I recently read an article on VG247 about Resident Evil 7 being expected to make an appearance at the imminent E3 expo (the article in question can be found here.) Something quite trivial caught my eye very early in the text:
“Resident Evil 7 has popped its (mutated, glaring) head around the corner, and suddenly we’re back on the same old emotional roller coaster. How can Capcom avoid another Resident Evil 6 disaster?”
This got me thinking about what exactly went wrong with Resident Evil 6. I was actually quite surprised to see the word “disaster” attached to said game, since in my opinion, what had actually transpired was that Resident Evil 6 never really had a decent chance. The game itself wasn’t amazing, but it was alright considering the circumstances – it did the best it could with what it had to work with, seeing that it had to make its statement from the ruins of what I call the real disaster, Resident Evil 5.
With Resident Evil 5, Capcom seemed to have such fervor in setting up the funeral for the roots of this classic game series that they failed to leave anything for later games to build on. Resident Evil 5 was to tie up any loose ends the series had left dangling, some from as far back as the first game, and kill off any characters who could be counted on to create conflict – mainly referring to Albert Wesker, obviously. Not only did they shoot themselves in the leg by forcing the next game to clumsily pick up where there was supposedly nothing to pick up, but they didn’t even do a very good job in shoving the previous era of the game series into the dusty pages of history.
Firstly, I would like to express my dissatisfaction in the way Capcom effectively ruined the atmosphere of mystery and obscurity surrounding a character who, at some point, was considered the absolute mastermind and root of evil behind everything, Ozwell E. Spencer. Up until Resident Evil 5, his influence had been felt all over the place, but he had never made an appearance – there wasn’t even a picture to be found depicting him without doubt. But that was only the beginning – as you gained more information in the original Resident Evil on what had transpired and resulted in the mansion incident, even though it became clear that Spencer was indeed to blame for everything, you never actually discovered his motives. This was actually deepened way further in Wesker’s Report, which revealed that while Wesker was an instrumental part of Umbrella‘s little freakshow, even he didn’t quite understand what Spencer was after. He expressed specific confusion towards the notion that Spencer staged the viral outbreak on purpose.
And here’s where it all fell apart: Resident Evil 5 featured a scene where Spencer, as an unwell and frail old man, practically explains everything he wanted to accomplish with his escapades: “To become a god.”
That’s it? To become a god? To have people wondering for over 10 years for the motives of this monster of a man and then blurt out something so uninspired and mundane seems like a definite middle-finger to the fans from where I’m standing. I mean, it couldn’t have been worse even if the motive had been to just kill as many people as possible out of nothing but boredom.
In that one sentence, Capcom shattered one of the key things that kept the general plot of Resident Evil vibrant and interesting. It’s like the writers at that point couldn’t have cared less for anything that had happened in the series before that point, didn’t quite understand any of it, and just wanted to sweep it off so they wouldn’t have to. And what’s worse, this wasn’t the only part of the game that would dilute the mythos of the series.
At one part fairly late in the game, Chris and Sheva stumble upon an underground cave where there are unusual flowers growing. It turns out these flowers are what the dreaded T-Virus is extracted from. Upon hearing this, I was instantly caught in disbelief and frustration: Once again, something so uninspired that completely cripples the mystique relating to the T-Virus, one of the key elements in any of the games. So if it was so easy as to just pump it out of some flower, why didn’t all this happen way back, like 50 years ago? After all, even Chris came across the flowers by accident, so it couldn’t have been all that hard to find them. I always assumed that the virus was a product of extensive refining processes and combinations of chemicals and other ingredients. But there it was, just sitting in a cave waiting for someone to come and collect it. Really? (Besides, wasn’t there a part in one of Wesker’s Reports that stated the T-Virus was produced by refining the Ebola Virus? So the writers just dropped that, an origin story that was both believable and interesting and that was already there, in favor of a terrible, unbelievable, uninspired story?)
So after all is said and done, loose ends have been tied up, old enemies have been killed off, and Resident Evil 5 leaves off in a setting where there is no cliffhanger, no open questions, no unfinished business – at least in a story-wise relevant kind of way. And there it is – the groundwork that would make Resident Evil 6 have a really hard time getting the player interested in anything it might produce. That’s not the entire reason Resident Evil 6 wasn’t exactly a classic, but it had a lot of influence on the matter.
So Resident Evil 6 had to conjure a story practically out of nowhere, and so the options were to either come up with something that has nothing to do with anything, or reuse some of the old elements in the series, that have basically already been moved to storage on memory lane. Capcom did both – they introduced a story that launched from nothing relating to previous games, and characters that weren’t mentioned or even created until this entry, and plastered some T-Virus and Plagas all over it. The end result wasn’t terrific, but it was pretty decent considering the slim resources Capcom had left for themselves.
Resident Evil 6 managed to harness some pretty formidable elements in terms of both gameplay and atmosphere, even if there wasn’t much “survival horror” left in the end product. Most successes were apparent in mainly Leon’s campaign, and to some extent Ada’s as well. Chris’s campaign I found to be mainly a re-run of Resident Evil 5, and Sherry and Jake’s was a sort of Frankenstein’s Monster stitched together from pieces of older titles.
In fact, I think Sherry and Jake‘s campaign was the biggest miss in the grand total. Not only did it lack distinguishing features to set it apart from the other campaigns, but its length was extended by uninteresting, slow-paced segments, such as an extremely tedious chapter where you’re stuck in a gigantic, snow-filled map where you’re supposed to track down a number of key items needed to progress further. The part in question did add a significant amount of time required to beat the campaign, but not in a good way at all – it was simply excruciatingly boring.
Of course, the campaign was supposed to be made different by Ustanak, who was a pretty straightforward clone of Nemesis or Lisa Trevor, or to go further back to the inspiration behind those characters, Mr. X from Resident Evil 2. Only, Ustanak was nowhere near as effective due to a number of simple reasons. Firstly, Ustanak never felt as menacing as Nemesis did because he usually seemed to be much like a cardboard cutout running on a rail track – many scenes involving him were scripted button-prompt scenes, or otherwise lacked the feeling of spontaneous encounters. Nemesis felt like he could actually be anywhere, and do pretty much anything, while Ustanak’s scripting you could actually learn to know by heart. That makes him much less frightening.
Alright, so to sum up, yes, Resident Evil 6 was a mess, but it was doomed to be a mess as far back as 2009, at the release of Resident Evil 5. However, the future doesn’t look very bright for possibly upcoming Resident Evil 7, either, since once again the previous game left its sequel very little to work with. It might not be such a problem if this game series didn’t at one time feature a really intriguing, believable story to follow through the madness and mayhem. But it did, so the lack of decent storytelling will always make future installations seem cheap. To me, at least.
I have no idea what Capcom has planned to do with the next title, but my hopes aren’t exactly high. I’m anticipating a gameplay steered further into a high-adrenaline combat gameplay, enemies that hinge on believable backstories less than ever, and a mundane story that has a beginning and an end and a middle all in one game. So basically I expect an action game that calls for very little cerebral input, but will be probably a good couple dozen hours worth of simple fun. I would love to be positively surprised, though – I still haven’t quite given up on this series. And hey, maybe we’ll see the return of one or two characters who have been M.I.A. for several years now.