Capcom's RE4 Reinvigorates the Franchise
Ask anyone familiar with survival-horror games about Capcom's Resident Evil and before RE4 came along most probably would have told you the franchise is getting stale. Capcom addressed the series' problems with a much needed redesign and the results silenced even the most jaded critics. We take a look at Capcom's latest to see why it became a critical and commercial hit.
by James Brightman on Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Chart Toppers has taken a look at many well received games, but it is not hyperbole to give Resident Evil 4 the distinction of being the most critically acclaimed title to ever be profiled in this column. Capcom's radical "reimagining" of what exactly a Resident Evil title was generated unprecedented critical praise, and strong sales on a system that has traditionally not been kind to M-rated titles.
Just as the original Resident Evil struck a bold new path and kicked off the survival horror craze in 1996, Resident Evil 4's ground-up redesign is sure to be one of the main influences in the action and horror genres in the next console generation.
EGM Executive Editor Mark MacDonald talked to GameDAILY BIZ about the influence he feels the game is going to have in the years to come: "Maybe not as much as the original RE, which really kick-started the whole survival horror genre, but RE4's over-the-shoulder viewpoint in particular is bound to get 'borrowed' like crazy. It works so well--the precision aiming of a first-person view but at the same time the third-person perspective to allow for stunts (jumping through windows, kicking enemies, etc.)--a second-person shooter, if you will?"
RE4 eliminated many of the franchises previous "features" such as pre-rendered backgrounds, tank-like controls, and groaning, slow-moving zombies. They have been replaced with a fully 3-D run and gun experience, where weapons are aimed with a laser sight and the action is captured perfectly by the camera's over-the-shoulder viewpoint. Protagonist Leon Kennedy covers ground (and up and down ladders, over fences, etc) quickly. The player is no longer at the mercy of brain-hungry zombies, and is now encouraged to mow them down with twitch reflexes.
"The development process was designed to really take a hard look at the game and improve the game in almost every aspect. It was about taking Resident Evil to the next level...graphics, gameplay, sound, control, storyline, depth...everything has been redefined to make the game excel at every level," Capcom's Director of Marketing Todd Thorson told GameDAILY BIZ.
"Capcom undertook this project with the goal of completely re-defining the world of Resident Evil and the entire survival horror category. It was a monumental task for the development team to rebuild and improve upon one of the most successful game series of all time. As you've seen from the results, they hit this one out of the park!" Thorson continued.
Resident Evil 4 has received more critical praise than any other game released this entire console generation, period. It garnered an unprecedented 29 perfect scores, and 39 more reviews fell in the 95-99% range. According to Gamerankings.com it comes in as the 5th best game of all time.
"I think it's definitely one of the greatest games of this console generation. As a big RE fan from way back it's renewed my waning interest in the series, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard, 'I never was much of a Resident Evil fan...' before people launch in to how incredible they thought it was. It's the kind of game people see--hardcore gamers of all stripes, casual gamers, non-gamers--and they are like, 'What the hell is that? I gotta play that'," MacDonald said.
This heady praise from MacDonald was echoed across the enthusiast print and web destinations, and mainstream sites alike. It seems that the gaming press was ready for this drastic change, and that helped them accept the title with very open arms.
"It's been awhile since the last 'main series' Resident Evil. Remake and Zero came out so close together I think it hurt them both a bit in terms of sales (it certainly didn't help that Zero was such an uninspired game...RE-by-the-numbers). There's been some time now for demand to build up," MacDonald explained.
RE4's marketing campaign is unlikely to win any awards for its originality, but it accomplished the task of blanketing cable television and the enthusiast press with the message that the RE series had been taken in an amazing new direction.
"Resident Evil 4 is being supported by a massive marketing program including national TV, an extensive print campaign, online advertising, special promotions, and retail marketing activities. Unquestionably, it's been one of Capcom's most successful marketing programs," Thorson said.
In addition, the decision to release a special collector's tin for the premium price of $60 helped build launch buzz and rekindle the interest of longtime RE fans. "We always enjoy developing special collectors editions for our AAA and top notch titles. This seemed to be a natural fit to reflect the high quality and slick nature of the game. The program has been a huge success as the collector's editions were quickly snatched up at retail. Customers loved the promotion," Thorson explained.
2005's Game of the Year in January? Could be...
The last piece of the marketing puzzle was Capcom's (at the time) seemingly puzzling decision to push the game's launch into January, to avoid the holiday crunch. It angered fans, but January NPD data shows that they were willing to forgive and forget. "I think more and more publishers are noticing, missing Xmas and launching soon after isn't necessarily such a bad thing. You have a lot of game returns of gifts people didn't want, people finished with their Xmas games and looking for the next new thing, etc," MacDonald hypothesized.
Resident Evil 4 was January's top-selling SKU, selling 319,000 copies. Perhaps more important than its performance out of the gate, however, is that extremely positive word of mouth is likely to ensure long legs through the first half of 2005. "The game launched out of the gates with huge momentum and has even picked up more speed as word of mouth has spread about how incredible the title is. We are thrilled with the success of the product," Thorson said.
Although RE4 was once a GCN exclusive, a PS2 version is now in the works. No one GameDAILY BIZ spoke to, though, seemed too concerned that this might have hurt its GCN retail performance. "The [PS2] announcement has not seemed to affect sales and if anything I think it has helped increase the awareness for the game overall," Thorson said.
While Resident Evil 4 might have had greater success with a holiday release or on a console more suited for mature titles, it essentially owned the month of January in sales, gamer mind share, and press attention. Its influence will be felt in the action genre for years to come, and its long-term sales seem certain to reflect its critical success.