Love/Hate: Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5 was actually the first Resident Evil game I got far into. I had a friend in high school who was a big fan of the series and when this game came out we played through two thirds of the game in co-op and had a good time. Since then, Resident Evil 5‘s reputation has taken a bit of a hit as it took the franchise into a more action-oriented direction. How did it hold up for me? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Improved Controls – When you start up Resident Evil 5, one of the first things you’ll notice is how much smoother the game plays compared to Resident Evil 4. Aiming is much quicker, you can strafe (when you aren’t aiming), the knife animation plays much faster and overall the game is easier to play today compared to its predecessor.
  • Graphics Still Look Good – Certain parts of Resident Evil 5 look dated but the game has a distinctive look which make it stand out even today. This largely comes down to the game’s very bright, washed out tones which (like many PS3-era games) was clearly inspired by Black Hawk Down. The lack of colour can be dreary, especially since every other game of this era was just as washed-out, but at least Resident Evil 5‘s early chapters do it in a way which is distinct for this game.
  • Albert Wesker – Resident Evil 5 gets noticeably better as soon as Albert Wesker enters the picture. He’s such a perfect camp villain with his delusional, smug attitude, silly sunglasses and grand monologues. He makes for a far more memorable and enjoyable antagonist than Saddler was and, honestly, this portrayal of him may just be the best villain in the whole franchise (only truly rivaled by Nemesis).
  • Voice Acting is Pretty Good – Resident Evil games have always been known for their dodgy voice acting, but Resident Evil 5 definitely has the strongest voice acting in the series up to that point. This is especially highlighted by Roger Craig Smith and D.C. Douglas’ performances as Chris Redfield and Albert Wesker, respectively. Even if I couldn’t give a shit about what’s happening in the game, they are clearly giving it 100% and their performances elevate the material considerably.
  • Game Picks Up in the Latter Half – Resident Evil 5 reminded me of Dark Souls in that it gets significantly funner when you’ve finally built up your arsenal and aren’t starved for resources anymore. While this flies in the face of Resident Evil‘s survival horror roots, I’ll at least say that the game they’ve built here isn’t firing on all cylinders until it stops pretending to be anything other than an action game around the start of Chapter 5. There are still plenty of bone-headed decisions made in this part of the game (which I’ll get to), but at least it’s a funner time… plus that’s when Wesker shows up and Wesker makes everything better.
  • A Few Really Fun Bosses – While a bunch of the bosses are bullet-sponges, rinse-and-repeat snorefests and/or puzzle bosses that aren’t well-suited to this game’s controls, there are a few really clever and fun bosses in this game.
    • In particular, I found the second battle with an Uroburos-infected enemy really fun. It’s standard Resident Evil-fare where you exploit the weakness to expose the weak spots and then blast ’em away, but the game gives you lots of environmental methods to defeat the boss if you didn’t pack specific weapons to make the fight easier… that said, they make it glaringly obvious going in that the boss is weak to fire, giving you a bunch of incendiary grenades and flame rounds before the fight, so on my second try I beat the boss in less than 30 seconds which was a bit much…
    • The final battle with Albert Wesker is also a total blast. It’s fun, cinematic and gives both players something to do while Wesker closes in on them before the final showdown which uses the tried-and-tested Resident Evil formula of blasting the weak spot to win the fight. It makes for a really great and memorable finale to the game.

Mixed

  • Co-op – Mandatory co-op was the big feature of this game, for better or worse. On the one hand, playing with a friend is enjoyable and the game is best experienced this way. However, even then, the co-op aspect brings some baggage with it. Most notable is that the menu-based inventory management of Resident Evil 4 has been ditched entirely. Now you get a mere nine inventory slots per character and it all has to be managed in real-time – no pausing when an enemy is bearing down on you or to get the item you need in a boss fight. It’s a far more clunky and inconvenient system, especially because you can only map four items to d-pad shortcuts. It also doesn’t help that the game only lets you upgrade and buy items between chapters or after you die… I’d get it if it was just between chapters but the fact that they let you do it after you die makes it just feel like this was bolted on as a solution to the problems created by forcing co-op in.
  • Brings Back the Main Plot of Resident Evil – Some people feel like Resident Evil 4 diverged too far from the main plot of the series, but honestly it felt like the main storyline was reaching its limits by the end of Resident Evil 3 and the destruction of Raccoon City. With Umbrella gone, they were going to have to go to new places and Resident Evil 4 figured out a way to do that while reinventing the franchise. Resident Evil 5 feels like it’s pandering to the fans at times, it tries to make the parasites linked to Umbrella and brings back some fan-favourite monsters (with diminishing returns). Let’s be honest, Resident Evil‘s plot tangles of viruses and corporations isn’t all that interesting anyway, I’m more interested in seeing the characters survive than anything else. I will give Resident Evil 5 some credit though, it loops back to the series’ main plot while also creating a scenario with the BSAA where Resident Evil games can continue indefinitely.
  • The Serious Tone – After the delicious camp of Resident Evil 4, pivoting to a very self-serious, grim tone for Resident Evil 5 was… interesting. It is perhaps unsurprising for a modern military shooter of the PS3/Xbox 360 era to go this way, but the game’s opening especially is a mess of military and counter-terrorism jargon that is delivered in a very self-serious manner. Of course, this all gets dropped by the final third of the game where it basically turns into a freaking anime with acrobatics and superpowers, not to mention that the “serious” story was still a tropey, D-grade effort. It’s interesting to see the attempt at a serious story, but I can’t say that it was successful.

Hate

  • Bullet Sponge Enemies – There are few things that will turn me off of a shooter more than bullet sponge enemies. I’ve written off games like Borderlands, Destiny, The Division… basically the entire looter-shooter genre because every single enemy soaks up entire magazines of ammunition. You can imagine my frustration in the opening hours of Resident Evil 5 as it takes entire clips of my starting pistol to down even basic enemies and even a single point-blank shotgun round is usually not enough to down them either. Look at the tweet I made above when I started this game – in what world is it reasonable for an enemy that can one-shot you to take that much damage to die? At least in a traditional Resident Evil game, which also have bullet sponge enemies and much more limited resources, you’re intended to avoid combat unless it’s a necessity. In Resident Evil 5, you’re intended to kill every single enemy you come across (other than a few optional mini-bosses, but these reward you for your efforts so it’s always worth trying). I will admit that, as I said previously, this becomes less of an issue in the final third of the game when your weapons are fully upgraded and you’ve given your pistol the max crit chance so you can headshot most enemies to death in a couple shots, but even here the game likes to tip the balance. The last fight in the game is against a mob of enemies who are supported by two giant Majini with mini-guns who take several high-powered shots to down, and God help you if you don’t have any explosives, rifles or a magnum when they show up.
    • On a similar note, several of the big setpieces and boss battles turn into mindless exercises where you unload literally hundreds of shots into an enemy for 5-10 minutes until it falls over and dies. One of the worst examples of this is the first Gigante fight, where you and your partner fire miniguns at the boss constantly, with the only sort of “strategy” involved being that you have to avoid overheating your gun. It isn’t fun and it feels like it goes on forever. Too many of the bosses also last for far too long and are far too repetitive as you pump hundreds of rounds into their weak point. I felt like Irving and the spider boss in Chapter 5 are especially egregious examples of this as each of their boss fights take 10 minutes or more of the same repetitive actions.
  • The AI is Dumb – In this most recent playthrough, I had to play solo and experience Sheva’s AI for the first time. I will admit that she’s not quite as bad as I had feared or heard, but there were some situations where she was incredibly frustrating. There’s an early encounter where you have to lure an enemy into a furnace to kill them. This would be simple and fun with a co-op partner but with the AI Sheva kept walking into the furnace and getting trapped inside, burning to death over and over again. Towards the latter end of the game I also needed Sheva to shoot a button to raise a crate, then she had to go over to the other side so I could do the same for her. Simple enough with a partner but when I did it Sheva would then jump off the crate and refuse to come forward unless I did the task the way she wanted me to. It was very frustrating. Beyond that, she’s at least reasonably okay in a firefight, I don’t feel like she ever wasted resources and she was constantly keeping me from dying, but I was doing all the heavy lifting in this game. If Sheva wasn’t there at all I certainly wouldn’t have minded.
  • Co-op Ruins the Single Player Experience – As you may have gleaned by now, the decision to add co-op to this game results in a lot of compromises to the Resident Evil formula. That’s all well and good if you’re playing with a friend as intended, but try to play the game solo? It just makes for an inferior game all-round. The bullet sponge enemies are only that way because they were balanced for two players gunning them down, when you have one player doing all the work it becomes a chore. Don’t want to deal with an AI companion? Too bad, you’re stuck with them (at least Dead Space 3 had the good grace to keep co-op entirely optional). You can’t even pause to change your items, even though the whole reason this is even a thing is because you can’t pause during online co-op. All-in-all, the single player experience has clearly been shoved to the wayside and it makes those of us who don’t have someone to play with have a clearly-compromised experience.
  • Zombies With Fucking Guns – You read that right, in Chapter 5-2 zombies with guns suddenly show up as regular enemies and then you’re stuck with them for the rest of the game. It’s not like these are like the single-shot archers or dynamite enemies you deal with in Resident Evil 4 and 5 either, these are full-on automatic weapons that they’re spraying at you. Unsurprisingly, facing off with these enemies sucks because it suddenly forces the gameplay into an extremely stiff cover shooter (gotta ape Uncharted and Gears of War after all), which the game clearly isn’t designed for. This turns into a boring game of “shoot the bad guy when he reloads” and “take cover when they shoot or you’ll get filled with bullets”. Every time these enemies show up it’s a pain in the ass.
  • Quicktime Events – QTEs sucked in Resident Evil 4, so of course they brought them back here too. In one egregious example near the end of the game, I didn’t enter the button prompt within a second of when it flashed on screen, so I had to go through a lengthy cutscene all over again and all the button prompts therein. Mercifully you can skip ahead to each button prompt, but fail and you have to do it all over again. I’m so glad that these fucking things are a relic of a bygone age now.
  • Lickers – I could have put this under the bullet sponge entry earlier, but lickers get wasted so badly in this game that I feel like they deserve their own special mention. Lickers are, in my opinion, the most horrifying and iconic enemy type in the entire franchise, in part due to their sound-based hunting method which requires the player to confront them differently. However, in Resident Evil 5 they are a shadow of their former selves. For one thing, their design is butt ugly. For another, they have been turned into hordes of bullet sponges which crawl towards you and are more annoying than horrifying. Sure, you can technically sneak around them when encountered, but sooner or later they’re going to get automatically triggered and then you’ll have to deal with huge hordes of them all at once.
  • The Knife – Holy shit how the mighty have fallen, the knife is pathetic in this game. The range on it is ridiculously short, I’m talking like less than an arm’s length, somehow. On top of that, unless you’re at the exact perfect angle, the sweep will only hit one thing in front of you. This means that if you’re standing right in front of two crates that are literally side-by-side, the knife will only break one of them, even if a second swing without moving or readjusting your aim will break the other box. Just… why? The only positive is that the animation speed has been considerably improved, otherwise this thing is nothing more than a last resort. (POSTSCRIPT: Turns out that this may actually be a bug associated with the port to PS4/Xbox One. That doesn’t really change the fact that this is an issue, but it gives it greater context that’s worth mentioning.)
  • The Aiming Reticle – Maybe it’s just me, but I’m constantly losing track of where exactly my character is aiming at any time. This is due to the game’s laser sight aiming, I’ll often try to line up a shot but it goes beyond the enemy, or I’ll start shooting and it will recoil off the enemy without me realizing. I’m not sure if it’s the brightness, the more zoomed-out FOV compared to Resident Evil 4, or the fact that the dot disappears entirely if you’re not on an enemy, but this was a problem for me from start to finish. I can’t say that I ever had that issue with Resident Evil 4 or even in other third person shooters of the same era, whether their aiming reticule was diegetic (Dead Space) or non-diegetic (Uncharted).
  • So… Uh… About That Racism… – I remember there being some discourse about Resident Evil 5 being racist due to the way it depicts black people and at the time I brushed it off. After all, they portrayed Spanish people the same way in the last game! Well, let me tell you, playing this game 12 years later in 2021, this game feels fucking racist. Sure, it is indeed the same sort of scenario that the Spanish were put in in Resident Evil 4, but the way that the Majini are depicted feels different. They’re all treated as these ravenous, angry, mindless beasts, which hits differently with the history of colonialism and racist propaganda against Africans. It’s almost certainly unintentional but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable.

Look, all-in-all, Resident Evil 5 is fine. I hated it at the start but by the end I was moderately enjoying myself. It’s a huge step down from Resident Evil 4, but it’s still reasonably enjoyable even if you aren’t playing it in co-op as intended.

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