years. This culminates with the release of Operation: Raccoon City and Revelations, reboots designed to sow the seeds of doubt into a storyline already known for its camp confusion.
But it is a pity Capcom don’t look at this series long-term, because they’ve thrown out some very good ideas. But they never go anywhere.
For example, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was designed partly to undermine the franchise, as a “Please stop liking this!” game. It sounds hilarious to even mention that, because the desperate lunacy and silliness that it provided was a fantastic sweetener to a game that could still provoke a few scares. This was a game not really intended to carry a franchise on, and yet in a weird way it defined the series as a whole – amplifying the cheesy script and hammy voice acting as a real selling point, not an amusing side-attraction. It’s glorious.
And if Capcom want to go a very serious route, it makes sense to keep the traditions of the franchise alive elsewhere, even if only in flashback episodes or remakes. Resident Evil 3 would not work as a remake without the hammy acting, or the terrible script, or the questionable material of Jill, strutting around a zombie apocalypse in a blue boob-tube and a miniskirt, being chased by Nemesis, an eight-foot mutant powerhouse clad in leather and PVC, with a finger that turns into a bendy tentacle appendage. Some horror NEEDS humour, even if you have to peel off the frights first to get at it.
Next is Outbreak – a series fans want desperately to keep going, but one Capcom themselves had no idea where to go. The original idea was an online co-operative experience, about a group of rag-tag survivors from varying backgrounds utilising whatever they could lay their hands on to escape the city before Mr Happy Nuclear Warhead came to crash the all-night Zombie Rave. And I enjoyed Outbreak because it felt ambitious. Was it great? No. Was it good? Yes. There is a certain charm with the traditional Resident Evil puzzles needing multiple players, it meant you could throw enemies into the same mix and you’d end up protecting the person completing the puzzle. And it was well ahead of its time too – with episodic chapters and co-operative play that Valve would later spin into Left4Dead, and then see improved somewhat in Dead Island.
The problem was, once the game was over, the story was told. The End, as they say. Which made Outbreak: File 2 somewhat of a bastard child, because it ended up being a “Lost Chapters” title, and this is always when you know an idea has run aground, especially when each episode feels a little cheeky, a tiny bit cliche. It could have worked again, but poor network code and having no desire to really take it anywhere beyond a lost episodes installment meant that the idea, the concept of a co-operative traditional Resi game was killed off.
Of course, then we have Resident Evil 5. Which has successfully killed off the RE4 methodology, because it was too straight. Too polished. Too sensible. Not to mention the Gaiden lost episode, not considered canon because if you play it, it would utterly mess up the storyline in later Resi games. Or the Survivor series, which saw Capcom try desperately to turn the franchise into a light gun shooter, to compete with Sega’s brilliant House of the Dead 2.
But the bitterest pill to swallow is the Gamecube “Chronicles” installments, which have rebooted the franchise in a straight-laced manner with as little of the guff as possible. The idea of remaking each game was clearly a bit much, so instead they took the ideas they wanted and instead made it a linear, on-rails experience, only giving out the information that they felt was pertinent to their new storyline. Two games of that, and even that hit a dead end. Rushing through the series, adding bits in, eventually you end up with no more story to tell. It needs more installments. More material.
The sad thing is, Revelations seems to be trying to tie up some loose ends from the Resident Evil 5 story – maybe no bad thing it’s a prequel to that, but again, there’s often no-where to go with it. Essentially, they can go up to the Lost in Nightmares part and that is it. The rest is told – so there’s nowhere to go, nothing to expand on.
And Operation: Raccoon City is another prequel that would rather try and make it that Leon wasn’t such a major player. Considering his lead in Resident Evil 4, it seems perverse to have a game which the player is tasked to kill this character. And what then? It’s essentially a online co-op shooter, not a survival horror, in the vein of many before it. Only one with a slightly more deviant nature, as it seems intent on riding the success of Resident Evil 2, 3 and 4 as well as doing everything in its power to sodomize it without any compassion or forgiveness.
Generally speaking, as a fan I’m not entirely convinced even Capcom know what they want from this franchise anymore, and would probably rather that they had killed it off with Nemesis (in spite of the success of Resident Evil 4). They seem confused, with no overall arching story to take it onwards into a brave new world, where genres collide and we all enjoy a good scare. It seems to be one game at a time, going back and retconning as and when they see fit.
And that makes me sad. That for all the humour, the scares, the characters and the iconic mutants the series has spawned over the last fifteen years, that it seems as our love for it grows, Capcom’s love for it has begun to wane.
Never more realised than in the “HD” re-releases of Resident Evil 4 and Code: Veronica X. Games upscaled cheaply, quickly and poorly optimised, and yet still expecting people to pay £15 per title for their own shoddy work.
Creatively, the only character from the series with a story left to tell now is Sherry Birkin. And then Capcom really are in trouble… because that means they’ll have to really work hard to move the series onwards.
Time will tell… but I think after Revelations and O:RC, we may not hear from this silly, ridiculous but much loved franchise for a while. I think Capcom want a break from it.
And I think, for the series itself, it may be nice for them to take a break from it, before they break it…