Written by contributor Thomas Jones.
The Resident Evil series is currently in a problematic predicament. Tasked with the goal of appeasing its traditional fan base whilst captivating a brand new audience has left Capcom floundering, struggling to raise the series to the acclaim once heralded upon it. With the franchise ever deviating from its original identity, there is a growing demand amongst fans to take the series back to its roots, and bring Resident Evil truly back from the dead.
Back in the mid-nineties, the release of Resident Evil on the Playstation One paved the way for Survival Horror games. Pre-rendered backgrounds, tank controls and fixed camera angles were all aspects of the game that would eventually become staples of the Survival Horror genre. In creating Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami had effectively constructed a template of which many, the likes of Konami included, would follow when crafting their own horror franchises. However, the attributes of the genre were not timeless, and with advancements in technology came requisite changes in trends and expectations. The realisation that fixed camera angles, tank controls and pre-rendered backgrounds were becoming increasingly outdated was at the forefront of Capcom’s mind when development began on Resident Evil 4 for the Gamecube. By the time the title eventually hit shelves in 2005, the use of such traits had become archaic. Resident Evil 4 gave the series a much needed overhaul, utilising a dynamic over-the-shoulder view, interactive environments, and a somewhat less rigid control scheme.
By 2009, with the changing of the market, Capcom not only decided to overhaul the game’s mechanics, but also shift even further away from clichés, and overdone Romero-esque zombie themes. The development team, recognising the huge dominance that action-shooter games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield had over the video game demographic, decided to go down a more action driven route for Resident Evil 5, abandoning the traditional slower paced, exploration-centric adventure for full scale gun-blazing combat, hoping to take Resident Evil from a B-Movie experience to a flashy Hollywood one in the process. However, the adoption of a less horror focused entry disappointed many, with fans mourning the lack of the hair-raising horror they’d grown to know and love.
Capcom took the criticism on board, and have certainly made strides in the right direction, showing occasional glimpses of how Resident Evil can still offer a conventional scare. Resident Evil Revelations saw the developers answer critics with a more archetypal Resident Evil experience, with the game focusing on traversing dimly lit corridors and ammo conservation. Resident Evil 6 also attempted to pacify fans of old with slower paced horror segments in the form of Leon Kennedy’s campaign. Nevertheless, the true survival horror experience fans have been yearning for from Resident Evil in recent years has still not been delivered. The sales of Resident Evil 6, which sold 2 million less than the 7 million originally forecast by Capcom, further emphasise that Resident Evil, and the Survival Horror genre as a whole are going through testing times.
Capcom remains coy on the future of their series though, stating; “In the future, the Resident Evil series will discover new possibilities and progress as a title that can compete globally without disappointing any expectations.” Michael Pattison, former Senior Vice President of marketing for Capcom recently shared his own take on the direction for future installments and revealed some of the feedback they received for the latest, whilst emphasising the need to return to a more traditional Survival Horror experience; “With Resident Evil 6 specifically, we probably put too much content in there, there were comments from consumers that said it felt bloated. The Leon missions went down very well, and because we did Resident Evil Revelations on 3DS, there was a cry out for us to focus our attention on survival horror, rather than be too many things to all people. You’ll find where we go next will likely be more targeted at our core fan base.” For many though, Resident Evil has promised to deliver on the horror in the past, but hasn’t lived up to expectations, causing many to doubt just what direction the series will take in the future.
So, it seems only fitting that the task of helping to instill life into the Survival Horror genre, and show the team at Capcom what they’re doing wrong, falls to Shinji Mikami, creator of the Resident Evil series himself, and a man who helped define the horror video game as a whole. His upcoming directorial project, The Evil Within, appears to typify Shinji Mikami’s past with the genre, appearing as somewhat of an amalgamation of his previous works. The title clearly borrows assets and characteristics from many of his past projects with some supernatural Silent Hill style themes thrown in, just for good measure. The game recaptures the gritty terror that was present in Resident Evil’s debut chapter, with the main character, Detective Sebastian Castellanos, initially setting out to explore strange goings on within a great gothic mental asylum.
Just like the first time the S.T.A.R.S team enter the ominous Spencer Mansion, The Evil Within’s setting marks another great sense of foreboding, as the character sets out on an exploration into the unknown. The gameplay footage also shows off the lead Detective being hunted down by a hulking monstrosity that evokes memories of the Tyrants from Resident Evil 2 and 3. The use of lighting and shadow effects are also comparable to the Gamecube’s Resident Evil Remake. The game most strongly bears resemblance, though, to Mikami’s final contribution to the Resident Evil Franchise, Resident Evil 4.
On first impressions, it’s hard to overlook the use of the same third-person, over-the-shoulder view as the one introduced in Resident Evil 4, but that’s certainly not the only similarity one will find with RE4. The protagonist’s pursuer wields a chainsaw (which can result in a bloody RE4 style “Game Over” cutscene), and in a later chapter, torch bearing enemies raid a dusty dilapidated old house with ladders whilst the Detective is seeking refuge. At times you can be mistaken for thinking that you’re watching the true successor to Resident Evil 4. The most striking thing about the released gameplay is that it harkens back to a more traditional time of survival horror, navigating dark passageways, managing your inventory, and jump scares by the bucket load. The Evil Within even offers a few unique elements, such as utilising stealth gameplay, giving the player the ability to hide within items such as storage lockers or under various pieces of furniture, exhibiting more of a resemblance to other past Capcom projects, such as Haunting Ground or Clock Tower 3, than to Resident Evil.
So what significance does The Evil Within have over the future of the Resident Evil franchise? Observing the successes and failures of The Evil Within will be instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the Resident Evil series. Whilst the likes of 2013’s The Last of Us gave Capcom an idea on how to progress with the series in today’s market, no other title will give them quite the same perspective as The Evil Within. With the man who is credited to have had input on a total of nine Resident Evil games at the helm, The Evil Within is likely to share the strongest resemblance and similarities to the Resident Evil franchise itself, and will perhaps give the clearest indication of how a true Survival Horror chapter of Resident Evil would fare in the current climate. The performance of the Evil Within will be a huge point of interest for Capcom and the team developing the next Resident Evil title.
All in all, The Evil Within is looking extremely promising, but only time will tell if Shinji Mikami will succeed in pulling off just what Capcom have struggled to do for the past 8 years – delivering a successful, modern-day horror video game. The Evil Within is a game daring to do what Capcom have been afraid to do for years, return to a more traditional, conventional style of survival horror, and a positive reception to the game coupled with high sales numbers could see them following suit. An underwhelming response to the Evil Within, on the other hand, could see the franchise continue to deviate and further transform from the style of game it once was. The Evil Within not only carries the reputation of Shinji Mikami and his newly formed Tango Gameworks studio on its metaphorical shoulders, but the hopes of every Resident Evil fan determined not to see the franchise become dead and buried. One thing is for certain, with no concrete details or footage of Resident Evil 7 yet to be released, we can expect the development team over at Capcom to be keeping an extremely close eye on The Evil Within, and just what Mikami’s latest project manages to achieve for the struggling Survival Horror genre.