What the shimmering fuck did you do, Capcom?
I can’t believe I actually have to say that this early. I expected to be starting the Resident Evil 6 article with that line. But I didn’t expect it now, not right after the blast I had with Resident Evil 4. But unfortunately, it seems as though you can sum up Resident Evil 5 with the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Every attempt that was made to improve on the legacy that Resident Evil 4 left behind ultimately works against it, turning the game into an infuriating and clumsy-feeling mess. I can’t even imagine how much of a swift kick to the dick it must have felt like for Resident Evil fans who had to pay over $90AUD when it originally launched. Hell, I paid what must be about $7 for it included in a bundle package and I feel so ripped off I had to stop playing it a little over halfway into it for the sake of my wall not having controller-shaped holes in it. Even watching a video walkthrough for the last parts of it didn’t make me feel like I missed out on anything.
What’s even more annoying is that I’ve had some difficulty trying to write about what exactly is wrong with it. It’s only after looking through my notes and replaying sections of the game all over again that I realised the reason why I hold so much contempt for this game comes down to two things: the introduction of an AI partner, and the new inventory system. And I know how that sounds at face value. They seem so small in the grand scheme of things that it almost sounds like I’m just doing some petty nit-picking. But it’s true. In my mind, their inclusion in Resident Evil 5 turns what would have been a less than okay sequel of Resident Evil 4 into such a frustrating experience.
Allow me to explain.
Resident Evil 4 was the first game to introduce the concept of having a constant partner character in the form of Ashley, the president’s daughter and the reason you’re stuck in a parasite infested corner of Europe. I imagine that lot of people who played the game would consider Ashley’s inclusion one of the few strikes against Resident Evil 4, primarily because she turned at least 60% of the game into an escort mission – you know, that thing everyone loves in video games. Surprising as it might come to some of you, however, I really didn’t mind Ashley’s inclusion at all.
Don’t get me wrong, her monkey-eared, claxon-like squealing presence was difficult to get used to at first, but from a gameplay standpoint I never found her particularly annoying. While Ashley never had any use in combat, she was at least smart enough to stay glued to the back of the guy holding a fucking gun most of the time. She was also at least considerate enough to go hide in a bin or get kidnapped so that you could enjoy mowing down hordes of parasite-infected-cult members for a little while. And, most importantly of all, her AI-controlled ass never tried to help you in combat or look after your inventory.
So, logically, Resident Evil 5 decided to have a go at the partner concept and rework the gameplay a little by making your new partner, Sheva, rarely do what you actually want her to do. For some reason that’s still lost to me, Resident Evil 5 decided to change the traditionally single-player gameplay into a co-op focused adventure, thus giving you a partner to accompany you through the complete length of the game and ultimately taking away any feeling of suspense and isolation that the series is known for in the process. And while I imagine that there are very few issues with having a human-controlled partner tagging along, god help you if you decide to play through the story on single-player with the AI-controlled partner. And since it seems that nobody wants to play this game anymore, I think you can tell which partner I was stuck babysitting.
As an AI partner, Sheva is about as useful and needed as chocolate tea pot. She’ll run into an enemy’s flailing range to shoot at them. She’ll almost always run ahead of you to break containers and loot their goodies before you can. She’ll use up any health items she has on you if you get a papercut, and yet somehow never on herself until her health is close to critical. And just to really shit you off, she’ll go against the series norm of being conservative with your inventory by firing at literally every enemy in sight, using every last bullet she has in the process before complaining that she needs more. To make matters worse, you’ll need to keep giving her a steady supply of ammo, because otherwise she’ll simply switch to using her useless knife after painting the words “just fuck me up, fam” on her shirt, usually leading to her death and your game over.
Trust me, no matter how much you hated Ashley in Resident Evil 4, you’ll start missing her easily-captured company after about thirty minutes with an AI-controlled Sheva. Especially when you’re dealing with the horrible inventory system that comes coupled with her.
Resident Evil 5 takes on a more traditional inventory system seen in previous Resident Evil games, letting you and Sheva hold only nine items each whether they be weapons, health items or ammo boxes. This would have been a completely fine inventory system to use if Resident Evil 4 hadn’t improved the traditional inventory system by replacing it with the attaché case. It was designed in such a way that it made you think carefully about how you’d fit every item into the limited space you were given, tetris-ing items of various sizes cleverly so that you didn’t need to throw away anything useful. It was a unique and intuitive addition to the series because it allowed an intelligent player to carry around a small arsenal while still feeling they could be easily outnumbered and outgunned.
The best way to explain the problem with going back to the traditional inventory system is like this: while an egg would be the size of an egg in Resident Evil 4, an egg is the same size as a shotgun in Resident Evil 5. In your limited inventory, ammo and grenades will stack on top of one another but healing items need a single slot each, meaning that nine green herbs equals the same as four-hundred and fifty pistol rounds. It makes no logical sense and becomes rather annoying to manage.
But why throw such an interesting and intuitive idea from the previous game out the window and go back to a clunky and outdated alternative? Well, in co-op it makes it quicker and easier for you to trade items with your partner during gameplay if either of you are carrying too much stuff or the other player needs ammo or health items in a pinch. But guess what adds an extra layer of frustration to having to babysit an AI partner in single player: managing their inventory on top of your own.
Sheva has no control over managing her own inventory, meaning you’ll be spending a lot of time screwing around in the inventory screens almost every time you pick something up. Unfortunately, what control you do have over organizing her inventory is incredibly limited, basically boiling down to giving her an item or requesting an item from her. But if you both have full inventories, god help you, you’ll need to exchange something in your inventory for what you want out of hers. And because you’ll likely be using her as a pack mule while you hoard the necessary ammo and health items, you’ll almost certainly end up handing her something she’ll use up within a matter of seconds before you can get it back.
Then there’s the issue of trying to keep her alive by giving her the things she needs. Like I mentioned before, if you don’t keep giving Sheva a steady stream of ammo and healing items, she’ll start throwing herself at enemies to teach you a lesson about being a selfish hoarder. So you’ll need to keep giving her everything she asks for during combat encounters if you want to avoid seeing the game over screen for the twentieth time that hour. But because this is Resident Evil 5, this is done in the most tedious way possible.
First of all, you’ll need Sheva to be basically within skin-contact vicinity before you can give her something. But since she likes to run right up to the enemy she’s about to attack, she’ll almost never be close enough to do it, unless you want a taste of barbed-wire-covered-axe. Of course, you do have the option of calling her over to you instead, but even that becomes its own test of patience when the AI has the attention span of a four-year-old who runs off if you take more than a few seconds to sort out which things you want to give or exchange. I can tell you from experience that this becomes especially fun when you need to do exchanges with more than one item.
Oh, and did I mention that the game doesn’t pause while you’re in the inventory screen? If you thought this was frustrating before, now think about having to do it all in the middle of a boss battle. Especially when, despite using a “streamlined” inventory system to match the action-heavy gameplay, you still need to navigate the traditional Resident Evil inventory menu after selecting an item (eg: Move, Combine, Give, Use, etc.). But at least you’re able to quick-select weapons and grenades if you map them to the right inventory slots for when you need them in a pinch. Too bad you can only do this with weapons and grenades, unless there was an enemy I missed that had a paralysing fear of multi-coloured herbs being waved around in its face.
Sadly, even if these gameplay issues were fixed, even if playing co-op resolves them by a decent amount, I still don’t think I would have been impressed by it. Resident Evil 5 is really just a next-gen clone of Resident Evil 4. You’ll find the same introduction of being attacked by a whole town of infected people, the same shambling enemies with the same animations and the same parasite that bursts from their heads every now and then, and even the same control system. I guess Capcom decided it was so nice they’d do it twice.
This wouldn’t even be a bad thing, in fact I’d be ecstatic to be able to play more Resident Evil 4. The issue, however, is that there’s nothing new or even fun to enjoy. There’s no interesting or varied fights, no sense of goofy camp in the story, and most heinous of all in my mind: there’s no charming merchant to sell and buy items and weapons from. Without anything of the previous game’s charm or sense of individuality, Resident Evil 5 is nothing but a brown-coloured shooter that thinks a turret section is “varied gameplay”.
And just about every change that was made to the gameplay feels more like a step back, regressing into old habits that Resident Evil 4 was trying to get away from. Instead of continuing to be unique, it wanted to fit in with the current gaming trends of the time by becoming a standard shooter, albeit with the same clunky controls.
But at least now I’m ready for whatever has to throw at me. The series couldn’t have gotten much worse than this, could it?