Resident Evil 5 Reader Review
Often I have found myself with the feelings I currently hold towards Resident Evil 5. It's not a feeling I usually garner towards a certain genre, either, since my recent examples range from Mass Effect to Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and even Ninja Gaiden II. See, each of these games were supposed to be excellent since the developers of said games had easily displayed the talent with previous games, yet - somehow - they each dropped the ball... and they dropped it hard.
But this review isn't about Team Ninja's complete failure, or Bio-Ware's downright laziness, no, this review is about the Capcom developed Resident Evil 5. Now, before I go any further, I will point out that RE5 is not a return to the gameplay style and pacing of the earlier games. In fact, it strays much further away than Resident Evil 4 did, so fans unhappy about the transformation of the games from Survival Horror to Action/Third-person Shooter should be aware that RE5 might be worth avoiding. Personally, even though I can understand why some longterm RE fans are disgruntled, I think the design of RE4 was of such a high quality that it overwrites any argument, since it is essentially one of the best pieces of gaming of recent years (which means, for once, the score aggregate websites can be agreeable for listing RE4 so highly).
With that said, however, we begin to bring back my point on the games I mentioned earlier. RE4 was and still is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest games ever made, and anyone who tells you otherwise obviously shouldn't be allowed to wield a controller in their hand. The problem for Resident Evil 5 is that it is made by the same people, is a similar type of game, and is also a sequel to RE4. If RE5 was a new game that was separate from anything else (but obviously not called RE5) it wouldn't be magnified as much, nor be expected to attain a certain level of design brilliance, but it isn't a new game, and so any flaws or design errors are going to be highlighted more than they usually would.
Of course, as the developer, knowing that your new game is following on from something excellent, the most obvious response is to make another good game. Sadly, however, it appears, like Team Ninja, Bio-Ware and Bethesda, Capcom have indeed dropped the ball.
The most immediate and rather annoying issue players will find with RE5 is that it is curiously designed with cooperative play in mind. RE4 is often within the top 10 games of all time category on aggregate websites, garnered impressive sales, and attained mostly favourable fan response. The game achieved all that as a single-player offering, yet, bizarrely, Capcom have felt the need to add a function that most of us were never wanting for, nor even thought about until it was announced for RE5.
It would be semi-understandable that Capcom would add the feature if it were the case that the majority of 360 and PS3 users were playing games online (and paying, in Microsoft's case), but since that obviously isn't the case, and since I can confidently predict that over 50% of people buying RE5 will be buying it for single-player alone, it seems rather foolish to alter a game so much that actually not opting to play it with another person actually hurts the quality of the game to devastating effect. There is little comfort in the game also supporting split-screen (something which I feel is still more important for multi-player than online functionality, at the moment), since the underlying issue is that RE5 is almost un-playable in single-player due to the gamble taken by Capcom.
As mentioned, it is noticeable from RE5's start that cooperative play is integral to its overall performance as a piece of entertainment, but I also mentioned that it is 'rather annoying'. To clarify, there are several reasons why cooperative play is annoying, but the biggest one is the prospect and eventual execution of having to share your entire game-time with an AI-controlled partner in the absence of another human player. Since RE5 is to be played by the majority of people in single-player, this flaw, I predict, will be the most prominent, and will equal in many occasions where the player will feel frustration. Indeed, the inclusion of the AI-partner actually works to add another element to bypass - such as you would with enemies - rather than to actually aid you in your quest.
After the usual Resident Evil-style opening cut-scene and introductions, you'll take control of Chris Redfield and be joined immediately by a young lady named Sheva who has the tone of voice that would be more suited to Lara Croft than someone from Africa. Then again, as is to be expected, the story and characters of RE5 are about as forgettable as they come, so criticising the weird accent of one of the characters is rather pointless. Still, rubbish story aside, the presentation of said plot is still of a high quality, so even though you couldn't care less about what's going on, at least it still looks good.
The same can be said for the game's visuals too, which - even from the early preview footage - looks absolutely incredible. The level of detail is excellent, and the display of some of the diverse locations you'll visit never cease to impress, with the various enemies you'll face (including huge bosses) each having specific and ultimately impressive designs. Unfortunately, this level of detail comes at a cost, mainly with screen-tearing (especially on 1080p display) and some minor-to-moderate slow-down in some sections. Since RE4 had none of these issues, yet managed to display equally stunning visuals at the time, this is a tally added to the list of reasons why RE5 ultimately fails.
Technical issues cannot form the overall basis of why RE5 fails, though, as other examples such as shoddy controls, item management and - of course - partner AI all play their part in the downfall of this game.
To start with, the controls are clunky and cumbersome; sometimes taking damage can be frustrating since it's the game's controls at fault rather than your skill at the game. I actually jumped to defend the control scheme adopted in RE5 before it was released, since I felt not being to walk and shoot kept the game feeling secluded, claustrophobic and balanced, after all, it was to be a single-player survival horror game. Of course, now that the game has co-op, all feelings of seclusion are removed, with RE5 now happily going alongside a game like Gears of War as an all-out third-person shooter (RE5 does away with puzzles almost completely, for example). Of course, when compared to Gears - which is now a fair comparison - the control scheme in RE5 appears even more lacking. Attempting to move around and fight several enemies isn't as streamlined as it should be, instead, the sluggish movement makes the combat feel more like a hurdle rather than a tool to fend off foes.
The altered item management serves to highlight the problems the controls pose in RE5, since you now must sort all items and weapons in real-time, with no pause for respite. On the one hand, this does add a layer of tension to the game, but on the other, it means having to awkwardly fiddle about with the controls and then the item screen while dozens of blood thirsty enemies attempt to eat your intestines. Also, the lack of storage space can become an issue too; using your partner's bag space to help will get you through a few areas, but eventually you'll curse Capcom for removing the ability to upgrade bag space from the merchant menu. There's not even a temporary bag space like RE4 (that I'm aware of), so if you have a full inventory with one red herb, and attempt to pick up a green to combine, the game will state you don't have enough space. Poor show.
Finally, the team-mate AI in the single-player aspect of RE5 is akin to Capcom sticking their middle finger up at the player. Throughout the campaign, I had countless occasions where my team-mate would block my view-point, allowing me to miss vital shots, or even have thrown grenades ricochet and bounce back towards me, whilst barely ever having the intuition to know when to switch to certain weapons, or help get an enemy's tentacles off my neck (even with the commands/options selected to do so). The issues are just about manageable on Normal difficulty, but cranking the game upto Veteran is a pure test of patience on the player's part, as you find ways to try and overcome the game's difficult obstacles, while also having a roaming idiot getting in your way. All I kept thinking to myself through the game was "If only I could tell them to go hide in a dumpster while I do this section", if Capcom had spent some more time on the game they could have altered the sections where two players were needed (such as a boss that can only take damage from one side) and kept it so the entire game could be done with just one person. In fact, aside from sections where two levers need to be pulled at once and such, I often felt that the majority of encounters in RE5 could easily be done on my own without an AI partner (since they only hindered rather than helped in combat), which left me even more bitter towards the end of the game.
It's just as well that the end of the game comes rather quickly, since dragging the experience out any longer would serve to add more ammunition to help fire off criticisms at RE5's poor single-player offering. I don't usually condone a game that can be beat in less than 6 hours (which I achieved both in single-player and in co-op) when it costs upwards of £30, but then, this game never was worth the money from the start, and so I have myself to blame for buying it. Of course, even though in this case I welcomed it, the content of RE5 is yet another area where it shrivels up in a corner and quietly dies when compared to RE4, which itself had content than could last anywhere between 15-20 hours on first play-through without use of back-tracking or repetition (which RE5 doesn't use either, to its credit).
You've probably gathered by now that RE5 is pointless as a single-player offering, so it's probably a good time to go into how well the cooperative feature plays in the game, and see if it actually salvages anything worth experiencing.
Resident Evil 5's cooperative experience probably is worth experiencing, if only for that novelty feeling of knowing that you're playing a slightly updated RE4 but with a mate. After a while though, the aforementioned flaws soon begin to fester, and not even playing with your best mate will redeem the poor quality of the game. It can be fun to work together to find out how to beat a certain enemy, or to watch each other's back as you get separated, but once again, because this is now a fully fledged shoot 'em up, the co-op experience is severely lacking compared to other, better, action games out there. The only reason you should ever want to play RE5 in co-op is because you've played all other better co-op games and seek a new challenge, beyond that this gameplay feature doesn't go even a moderate way to save RE5 from mediocrity. All of the best thrills RE5 can offer in co-op can already be gained in RE4, which isn't something that should be said of a sequel.
On the plus side, the mini-game 'Mercernaries' returns for RE5, and is likely the best feature of the game overall. The lack of improvements to RE5's gameplay and design mean it's more like playing RE4's version, only with better visuals and new characters, but it still offers the adrenaline fuelled enjoyment that made RE4's so addictive.
To claw back something else positive about Resident Evil 5, it does retain some elements that made RE4 great, such as fresh and new ways to navigate areas; rewarding attentive gamers with treasures to sell; purchasable weapons and upgrades (though no appearance by RE4's mysterious merchant gives the game an immediate knock to its charm); varied environments; engaging enemies with specific weaknesses, including some cool boss fights; and plenty of replay value with infinite ammo weapons and further content to unlock. These things serve to make RE5 still semi-recommendable to action fans, and more so if you can - and want to - play the whole game in co-op mode. But still, struggling to find a handful of positives about a game that had so much potential is a dire outcome.
Capcom have taken a risk by focusing their development time on a feature that was seemingly supposed to make Resident Evil 5 a definitive and must-own title, but in doing so, have actually watered down and even broke elements that made its predecessor so enjoyable in the first place. Because so much time was spent on introducing a cooperative gameplay function, the game lacks in key areas where improvements were vitally needed, not least being the controls.
It may seem like it might have been worth the lesser gaming experience if it means cooperative play has paid off like Capcom wanted it to, but truth is, it hasn't. Unfortunately for Capcom, we have several action games on the market that offer not only a more refined and enjoyable co-op experience, but also a more well balanced single-player component too. For those reasons I cannot recommend Resident Evil 5 to anyone but die-hard fans or people with money to burn, for anyone else, go buy an action game worth your time and money.
6 / 10