Yes, for those of you who like potentially-terrible puns, I’m happy to have punned you toward your daily quota (or, for those of you who don’t, keep in mind that I’m more than likely incompetent, but can nevertheless type better than your mom…unless she’s a typist).
That important fact determined, say hello to Capcom’s (very) surprise trailer for the upcoming Resident Evil 6, scheduled for release on November 20th, 2012 (just in time to put a dent in it before we’re mercilessly slaughtered by that pesky Mayan prophecy):
Up until now, Capcom has released little news on the flagship title’s sixth venture, and all fans have had to go on were a few scattered and vague interviews suggesting the series might be some kind of REboot, either taking the formerly survival-horror series in new directions, or bringing it back to something closer to the original feel of the games. While the new trailer does suggest that Capcom took criticisms that RE5wasn’t scary to heart, for the most part it looks like they’ve maintained or ramped up the amount of action present in 4 and 5―games that marked a departure from the tried and true creepy formula of Resies 1 through Zero (yes, in Resident Evil world, those numbers all make sense).
Depending on when you were converted to Resident Evil you’re either a Zombie or a Las Plagas (no, Capcom’s writers don’t give a shit about plurals, get used to it), and what that ultimately means is that you’re probably either shitting yourself with glee or shitting yourself and throwing the reeking excrement at your screen in an expression of the utter hatred you now feel toward the entire human race (or you don’t care either way and were dared by someone to see if you could make it to the end of my excessive verbiage without passing out).
Full disclosure: I’m a Zombie, but since I don’t eat much I’m running out of fecal matter to lodge at the screen and have had to start using words instead (stinky, stinky words).
Before I break into full, tooth-gnashing rant mode (frightening to those around me when it happens, and most often preceded by someone mentioning the Silent Hillmovie), I’ll give some of my initial, less biased thoughts on the material from the trailer.
THERE WILL BE A FEW SPOILERS FROM THE PREVIOUS GAMES, SO BE WARNED.
First off, Leon S. Kennedy1 and Chris Redfield appear to be reprising their roles as playable characters–a move that genuinely surprised me but probably shouldn’t have. What’s more intriguing, however, is that they don’t appear to be alone, and that a third, so-far unnamed lead has joined them. It seems obvious to me from his Weskerian fighting abilities and the mention of the power of his blood that this guy is Alex Wesker, one of the Wesker children we read about in RE5. His inclusion is likely meant to help soften the blow that Wesker’s many fans felt when the character took a missile to the head while slowly melting in a lava pit at the end of the fifth game, and indeed, Alex’s introduction in that game was rather heavy-handed foreshadowing that Capcom wasn’t entirely ready to nuke this particular cash-cow into oblivion.
Aside from his role as bandage (or first aid spray? Har har), The-Man-Who-Would-Be-Wesker also sets up a new young hero for the franchise, as both Leon and Chris (and presumably the ten other protagonists Capcom has seemingly forgotten) are all growing a bit long in the tooth for videogame world (keep in mind that the median age of Final Fantasy protagonists is ten2). I also suspect Alex may have been introduced as a way of placating fans when they kill off one or both of Leon and Chris (my money’s on Chris). I’m genuinely interested to see how some of this will play out and how older, wiser(?) Leon will be as a main character. In the past, older characters have always been relegated to supporting roles, and it’s nice to see the pattern broken. Something that may be worth commenting on is the fact that none of the game’s playable female characters have made a comeback (by rights this should have been Claire’s game), but none of the three protagonists are female, and I have to wonder if that’s because Capcom didn’t think ageing female characters would have provided the eye-candy requirement that the RE games seem to have de-evolved their female characters into. Note that all the female partner characters are young’ns, for instance, even the ones who do return from previous incarnations of the games.
Joining Alex, it appears from her voice (hair colour no longer being a tell-all. Yes, I’m looking at you Jill who should have been Sherry!) that the president’s daughter Ashley (RE4) will see a return to the series. I’m not sure if Ashley has a huge fan base somewhere out there in the massive, massive internet, but I am sure I wasn’t longing to see her return, though in this current incarnation it looks like she might be substantially less annoying. We also have unknowns partnering with Leon and Chris, implying that Capcom isn’t entirely done with the co-op, partner system of RE5 (something I found lessened the horror aspect of the game, but was fun in that it allowed my best friend and I to play side-by-side).
It has also been noted that Chris’s segments of the game are very much in the style of Gears of War, which I don’t find particularly necessary, since even fans of Gears of War (one of which I am not) could easily just pick up the actual series instead of a knock-off.
AND NOW THE RANT.
Resident Evil, cheesy and faulty though it is, has always been dear to my heart. For one thing, it was the series that really got me into videogames3, and for another it represented a pinnacle in the plot-driven, creepy and well-paced genre that is survival-horror. I played Resident Evil 1 for the first time when I was thirteen, and I can still remember that (now) ridiculous feeling of trepidation that my friend and I felt every time we opened another creaky door/closet/shelf/trap-door, waiting for whatever nasty was lurking behind it to leap out at us. I remember being pathetically in love enough with the characters of the first game that in RE2 we lingered in the S.T.A.R.S office for ten minutes looking at the group shot on Wesker’s desk, that Leon’s cheesy “nooooooo, Adddaaaaaaaaaa!” became an inside joke for us up until, well, now (and likely far into the future). I remember being a bit disappointed by 3, but salivating enough at Code Veronica that I bought a Dreamcast just so we could play it, and then a Gamecube so we could play theREmake and Resident Evil: Zero. I stole part of my pen-name from a bit-part character in one of S.D. Perry’sResident Evil novels, ran a science project on the series when I was in grade 8 and wrote a fanfiction longer than my thesis that supplements the plotline of RE5 because I found the actual storyline so depressingly thin. So, when I tell you I’m a long-time fan that cares too much than is healthy for any fan to care about something, this is what I mean.
I played Resident Evil 4 and enjoyed it. I played Resident Evil 5 and enjoyed it on the second playthrough. BUT, for me it wasn’t scary, it wasn’t survival-horror and it wasn’tResident Evil. Anything I say hereon isn’t to bash fans who came to the series with the later games, and I perfectly respect that they get something out of them that I probably can’t, but more than my personal distress that my favourite games were morphing into something vastly different than the ones I’d loved up until 4, the change in Resident Evil‘s style of gameplay and choice of characters was upsetting in that it heralded something much more worrying: the death of genre in videogames.
Many people will look at that sentence and say, “Okay, so what? Aren’t all games just shooting things anyway?” or, “Gameplay is evolving into something more fast-paced to suit it’s audience, get over it!” There are a multitude of problems with those statements, and I’ll address a few of them. First of all, as most gamers will tell you, all games are not just shooting things, and two games that involve shooting things aren’t necessarily the same in terms of genre (e.g. Duck Hunt versus Resident Evil versusCall of Duty). Just because someone loves James Bond and all its action/violence, doesn’t mean they’ll want to sit through the gory torture porn of Saw, a thriller like Seven, comedies like Rush Hour and Austin Powers, or a drama like Schindler’s List. As in cinema, literature and theatre, a multitude of factors contribute to a work to give it its own atmosphere and its own niche. Much like movies, videogames are collective efforts involving musicians, writers, visual artists, directors and actors. The experience of playing any one game can be completely different from playing another, and though this site’s gamer readers will see this as an obvious statement, I think it’s something a lot of non-gamers still have trouble understanding, as well as something us gamers are now forgetting ourselves.
The second statement shares many of the same problems as the first, in that it assumes all individuals are looking for the same experience, that they enjoy the same genres in gaming and that they crave formula rather than diversity. It also assumes that, up until recently, gaming was in a state of immaturity and that it hadn’t yet realized the ideal model upon which to base all future efforts. Rather than appreciating individual series for their differences and nuances, it implies that there is an Ultimate Game that all previously created games were striving to be, that in the past they were hampered by the fetters of genre and that thanks to Modern Times developers have seen the light and are now ready to give the customers what they really want, which is apparently for every game to be an action game, sandbox or some combination of the two. None of my criticism is meant to knock either sandboxes or action games, both of which I find enjoyable, but as I pointed out in a recent comment/rant on ye olde facebook, life would be pretty boring if every book you picked up had the same characters, plot and style, or that every movie you went to see followed precisely the same rules. Twilight is very popular at the moment, for good or ill (though I suspect ill); should we take that to mean that its popularity indicates that all books and movies should imitate it? Is Twilight the ultimate formula upon which all future endeavours should be based and against which they should be measured? You just wouldn’t make the same judgements of other media as we do videogames, and this is one area where I think gamers are as much at fault as non-gamers when it comes to dismissing the medium. We get all red in the face when someone claims videogames aren’t art, but turn a blind eye when developers underestimate our intelligence by dropping plot threads, completely changing characters and oversimplify gameplay.
So, what does this have to do with Resident Evil in specific? Well, as a genre with relatively few titles to begin with, survival-horror has now been virtually wiped off the map. This is not to say that there aren’t horror games, because there are plenty of series throwing in gruesome baddies to kill or occasional spooky moments, but survival-horror is its own, particular thing (if you think this is pedantic of me, consider the differences between a slasher flick, a monster movie and a ghost story). Typically survival-horror games have a more subtle, slow atmosphere and heavily stress both its horror and survival aspects. It’s usually the case that surival-horror games are solo affairs, that threat is stressed over action (often protagonists are much weaker than enemies, resources such as bullets/weapons/healing items are few) and that its horrific moments are spread out so as to up tension in the player (versus gross things running around willy-nilly as in Dead Space). Generally, survival-horror also features a world you can explore a little, being structured without linearity (as opposed to the more linear plots/worlds of recent REgames). I’ve seen people argue that Resident Evil needed to change this about itself due to shifting expectations on the part of its audience, and/or that survival-horror was a less-beloved genre that few will miss. What these reactions ignore is that Resident Evil, and even Silent Hill, were not indie games that a couple of weirdos played and everyone else ignored, but mainstream titles that pulled in buckets of money for their respective companies. Every main title in the Resident Evil series made the cover of Gamepro upon release, and it was clearly a reliable enough sell that it has returned and returned for numerous sequels and countless (mostly abominable) spin-offs.
It isn’t just survival-horror that’s disappearing though, as fans of role-playing games (RPGs) will tell you. Even series as recent as Mass Effect have seen a drastic shift in the balance of action with other game elements, and often the opinions of fans can be polarizing. With Resident Evil, it seems to me that yes, the switch to action-oriented gameplay has attracted new players, but it has also alienated a loyal fan base. It isn’t just the gameplay that’s changed either, but also the characters and gamelore.
When I found out that RE4 would feature Leon as its playable character I was thrilled. Leon was one of my favourite RE characters and had so far only appeared in RE2 (I was starting to worry he wouldn’t ever see a return to the series). One of the things I liked about Leon (and many of RE‘s other heroes and villains) was that he wasn’t just like every other macho or broody protagonist in videogames. For one thing, Leon was vastly more hopeless than Claire, RE2‘s other main character, and had a naivety, optimism and idealism that was a great contrast to what one might expect in a game. His personality not only contrasted with that of the heroes of other games, but also with the stoicism of his romantic interest (a secret agent named Ada Wong). I didn’t expect or want Leon to be exactly the same in RE4, which takes place years after RE2‘sevents, after Leon has experienced a lot more. What I did expect was that he would recognizably be the same character. In and of himself, I don’t mind RE4 Leon. If Capcom didn’t pretend that he was the same character from 2, I could deal with him in his own right, despite that he is substantially less original as a videogame protagonist. Some people (myself included on occasion), really love dark, slightly angsty and quiet characters. The problem is, Leon in RE4 (and even more so in Resident Evil: Degeneration4), doesn’t so much have a personality as a mood. RE4 Leon is dark and broody and all-American, breaking out of his malaise only enough to be “cool,” if all one needed to be cool was a dark jacket and schizoid personality disorder. RE4 Leon is 100% stoic manly manliness, comfortable only with the occasional sarcastic aside to his government handler. Really though, Leon’s personality shift comes hand-in-hand with the rest of the game, which takes great pains to remind you of its American-ness, in a way that isn’t so much a tribute to American horror or even action, so much as it is an attempt to pander to what Capcom seems to think its audience wants from games in general. The overall style puts one more in mind of American war games than survival-horror, or any of the values of previous series titles.
All of this pales in comparison with RE5, however, which nearly forgets horror altogether. Much as in 4, zombies, in the sense of the previous games, are nowhere to be seen, and indeed, the so-called mutants are now shooting at you with machine guns. Since the game takes place in a non-English speaking country, many of the “monsters” you face might as well just be human foreigners with guns. The game also took a lot of flack for its largely daytime setting, though I disagree that this meant it necessarily had to negatively affect its horror level. Chris Redfield, the main playable character in the game (the other is Sheva Alomar, who serves the purpose of being a piece of ass while simultaneously helping to refute claims of racism against Capcom), is a returning protagonist from RE1 and Code Veronica. In the fan community, Chris has always been mocked a little for being a bit of a meathead, but somehow it never quite felt like he was being taken seriously by the game itself, and he certainly wasn’t entirely unrealistic in his meatheadedness. RE5 takes this to new levels, turning Chris into one of those box-headed, muscles-upon-muscles heroes that Yahtzee Croshaw so-rightfully mocks in his Zero Punctuation videos. In terms of storyline, RE5 craps all over the established plot, refusing to tie together loose ends that only really could be tied together in this particular game, and that had tickled the minds of RE fans since RE2.
Though both 4 and 5 brought some innovations I did like, my overall complaint is with the shift in style and atmosphere, which inevitably does include some aspects of the gameplay. I would have loved to have seen further developments, such as the ability to jump and greater ease in movement, and I do see the value in co-op aspects.RE4 and 5 changed the fundamental feel of the games, however, and its a feel I don’t believe the gaming industry needs more of (more action games, more macho protagonists, more militarism). Many fans are enthusiastic about the trailer for RE6 based on the presence of zombies, the nighttime scenes and Alex Wesker, and while I definitely agree that these were all good choices, I can’t help but notice the many, many problems that haven’t been addressed by what we see from 6, and the few that it adds to the pile. Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse, but the very fact that Leon and Chris are again the leads cuts to the core of the problem for me. It’s as thoughResident Evil began with 4 and that, rather than rewarding longtime fans with new storylines for long-missing characters (Billy, Claire, Rebecca, Steve, etc), or challenging newer fans with material they aren’t familiar with, the series has degenerated into one that believes it needs a male, action-hero protagonist to make money and entertain its audience. I could buy Leon returning for RE6, since his story arc was clearly far from over in RE4, and I can buy the inclusion of Alex Wesker as an intriguing wild card, but Chris’s story felt largely over in 5, and his presence in 6 comes off as a cheap, lazy, old-fashioned and cowardly. The change in style begs the question of why Capcom couldn’t just have created a new series and either finished RE off or continued with the in-character developments we saw in the REmake and RE:0? The most obvious answer is money, and that with an already established fan base, Capcom wouldn’t have to risk losing much of it. This, of course, depends on not just the gullibility of their audience, but in the lack of respect gamers themselves have for their own industry. It’s also true that Capcom have gambled this way in the past (theDevil May Cry series started off as the template for RE4) and been very successful with it.
It is this lack of self-respect, as well as disappearing diversity in games, that convinces me that all gamers should be concerned when companies like Capcom make these sorts of choices for their customers. Like a movie-goer deciding between a fantasy film and a contemporary drama, I like to have options in gaming depending on what I’m in the mood for, but most of what we’re being fed nowadays are copy-paste plots, characters and gameplay.
Resident Evil 6 is doing something to improve on the poorer choices the series made in 4 and 5, but is it enough? I don’t think it is, and though that’s undeniably pessimistic of me, at least if I go into it with a mindset of disappointment, I won’t feel like my faith in the franchise has been shat on when the game comes out.
1 Is it just me or does Leon look uncannily like Richard Armitage in this trailer?
2 Exaggeration (it’s actually 11).
3 Well, Resident Evil and Crash Bandicoot, but we won’t dwell on that too much.
4 An animated film featuring Leon and Claire