Capcom’s beloved survival-horror franchise has been around since 1996, and its longstanding popularity among fans can be attributed to all the same things that make for great horror films; an uncanny ability to instill a sense of dread and despair. Anyone that’s ever taken a trip into the Spencer Estate or roamed the crimson-splattered streets of Raccoon City can attest to just how panicked life can become when standing face-to-rotted-face with a zombie and realizing that there’s only one bullet in the chamber. Through a number of sequels and one-offs, the series produced admirable sales numbers well into the early 2000’s, but gamers would eventually grow weary of the source material. The games were becoming stale, and players tired of the outdated fixed-camera angles and tank style control scheme. The hackneyed zombie storyline certainly wasn’t helping matters, either.
The company would attempt to breathe new life into the series by remaking the original game for Nintendo’s Gamecube console, and while it received critical praise, it didn’t achieve commercial success. A follow-up title which served as a prequel of sorts, aptly named Resident Evil 0, was dealt the same fate. Capcom took notice and realized they needed to do something drastic. After a lengthy development process that included a number of scrapped ideas and builds, one of which was fleshed out into the seminal edition of Devil May Cry, the franchise found itself back in the nurturing hands of its creator, Shinji Mikami. He created a new European setting that served as a contrast to earlier locales, a combat system based around the dispatching of enemies as opposed to encouraging players to abstain from battle, and an over-the-shoulder camera perspective. These components made for a game that was not only an instant classic that has since been ported to almost every generation of console release since its original inception more than a decade ago, but that also served to redefine the genre that Capcom themselves helped pioneer.
That game was Resident Evil 4, and it’s one of the most beloved video games of all time.
The commercial success of RE4 renewed fan interest and all but guaranteed that the series would continue on. Resident Evil 5 would release a few years later and prove to be a sales juggernaut, outperforming sales of RE4 and earning the record of being Capcom’s best-selling game ever. While critics and supporters alike enjoyed the game, some took issue with the inclusion of run-and-gun gaming mechanics, more akin to popular action titles of the day. Gone were the creepy old castles and abandoned mansions, in favor of a bright and sunny African savannah, industrial settings, and even a battle in the heart of a volcano. If die-hard devotees were starting to worry that their cherished franchise was deserting what made it so popular to begin with, their fears were realized when, just three years later, Resident Evil 6 was released.
RE6 was not what players had hoped for. It cast aside everything that had become synonymous with earlier entries, in order to present an action-driven experience. Game sales were sluggish and reviews were mixed, to say the least. While it would go on to become Capcom’s second best-selling game of all time, it took quite a while to accomplish that feat. Fans made their voice heard, and Capcom wouldn’t allow backlash against the game to go unnoticed.
Fast forward to E3 in 2015, where attendees were given the chance to play a demo for a title known only as Kitchen. The experience was conducted in VR, and dropped players into a scenario not unlike something borrowed from popular horror movies. Participants followed a team of ghost hunters around a decrepit mansion set in the bayous of Louisiana, and many who played it agreed that it was, quite possibly, the most unnerving and terrifying game they’d ever played. A year later, the same demo would be shown during Sony’s E3 press conference. The same derelict mansion, complete with bug-infested pots and pans, was being shown off with one slight difference. This time, at the end of the trailer, viewers were let in on a surprise that Capcom had kept well-guarded:
Kitchen was actually Resident Evil 7.
Much like the same precarious position they’d found themselves in a decade before, Capcom realized that in order to preserve the legacy of their ground- breaking series, they’d need to shake up the format while still retaining key elements of horror. A first-person camera view was chosen to allow for a much-more intense visual experience, one that can be further enhanced by playing the game in VR. The setting of a ramshackle mansion in the balmy swampland of Louisiana is a break from the well-traveled back alleyways of Raccoon City, and the motley crew of series’ mainstays such as Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield are nowhere to be found. While it isn’t clear whether or not this entry fits into the canonical universe of Resident Evil, one thing is for certain; players are excited, interested, and perhaps most importantly, ready to forgive the woeful missteps of RE6.
A series of demos that expand on the settings first portrayed in the Kitchen demo were released over the past 6 months, and have generated quite a lot of buzz for the game. Hundreds of YouTube videos and thousands of hours of live streams have showcased fans trying to unearth every secret locked behind the crumbling walls of the Baker Family Estate, and Capcom couldn’t be more thrilled. A recent statement from the company expresses hope that RE7 will move upwards of 4 million copies on day one, which, if realized, would far exceed sales figures produced by any of the previous entries.
Capturing lightning in a bottle isn’t something that Capcom is unfamiliar with, as demonstrated so many years ago with RE4, and so long as the franchise is willing to embrace its survival horror roots while trying out a few new ideas, there’s a passionate fan-base ready to welcome it back with open arms, a homecoming that could turn out to be the warmest one yet.