Capcom’s in a weird spot. Talking to one of our other gaming editors, Ron, I’ve said on more than one occasion that I expected them to spend most of their time remaking and re-releasing old games instead of bringing anything unique to gaming. They have enough of a back catalog that they could probably ride that wave for a while. Their recent releases certainly support the theory.
Within about a week of each other, though, we saw the Japanese publisher release two entries in its now 20 year-old series, Resident Evil, that shows two different companies at work.
Released during E3, we have Resident Evil 7 Beginning Hour, and just last week, Umbrella Corps. Umbrella Corps is everything wrong with Resident Evil in one package, along with a whole laundry list of misguided ideas that make for a mess of a game. With Beginning Hour the team goes back to its roots, concentrating on horror and making the player feel vulnerable, while also doing stuff we would’ve never dreamed of the series doing.
Let’s start with what went wrong: Umbrella Corps(e).
While Jill and Chris, the protagonists of the original Resident Evil, were ostensibly elite agents, they were clearly outclassed by the zombies closing in around them. They were unprepared for the mansion that Umbrella agent Albert Wesker had brought them to and the hazards that filled it.
Over the years, those characters, along with other series regulars like Leon Kennedy, survived and went on to become expert zombie killers. By the end of Resident Evil 5, Jill was wearing a form-fitting catsuit and Chris was punching semi truck-sized boulders. Literally punching boulders. It went from the kind of silly you could laugh at and love to the kind you tolerate and roll your eyes at.
Umbrella Corps, an entirely multiplayer game, discards much of that story, but it doesn’t help things any. You play as a mercenary fighting over the bio-organic weapons left behind by the Umbrella Corporation. I know that not because I played the game – I did. I mean, I tried. I know that because I read it on the wikipedia page for the game. The game itself seems to care even less than I do about why these characters are in all these settings, a sort of best-of collection from the series, all shooting at each other.
A series that once focused on survival against overwhelming forces, pitting humans against hordes, now has characters that would be cannon fodder in any other game in the series taking down zombies with an ease that would impress even Leon Kennedy himself, the only dude bad enough to rescue the president’s daughter.
This is a game no one wanted, and it’s easy to see when you try to log in to play it, though the game doesn’t make that any easier.
Despite there being only a scant few modes, it’s really difficult to find a game even just a week after release. You have to choose things like how many rounds you’d like the match to be before you enter a lobby, meaning that the game is limiting player selection even before you start looking.
Once you get in, games are very fast. The main mode is a single-spawn team deathmatch that requires three players on each side. Once I did finally get into a game after half an hour of waiting, the match lasted less than five minutes I’d guess, and it was back to waiting for a sixth person to fill out the lobby before I got it.
The few good ideas in there are muddled by everything else. The zombies, more a distraction than a hazard, do a good job of keeping you from sticking to cover, which is an interesting take on the cover combat mechanic we see so often. And when you’re in cover, your camera is locked. You can’t see much of anything, as would normally happen in cover. Again, this keeps the game from being a pop-and-shoot game all the way through. This stuff could be fun if it wasn’t so difficult to find a game.
The shooting itself is strictly functional and gets the job done, but it’s not the best or worse I’ve ever seen in a shooter or even a Resident Evil game. Almost everything about the game feels like it was designed to be a free-to-play eSports game, but it costs money to purchase and will never garner the playerbase necessary to even consider entering that arena, so to speak.
On the other side of the coin, we have Resident Evil 7 Beginning Hour.
Released alongside their surprising E3 demo, Beginning Hour is sort of Resident Evil‘s answer to Silent Hills’ teaser game P.T.. It’s not a slice of the actual game, and the gameplay itself might not be representative of what we’re actually going to get in the final product, but it’s representative of what they’re working on.
Beginning Hour tosses out too much of the series’ conventions to make a comprehensive list. The game plays entirely in first person, making the whole experience an intimate and tense one. Instead of playing as a named character, coming in with a badge and a gun, you’re just some guy. I’m hoping they’ll have a gender select to make the first person perspective a little less weird for female players, but again, this is a demo, and we’ve got some time before the game hits in January (assuming they stick to that release date).
Never in the demo do you pick up a weapon, though the environmental puzzles start immediately. It gives the play a bit of direction without cutting into the tense atmosphere. For me, it actually amplified it. As I dug around in drawers in this dark, dilapidated house, I kept expecting to turn around and see someone there (I won’t for you whether or not I actually did, except to say that it does deliver on scares).
Again, none of this is indicative of the final product, but it’s demonstrative (as one might expect a demo to be). It shows us that the team is examining new ideas, and trying to rescue a nearly dead series from its last gasps. It tells us that the executives behind the team developing the game are supportive of the attempt to revitalize the series after watching it founder for so long. It is good evidence this franchise can still scare the daylights out of us when done right.
And, unlike Konami, it seems like Capcom still wants to make video games.
Resident Evil 7 Beginning Hour gives me hope for not just Resident Evil itself, but for Capcom. They’ve got something genuinely interesting brewing, and they have everyone’s attention. Mine, certainly.