Enjoy the Resident Evil Renaissance – The Bubble is Bound to Burst
Resident Evil is the franchise on everybody’s lips. Gamers are preparing to buy the second entry in their millions, Capcom is pushing the genre forward with every new title and fans can’t wait to see what happens next.
The year is 1998 – and the bubble is about to burst.
The reaction to the first trailer for the second REmake has been almost universally positive, and rightly so. It was different, but in a way that embraced both the old and the new. That was one of the major positives for the last game in the series as well.
Resident Evil 7 was a massive return to form after years of action-focused titles in the franchise putting wacky characters and endless QTEs ahead of suspense and scares. And despite the sixth entry being massively successful financially, Capcom took a risk and decided to take a step back to their earlier titles, and were rewarded with a critical success, although not a massive financial one.
That Resident Evil 7 exists at all deserves to be applauded, because in this day and age, big publishers do not take risks. The popularity of indie horror games – and the potential that Silent Hills showed – did not make ditching the 10,000,000 unit selling direction the franchise had headed in any more of a sure thing. Resident Evil 7, so far, has sold about half as many copies as its predecessor. And it wasn’t only notable for its return to horror. This wasn’t some epic hero story, where you fight off legions of the undead. There were incidental enemies, of course, but for the most part the focus was on one family. Your own character barely even mattered.
It paid off in so many ways. The fans loved it and it recouped its costs and then some, which is the minimum any developer can ask for.
Money shouldn’t be the driving factor of any art, but all so often it is. Capcom made Resident Evil 7 and gave it a mild target of 4 million units sold. It has beaten that, which has to be a positive in the company’s eyes.
The industry is changing, and developers are struggling to keep up both increases in cost and an increasingly vocal fanbase that wants everything to get better, but nothing to change. A $60 game today is a very different beast to a $60 game in 1999. DLC, season passes and microtransactions are all ways of dealing with that shift.
And so a less ambitious Resident Evil 7 – as opposed to another multi-story, multiple-character co-op action blockbuster – must have seemed like a great idea. Cut costs by giving the fans exactly what they want. It’s for that reason that you can’t just compare Resident Evil 6 and 7’s sales and decide that one was way more successful than the other.
But you can’t ignore it either.
The Rise and Fall of Resident Evil
Let’s head back in time – back to 1998. Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time, Half-life – it was unforgettable.
And it was the year that Resident Evil 2 outsold its predecessor by about 800,000 units worldwide. Reviews were incredible, because the game did everything it could to improve upon the original without upsetting the formula.
Resident Evil 3 sold less, Code Veronica sold less again. As the Gamecube exclusives came along, the franchise stayed popular among the horror niche crowd, but sales plummeted.
There are as many reasons for why that might be as there are people who stopped buying the games. The reality is that Resident Evil 4 was the result of a trinity of separate sources: franchise fatigue meant there had to be a major shake-up, the first action film was a huge success, and new hardware allowed for a better experience. Resident Evil 4 was big enough in its first two years – by the time it had reached the Wii – that it can definitely be called a return to form for the series, and frankly for the genre. It was in no way a horror game, not in the same way that Resident Evil had been, but it balanced action with puzzles and the occasional scare very well.
And it was only up from there. Resident Evil 5 is the best selling game of the series, although I suspect that’s entirely down to that incredible rock smashing scene.
Its sequel was nearly as successful, selling more than two and three combined. That was despite trash reviews and a reputation for explicit images of giraffes.
As far as we can tell from released figures, Resident Evil 6 continues to outsell previous entries even when remastered for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Despite the mass negativity, it is still hugely popular.
For diehard fans of the original it has been a badly kept secret that Resident Evil is more successful without them.
The future of Resident Evil
Resident Evil 2 is going to be a big success. It has nostalgia on its side – which is a huge selling point right now – and it just looks like a fantastic game. The real test will be its follow-up, and more importantly, how it sells.
Will the eighth entry stay true to its horror roots? Will it use Resident Evil 2 as a blueprint, again combining new and old? Will they make the Code Veronica mistake, updating very little but graphics and story?
These are all questions that have already been answered internally at Capcom, I have absolutely no doubt about it. They will already be starting to put together the first ideas that will be Resident Evil 8.
And if the answer is to keep doing what they’re doing, despite a drop in sales, fans had better support them 100 per cent. You see what you have called for for close to a decade now – actual horror games in a major franchise. Buy it day one, pay for it digitally. Show them that you want them to succeed.
Because if Resident Evil 2 sells six million units, and Resident Evil 8 sells three million – repeating the situation with Resident Evil 3 in 2001 – you can bet your bottom dollar that their next game will be another rock punching simulator.