Resident evil retrospective- putting the fear into VR.

There are two types of horror games. Visceral, disturbing psychological horror games and B-movie horror games with cheesy dialogue, cheap, jump scares and increasing ludicrous plots of viruses, zombies and useless ‘special ops’ teams. While the former, exemplified by Silent Hill (thanks in part to its developer and gradually worsening installments) and, more tragically, last years PT, psychological horror genre might not ever see the light of day or a renaissance to its heyday again. However, after a couple of action heavy mis steps the latter is once again, 20 years later, going to grab VR by the throat and scare fans half to hell come January. THAT dog. THAT fmv face that looked over it’s shoulder at you. 
Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan, 1996-present) was a franchise that made consumers and the industry realize both the technical possibilities and demonstrating the potential of mature and cinematic content in console video games. Horror wasn’t just a movie genre any more. 
Whilst the plucky plumber was triple jumping into the 3rd dimension, Capcom was busy creating a game for the Playstation that proved to be one of the defining titles in distancing the machine from its charcoal grey, cartridge wielding competitor.
First, a brief history lesson.
Sony and Nintendo weren’t always in competition for the pocket money and Television time of households and their offspring. During the SNES days, they were in talks to co-produce a CD-ROM based add-on. Things went sour after the two companies could not agree for various reasons, and Sony decided to go their own way. Ken Kutaragi, dubbed ‘the father of the Playstation’ formed Sony Computer Entertainment, and managed to entice developers such as EA and Namco. The Playstation’s use of discs as opposed to cartridges made the console more trendy and cutting edge, and the third party support was strong. It could also be considered the first popular multi media entertainment device. Being able to play games as well as standard music CDs was seen as another big selling point.
This combined with impressive tech demos that showed off what it had under the hood, and it was clear to see the transition from 16 to 32-bit was not going to be a two horse race. With a bit of a head start on the Sega Saturn and Nintendo still favouring cartridges, Sony found and captured a demographic that was not just kids, but adults looking for the evolution the industry had been yearning and looking for. 1993’s Amiga CD and later, The Atari Jaguar, despite their supposed technical muscle failed to have a consistent and genuine leap forward in games and had not captured the media and consumers attention.
The Playstation had an arcade theme to it in the beginning, with versions of Ridge Racer, Wipeout and Tekken being in the launch window. It was the first time that graphics and games with this level of realism had been seen on a home console, and with Sega releasing ‘stop gaps’ such as the 32X, the stage was set. It wasn’t until adventure games such as Tomb Raider and Resident Evil dropped in 1996 that the Playstation really began to gain momentum, and the Survival Horror genre was born.
Resident Evil came along and scared the bejesus out of me. The movie-like characters, story and cut scenes (at the time, a relatively new term) immersed players into a world of fear, suspense and a battle for survival. I for one can still remember jumping when the zombie dog leapt through the window of that mansion. Pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles helped construct a realistic, claustrophobic and atmospheric environment that tested audiences’ lateral thinking, aim and nerve. I consider one of the most iconic elements of resident evil to be the excruciatingly long ‘opening door’ transitions. Marketing would say it was building tension (which it did), but in reality, it was trying to disguise the Playstation’s technical limitations and loading times.
There have been numerous sequels, remakes and other media tie-ins, including a dreadful bunch of movies, but I don’t think there are many games at the time that could encapsulate what an audience were looking for in interactive home entertainment like the first Resi.
Only Resident Evil 4 has come close to matching the originals sense of ambition, and a celebrated game play shift, with the spin-offs either rehashing the classic formula or going for a more ‘arcadey’ action-horror approach.
Forever copied, never bettered and constantly trying to capture the old magic, the Resident Evil series may be showcasing modern machines engine and graphical capabilities, but the old school cheap scares and cheesy B-Movie dialogue seemed to be lacking for now.
At TGS this year, Capcom acknowledged and celebrated resident evils 20th anniversary with a lavish haunted house. The ‘kitchen’ demo that so brutally tried to advocate VR was revealed as the next resident evil game at this years E3. This is Capcom trying to show consumers that they realize how much heritage the series has, what makes it great and more importantly, what will bring them back to the franchise. While original RE series creator Shinji Mikamis ‘The Evil Within’ received reasonable critical and commercial success, the clout that a main series Resident Evil game has is hefty. The recent ‘revelations’ brace of titles that started in the 3ds and migrated to home consoles showed that Capcom are making that transition back to basics and back to its horror roots, creating sense of tension and atmosphere. As decent as the ‘Revelations’ games were, it is quite difficult to replicate that tense environment on a handheld. Utilizing VR is a completely different and utterly terrifying ball game. Between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s unsettling master class PT and its spiritual contemporary Allison Road being in various states of existence and obscurity, resident evil 7 is crow barring its way into the publics eyes, minds and consciousness. While the crux of Resident Evils mechanics (aside from the switch to first person), story or characters are mostly still a mystery, the footage shown at E3 and TGS has been more than a statement of intent. Taking inspiration from contemporary low budget movies such as the Babadook or Cabin in the woods, Resident Evil 7 has the heritage and the pedigree to return to its roots and use new tech to let gamers enter a new realm of fear. Regardless of the games quality compared to the groundbreaking original or it’s inspired fourth installment, it can’t be denied that horror on VR is its tantalizing, intriguing and terrifying new home. 


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