‘Resident Evil 5’ Xbox 360 Impressions

April 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Ah, so now I understand where the wave of discontent is coming from.

Roughly four years have passed since Resident Evil 4 fundamentally changed the series with its altered control system, open environments and changed camera perspective. But in those four years, things have moved on in the 3rd person action genre. Dead Space — which I reviewed earlier last month — improved upon the Resident Evil formula by introducing more flexibility in player movement and an excellent inventory system. Resident Evil 5‘s crime is that it’s just too damn similar to its predecessor, and while some advances have been made, irritating design flaws remain which shouldn’t be there.

The inventory system, for example, only allows for each character to manage nine items at a time. Although Capcom have done away with the inventory juggling of RE4 — where every item took up space according to its weight — they’ve now, inadvertently, replaced one annoying mechanic with another, since there is a constant need to swap items back and forth between characters. This was annoying in Resident Evil Zero, so why make the same mistake twice?

Many complaints have been levied at Resident Evil 4‘s control scheme — more specifically, that you are unable to run and shoot at the same time. But the problem isn’t just that, though, because it’s not just the control system that feels arcane, but the level and gameplay design, which are both identical to RE4‘s in almost every way.

Resident Evil 5 is a victim of the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Resident Evil 4 was hailed as a triumph, a new Resident Evil for a new console generation. So Capcom, looking towards RE4 as a blueprint for success, took everything and bunged it into Re5, as well as adding co-op and improving the graphics.

The logic of that decision is undeniable, but it ultimately backfired on Capcom. Resident Evil isn’t just another game series, it’s Resident Evil. Expectations were understandably high for the game, and games like Dead Space and Gears of War 2 — having introduced several improvements to the genre — raised those expectations even higher, perhaps to unattainable levels.

The thing is, as a sequel, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Resident Evil 4. It delivers more of the same and then some. In co-op multiplayer it can produce some of the best moments, and even in singleplayer the co-op AI doesn’t go out of its way to ruin the experience. The critical point here is that the 3rd person shooter landscape has changed since 2005, and because Capcom failed to recognise this, Resident Evil 5 is in the strange position of been a better game than RE4 and, yet, has ended up being received in a far more critical light.

Another issue, more interesting from a social standpoint, is the accusation that Resident Evil 5 is racist. I don’t feel qualified to talk on this point for two reasons:

  1. I have not got up to the point in the game that is specifically tied to the accusation; and
  2. I’m not black. While my socio-historical background is based in slavery, it was my race doing the oppressing and not the other way around. The imagery simply isn’t that disturbing to me as it might be to black people. Therefore, this sort of issue holds very little emotion for me, and, in turn, renders me less sensitive to what may be considered racist.

N’Gai Croal, who initially — and, actually, quite unintentionally — sparked the debate, has written an excellent article in the latest Edge magazine on this very issue, defending his point of view. From somebody with an unfortunate tendency to call-up the phrase “political correctness” with little regard, I honestly feel that everything that N’Gai Croal has to say in that article is of completely sound judgement.

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