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If only it had aged as gracefully as its predecessor.
A bit over a decade ago, the developers of Resident Evil were given an unenviable task: create a follow-up to one of the most acclaimed games ever made, Resident Evil 4. Rather try to replicate the success of 4, Capcom decided to instead move the series towards a different style of gameplay that served as a departure from the classic survival horror origins that put Resident Evil on the map. The result was Resident Evil 5, a co-operative action game that put the player in a more powerful, aggressive role than its predecessors. Much like when I reviewed Resident Evil 4 earlier this year, I had never played RE5 before its release on Switch, and while I felt RE4 was still an excellent game that has held up over the last decade, I can’t say I feel the same this time around.
Resident Evil 5 stars the first game’s protagonist Chris Redfield as he attempts to stop the sale of a terrorist bio-weapon in west Africa. Upon arriving in Africa, he meets with his new partner, Sheva Alomar. Together, Chris and Sheva discover that the locals have been infected with the Las Plagas parasite—a virus introduced in the previous game that puts its victims into a zombie-like state. The plot eventually ties in two more characters from Resident Evil 1: Chris’ old partner Jill Valentine and longtime villain Albert Wesker. The story is spread pretty thin across the game’s runtime, so I didn’t think it was very compelling. It’s really just an excuse to keep the action moving while including some callbacks to the rest of the series.
The gameplay was a bit of a departure from what the series was known for back in 2009. Rather than being a purely solo horror adventure, RE5 gives you the option of playing through the entire game cooperatively with a friend with one player controlling Chris, and the other controlling Sheva. I played through a good chunk of the adventure this way, and it works surprisingly well with an inventory system built around sharing items and ammunition with each other. Playing alone is more of a chore—Sheva’s AI isn’t very refined, and she’s not very good at conserving ammo. There was actually one section where I had to rely on her shooting enemies as I traveled by boat, and the game effectively soft-locked because she was out of ammo at the start of the section. Playing solo also lays bare a lot of the worse changes the game made to the formula that co-op play can cover up.
Previous entries in the franchise tended to take place in narrow, claustrophobic locations that didn’t give you a lot of room to maneuver. By contrast, RE5 takes place in fairly wide, open areas where it’s much easier to literally run circles around enemies. There’s no sense of danger when it’s this easy to stay out of harm’s way, and when your partner is able to save you from any enemies that happen to grab you with little damage done, there’s never a chance for the game to properly build tension. This focus on action instead of horror could have worked, but it’s hampered a lot by retaining the clunky control scheme of Resident Evil 4.
These controls worked to RE4’s benefit since you were never meant to feel like you could easily get out of danger, increasing the tension of the survival horror atmosphere. In an action game, they’re just frustrating, and they suck out a lot of what could’ve made the game fun. However, the Switch version of Resident Evil 5 strangely includes a feature that was bizarrely missing from the port of RE4 earlier this year: the ability to aim with gyroscopic motion controls. They’re a welcome inclusion, but I can’t wrap my head around why Capcom would put them in this entry while excluding them from the game that was actually acclaimed for its motion controls over a decade ago.
Resident Evil 5 was received favorably when it first released in 2009, but playing it for the first time in 2019 I feel like it’s a disappointing step down from its excellent predecessor. Even the Switch port isn’t quite as good as RE4’s, running at an inconsistent framerate that never manages to hit 60fps—sometimes not even hitting 30fps. I had a good time playing through a chunk of the game online with a friend, but playing on my own was just dull. It’s probably true that RE5 was never going to live up to RE4’s legacy, but now, a decade after its original release, I think it even fails to live up to its own.