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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Resident Evil Has Had a Rocky Relationship With Multiplayer

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Resident Evil games are at their best when they keep you isolated to a single setting, cut off from the outside world as you attempt to stay alive against the stumbling undead hordes. Such creepy elements have become cornerstones of a genre known as survival horror, one that Capcom’s trademark series firmly cemented back when it debuted on the original PlayStation in 1996. Flash forward 25 years, however, and Resident Evil can now mean different things to different people. It can be a zombie-themed restaurant in the heart of Tokyo, a billion-dollar Hollywood movie franchise, or potentially a fear-tinged multiplayer experience where you fight alongside friends.

Of all these side ventures, it’s the latter that Capcom seems to be obsessed with most. Strange, considering the Japanese publisher should know that scary games are more effective, for the most part, when played alone. And yet Resident Evil continues playing host to various co-op and competitive installments that push back against the traditional survival-horror grain. RE: Verse is the newest effort, released free for Resident Evil: Village purchasers as a standalone deathmatch-style game where players battle as iconic characters from the series. Repeatedly bludgeoning Chris Redfield using a Tyrant’s mutated arm is a nice way to celebrate the franchise’s 25th birthday in theory, I’ll admit, but last month’s beta did little to convince me that the game will be a worthwhile investment for PVP diehards.

So why doesn’t Resident Evil just stick to the terrifying single-player stories it does best? Maybe because some of the brand’s multiplayer-centric games have shown fun but flawed flickers of promise.

Resident Evil Outbreak, 2003 (PS2)

Resident Evil’s first flutter with multiplayer is arguably also its purest. One of the few games to take advantage of the PS2’s early network capabilities, Outbreak cast you and up to three others as a varied group of survivors trying to escape infested Raccoon City streets. Doing so as either a cop, waitress, or reporter was tense, especially thanks to the classic fixed camera angles, tanky controls, and inventory management. The fact that all eight characters had their own skills was great for replayability. Everyone was handy depending on the specific scenario.

Resident Evil Outbreak’s initial attempt to merge online co-op with the series’ early mechanics sadly suffered from a creaky online infrastructure. Plus, with no headset support, communicating with people using 10 preset key commands was always going to be awkward. Look beyond Outbreak’s connectivity woes, though, and you have a Resident Evil multiplayer game way ahead of its time.

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, 2007/The Darkside Chronicles, 2009 (Nintendo Wii)

One can’t help but think Capcom looked at what Sega was doing with House of the Dead on the arcade scene and thought, “Hey, why don’t we make a light-gun shooter with zombies too?” This was the basic notion behind two Resident Evil entries exclusive to Wii, 2007’s Umbrella Chronicles and 2009’s Darkside Chronicles. Both games took fan-favorite moments from previous games and retrofitted them to a first-person format, tasking you and a friend with blasting away at the undead in the pursuit of points.

Being guided through such legendary locations as the R.P.D. headquarters, the earlier Resident Evil: Zero was more cinematic than before, and to the games’ credit, using the Wiimote to pop off zombie heads felt incredibly natural. As serviceable as they were, though, neither Chronicles game would dramatically influence future multiplayer endeavors. That honor instead fell on Resident Evil 5 (released earlier in 2009), igniting Capcom’s nature to build co-op directly into Resident Evil’s main campaign.

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, 2011 (Nintendo 3DS)

Having firmly made the jump from fixed camera angles to the new over-shoulder perspective in Resident Evil 4, Capcom eventually saw fit to give the franchise’s longstanding The Mercenaries mini game the standalone spinoff treatment. The aptly titled The Mercenaries 3D was an impressive visual showcase for the Nintendo 3DS’s graphical capabilities, certainly, but didn’t do much to shake up the notion of capping as many zombies as possible within a given time limit.

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