Having played Resident Evil for over a decade now, or at least sat back and watched my uncle played the first game on the PSone, and finding that Resident Evil 4 was one of the best games on the GameCube, 5 looked like it was going to be amazing. After all, it had actually had Wesker which, considering the times when Wesker actually appears in the games and with Jill supposedly being dead, something big had to happen in this installment. Not to mention that it had to build off the successful gameplay changes of RE4.
How wrong I was.
First, i'd like to say that not everything is bad about RE5. Everything looks great, most notably the characters who i'd say are comparable to MGS4's fantastically emotive characters. Also, from the moment he first appears to the bit where he gets syringed in the final fight, Albert Wesker is one of the most perfect character in any video game universe ever. A hulking combination of super powers and smugness, Wesker is not only infinitely hateable but completely formidable. For anyone who hasn't played CVX, this is the same guy who had a ton of steel girders dropped on his head and shook it off like it was nothing more than a slap in the face. As baddies go, Wesker is one of the best out there. Or, was.
The thing which annoyed me the most about RE5 is that as a (potentially) closing chapter to this part of the Resident Evil franchise, it felt as if it was being written and controlled by someone who had no real idea about the characters or the storyline so far. The equivalent of Jonathan Mostow taking over from James Cameron in Terminator 3. The final scene demonstrates this complete lack of character development perfectly. You've got Wesker, the big bad since 1996, dying in a volcano and who is it who kills him? Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar. Chris killing him makes sense, after all he was one of the intended victims of the Arklay Mountains outbreak but Sheva's involvement is insulting. She doesn't even know who Wesker is till halfway through the game. To make matters worse, Jill fucking Valentine, you know, the other main character from the first game as well as a main franchise player, is sitting right next to them in the helicopter willing to just let the man who she chased for years then was captured and experiment on by, be killed by someone else. Is there no desire for revenge in her heart? Not to bog this down too much with comparisons to other media, but it's the equivalent of Agent Smith being killed by some civilian at the end of Matrix Revolutions while Neo sits back and watches. And that complaint is without even going into detail on how pathetic that end is for Wesker. Getting hit by two rockets in the middle of a volcano seems incredibly impersonal considering the homoerotic rivalry between him and Chris.
I know after writing that, someone will bounce into the thread and give me the old 'It's just a video game. Have fun, dickhead' arguement, but coming right off MGS4 which tied up everyone's story so that every MGS game felt like it was part of one big, if messy, contrived and convoluted, story and actually rewarded me as a fan for sticking with it for years, I expected better from Resident Evil 5. Instead, what I got was a piss poor Resident Evil 4 remake made by people who loved MGS4 so much, that they couldn't tell the rhyme or reason behind the plot points, just that they needed to be copied:
- A bleach blonde haired ninja in an advanced bodysuit which allows the user to do gravity defying kung-fu. I'm talking about Raiden, right? Nope: Jill Valentine.
- Killing one of the bosses by sticking him with a needle full of a toxin that overpowers his system making him easily defeatable. I'm talking about Vamp, right? Nope: Albert Wesker.
- Opening in a desert town with a monologue about how the world is currently in peril. I'm talking about MGS4's Middle Eastern battlefield opeing, right? Nope: RE5's African war torn village Kijuju opening.
- Ending on a tanker in the middle of the sea full of the bad guy's troops before having a protracted fist fight with the bad guy himself. I'm talking about MGS4's final chapter, right? Nope: RE5's final chapter.
That may only be 4 plot points, but they're all so similar and so major that you can't help but note their point of origin. This is before you even consider the other multitude of other rip offs in there ranging from a complete recycling of some Resident Evil 4 set pieces and the Gears of War influenced reviving a downed player all the way to Ozwell E. Spencer being taken directly from Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi and Albert Wesker acting and looking like he belongs in The Matrix. Absolutely nothing in RE5 is original or even given its own original flavouring. It's just a mish-mash of other games and movies masquerading as a single cohesive unit. And, to be fair to it, it's not like the series has been particularly self-inspired so far so it just shows how unashamed RE5 is in its desire to plagiarise.
Getting back to stealing from Gears of War, it's no secret that since that game got popular, everything has featured cover mechanics and co-op so picking on Resident Evil 5 for taking them might seem like a cheap shot but at the same time, I can't think of another game which does them so badly and needlessly. Up to this point, Resident Evil has also been a solo affair working on the obvious human instincts of loneliness and isolation being two major factors in being scared. The implementation of Sheva in the game completely unbalances the tone that the series has used for years and feels completely unecessary. Granted, there was a second person with Leon in RE4 when you saved Ashley Graham but she had no idea how to use a gun and couldn't help you in anyway so it was down to you to keep her alive.
This is where I feel a lot of designers forget the disconnect between what's happening on screen and how i'm supposed to feel about it. The idea that having two people increases tension only works under the assumption that both people are completely overwhelmed by the enemy and that at least one of them is going to be scared. If you have two people taking everything on without breaking a sweat, then you've always got a confidence boost to keep you going. Just because Sheva keeps getting into trouble, it doesn't mean i'm afraid because all I have to do is fire a shot in her direction and she'll break out from the enemy's grab and then thank me for it, making me, as a player, feel like a badass. This does the complete opposite of making me feel scared and belongs more in a game like Gears, BotS or Army of Two where the ethos is that you're a team of motherfuckers laying the smackdown rather than two ill equipped BSAA agents surviving a zombie horde in a foreign country.
I think the worst part of that, however, is that I might be wrong in what I expected from RE5. Like, MGS4 before it which shirked the stealth in favour of more action, RE5 seems to just forget it's part of a horror franchise and do its best to give you a more action packed ride though again, while MGS4 knew its lineage and still gave you plenty of options to slink through the enemy lines, RE5 never gives you any scares thus losing its one definable trait in the middle of an over saturated action game market. The whole thing just feels dull, plays like a relic and most tragically of all, is regarded as a AAA game. The idea that a game as middling as this can be put out as a cornerstone of a franchise is tragic and really goes a long way to explain why videogames are still treated like a joke and the people who play them get little respect because as an industry, we have incredibly low standards.