News from sunny Kijuju

I first played the Resident Evil 5 demo just under two weeks ago, and have to admit to being initially underwhelmed, to the extent that I wasn’t really too bothered that I didn’t get to play it again for a week. My first impressions were that, while it had all the requisite Capcom gloss, the game’s frenetic melee gameplay, where you and your AI sidekick have to help each other out while fighting off hordes of enemies, was more irritatingly confusing than actually scary.

Ten days later I got back to the demo, and played through the entirety of the Shanty Town mission, gritting my teeth and mastering the controls.* Having got to the helicopter rescue, I was getting to grips with the game but this was only deepening my misgivings – that survival horror is ill-suited to a game with an omnipresent sidekick, and that enemy and partner AI was laughable compared to Left 4 Dead, and indeed that compared to L4D on virtually every point RE5 was a polished-up Gamecube relic. I was preparing myself for the possibility that this might be a core Resi game that I didn’t like. Oh, I was also considering which version to pre-order even as I contemplated this prospect, because I’m a fan and I’m deeply broken, natch.

Well, today I played the demo again, playing through both scenarios in online co-op with a friend, and really quite enjoyed it. As a co-op game, it’s quite playable and fun, either taking out enemies from different directions, or taking turns to apply health spray or gather ammo while the other picks off enemies from a distance. So, providing I can find a co-op pal to help me out, I’m going to be able to play the game and get some fun out of it.

This doesn’t, however, mean that all is rosy and perfect. While the co-op is fun, and turns it into a good action game, Resident Evil 5 loses a lot of the atmosphere and unique qualities of the series in the rush towards the current urge to make every game an online, social experience. While Left 4 Dead brilliantly drops your ordinary joe players into the roles of four ordinary joe characters fighting for their survival, the tone of the Resident Evil series doesn’t survive the transition as well, even though on the surface they’re very similar ideas.

Resi is about mad plots and arch dialogue, and when played as co-op that atmosphere is effectively suspended by the pragmatic chat between the players. While it’s hard to take the cutscenes in these games seriously at the best of times, in a co-op game they’re just a half-watched bore that you chat through. Not to belabour the point more than I have already, but the Resident Evil games are another example of quintessentially single-player games, where you sit-down and absorb yourself in a wonderfully, gleefully, stupid and scary narrative. You can’t do that while amiablyb chatting strategy over a voice mic.

Resident Evil 5 looks like a slick action experience with a few jolts that should be good fun to play through with a friend. However, in trying to sell it to the Gears of War crowd, Capcom may well have lost a lot of what made these games so popular in the first place.


* While I understand that wrestling with the controls is a means of inducing panic and not a mistake, there’s always a period of settling in to the new system with every game, so that you can get to the point where it’s a tense struggle to turn and fire in time, not just a case of walking randomly into walls and trying to remember which button does what.


February 8, 2009. Tags: . Uncategorized.

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