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Resident Evil Will Never Be Scary Again
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on January 31, 2012   |   Episode 182 (Show Archive)  

   

That is a face of a man who doesn't know what's around the next corner!
The reactions to the Resident Evil 6 trailer were what you would normally expect; the usual mix of wishful excitement and skepticism. Across internet forums, Twitter and Facebook, everybody seemed to agree on one important detail: This new Resident Evil game must be scary! People don't want the non-stop action and daytime battles; they're looking to Capcom to bring the scary. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Resident Evil will never be scary again!

It's easy to see why survival horror fans are clamoring for something terrifying. Although cheesy by today's standards (and, let's be honest, by 1996 standards too), the original Resident Evil was a genuinely scary experience when it first came out. It was unlike anything we had seen before, successfully marrying spooky camera angles and a whole host of creepy crawly bad guys. Resident Evil 2 and 3 continued the tradition, giving gamers more than enough incentive to play with the lights on.

But somewhere along the way Resident Evil went from being scary to being just another action-packed experience. Night turned to day and the zombies were suddenly

Resident Evil 5 proved that it's not scary when you are tethered to a sidekick!
replaced with monks, black people and a large guy chainsaw-wielding guy with a burlap bag over his head. Oh sure, we loved the improvements to the gameplay and narrative structure, but Resident Evil 4 and 5 were far from frightening experiences.

There's a reason why Resident Evil will never be scary again, and it's likely not what you're thinking. Part of what made the first three PlayStation games so scary is that sense of the unknown. We often forget that there was a time when we genuinely didn't know what to expect out of a Resident Evil game. All we know is that we're stuck in an increasingly terrible situation waiting for the other shoe to drop. We were given vague journal entries that helped fill in the context of the horrible events, but that's just about the only warning given.


See: The moment Ripley figured out what she was up against, she grabbed the biggest gun she could find and kicked that alien's ass!
That mystery of the unknown is important when crafting a horror story. We aren't afraid of the things we know, but rather those things that hide in the shadows just out of sight. Movies have been successfully using this formula for decades. Most horror films play coy with the antagonist until just the right moment, adding a layer of tension.

Once the villain of the piece has been revealed everything changes. We are no longer afraid of the unknown, instead opting to our heads and conceive a survival plan. You may still fear the villain, but at least everybody has a handle of what they're dealing with. This is usually the part of the movie where the characters start devising ill-fated plans and gathering up all of their weapons.


The only thing scary about Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare is Roseanne Barr's acting!
This is why many horror sequels ultimately disappoint. Let's use A Nightmare on Elm Street as an example. The first film is a horror masterpiece, full of inventive ideas and a bad guy we're slowly getting to know over the course of the film. By the end of the movie we're left with a better understanding of Freddy Krueger and celebrate with the teenagers that kill him once and for all. The subsequent sequels, on the other hand, added new no mystery or information to the character. Instead they turned it into nothing more than a series of kills, each more outlandish than the last. Horror was thrown out the window in order to make way for comedy on a gruesome level.

That is exactly what has happened to Resident Evil. Fans of the series already know what to expect going in, which ultimately works against any attempt at horror. We've already unmasked the bad guy and know what we're

Thankfully Capcom hasn't been taking its cues from the Resident Evil movie franchise!
up against. And it's not just the player, but also the characters inside the games. There's a reason why Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield never run out of ammo, it's because they know what they're fighting and come prepared. They're not afraid to rush head-first into a pack of non-zombies; this is what they've been trained for.

Incidentally, the increase in hardware performance has also worked against the franchise. As we've moved from 32-bit to the current generation consoles of today, developers have managed to take a lot of cues from top Hollywood movies. Capcom has learned how to mimic the type of atmosphere, music and sound effects normally found in a movie, which ironically works against Resident Evil.

You would think that the improved presentation would only make this series scarier, but the opposite is true. By

Capcom seems to think that Resident Evil fans are looking for Call of Duty-style action!
now we've seen enough horror films to know when we're being played. This might work in a movie where the viewer has no control over what happens, but that's not the case in a video game. The moment we hear the music chime in we know what to expect, sub-consciously preparing us for something scary. To compensate for the lack of earned scares, games will throw in a loud sound effect to make you jump. These jump scares are short-lived and a poor substitute for genuine horror.

Worse yet, the expectations of gamers has changed since the days of Raccoon City. Thanks to the

These days playing the first Resident Evil is like watching paint dry!
power of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, video game companies have been forced to make even bigger and more explosive games. What worked in 1996 doesn't play in 2012. The easiest way to do this is to push people along a linear path with plenty of unavoidable action happening along the way. Both Resident Evil 4 and 5 are guilty of this, which is why gamers complain that the franchise has left its survival horror roots.

Try to remember the slow pace of the first game. Half of the game was spent trying to find keys to unlock doors, hardly the most riveting premise. You were locked in a small area that was bursting with things that wanted to kill you. Eventually the game took you outside and through the laboratory, but not

After the Reboot: Leon Kennedy is tormented by an army of killer teddy bears!
before you became intimately acquainted with this mansion. That kind of deliberate pacing wouldn't fly in today's ADHD world.

The trailer for Resident Evil 6 did absolutely nothing to suggest a return to survival horror. We saw the big explosions needed to sell five million units and the same sort of mutating zombies we've come to know and love from this franchise. Even with the intriguing premise of a zombie President, we know where this story is headed. Thankfully that doesn't prevent it from being an incredible game, even if it doesn't have the horror thrills we're looking for.

There is a way to make Resident Evil scary again, but Capcom isn't going to like it. All you need to do is reboot the franchise. Start completely over. Get rid of Leon, Chris, Clair, Jill, zombies, the master of unlocking, the T-Virus and everything else we know about the game. Start completely fresh, dropping us into a world full of unknown dangers. Let us stumble around and figure out what's going on. Give us that sense of the unknown back, because that is what's keeping Resident Evil from being genuinely scary.
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