2012 proved to be a watershed year for Resident Evil, if not for the belated 15th anniversary celebrations they would throw, then for how the industry they inspired turned on them. A perfect storm of their worst habits, the critiques of die-hard fans, the industry’s new reliance on co-operative and competitive gameplay, all of it manifesting into a trilogy of releases that aren’t fondly looked upon.
As a series, Resident Evil has always been the shining jewel in terms of what Capcom are capable of. As a game, it’s been at the mercy of experimentations, industry comparison, and seeing just how far they can push the envelope, not just in terms of mechanical innovation, but in terms of horror. After all, it’s not just a residence OF evil, it’s evil in terms of what humans can possess.
Surprisingly, the movies understand this ethos. Regardless of their quality, or reputation as ‘cursed video game adaptations’, they bring to life a vision that can apply this core concept — a double entendre for the ages, providing more nuance that is found by way of blunt force. As for the games, it’d take until 2005 with Resident Evil 4 to understand this. A cultural reset, and a humbling to Capcom’s carefree nature, RE4 utilizes its tropes to great effect, forging a new path for this quirky horror, driven by character and exuding charisma.
RE4 served as a new generational blueprint in gameplay, pacing, and writing, still heralded in the industry today. From there, however, Capcom had to make sure they didn’t fall into their own trap once more. To put it into perspective, there were 13 Resident Evil titles in the 9 years starting from 1996 to 2005. In that same amount of time starting from 2005 to 2014? Only 8 titles, with 3 of those releasing in 2012.
Beyond that, Capcom were still stuck in a state of re-evaluation. 2009’s Resident Evil 5, while perfectly serviceable, was a cut-and-dry affair, provoking the ire of fans due to the series stepping away from the survival horror roots they themselves had planted. Also lacking was the transparent but nonetheless strong characterization of the previous installment, which Capcom responded to with Resident Evil: Revelations.
Released in January of 2012, Revelations would see developer TOSE try and find a balance between the forward-thinking RE4 & 5, and the quiet, more restrained titles like Resident Evil Zero and Code: Veronica. Set primarily on the abandoned cruise liner “Queen Zenobia”, series mainstays Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield would team up with debutants Parker Luciani and Jessica Sherawat to deal with a new, but ultimately familiar threat.
From there, Revelations finds itself in two rather uncomfortable positions. On the one hand, you have an experience looking to capture the originals’ essence of goofy chemistry and oddball motives, in conjunction with the third-person’s more linear and forward-thinking ethos. On the other hand, you’re looking at a title that so desperately wants to be a part of the new school, both in its gameplay, and its co-operative habits. The result is a partnership without a knowing camaraderie.
There are several moments throughout Revelations where you’ll have a monkey tied to your back in the form of an NPC partner. Hoping to help you fight off these sea-faring homunculi manipulated by a new strain of the T-Virus, dubbed “T-Abyss”, their presence in these cramped cabins and decks are an obstacle you have to work around. This is largely thanks to the claustrophobic map design, and their AI.
Indeed, it makes for one of Resident Evil’s more infamously egregious affairs, the boss fights being an absolute hassle when the health pool is meant to be distributed to two different DPS outputs. Revelations houses an infamously bad final boss fight in the form of a mutated terrorist, who relies on attack patterns that clearly want two players to be involved. Instead, Chris Redfield relegates himself to a corner, pinging shots that almost never hit his weak spot.
It’s a strangely infuriating finale that fades once you play Revelations‘ more realized “Raid Mode”, a large offering of co-op maps that are able to utilize what the game is meant for: Positively debilitating firefights that incentivize progression through structure, inventory management, and synchronicity. The campaign simply doesn’t have this, and I think Capcom knew that.
What is Revelations in the end? For the most part, a cause for celebration. Its original release showcased the 3DS’s visual capabilities, pushing what was possible in terms of a handheld Resident Evil at the time. It’s a worthy relic — even now as it’s available on other platforms, and removed of its gimmicky 3D aspects — never surpassing its contemporaries, but able to equal them for brief, albeit stellar moments.
What’s important to note is that Revelations at least tried to chase the shadows of its past, as it would turn out to be the most dedicated Resident Evil released that year. 2 months after Revelations, Capcom would release Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City in collaboration with the now-defunct Slant Six Games, detailing a “what if?” scenario for the aftermath of Resident Evil 2. The result? A masterclass in hubris, and a shrugging of shoulders as Capcom continued to shove Resident Evil into strict multiplayer cores.
As mentioned previously, Capcom saw dollar signs in the integration of co-op horror, with Operation Raccoon City in particular being inspired by the reception of 2010’s Lost Planet 2. With the sequel having to rely on its co-op format — something completely omitted by the time Lost Planet 3 rolled around in 2013 — Capcom saw potential in attaching that core to the new-found action horror format Resident Evil possessed.
It’s easy to sense the cynicism now, and indeed, it was easier back then, whether it was Dead Space 3, F.3.A.R., Sacred 3, Mass Effect 3, or Assassin’s Creed Unity. This reliance on co-operative endeavors was always missing a balance, a unique and equal embellishment of progress for the player as an individual, and as part of a team. Operation Raccoon City, like many others mentioned, doesn’t have that.
It’s not enough to say that Operation Raccoon City barely has the minerals to compete with even the lowest of its market competitors. A strictly squad-based campaign that reduced Revelations’ inventory progression to menial XP grinding, its tactical advantages having no innovation beyond a bombardment of bullets. The unique abilities of the operators featured didn’t change the tide of war in any meaningful way, the involvement of which lacks variety — it’s to the point where the peaks in its 6-hour campaign are no more than the worst moments of a Left 4 Dead campaign with bots.
It’s easy to mock a game that was never going to be canon to the Resident Evil story to begin with, but as it turns out, its narrative offerings would turn out to be its most memorable offering. The fortitude relayed to treat Operation Raccoon City like an afternoon spent with your friends’ expensive toys is admirable, leading to a finale that is a masterclass in memetic energy. A weak presentation of its humdrum PvP mode, what follows is the execution of Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redield, fantastic in its gallantry, but not worth suffering through one of Resident Evil‘s lowest points to get there.
Is it Resident Evil in its most lamentable state? Without a doubt, but there are some who argue that, in a year where Operation Raccoon City was released, there was something worse to come. In October of 2012, the next mainline installment of the Resident Evil was released: Resident Evil 6, and boy howdy, did this one cause a ruckus. In a series with Operation Raccoon City, Survivor, Umbrella Corps — hell, even the movies — there’s a group which considers this the bottom of the barrel.
The complete omission of horror content. The longest, most drawn-out boss fights the series could ever offer. The paucity of chemistry in its writing. It’s committee-designed in all the worst ways possible, with every bad habit Resident Evil picked up over the years combining into a hopelessly draining experience, but only if you look at it the wrong way. Instead, turn Resident Evil 6 into a co-op session with a friend, and you’ll have one of the most exciting experiences in gaming history.
I’m not even kidding. While both Resident Evil 5 & 6 commit their sins in terms of horror content, RE5 loses its luster when the control scheme betrays the higher stakes. In 6, however? Everything is exceptionally tight. The gunplay is magnificent, the scope and scale of locations and firefights immense. Just as the writing takes too many elements from your favorite Michael Bay movies and Call of Duty, the gameplay takes the same step, providing an unequaled excitement despite its lack of self-awareness.
It may be unfair to apply that to one of the world’s leading horror franchises, but at that point, what did you expect? They had to branch out, to derive and differentiate from a core that couldn’t persist out of fear of being stale. Honestly, it’s easier to compare the structure and philosophies of Resident Evil to the prequel trilogy for Star Wars. A new design for a modern age bequeathed unto them a memory, spoiled by the new technologies of what was possible, while entirely detached from the stories that followed.
In a way, it’s somewhat heartening to know that 2012 turned out to be one of Capcom’s more formative years for Resident Evil, although “formative” doesn’t necessarily mean they learned. When Revelations 2 arrived in 2015, it saw itself attempting to ape the likes of Telltale-styled episodic content, while failing to understand its own pacing. As for Operation Raccoon City? Well, the reception of Umbrella Corps says it all.
Resident Evil 6, as an act of betrayal, is a coin with another side; that idea of stagnation, the concept of a cultural reset. Capcom saw lightning strike twice with the release of 2017’s Resident Evil 7, reinventing what the series is and should be… again, while now taking lessons from the industry they directly inspired. A heartwarming, if nonetheless uncomfortable position for players — after all, we’ve seen this play out twice before.