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Call of Evil: should we cheer Capcom’s action-focused approach?

Submitted by on Thursday, 26 January 20125 Comments

“The dream would be that the millions of Call of Duty fans that are enjoying these fast-paced online games are attracted to this Resident Evil”, says Dave Turner, Capcom UK’s head of marketing, following the announcement trailer of Resident Evil 6.

Turner was speaking to industry trade magazine MCV, but I picked up that sentence from CVG, and if you view the comments below the article, you’ll find a bemused reaction from a fairly large portion of the CVG community. One Imaduck wrote, following a string of 43 sad-face emoticons: “Is there like an express off this f**king rock? I seriously want to move planets”.

What caused this angry reaction? After all, Call of Duty is the most popular series of this console generation. It leaves every other game in its wake. People clearly love it, but mention CoD on many internet dwellings and you’ll get a terse response and a quick invite to leave.

A significant portion of the anger is likely to be down to the apathetic attitude the online gaming community has towards Activision, born from the company’s perceived overly corporate behaviour. Concerns over originality don’t help either; every developer wants to make the next CoD, so what we get is a lot of tightly scripted FPSs that shuffle you through one corridor after another. We already have CoD doing a good job at that, and frequently; we probably don’t need every other developer trying to copy that template.

The problem is: action sells, as Turner points out:

“We’ve seen the popularity of Resident Evil increase massively as the series became more action oriented – Resident Evil 5 is the biggest seller in the series. So, it makes sense for us to follow this action area more fully.”

What business wouldn’t want their games to do better? It’s especially tough for the Japanese market right now, which has seen enthusiasm for its games decline significantly in the West. It needs more hits, so making Resident Evil — one of the country’s biggest franchises — more commercial is a no-brainer.

There is a further complication, however: Resident Evil has its roots in slow and tense survival horror. The first game was set entirely in a creepy mansion and its gardens and underground labs. It was claustrophobic, it had fixed cameras, dark corners, save points, shuffling zombies, limited ammo and eerie music — it was bloody scary.

Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica introduced more action, but they still stayed true to the formula.

It all changed with Resident Evil 4, the game which many cite as the series’ finest moment. Resident Evil 4 introduced an over-the-should camera, fast zombies — lots of fast running zombies; and a new setting far away from the urban environments we had become used to. Resident Evil 4 even shied away from calling them “zombies” — these guys were “infected”. It lost a lot of the series’ trademark creepiness, but the gameplay changes fuelled a sense of panic.

Resident Evil 4 was a revelation, hugely popular, which gives weight to the argument that the series should have a greater focus on action.

Its sequel Resident Evil 5, however, wasn’t as popular. Reviews were mostly favourable, but it failed to make significant strides forward. The story was also ridiculous, going well past the bonkers point of no return. That said, it’s not like the series ever had a credible storyline.

This brings us finally to Resident Evil 6. More of the same clearly won’t do, and a return to the series’ original slow-paced roots is certain to alienate large sections of its potential audience. Anyway, EA Redwood Shores is doing a good job looking after that market with its Dead Space franchise.

A bold new direction is necessary and the trailer shows enough evidence to suggest Capcom isn’t shying away from making tough creative decisions. A snappy Vanquish-esque slide and cover system is visible in the clips, as is tighter rifle fire, plenty of Kung Fu fighting and signs of supremely hammy acting and a woeful story – all of which point towards some good popcorn entertainment.

There is hope for fright-fans too; “70,000 hostiles” the lady in the trailer says. That’s about the population of Guildford, UK, so that’s a lot of zombie blasting. And if that small section in the middle of the trailer (1.18-1.25) is anything to go by, we can expected claustrophobic scenes that will potentially make Resident Evil 4 look like child’s play. Series-stalwart Hiroyuki Kobayashi is also leading the development, and he knows a thing or two about Resident Evil.

CoDifying Resident Evil, despite the negative reaction, could be what the series needs. It could also be an unmitigated disaster. The trailer shows signs that it could go either way, but that’s quite exciting. I get a genuine sense of intrigue when thinking about this sixth instalment. It doesn’t look like just another Resident Evil, and, crucially, neither does it look like a generic third-person shooter or another CoD clone. It has far too many crazy quirks for that.

Will the popcorn thrills merge blissfully with the action-horror core, or are Capcom on the verge of unleashing something unintentionally horrific into this world? Let’s hope it’s not the latter, for our sake and the sake of Capcom’s future, because that’s a scare we could all do without. Let’s see how this pans out though. We can always catch the later express off this rock.