It's funny that, a few years ago, I passionately hated the Resident Evil formula so much I couldn't imagine ever liking it again. I loved RE back in the day, but by the time 2005 rolled around I'd had it with the fixed camera angles, the clunky tank controls, the endless locked doors, the ridiculous backtracking, and the unbelievable puzzles. This is the big reason I welcomed Resident Evil 4's changes (sans the moronic story) with open arms and vowed I'd never look back. Funny how you never appreciate some things until they're gone.
While RE4's more action-based approach revitalized the series and introduced new zombie film-inspired dynamics into the gameplay, it also opened the door for RE to become far more of a generic action game. Playing Resident Evil 1 and 2 again recently has made it clear to me just how slow, methodical, and tense survival horror once was. It's not that RE4 isn't suspenseful, but the old RE's embody an entirely different sort of suspense, one that's more subtle. In certain ways the earlier RE's better embody the George Romero spirit simply by being so contained. This seems counter intuitive, since Romero's apocalyptic visions of average people facing horrific odds seem more suited to bigger virtual environments with more complex dynamics. In a sense this is true, but consider for a moment how the earlier RE games made such small goals feel so big. Getting from the second floor of a single building to the first floor exit is a monolithic undertaking in Resident Evil 1, one that constitutes a major strategic challenge. Doing something as mundane as run down a single hallway or cross a single room requires a level of planning that adrenaline-fests like RE4 are simply not interested in offering. They've abandoned this sort of slow-burning tension along with the "slow" zombies of yesteryear. While I am not down on "slow zombies" as much as Simon Pegg is, I do agree that fast-moving zombies (or parasite-infected people, or whatever they are now) does inherently alter the feeling, dynamics, and meaning of a zombie scenario, whether it be a game or film. In the case of games it seems to translate into the gameplay genre shifting more towards the mainstream, overlapping heavily with the first-person and third-person shooter genres to the point that the two become almost indistinguishable.
As Resident Evil 5 rapidly approaches, I am bracing myself for a game that feels significantly more like a Hollywood action film than a low-budget horror film. Resident Evil has always had some elements of Hollywood action, ever since RE1 jettisoned its brooding atmosphere at the eleventh hour in favor of a big guns, big explosions finale. Yet Resident Evil always had at least one foot firmly in Romeroland. I am only now realizing how many of its "outdated" conventions helped effectively create that feeling.