Resident Evil 5
It seems presumptuous; plain rude even to question whether or not Capcom know just what ‘survival horror’ is anymore. After all, they pretty much set the rules for what it takes to get the bowels moving in ways you’d rather them not. Nemesis has been the source of many a sleepless night over the years and don’t even get me started on my old friend, Tyrant. The term ‘survival horror’ and Resident Evil are like peas in a pod – they just go together. But knowingly or not, Capcom has greatly removed the former for Chris Redfield’s newest chapter in a juggling act that precariously leans towards the two unevenly. And there’s just something inherently wrong about a Resident Evil game that is more shoot than scare.
“The single player campaign does manage to hit a stride with the occasional spectacular set piece and it’s then that you catch a glimpse of brilliance”Don’t be mistaken, the fear factor is present if only for brief irregular spells and it speaks volumes about Resident Evil 5’s direction when the cut scenes create most of the tension. There is a familiar, nostalgic unease at the start for instance, when the game cuts to swarms of infected salivating at the thought of restructuring your facial features after your position has been located. The shouting and grunting builds up to a cacophony of noise and a seemingly impossible number of Majini come sprinting towards your hold point. In fact, the cut scenes in general are excellent and do an admirable job of getting the excitement levels charged for when the spotlight is put on the player.
But as soon as you’re put back in the control seat, the sprinting of the infected seen just seconds ago turns to a light canter, and only about half of the infected previously pictured seem to have made it in time for your public murdering. That aforementioned fear factor and unwavering intensity that has given the series its reputation ostensibly vanishes during gameplay, and Resident Evil 5 comes very close to becoming nothing more than generic shooter fare with a nonsensical story that takes itself far too seriously. No longer will players progress inch by painstakingly careful inch knowing full well that something is coming, and you only have one clip of ammo left to deal with it. Now, players can waltz around corners and through tight corridors without much care for their preservation, because they have enough weaponry to send a small country on their way to war.
It’s this move from one action packed encounter to another that shows up an undoubtedly ageing control system that at times simply cannot cope with the new pace, and also illustrates Capcom’s wilful determination not to change it. Chris feels like he’s having trouble turning swiftly (those water balloon biceps can’t be helping), and the lack of mobility when shooting is not a fair compromise for anxiety, merely a package deal that comes with frustration. Dead Space has shown that being able to walk whilst pulling on the trigger is by no means a killing agent for tension. The item management is awful once again; it makes no sense not being able to cap how much ammo you share, or being unable to temporarily hold a herb without discarding something in your inventory.
“Sheva’s inclusion, though – and ironically the best aspect of the game – allows two people to play through the entire campaign through co-op”If you can clamber over the hurdle that is the game’s controls, the single player campaign does manage to hit a stride with the occasional spectacular set piece and it’s then that you catch a glimpse of brilliance. But all too often, Resident Evil 5 will have delusions of being a spiritual sequel to Gears of War and go completely Michael Bay on the player in sections that stick out like a sore thumb, tasking you with gunning down motorcycle-driving infected with a fixed turret, or squaring off in a shoot out against gun-wielding enemies as you duck and pop out of cover, for example. The latter situations in particular appearing all too often as rooms are flooded with waves of enemies for you to shoot at and as the game goes on, it becomes a tedious affair that only goes to highlight the stilted controls. On top of that, puzzles have pretty much been discarded to the side and boss battles become routine affairs dominated by ridiculous quick time events.
And every second of the single player campaign will be shared by Resident Evil 5’s biggest new addition, Sheva, who acts as back up for when the shit hits the fan – which it usually does. For an AI controlled partner, Sheva is useful at her best and completely suicidal on a bad day. She’ll more often than not provide dependable cover fire (when she’s not congregating with the infected), is quick to heal you without the need to do it yourself and kindly shares the attention of the Majini. There are also numerous points where yourself and Sheva are separated and here, her intelligence is commendable at least and players won’t have to worry too much about starting these sections over again because she can’t handle herself when you’re not around. Past that she’s not much more than a glorified item box and ammo dispenser with breasts, and is usually best kept storing all the herbs and anything that doesn’t make the bad guys go away.
Sheva’s inclusion, though – and ironically the best aspect of the game – allows two people to play through the entire campaign through co-op, and like it or not, this is how Resident Evil 5 is meant to be played. For what it lacks in atmosphere (your friend shouting down the mic will kill any tension), it more than makes up for in straight up entertainment that only comes from that special camaraderie, which stems from experiencing a game with someone you know, and it’ll almost iron out any niggling faults. Be warned though, your friendship might find itself tested in the face of the seemingly impossible, and in the heat of battle you may learn a thing or two about them as both of you democratically decide who gets the ammo, or who’s allowed to keep that new grenade launcher.
Resident Evil 5 is a game that doesn’t know if it wants to shoot tension square between the eyes or build it up methodically through the player’s imagination or fear of the unexpected, and ends up almost completely neglecting the latter whilst occasionally messing up the former. It’s made the jump over to a new generation resting on its laurels but without the impact that comes with a complete (and successful) reinvention of a classic series. But if you can treat and accept it as a balls-to-the-wall action blockbuster, Resident Evil 5 is, if nothing else, a great looking and decent entry into the third person shooter genre with a great co-op mode that’s worth at least one play through. It’s just a shame Capcom has forgotten what it is to make me scared of the dark.