If Resident Evil 6 is bad, I blame Gears of War 3
Resident Evil and Gears of War are two completely different series designed by two completely different companies from two completely different sides of the globe, but are two series that have traded ideas and inspiration either intentionally or by chance since Resident Evil 4 first suplexed a Spanish monk back in 2005.
But I stand as a fan misrepresented in both camps. These two series have evolved in ways that grate against my anticipation for their respective franchises, and if this trend of cross pollination and idea pilfering continues then, after Gears of War 3, I see Resident Evil 6 as a game in jeopardy of losing everything that made, and still makes, Resident Evil 4 one of my favourite games of all time.
To understand the issue here we need to track the evolution of both series in parallel, and see how they've strayed from the path of horror they each set out upon.
Death of Horror
2005 saw the release of Resident Evil 4. After four years languishing in development hell - one of the game's prototypes later evolved into Devil May Cry, though I still don't know how - Resident Evil 4 exploded onto the Gamecube in a violent shotgun induced eruption of gore, single handedly redefined what it meant for a game to be survival horror in the process.
Resident Evil 4 was fast, brutal, overwhelming and almost uncomfortably intense. The games biggest change was to shift focus from puzzling around ancient buildings built above top secret laboratories, and instead centre on asking players to survive constantly escalating enemy encounters. Fights were hectic, and due to the open design of Resident Evil 4's arenas there was always a nagging feeling that one of those red eyed Ganando twats was right behind you, eyeing up an afternoon snack of tasty Leon neck.
The pack mentality of Resi 4's villagers still sets me off in cold sweats
2005 was also the year that saw the Xbox 360 first go on sale and Cliff Bleszinski's team at Epic was already busy crafting what would be the systems first must have exclusive, a little horror tinged shooter called Gears of War. In pre-release interviews Bleszinski commonly cites Resident Evil 4 as an inspiration behind the game, primarily its third person perspective. Gears of War was released in 2006 to rave reviews, and proved how fun both cover shooting and co-op gaming could be. Sure, it was a gung-ho game first but elements like the Beserker fights and the Pitch Black-inspired Kryll added a refreshing horror tang to this violent punch.
2009 was when things started to go wrong. Resident Evil 5 was released, not under the careful guidance of series creator Shinji Mikami, but under the direction of Jun Takeuchi, a Japanese designer with an eye for Western titles. This is a man that points to Call of Duty as an inspiration for Lost Planet 2. That's right, a generic war title is his creative juju for a game about zipping around with grappling hooks and taking down gigantic stompy bugs. Right. Oh and before we forget, said title also contained a cameo from Gears two leading lovers.
Anyway, back on track. With its plot and pacing attempting to run blow for blow against Resident Evil 4, yet with none of that game's nuance or skill present in its design, Resident Evil 5 was a co-op infused bastardisation of Mikami's masterpiece. That's before I've mentioned Sheeva - irritating, moronic, braindead Sheeva - who turned Resident Evil 5 more into survival baby sitter than survival horror. it even contained some cover shootouts towards its final act. Oh sure, in co-op it was more bearable but the true Resident Evil feel had been sacrificed in the process. I could go on but I shant, an absolutely execrable game.
Gears of War 2 had released a year before this in 2008, while the conclusion of Epic's trilogy, Gears of War 3, was released in September last year. The series expanded primarily in terms of co-op, not a bad thing on the surface, but this, coupled with its increasingly 'bro' attitude of bigger guns, bigger battles and bigger spectacle, undermined the series' clear horror roots with dishearteningly careless abandon.
A very early shot, yes, but you tell me that Gears wasn't built on a foundation of fear.
In the original Gears of War the Locust feel menacing; a sniper with a Torque Bow is reason to find cover; a Berserker is reason to cry silently and tip toe to the nearest corner; A Brumak isn't even a fight you would consider, just run and don't look back. In Gears of War 3 four dudes with pistols can dispense with the Locust's biggest beasts. Enemies appear in shooting gallery environments to be mowed down before moving on, no emergence holes here. Those massive Brumaks and Corpsers that once filled pants the world over could now be dealt with Mano-a-Mano. With a pistol. And a witty one liner. Even the removal of the dark devouring Kryll felt like a quiet silencing of the game's nightmarish origins.
No longer was Gears a bitter struggle for humanities survival; somehow as the fight got more desperate the tone became ten times lighter. When playing Gears of War 3 I half expected the COG to burst into a chorus round of 'let's go fry a Wretch' as they travelled around slaughtering anything not gruff, buff and human.
Fear of War
So let's look at Resident Evil 6's trailer - we've got a cover shoot out with human foes, enemies that attack Chris over cover and a presumably on-rails tank section through a snowy European village, all peppered with more explosions than a Guy Fawkes appreciation party (aka bonfire night). Hmm... Action, action, action, all looking rather linear and shooting gallery-like as opposed to the complex arenas and pitched tension of Resident Evil 4. See here's the thing, Resident Evil 6's story still seems stupidly over-dramatic in that very Resident Evil way, but the action sequences seem to lack that essential horror. The fear shouldn't just be shown in cutscenes, it needs to permeate gameplay as well. Then there are rumblings of six player co-op. Next they'll have us dispatching Tyrants with something other than a trademark rocket launcher. We'll probably do it with a knife. And a witty one liner.
I know it's not all doom and gloom, Leon's sections look like an, admittedly athletic return to morbid form and the fact that the creative designer is Eiichiro Sasaki, a man who has already cut his Resi teeth on the two solid PS2 Outbreak spin-off titles, puts the series in strong shambling stead. The online could actually be a serious contender if his pedigree has a chance to shine as well. Oh who am I kidding, It'll probably end up being some dull horde and versus drivel designed for twitchy action gamers instead of an interesting, experimental survival focused offering. Bah...
It's all up to you Leon, you floppy haired beauty.
Personally? Resi needs its daddy back. Shinji Mikami was the series' progenitor. He was the T virus, the G virus and the Las Plagus. He was the Spencer Mansion and Racoon City. He was Chris, Jill, Barry, Leon, Wesker and Claire. Shinji Mikami was instrumental in every major, successful formula shake up in the series and since he left, well, Resident Evil 5 happened.
But if anything does go wrong I don't blame Mikami, he went off and made Vanquish and Shadows of the Damned and they're awesome. I don't even blame Jun Takeuchi, even if he did start Resident Evil along this doomed path. No, I blame Gears of War 3. Gears of War 3 shed its horror baggage and was all the more popular for it, likely showing Capcom's money men that the masses apparently want their horror franchises fast, forward and with over the top but easily bested beasties. And one liners. Well screw the masses, if I had it my way Resident Evil would be back to fixed cameras and armour keys in an instant. Bring back the horror and tension Resident Evil 6. At least a little. Please?
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)
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