Resident Evil 5: Proudly Not Fixing What It Doesn’t Think Is Broken
Unlike the majority of my reviews, allow me to start this with a fairly straightforward statement: If you enjoyed Resident Evil 4, and wouldn’t mind playing the game over again, with an extra layer of graphical polish and a different set of characters, play Resident Evil 5. On the other hand, if you spent the last four years expecting this installment to be a fundamental quantum shift…a truly “next-gen” experience, a weekend rental might be more apt.
Throughout the Resident Evil franchise we’ve encountered zombies in a mansion, zombies in Raccoon City, zombies on a train, and pretty soon we we having to traverse over to Spain, and currently Africa, to get our zombie kicks. Ever since we nuked Raccoon City and promptly said goodbye to any chance of an undead revival there, Capcom has scoured the bottom of their storyline bin for excuses to look outside this. In Code Veronica we had Claire hunting down her brother on Rockfort Island and in the Antarctic. In Resident Evil 4, Leon was looking for the President of the United State’s daughter. In this most recent installment, Chris Redfield still has questions about the supposed death of his old partner, Jill Valentine. Apparently the Resident Evil series is now reduced to the disappearance of relatives/friends, and investigating mysterious deaths for plot points. Not that story has ever been a strength for the decidedly hammy B-movie vibe of a franchise.
With that in mind, there’s not much to say about the story period. Chris is sent to Africa as part of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance to investigate a man by the name of Irving who is supposedly attempting to sell…guess what…SPOILERS….a biological weapon on the black market. Of course, he’s working for one company called Tricell, who happens to be in cahoots with SURPRISE, SURPRISE, Umbrella. Of course, several things always happen to come neatly packaged with Umbrella: mutated and rage-filled humans, mutated dogs, and other genetically engineered freaks of nature. And yes, Wesker also happens to be along for the ride. It’s a paper-thin plot that does its job of providing interesting set pieces and massive adrenaline explosions, but doesn’t necessairly have you wondering “whodunit” at the end of the night.
Gameplay wise, I have to hand it to Capcom. When you choose to change so few…so very, very few aspects of the gameplay, why do you break the things that work, or alternately, apply the changes that people spent several years clamoring for? Let us begin with the addition of Sheva. It’s an odd move, considering that after having to put up with Ashely, most gamers really wouldn’t want an assistant in any capacity. But hey, Ashley got out of your way when you had to shoot someone, and didn’t steal/waste your supplies. What does Sheva do for you? Well…to begin with, she severely expedites the collection of items. Move too slowly in scouting a room, and she’s likely to dig into the spoils herself. Now this is just a minor (though after a while there’s nothing minor about it) annoyance, but if you don’t take heed she’ll begin an item “spending spree,” especially if left with your healing herbs. Again, this would be alright if she was a “support” character, providing cover fire and healing you when only absolutely necessary, in order to optimize the herb’s healing capabilities. Sheva, however will douse you in a torrential downpour of first aid spray if you so much as scratch your shoulder or attain a papercut.
On the other hand, if you happen to think that Sheva is a “big girl” and can hold her own, handing her the heavy weapons (the magnum, grenade launcher, or rocket launcher) is likely to elicit a befuddled “me, what?” response. Despite leaving her with all sorts of high end weapons and gadgetry, she continued to look at me as if I had just asked her to run into combat with a cap gun. Correction: she would probably have at least figured out how to fire the cap gun. The truth lies in the fact that Sheva was brought into the picture for several reasons. Firstly, it allowed for a character that didn’t “come out of nowhere” to be utilized as a possible “Player 2″ during co-op mode.
Secondly, it allowed for Capcom to proudly claim that, unlike any of its previous entries (save the dreaded Outbreak series) that their newest Resident Evil title had online play going for it. Sadly, for many gamers, if a game will not embrace the online world in any capacity, there’s just no chance it will be picked up. There have been exceptions, like Bioshock, but this rule holds true for many. Finally, Sheva was utilized to avoid claims that Resident Evil 5 wasn’t a “racist” game. Unfortunately (and this would honestly merit another essay in its own right) Sheva only worsens the post-colonial attitude that the title already enforces, throwing in a pinch of misogny and racism for good measure.
Let it be said that aiming for an exemplary model of “ally artificial intelligence” is commendable, and many games like Prince of Persia have offered their own attempt at such an ideal as of late. Is that what we have been handed with Resident Evil 5? Not at all. We’ve been handed, for all intents and purposes, an intolerable stand-in for what would otherwise be controlled by a human. Either create a new storyline that props up when we play co-op, (it doesn’t have to be award winning, but some plausible excuse for introducing the new character) or let us “go solo” in single player, or simply fix the ally A.I. These are your options, Capcom. Let’s try not to stray outside of them next time.
Another big mistake was the removal of the attache case. For those who forgot, in Resident Evil 4 one happened to carry all of their equipment in an attache case (even though we actually never saw the case in gameplay). The case allowed for one to participate in a mini-game of sorts, twisting and rotating their items within the case in a Tetris-like manner, optimizing the space the case offered. You didn’t have to, if you didn’t want, but there was something rewarding about being able to pack a few extra rounds of ammunition because you were diligent in case-management. In addition, it allowed for weapons to be represented proportionally. The pistol didn’t take up as much room as the sniper rifle, the shotgun took up just as much room as several grenades.
Guess what? In Resident Evil 5, the case is gone, as is this minigame and the semi-realism regarding the size and weight of weapons. Now you have nine inventory slots, eighteen if you include Sheva’s nine as well. Each slot can only hold one type of item: a shotgun, pistol ammo, or a keycard, for example. Also removed is any explanation for why one can visit a “store” at the end of every level. A store that somehow sells every weapon you have encountered…in the middle of Africa. And every store manages to have every single product the last store had. No more do I have anyone asking me “what are you selling” or informing me that he’d buy my wares at a “high price, stranger.”
That’s right, a fully-loaded shotgun now weighs you down just as much a half dozen land mines. Granted, you can use the directions on the D-pad as presets for four items, but there’s no menu or HUD to remind you just which direction is which preset. That is, aside from pulling up the inventory screen…which won’t pause the game. If this is beginning to sound like a meshing of all pre-Resident Evil 4 gameplay elements with those that have come since…you’re correct. You’re also correct in assuming that this frustrating methodology of going about things is not welcome in the fast-paced realm of the two most recent titles. “But,” you proclaim, “it sounds like Sheva will be able to carry your extra items!” Not when you’ve got to spend four to five of those slots making sure she can, at least semi-moderately, keep herself from dying.
And did I mention that it is still physically impossible to walk/run and shoot?
All of this aside, Resident Evil 5 is just a prettier Resident Evil 4. And…for the most part, I’m okay with that. Character models look great, the motion capture is wonderful, and cinematics are amazing as usual. Voice work is cheesy, as par the course. It’s just a question of if one can put up with the attempted modifications to the series.