Why Resident Evil is still a success over two decades later

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Everyone is freaking out over the remake of a 21-year-old PS1 game, but that makes perfect sense considering it’s ‘Resident Evil 2.’

After an announcement turned meme involving a t-shirt, years of radio silence and a massive blowout at E3 2018, the remake of Resident Evil 2 is finally almost upon us. Considering the all-time classic status of the original version, the fervor surrounding this reimagining at first seems practically unquestionable.

But looking back at the ups and downs of the series, the limited reach of survival horror as a genre and the fact that so many of its contemporaries have come and gone, the perseverance of Resident Evil becomes a significantly more peculiar curiosity.

As successful and acclaimed as Resident Evil has been throughout its history, it’s also well known for its downturns and more divisive entries. By the time Code Veronica and Resident Evil 0 came around half a decade after the series debuted, sequel fatigue had taken hold. Hallmarks like fixed cameras and managing items to solve puzzles were already being widely derided as outdated.

Developers had finally started to grasp how to work in 3D confidently, and video games were quickly evolving in a new direction. Its troubles certainly weren’t from a lack of quality, which makes it all the more extraordinary that Capcom decided to rethink everything the series was known for and show the rest of the industry the actual new direction that everyone would soon follow with Resident Evil 4.

As other well-established franchises failed to adapt over the course of the sixth generation of consoles, Capcom was unafraid to risk one of its most valuable properties to retain its place at the forefront of the industry. Under slightly different circumstances, but just as impressive, they eventually did it again with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.

Moving to a first-person perspective would have been enough of a departure on its own, but Capcom also chose to make the whole game playable in virtual reality at a time when no one expected or asked them to. In fact, they did it so successfully that it’s still one of the best examples of what the platform is capable of.

Although these more substantial shifts in direction are undeniably remarkable, never settling for the status quo is baked into the DNA of Resident Evil and has quietly been a critical component in driving its success.

Nemesis stalking you through Raccoon City, embracing online connectivity with Outbreak, setting the gold standard for remakes and Resident Evil 5  becoming one of the best co-op experiences ever made in a primarily singleplayer franchise are just a few examples of how Capcom unassumingly pushed the series in ways few other publishers would dare to.

Say what you will about Resident Evil 6 but it’s easily the second best-selling entry in the franchise. Of course, sales numbers aren’t particularly apropos when retrospectively discussing the quality or worth of a game; but it helps contextualize why in just about any online gaming community, you’re sure to find an unshakeable group longing for the stylish, responsive and rewarding mechanics of ‘action RE.’

With so many different interpretations, Capcom has realized that Resident Evil isn’t defined by a particular structure or set of rules, allowing it to transcend the survival horror genre and mean something different to everyone.

Capcom /

Yet no matter what form a particular game takes, critical headshots are always satisfying, efficiently building a large reserve of ammo is still reassuring and bosses are appropriately grotesque. That’s because despite how much Resident Evil has evolved over the years, it’s perhaps equally as appealing for just how much it’s managed to not change at the same time.

Translating and adapting the core tenants of the series has established a consistency that players have been able to rely on while still being surprised by new experiences. Like groans from an innocuous pun, the one unavoidable consequence of this is the indiscriminate mocking of scorpion keys and secret passages as ‘ridiculous.’

To that I would say sometimes things are just meant to be cool, to facilitate a compelling world to exist in and mechanics that are fun to interact with. Because after all, shooting fire from your hands is ridiculous, climbing a smooth stone wall without any tools is outrageous and carrying a 300-pound arsenal in your back pocket is nonsensical.

We don’t question the viability of those things because they’re accepted as reasonable within the context of their worlds or simply make for a better game. Well, in Resident Evil viruses sprout giant eyeballs on shoulders, and architects learn in school that a matching set of animal embossed crests is an appropriate way to lock a door (I’m aware the games give actual reasons for these things).

On a more serious note, outside of an avenue to provide more engaging puzzles, at least Resident Evil revels in its bizarre idiosyncrasies. Confident and unapologetic, it doesn’t care if anyone thinks it’s silly. To the same point, it would have been easy to wipe the narrative slate clean at several points over the last two decades.

But no matter how gnarled the story gets, Capcom respects the history, lore and characters that so many fans have grown invested in. Whether players realize it or not, this unusually steadfast, self-aware appreciation is extremely refreshing in an industry that is continuously second-guessing itself to the point of stripping away identity.

Capcom /

Looking ahead, remaking Resident Evil 2 raises numerous questions and possibilities. Do they also remake Nemesis, or re-remake the first Resident Evil? Resident Evil 4 will be sold to the end of time itself, so perhaps a complete graphical overhaul with the RE Engine would be a shrewd investment. And what about Revelations, does it continue as a way to placate action RE fans on a budget?

The most obvious and correct choice is to build off of the momentum of Resident Evil 7 and continue with a first-person perspective for the eighth entry (hopefully with full VR support again). But while Biohazard was purposely intimate in scope in order to reintroduce the fear, isolation and vulnerability the series used to be known for, now is the time to lean into the wider world and lore of Resident Evil.

Related Story. Resident Evil 7 PSVR Review: A Thriller That Shouldn’t Be Missed. light

That means bringing back fan-favorite characters like Jill and Chris in a significant way, exploring the fallout from events of past titles and getting to the bottom of just who exactly is still researching B.O.Ws. What it shouldn’t do is forget the reason why the series is back in good graces: people want to be scared and freaked out. Oh, and more enemy variety wouldn’t hurt either.

A remake of Resident Evil: Nemesis also seems like a no brainer, especially when thinking about what could be done technologically with the titular character these days. Considering Capcom’s primary focus over the next couple years will almost certainly be Resident Evil 8, a more concise, lower budget game like Revelations 3 would be a great way to continue the series between major entries.

It’s also the perfect opportunity to feature lesser acknowledged characters like Sheva, Rebecca, and Jake. Now that the mainline series has refocused on horror, it would be nice to have an outlet for the action-heavy and co-op elements of Resident Evil, especially mercenaries mode, that at this point are unbelievably old enough to be nostalgic for.

Finally, we come to the wish that will almost certainly not happen, but it’s time we start talking about it. Capcom should make a brand new, fixed camera Resident Evil with just as deliberate of a pace and focus on item-based puzzles as the classic titles. They already did it twice with Mega Man; but, more importantly, the gaming landscape has changed.

We’re thankfully past the point where things like 2D graphics and turn-based battles are seen as objectively wrong. Although tank controls hold up better than most people are willing to take the effort to realize, the HD remaster for the remake of Resident Evil, with its multiple control schemes, proves the core game design is more than capable of resonating with modern audiences.

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With so many routes the series could take in the future and so many different sensibilities to appeal to, Capcom is in an incredibly fortuitous and delicate position. At least for a brief moment, imagine the wondrous beauty of a world in which the different forms of Resident Evil run concurrently in three-part harmony.

Like a virus mutating for survival or a crimson head bringing even the undead back from the grave, Resident Evil is a series that refuses to stay down and continues to keep coming back more ferocious than ever. It’s not just Capcom’s insistence that has kept it around, fans and the general gaming community have also seemingly been just as unwilling to see it go.

Celebrated equally for its scares and suplexes, Resident Evil has formed a relationship with its fans few franchises have come close to and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Besides, it can’t end yet because we all know deep in our hearts that Wesker ducked.