At the time, this all seemed like gaming’s great compromise. In exchange for a more linear overall game design that largely replaced exploration and puzzle solving with a series of carefully orchestrated moments, Resident Evil 4 was able to provide organic cinematic sequences. No longer did a game’s film-like moments need to be merely watched. Now, the industry had been given a blueprint for how material typically reserved for cutscenes could be converted into gameplay.
Make no mistake that Resident Evil 4 was a true innovator in that respect. The problem was that the game did such a great job of forever changing the way we look at cinematic gameplay that many other key developers in the industry never bothered to look back at what we left behind.
Failing to realize that the highly-successful Resident Evil 4‘s word wasn’t gospel, developers soon turned the game’s guided method of storytelling into hand holding. As cruel as it may sound, Resident Evil 4‘s controlled method of presentation eventually led to titles like The Order: 1886 and recent Call of Duty campaigns taking place in hallways disguised as video game levels. While Capcom’s masterpiece did a pretty admirable job of utilizing that style in a non-oppressive way, it broke ground on one of modern gaming’s crippling conventions.
To be fair, it would be inaccurate to say that every horror game released after Resident Evil 4 followed its design innovations exactly. If anything, the shooter genre was much more influenced by the game’s camera and seamless presentation. Gears of War essentially re-sculpted the Resident Evil 4 mold, and even games like Uncharted can trace their formula back to that same design. You also can’t say that the horror genre didn’t benefit from Resident Evil 4’s innovations. Dead Space is one of the greatest horror games of all-time and it’s stylistically an elaborate sci-fi mod of Resident Evil 4.
At the same time, Resident Evil 4 stopped the evolution of AAA pure horror games in its tracks. In the years leading up to Resident Evil 4’s release, titles like Silent Hill 2, Fatal Frame, and Eternal Darkness had begun to explore a more methodical form of terror. They emphasized a more subtle brand of horror. These games weren’t above jump scares and the usual genre conventions, but their primary method of fright was a lingering sense of dread cultivated by environments that tormented your psychology. Their stories were often hinted at via implications best not dwelled upon.
In the absence of a clear genre leader, games like these dared to push beyond the boundaries of the original Resident Evil‘s era in order to test the limits of horror gaming’s capabilities. The one thing they kept from the survival horror games that had come before was that same feeling of helplessness. Playing these games required you to submit yourself to them. Even their combat systems were presented as a purely defensive measure.
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