Sunday, July 18, 2010

Resident Evil 5 (video game)

Platform: X-Box 360, Playstation 3
Developer: Capcom
Genre: Survival Horror
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date: March 13, 2009

So with this game, the Resident Evil franchise finishes its metamorphosis from survival horror to something more akin to survival action.

That's probably an unfair statement, as it implies Resident Evil 4 led this series down this road. While it's true the last game changed the series a great deal from prior installments, it still kept it's roots firmly in horror and surviving; you just had a new playstyle and ammo wasn't as hard to come by. But this game seems to eschew it's origins the rest of the way.

The story is where the oddities begin. Honestly, it's nice to play as Chris Redfield again. It really is. But the story he's surrounded in isn't exactly befitting. Mostly because there isn't much story until about halfway in. You never really found out much about what was going on until about that point in prior games, but there was often an air of mystery to them and intrigue. Also, prior games had files, which gave a great deal of backstory to each title and at times even upped the creepiness factor. Here they're almost entirely absent - aside from the occasional entry - the ones that do exist are no longer logged and it's all sorely missed.

The origins of the different viruses are revealed in this game. Unfortunately, it's less than inspired. Without spoiling it, it can be said that the roots of the entire franchise is now tied to one thing that, in a way, seems to diminish the concepts as a whole. Saying that perhaps Umbrella's culpability is lessened due to the roots being in something born in nature would be going way too far, but the franchise loses something with this revelation. Much of the mystique is now lost and what was once entirely the screw up of a morally bankrupt, faceless company content to create viruses and bioweapons now has roots in nature. Maybe it isn't as big a deal for anyone else; for me, however, it felt like something about the dynamic of the series had changed and not in a good way.

Capcom has said that this game is, in effect, something of an end to several different plots regarding the series - mainly series baddie Wesker and his overall goals - and they hold to that, but it doesn't feel earned. Before now, Wesker's motives seemed mysterious and something you wanted to know about. Here, all that is gone, as Weskers plan turns into a typical "blow up the world and become ruler of what's left" story, almost as if the developers just finally got bored with the franchise and just straight up wanted to end most of the series running plots in this game by hook or crook. It's a startlingly bad turn for the series most interesting villain and also provides an unsatisfying ending to, at the least, the plots that have spanned much of the franchise.

Speaking of villains, many of the others in this game are uninspired. Ricardo Irving in particular - Brooklyn accent and all - has to be the absolute lamest villain ever to appear in the games; keep in mind this is a franchise that saw Ramon Salazar. Considering the increasing focus this franchise has taken in the past several installments on human antagonists, it's almost distressing that they've gotten progressively more lame as the series has gone by.

The setting of the story is also a problem. Not, of course, because of the dumb racism cries. To tell the truth, there is absolutely nothing about this game tied to it's setting in Africa. When I'd first heard the game was to take place in Africa, I'd expected the game would deal heavily in the mythology surrounding the country. It is, after all, the birthplace of the zombie concept, which has it's roots in African voodoo. While there is the occasional reference to things related to the country, for the most part it's an interchangeable setting. It could have been set in just about any third world country and the only thing lost would be the outrage over "racism". It's a missed opportunity of the highest order and enough to make you weep for the lost potential.

But what about the horror elements, you may ask. Missing, for the most part. There's almost nothing new or scary in this game. Ninety percent of the enemies in this game are rehashes of enemies from Resident Evil 4, right down to an El Gigante clone. Hell, the only difference between Ganado's and the Majini are skin color. The most exciting thing to happen in regards to the enemies is the return of a classic series monster late in the game. Even the traditional Mercenaries mode is the same as last time. For that part, it's not such a big deal, but you'd think they could have added something new to the minigame to spice things up a bit. I guess not.

As you can guess, there's an air of plain to it all and it saps any frights from the game. The last title used it's setting and the unfamiliarity of it all to great effect, managing to create tension despite the then new play style. This game takes place in the daytime, against enemies you're intimately familiar with and expect, with absolutely no surprises. In development, they seemed to have different features going that would have brought out a sense of horror, including the possibility of hallucinations a la Eternal Darkness if you were out in the sun too long. It's all been scrapped in favor of absolutely nothing you haven't seen before.

The gameplay remains largely the same as the last entry. Except, of course, for the great touches that made RE4 awesome. The game is divided into Chapters and each of the six have two, maybe three, sections; in other words, they basically revived the level concept in a game series that's supposed to be about horror, exploring and puzzles. Speaking of puzzles, there are none. The most you'll have to do is fetch some emblems to open a door or guide a laser into a target to use an elevator. Yeah. The inventory system has also been overhauled, dropping the fun and interesting briefcase system for a far more limiting and cramped plain jane style.

As you can probably guess from how I harp on the linearity, the game is impossibly short. Not to mention linear. When I say linear, I mean you're on a straight path through the entire game. There are no detours, puzzles or sprawling mansions to search. You start a chapter in an area and you go from point A to point B, rinse and repeat; there isn't even a merchant anymore, as you'll do most of your buying and selling between chapters and sections. This also helps make the game horribly short; if you knew what you were doing in the old games, you could speedrun them for low times and bonus weapons. In this game you're not likely to finish in too much more than six hours unless you basically screw around in each level, taking your sweet time; and why you would bother I haven't the foggiest, since there's nothing to do in each level besides look around for some emblems to shoot for a few unlockables.

Of course, I suppose you could always do what I did; stand around a few minutes from time to time, wondering just what the hell Capcom was thinking when they made this game.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

In short, this game does not even come close to living up to the standard set by Leon Kennedy's adventures in Europe. If Capcom is bored with this franchise, then it shows. The whole project feels cobbled together primarily to give some kind of "closure" to the series rather than actually make a fun game. You may find some enjoyment in the game as a straightforward action game with RE4's play style, but otherwise this game is just a heaping plate of meh with a side of what-the-hell-Capcom.

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