I find it incredibly hard to look at the current incarnations of the Resident Evil franchise and think them a part of the same series that defined survival-horror in the 1990s. It isn't that I dislike Resident Evil 4, or that I won't enjoy Resident Evil 5 when it comes out. I'm just hard-pressed to look at these games and see even the slightest trace of what the series once was. To some people this is great. It would be hard to ever argue that the tank controls that marred the series were in any way superior to the brilliant control scheme of Resident Evil 4. Nor would it be easy to discount the graphical leap the series took with its fourth iteration. Even so, a lot of potential was wasted in Resident Evil 4.
That Resident Evil 4 was different from the games that came before is evident from the second you take control of the game. The problem with the game is that it is too different from the chapters that preceded it. While Capcom's desire to reinvent the franchise can be understood, they did so in such a thorough manner that it resembles its predecessors in only a few barely noticeable ways. Removed were the zombies, the familiar locales and for the most part any recognizable characters. In honesty, Resident Evil 4 could have easily have been a new IP simply by changing a few names. It is more different than it is alike the other Resident Evil games, and not always in a good way.
While the game play is easily much better, RE4 completely ditches all the other elements the other games in the series did well. While the fear in RE4 tends to be more genuine than in earlier games, relying more on an overall situation, rather than the cheap scares that permeated the series prior, those scenes in which the player is actually made tense tend to be few and far between. Most of RE4 is spent in the thick of intense action, and feels more like a shooter than a survival horror game. Elements that perhaps should not have been taken out, such as limiting the player's ammunition, were removed. And while the novelty of having unexpected foes bursting through windows certainly got old over time, the button press sequences that permeated RE4 were hardly much better. For all the criticism games like God of War received for their use, I found those in Resident Evil 4 to be much more annoying.
The biggest and most frustrating changes for me when it came to the new direction of Resident Evil however were the thematic ones. One of the things I loved the most about the RE games was the way they centered around zombies. From the first time one appeared in RE1 they were a defining characteristic of the game. Resident Evil was once as synonymous with the undead as it was survival-horror, and honestly there didn't seem much reason for removing them. Furthermore, removing Umbrella as the main antagonists of Resident Evil 4 felt almost like Capcom spitting in the face of the games that came before it. Everything in the series thus far, had built up to finally confronting and bringing down the enigmatic corporation.
Before you've even played a moment of the game, RE4 informs you that the jobs already done and in the most boring fashion imaginable. Umbrella is brought down by falling stocks and government intervention; whoopty-freaking-doo. We do learn Umbrella is still around, but it isn't the same. The worst thing you can do in most any form of entertainment is leave the player with a feeling of anti-climax, and that is exactly what RE4 does. On some level, I can understand it; the scenarios for the Resident Evil games were becoming less than satisfactory with time. The constant presence of zombies was becoming harder to explain away; in Code Veronica I was left constantly wondering how Umbrella could be such a powerful corporation if its employees weren't so blatantly incompetent to be always accidentally exposing themselves to a deadly virus. Other elements, such as making Leon Kennedy into a practical super man, killed much of the mood for me.
The direction RE4 took was definitely different, but in some ways not better, and from the looks of things Resident Evil 5 looks like it will continue down that road. It's fine I suppose; Resident Evil 4 was a brilliant game, but it just didn't feel at all like a proper, or even refined entry into the series. It was a new game, parading itself as part of a popular series to help pad its success. As far as I'm concerned the franchise peaked in 1998 with the release of Resident Evil 2 and ended with Code Veronica. Any relations between that series and the Resident Evil of the present are an unfortunate matter of circumstance.