Resident Evil 4 is a masterpiece.
It flipped the series on its head, as it modernized its gameplay to make it accessible to a wider audience, and shifted toward a more action-oriented approach, while still managing to retain elements of survival-horror. This was and still is a widely popular title and can be found on almost every platform. With that being said, the success of Resident Evil 4 put Capcom in a unique position. Should the Resident Evil series stick with the survival horror genre or continue forward with an action heavy approach?
The answer was easy, while longtime fans of the series would’ve preferred for Resident Evil to stick with its roots, in all likelihood the next entry wouldn’t have been as profitable as Resident Evil 4. When Resident Evil 5 released, the series took an even bigger leap into the action genre. There were on-rail action scenes, quick-time events, an abundance of ammo, and a number of sections that forced you to fight waves of enemies.
By no means was Resident Evil 5 a bad game, it was just lacking any real tension or horror. The only challenge presented by this game was playing it solo, as your AI companion would be in the way more than they helped. They would get stuck on obstacles, run headfirst into enemies, and on higher difficulties would die quickly from being unable to evade enemy attacks. This was a title that was honestly enjoyable if played with a partner. Even with the forced emphasis on co-op, Resident Evil 5 was the most successful in the franchise, selling well over 10 million copies.
Capcom was looking at unprecedented success for one of its flagship franchises and knew that changing up the formula could stymie future profits. Resident Evil 6 would follow the same formula and would practically abandon the survival horror genre. It practically turned into a cover shooter and while it featured some unique features and enemy design, it was really disappointing to see the series fully abandon what put it on the map in the first place. Regardless, Resident Evil 6 was a commercial success, however, it is not considered a favorite amongst fans.
There was a lot of criticsm levied toward Capcom regarding the direction of the franchise. A number of spin-offs, from Operation Raccoon city to Umbrella Corps, emphasized action and were widely panned due to their quality. Surprisingly, the Revelation spin-offs featured more survival horror elements and were well received and appreciated due to that emphasis. A new numbered entry into the series wouldn’t be introduced until 2017, 5 years after the release of the sixth installment.
You would think that Capcom would continue to emphasize action in the next installment, but fortunately for fans, Resident Evil 7 returned the series back to its roots. Calling the seventh entry a soft reboot is an accurate. there is little to connect it to the main series as it featured new mechanics, enemies, and locations. It felt far more grounded than previous entries and was a nice change of pace from all of the QTEs that were present in the later series. This title was both a commercial and critical success and proved to Capcom that the survival horror genre can be profitable.
There is no denying the influence that Resident Evil 4 had on the genre. It paved the way for popular titles like Dead Space and The Evil Within. But the issue was that the franchise ultimately became a victim of it’s own success. As the series continued to move forward, the balance shifted as Capcom looked to maximize profits. What made the fourth entry so special was that it found the perfect balance between action set pieces and tension. That tension began to wane in the fifth and sixth entries as the emphasis on co-op action became the standard.
Luckily for fans, the horror genre has seen a resurgence. On January 25th, the hotly anticipated remake for Resident Evil 2 will be released and looks to balance horror and action in a way that hasn’t been seen before in franchise history. It will control largely like Resident Evil 4 while featuring a number of mechanics taken from other entries in the series. If it holds up, it could overtake Resident Evil 4 as the best entry in the franchise.