Sometimes, it's easier to say what you don't want than what you do want. This is certainly true in the case of Resident Evil 7; what I want, more than anything, is for the next installment to not be like Resident Evil 6.
Resident Evil 6's failings are too numerous to describe here, but Capcom's troubled and expensive sequel was a hodgepodge of modern action game cliches and recurring mechanics that didn't mesh with the game's gameplay styles and level design. If Resident Evil 6 represents what happens when you look to best-selling action games for inspiration, then Resident Evil 7 must emphasize core series values rather than imitating testosterone-fueled power shooters. Capcom hasn't yet painted itself into a corner, and the best means of removing the bad taste Resident Evil 6 left behind is to find new ways to keep us on the edges of our seats.
Learning from the Past
That doesn't mean, however, that Capcom should ignore the elements that made Resident Evil so beloved and gave it its unique identity. Resident Evil was scary, in part because it cultivated tension and capitalized on the fear of the unknown. Those zombie dogs weren't upsetting just because they were zombie dogs, but because you didn't expect an attack. They crashed through the glass and you shot or you ran; perhaps you got away, or perhaps a dog bit into your arm and you struggled to break free. It's an iconic moment, but it's one that the series has returned to time and time again, making zombie dogs an assumption rather than a fright. Resident Evil can look to the past, but the right way to do so isn't to repeat specific moments or copy exact gameplay systems, but to recapture the fear and uncertainty that made it a survival horror success.
This is especially vital given the genre's recent resurgence. Slender: The Arrival is incredibly simple yet incredibly effective at eliciting screams, and simplicity is a defining feature in both Outlast and Amnesia, because those games understand that what happens in the player's head is more powerful than a screen full of zombies. Capcom must learn once again how to plant the seeds of distrust and dread, and that means an eerie setting, unfamiliar enemies, and vulnerable characters. I predict, however, that Jake will take a prominent role once again in Resident Evil 7. If so, Resident Evil will likely continue its focus on guns over exploration.
If I had my way, however, guns would become less vital, exploration and puzzles would gain prominence, and I would be--alone. That might seem unlikely given RE5 and RE6's focus on cooperative play, but being lost and deserted is a naturally tense and harrowing state of being. Drop me in a place like Resident Evil's Spencer Mansion, all Gothic lighting and carpeted staircases, and force me to escape. Don't make me the hunter--make me the hunted. Keep an unseen main nemesis mysterious and larger than life. Make me hide from my pursuers and fear getting caught by making every encounter an event. The recent Daylight may not have been a good game, but its core idea--randomized levels and scares--could keep anxiety levels high were the next Resident Evil to implement them properly. In fact, the randomness could be a plot point: just how does this place keep changing? Am I losing my mind?
Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater
Quick: name all the viruses that have appeared in Resident Evil games! Let's see. There are t, and C, and G, and t+G, and t-Veronica, and t-Abyss, and Uroboros, and… well, there are others. There are TRICELL, and Umbrella Corporation, the Edonian Liberation Army, and Los Iluminados, and a bunch of other organizations. Primary characters include Chris, Jill, Leon, Claire, Wesker, Ashley, Jake, Sherry, Ada, Rebecca, Jack, Barry, Billy, Sheva, Carlos, Jessica, Piers, and about one zillion other people. In its current state, Resident Evil is a narrative mess, and there is little hope that the mainstream games will bring closure to most of these stories, leaving spinoffs, novels, and other media to fill in the gaps.
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Again, simplicity is key. Resident Evil 6 didn't just tell one story, but four of them, and while they intertwined in some great ways, they gave rise to muddled gameplay and convoluted plotting. Let's instead see one character or a small group of characters come to terms with a singular horror. The series' Japanese title is "Biohazard," and there's no reason Resident Evil 7 must abandon its viral theme, or disconnect itself entirely from the universe it has built. But a standalone story with tenuous ties to other plots would allow Capcom to exercise some imagination without being bound by the shackles of their own tortuous backstory.
One newer element the series shouldn't abandon is its over-the-shoulder camera and deliberate shooting model. If the series wants to go full-on shooter once and for all, there are ways to do that and still keep tension levels high, but given the disappointment of Operation: Raccoon City, I am not sure I'm willing to trust that Capcom knows what to do with that possibility. And while many fans long for the old camera views, I support the scheme introduced by Resident Evil 4, which allowed me to view the world through Leon's point of view while still fearing my attackers.
Capcom has said that it intends to return the series to its survival-horror roots, though in the same interview, Capcom's former senior vice president also stated that "The Last of Us shows a good direction of what the consumers want. Tomb Raider as well, we spoke to R&D and they looked at that and they enjoyed that experience." Of course, neither The Last of Us nor Tomb Raider greatly resemble early Resident Evil games, though to be fair, The Last of Us was often pretty darn scary, so only time can tell if the talents behind the series are looking to the proper places for motivation.
Of course, the armchair game developers in all of us have their own ideas of what Resident Evil should be. What do you want from Resident Evil 7? Tell us in the comments section below.