I’ve been writing furiously about Resident Evil 5 for over a week now, exorcising demons I was clinging to regarding the controls, inventory, acting and story but to prove I’m not all bile and fury, it’s time for a bit of post-mortem praise. There were some excellent moments in playing through story mode which you forget while your blood’s boiling over control issues. For those who haven’t yet finished, I’ll steer clear of spoilers.
The depiction of an African village is extremely detailed. There’s some very compelling evidence pointing to casual, clumsy and thoughtless racism on Capcom’s part, which would make for another article altogether, but the fact remains that the sun-bleached township you begin at, with its oppressive shacks and buzzing flies, is very evocative. The scene is horrible and you wish you weren’t there, but that’s surely the point. Now while the labyrinth of locked rooms and puzzles that formed the backbone of the whole series is gone, what’s in its place will make for great replay value. Being able to dive in and out of each level, with or without a friend, and hold onto a consistent stash of loot and weapons means you can explore every nook and cranny on multiple occasions. The mercenaries mode yet again adds the element of score-beating and rewards to emphasize the new arcadey nature of the core game. In addition, the cut scenes are undeniably pretty, with a lot of stuff flying about and some impressive fighting, and working for achievements was a welcome addition, which made me alter my playing style several times. Finally there is one very effective moment when you have to be very, very quiet that had my nerves shot to hell, harkening back to the tension of the Nemesis theme.
If the series is to progress and we’re going to get that reboot that Capcom are hinting at, I have some suggestions here which may interest them. Firstly; take it back to the mansion. It’s where we go to in our heads when we think Resident Evil. Ditch S.T.A.R.S, Umbrella, Chris, Jill, Claire, Leon, Wesker and everything else. What they equated to thirteen years ago is not where story games need to be going. For a reboot, we need new characters, plot, settings etc; it’s in a mansion, there are zombies, puzzles and weapons. That should be all that remains of the original story. From then on, we need new ideas.
A more successful blend of action game and survival horror requires a nimble character you can rely on with a solid control system. No more movable turrets. This means running while aiming (at the expense of accuracy), and being able to dodge an attack (but not run rings around slow enemies.) Go back to slow zombies as the main grunts of the game. Introduce much faster, more intimidating enemies in thinner numbers (the Crimson Heads of the GameCube version, for example) further on. Since 28 Days Later we’ve had the zombie upgrade of screaming, charging infected in popular culture, but they’ve never quite been done right in a survival horror game. They always move too slowly or stop to attack, or in the case of Left 4 Dead, attack in masses without the creeping weight of a Resident Evil encounter. They need to be savage, blood spewing maniacs who never stop moving.
Here’s the formula; enclosed corridor + fast zombie + half-empty handgun and the exit in sight. Tension up the wazoo! Survival means scraping together everything you have. Bring us back to a place where every single bullet counts and careful organising of your inventory kept you alive. Allow us to keep a hand free and pick up something like a herb in an emergency, even if we have no slots empty (again at a loss of firing accuracy because you’re shooting one handed.) The gameplay should involve running between rooms, braving the prowling undead and giving us the binary choice of the original games; shoot now and this room might be safer, but you’ll have less ammo, or run for it and the room stays lethal. The taking of responsibility for your environment and being permanently wary of what is around the next corner is something that needs bringing back. The spirit of these games is very much alive, but something has been lost along the way as action games evolved. To successfully instill us with horror, Capcom are going to have to make us fight to survive and that means holding on to your last bullets like you’re in Die Hard, and every slowly opening door will once again make us hold our breath.