Resident Evil 5 – “Bigger, Better, more Bad-ass!”

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Lately, it seems as though Japanese developers have bowed down before the commercial and artistic logic of USA-based mainstream video-games. The loss of their cultural identity, as people and as developers, has severely impoverished the video-game medium; “Resident Evil 5” is the latest sign of that impoverishment. Because “Resident Evil 4” was already a very action-oriented game, it seems that the developers at Capcom used the new sequel as a way to further step beyond the boundaries of the survival horror genre into the action foray. It’s a logical move from the big producer, as it allows “Resident Evil 5” to reach a much wider audience, as the “Gears of War” and “Killzone 2” fans will surely be interested in playing the game, whether or not they were fans of the series before its last incarnation. The result of this commercial rationale is a game that is heavily sustained by its ancestors design, but that incorporates much of the tropes present in modern shooters, curiously enough, going as far as taking inspiration from games which “Resident Evil 4” itself inspired (“Gears of War” comes to mind). Such is “Resident Evil 5” greatest fault, the fact that it destroys its individual identity as a survival horror, action-adventure game, by trading its core ideas with the popularized elements of modern shooters.

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It is true however, that there was very little left in “Resident Evil 4” that could be associated with its predecessors. Adventure motifs were all but absent, save for the occasional “fetch” puzzle, and horror codes such as frights or psychological mind-games were completely missing. What wasn’t lacking however, was a creepy atmosphere and a tension oriented game-play that effectively forced players to feel the stress of encountering the dangers of a massive zombie attack. The biggest difference in “5” is that it lacks the quality aesthetic work that made its predecessor’s atmosphere so foreboding, and focuses solely on the empowering of stressful encounters with enemies. Keeping in tradition with an Americanized view on entertainment, the first way of enhancing the sense of stress and dread that the new “Resident Evil” feeds on is by upping the scale. On one hand, by using bigger monsters and boss-fights, by delivering larger set-pieces and backgrounds for game-play, and by increasing the sheer numbers of enemies that the player has to get rid of to finish the game. A fair estimate would be that there are more zombies in “Resi 5” than in the rest of the series all together. The other change in scale comes from one of the game’s most important design decisions: the co-op mode.

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Though “Resident Evil” always had more than one main protagonist to its stories, only the fifth iteration allows players to play side by side with a friend. It’s immediately obvious when you pick up the controller and start playing, that the game was designed and tested to fit into co-op play. Level design, inventory management, boss battles and even the rare puzzles all need a form of cooperative effort to overcome difficulties. This cooperative dynamic allows co-op play to be engaging, by making communication a valid asset for the development of mutual strategies, thus increasing the liberty players have to tackle each scenario and each encounter. The downside is that the game is so focused on co-op, that the single player mode becomes irrelevant and almost unplayable. There’s a good AI controlled companion there to assist you, but it’s severely limited in the ways in which it can communicate and interact with the player, making complex strategies nigh impossible. And since the game makes its greatest asset that dual player logic, this transforms the single player mode into an empty chore, filled with constant struggles to make the virtual companion take the proper actions in order to pass each of the game’s challenges.

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Truth be said, co-op makes for an exciting way of playing, and makes the game shine as a pure action game, like few have been able to in the recent past. However, that isn’t, nor ever was, the core of the “Resident Evil” experience. This misunderstanding of the series’ legacy, and its core design, becomes fully apparent in the nature of the final levels of the game, in which it takes a form that seems straight out of “Tomb Raider” – a large, eerie tomb from an ancient civilization filled with small puzzles – or “Gears of War” – a military base populated with fully armed zombies, wrapped around a cover-oriented level design scheme. And these are only the worst examples of the loss of identity on part of this “Resident Evil”,  because even the when the game behaves similarly to “4” it misses out on important notions of aesthetic that were integrate part of the series – by using serious voice acting for a cheesy storyline, or daylight flooded African shanty towns as a scenario for a horror tale.

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Every design choice in “Resident Evil 5” screams of an attempt at capturing American FPS audiences, from the embodiment of action-oriented staples such as co-op play, a cover-based battle system and epic-sized set-pieces, to the more buffed-up character designs and supposedly more serious narrative. Trampled beneath these realizations is the past of “Resident Evil”, completely forgotten by the game’s designers. Instead of trying to re-frame the action oriented nature of “4” in a an action-adventure context, closer to the series’ classic ideas, “Resident Evil 5” designers chose to upgrade “Resident Evil 4” by taking inspiration from mainstream shooters. Had it been a thoughtful reinterpretation of Capcom’s most beloved series, then it might have been a unique game to explore, but as it stands, it’s as “unique” as the latest entry of “Killzone”, “Call of Duty” or “Gears of War”. “Resident Evil 5” may be a very tense, well paced shooter, or if you prefer, a “bigger, better, more bad-ass” version of its predecessor, but make no mistake, there’s already too much of that around nowadays.

score: 2/5

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  • Comments (6)
  1. Resident Evil 5 is a direct result of the present-day player’s choices in the light of the current North-American market and gaming system orientations. We’ve come to the point where talented teams, like those existing in CAPCOM, need to refrain from using their skills just so they can tone down their game designs, making them more digestible for the feeble-minded gold-membership trigger-happy audience. It must be suffocating for some Japanese artists to navigate between the Eastern and Western mainstream these days.

    The public, when adopting and cheering for games like Gears of War and Call of Duty, has made it impossible for serious game designers to evade certain patterns or low-quality standards. This not only affects high-budget Japanese productions that, because of the market shift, also need to be sold in North-American systems, but also the few US and EU creators who seek to innovate – see the pitiful implementation of the archetypal online multiplayer mode in the new Riddick episode (!), or the current debate concerning Bioshock 2’s possible (?) online mode.

    We’re in for a world of hurt.

    • Coyote
    • March 27th, 2009

    I also think this is the result of CAPCOM approved “don’t innovate unless absolutly necesary” strategy. All the previous Resident Evil were basically the same with better graphics (I think there are 6 games before Resident Evil 5, but may be forgeting something). That is why 4 was so well received… it was so fresh and different to previous games it didn’t really feel like a sequel. Now that 4 has created a new succesful formula, CAPCOM will run through it until it gets dry.

    It it not the first time this happends with CAPCOM (or many others). Check the 9th megaman game with the same graphics and design; or the 4th Street Fighter, that even when it is 3D, the characters and gameplay are the same since the 2nd game (and all its iterations) released 20 years ago. CAPCOM is a company that can justify that with the “nostalgia” factor, but sometimes that hides a desire to play safe, a lack of desire to risk.

    Those games are good games, and many are technically superb… I am not going to say those are bad games, just that this trend of lack of innovation is not new, not for CAPCOM.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 27th, 2009

    Yes, the lack of innovation isn’t new. But the upholding of a western design philosophy is a new factor in Capcom’s games. It’s not just the fact that it suffers from ‘nth iteration syndrome’, it also suffers from “blatant rip-off syndrome”… referring to western shooters. Which, of course, is saddening, coming from one of the most important and iconic Japanese game developers and producers.

    • alina
    • August 16th, 2009

    CAPCOM rox d game world 🙂

    • bbbgbbd
    • February 4th, 2010

    lol I really just think you’re biased towards games made in Asia, Japanese games may not fall into the same cliches but there are a lot of them, possibly even more than western games. If you look at every rpg made for the snes that wasn’t translated, for every decent one there seems to be two or three really really blatant rip-offs of the original Dragon Warrior that play exactly the same as the NES game. And if you’re annoyed at too many movie license games there’s a game in Japan for whatever anime people wanted to experience as a game and I’m sure the quality ratio is about the same as movies –> games. I am a little teed off about RE5 but only because it didn’t reinvent things and is just as formulaic as before only difference is now it’s pretty much RE4.5. Basically Coyote said it a lot better than I can, it’s a waste of energy to get all worked up over CAPCOM of all companies… I’m sure the company that made about 700 different editions of Street Fighter II is your best bet for the most cutting-edge innovative software

    also it’s the economy stupid, that’s why every movie right now is a sequel too. Capcom’s probably just trying to stay in business right now

    and wasn’t it actually Resident Evil 4 that influenced Gears of War, not the other way around?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • February 4th, 2010

    Were western authors as good as Japanese and I wouldn’t be as biased. Obviously, there are genres in both sides of the world. That doesn’t add or detract to the fact that Japanese companies are now designing and marketing games according to western tastes. This makes them lose their unique cultural point of view, and impoverishes the medium.

    Capcom is one of the most important publishers/developers in the history of video games. It has always been a staple of quality and innovation, despite its tendency to abuse in the sequels department. Its line-up speaks of itself, with groundbreaking titles spanning all generations from the early arcade days to the 128bit age. If I really need to refresh your memory, I will cite a few recent games that you may recognize as innovative, risky or artistic: Devil May Cry, Killer7, Ôkami, God Hand, Viewtiful Joe, PN03, Haunting Ground, Everblue, and yeah, even Resident Evil Remake (one of the most interesting games of its generation, despite it being a remake). So yes, Capcom is important, and Capcom being limited to spewing out Lost Planet 2, Dead Rising 2 (made in the US) and Resident Evil 5 is VERY preoccupying.

    Yeah, the economy. But this blog isn’t about economics, it’s about looking at games from an artistic point of view, so I couldn’t care less about economy. History tells us that great authors die without a penny. Those that have their sacks filled with money don’t need any more praise than they already have. I give merit to what I feel is truly important to video games as a legitimate means of expression. I cannot bother to do so and still abide by the laws of money.

    Finally, Resident Evil 4 did influence Gears of War, but the fact that Gears of War aesthetic actually creeps into Resident Evil 5 is what worries me. Even despite my mixed feelings regarding RE4, it’s far more evolved from an aesthetic point of view than Gear’s color washed filth.

    Cheers!

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