Capcom: Let's take something great and mainstream it to death
This article was originally posted on BnBGamingon November 16th, 2010.
In a world dominated by cover-based shooters, Resident Evil 5 tears off the shackles of exploration and atmosphere to go play with the big boys.
Note: This game was reviewed on the PC and has the stink of a bad console port. Be warned that the reviewer may be a little bitter.
Resident Evil is considered by many to be the first true survival horror game, although some may demand that honor be reserved for Haunted House, and it has been a staple in the horror genre since it first rolled onto the scene back in 1996. Since then it has seen a ton of sequels and spin-offs on almost every single console, which followed pretty much the same format until Resident Evil 4. RE4 introduced a new enemy (called “Los Ganados”) which could use weapons, moved a lot quicker and could communicate with each other, adding a new gameplay element into the mix after a decade of the same zombie type. It received mixed responses, the haters complaining that the radically changed gameplay and new non-zombie enemy type meant that it had moved too far away from the original formula to be considered a “true” Resident Evil sequel. Resident Evil 5 takes everything a step further away from its humble roots and the end result is a mediocre 3rd person shooter with little atmosphere and a story that won't pull at your emotions any more than a wet rag would.
The Resident Evil series has never had the strongest storyline, relying on atmosphere and jump-scares to drag you through a contrived plot with predictable twists and cringe-worthy dialogue, and RE5 is no different. The ambitions are high and you're taken on a roller coaster ride through a myriad of different settings, all of which have the same drab grey and brown color scheme, ending up at a boss fight inside an active volcano. The writers haven't held back in terms of crafting an epic adventure, but unfortunately the ridiculous situations the main character and his partner find themselves in, coupled with the idiotic dialog, results in a story that only gives a vague explanation for the ensuing events and bases itself heavily on events that occurred earlier in the Resident Evil canon, requiring that you be familiar with the people and places that are referenced if you want any clue about what's going on. The characters are bland and two-dimensional, which is reflected in the poor voice acting, and you're left with little impression of who they are or what has happened.The badly written story is the rickety framing around the gameplay, which has seen little revision from Resident Evil 4. You're still looking over the shoulder of your playable character, aiming with slight difficulty at the (seemingly) never-ending horde of enemies that the game throws at you. Any illusion of atmosphere is lost as the game loves to interrupt your exploration with a sudden cutscene showing the arrival of a flood of enemies at every turn, leaving you to plod through the sea of bullet-sponges before you can get back to what you are doing. I may be alone in this sentiment, but I'm unsure as to what use it is to interrupt my puzzle-solving with a few waves of enemies coming at random intervals. At the end of the game I could predict when enemies would pop out of the walls simply based on the amount of time since last I was forced to empty my clips into the same enemies I've seen again and again.
Resident Evil 5 is an action game, which needs a certain amount of action to justify its control scheme and out-of-place gun upgrade system. That being the case, the game is fully prepared to disregard any attempt to build tension or present an oppressive and frightening atmosphere, and to simply spam you with enemies, interjected with the odd environment puzzle, quick-time-event laden cutscene or boss fight. Although the bosses look good, throbbing with viscera and crawling their way towards you on oddly shaped limbs, they don't really make up for the standard enemies, of which there are a handful of types, that simply spawn somewhere offscreen with a tenacity that borders on unreasonable every few minutes. The formula is to show a dramatic cutscene that introduces an enemy, followed by wave after wave of the same enemy type coming in droves as you progress through the level. It was so predictable and tedious that the positive aspects of the game were disproportionately overshadowed by this glaring issue.
It's impossible to talk about this game without making a mention about the controversy revolving around the lead character, a white American man with massive guns, shooting hordes of crazy black people. Although Capcom have reassured the game playing populace that there isn't an intentional racial undertone and even included a darker-skinned partner, who switches back and forth between helpful and useless so often that I'm convinced that she has multiple personalities, it's hard to not see the white supremacist fantasy that takes place in front of your eyes. Giving the game the benefit of the doubt, I was prepared to play through it while considering the enemies to be enraged zombies, as Capcom intended, but an event which took place quite early in the game made it hard for me to not see the underlying racial innuendo.
At one point you see a white woman in a dress, located in the middle of a slum in Africa for some reason, calling out for help in perfect English before being dragged away by a grunting, dark-skinned madman. Considering the amount of backlash that Capcom has received from early responses to the game, it amazes me that this tasteless scene, coated with undertones so thick that you could cut it with a knife, was left in the final version of the game.
The Final Verdict
Resident Evil 5 is not a good game. It deviates from the Resident Evil formula even further than its predecessor, resulting in an unimaginative 3rd-person shooter whose potential is spoiled by the unrefined controls and the constant waves of similar enemies that ruin any chance of atmosphere the game might have had. The visuals and sounds are very well done and the game has that definite Resident Evil feel about it, when you're not being spammed with enemies that take way too many shots to take down. The game is filled with unlockables, extra costumes and even the Mercenaries mode from previous RE games, but the core gameplay is so poorly done that there is little incentive to keep playing after finishing the main story.