Post Script

What makes Res­i­dent Evil such a re­silient strain of hor­ror?


Hav­ing rein­vented it­self more times than Madonna, no one quite seems to know what Res­i­dent Evil is any more – least of all Cap­com. As the se­ries nears its 20th birth­day, its um­brella un­easily en­com­passes sur­vival-hor­ror clas­sics, a star­tling ac­tion re­birth, light­gun games, score-attack cu­rios, team-based shoot­ers, and an on­go­ing se­ries of mid­dling-to-poor movies that’s seem­ingly con­tin­u­ing to no greater end than to bankroll Mila Jovovich. It is, in short, a mess.

Those with shorter mem­o­ries might pin­point the blame on the de­par­ture of se­ries cre­ator Shinji Mikami af­ter 2005’s Res­i­dent Evil 4, but Cap­com be­gan its ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with the for­mula as early as 2000’s ris­i­ble Sur­vivor, a clunky light­gun shooter fea­tur­ing a stock am­ne­siac pro­tag­o­nist. De­spite a crit­i­cal trash­ing, Sur­vivor 2 Code: Veron­ica would fol­low the next year, es­tab­lish­ing a pat­tern that has en­dured to this day. For all that zom­bie fa­tigue has sup­pos­edly gripped this in­dus­try, there’s still a rav­en­ous ap­petite for games with Res­i­dent Evil on the box that has lit­tle re­la­tion to the qual­ity or me­chan­ics of the soft­ware in­side. The record sales of the mud­dled Res­i­dent Evil 6 alone at­test to that.

So what is Cap­com to make of fo­rum kvetch­ing as the dif­fer­ent strains of Resi fan strug­gle to re­turn to one of sev­eral per­ceived glory days? What is it to make of ten years of happy stock­hold­ers and mixed re­views? What it has al­ways made: more Res­i­dent Evil.

There are signs, how­ever, of a com­pany seek­ing to un­der­stand what the se­ries should mu­tate into next. Should it re­turn to its roots? Jan­uary’s HD re­mas­ter of the orig­i­nal game’s GameCube re­make played strongly to the sur­vival-hor­ror crowd, many now lu­cra­tive 30-some­things with a soft spot for Jill sand­wiches and an al­most patho­log­i­cal de­sire to see the ex­cel­lent Resi 2 re­made. Rev­e­la­tions 2, mean­while, re­cap­tures the ten­sions of limited ammunition and stor­age space, stitch­ing them back onto the raw ac­tion that characterised Resis 4 through to 6, a for­mula in which Cap­com per­haps sees di­min­ish­ing re­turns. You can be sure that man­age­ment will be watch­ing the sales fig­ures and fan re­ac­tion to 2015’s of­fer­ings with in­ter­est.

Yet there’s a grand irony in all of this. Res­i­dent Evil as a whole is so im­per­vi­ous to chang­ing trends pre­cisely be­cause it oc­cu­pies a space in the me­dia spec­trum where it’s OK, even de­sir­able, to come with low ex­pec­ta­tions. Its genre is not de­fined by cam­era po­si­tion or any de­sign doc­u­ment, but by the cor­pus of B-movie hor­ror. And just as no one looks to that end of the cin­e­matic scale for Academy bait, so no one looks to Res­i­dent Evil to ad­vance sto­ry­telling or tech­ni­cal achieve­ment in games. In­stead, ev­ery Resi par­a­sit­i­cally latches onto the baser parts of the hu­man psy­che which crave the tin­gles of shlocky melo­drama and mild re­vul­sion – and some of them have man­aged this so bril­liantly as to trou­ble game-of-the-year lists. Resi games would rather be hokey fun than high art.

So maybe Rev­e­la­tions 2’ s episodic rein­ven­tion is more ap­pro­pri­ate than it first ap­pears. The se­ries’ sto­ry­telling has long mir­rored the te­len­ovella, its char­ac­ters, plots and even me­chan­ics im­prob­a­bly shaped and re­shaped to fit pulpy tales of world-end­ing stakes and grue­some bioweapons. The best Resi games put th­ese parts to­gether in ways that shock just enough to be cap­ti­vat­ing, never quite enough to be off-putting. The worst ones are the games that fail to cre­ate dra­matic ten­sion, that stop you want­ing to shovel metaphor­i­cal pop­corn into your gap­ing mouth as what­ever grib­bly men­ace grows in the shad­ows. In that sense, Rev­e­la­tions 2 is a dra­matic step for­ward for the se­ries, ev­i­dence of a Cap­com fi­nally in on the joke and ready to turn the undy­ing qual­ity of Res­i­dent Evil to its di­rect ad­van­tage. And what­ever comes next me­chan­i­cally, it’s a promis­ing sign for the con­tin­ued sur­vival of gam­ing’s sem­i­nal breed of B-grade hor­ror.

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