by Rob Douse
I could write an entire thesis on everything wrong with Resident Evil 5, and I fear I’m about to.
Anyone familiar with the Resident Evil series, especially as of late, might be wondering why I chose RE5 over the infinitely worse Resident Evil 6, which basically took everything wrong with RE5 and turned the shit hose up to 11.
Basically, even though RE6 was utter garbage of the highest order, the series was such a mess by the time it was released that no one was actually really expecting it to be good. Also, cold and dead though my heart may be, even I have to appreciate the delightful absurdity of Chris Redfield chilling in a playpark.
Resident Evil 5, on the other hand, was the first proper sequel to 2005’s Resident Evil 4, which anyone with even a passing interest in video games may know better as the father of modern third-person shooters.
The magnitude of Resident Evil 4’s influence is almost indescribable if you don’t remember life before it: almost everything we know as a staple in modern third-person shooters came from RE4; the over-the-shoulder aiming alone is reason enough to inaugurate it in the gaming mechanics hall of fame. It wasn’t all roses and rainbows, mind you, Resi 4 was also responsible for popularising Quick Time Events: the annoying, often unfairly sudden, button prompts that appear on screen and can often result in an instant game over if the player fails to react in time or hit the correct button.
As much as I love it, Resident Evil 4 was particularly obnoxious in its use of QTE’s, especially during the boss battle with Krauser, which was essentially a cutscene that occasionally demanded the player hit a button to advance, but where hitting the wrong button would result in having to watch the whole thing over again from the beginning.
Again, though, I forgive RE4 these transgressions because it was the first to actually bring QTEs to the mainstream –yes, I know Shenmue had them first- and there was so much experimentation going on that it was inevitable there were going to be a few misfires along the way; but by the sum of its parts Resident Evil 4 remains one of the most innovative and bold sequels of all time.
So what about Resident Evil 5?
Well, even though I’m often heavily critical of sequel-cloning, where the developer essentially just pumps out a carbon-copy of the previous iteration with a few aspects slightly tweaked, (see: Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Legend of Zelda,) literally all Resident Evil 5 had to do to be a success in my eyes was provide a next-gen version of Resident Evil 4, and initially that’s what it seemed like we were getting.
Early screens of the game showed a hilariously proportioned Chris Redfield moving through dusty African villages being stalked by their infected inhabitants, in much the same vein as Leon Kennedy did in the quiet Spanish hamlets of RE4. It looked like fans were going to get exactly what we wanted: A new world to explore with the same incredible engine.
Then they introduced the co-op partner.
This will probably polarise most of you as to whether or not you agree with my views on RE5, but I primarily play games on my own, and I especially dislike co-op games because I don’t like having to rely on another player to not screw up and obstruct my own progress. I also realise it’s hypocritical of me to criticise a different gameplay direction when RE4 basically discarded the survival horror roots of the series to go more action-orientated.
Here’s the thing, though: Even if you’re not crazy about the style change, you can at last still play the game. Without a co-op partner Resident Evil 5 becomes an instant exercise in frustration, as your AI partner has absolutely no concept of ammo conservation and will instantly waste every bullet you give her, as well as using entire first aid sprays, the rarest health items in the game, if you lose a single bar of health. This is the reason I oppose forced multiplayer being implemented into series more than stylistic changes: one is just a matter of personal preference, but the other can potentially throw up a barrier of entry to players who have enjoyed your series for years.
That’s not to mention the effect the addition of a co-op partner has on the game’s tone. While I concede that the series became more geared towards shooting waves of bad guys post RE4, it was still god damn terrifying, and the fact that you were by yourself was a major factor in creating that atmosphere. A situation instantly becomes less scary if you have someone standing next to you, cracking wise. It’s why the horror trope of ‘let’s split up’ exists: isolation makes any scenario instantly more intense and unnerving.
Yes, RE4 did have its sillier moments with Midget Napoleon and the infamous ‘right hand’ dialogue, but the series has always mixed campy B-movie horror dialogue –“You were almost a Jill sandwich!”– with genuine terror during gameplay segments, and that largely comes from being alone in an eerie environment, stalked by monsters that are often considerably more powerful than you and in many cases just downright nightmare fuel (anyone who is familiar with the Regenerators will know what I mean).
All of this atmosphere went out the window in RE5 because you suddenly had a little chum who followed you around and backed you up in combat. Yes, Ashley followed you around for parts of RE4, but her presence only served to up the tension because she was completely defenceless and could be abducted by enemies if you didn’t protect her; causing an instant game over. Shiva, on the other hand, is every bit as deadly as Chris and certainly don’t need no man to take care of her.
The atmosphere wasn’t the only thing to be jettisoned in RE5, though, also out the window was the classic inventory pause screen that had been a series staple since the very first game. I won’t lie, I initially found it really weird that I had to pause the game every time I wanted to switch to a different weapon in RE4, and I do think the modern approaching of binding different weapons to the d-pad is far better design, but the real-time inventory management introduced in RE5, which meant the game didn’t pause while you changed weapons or healed, was absolutely horrendous.
I’m almost certain that this change was made because Dead Space, which ironically was essentially Resident Evil 4 with aliens, had introduced it a few years prior. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with cribbing good ideas from other people, it’s generally expected that you’ll improve upon them or, at the very least, not balls them up entirely.
Dead Space’s inventory system was essentially RE4’s attaché case only in real-time. You had a limited number of squares into which you placed guns, ammo, health and various items that could be sold for credits. Crucially, though, your inventory space could be upgraded and expanded to stockpile more ammo and guns as the difficulty ramped up towards the end of the game.
In Resident Evil 5 you get 9 inventory spaces and that is it. Forever.
Well, technically, you have 18 spaces since your partner also has an inventory screen, but this is still a paltry offering, given the bizarre choices that were made regarding how much space certain items take up. For example, you can stack grenade rounds into the double digits in one space, but a single green herb, the game’s primary healing items, take up an entire space all on their own.
If you choose to buy body armour later in the game that takes up an inventory space, even though you’re presumably wearing it; if you swap your knife for a cattle prod the cattle prod takes up a space even though your knife doesn’t; if both inventories are full and you want to give your partner an item you can’t just directly swap one item for another, you have to discard an item from your partner’s inventory to make room for what you want to give them, after which the discarded item is lost forever.
What’s funny is that I’ve always assumed this restricted inventory system was incorporated in order to be more like the inventory system from the Resident Evils before RE4, but the problem is those games were true survival horror: ammo was extremely scarce and fighting was always a last resort; never your first instinct. Resident Evil 5, on the other hand, opens with you fighting off wave after wave of crazy villages while you wait for a helicopter to come and blow up a gate for you. Even playing conservatively, you will gun down enemies in the hundreds by the end of RE5; it is in no way suited to the make-every-bullet-count model of the original games, which is why Resident Evil 4 abandoned that approach, and which is why Resident Evil 5 makes this list for re-introducing it, against all logic and reason.
Most of all though, the reason RE5 belongs on this list while RE6 doesn’t is because, beneath all the grim and bizarre design choices, there is a genuinely fabulous game struggling to get out. RE5 could have been a perfect successor to 4, as it does sand off many of the rough edges that were present in its forebear, but all of the good gets smothered underneath unnecessary forced co-op and a return to ill-suited concepts that had already been discarded for the better of the series.
Having said all that, once you beat the game and play it on New Game Plus it actually does become a lot of fun, mainly because your firepower is actually on par with the onslaught you’re facing.