Top Ten of 2009 - Resident Evil 5

"Sheva, I see a list... and we're in it!"

Here's a nice non-controversial choice to kick off my favourite games of 2009. I suppose I should start with the caveat that I give to anyone who asks about it: Play it in co-op with a friend.

I don't like Resident Evil 4. Yes, I'm the person out there that doesn't like it. The controls, the viewpoint, the setting... I've tried many, many times to 'click' with the game and sometimes I've almost convinced myself I've enjoyed it, but it's simply not to be. More than anything I want to like it because it's Resident Evil. I love the series, I love the characters. Unfortunately when it comes down to it I just don't like the way it plays.

Resi 5 looked to be much the same for me. Only the addition of what many considered to be a hindrance - the co-op focus - raised it from being another series footnote I took a pass on, to being one of my most enjoyable modern gaming experiences.

Resident Evil 5 is not a horror game. Sure, there are a few spine-tingly moments but they are more to do with the panic of running low on ammo and being cornered. There is never that sense of foreboding that certainly came with the first two games in the series. No, this is pretty much a straight-up action game. Puzzles are kept to an elementary minimum. There is little to no backtracking. Enemies come in fast-moving hordes and you absolutely must work together to prevail against them.

It's that co-operative element that for me makes the game shine. The moment-to-moment tactics that have to be decided and acted on, watching each other's backs, sharing out resources. Moving through a location with SWAT-like efficiency, covering doors, clearing out rooms. All the time piecing together the convoluted history of Umbrella, Albert Wesker's part in it, and the fate of an old friend. The game is punctuated with some quite impressive boss battles - some erring on the side of frustration as often happens with these things, but as with all good boss battles the way to victory can be worked out piece by piece in the moment, strategies adapting until the eureka moment presents itself.

It's visually very impressive, often stunning. The texture range and quality is enormous, and there are moments that feel truly photorealistic, particularly towards the end with some eye-popping lighting. The character work in particular felt unrivalled at the time. Perhaps only succeeded by the likes of Uncharted 2. These characters feel alive, with totally believable expressions and body language.

I'm currently replaying it on the PC in single-player mode, and yes, some of the downsides to that defiantly co-op focus have reared their heads from time to time - specifically the actions of the now AI-controlled partner, but regardless of this I'm enjoying it again. Perhaps because I'd already been primed to forgive its faults by the multiplayer experience. It's not perfect by any means, but it manages to sit somewhere towards the top end of the pantheon of Resident Evil titles.

Capcom took a risk trying to move the series into fresh territory, and I think for the most part it pays off. Certainly Code: Veronica and "0" proved that the classic concept was outstaying its welcome, and it's highly unlikely that the giddy heights of Resident Evil 2 would be scaled again without a major overhaul.

I think they're stepping in the right direction.


Mark said...

Oddly enough, for the past week I've just been playing through RE5 (on PS3) for the first time.

I've never really considered myself a hardcore fan of the series, although stepping back to look at the bigger picture I've owned every single game on a mixture of PSX, Dreamcast, GameCube and PS3 systems. The only ones I've played through to completion are RE2 and RE4. (Although that's as much down to me getting distracted by other things than simply being unwilling/unable to finish them.) Once RE3 makes its way to PSN, I'm determined to play every game in the series through to completion, in order of release!

Anyway, I'm currently up to Chapter 5-2 in RE5 and having a whale of a time. Unlike you I don't think there's such a big disconnect between RE4 and RE5, although you did primarily come at the latter from the co-op perspective. The mechanics and gameplay style are near enough identical, it's just the aesthetics that have changed.

I welcome any developer's attempt to take a well-worn franchise in a new direction. True, the older style of RE game was getting a little long in the tooth, although I still enjoyed RE0 and CV regardless. RE4 did a great job of modernising the franchise without necessarily abandoning everything that had made it so successful.

RE5 continues that tradition, although if I have any reservations it would be the abundance of button-mashing QTEs and on-rail shooting galleries. Capcom are perilously close to crossing the line that divides enjoyable/non-linear gaming experiences from the autonomous/linear ones.

I look forward to going back and playing RE5 again on a higher difficulty level. The "normal" one (at least up to 5-2) feels a bit too easy. Ammo seems a bit too abundant and I didn't start selling anything for cash or upgrading my weapons until 4-2.

I'll definitely give co-op a try though.

JohnnyBeatdown said...

"Is this working?"
"I dunno"
"I think we're killing it"
"Umm, yeah, I think so..."

Swabbleflange said...

"That definitely hurt it".

Mark - Perhaps selectively removed from my memory, the QTEs were the major thorn in my side in the game. I hate QTEs so very, very much, and have competely ditched games at the first sight of them before.