Sunday, March 22, 2015

#83: Resident Evil 5: Old Dogs, Older Tricks

Apparently, spoopy “horror” games are slowly becoming more and more of an area-of-expertise for me. If you were to ask me about these kinds of games even one year ago, I would only be able to talk about them through second-hand experiences. Now, I have gained a limited amount of experience. Thanks to my co-op partner, I was “convinced” to continue this education by playing Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition. For your mild entertainment, I amused this option. While playing it, I found that in many respects, it felt like it was trapped in the past of its genre. This week, I will discuss why this is the case.
But first, a bit of information about the game. Released in early 2009, Resident Evil 5 came out to high expectations after its predecessor became so popular in the previous generation. Taking place in Somewhere, Africa, the game follows protagonist Chris Redfield and his current partner, Sheva Alomar, as they work together to investigate a mysterious incident on the continent while looking for Chris's old comrade, Jill Valentine, who was previously assumed dead. The two have to work together to find out what is going on, solving puzzles and fighting zom... infected along the way. The Gold Version, which is what I used for the purpose of this article, was released a year later and included all of the DLC for the game.

The story for RE5 was just a thoughtless overuse of old, established horror cliches. The villain just felt like a cardboard cutout of the villain from every super-hero comic book published before 1980. The game even acknowledges this when Chris mocks him for it during the final boss. One who has even a passing familiarity with fiction involving mutagenic bio-weapons is likely already knowledgeable of the stock excuses for such silly plans, and Resident Evil 5 uses almost all of them. Even on that level, Resident Evil 5 relies too heavily on tropes without distinguishing itself.

Having said that, the gameplay that the story exists to mildly justify is pretty interesting. With the help of either an AI partner or another human being, players use limited resources to either fight or flee from zom... infected. Since each protagonist has only 9 inventory slots, space is limited. This makes it so that even in the event where players find excess resources, they must be careful when choosing what to allocate space to. Though this limited inventory does feel like a holdover from the days when Resident Evil could be considered a survival horror game, it does work to force players to use good aim and tactics to conserve resources.

Unfortunately, the other parts of the gameplay have flaws on their own. Gunplay, as an example, works similarly to Deadly Premonition's. When aiming at enemies, players must stand still, unable to move. Again, in the context of a survival horror game, this would be an interesting decision. Players would need to be more conscious of the fight or flight dynamics, since standing one's ground exists entirely in opposition to running away from or through a group of enemies. However, in the more action-oriented environment of Resident Evil 5, it feels somewhat out of place. That said, this lack of movement does make it easier to aim in this game as opposed to other games out there. Despite the added benefit, I feel that the game would have been better served removing this restriction. When later sections turn fighting into an awkward third-person shooter, it demonstrates just how awkward the game really is.

On top of that, there are a couple of other old conventions that just feel either poorly tacked on or silly in context. The less egregious of these two elements are the Quicktime Events, which is saying something. The player who assumes the role of Chris has their own prompts, as does the one who plays Sheva. Sometimes they will have the same prompts, but this is not always the case. Failure to complete any one of the button inputs will result in an automatic instant-death, with the need to retry the event from the beginning. These are, almost without exception, never fun. Honestly, I do not understand why Quicktime Events have gotten very popular, especially when losing results in game over. Since the game came out in 2009, before the practice started to lose favor, I can somewhat understand why they were included. After all, it was still a fairly popular mechanic back in that era. In the modern context, it just does not work, and this is great example of why that is the case.

The other tired trope Resident Evil 5 heavily utilized was frequent instant death. Many of the larger enemies in the game have attacks that will automatically kill either player, no matter how much health they have, and without the possibility of the other player resuscitating them. Fighting these enemies becomes a major annoyance as a result, especially since the irreversible end of either player results in a game over. Certain environmental obstacles also have this effect. One particular example from the middle of the game comes to mind. As games of this ilk are wont to do, Resident Evil 5 includes a light-bending puzzle. With the help of reflective mirrors, the player team is required to point a beam of light towards a trigger mechanism in order to proceed. Unfortunately, the light is also a death ray that will kill either player on touch, resetting the entire puzzle. When this fact can only be discovered by falling victim to it, annoyance and frustration is guaranteed. Like in the above instance, most of the other instant death traps in Resident Evil 5 feel cheap.

Resident Evil 5 is not a bad game. It just does not do anything to really stand out among its contemporaries, even from the period in which the game was published. As a co-op game, it is functional, serving as a good excuse to get together with a friend and have some good time. On the whole, its overuse of old mechanics and stories from the grand list of scary movie/game cliches demonstrates a sheer lack of creativity from the designers.

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