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Many major franchises evolve dramatically during their lifetime. Sometimes changes are made to bring in new fans or adapt gameplay mechanics for modern palates. Occasionally, it’s accompanied by accusations of “dumbing down” the formula. Resident Evil began as a survival horror trailblazer and became a blockbuster action game. Mass Effect shifted from sci-fi RPG towards something involving more skill than number crunching. For all of the flak these franchises receive for their changes, I’m all for them if they’re done right. If simpler combat and controls allow a title to place more focus on the story or add more intensity to the game, then I fully embrace the shift. Building RelationshipsThe original Mass Effect began the series with many more RPG elements than the latter two installments contain. Talent points could be spent on different weapon types, armor varied more from one character to the next, and both featured varying levels of upgrade slots. Come Mass Effect 2, the focus was placed more on streamlining combat and capturing the fundamentals of character customization. To me, this change was extremely well done. In one of my favorite stories ever told in video games, I loved that combat was tighter and I could focus more on each character’s abilities without worrying about numbers. That mathematical focus works well in some of my favorite RPGs, but in a series based on interpersonal relationships and morality decisions, I felt that the shift opened up the opportunity to focus on character development. Zeroing in on loyalty missions and bond-building conversations engaged me in the series more than the first game ever could. With the arrival of the third game, the relationships I had built in the previous two installments were still at the forefront, further convincing me that I didn’t miss the RPG elements from the original.Although this isn’t true in every case, I think that the more action-focused mechanics of Mass Effect allow for improved pacing and focused objectives. I love micro-managing equipment in many RPGs, but the story flow of Mass Effect is the most important ingredient for me; removing the need to oversee all of the minor statistics allows me to concentrate on that flow.A Survival Horror IconI’ve always been a fan of the survival horror genre, and the intensity it can convey. Unfortunately, that feeling can be mitigated by the aforementioned shift towards action. Early Resident Evil games set the bar for other survival horror titles with interesting puzzles and horrifying settings. Then Resident Evil 4 became the first installment to embrace the action focus. However, I felt the game was still grounded in horror. There are still moments in Leon’s journey that terrify me, while the controls still feel tailored towards Resident Evil veterans, despite the over-the-shoulder camera. Resident Evil 5 and 6 both accentuated the action-based gameplay of 4. I love both of the most recent installments, but I want to see the franchise acknowledge its roots with the next addition. Without any of the scares or tension of the earlier games, I sometimes find myself doubting whether each new installment will capture my attention like the series used to.Elevating ScaresSpeaking of survival horror games, Dead Space scratched an itch that recent Resident Evil titles couldn’t for me. The tight corridors of the mining ship USG Ishimura presented a claustrophobic atmosphere that made me jump at every noise. The gameplay had an action focus, but between encounters with the grisly necromorphs, I still felt able to let my guard down every once in a while. With the arrival of Dead Space 2, the tense moments were even more terrifying; although the Sprawl was slightly less convincing, my heart rate was high the entire time. The slow pace and methodical scares of the first game were intense, but the sequel brought the sense of uneasiness to even greater heights.A shift towards action isn’t necessary in every case, but I do think some series can benefit from it. While some may criticize a new franchise installment for watering things down with simpler, faster-paced gameplay, I love when it opens up new opportunities for storytelling or pacing; I’m also hoping more series can find success in these regards.
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Great feature Mike! Wonderful read. I did not mind the changes in both Mass Effect and in Dead Space. Both of those games still appealed to me. I do agree with you on how the Resident Evil series needs to go back to its roots. I do enjoy how the games added more action, but not more than how I enjoyed the puzzles, searching for scarce supplies, inventory management, an even the tank controls. I hope the RE series can bring more of what it used to have.
Dead Space is the perfect example for this. The first Dead Space was my favorite survival-horror game of all time, and possibly my favorite game. Then Dead SPace came out, and made the first look like absolute steaming ***. Second is the scariest badest-ass funnest game i have ever played.
I think the shift towards action heavily damaged Dead Space 2. I hated the RE5-style shooting gallery segments.
"Oh, I'm in a room and enemies will continue to spawn from the walls until I'm out of ammo and/or health. Great."
All that did was murder the otherwise great horror atmosphere for a bunch of very annoying running and gunning. That is not the reason I play Dead Space. I play Contra to run and gun. I play Dead Space for horror atmosphere and some gory, seemingly random attacks from enemies.
I understand that games have to change in order to improve the quality of the overall game or just in a few aspects of it, but I hate it when it completely changes the game in the process. I feel like Mass Effect did a good job in changing in order to focus on other aspect of the game, but Resident Evil (while still a good game) has gone away from it's survival horror roots and that bothers me.
It never works out in the long run. RE5 is a prime example of that and once it becomes action it becomes boring and repetitive. I said this once and I'll say it again, you should not feel like a badass in horror games.
As for games like Mass Effect and Assassins Creed I totally agree that more action is the way to go.
I never really was an RE fan. Don't know why I never got into it, but I can't speak towards that series.
Mass Effect, I thought, made great leaps between 1 and 2. You keep a big emphasis on action and RPG elements and tie them into an intriguing and interpersonal plot, and you've got my buy.
I LOVE the Dead Space games. 1 was really great, but I thought 2 turned it up to 11! I cannot say how excited I am for DS3!
Good article, Mike.
I think RE 5 and 6 lost its way in the horror department. Dead spaces 2 was handled well IMO involving horror. I still felt afraid to go down the hallway, and at the end of the day, that's what counts.
dead space 2 scared me so much as i played it
It is all about balance and I agree with all of this article. We will have to see if Dead Space 3 can still be great with the new(and total crappy) cover system.
The change that is coming to Dead Space 3 could be fantastic or really bad. The fact that the game can be played solo is very cool and a co-op experience in that kind of game in my opinion would benefit from playing with a friend and with open mics. Just imagine that at some time the game forces the players to go through two different corridors and you would be walking down the corridor and suddenly your friend screams OH SHHHH... F**K and you would hear the shots and everything, it would be pretty different...