Resident Evil is one of the most beloved survival horror franchises in all of gaming. But ever since the release of Resident Evil 4 – and especially with the release of RE5 – the franchise has taken a decided turn away from it survival roots, becoming more of an action franchise than anything else.
Some gamers love this shift. Some hate it. But which camp is in the right? Today, IGN’s retro Resident Evil enthusiast Audrey Drake (me!) and RE5 defender Samuel Claiborn duke it out via e-mail. Check out their arguments, then leave your own thoughts in the comments at the bottom of the page.
Round 1… FIGHT!
From: Samuel J Claiborn
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 10:31 AM
To: Audrey Drake
Subject: Re: Resident Evil: Action vs. Survival Horror
Audrey, I’d like to kill the Action vs. Survival Horror argument with a well-placed shot to the head, but it keeps rearing up like a demon crab-thing out of the gaping neck hole.
I view the post-Resident Evil 4 games as fixing the flaws and primitive technology of the originals. Resident Evil had confusing, switching camera angles, an unintuitive pivoting control scheme and crummy, approximate aiming. This caused tension because it was extremely hard – and frustrating – to kill zombies. In Resident Evil 4, zombies are still hard to kill. When you are swarmed by villagers or evil monks, it still causes a lot of tension. If you get overwhelmed, it’s because your aim is bad – not because you are pressing up and shooting wildly in the distant corner, but the giant snake isn’t taking any damage.
Also, let’s get this out of the way now: Resident Evil will never be "scary" again; You were ten years old, that’s why it was scary. That’s also why I had to cover my eyes with my Care Bear during the Darth Vader scenes in The Empire Strikes Back.
First of all, the snake’s name is Yawn. GEEZ. Also, the original game’s controls aren’t on trial here – though I would make the argument that, while now admittedly archaic, the gimped controls were intentionally limited. The original games wouldn’t have been frightening at all if you could move as fluidly as in Mario 64. It made the world more claustrophobic, and yes, more frightening. You really had to think on your feet and work with what you had to make it out alive in those game.
RE4 achieved a brilliant balance – maintaining the heart and soul of the RE universe (firmly residing in the SURVIVAL HORROR camp) while offering updated controls for modern audiences who couldn’t handle the tank controls. Like you. 😛 It supplemented the new controls by adding more zombies per area, bigger bosses and huge, unforgettable setpieces like the Village, the Castle, etc. What was memorable about RE5? Other than the hot girl and lots of desert, not much. While it was well-made, it was more of a generic action game, lacking the thrills and atmosphere so integral to the RE experience. Why ruin one of the most beloved survival horror franchises of all time by making it something it was never meant to be, just so Capcom can sell a few extra copies? If I want an action game, I’ll play Uncharted. RE4 is as far into action territory as I ever wanted to see that franchise venture. Hell, Revelations was more enjoyable than 5, because it actually felt like Resident Evil.
Also, the only thing frightening about Star Wars is how badly Lucas dropped the ball with the prequels.
So here we are, arguing about Resident Evil 4 vs. Resident Evil 5, which is ridiculous, since the original hubbub over Resident Evil’s departure from its roots arose with that very title. If you get in a huff about Resident Evil 5 straying too far from the Resident Evil 4 formula, imagine how fans felt when Resident Evil 4 showed up as a nearly unrecognizable sequel – it had green herbs and typewriters, but that’s about it!
Heck, this phrase could have been written by a spurned Resident Evil fan in 2005: "Why ruin one of the most beloved survival horror franchises of all time by making it something it was never meant to be, just so Capcom can sell a few extra copies? If I want an action game, I’ll play Uncharted."
And that’s precisely my point. The changes made in Resident Evil 4 made it an awesome action game, wholly distinct from the "survival horror" games that preceded it. And let’s be serious — "survival horror" just means "old-school adventure game on PlayStation in a haunted house."
I don’t have a good argument for why Resident Evil 5 is better than Resident Evil 4, because it isn’t, but I can say that the direction the series has taken since its switch to action is far more interesting than going back to its actual "roots."
So we can agree all day on how Resident Evil 4 is great, but it ain’t Resident Evil – it was the original offender.
It’s true, Sam – RE4 was indeed the genesis of the survival horror vs. action argument. But it’s tantamount to the original game compared to RE5, which didn’t really feel like Resident Evil at all. It might as well have had terrorists gunning you down instead of zombies. At least RE4 still had creepy locations (read: not bathed in sunlight) and tried to get you to jump out of your seat at least once or twice. It also had far less ammo than RE5, placing more emphasis on the “survival” element. And the heavy action sequences were usually spurred by giant creatures rather than typical action fare like car chases. Having no partner also lent to the atmosphere, which RE5 totally killed by having a hot chick feeding you herbs and tossing you ammo all the time.
In that sense, while it was certainly the first step in the franchise’s move toward being an all-out action game – I’d argue that RE4 was still a survival horror game, albeit with action elements. RE5, on the other hand, is an action game with zombies for some reason. The difference, while perhaps subtle, is that survival horror games seek to set a certain tone, an atmosphere of tension and unseen horror that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Whether or not it’s actually “scary” isn’t even really the point – it’s that tension, that adrenaline, that keeps survival horror fans coming back for more. That’s what separates it as its own genre.
And that’s why, even though it’s a well-made game, RE5 left me angry and dissatisfied. Take away the tension, (the survival horror element, in other words) and all you have is a B movie featuring enemies with severely bad skin. And the downfall of a truly classic franchise.
I consider you a friend Audrey, so you can call Resident Evil 4 a "survival horror" game just because it has less ammo, car chases and Sheva, but I am going to continue to secretly think of it as the first game in a new series of action-based Resident Evil games. Resident Evil 5 may mark the "downfall of a truly classic franchise," but Resident Evil 4 kicked the series over a cliff – a really awesome cliff where you can shoot at stuff while you fall!
I respect you, your mustache and your opinion, Sam – so we’ll end the argument here. We seem to disagree on the oft-contended definition of the survival horror genre, but the important thing is, we both agree that RE4 kicks serious ass! As for RE5, the only thing we seem to agree on is that we disagree. While I appreciate smooth controls and solid action, I still won’t waste my time on an entry in the series that is devoid of that signature atmosphere us RE fans love to fear. The series helped define a genre that RE5 forsook by taking the action elements too far – and in my book, that’s a true gaming sin. Gimme atmosphere and a slower pace any day.
Who do you agree with? Did we miss any points? Leave only your most evil thoughts on the survival horror vs. action debate in the comments section below!
Audrey Drake is an Associate Editor at IGN and a proud member of the IGN Nintendo team. She is also a lifelong gamer, a frequent banisher of evil and a wielder of various legendary blades. You can follow her wild adventures on her IGN blog and Twitter. Also, it’s okay if you disagree with her. You’ll live. More importantly – game on!
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