Man, what with the house move, and the baby, and the book promoting, I’m so behind on everything. I played this what feels like fifteen years ago, and only now am I organising my thoughts.
I was a big fan of the first Resident Evil when it was released on the Difference Engine in 1892, but the series did rather wane over the hundred years that followed. Resident Evil 4, however, was a brilliant, brilliant game. Mind-blowing in many ways, and had that rare feeling games sometimes have of everything working really nicely, all the rough edges being smoothed. Number 5, like a less gifted younger son living endlessly in the shadow of a far more famous brother, suffers by comparison. It’s still a very accomplished game but, for me, it just doesn’t push things on far enough to make its own mark.
It’s been generally spruced up, particularly (as one would expect), in the graphics. It looks great, especially the characters’ faces, which have a slightly uncanny sweaty sheen about them. But the overall content of shooting lots and lots of zombies is largely the same, and the ham-fisted control system is more or less identical, and less and less forgiveable as the years roll on and more fluid over-the-shoulder shooting games like, say, Uncharted, make it look ludicrously slow and laborious. Lots of time spent running from corner to corner of a game area so that you can have time to turn round and raise your gun to fire for a bit from a standing position, before lumbering off again.
The plots of Resident Evil games have long been a little on the silly side, but 4 at least ignored most of what went before and started afresh, making some kind of crazy sense viewed on its own. 5 tries too hard to cobble together and unite all kinds of ill-conceived bits of previous games and ends up a jumble, not helped by creaky script and voicing. There’s too much bibble-babble and not enough drama.
In some areas it seems to have taken rather baffling steps back. Resident Evil always left you with only just enough equipment to do the job, and ammunition preservation was elevated to an art form in number 4. Number 5 would seem to do the same, until you realise that, due to its strangely clumsy saving and checkpointing methods, you can play a stage on easy setting collecting ammunition, then simply carry it across to a stage on hard setting and blast away with impunity.
The most disappointing thing, though, is that it just isn’t very scary. Partly it’s that many of the sequences (attack by chainsaw-wielding, bag-headed freakoids, for example) we saw already in the last game. Partly it’s that where the game does innovate, it occasionally tends towards the silly (motorbike riding zombies, now? Are you sure?) Partly it’s that you always have your trusty partner alongside you, and they’re actually, perhaps for the first time ever in a computer game, reasonably effective and resilient, so you always feel someone’s got your back. And partly it’s that the hero, Chris Redfield, has evidently been working out. A LOT. He’s about the size of Lou Ferrigno if the man had, you know, taken the whole gym thing a bit more seriously. He looks as if he could crush a zombie between his eyebrows. It’s simply hard to believe that a small African country full of hideous mutants could put him down.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a highly enjoyable game once through – there are some great moments and blasting zombies’ heads off with a shotgun will never get entirely old – but it feels nothing like the leap forward for the series (never mind gaming in general) that its classic predecessor did, is oddly rough round the edges, and in its gameplay already feels a little dated. Resident Evil 4 was so good that a rerun is no bad thing, but you feel they’ll need to step things up a bit with the next outing.