Originally written on: Jul 21, 2009
Many people have criticized Resident Evil 5 for being too action-oriented. Especially with the inclusion of a second protagonist that to my knowledge is always present, some fans of the classic RE titles may be wondering what happened to the horror in the survival horror franchise.
Another criticism against RE5 was that it had many recycled concepts (and animations) from RE4. While RE4 is a great game, one would expect a game that's a generation ahead to refine what the previous game had done. I feel that the next Resident Evil should do something new while returning to its roots, if that makes any sense.
Readers who have read my other game ideas/concepts may have noticed that I tend to always include drastic changes. I gave Perfect Dark 2 a new physics engine, suggested that the next Mario game be a hybrid between platformer and RPG, and strove for a more realistic Need for Speed street racing game. This one will be no different, mainly because the series is in dire need of change.
But why is this? RE4 took the series in a new direction and was very successful in doing so. Previous REs haven't changed much over previous games; look at Resident Evil 1 through 3. RE5 is only the second game using RE4's formula, yet it was criticized for not going in yet a new direction.
I feel this is in part due to rising expectations but also due to the fact that RE5 kept elements of RE4 that fans felt needed to change with the new generation, while what did change moved in an undesirable direction. I could be wrong about this, since I haven't done much thinking about why exactly people were somewhat disappointed with RE5, but I do find myself in the group of fans that wants to see another Resident Evil that's a true survival horror rather than an action horror.
Part of what made the original Resident Evils so scary was that you did have a lack of control and limited sight. You couldn't strafe around corners, nailing headshot after headshot with ammo to spare. In fact, not only was ammo scarce, but you also couldn't aim for the head. But personally I found this contradictory, since that seems to be one of few ways zombies actually die... for good.
Before I introduce my drastic new changes for the franchise, let me say that it is extremely important for me that the next Resident Evil return to its roots as a survival horror game with character selection, alternate outfits, limited firepower, and the walking dead. At first these changes may seem like they do just the opposite, but I recommend taking in all ideas as a whole before coming to a conclusion.
First of all, I don't know about anyone else, but I miss zombies. It's important to have enemy variety, but I feel that zombies would make a great introduction to the game. No parasite zombie-wannabes, no Left 4 Dead zombies that sprint at you; but slow-moving corpses that don't feel pain and hunger for flesh. In order for this to be successful, there has to be a perfectly executed camera system, incredible attention to detail to zombie models, shadows, and behavior, and just the right lighting effects.
Traditional Resident Evil games were played in third-person. You could aim at three different levels but generally could not make headshots. Resident Evil 4 had a third-person view that almost played like it was in first-person that allowed headshots but had percentages in the mix with varied effects.
Resident Evil 7 should take combat in a whole new direction, but part of this direction is that it is not always the best option. In the first RE games, taking on even a single zombie wasn't the best idea since ammo was limited and damage was a possibility. With more than one zombie at a time, trying to pick off one by one with a pistol was suicide.
The most difficult part to decide is whether to do the game in third person, first person, or a hybrid between the two. However, my idea is to have combat take place in first person. If the game is constantly in first person, there is more tension of what goes on behind you and more surprise when attacked from behind. There is also more possibility of directional sound based on where you are looking. In a hybrid, you would walk in third-person view but switch to first person when holding a weapon. For the purpose of this concept, assume that for now it will be completely in first person.
In addition to a new physics engine, this change would require several new gameplay elements. It would not be a first-person shooter; there may be shooting in first-person, but the focus is not on the shooting, and there is no incentive to take cover from enemy fire. It is essential to the game's success as a survival horror that combat be an option that is usually not the smartest one.
First of all, ammo is scarce. Even if players are skilled enough to shoot the first bunch of enemies, it wouldn't be too long before the gun makes a clicking sound signaling that it's out of ammo. Players need to conserve ammo and use it wisely.
Secondly, there are elements of fear and fatigue. When aiming a weapon, the first thing players might notice is that there's no crosshair or indication of where the gun is aiming. There is a target that will become known after getting used to it, but it's not visible. When aiming, the weapon and hands move up and down; players do not look down a weapon's sight with the camera moving accordingly.
Even with no fear and fatigue, there is slight sway when breathing. Add to this not knowing where exactly shots will make contact for new players, and already shooting is a risky decision. If a character is fatigued, this is taken to a whole new level. Characters become fatigued by running, taking damage, and holding out a weapon. Players now have the option of holding the gun while moving or putting it down; holding it out allows for quicker firing at the cost of fatigue. The more fatigued the character, the more sway will affect the player's aim.
Fear is a measure of the psychological effects of the character. It is increased by seeing an enemy type for the first time, going for long periods without safety especially while fatigued, and feeling claustrophobic such as not being able to find a way out of a room. It is decreased by sleeping, finding safety, and killing enemies, which are all easier said than done. It also goes away slowly by avoiding damage over time. Fear affects the player by causing visual effects, such as motion blur, temporary hallucinations, and other mind tricks. These increase in severity with fatigue and over time as the character experiences fear. It is very difficult to tame fear once it becomes strong enough, resulting in Eternal Darkness-inspired sanity effects in addition to fatigue-induced weapon sway such as changed camera angles and voices.
There is no HUD in the game or item management when paused. Everything must be done in real-time, which makes combat more frantic when cornered. What this adds to suspense is not knowing how much ammo is left in the gun. Players have the option to open the magazine and check it, and not doing so could result in unsuspected clicks signaling that the weapon is out of ammo.
The main character will likely have a couple holsters for weapons as well as pockets and maybe a bag to carry items, all of which a player can check at any time. This is useful for seeing how much extra ammo remains as well as accessing items such as potions and herbs, which now take time to heal rather than being instantaneous.
Players begin with a standard pistol and a knife but find other weapons and some upgrades throughout the game. For the pistol players find a laser sight, which helps aiming as the only visual aid. However, there are no upgrades that magically increase weapon damage or magazine size. All upgrades are realistic and visual.
Mentioning the knife, players can slash or attempt to stab an enemy's head when close enough. The slash can be aimed similarly to a weapon, and since there is hit detection for various parts of the body both for guns and for the knife, it might be useful to aim slashes. The stab can disorient or possibly kill an enemy, but it takes a short time to pull it back out.
With weapons, each should have at least one upgrade and have some ammo present throughout the game. Weapons and other items can be stored in item boxes or temporarily dropped and picked up later.
Saving should take place at typewriters, but ink ribbons are not required. Players also have the option of quick saving should they need to stop playing with no typewriters around; when quick saving, players can return to a specific point once, after which the save point is deleted. Dying results in spawning back at the last save; there should be a typewriter before each boss fight, and cutscenes should be skippable to avoid having to walk all the way back to a boss and watch the same cutscene again after each death.
There is hit detection even for the player. If the player takes damage in an arm--especially the dominant one--aiming will be affected. Leg damage will cause limping. Heavy blood loss results in dizziness, and so on. Damage in general also increases fear.
Characters have different stamina, but overall damage adds up quickly. Herbs and first aid spray are the cure, but as mentioned previously they take time to heal the character's wounds. Spray works faster but is rarer since herbs are more common to find since they grow naturally.
Characters should be immune to the T-Virus to avoid turning into zombies unless there is a gameplay mechanic in which players slowly transform into zombies until an antidote is found. This could be neat if the transformation has visual and gameplay effects such as altered vision, different walking animations, and so on. It would be a very nice touch to watch as a fully transformed character walks around without user input and attacks his/her friends after it is game over.
Before I mentioned that sleep is one of the ways to counter fatigue and fear. Conversely, not sleeping for a long period of time adds to fear, slightly lowers accuracy over time, and slightly lowers speed and reaction time. There should be a day/night cycle with altering enemy behavior depending on the time of day. Characters would need to sleep once per day/night cycle to avoid getting increasingly fatigued. However, this requires finding a safe spot, as enemies are still active while the character is asleep. Time passes very quickly in this state until an enemy comes nearby. While a character sleeps, the player should see what he or she is dreaming. Imagine focusing on a scenic dream only to be viciously and unexpectedly awakened by an enemy tearing flesh off the character's leg. However, with keys players can now not only unlock doors but also lock them, making them too valuable to throw away.
So far I've only talked about zombies, but they should only be starting enemies. Crows, dogs, and other classic enemies should return, but new ones are needed as well. It'd be awesome to see a wild animal zombie and believable heavily mutated enemies as bosses.
However, every enemy type should have unique AI patterns and therefore require different strategies. Zombies are slow are killed by a shot to the head, but a plant-like enemy or a fast-moving demonic enemy would be a different case.
Of course, there shouldn't be an area with only zombies followed by an area with only dogs and so on. It should be common especially later on to encounter more than one enemy type at once.
Character and Difficulty Selection
At the start there should be two characters to choose from with at least one or two more unlockable later on. Each character should have unique attributes and abilities and have alternate paths in the game. Characters should have access to different items as well as alternate outfits.
Difficulty settings should be available that alter enemy aggression, item placement, ammo availability, healing time, and fear. Damage and damage taken should not be altered.
Each character playthrough should offer unique details to the plot. To experience the complete plot, players must complete the game with each character. The first two characters are assumed to have simultaneous plots, while other characters' plot lines may be before of after the main plot.
In addition to unlocking bonus characters, there should also be two alternate game modes, bonus weapons, and an RE timeline that reveals the overall plot in detail including where RE7 fits in.
One of the game modes should be a survival mode where players select an unlocked character--each with preset equipment--and try to make it through an area alive. Players would need to decide when to fight, when to run, and which weapon to use in each situation.
Another game mode would be co-op. Short levels would be designed specifically for the mode with two players in mind, with areas that require players to go separate ways and other areas that require both to work together. This should be playable locally via split-screen or online.
Perhaps there could also be unlockable cheats for fun that lock achievements while active. They can include alternate blood color, increased gore, unlimited ammo, maximum fear, and so on.
Enemies should be loaded in such a way that there will be few scripted spawns; for example, a zombie designed to spawn in one of two rooms might be anywhere within one of those rooms, adding an unpredictable factor that not only adds to replay value but also to the tension.
Graphics and Audio
These two components of the game must be perfected to maintain the horror atmosphere. Everything should have incredible detail with moonlit dust that is affected by movement and other particle effects. Every wood pattern should be unique, and as much debris, bodies, and blood as possible should remain intact.
Every enemy should be as unique as possible within its own type. Zombies, for example, should have different hair color, clothes, scars, physical attributes, and so on. Some zombies should be as grotesque as the M rating will allow, featuring partial nudity, chunks of flesh missing, deformed skin, etc.; the chance of grotesque zombies appearing depends on the character's fear level.
For a sense of isolation, there should be no merchant or other helpful NPCs. All weapons should be found, preferably with a button icon when one nearby can be interacted with but possibly with the option of highlighting pickups with a flash.
As for the audio, an equal attention to detail and quality needs to be made. Everything should sound realistic including creaks in floors and shoving a knife into dead flesh. Voice acting should be done well without too much or too little emotion. Human zombies should have different voices, and so on.
Some letters, voice recordings, etc. should be in different languages; if the current character knows the language, it should be translated in the character's mind into the game's selected audio language. There should be great attention to detail, with letters by different people having different writing styles, ink color, paper type, etc. as applicable.
A return to the series' survival horror roots with new gameplay elements would be a welcome change. Quality visuals and audio would enhance the believability of the eerie atmosphere, and when coupled with psychological effects and the overall feeling of despair, this game could offer a unique experience that keeps players on the edge from beginning to finish.