December 29, 2009

Catching Up With Resident Evil 5

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , — Jamie Love @ 5:05 pm

Resident Evil 5
Catching up on the year that was 2009 in gaming inevitably led me back to the spiraling saga of Resident Evil, that mix of cherished memories from my youth seeking to merge a marketable sense of action with a lingering air of terror. The week of late-night sessions it took to survive the horror also led to an inevitable conclusion –

Resident Evil 5 is a fool’s errand, and I am the cosmic jester.

Resident Evil 5
Everything started off quite promising, opting to tackle the challenge via two-player split-screen with my best girl by my side. The ability to play a Resident Evil game cooperatively is unquestionable the wisest move Capcom could have made for the series, an opinion I base entirely on the knowledge that had the game remained a single-player affair, I would have never played for more than a few minutes. I’d assuredly have owned it, and set it on the shelf alongside the other entries in the series. But the chances of actually playing for any considerable amount of time by myself would be slim at best. And still I consider myself a long-running fan of the series.

Resident Evil has always been a game I’ve played cooperatively in a sense, having played through every release with a co-pilot, switching the controller between deaths or just when my nerves became frayed enough to warrant a break. And while it lacks an academic tone, I think this is very similar to the way comedy seems funnier with a larger audience, increasing the humor through added voices of laughter as much as the material. In that same way, horror seems more horrific when two or more people become scared together, feeding off of each others adrenaline and wrecked nerves to enhance the effect.

Without that company, having long since left any roommates ideal for late night gaming sessions behind, there’s less motivation to push on through a game like Resident Evil 5 alone. The motivation to torture myself with the lingering threads of the survival-horror genre isn’t an imperative for me without someone to share in the experience.

Resident Evil 5
So cooperative gameplay is hugely important within Resident Evil 5, because the title simply doesn’t stand a chance of gripping me through a solo campaign, owing to a bit of repeat performance syndrome mixed with a genuine lack of direction. On my own, I would have turned the game off and possibly tossed it out the nearest window.

This is incredible disappointing given the promise the game opens with. The first time I was cornered by a crazed crowd and asked to survive until help arrived, I doubted my ability to do it. Passing that small challenge led to the first encounter with a chain-saw wielding lunatic, at which point I very nearly shit out my heart. The game begins with an excellent sense of pacing that continually presents challenges which seem just slighter harder than those preceding them, leaving the player feeling brave enough to push on while fraying around the edges about what waits through the next doorway.

And then along comes Albert Wesker.

Resident Evil 5
I love every cheesy bit of old Resident Evil that manages to surface, from the umbrella logos on computers to a room full of lickers. And when it comes to some added back-story involving the company’s origins, I eat it up with a heaping spoonful of sugar. And yet Wesker’s arrival causes my affection to whither, because as anyone familiar with the series is aware, Wesker is a complete dick.

Albert Wesker may in fact be the biggest dick in videogame history, because what’s truly astounding about his stereotypically evil character, complete with excessive amounts of megalomania, is that he actually disrupts the flow of an otherwise fine game. It’s as if Wesker manages to endow the game with his dickish persona, and suddenly a game that was progressing so splendidly asks the player to run fetch errands to open the way forward and resorts to an endless variety of cheap tricks to stretch out the length of moderately sized areas. This says nothing of the fact that the very nature of his physical being forces the game to create new rules with each subsequent encounter, which the player should then automatically know owing to their innate psychic abilities.

There’s plenty I can excuse during the build-up, even defending the obligatory turret sequences as a necessary break from the tension leading up to that point. But there’s no denying that half-way through this game, Capcom deliberately began working to slow the player down, stretching out the experience rather than working to create one, and causing sequences to shift from the fear of the unknown to the tedium of the all-too-familiar.

Maybe it isn’t surprising, but I’m still recovering from the absolute frustration of that shift, which eventually became so infuriating that it turned player against player with each cheap ploy that caused us to have to start again, making the greatest fear of playing Resident Evil 5 the possibility that I might be single by the time the game was finished.

Resident Evil 5
There’s a formula at work here that needs clarification.

In a technical sense, a jerk designer will often throw a monster at you, and seeing you defeat it, promptly proceed to toss two more your way. It’s an easy-peasy-lazy habit that occurs in far too many games to begin listing titles off, and it’s become a standard trick, like an established and permissible act of jerkishness.

An asshole designer on the other hand, specifically sets about creating rooms that completely fracture the atmosphere gained leading into them, for no other reason than to stall the player and make it that much harder for them to reach the end. This should not be confused with situations that involve a great deal of skill, because what I’m talking about is the act of throwing overwhelming opposition at the player to delay a conclusion sans a creative means of prolonging the experience. And if the people responsible are big enough assholes, they can create a scenario so frustratingly uneven that you have to resort to drawing a battle map, which we did, spending our blood diamond money on a plethora of proximity bombs and littering the entire stage with them before triggering the sequence. And even after all that, surviving seemed like a stroke of luck.

But let’s be clear about this room, because if you’ve played through the game, I’m convinced it frustrated the hell out of you as well.

The final chase to catch Wesker leads to a large mechanized hangar door, requiring both players to activate a panel on either side to open it. As soon as this begins, two armored bugs drop from behind, encouraging the player to run. And before this can be dealt with, the door finishes opening, causing two large turret-wielding zombies to appear. But just in case this isn’t enough to deal with, the room then fills with regular zombies to make up for the slow pace of the heavies already present. Perhaps because of everything that must be endured leading toward this sequence, it is one of the most sadistic areas I’ve ever encountered in a videogame, and to whoever designed it I say with great sincerity, up yours buddy!

Resident Evil 5
What sequences like that illustrate is that there really isn’t an entire game waiting to be discovered in Resident Evil 5. There’s plenty of levels, but not a game in the whole sense, not in the way Resident Evil 2 could stretch itself just thin enough without snapping back to hit the player in the eye and leave a mark. The shame of it is that there are legitimately great moments that inspire cooperation between two players and leave a feeling of accomplishment versus exhaustion.

Capcom can create situations that make for incredible pockets of gaming, perhaps better suited to a series of short stories rather than an entire game. For all the changes over the years, it’s a problem that seems to plague the series as much as the virus’ let loose within them, but also leaves me optimistic that the upcoming DLC installments might be far more successful in finding a better path for the series moving forward.

Resident Evil 5 Fun Facts!

(1) I’m never going to live down killing my partner by telling her to stand clear while already turning a mirror and setting her on fire.
(2) There’s an incredibly awkward silence that occurs when you’re pissed that your partner keeps dying but decide to express said disappointment via low guttural noises to avoid direct confrontation.
(3)The question “where are you?” answered by “over here, dying” transpired approximately 34 times during our play-through.


  1. (2) and (3)

    This is exactly why I don’t co-op play very often, if at all. Except it’s me saying/thinking those things.

    Comment by Orenda Wolfe — December 29, 2009 @ 5:18 pm

  2. The A.I. isn’t that bad… but yeah, playing co-op with someone that can’t even control it’s character properly in order to avoid having to restar a level or loosing on some items (in ANY game) really makes you yearn the time when co-op ment having someone next to you that actually knew what they were doing…

    Comment by EdEN — December 31, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

  3. Spot on, Spot on!

    Comment by Chrissy — January 2, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

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