I grabbed the demo of Resident Evil 5 last night and had a very quick go. I really enjoyed RE4 on the Gamecube in early 2005, and although I wasn’t desperately eager for RE5 I was still interested in how it turned out.
I was surprised to find myself not finding it very much fun at all. There’s no doubt that it looks gorgeous, and from memory I’m pretty sure the ‘feel’ of it is pretty much identical to RE4, but somehow I just found it rather frustrating to play. I’m thinking that a lot of this is down to other games I’ve played since RE4, Left 4 Dead is an obvious one, but also Gears (for doing slick 3rd person manoeuvring & aiming). My immediate impressions (beyond the gorgeous graphics) were decidedly downbeat:
- The movement felt really sluggish and imprecise - of both your character and the zombies. Granted, RE is a slower game than Left 4 Dead but I often found I was fighting the controls and turning speed rather than the zombies, which felt asinine. Seemed very engineered rather than a natural challenge which strained my suspension of disbelief and made me think that if my character wasn’t so retarded (e.g. not being able to move his feet or even pivot on the spot while brandishing a knife) then he would have had this whole situation wrapped up ages ago. Also, now the zombies are smart enough to use implements, climb fences, walk in straight lines, why do they still creep along at a snail’s pace? They’re not the shambling, bumbling dead anymore, who have an excuse to move slowly - they’re just sneakin’. In broad daylight and plain view. It just looks odd now, and a product of game design which doesn’t seem to fit the characters anymore.
- The sidekick seems to get in the way rather than be useful. Might be better in co-op, but the controls are already slower and the field of view narrower than some other games, I really didn’t need some bot getting in my way too. Left 4 Dead had the good sense to make it easy to squeeze past team-mates in tight quarters (and there’s 3 of them there), RE5 had me bumping into her all the time it seemed
- I hated the aiming system. Having to use a red dot projected from an off-center location artificially makes it more difficult to aim. Why can’t your character just look down the sight for direct aiming? Because he just can’t - again, another artificial mechanic. Since ammo conservation is so important, I found it annoying that my aiming was so deliberately and artificially crippled just to make it harder.
- Cutscenes. In my 10-15 minutes of play, it felt like a third was just watching cutscenes. In all cases, there seemed to be no real value to the cutscenes except to draw your attention to something, which could have been done inside the main game (see Gears’ “look at” button) - of course without the funky directorial camera angles, but you know my opinion on the value of those in a game versus keeping the immersion. Again, might not be representative of the full game though.
What’s odd is that none of this was any different in RE4 (ignoring the sidekick), which was one of my favourite games on the Gamecube. So why does it drive me nuts now? Maybe it will just take me a while to get used to it again, or maybe in the last 4 years I’ve moved on with other games whilst RE has pretty much stood still (graphics and sidekick aside, this is RE4 in a new location). After experiencing a zombie sim where I’m completely unconstrained in terms of controls, and the challenge remains (Left 4 Dead), and 3rd person games where movement is more natural & fluid (Gears) it feels really strange now (and a little irritating) to have challenge artificially engineered upon me through a deliberately constrained control system. RE5 of course has better presentation, and undoubtedly more content, than Left 4 Dead, but whether I can adjust again to a 4-year old play style is uncertain. I’ll have to play the demo more to see.