Resident Evil is at the absolute height of its popularity. 2021 alone will see the releases of the eighth mainline entry in the video game series, a virtual reality title, an anime series, and a film reboot. The proliferation of Resident Evil is the clearest example yet of a stunning comeback for a property that, until recently, had lost its way.
Learning the wrong lessons from the beloved 2005 game Resident Evil 4, Capcom abandoned survival horror in favor of more generic third-person shooter gameplay. Fans were less than receptive to the following two entries in the series, befuddled by Capcom’s handling of one of its most valuable properties. Thankfully, 2017’s Resident Evil VII: Biohazard was a return to form, with the added twist of first-person gameplay. The change in perspective made events in the game feel more immersive, not to mention adaptable to PlayStation VR.
Capcom followed Resident Evil VII with remakes of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 to even greater acclaim. The games were built on the solid foundations of the PlayStation One classics, modernizing the graphics and performance to rival the best today’s video games have to offer.
Last week Capcom aired its latest Resident Evil Showcase to share new details about Resident Evil Village, the 8th mainline entry in the series arriving in May, and surprised viewers with the announcement of Resident Evil 4 VR. On top of that, Capcom is also reportedly developing a Resident Evil 4 remake in the mold of 2 and 3.
Those projects, combined with the emergence of Resident Evil in other mediums, show that the franchise matters more to Capcom, gamers, and the wider entertainment industry now than ever before. Read about where Resident Evil Village is pushing the series, the challenges that come with remaking a modern classic, and the upcoming adaptations of Resident Evil for film and television.
Resident Evil Village
In January, Capcom released Maiden, a free standalone experience for PlayStation 5 owners and a prelude to Resident Evil Village. The “demo” doesn’t feature any action-oriented gameplay, but it’s an excellent demonstration of the upcoming game’s visual fidelity and the tone of the game.
The 2021 game is more expansive than Resident Evil VII, which primarily confined its protagonist Ethan to a derelict plantation in Louisiana. This time Ethan will have, appropriately, an entire village to explore, including the castle the protagonist of Maiden was trapped inside.
The game also ties Ethan into the larger Resident Evil mythology. Capcom shared that Chris Redfield, one of the series’ original protagonists, will play an important role in the story. However, it’s not entirely clear whether he will be an ally or antagonist to Ethan.
Most excitingly, Village is a fresh opportunity for Capcom developers to experiment with the Resident Evil formula. The design of Biohazard felt very familiar, almost cautious. Such an approach was understandable since Capcom needed the game to be a return to form following the negative response to Resident Evil 5 and 6. Now that it’s regained its footing, Capcom can rework the alchemy of Resident Evil, going in bold new directions with both Village‘s design and storytelling.
Remaking a classic
Fans expected Capcom to use the showcase to at last reveal the long-rumored remake of Resident Evil 4 for PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series. Imagine their surprise when Capcom instead announced an adaption of the fan-favorite title for virtual reality instead. But a traditional remake of Resident Evil 4 is reportedly in development as well, even if Capcom isn’t ready to unveil it yet.
The VR version of RE4 planned for late 2021 shows potential, especially since it promises to be more immersive than the PlayStation VR version of Biohazard. Still, the traditional remake of Resident Evil 4 remains at the top of many people’s minds since it will be available to a wider audience than any virtual reality title can reach. It’s a uniquely challenging game to remake, mainly because of how well the game holds up
Despite being over 15 years old, Resident Evil 4 doesn’t show its age like Resident Evil 2 & 3. Since video game players still enjoy playing Resident Evil 4 in 2021, every change made in the remake will likely receive more scrutiny. Updating janky controls and badly aged graphics is a lot more straightforward than improving what many fans still see as perfection.
One game mechanic to watch in particular is the ability (or inability) to shoot while moving. In Resident Evil 4, protagonist Leon has to stand in place to fire his weapons, a design choice mostly abandoned by modern video games. Nonetheless, many fans of the original will expect that gameplay style to stay in place. And, critically, Resident Evil 4 was specifically designed around that limitation. If Leon can suddenly run and gun, the game becomes far less challenging than the developers intended. In survival horror, an easier game decreases the sense of dread essential to the game’s tone.
Satisfying everyone will be all but impossible. The developers can only use their best judgment as they balance a desire to be faithful to the original against the need to appeal to modern sensibilities. The stakes are high, so it really matters to Capcom that they get the Resident Evil 4 remake right.
Resident Evil coming to the screen, big and small
Resident Evil doesn’t just matter more to gamers and Capcom; the horror franchise now matters to Hollywood. Executives see more value in video games as source material than they have in the past, so much so that Resident Evil is being adapted to the screen twice in 2021.
The upcoming film Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City adapts the first two games of the series. An immediate challenge for the filmmakers is figuring out how to make two separate stories into a cohesive whole. That’s not an impossible task, though the director and writers’ limited filmography makes it hard to determine whether or not they’re up to that challenge.
Beginning in the early ’00s, Resident Evil was adapted into a series of low-budget films starring Milla Jovovich. Welcome to Raccoon City is a total reboot featuring a more recognizable cast. Johannes Roberts, the director, says he will focus more on the horror elements of the franchise to be faithful to the tone of the games.
In addition to the film, Resident Evil is also being made into an anime by Netflix. It marks the continuation of a recent trend by Netflix of adapting video game properties as anime, which the streamer did to great success with Castlevania. The strategy is a smart one since, in many cases, video game storylines are a better fit for animation than live-action. Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is set to release later this year.
2021 is a very busy and exciting year for Resident Evil. The quality of the film and television adaptions are still very much in question, but there’s reason to be hopeful. Meanwhile, all signs point to Village being a solid entry in the series, and there’s no reason to expect anything but the best from the VR port of Resident Evil 4. By the end of the year, this already-popular franchise may hit even greater heights.