[[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.