Update: Since writing this original post, I have blogged about survival horror quite often. For more of my thoughts on the matter, check out my review of Anna, my discussion of Fatal Frame V, and my special Fatal Frame guest post.
To all fans who believe that one genre should not take over another, this is a call to action! To all fans who don’t understand, this is an explanation that will hopefully clarify many issues.
When it comes to the changes in the Resident Evil franchise, you already know that fans are heavily divided. There are those who embrace the changes, accept the action as a wonderful new turn for the series, and encourage you to keep going in that direction. Then there are the others—the ones who argue that the survival horror mechanics that made the original games so much fun are now completely lacking, and who ask instead for the series to return to its roots. You might think that this second group of fans is 1) small, 2) merely nostalgic, and/or 3) “purists” who only want survival horror games.
What Survival Horror Is
Before I address those three fallacies, I would like to discuss “survival horror” as a genre. Many people interpret the name literally, coming to the conclusion that to be a survival horror game, it must be a game in which you survive frightening things. However, as a genre, survival horror has traditionally included specific mechanics: a disturbing or frightening atmosphere, de-emphasized combat, a maze-like environment that encourages exploration, and puzzles. Other aspects such as fixed save points, fixed camera angles, and inventory management, are frequently used as well. Having one of the above is not enough. Therefore, the disturbing design of the Regeneradors or the visual horror of an Uroboros transformation does not make Resident Evil 4 or 5 survival horror games, even if paired with dark, confined, and scary environments.
Revelations, therefore, was not truly a return to survival horror, as fans were promised, although it was a step in the right direction. While some parts were action sections, others were close to being survival horror. It handled atmosphere fairly well, although the checkpoint system meant that any true suspense or fear from a gameplay perspective (versus a story perspective) was taken away—unlike in the classic games, there was very little chance that one could lose progress in Revelations. Combat was de-emphasized…most of the time. There was no reward for fighting enemies, and many could be avoided. While there were more sections that forced you to battle than the original games had, this is probably the point where Revelations came closest to truly “returning to series roots.” Both the idea of a maze-like environment and puzzles felt as though they had almost made it to a survival horror level. Instead of gradually unlocking new areas, backtracking and solving puzzles to continue, and needing to explore everywhere, Revelations provided a clear path to the plot, often marked on the map with a beacon. While there were a few times when a key could unlock multiple paths, more often than not that meant the obvious plot path and a room or two that contained items. That is hardly a maze. There was a handful of puzzles, including one that seemed thrown in as an attempt to say that it was truly like the classic games, but the whole effect was that the “survival horror” sections of Revelations were watered down, pale imitations of the classic games, designed in such a way that the player would never get lost or need to weigh their decisions carefully.
This is also why Resident Evil 6, a game that is notable for promising three scenarios with three separate gameplay styles, is also not going to be survival horror. The only one of the three scenarios that is even claiming to be there for the survival horror fans is Leon’s scenario, and everything about it so far shows that it will be packed with action, have a clear path to show players the way through the plot, and try to use a dark atmosphere and mobs of enemies for horror. Where are the puzzles? Where are the maze mechanics? Where is the suspense that will force to you pause and consider the risks and the rewards of continuing on? Horror it may be, but not survival horror.
Fans were stirred up when an interview was released saying that the future of Resident Evil was in action, and that the fanbase interested in classic survival horror was too small to warrant a game being made for them. It’s true that the genre does not have as many fans as “mainstream” genres do. That fanbase, however, is still a significant number of people being alienated and left behind.
Some of these fans have already stopped supporting the series. They want survival horror games, not action games with horror elements and the faces they remember from their beloved series. Some fans have continued to support it, accepting the genre shift as a change for the better or the inevitable. And some fans who truly miss survival horror will continue to buy the games because they have deluded themselves into thinking that the survival horror mechanics will be there.
Enough time has passed now that many of them, however, will take a stand. Even many who like the new games will take a step back, look at the truth of the issue, and realize that something needs to be done. That “something” will be not supporting the change—not giving a company money for games that have gone so far from their roots.
Now Versus Then
A frequently used argument in favor of the genre shift is that the series needed to evolve. It needed to progress. It needed to keep up with the times.
Resident Evil could have done any of those things and remained a survival horror series. Instead, it changed genres. Survival horror games are not broken shooters. They aren’t action games that went wrong somewhere along the way because of limited technology. Changing one genre into another and calling it “progress” implies that there was something about the first genre that was bad, primitive, or archaic. As such, another common argument is that the old Resident Evil games are inaccessible to the modern gamer–that it is purely nostalgia that causes old fans of series to miss that style; if those games came out now, they would never be able to enjoy them.
That is nonsense, and I am living proof of that. I became a fan of Resident Evil a little over a year ago. After some skepticism, as I thought the premise of the series was vaguely “zombies, shoot,” I started to learn more about it. I became entranced by the story. I devoured gameplay videos. At last, I bought the remake of the first Resident Evil, played it, and loved it. It was not “inaccessible.” The challenges presented by the need to backtrack, solve puzzles, manage the inventory, conserve ammunition, and, terrifyingly, conserve saves, delighted me. It was fun. It was fascinating. It was a style of gaming I could find in many old games, but very few new ones.
I quickly set about buying the other classic Resident Evil games. Thinking back to the gameplay videos I had seen, my first inclination was to buy Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5, and the upcoming Resident Evil 6, as well. After all, the style of gameplay looked fun, if radically different from the other games in the series.
That, of course, is the strongest argument of all used by fans of the genre shift. “If the game is fun, play it. Don’t concern yourself with whether it’s the same genre or not.” That’s what I thought, and so I almost supported the change as well, until I realized that the true problem is not action being better or worse than survival horror. The true problem is action replacing survival horror.
What We Truly Want
That brings me to my third point. The fans pleading for the return of survival horror are not against action games. We don’t want all action games to become survival horror games or even, necessarily, for Capcom to stop producing action Resident Evil games. What we truly want is variety. To us, good variety among games includes survival horror.
Right now, Capcom is making no attempts to provide survival horror except with half-hearted, watered down compromises like Revelations. As new games continue to come out, I will have many choices for when I want to play an action game. Those choices narrow considerably when I want to play a survival horror game. Is classic survival horror that much to ask for?
If both were provided, if the action games weren’t replacing the survival horror games, I would probably support both. As it is, Capcom has lost my Resident Evil sales for all the new games.
This is a call to action for other fans to do the same—refuse to support this genre change until we get survival horror back! Repost this! Spread the word! Contact Capcom if you can! And let people know what the true problem here is!
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