Resident Evil 5 is, at its core, Resident Evil 4 with high-definition graphics and some combat support. In a lot of ways, this is a good thing, and I have a lot of praise to direct at the game before I get down to the nitty gritty. The gunplay is essentially unchanged from Resi 4, which means it's still as intense, visceral and satisfying as it was the last time around. The puzzles, while largely straightforward, are well structured and much more engaging than those of its predecessor. Most worthy of praise is the implementation of Sheva, who's one of the best non-playable characters I've ever had the pleasure of being cast alongside - her AI is superbly balanced, offering a reliable level of support while still exhibiting an impressive amount of independence. Its seemingly fan-focused story may not have grabbed me, but I'm willing to put that down to my very limited experience with any Resident Evil game prior to the fourth. Throw all this into a melting pot and you end up with a highly entertaining third-person survival action game. I really feel like I can't stress that enough - Resident Evil 5 is a good game. What it does right, it does damn near perfectly. I place extra emphasis on this fact because the rest of this blog is probably going to portray a significantly skewed view on one specific aspect of the game that I don't like:
Resident Evil 5 is completely lacking in tension and suspense.Three quarters of the way through the game and there's just no getting around this fact. Every single opportunity for the game to create a sense of tension and suspense has been spectacularly wasted, in a variety of ways so wide that it's almost impressive. First, there's the audio side of things. Resident Evil 5 has a pretty superb musical score, and its use of spooky sound effects has been spot-on throughout, but the way it employs musical cues completely kills any potential for generating suspense. You see, in Resident Evil 5, music picks up in combat situations. As a result of this, the reaction to a sudden blast of music is not "Oh shit, something's close", but "Okay, time to fight". It really does wreck any chance for creating tension and fear in the player. Even more of an offender than the questionable audio cues is the game's ridiculous over-employment of "fade-to-cutscene". Whenever anything potentially frightening happens, whether it be an ambush, the introduction of a new enemy type, or even a dramatic, overly-wordy face-off between protagonist and antagonist, it's always preceded by a fade-to-black, before the incident in question is introduced by way of a completely non-interactive cutscene. It kills any sense of urgency and makes a mockery of what the game is presumably trying to achieve.
As I mentioned earlier, last year I played through Dead Space, a game which not only got all of the above right, but graduated from the School of Tension and Suspense with distinction. Looking at the two games side-by-side, it becomes apparent to me where Resident Evil 5 could learn a thing or two from its biggest rival. With regards to audio cues, Dead Space's soundtrack flows much more naturally than Resident Evil 5's. Whereas in Resi 5, the combat music seems to switch on and off in a jarring fashion, the sonic transition between exploration and combat in Dead Space is much more subtle, gradual and fluid. The result is a soundscape that maintains a persistent ambience, and that in turn brings an almost palpable tension into the heart and mind of the person playing. Because the shifts in that soundscape are subtle and, when absorbed in the experience, almost unnoticeable, it makes the threat of danger something to be feared much more than in Resident Evil 5. With regards to the "fade-to-cutscene" dilemma, this is where Dead Space blows Resident Evil 5 out of the water for me. In Dead Space, every event is relayed to the player during gameplay. It doesn't matter if it's Isaac Clarke's first confrontation with a Brute, listening to audio-logs, or his radio communications with Kendra and Hammond, it all happens in real time, and the player retains control throughout it all. The end effect is to render the player constantly on-edge - retaining control means that the game is constantly looking for ways to surprise the player, while at the same time giving them the means to react. This is much more effective at building tension than Resident Evil 5's almost completely hands-off cutscenes. Sure, there are quick time events, but more often than not I've found myself completely missing them, only to be completely prepared for them and nail them the second time around.
Despite not being a die-hard fan of the Resident Evil franchise, I am aware that Resident Evil 5 is designed to be the last iteration of the main canon. As such, I don't really expect Capcom to learn from Visceral Games with a view to improving the sense of uneasiness and foreboding in future titles. I also realise I'm a little late to the party with regards to discussing the merits and drawbacks of Resident Evil 5, but hey, I'm writing a serial blog about a game that came out in 1997 - topicality has never been my strong suit in these blogs. With the endgame of Resi 5 starting to rear its progressively-uglier-and-more-deformed head, I'm anticipating some seriously awesome boss fights to close this experience. If there's one area where Resident Evil 5 definitely has the upper hand over Dead Space, it's in the boss battle department - seriously, Visceral, let's have something a little tougher to fell than the Hive Mind in Dead Space 2, okay? Anyway, thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Resident Evil 5 (X360)