Saturday, May 16, 2009

Post-mortem: Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5 disappointed us an absurd story, wooden dialogue and gameplay that wasn’t noticeably changed from its 2005 predecessor. Team Suck (myself and one Andrew Cunningham) blogged its way through the story mode, doing its damndest to give the game a fair shake – but every exhilarating combat sequence seemed to be followed by an embarrassing cutscene, a paint-by-numbers puzzle, or worse, an uninspired boss fight.

After leaving you with our bitter verdict, we tried the game’s arcade mode, The Mercenaries. I logged more time on Mercs in Resident Evil 4 than I did on the game proper – and it wasn’t a skimpy campaign. With fond memories in my sail, I had high hopes for Mercenaries.

Hit the jump to see if Team Suck spares RE5 any quarter in hindsight.

Short answer: no.

Long answer: no.

Mercs has a promising conceit: The player has two minutes to kill everything he/she can. Smashing hourglasses can extend your stay in hell, and long streaks of kills rack up thousands of points. Periodically, a boss enemy enters the arena and requests an audience with your shotgun. It’s pure combat. I had every reason to hope that Mercs would distill and capture what I loved most about RE5.

Early rounds were promising. Like RE5 itself, little differed from its predecessor. Despite my occasional control gripes, I like the fact that Chris Redfield handles like a schoolbus – it makes the game less run-and-gun and adds a surprising level of strategy. Team Suck fell into its old routine of bait-and-switch, luring zombies into grenade traps and sniper alleys. When the, ahem, Big Guy With A Stick showed up, we panicked, scattered, and died apart.

That was the first level, Public Assembly – you’ll remember it from the demo. One night, a friend suggested we go in the bus.

“The bus?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Go in the bus. The big guy doesn’t like it.”

Indeed, the next time the boss showed up, we took shelter in the bus. Instead of demolishing our shoddy tin hideout with his monstrous axe, he simply jogged around for a few minutes before retreating to one end of the map, where he craned his neck to stare at the sky. He’d do this until one of us crossed the threshold, whereupon he’d return to his beat.

Time it took Capcom to develop RE5: Four-plus years.

Time it took us to break Mercenaries: two days.

After racking up a respectable score on Public Assembly, we unlocked the other stages – a mine shaft (boring), an ooga-booga kingdom (inspiring, if not difficult), and an Umbrella (shut up, it is so Umbrella) research station. In the last, you faced enemies with RPGs, body armor and cattle prods. We never beat it. We couldn’t. We didn’t care anymore.

The bus incident illustrates how simply and fundamentally Resident Evil 5 stumbled. The oversights we witnessed in the campaign were replicated in Mercenaries, and as in the campaign, we had fun, but only briefly. And perhaps in spite of the game.

Resident Evil 5 should have been more. If our expectations are high, it’s because four years and millions of dollars went into the production of a mediocre project – and in our fantasy world, that’s money better spent on, like, um, Dyson. At the risk of unfair abstraction, RE5 embodies an industry bloated from excess.

If there’s anything positive that comes from the recession, let’s hope it’s a top-down demolition of the Big, Expensive Blockbuster Game. Turn that profit model on its head, and the perfectly capable designers at Capcom might actually have to, I don’t know, try.