My love for Resident Evil 4 is no secret. It was a rare late-in-the-series sequel that redefined the franchise without reshaping it, keeping the concept intact while upping the action and atmosphere. It was fundamentally well-designed, with brilliant mechanics and stages, and an unusual amount of memorable gaming sequences.
Going into the anticipated "next-gen" sequel, I didn't expect, or even necessarily want, Capcom to attempt to top its most recent masterpiece. Instead, I figured I'd be happy with similar mechanics, the addition of co-op, and a few surprises.
Unfortunately, the real surprise was my disappointment.
Who's The Boss?
I wasn't playing Resident Evil 5 to hunt for racism. I don't particularly care how silly the story is. I didn't want to criticize its controls--which I am partial to, in fact.
Well, Resident Evil 5 does have those moments in its first three chapters. The problem is that they are clearly those moments--and beyond the obvious, derivative nature of them, Capcom has actually managed to make them worse.
The easiest way of singling out the differences is by looking at the boss fights, and the best example is a boss encountered halfway through the second chapter. After escaping across the African desert in a jeep, using a turret to shoot zombie motorcyclists, I was reintroduced to the infamous ogre-like El Gigante creature from Resident Evil 4. This time he had a new hairstyle. BOOM video 1303
The first battle with El Gigante in Resident Evil 4 was fought on the ground, with only a few wooden huts to provide cover. Like most great boss fights it was intimidating as hell, which made it all the more meaningful when you were standing over the thing's corpse.
In Resident Evil 5, you fight El Gigante using a turret mounted to the back of a stationary jeep. You point the cursor at his eye, hold down the trigger, and repeat. Occasionally you have to duck one of his attacks in a Quick Time Event.
Why El Gigante doesn't just kick over the jeep and instantly flatten your stationary ass is beside the point. The fight itself is just plain boring, and it's not the only one. Capcom has taken its cues from Resident Evil 4, but the underlying design feels less sharp across the board.
Turn The Bird Crank
Singling out the boss fights is the easiest way of illustrating my disappointment, but that's not my only beef with Resident Evil 5.
Gone is the captivating atmosphere, the gritty setting that was RE4's Spanish backwoods. In its place is a bright, dusty and ultimately dull version of Africa, with a scorching sun that eliminates any chance of spookiness.
Turn the page for more.
In fact, the first three chapters of Resident Evil 5 take place almost entirely in the daytime, with only a few dark clouds dotting the sky at times. There's nothing scary, or even remotely creepy, found in the game's level design. African tribal huts and a basic oil refinery amount to the most exotic locations. A boat sequence through a murky marshland, zombies shooting away at you from the shore, was mostly tedious. Rather than a cute homage, the appearance of more big alligators was another reminder of how little RE5 brings to the table in its initial chapters.
The only tension left in the game is due to its combat mechanics, which famously force you to stand still while picking off targets. But as much as I enjoy the Resident Evil 4 control scheme for that game, I can't help but wonder if the internet ire over this scheme has more to do with Resident Evil 5's tone than anything else. This game feels more like a straight shooter than Resident Evil 4, and I have to admit to the possibility that a less restrictive mechanic would have better matched the overall shift.
After all, the tension during combat has already been left a bit toothless due to the forgiving health mechanic. A press of a button now revives a near-dying teammate, making it difficult to actually die in this game.
So much for survival horror.
A Match Made in Kijuju
The bad news: It's no RE4.
The good news: Resident Evil 5 isn't a bad game.
Resident Evil 5 is almost Capcom's rendition of Half-Life: Episode One, in that the primary showcase here is the addition of a female cohort named Sheva.
Playing in single-player mode, the AI-controlled Sheva impressed me at first. Through the first section of the game, she managed to cover me and stay out of trouble, for the most part. She was even proactive enough to break open a few barrels.
But as the game wore on, Sheva became more of a burden than a help. I often found her being swarmed by zombies. Several times I had to give her some of my own ammunition, just to ensure she wouldn't be so easily picked off. Sharing with humans I can stand, but giving up my hard-earned ammo to a machine is a bit much.
As the demo has proved, playing with humans will surely yield some entertaining cooperation. Co-op play is made easy by way of the excellent inventory management system. Sharing items between players, either in AI or co-op mode, is simple matter of selecting them and hitting a button. Discussing who will take what gun and when will surely provide some interesting tactical strategy.
In terms of capitalizing on co-op shooter gameplay, Resident Evil 5 is hit and miss. The design is strongest when the level encourages the two mates to split up, as seen in the second level of the demo. Moments when the game requires you to cover a teammate from afar, or try to pick off a giant monster in tandem, work well.
But other co-op stages fall flat. A short sequence set in a cave requires one teammate to essentially put away their gun and hold a flashlight--not the most exciting cooperative task. Similar stages require one player to turn a crank as the other runs down to a bridge--a pointless exercise, made interesting only by the ability to lower the bridge as your teammate runs across.
Resident Evil... 5
You have to admire the dedication of secondary Resident Evil characters.
Bodies of his squadmates flayed out next to him, a random soldier dutifully tells hero Chris Redfield with his dying breath: "You've got to... get this data... back to HQ." So much for his wife and family.
"Come on... Capcom... you've got to... stop with these silly turret sequences. I mean, come on."
When I was finally kicked back to the menu screen, I thought of replaying the entire preview section. I thought about giving it another chance.
Instead, I dug through the layers of dust coating my Wii, grabbed a Wavebird, and loaded up Resident Evil 4.
I had a much better time.