Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Resident Evil is in itself a Zombie.

When I step back and pick apart my subjective experience for the Resident Evil franchise, I realize something, Resident Evil is dead now. Wait though! Before you write me off as another crazed fanboy, I ask that you hear me out. Also, there are no spoilers in case anyone is worried.


Watching the extravaganza for Resident Evil 5 over the past few days has left me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. The sweetness is that Resident Evil 5 is a proficient third person shooter with a lot to be proud of. It’s sub-context of racial perception is also a plus as well (no matter how misconstrued it actually is), as it forces people to expose a still-relevant issue in society. Pretending like racism isn't still running rampant like a undisciplined child in the corridors of society's subconscious is idiotic. It's just nice that a game can drag the little bastard out for a scolding.

Whether it’s judging the person’s action towards slaughtering Africans with spears, or the developer’s obviously unintentional offense, there’s some good thoughts flying around about the nature of this game. At the same time however, I’m left with a bitter emptiness because I don’t have the franchise that I grew up alongside anymore. That’s nobody’s fault really, but I do have the right to lament over this fact so I shall. Most people immediately try to lump Resident Evil into a category with things like Metal Gear Solid, because some of us actually enjoy what most call "poor stories". I don’t begrudge anyone to have certain standards or tastes, but I do become hyper-snooty myself at those who immediately look down on such titles that people find a deep resonance with (and they’ll usually cite this resonance to the “story”). Anyone familiar to me or my writing knows that I have a large cognitive problem when someone describes something (usually a game) with “poor story” or being “poorly written”; I just literally can’t comprehend that. I suppose I could argue here that it’s the fact that they are alluding to that joke of a notion which most claim to grasp (objective perspective). It's particularly hilarious when one juxtaposes their viewpoints on what these types of people DO consider a well-told story because all I see is hypocrisy.

There’s no such thing as a “good story” and I’d even argue the quality of writing is up for debate. As long as I can comprehend what’s going on, what difference does it make? The opinion is always what’s going to carry the bulk of the load. Is one’s opinion so weak that it has to cripplingly lean on some standard to formulate itself? Anyway, I’m veering off topic, that’s another topic for another day. Moving on…I’ve been very outspoken the past few years on my stance regarding Resident Evil 4, it’s a fantastic game, but was significantly ruined for me by what happened to the RE-universe. In some cases I was fine with this, because the Las Plagas incident could be interpreted as merely an excellent sidequest. Last week however, I was laying things out on whether or not to throw my meager funds at RE5. After a day of mental debate, I methodically arrived at the conclusion to just simply read a story summary. So, I’m sitting here…reading about these things regarding the Majini, all these characters and plot specifics orbiting the remnants of the Raccoon City incident and I realized that it was over--it truly was. The franchise has officially jumped the shark for me. The game is selling and it’s selling well (Four million right?). Plenty of people loved RE4 for good reasons, and I bet they’ll enjoy RE5 just as much...with good reason nonetheless.

Most people who at least understand my perspective, understand why I'm so downtrodden over the series demise, because they too tasted what Resident Evil was. Pre-RE4 had the player slowly making their way through cramped industrial or residential complexes. The tank controls did help the illusion but it wasn't key in the experience, so I understand why Resident Evil 4 had the impact it did. I hear a ton of people say that if it isn't broken don't fix it: "I loved RE4 so what's wrong with enjoying RE5?"WELL YOU SELFISH SON OF A BITCH, WHAT HAPPENS IF I LOVED RESIDENT EVIL 0-CODE VERONICA?! This is about the 800th time I've said this, but I much preferred the original Resident Evil 4 before it got it's makeover. It actively shifted the entire franchise forward while maintaining the old things I still lust for now.

Resident Evil was a game that had an oppressive atmosphere that usually assaulted the player in solitude constantly. Scarce ammo is one thing, but having the player constantly set in stone as something far from a badass was always a consistent presence. The monsters actually felt like monsters, creatures that ignited a sense of unknown ability and stripped the player of their hubris (despite what gun they happened to be carrying at the time). These games actually made safe rooms an emotional reality. Tracks like "Secure Place" from RE2 (on my music player on the right-hand side of this page) will forever remain etched into people's memories because they probably found the same "dance" I did with those games. Amongst that safety with those tracks playing, reading those notes and maps in cramped office spaces became something else; filling in things with one's imagination in order to mentally work your way through a tale. These are the type of people that let the game play them rather than egotistically doing it the other way around. It also brings into question of the nature of "fun" in a videogame which I'm currently working on for a future blog. Very rarely would I ever describe myself as having fun in those games. Instead, I found myself as an emotionally distraught ten year old contemplating whether or not to leave the room I was in, a room I knew was safe.

Of course youth helps with that sort of thing, but I noticed even as I got older the feeling stayed, it just became buried underneath layers of societal psychosis. Once the game crosses that threshold of intimacy, it doesn't matter if the characters are speaking absolute gibberish, they will be "amazing" as characters from that point forward. The tale or conflict becomes resolute, it begins to trickle and bleed with hints of reality and for all intensive purposes, that tale has become a part of your memory. A part in which you had a physical interaction with, and something your brain begins to blur categorizing-lines with when distinguishing between dreams, actual experiences, and "false" ones. That's a video-game, that's what Resident Evil was...for some of us anyway.

Now, I'm not saying those experiences can't be grasped for these new titles as well, I'm just saying that they won't be for me. They do owe their existence to their predecessors though, so that's something that should always be considered when playing these games. When a game is challenging me to question my own definitions for quality within a narrative, it's doing it's job. When my mind is on autopilot and all I can really say is "I'm having fun" with a stupid grin on my face, then I know that's not where I want to be. I want the world where the atmosphere, setting, and coding all combine to make Claire Redfield an actual entity, not simply my avatar.

So I'm back to where I began with my introspective rant. Resident Evil 5 is a product of what began in Resident Evil 4. Sticking Leon in in a Europe and giving him a plethora of weapons/monsters to deal with did not make it a Resident Evil game, it made it "Leon is super-awesome - Press Start". Resident Evil 5 is no different, in fact it's worse in a lot of ways. Staging a superficial reunion in Africa doesn't make it a Resident Evil game either. Going to your high school reunion rarely feels like a day back in high school does it? Taking the undead out and replacing them with live carriers has ironically killed the franchise itself. That "intensity" most would argue for in the latter games (RE4 & RE5) is killed for me as the villagers still run up to the player and halt, as if to brag about the programmer's technical prowess. Fuck you...

Now, I’m sure I’ll pick up Resident Evil 5 sometime this year and find some enjoyment out of it for myself, but it won’t be consistent with Resident Evil 0 – Code Veronica. I just know I'm going to be on autopilot...with a stupid smile on my face. Maybe it will get back up one day as a game with that same flair I found all those years ago. Maybe Resident Evil will become it's own Crimson head, but I'm not stupid enough to put faith in hope anymore, especially with our little industry chugging along the way it is.