Resident Evil Shouldn’t Leave The First-Person Perspective Behind

Resident Evil was fading into obscurity before the release of its seventh mainline instalment. The once unstoppable survival horror franchise had been worn down by years of mediocrity and a publisher who seemingly had no idea what to do with it.

But a willingness to embrace a new gameplay perspective and lean into influences ranging from The Blair Witch Project to True Detective allowed the series to enact a second coming, with its place in the cultural landscape now more pronounced than it’s ever been, at least post-Resident Evil 4.

Biohazard was a massive success, and more importantly, it was visually and mechanically fresh while refusing to depend on past successes to draw us in. Existing characters were imagined in new ways while terms like Umbrella, Raccoon City, and T-Virus felt like relics of the past. While I think fighting off giant tar monsters grew tiresome in the third act and The Baker Estate was easily the game’s strongest point, it was filled with so many smart ideas that were simply begging to be built upon.

Resident Evil Village did exactly that, but it also abandoned its more serious horror in favour of B-movie thrills and villains we couldn’t take seriously. Lady Dimitrescu was a big vampire mommy we wanted to step on us, Heisenberg was a cringe-inducing old man with a funny voice, while the baby chase sequence wasn’t nearly as scary as the internet made it out to be. Village was an undeniable rollercoaster ride, but was leaning into the series’ history instead of pushing forward, and that’s a big ol’ shame.

It even failed to make use of the first-person perspective when it came to emphasise certain moments and the expression of tone and atmosphere. To be honest, except for a few small sections it was a straight first-person shooter. Not once did I feel incapable of fighting back, and could use all of my weapons to take out whatever enemy was foolish enough to cross my path. The narrative states that Ethan Winters has undergone military training since the last game to prepare him for situations like this, but this feels like a featherweight justification to turn a survival horror into an action blockbuster.

First-person is so effective in this genre because it doesn’t give us a place to hide. It’s a perspective that forces us to face whatever awaits us, where even turning around and running away is a temporary solution in most cases. But when you’ve got an arsenal of weapons at your disposal and oodles of ammo those threats begin to mean nothing.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised given that Village followed in the footsteps of Resident Evil 2 & 3, which themselves were heavily action-focused remakes that often put horror on the backburner. They were still unsettling when necessary, but it feels like this series is gradually returning to the position that saw its reputation tarnished in the first place. Soon it will run out of classics to remake and will need to conjure up new ideas once again, or converge all of these remakes and newer titles into a singular timeline to be built upon.

We might even see that with Shadow of Rose later this year, the expansion being a continuation to Village that will presumably set the stage for whatever comes next. It’s hard to tell, and Resident Evil is so unpredictable in where it goes because I’m not sure Capcom knows what it wants the series to be. It spans so many mediums and changes so often that predicting its trajectory over the coming years is almost fruitless.

Leaving behind the first-person perspective would be a mistake though, largely because Resident Evil isn’t even close to realising its full potential. But right now it feels like an afterthought, even more so with Resident Evil Village set to release a new feature that allows the entire campaign to be played over-the-shoulder, just like Resi 2 & 3. It’s built on the same engine, and if this timeline does come to fruition it makes sense to have all games look, play, and feel the same. Immersion be damned, we need consistency.

I can’t stress how boring this direction would be, and I’m already wary of how lightweight Resi 4’s gunplay is going to feel as a consequence. Watch this space, but a first-person mode will be released as DLC or a pre-order bonus for this game like a form of new-fangled technology, when in reality it represents Capcom’s unwillingness to stick to its own guns.

Resident Evil 7 was clearly taking inspiration from the likes of Amnesia and Outlast alongside found footage horror classics, and this influence was clear. I’d love to see Capcom toy with this perspective even further, having us deal with classic characters, locations, and enemies while pushing forward with new ideas instead of ditching it without saying a word. It might just be my love for intimate horror experiences talking, but I can’t be alone here.

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