One step forwards, quick-turn, two steps back

[[image:090514_residentevil5.jpg:Making an Executioner explode with Wesker’s Panther Fang? So satisfying.:center:0]] 

I played Resident Evil 4 for the first time about a year after its release in January 2005. And in early 2006, I was still utterly floored by how damn good it was. That year couldn’t diminish the impact of the immaculate presentation, exhilarating combat, extensive weapon system, or lengthy quest. Admittedly, I never cared much for survival horror as a genre, so I was eager to see Resident Evil stray from its roots and delve deeper into no-holds-barred gunplay. A few facets of the previous games remained, and movement still felt constrained for an action game. But compared to the Resident Evil of old, it was easy to give the controls a pass and embrace them as a step in the right direction.

I’m not quite so late to the Resident Evil party, this time around — it’s only been a couple months since Resident Evil 5 made its global debut. Around that same time I wrote a post about how much I love co-op in videogames. And after devoting most of the past week to Resident Evil 5, I’m pretty darn sad to realize that just about every aspect of the game falls short of the lofty bar its predecessor set 4 years ago, in part due to the focus on cooperative gameplay. I’ve even spent 99% of my play time with another human being backing me up — relying on the AI would’ve made things much worse.

The cooperative bent isn’t responsible for all of the game’s shortcomings, though — the expense of next-gen development certainly plays a factor. Still, it’s hard not to wish for Resident Evil 4, but with two people. In comparison, Resident Evil 5 is shorter (considerably!), simpler (boring loot, nonexistent puzzles), and blander (Irving’s no match for Salazar).

Takeuchi and co. seem to have streamlined RE4’s design to the point of excess. Perhaps the greatest loss is the inventory system, which passes up the unique, customizable (and upgradeable) briefcase for 9 slots that fit items of any size. Playing the game cooperatively would likely be slowed to a crawl by the inventory of old, and I’m glad there’s no longer a cheap escape to the pause menu. But the new system ends up being unnecessarily constraining, and highlights some stupid design decisions, unworthy holdovers from previous Resident Evil games. With the limit of 9 inventory slots, maybe ammo boxes shouldn’t hold such a limited number of bullets. If my inventory’s full, why can’t I pick up an herb and combine it with one already in my possession? And why isn’t there a way to just drop an item momentarily, rather than discard it into some netherworld where it can never be reclaimed?

The level design and loot both suffer from the same streamlining. Resident Evil 4 certainly wasn’t overflowing with puzzles, but they were generally a welcome change of pace and required a little bit of brain power. Seeking out every treasure and discovering which ones could be combined for extra profit was especially rewarding. In Resident Evil 5, there’s absolutely no reason to hold onto those shiny jewels, which makes it all the more mysterious why Capcom didn’t just throw a “Sell all loot” command into the menu system.

I admit it’s unfair to compare a sequel like Resident Evil 5 to something as groundbreaking as RE4, which truly reinvented the series. But why is Resident Evil 5 half as long? Why does it pass up multiple thrilling fights against tougher enemies for a smaller-scale, shorter quest? Why does the Executioner show up only once, and where are our up-close-and-personal knife fights against El Gigante? Maybe retreading those RE4 encounters would’ve been a bad thing, but simply shortening the scope of the game without revisiting old battles or delivering comparable new experiences wasn’t the way to go. Even the boss battles felt tame compared to the epic encounters with Del Lago, Mendez, Salazar, and Krauser, though Wesker’s Matrix moves are pretty suave.

Now that I’ve gotten all that spite out of my system, I’ll admit that I’ve had a lot of fun playing Resident Evil 5 for the past week. Mercenaries delivers the intensity the campaign generally fails to provide, and the co-op is pretty great, for the most part. Perhaps Resident Evil 5 will serve as a bridge game, and the next installment in the franchise will abandon all pretenses of survival horror, offering a more fluid control scheme and better environmental interaction, rather than trying to balance old-school Resident Evil and new-school shooters without quite hitting the mark on either.

12 thoughts on “One step forwards, quick-turn, two steps back

  1. Resident Evil 5 is an amazingly fun game. I think I beat it, what, four times? And that’s not counting Mercenaries.

    Yeah, it’s not as good as RE4, which is one of the best games of all time in every category. But it’s a dame good time and it has one of the best co-op campaigns ever.

    If it loses the control scheme, it loses part of what makes it special. RE5 is inferior to RE4 in level design, yet it’s still a blast to play because of the stop and pop mechanics. Forget the cover system, and I don’t want to circle strafe. I circle strafe in every other game already.

  2. Yeah I missed the napoleon statue chase, boats over lava rooms, cage fight and other ridiculous gimmicks of RE4. RE4 disappointed me so damn much, you could’ve had generic characters all the way up to the end and you’d have a fresh new game. It wasn’t Resident Evil at all.

    People usually loathe escort missions with a passion but for some reason, despite having to escort Ashley for 25% of the game, they don’t even seem to mind it. But they do in 5 when she can actually take down enemies, and sometimes even better than you can.

    And there were no puzzles in 4, if you exclude that baffingly easy rotating orb at the beginning.

  3. This was discussed at length in the forums, so I don’t wanna write a novella of a comment, but my assessment was basically exactly what yours was. At this point, when people ask me about RE5 I just tell them “it does everything RE4 does, except worse.”

  4. @CocytusCustom There were definitely puzzles in 4 aside from that one: there was also the rotating dial to match graveyard symbols, and there was one of those sliding pieces around to form a complete picture puzzle. There certainly weren’t a lot of them, but I enjoyed what was there.

  5. Resident Evil 5 did benefit greatly from co-cp but it had to have many sacrifices in order to work as a co-op game like the inventory system, the puzzles, backtracking, adventure elements and the biggest loss from RE4 the crazy salesman with the accent.

    I liked RE5 but I think the best way to do co-op and single player is to make them seperate modes with seperate storylines and gameplay. The single player mode could have all the depth and sophistication of the old resident evils while the co-op could follow the steps done by RE5.

    As for the control system I don’t think just tacking on a full circle strafing shooter controls will just make the game better. Remember that when capcom changed the camera view and the controls in RE4 they also “upgraded” the enemy your facing from Zombies to Las Plagus to accommodate the player’s improved abilities in combat so that the game doesn’t become too easy. If capcom did decide to do that another upgrade is needed to have a compatible enemy.

  6. The separate co-op mode is a great idea, but it would take too much time and most likely be too short. I like having co-op in the main quest. For anyone that has actually played it online with a bud, it’s a blast and well worth the price of admission alone.

    And really, can they go back? The game sold a metric crapload and was very well-received. Taking out co-op is removing a huge feature.

  7. They don’t have to take out co-op– they do have to figure out a way to keep it fun for solo players.

  8. It’s true; RE4 is the better game. But once you accept RE5 for what it is and stop lamenting the fact that it isn’t RE4, it’s a damn fun game.

    Mercenaries is just as fun as ever, and having a shorter campaign isn’t necessarily a bad thing. RE4 had a lot of pointless areas. The action rarely ever lets up. It’s true that the inventory system sucks (I almost didn’t buy the game because of it) but you get used to dealing with it. And you have to admit that it’s really pretty looking.

    It certainly isn’t RE4, but RE5 is by no means a bad game.

  9. @Alixsar Man, it is seriously beautiful. I’ve gone between playing it on a 26″ TV and a 40″ TV, and on the 40″ it’s incredible. And I agree, I think co-op mercenaries is the best addition this time around. The inventory doesn’t matter as much, since you hardly have time to take a break from the action.

    The biggest issue I have with the controls is environmental interaction; the context sensitive buttons of where you can jump down off a ledge, what small railings you can and can’t jump over, things like that feel especially frustrating and restrictive in chaotic moments. It’s like I’m so close to being able to move the way I want to, but not quite there yet.

  10. I was more than a little bummed out just how much of a step down this game is from RE4, all in the name of co-op. I also felt like the game took itself far too seriously: Leon acted like he was a self-aware victim on an episode of Punk’d, but Chris plays the whole thing straight-faced. I agree that Irving would have been a great villain with adequate screentime, but instead he gets shafted in favour of boring ol’ Wesker and his Ansem-esque pontifications of light and darkness

  11. Man, I liked Irving. He was an enthusiastic jerk with some nice, over the top acting, and he actually had a bit of character. Seriously! Watch the cutscene just before he injects himself with the parasite… thing… and he actually has a bit of character shown right there.

    Then he turns into a giant water monster and you kill him. But he deserved it.

  12. If there is one reason that I like RE5 better than RE4, it’s because my girlfriend was actually willing to play through it with me, whereas with 4, all she could do was sit and be bored whilst I played. In every other respect, I do prefer 4 though.

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