“Resident Evil 4” Killed the Series

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“Resident Evil 2” was the first M-rated videogame I ever got. I was in seventh grade. I hadn’t played the first one, but had asked classmates all about it in that terrified-yet-interested teenage way. I’d long experienced recurring zombie nightmares from seeing “Night of the Living Dead” a few years too early.

The second “RE” was seriously hyped, and by all accounts would not require strong knowledge of its predecessor to enjoy it. The first “Resident Evil” had taken place in a mansion in the woods on the outskirts of fictional Raccoon City, where “RE2” was set in the city itself.

The game petrified me. God, was it creepy, with the intro video, then my character getting killed by the first zombies I encountered. I was freaked out and outmatched; I experienced bad buyer’s remorse and didn’t play again for at least two weeks. Serious bummer. Buying a game guide gave me a bit of nerve, though, as did turning on every light in the room.

They always scared me, but I grew to adore the “RE” games: 2, 1, 3, “Code: Veronica.” I bought a Nintendo GameCube exclusively because they were doing an enhanced re-release of the first game (which was fantastic) and a prequel. The mix of zombies and other morphing abominations (surely influenced by John Carpenter’s “The Thing”), corrupt corporations and authorities, puzzle solving, and guns and gore galore made for this great mix of mystery, dread, excitement, and weirdness that lit up my young mind.

I still appreciate what those games were to me. I fell out of love with videogames, though, during my freshman year of college, after losing a ton of progress in “Metroid Prime”, getting really mad at my roommate who’d shut off my unsaved game (in spite of my “PLEASE DON’T TURN MY GAME OFF!” post-it note) while I was out, but then realizing it really didn’t matter, did it.

But when a friend picked up “Resident Evil 4” a while later, I couldn’t help but be curious, and it was, in fact, cool! Ol’ reliable “RE”. We wound up so into it. Those familiar with the unique, intuition-challenging controls of the series up to that point recall how exciting the new gameplay was. It felt like after years of being horrified and hunted by the worst beasts imaginable, we finally had the coordination to fight back.

The action was so thrilling…that I barely noticed my suspension of disbelief. These weren’t really “zombies” anymore, but “infected” people who angrily attacked, sometimes with weapons, growling menacing lines, and disintegrating (rather than “playing” “dead” like they used to) when they were killed. “RE4”’s enemies were somehow more and less human in ways that made them no longer scary. Sure was fun to shoot ‘em up, though.

In this legendary videogame series so focused on death and undeath, the storytelling would be its most prominent casualty (sorry, Ada Wong).  A drive to see what happens next, and to merely survive while exploring the horror, was replaced by dominance and destruction. The pace went from a tip-toe to a sprint. Again, it felt like entertaining vengeance, but at the expense of the once-compelling narrative, ultimately reducing “Resident Evil” to just another action series.

After “RE4” I tried the fifth one, thumbed through other sequels at used stores, and watched the trailer for the seventh game with renewed hope, but unfortunately the series no longer resonates with me. It’s gotten more sci-fi than scary; the enemies in the early games were all soulless, mindless former humans and animals (dogs, crows, reptiles) warped by virii that made them want to eat people, where starting with the fourth game (or maybe even “Code: Veronica”) enemies were evil humanoids and completely made-up creatures (giants, water creatures, fire…creatures) whose hostility (opposed to hunger) was never really explained.

Maybe vids in general have gotten too slick to be make a mark on me. I’m certainly not dying to regain the hobby, so I lack the incentive to put the time in. But I did like “BioShock” for XBOX 360 – again, largely because of its creative story and concept.

Too much media forgoes the brain and aims for the gut. It’s a shame this once gripping series gave up what made it exceptional.

Which videogames or series have or had your favorite storytelling? Disagree with my take on the “RE” series’ (d)evolution?

Holler,

-Matty

4 thoughts on ““Resident Evil 4” Killed the Series

  1. The unexpected and insightful subject matter was a wonderment to soak in.

    First, to wax nostalgic. Vivid memories of RE2. I never actually handled the sticks but was co-captain every step of the way, many times over with my good friend Tyler. It says something about a game that I was more than content to assist in remembering where locked doors were. Figuring out the order to rotate a puzzle. Finding the enemy weakness. Deciding when to use an herb or mix it. God bless First Aid Spray. The temporary respite and beautiful music of a save room and those damn ink ribbons. If I ever become a gun owner I will most likely be overly concerned about conserving bullets.

    I was present for the next games up through and to RE4 (Played on my GameCube, which is a point I will get to later). Tyler and I, again, in college. Similar reaction you described. Interactive cutscenes, looting, finishing moves, great menus, upgradeable weapons. No wonder it won countless accolades. And gorgeous character animations at the time. Watching a villager fall of a ladder when shot, at the time, was so butter smooth. No one though the ‘Cube had that much horsepower to render such a gorgeous and gruesome game.

    Which may have played a role in the vast departure you described. RE 1, 2 & 3 were only games that could have been released in the blessed era that was the PSX. The fixed camera viewing angles, the “opening door” loading animations, the tank-style movement controls. All clever, tense memorable mechanics guised as art for hardware limitations. I can remember at the time those three elements in particular being cited as a thing of past with the capabilities of the Next-Gen consoles. In retrospect those were some of the things that elicited some of the most intense reactions. Hearing a Licker you can’t see, the jaws clenched when seeing a door open you have not walked through, the knowledge you are as vulnerable as your ability to maneuver away.

    Many classic series did not enjoy the same success as RE in that next generation. Castlevania pops in my mind off the bat. The first attempts at a 3-D world were widely panned upon release. The series reverted back to the tried and true side-scroller formula with much fan appreciation. Later 3-D iterations refined the formula and I enjoyed Lords of Shadow although there were still many originalist naysayers.

    As you stated, RE4 and the next batch were no longer “Survival Horror” games, but indeed “just another action series”… even if they were solid games in their own right. I have heard the latest was a supposed return to the “only a couple bullets left, outmatched and I’m limping” stylization. I have not played it so I cannot offer any hard opinions. I can comment that I have found myself thinking back to games more so than looking forward. Funny enough, upon some background checking for this over ambitious comment, I have seen that a RE2 remake is in the works. It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.

    Thus, this way too long response brings me to ‘my’ series. Metal Gear Solid. PSX. There is before and after that game for me. The zenith. And I’m okay with that. First encounter is when it was rented with a group of buddies at a sleepover. I hadn’t heard of it, but we all spent the night working through as far as we could, using GameFAQ’s for some of the boss fights and dead ends. We didn’t finish it that night/morning. I immediately went out and bought myself a copy. Started fresh from the beginning, now with laser focus on every cutscene, searching every nook for rations and ammo and any other goodies. I could go on because they are still beloved memories. I was shaking and nearly in tears upon finally collapsing REX the first time. And then I reloaded and played the game again countless times. I still have the console, discs and memory cards. As you mentioned, the themes became more apparent as the material became more relevant to me. Government cover-ups, terrorism, gene therapy, the nuclear threat, honesty and lies. Some would say that is silly to purport that some of these thought wrinkles stem from a video game but all I can say is that it is true, they did. Shit man, Kojima had me thinking about selective genes before y’all was. Shit.

    MGS 2 happened. I won’t get into that now. I bought my Gamecube for the graphically enhanced, re-release of the original MGS, subtitled ‘Twin Snakes’. Underwhelmed upon release. Newly dubbed, horrendous voice-acting (Shoutout to the OG, Greg Eagles). New Matrix-style cutscenes. The beautiful blend of hardware limitations and creativity mentioned above regarding PSX RE was also apparent in the original MGS.

    MGS 3 & 4 happened and I played them in full and enjoyed them in full, well-crafted games but never came close to nudging MGS out of the top spot. I bought MGS 5 around the same time my PS3 died and my desire to fix it and pop the disc in somewhat died with it. Have not played it. Have not played too many games since then, a little StarCraft II and I still have my family’s old NES plugged into a proper CRT console Sylvania with Metal Gear and Metal Gear: Snake’s Revenge at the ready as well. My Metal Gear collection is a force to be reckoned with, but it sits on a shelf. And that’s okay.

    “Snake, we’re not tools of the government, or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing, the only thing I was good at. But… at least I always fought for what I believed in.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • T Biscuit, this reply is outstanding. I actually thought a lot about “MGS” when I wrote this, and I never owned nor fully delved in, but always revered that series. I felt in a lot of ways, “RE4” aped the action of that series in a way a lot of games tried to do. There are far worse games to find influential for other developers, but cribbing the “MSG” action and espionage dulled the “RE”-cipe.

      Fewer games copped the “RE” feel — “Dino Crisis” comes to mind (though I admit I had to look up its name to confirm). A game that I thought masterfully combined the macabre with “The Matrix” was “Devil May Cry”, which, perhaps not surprisingly, skewed more toward action with its own sequels.

      Excellent review and personal gaming history you provided. Extra props for the GameFAQs shoutout.

      Had several people talking highly of “RE7” – do video rental joints still rent out consoles??

      Like

      • The connection of dots here is overwhelming. Have not played Devil May Cry but by all accounts gameplay of Lords of Shadow copped DMC and God of War. Oooooh shit, Dino Crisis, remembering that. Ever done did Silent Hill? Never myself but regarded as a true spooker. Again, dots… Kojima had a hand in one of the latest iterations of SH if I’m not mistaken. They better rent out consoles still, dedicate a night and see if the boy ArsBars is captured by the purported mystique of RE7. Controlled blind test.

        Liked by 1 person

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