It’s probably unfair, but I’m blaming my current state of disgruntlement on Bojeeva. It was his PS1, way back in 1997, that happened to have a copy of Resident Evil in it one afternoon when I sat down for a game. I became a Resident Evil fanboy that afternoon, and if I hadn’t become such a fan of the series I’m sure I wouldn’t currently be feeling this disappointed at having finally played Resident Evil 5.
Just so you know that I’m not an uncritical appraiser, I’ll admit that Resident Evil 3 was a bit short and, despite the innovations of live choice and the Nemesis itself, a tad by-the numbers. And yes, Code Veronica was strangely blocky and cartoonish. I’m also well aware that Resident Evil 4 abandoned the series survival horror roots by arming you to the teeth and letting you blast away at hordes of villagers. But you know what? It didn’t matter, all of those Resident Evil games had a few vital factors in common: a sense of progression through a series of changing environments that reflected the unfolding of the story-from diner to cop shop to sewer to lab, for example. And a sense of lonely, uncertain intensity. You didn’t know you’d be able to deal with what the game threw at you, but you knew that you were the only character available, with no external help on the way, against impossible odds, so you’d better just get on with it.
For me, these are the key traits of Resident Evil games, and they’re sadly missing from Resident Evil 5. It’s bad enough that the loneliness is destroyed by the presence of a partner that plinks away at baddies with a popgun whilst using all the health, but at one point the arrival of a squad of soldiers saves you from some marauding bikers. All the intensity of being alone and far from help disappears at this very early stage of the game, and all of a sudden you’re playing something that feels like it’s trying to be Resident Evil and failing.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the logical progression of environments doesn’t work. Instead of feeling like each new locale is the obvious next place to look for the solution to the story, here it feels like a random string of cookie-cutter constructions. Shanty town leads to crematorium, leads to generic tribal village leads to lab leads to incongruous subterranean ruins etc etc. It’s like the developers understood the importance of variety, but not of verisimilitude.
Of course, I was almost able to overlook all of that. If this had been game named Plaguebusting PseudoCops and I’d bought it expecting a Resi knock off, I’d never have had such high expectations and would probably have enjoyed it more. Or would I? See there’s one last thing...this game is cheap. I don’t mean it’s easy on the wallet, I mean it likes cheap shots, and doesn’t play fair.
It’s bad enough that developers use quick time events to turn gaming into Simon Says, but when they implement them in such a clumsy way that you only get the warning three quarters of the time? Criminal! On several occasions I’d get swiped by a boss for no other reason than the absence of the usual ‘press ‘x’ to dodge’ warning. I don’t mind getting battered through my own ineptitude, but losing health because the game has arbitrarily decided to successfully hit me no matter what I do? That’s not on.
Of course, thoughtless design is evident throughout the game. Giving you a partner but not giving her a strong enough AI to understand basic gaming priorities is one clear example of that, but there’s one that is far, far worse.
Think about Resident Evil and what comes to mind? Bad translation? Yep. Low ammo? Sure. Only being able to shoot when you’re stationery? Of course. Having to stop to shoot is key to the games ability to increase tension, every time you stop to fight you’re gambling that you can dispose of a foe before they close the distance to you.