Well, it’s been a very long time since I did this… actually I did it once. Maybe I need to vent my spleen more often…
I’ve defended Resident Evil 6 quite vociferously.
Is Resident Evil 6 a good game? Absolutely not. It’s an average game with good elements and bad elements all competing with each other, usually in the same campaigns, to stand out from one another – ultimately blending together to make a brown, sludgy experience that’s neither lasting nor particularly memorable. It’s what happens when you throw so many ingredients into the same pot, as it were – you can’t tell one flavour from another, and whilst it’s obviously edible – there’s nothing that stands out as a defining characteristic. And if you hate that, I can understand and sympathise to some extent. I just think that it’s not worth the effort to get worked up over something so clearly overworked.
However, Resident Evil 5 has defining characteristics, and ideas that do stand out. It’s just that… well, they’re terrible ideas.
With the recent re-release of Resident Evil 5 on PS4 and XBox One making headlines – and not positive ones, with another slapdash Capcom porting job (seriously Capcom, this is something you really shouldn’t be having problems with now!), I think people are hating on the game for entirely the wrong reasons. Sure, I get it. Resident Evil 5 remastered is a sloppy, rushed porting job from a company that brought you such lovely ports as Resident Evil: Revelations HD, a port so poorly handled that I couldn’t quite believe anyone played it and could have been happy with the end result. I hate bad port jobs. There’s no excuse for a game that’s almost seven years old at this point to have problems running on obviously superior hardware. I mean, I think Nintendo ports have of late been a bit lazy – but come on, at least Twilight Princess was competently handled.
Of course, I hated Resident Evil 5 long before this botched back-alley port job.
The defining characteristics of a game can make or break how palatable it is for general consumption. I think we can all accept that for all Resident Evil 4’s virtues – and they are numerous – the game has aged badly. But I can forgive the dated jokes and the slightly dated gameplay and the very obviously dated quick time events which were just a dumb idea because the packaging of Resident Evil 4 was, rather like Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, quintessentially tongue-in-cheek. The game had action set-pieces and timed events and a whole host of lazy game design issues, but the script was knowingly mocking itself, and we were in on the joke. Humour is a great tool when used correctly, and can even lighten the tone of some of the most horrible situations – like Saddler’s big prosthetic scorpion tail thing coming from… well… ‘under his robe’, as it were. And the game is completely in on it. We know the game is in on it. And whilst sure it’s seen in a gruesome spiking of Luis Sera, when we’re done we breathe, take a moment and then go… “Wait, was that his… well… you know?”
Resident Evil 5’s main attraction is co-op. And that’s clearly okay because in the closing years of the Noughties, co-op was the in thing. Online networks like XBox Live and PlayStation Network, alongside Valve’s Steam platform, made jumping into a co-op match quick, simple and painless and so games quickly lined up to take advantage of these features. And so Resident Evil took a giant leap into this new craze, with the kind of reckless abandon that is quite impressive.
But come on, we can admit it now. The game itself was TERRIBLE.
From the ground up, Capcom quickly and methodically threw out the things which made Resident Evil 4 a gigantic success on so many platforms – the humour, the tone, the spirit, the pacing. In its place was a more serious, straight-faced co-op action adventure formula which even when Resident Evil 5 was released was getting a little stale. The wistful locales were replaced with a dingy African-inspired slum, and many found that inherently racist (without, you know, even getting to the part where local tribes running around with body paint and loin-cloths were throwing spears at you – that was certainly… uhm… interesting…). We even got on-rails sections. And more quick-time events. So many more quick time events…
Humour had always been the Resident Evil way of leavening the loaf, as it were. The yeast that made it rise. Resident Evil 5 kind of forgot the humour, the charm, the charisma and swagger that made many love Resident Evil 4 so deeply. The end result was… well, kind of boring, if we’re being honest. It was a kind of nonsensical, nondescript but self-contained story in and of itself; ultimately disposable, saying nothing and meaning nothing, an exercise in simply providing minor impetus for going from A to B.
That said, the level design was pretty lacklustre. Resident Evil 4 was hardly an open-world epic, to be sure – in fairness, the Resident Evil series has rarely been known for that. Even then, they felt a little more open, you’d go back somewhere at a later point and something new was now open or available and it gave a decent illusion of breadth, if not depth. Resident Evil 5 was painfully linear and choreographed.
Of course, Resident Evil is famous for… ahem… ‘borrowing’ from other things – I’ve said before in my look at the Resident Evil 7 demo that the series was hardly a bastion of original design or narration even when it broke onto the scene in 1996 (yup, Resident Evil was 20 this year). Resident Evil 5’s… ‘contribution’ to this was Sheva Alomar. Sheva was… well… a reimagined Lara Croft. Mixed ethnicity, prim and proper British accent and happy to wear a very skin-tight top…
Which is almost an anagram, minus one letter ‘E’, of “Have Some Lara” – no, I don’t believe this for one second to have been a coincidence. Not least that it has been suggested in the past that at one stage it was once intended to be Sheeva Alomar, but Mortal Kombat was now at this point owned by the moneyed, litigious-happy Warner Bros. Interactive, who would likely have wanted to keep the four-armed Sheeva unique in the gaming landscape… whether true or not, I don’t know. But it’s believable, if nothing else. An urban legend I choose to believe in.
The game itself was not averse to taking waaaaaay more from Tomb Raider than Lara Croft, however. The situations in a ruined city, the ancient mechanical puzzles, even boat sections which Tomb Raider had done years prior to Resident Evil 5. It wasn’t remotely subtle – if Sheva’s name wasn’t enough of a clue, many of the sets in Resident Evil 5 were more evidently inspired by Eidos’ magnum opus. And that would be fine but even the recent Tomb Raider games have demonstrated that once you remove the wit and levity of the humour – which Tomb Raider had in buckets under Core Design’s reins – you lose the sparkle that can bring up even the most tedious of design elements.
Of course, then you have my big bugbear. SPOILERS COMING! Not that you should care at this point but anyway…
They killed off Albert Wesker.
Look, Albert Wesker is not the series best villain – that crown goes to Alfred Ashford, now and forever. But Wesker was, if nothing else, a consistent thorn in the side of our protagonists. Now a super-powerful mutant with a giant hate-chip for Chris and Jill (the latter of whom Wesker enslaves and makes her hair blonde and gets her tits out in a daring skintight latex catsuit – hey, if it’s good enough for Jabba the Hutt…), Wesker should be a dangerous foe. But in Resident Evil 5, Wesker is… kind of watered down from how he was in Code: Veronica X. His smart, coy, almost goading tone had become dangerously obsessed with killing Chris Redfield. Personally, I can’t see why he couldn’t have infected Chris and enslaved him too but hey, I’m not a supervillain mutant like Albert Wesker, what do I know?
Yet at the end, Wesker bids his final farewell, and it’s a hollow victory. It’s such a radical shift from the cool, suave Wesker of old that it doesn’t ring true. Sure, Chris is messing up his plans. But Wesker has a huge bio-organic weapons manufacturer under his belt. There’ll be other opportunities. Other weapons. Other chances to kill or enslave Chris. This all-or-nothing approach is nothing like the smart Wesker of previous games. I get why they made him impulsive and irrational – it makes for a satisfying conclusion, after all, for most people. But not for me, and not like this. Impressive situation and nice fight (with more of those egregious quick-time events ugh), but lacking both hindsight and foresight.
Because the ensemble villains in Resident Evil 5 were pretty forgettable, and the villains in Resident Evil 6 were… well… just downright laughable. The series needed a kingpin to hate; an icon of indescribable evil. The… ahem… “Resident Evil”, if you’ll forgive the pun. Without Wesker… they need a new villain. And they’ve so far come up with nothing lasting or memorable enough, making the villains disposable entities of their own. And that’s kind of sad, if you think about it.
And all of the above is in addition to some of the most heinous mechanical decisions I’ve seen. The non co-op AI was truly appalling (the amount of times my AI partner would throw a grenade at me because one Majini was somewhat maybe near my position), the inventory system – look, there’s no excusing that inventory system after Resident Evil 4, and anyone who even attempts it will get my patented Death Stare of Glaring Contempt. Boat controls were stupid, sections were clearly designed for co-op play and solo play was just a rigmarole of waiting for your AI partner to maybe do something or position them so you can run off and do another objective (usually ending with the AI running after you for some reason). And the now required Ship Section in a Resident Evil game. Capcom do like their extremely large boats, it seems…
Maybe I should forgive it for being a co-op game, but I did play the co-op even at the time and it wasn’t really that amazing. Some people were good, some made you wish for the awful AI partner again. That’s the problem with random co-op. It’s the luck of the draw… but it emphasises how little planning went into this. A good level designer will find ways of punishing the lazy and rewarding the astute. Resident Evil 5 didn’t do any of that.
Which is ultimately why I don’t like the game. It’s the series of bizarre thematic and structural changes for the sake of jumping on the co-op bandwagon of the time; a bandwagon which, mercifully, now seems to have run off the road. None of Resident Evil 5 adds up. With Resident Evil 3 and 4, you got the impression that some people in Capcom were trying to deliberately kill the franchise off by being absolutely ridiculous, but of course it made us love the games even more. Resident Evil 5 was taken seriously. And I, personally, missed the lunacy…
It’s likely why the Beginning Hour demo is such a radical shift in perspective – both tonally and, well, literally from a perspective standpoint. Everything wrong with Resident Evil 6 was formulated within Resident Evil 5, but at least #6 did try to add a few new bits and bolts in there. Resident Evil 5 was just a long, protracted nothing of a game. Loud and boring. There’s nothing worse for me than a game that is loud and boring.
But you go ahead and hate it for a shoddy port job from a company with a history of shoddy port jobs.
You’re right to hate it… just I think you’ve got the wrong reasons. But you’re right. Surely that’s what matters.