April 18, 2017 1 Comment
Resident Evil 7. While it’s doing well commercially, it’s one of the most quiet best-sellers in recent memory. Maybe that has to do with the perception that the game is a flop. In February, it finished second to the well-marketed but incredibly ho-hum For Honor. Capcom projected four-million units sold through March. When they came up about a million short, their stock fell. Meanwhile, 2017 is arguably the best year in gaming history at this point (and we’re only in April) and nobody is buzzing about Resident Evil 7.
And it’s seriously amazingballs. Like Resident Evil 4, the seventh sequential Resident Evil is a radical departure from the foundation the franchise has laid. A first-person game that’s more Texas Chainsaw Massacre than the zombie-schlock Day of the Dead as run by Walmart top-heavy mythology that we’ve come to expect. I can’t even play survival-horror games in the proper lights-out setting thanks to my epilepsy, and I was still enthralled and genuinely on the edge of my seat playing through Resident Evil 7. While #4 makes fewer mistakes and has some of the best pacing any game has ever had, I actually think Resident Evil 7 might be the best entry in the series. The suspense and horror were white-knuckle, the writing wasn’t so cringe-inducing that you look prune-faced by time the credits roll (good writing in a Resident Evil? Come on, NOBODY saw that coming), and while the pacing is more stop-and-go than a loading Ferris Wheel, it never becomes a slog. Ever. It’s what I always wanted Resident Evil to be and never was. Everyone in my circle of friends who has taken the time to finish the game tells me exactly that.
So why is nobody talking about it?
I don’t think it has to do with Resident Evil 6 being bad. Don’t get me wrong, it is bad. But worse than being bad is being forgettable. It’s not even remembered as “the one with the four mediocre campaigns.” It’s not remembered at all. Even when my gaming friends and I talk about the Resident Evil series, it never comes up. At least for my circle of friends, we tend to think of Resident Evil 5 as the last “real” RE game. And that edition is known for being “like #4, only not as good.” The spin-offs are even worse than #6, with Operation Raccoon City and Umbrella Corps finding near-universal scorn. Thus, you have to go back to 2005’s Resident Evil 4 to find the last “good one” in the series. Twelve years ago. And one that was remastered and reissued a few times in the years that followed, indicating that Capcom themselves are aware that it’s the only desirable “recent” game in the series.
And that’s the issue. Not that fans are burned out on Resident Evil. Clearly that’s not the case. It’s more about the perception that the best days of the series are long behind it. In the twelve years since Resident Evil 4, new entries in the sequential series have been mediocre or worse. The spinoffs have been either forgettable or horrible. The best releases are reissues of older games, creating what I call “Back When it was Gooditus.” Why did fans chomp at the bit for the Silent Hill collection that was broken without hope of patchwork? Because it was the series “back when it was good.” Back When it was Gooditus is tough to recover from. Resident Evil 7 was the first game of the year contender to hit this year, but nobody is talking about it.
So why not call it something else? Don’t say “because new IPs are tough to sell.” RE 7 was beat by a new IP, For Honor. Was it because Capcom was lazy, even by their own standards, in marketing it? Runaway horror games are scorching hot right now, and Resident Evil feels like the first big-budget mainstream attempt at one. But, attaching the Resident Evil name means you actually have to show that distinction off. Capcom didn’t do that. Their marketing was essentially “it’s the seventh Resident Evil. Need we say more?”
Um, yea. You really do.
Because the name Resident Evil is not synonymous with quality. Not only that, but the Resident Evil’s traditional brand of horror is considered archaic by today’s standards. The taint of RE 6 and the spinoffs, not to mention those God-awful Milla Jovovich films. Throw in the triple-whammy of Capcom endlessly flogging and remaking the previous games, inadvertently creating Back When it was Gooditus, and you have to wonder if Resident Evil 7 ever stood a chance. It reminds me of Red Steel 2, which is never a good thing. I wasn’t as in-love with it as many people were, but it was certainly a step up from the Wii launch abortion that was Red Steel. Considering that the original was universally despised and the sequel didn’t feature the same theme or setting of the original, I still can’t figure out why Ubisoft bothered tying the two together. It would be like serving a moderately tasty New York Strip steak with a week-old Big Mac and saying “well, they both have meat and thus basically the same thing.” Although my tongue was firmly in cheek when I suggested the name Spooky Creepy Scary Horror House 2017, SCSHH’17 comes with no baggage. Maybe it would have got people talking.