Horror video games have become a staple of the gaming industry in the past few decades. Even though there has been a little bit of decline in terms of innovation, it thrives both commercially and critically. Video games provide a more immersive and surreal horror experience than anything else out there.
Controlling the protagonist yourself plays a big part in this and It is even more nerve-wracking when the game is in First-person. Resident Evil 7 is probably the best example of all of these essential horror tropes. Since the release of the first game in 1996, Resident Evil has been a commercial giant.
Its sales single-handedly brought horror into the stratosphere of genres like FPS and RPGs. This wasn’t a coincidence, as the franchise started selling like hotcakes when the games switched to more action-based gameplay.
Switch to Action-Shooter Gameplay
The first three Resident Evil titles, which were traditional horror games, sold more than some popular shooters of that time. Resident Evil 1 sold 4 million copies, easily beating the 2 million of Tomb Raider and the 1.4 million copies Quake sold. On the other hand, the series left its horror competitor, Silent Hill, in the dust.
Hence, it was comprehensively beating popular games of the shooter and horror genres in sales. By sticking to the basic horror formula, Capcom couldn’t improve these numbers by much. And, we saw this with Resident Evil 0 and the remake of the first one, whose sales didn’t meet Capcom’s expectations.
As a result, to appeal to as many people as possible, Capcom took Resident Evil 4 in a new direction.
Resident Evil 4
Instead of being a total survival horror game, the 4th game put more emphasis on action third-person shooting. This was a departure from the formula previous mainline games in the series used. Capcom wanted the franchise to compete with other FPS titles and increase its sales.
Resident Evil 4 managed to do exactly that and sold more than 11 million copies worldwide. This was a significant improvement on the 3 million copies of Resident Evil 3 and changed the survival horror genre. Critics and players loved the change in direction to make the franchise more action-oriented.
Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil 5 fully embraced the action-shooter elements of the 4th game and amplified them through a bigger budget. The result was a Resident Evil game similar in scale to Call of Duty, with the sales backing it up. It has sold a stunning 12.6 million copies since its launch and these numbers strengthened Capcoms belief in big-budget Resident Evils with huge action spectacles.
Resident Evil 6:
However, it all went wrong with Resident Evil 6, which didn’t perform according to expectations. It had the highest budget of any game in the series but only sold more than 10 million copies in its lifetime. The numbers were worse than the previous two games and the mixed critical reception was the final straw.
Many said that it went too far into the Third-person shooter direction and left its survival horror roots behind. It failed to balance the elements as the 4th and 5th game did.
The Return To The Franchise’s Roots With Resident Evil 7
Initially, Capcom decided that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard will go in the same direction as the previous three titles. However, some time into development in 2013, this version was thrown in the bin. Seeing the troubled production, the Capcom president decided to bring Jun Takeuchi on board.
He was the producer of Resident Evil 5 and was going to solve the problems of the 7th game. The decisions he made, completely changed the tone of the franchise, once again. Jun Takeuchi decided that, unlike the previous three games, Biohazard was going to be pure survival horror in first-person.
Jun Takeuchi alongside director Koshi Nakanishi made a cinematic film(as seen below) to quell the doubts of other developers. The horrifying single-scare scene worked to perfection but the business side of Capcom still had many concerns. As Resident Evil 7 was going to be so different from other games in the series with no online features, Capcom didn’t see it working.
But, Takeuchi gave a masterful presentation to bring them aboard. He wanted the game to be “narrow but deep“, making the player feel trapped and create fear, which was the spirit of the franchise. Afterward, Capcom moved Resident Evil 7 into production.
Creation of RE Engine
Jun Takeuchi didn’t want to use a generic engine like MT Framework to make Biohazard. He thought that Western developers had made much more progress and wanted to create an engine up to modern standards. His engine was going to be specific to Capcom but also flexible enough to fulfill all their needs.
The result of this vision was the Reach for the Moon or RE Engine, first used in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Since its creation, many Capcom games like Devil May Cry 5 have used the RE engine. Not only did it make Biohazard the success it is, but it also became a huge internal triumph for Capcom.
Influences And New Production Methods
Jun Takeuchi took influence from horror movies and told director Nakanishi that he wanted the game to be like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. A Southern setting was also settled and a team went to Louisiana and do research. Here, Technical Art Director Makoto Fukui used Photogrammetry and the result was the most photo-realistic Resident Evil ever.
Spanish horror movie REC also influenced the game and that is apparent in its VCR clips. A scrapped opening of the game also used the image of the protagonist of REC. Biohazard had a lot of story changes and scrapped ideas, but the influences stayed persistent.
The Success of Biohazard
Fans got their first look at Resident Evil 7: Biohazard in 2016, at the E3 and the conference rang out with cheers when the trailed ended. The game was a huge success and as of June 2022, it has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide. Not only is this more than the sales of the previous title, but also on a smaller budget.
Critical and fan reception was also through the roof. Everyone loved the return of Resident Evil to survival horror and the experience was described as harrowing. From the masterful pacing, brilliant new characters, and VR support, Resident Evil 7 was a victory on all fronts.
However, its most important contribution was probably the long-term changes to the franchise. Jun Takeuchi introduced the RE Engine, Photogrammetry, and a lot more which made the life of Capcom and the franchise easier. This success wasn’t a fluke either as the sequel was even more culturally significant.
Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil 8 or better known as Resident Evil Village came out last year as a direct sequel to Biohazard. It kept the same tone Takeuchi set for the 7th game and continued its story. Just like its predecessor, Village was also a huge success.
Characters like Alcina Dimitrescu and Donna Beneviento were some of the ingenious introductions to the game. Some might say Resident Evil Village was more popular due to the meme culture around it.
But overall, it was a success similar in scale to Resident Evil 7 even though the reception was less positive due to technical issues. Village has sold 6.4 million copies worldwide in one year which is more than the 6 million Biohazard sold in that time frame.
What made this game successful was Takeuchie’s decision to change the tone of the franchise making it more popular and relevant in gaming culture. And that is apparent in the critical and commercial success of both these games.
The expansion Shadows of Rose, starring Ethan and Mia’s daughter Rosemary Winter, was released this year. It ended the story which started in Biohazard and changed the fortunes of Capcom and the franchise for good.
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