Complete global saturation
Resident Evil 5 blows.
Resident Evil 4, on the other hand, is a brilliant game. It eschews the tangled mess that is the Resident Evil series’ canon for a camp romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is peerlessly paced. That’s why it’s so insulting that Resident Evil 5 tries to ape its predecessor, and so pathetic in the numbers of ways it fails. It’s Resident Evil 4 sans creativity. In its stead, Capcom funneled in a healthy dose of blockbuster action and brown, war torn homogeny in attempt to echo the current zeitgeist.
They didn’t go full tilt, however, which is what’s more depressing. The Resident Evil 4 framework is there, but in a sort of uncanny valley state of disrepair that heightens awareness of everything that is bad about Resident Evil 5. It’s an imperfect clone devoid of heart. It’s Resident Evil 4, the stupid Resident Evil canon and Black Hawk Down thrown into a blender then dumped into a stew pot as a dozen different chefs seasoned it to taste. And it worked, as far as Capcom is concerned, which is the most disheartening part.
Yes, Capcom. While a couple years ago I might have been content to continue praising them for revitalizing the fighting genre with Street Fighter IV, since then even fighting game fans are sick of Capcom’s supposed nickel and diming and rereleasing of the same titles with new superlatives tacked on. A lot of mixed opinions on this, fine, but let’s take a look. Street Fighter IV. Marvel versus Capcom 3. Street Fighter x Tekken. Oh, right.
This is the same Capcom under which Lost Planet and Dead Rising — a bulk of their new IPs this generation and some of the most successful — essentially had to be developed in secret, according to former Capcom development head and Megaman creator Kenji Inafune. He even said Capcom had a company-wide mandate that 70 to 80 percent of efforts were to be towards sequels and that the 30 to 20 left for making new IP would, in practice, never receive approval. This is the same Capcom that tried to absorb the posthumously beloved Clover Studio, makers of Viewtiful Joe, Godhand and Okami, whose pivotal members preferred to abandon the Capcom-funded independent company than to cede creative control to Capcom.
But I’ll ignore the easy punching bag of the hour. Or, at least, restrict my jabs to Frankenstein’s monster it created. Just look at its opening; it’s an imitation of Resident Evil 4’s, with the action jacked up to eleven.
Resident Evil 4 has an opening cutscene that lasts several minutes; in it, right off the bat, we’ve an unsettling fog creeping in and a camera angle from behind foliage in the forest, while one of the agents stops off to take a whizz at the side of the road. It lets us know that Leon and his escorts are being hunted. That they’re unsafe. That you, the player, are unsafe. Easy telegraphs, but appropriate. Then, desolation. You leave the car, now in control of Leon, and have to walk up to a lone house in a creepy wooded area. You meet an equally unassuming and unsettling homeowner who yells at you in a foreign language and then tries to kill you. You have limited ammo and more of them are outside. You’re alone and in a hostile environment. You run back to the car and see skid marks leading off the cliff; peer over the precipice to find the flaming wreck. Again, alone.
Next is a desolate, eerie trek onward. You come to a lone shack right off the beaten path. There has to be something in it; either something ready to kill you, something you can use, or both. You whip into the shack, ready your weapon and find a strange mix of fear and relief at the woman impaled on the wall, suspending in midair by the pitchfork smashed through her face. Maybe you fire a few accidental shots out of surprise at the grizzly scene. Next, of course, is that unforgettable village area, in which inexplicably crazed people placidly go about their business while your driver burns in a huge fire, with a hook through his chest. Just in case you were holding out hope that you weren’t alone. Oh, and pretty soon — after you maybe feel like you’re getting a handle on dealing with all of these enemies at once (or you’re scrambling around for ammo) — a lunatic wearing a burlap sack over his head is going to come at you with a chainsaw.
Resident Evil 5? No longer are you wandering into a quaint, eerie pueblo in isolation; you’re running into a modern town that looks like it was ripped right out of Black Hawk Down. First there’s non-descript military personnel with covered faces saying military sounding things driving around in heavily armored jeeps with big guns in the middle of the day. Then Chris Redfield, driving a military jeep in the middle of the day in a wide open savannah, wearing chill bro sunglasses. He gets into the normally populated city and then Sheva’s ass eclipses the frame. Just her ass. The camera lingers for a while so you can ogle the sexy native temptress in a manner that would do Thomas Jefferson proud. When she moves, you realize Chris’ arms and neck are bigger than his head. He’s both grotesque and excessively formidable.
Once you get control, you don’t have to wander into a creepy abandoned house. You just walk straight in a well lit, politically unstable country until a cutscene happens; in it, they finally give you some spooky music and everyone who was walking around is inexplicably gone. Then you keep walking straight and a guy gives you some guns. Then you see some voodoo shit and animal sacrifice — hey, maybe it’ll start getting creepy. Then a not-so-short load screen before you’re finally in a room with a dude who runs at you and Chris has to kill him indiscriminately. The guy doesn’t linger there to let you ponder whether killing him is okay. The scene doesn’t let you think about anything. It forces you into reflex action and then it’s over. A waste.
Next you’re funneled down more corridors with no threats present while the game feeds you ammo pickups. Then, finally, it strives to complete its rendition of Resident Evil 4’s opening, but instead of wandering hesitantly into an eerie village, alone, where a man you were just talking to you burns and placid monsters till soil, what is there? Well, there’s the public execution of the guy who sold you weapons. Except, that cutscene thereby reveals the big baddie too early, dampening the impact when he finally shows up. You’ve also got a guy with aviators yelling into a megaphone and monster people sprinting around, eventually towards the house you’re in.
Yes, instead of requiring you to take an unfortunate jaunt into the domicile of the killers, Resident Evil 5’s opening just has them dash toward you, while you’re in a nice, semi defendable building. Oh, and the scene ends with helicopters and rocket launchers. Being saved by a helicopter at one point in Resident Evil 4 felt like god himself was reaching down from the heavens to extricate Leon from this terrible place. This has no impact; it merely lazily progresses the plot in the explodiest way possible.
That’s too much nothing interesting happening. It doesn’t establish any tension; it just assaults the senses. If it wasn’t so poorly done, along with the rest of the game, I could excuse this as some sort of nod to its predecessor; instead, it just feels like the development team had absolutely no idea what to do, so they took Resident Evil 4’s opening and turned the volume up really loud, hoping people would like it. Again, this speaks to the worst part about Resident Evil 5; it’s a broken and homogenized Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 5 needed to be even more exciting than its predecessor, so Capcom replaced Resident Evil 4’s inventory system with something that remained in real time. And is broken. It’s not about the “realism” angle; Resident Evil 4’s inventory system just worked sensibly, with items taking up space relative to their size. In Resident Evil 5, an egg takes up as much space as a rocket propelled grenade, body armor inexplicably takes up a spot and the co-op play, coupled with a smaller inventory, necessitates incessant inventory tradesies that is much more irritating than rearranging your attaché case. It’s one thing for Capcom to reuse the Resident Evil 4 formula, another for it to take the formula and then noticeable break parts of it, elevating awareness of the developers’ screw ups.
Next, the obvious criticisms. Sheva and cooperative play. The most frequent excuse for Resident Evil 5 I hear is, “Well, it’s a good co-op game.” I ask you: why? Because it allows two people to play at once and it isn’t too broken? Because that’s the barrier of entry for a game to be a good co-op game. It’s a lot easier to enjoy a bad game if you’ve got a partner. That doesn’t make it good. I’ve played plenty of awful games that were made decidedly better just by having someone else present, let alone there to share the misery firsthand. Resident Evil 5, for example, because we got to rip it in tandem for being stupid and bad.
I’m not some long time Resident Evil fan who specifically hates the move away from the franchise’s origins — I love the revolutionary Resident Evil 4, after all. Still, there is something unsettling about the conformity of it all. The co-op does undercut any sense of eeriness and tension. You either have an annoying AI partner who is frustrating enough to take you out of the experience or you have a friend to sit there and chat and strategize with. Isolation is scary. I’m sure there can be a frightening game with cooperative play, but not this one, not with two strong characters with fictional special forces training who are armed to the teeth. Not with Chris Redfield’s stupidly enormous biceps and neck (remember when he looked like a human and the game had more colors than brown, tan and sepia?).
But the issue isn’t so much that it isn’t scary — a subjective enough complaint. It’s that the game has no finesse. No unique style. No atmosphere. It’s Resident Evil 4 hideously re-skinned in high contrast, war torn brown and abridged (not just shorter, but with variety removed). The second half of the game just plays like Gears of War, with contextual cover thrown in and a lot of zombie monster things that shoot you with machine guns. It tries to be as loud and exciting as possible, not realizing that good pacing is pivotal. Resident Evil 5 is technically proficient and playable, but it’s creatively bankrupt; its wild success and praise is insulting.