Ever since Resident Evil 6 was first announced, longtime franchise fans have been debating whether or not the latest installment would choose to prioritize big explosions over big scares. For years, Resident Evil has slowly been incorporating an increasing number of “action” genre game elements, melee attacks and over-the-shoulder aiming, in place of “horror” staples, tank controls and resource scarcity, which originally helped up the tension (by limiting the player).
However, with the inclusion of a cover system, rolling dodges, and over-the-top quicktime events, Resident Evil 6 is easily the most action-oriented entry in the series – which, according to game director Hiroyuki Kobayashi and producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi, was a very intentional decision.
Speaking with 1Up, Kobayashi asserts that Capcom wanted to find a balance between core Resident Evil fans – and untapped potential in the casual market.
“With Resident Evil, we’re trying to be as inclusive as possible. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible [...] That makes it hard to maintain a horror feel to it when you’re trying to be inclusive. It is a challenge. I’m not afraid to admit that. We’re trying to see what kind of action we can include in the game and still maintain the horror sensibilities. Trying to blend those together is not an easy thing to do.”
As we’ve mentioned in the past, despite high-profile recognizability of the Resident Evil franchise, gamers might be surprised to discover that series sales are far below similarly well-known offerings. Since its release in March 2009, Resident Evil 5 sold around 5.8 million copies in its first 2 years on the market. 5.8 million is nothing to scoff at but, when comparing the number to other fan-favorite titles, it’s easy to see why Capcom has wanted to position the series as a more “inclusive” offering. Assassin’s Creed 2, for example, which launched months later (in November of 2009) nearly doubled the two-year RE5 numbers, racking up 9 million copies sold, in only three months.
In an attempt to snag some of that action market money, Capcom significantly expanded the scope of the BioHazard world to deliver the biggest Resident Evil title yet while retooling every core mechanic (from the inventory system, enemy mechanics, to flexible movement) in an effort to bring the experience in-line with fan-favorite third-person shooter franchises like Gears of War and Uncharted. Of course, the team still wanted to retain the RE fan base – so they also made sure the experience also included plenty of horror elements.
Hirabayashi describes the balance as a Venn diagram:
You can make a horror game with mass appeal. But you’re looking at a sort of Venn diagram of people who really like horror and people who really like video games or Resident Evil. Where that comes together… I think you can create a really great form of horror entertainment, but if this were the quintessential horror entertainment, it might not have mass appeal. It’ll have very niche appeal, unfortunately.
We’re making games and we need to have mass-market appeal in order to survive. It becomes an issue of tracking one way or the other. How far do we go into horror before we lose the support of the average player? How far are we going to lessen the horror elements at the risk of losing core fans, including Resident Evil fans? Where’s the Venn diagram that shows the happy medium of those things? The challenge is trying to push it as close to the edge either way, so that we can satisfy both groups of people. I think we can do it. personally speaking, I really do like horror. I like it as a genre. I’m fine with pushing it up to 11 in terms of horror. But maybe that’s not what we can do and still be saleable.
For instance, if you have multiple scary stages, just one right after another, and you give that to a Resident Evil fan, they’ll be happy with it at first. But they’ll get inured to it after a while. It won’t be scary for them anymore. I think they would lose interest at that point. It’s the same with casual players. They play this and it’s just too scary and they don’t want to keep going. It’s too much. It overwhelms them. In order to make and experience something that these two groups find enjoyable, you have to take a step back from that. You can’t just bombard them with these horror elements. You have to mix in some stages that are more entertaining and fun than pure horror. That breaks it up, and by breaking it up, it really strengthens the horror elements in the other stages that have them.
Of course, some gamers will argue that attempting to strike for that middle ground where the horror and casual markets overlap, ultimately results in an uninspired and, worst of all, middle-of-the-road experience that doesn’t serve either extreme. There’s definitely opportunity for overlap in the horror and action genres – for many the Dead Space series has, so far, struck a pretty satisfying balance (though Dead Space 3 looks to up the action ante). However, not all franchises and genres can successfully appeal to the “mass-market” without undercutting the very elements and experiences that made them standout in the first place. For many, Resident Evil isn’t enjoyable because of the characters, creatures, or the (arguably) over-complicated storyline, it’s about the atmosphere and scares.
Whether or not players get behind the shift toward action experiences in Resident Evil 6, Kobayashi claims the team always started with a focus on fans – and then tweaked the various set pieces for casual gamers:
My personal philosophy, as the director… as Hirabayashi-san said, where do you get that balance? For me, I think the way to do that is that first you focus on the core fans and say, “This is what they want. This is what would be scary for them.” And then you create it in such a way that the casual players… That draws their interest.
Resident Evil 6 is shaping up to be a pretty divisive title – judging by early post-launch reactions. Plenty of gamers are pleased with the effort and already eager for future installments – meanwhile others are decrying the major franchise changes and asserting that they’re done with the franchise altogether. That said, it’ll be some time before we know whether that middle ground, the intersection of the action/horror Venn diagram, helps to boost Resident Evil software sales – and, as a result, whether Capcom’s biggest RE title is also the most profitable.
Of course, some fans have yet to be able to weigh-in on the controversy as the Resident Evil 6 launch was marred by a game-breaking bug on the PS3 – for gamers who purchased the title digitally through the PSN in certain markets. Retail copies were unaffected and Sony has corrected the problem – tweeting that a faulty launch patch was at fault: “If you’ve had a problem downloading Resident Evil 6, please delete and re-download. There was an issue with the patch that is now fixed.”
Affected gamers should simply delete the Resident Evil 6 digital file and redownload a fresh copy – then let us know what you think of the game in the comments below!
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Resident Evil 6 is available now for PS3 and Xbox 360.