In Resident Evil 4 there is this great feeling that you’re going to have to face an enormous giant (El Gigante) as you explore one particular area of the game. Eventually, El Gigante makes his appearance in the middle of a rainy night filled with thunderstorms. As Leon Kennedy runs from tiny shack to tiny shack, each one being swept effortlessly aside by El Gigante, the player begins to contemplate the futility of shooting this enormous, hulking monster with a pistol.
In Resident Evil 5, El Gigante appears once again. This time around, Chris lets loose with his mounted machine gun while Sheva unleashed a torrent of bullets with her minigun. Both characters are confined to these Jeep-mounted turrets and cannot move. Dodging El Gigante’s atacks is now a mere quick-time event.
The Resident Evil series has been a mainstay of the game industry since the original Resident Evil was released for the Playstation in 1996. Since then, the series has spawned eight additional games (not counting remakes/re-releases), three live-action movies with Milla Jovavich (the best video game inspired movies that have been made to this point), and one awful CG animated movie. As I read up on information about the series before writing this piece, I discovered there was also a movie released in Japan in 2000 entitled Biohazard 4D-Executer. This movie had a budget of approximately $10,000. It exists on the Internet.
Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 are both considered to be the shining stars of the series’ early years. The predominant method of character control in these early Resident Evil games was a model where all input was handled from the character’s perspective despite the player’s view being dependent on fixed, cinematic camera angles that were dependent on a given environment or scene. This worked stunningly for the time but as anyone who has played the games recently can tell you: it doesn’t hold up. And Capcom realized this after the release of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, and Resident Evil Zero, so they gave the series a little nudge in a more modern direction with 2005’s Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 was a long game, especially by the series’ standards, but it was remarkable for its superb gunplay, entirely new setting, and enemies. More than any of that, though, Resident Evil 4 was a game that truly understood itself and had a pace and atmosphere that comes from such a profound understanding of its own design.
In the list of mechanics or changes that I thought Resident Evil 4 needed in order to make it a better game, you would not find any of the following: enemies with AK-47s, enemies on motorcycles, an abundance of daylight, turrets, a cover system, or a game design that placed cooperative gameplay at its forefront. Clearly, Capcom’s idea of Resident Evil 5 was markedly different from my own.
The African setting for Resident Evil 5 is one which could have worked in the series’ favor so well. It could have imparted feelings of loneliness, despair, and weariness with a setting of a ravaged African village filled with a not-quite-zombies-but-not-quite-people-either populace. This fictitious game could have gone for the harrowing, conflict-ridden setting that a game like Far Cry 2 chose to have, focusing on the natural beauty of the environment while, at the same time, letting its inherent danger and desolation be the primary atmospheric qualities that are never explicitly called out.
The African setting for Resident Evil 5 is one which is almost entirely devoid of Africa. The introductory village (and the level or two immediately following it) are the only hints whatsoever that the game takes place in Africa. After that players are treated to an oil foundry, ancient ruins, a giant tanker out at sea, a volcano, and so on. Resident Evil 5 is a video game with a lot of sunlight, an almost entirely black cast of enemies, and very little environmental meaning or significance. The constant presence of sunlight (a big deal for the series) doesn’t, by itself, diminish the atmosphere and tension of the game, it just does nothing to help the dearth of “mood” conveyed through the sorts of locales and levels that oodles of video games have done to death.
Maybe atmosphere and purpose aren’t of paramount concern for Resident Evil 5. This a game that sends its players into an African village with little purpose or reason, just that a fictitious military group is staging some sort of mission there. Players are then introduced to an aggressive pair of presumably infected humans shoving a parasite into someone’s mouth, then witnessing that person’s transformation into an angry, angry, infected person-thing. About an hour and a half later, players are put onto the back of a vehicle, given a turret, and tasked with blowing up legions of these infected humans on motorcycle and trucks. Why am I being attacked by this enormous throng of angry, infected Africans? Why am I even progressing forward? A vacuous, video-gamey reason is later presented, but the player’s motivations for progression are never particularly interesting (Resident Evil 4’s storyline was far from great, but it imbued a sense of purpose and reason). Players are often ushered from one act to another and one setpiece to the next.
Resident Evil 5 also does a lot to promote a chapter-by-chapter progression method; there is no longer a mid-mission checkpoint where players can anticipate cool new items through interaction with the Resident Evil 4 item dealer (“What a’ya buyin?”/”What a’ya sellin’?”). Players are now given a very meagerly-presented inventory and item purchase screen in-between missions or after deaths instead of a neat way of integrating this gameplay mechanic with the game world. This change from RE4 to RE5 is a seemingly superficial one, but when playing the game it reinforces the chapter-by-chapter progression rather than a natural evolution of the story and gameplay. There is also less for players to look forward to mid-mission; there may be a random piece of loot or a new weapon amidst the level architecture, but there is longer the assurance in a player’s mind that “Hey, there should be the item dealer guy coming up sometime soon!”
Despite all of these criticisms, Resident Evil 5 still has enough of what made Resident Evil 4 fun to play to end up being an enjoyable, if uninteresting, game. As a pretty big fan of Resident Evil 4, that’s about the best thing that can be said about the game. The control scheme, a subject which received a great deal of flak, works excellent within the context of the game and is one of the things that makes the core gameplay unique.
There are some “unforgivable” missteps that the game makes which are not particularly interesting to talk about, but fun to condemn, though. The foremost amongst these grievances is the one bit of fuel that the control scheme folks can add to their fire. The last couple of acts in the game feature, quite predominately, average (and boss) enemies that can utilize firearms. One of these is the minigun boss from Resident Evil 4 who is a challenging opponent the first time you see him and the subject of extreme rage when he brings along his own cooperative friend for the second bout. The worst of the firearm wielding baddies, though, are the grunts who are capable of wielding AK-47s. Resident Evil 5 expects players to utilize a cheaply-implemented cover system to take out these enemies and it is at these moments that the game calls attention to the fact that the control scheme is not from Gears of War. It is during these frequent end-game battles where gamers will be, in my mind, right to chastise the inability to move while firing because that’s the kind of gameplay these moments in RE5 encourage.
Resident Evil 5 is at worst when it draws attention to its attempts at recreating the memorable moments of Resident Evil 4. Or when it wants to bring more Gears of War to Resident Evil 4. In my eyes, that you can tell your friends about “that Chainsaw guy” or “that big giant dude” is the biggest criticism that can be thrown at the game. It’s imitation through recreation without meaningful innovation while tossing in a constant real or AI buddy at the player’s side.
Actually, no, the fact that you can tell your friends there is more than a single turret sequence in the game is the largest criticism that can be tossed at the game.
And the abundance of quick-time events.