Why Resident Evil 6 Failed

Resident Evil 7 wouldn't exist in its current form if it weren't for the failure of its predecessor.

When Resident Evil 6 was announced, all anyone could seem to focus on was the fact that its logo bore a striking resemblance to an upright giraffe being orally pleasured. It sounds like such a strange obsession, but there’s no denying that once you see the unintended subliminal messaging, it’s impossible to unsee it. In fact, even Capcom had to acknowledge the logo’s likeness to a giraffe just so the joke would die.

And die it did, but not because Capcom made a couple of PG replies on Facebook. No, that only happened when gamers realized the new logo was a harbinger for the poor design choices that shaped the game itself. The very same design choices that would motivate Capcom to refresh the series with Resident Evil 7 five years later. 

You can see what Capcom was trying to achieve with Resident Evil 6, but doing so requires you to put aside your negative feelings toward the final product. In fact, you have to stand so far back that you’re able to see Resident Evil 5’s critical reception somewhere on the horizon. Resident Evil 5 wasn’t universally panned for being an action-heavy take on the franchise – in fact, it did quite well critically and financially – but it was widely criticized for the way that it emulated the playstyle of Resident Evil 4 without significantly advancing it. Gamers enjoyed the title’s co-op action, but it failed to capture people in the same way that its predecessor did.

The studio’s solution to the series’ suddenly-stunted creative advancement was simple. Rather than adhere to the style they outlined with Resident Evil 4, they would craft a grand adventure that incorporated aspects of every Resident Evil game released up until that point. It’s a noble idea that had disastrous consequences.

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Here’s how Resident Evil 6 worked: the main story consisted of four different campaigns, each starring a familiar franchise character. More importantly, each campaign emphasized a different style of gameplay. For instance, Leon Kennedy and Helena Harper’s story was an action-fueled romp similar to the design of Resident Evil 4 and 5. Chris Redfield and Piers Nivans’ section was closer to a modern military shooter. Jake Muller and Sherry Birkin starred in an Uncharted-esque adventure. Finally, Ada Wong went solo in a campaign that harkened back to 1996’s Resident Evil with its emphasis on survival and puzzle solving.

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Rather than try to craft a prix fixe menu designed to highlight the skills of the chef, Capcom opted to turn Resident Evil 6 into a buffet. That way, everyone could find something to like no matter what they were looking for. The thing about buffets, though, is that there’s always something a little off about their offerings. The chicken is just a tad overcooked. The ice cream’s texture varies from flavor to flavor. There’s a roach on the salad.

True to form, there was something a little off about every campaign in Resident Evil 6. Muller and Birkin’s story did an admirable job of emulating the linear levels of Uncharted, but it was clear that the campaign’s designers lacked Naughty Dog’s flair for creating truly memorable setpieces. The puzzles in Ada Wong’s mission felt removed from the grand design of the story and lacked a sense of purpose.

Capcom’s decision to not commit to any one play style meant that each of their chosen methods suffered from a lack of attention. If anything, having the campaigns stacked on top of each other only served to agitate the people they were meant to appeal to. Even if the format occasionally gave you exactly what you wanted, it also forced you to play through someone else’s ideal Resident Evil game to get to it. Actually, you could make the argument that Resident Evil 6 could have succeeded if Capcom had only tried to please all Resident Evil fans. Instead, its true downfall stems from Capcom’s desire to appeal to those who weren’t franchise fans.

It gets worse. Regardless of which campaign you play in Resident Evil 6, you’re going to have to endure a painful amount of quick-time events and scripted sequences. While Jake and Sherry’s story relies on these elements the most, nearly every meaningful moment in the game is designed to either limit or remove your control of the situation. For a sequel seemingly designed to utilize as many styles of gameplay as possible, the game’s reliance on these non-interactive elements is a bizarre choice. If all the stories were going to be tied together by one aspect, why wasn’t it horror?

The short answer to that question is, “Capcom no longer believed that people cared about horror.” In 2012, series producer Masachika Kawata told Gamasutra that he felt the “series needs to head in that (action-oriented) direction,” especially as it relates to “the North American market.” Capcom believed that the implementation of these Call of Duty-like aspects was the way they were going to achieve Call of Duty-like sales figures. Producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi even admitted that the development team only put zombies in the game because “they’re popular” and the developers “tried to respond to the [fan] requests and put them in this game.”

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Resident Evil 6 failed because of Capcom’s hubris. They truly believed that the Resident Evil series deserved to be on top of video game sales charts because of the name on the box alone. They were so convinced that was true, in fact, that they were willing to implement anything that they perceived to be popular.

Their methods didn’t work. Despite some initial success, Resident Evil 6 ultimately failed to meet initial sales expectations. In February of 2013, Capcom issued a statement intended to explain why the game had only sold five million copies worldwide thus far. It read as follows:

“We are currently analyzing the causes, which involve our internal development operations and sales operations. We have not yet reached a clear conclusion…However, we believe that the new challenges we tackled at the development stage were unable to sufficiently appeal to users…We will have to examine these results from several perspectives. We will reexamine our internal operating frameworks in order to identify areas that need to be improved concerning development as well as sales and administrative operations.”

What does all that mean? Well, it means that Resident Evil 7 is at least partially the result of Capcom “examining the results” and realizing that there is no such thing as pleasing everyone. In a recent interview with Gamespot, Resident Evil executive producer Jun Takeuchi said as much when he stated that the aftermath of Resident Evil 6‘s release felt like “the time for us to just take a step back and re-evaluate what survival horror means to us and what Resident Evil means to us.” 

As easy as it is to mock Capcom for borrowing certain design methods from recent horror games when crafting Resident Evil 7, at least this time around they are back to trying to please the genre fans that turned Resident Evil into the successful franchise it is. Besides, according to Takeuchi, Resident Evil‘s incorporation of survival elements is what separates it from its contemporaries. While those games emphasize pure horror, Takeuchi believes one of the trademarks of the Resident Evil franchise is the way that the series’ games “want to scare you, but also give you the means to fight back.”

As for Resident Evil 6, it will forever occupy a strange place in the series’ history. Many people agree that the game is a misstep, but it’s not without its charms. There are moments in the game so delightfully absurd that you can’t help but appreciate them for what they are. How can’t you begrudgingly find a measure of respect for a game that has you fighting giant invisible snakes one moment and jumping between rooftops on a motorcycle the next? There’s such a devil may care attitude to the way that the game is structured that some fans have come around to the game’s better qualities years later. Capcom’s overconfident attempt to replicate the success of other major video game franchises ultimately turned Resident Evil 6 into a perfect – if unintentional – parody of a particular era of mainstream gaming.

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Resident Evil 6 is a glorious mess. Then again, what else would you expect from a game that has a giraffe getting a blowjob for its logo?