Nobody liked Resident Evil 6. I mean that in the broadest possible terms; ostensibly, there are people out there who did enjoy Resident Evil 6, and I’d be willing to bet half of those people either worked on the game or were related to people who worked on the game. The launch reviews weren’t terrible -- the Xbox 360 version stands at a not-terrible 67 on Metacritic -- but history has not been kind to Resident Evil 6.
Between middling tertiary installments, including two Umbrella-centric military shooter spin-offs, and a series of ridiculous live-action films, the Resident Evil brand had lost its cachet. You know all this! This isn’t the first time someone has posited that Resident Evil isn’t as good as it used to be. But now we have Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, a game people seem to actually enjoy.
A lot of people mistakenly claim this resurgence is because Resident Evil is back to its survival horror roots (e.g: “ripping off the aesthetic of P.T. and Outlast”). For people who want a new survival horror game, that’s absolutely the case. It also helps that Resident Evil 7 is, y’know, ostensibly a good video game. But I think the idea that Resident Evil is “back” comes from the underlying idea that it went away to begin with, and that we’re constantly looking to give these franchises another chance.
When you ask someone which Resident Evil is their favorite, there’s a good chance they’ll start talking about how great Resident Evil 4 is. That game is not survival horror. It has a rocket launcher in it, for Chrissakes. And yet, the effusive praise for Resident Evil 4 can be found in every corner of the games industry. It’s a departure from the survival horror of the first three major installments, trading slow-moving zombies for a dude in a burlap sack who bum-rushes you with a chainsaw. Again, it’s a Resident Evil that breaks from what you expect from the series. It’s a game that doesn’t even bother subverting your expectations because it’s too busy with a lake monster, man. You’re not surprised because the game is playing off what you expect, you’re just surprised because Resident Evil 4 is a new, exciting thing.
That’s the foundation of Resident Evil 7’s critical reception. Again, you can’t discount the game’s utter lack of January competition, nor the hard work that went into making a new, great Resident Evil. But the surprise that Resident Evil is worth caring about again, that’s what makes people want to check out this game. It’s nice that the game exceeds expectations, but I suspect the nostalgia people have for Resident Evil might be playing a big part here. For a lot of people, the original Resident Evil was their first mature gaming experience -- the game that made you realize what this medium was capable of. Everyone has “that game,” so for a lot of people, Resident Evil is “that game.”
I’m just spit-balling here, based on my own experiences and the experiences I’ve heard second-hand from pals & pundits, but I bet as they grew up, as they began to realize what gaming had to offer, they kept coming back to the series for validation. The love fans have for Resident Evil 2 through 4, the way the initial bout of iconography keeps appearing in later games and even the movies, that tells me people don’t just love Resident Evil the series. They’re also rooting for what Resident Evil represents, or at least what it represented to them all those years ago.
So when games like Resident Evil 6 or Operation Raccoon City bomb critically and commercially, you see fans dealing with this by either attacking those who disagree or attacking the series itself. With Resident Evil 7, the series is back to being good, so that cognitive dissonance no longer exists. People aren’t just happy to see a survival horror-focused Resident Evil, or even a good Resident Evil, they’re happy to be right again.
I’m not being judgmental! I get it, I feel the same way about Mass Effect. Mass Effect 2 was incredibly formative when I played it for the first time (7 playthroughs, one of the few games where I got every Achievement), but my disappointment in Mass Effect 3 is well-documented, to the point where I honestly can’t bring myself to get excited for Andromeda. I’m sure many people felt skeptical about Resident Evil 7 when it was first announced, and I will always encourage healthy skepticism. I’m happy for you guys! It seems like the game is pretty good; perhaps exactly what the fans wanted, without a ton of pandering. At the same time, never forget how bad some of those games were. Don’t pre-order, keep an open mind, watch trailers assuming none of that stuff is real, and hope for a great Resident Evil 8.
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