Sunday, March 15, 2009

Resident Evil 5 First Impressions

The problem with Resident Evil 5 is that to really get the most out of the experience requires two things:

a.) Someone to play with (ideally someone willing to make the commitment of playing it through to the end). And...

b.) Someone who's played RE4.

That second part is crucial, and something I never would have gathered from reading reviews, as most critics play games with their colleagues who are very familiar with these sorts of games. I, however, had a friend who had never played RE4 come over to check out RE5, as we'd both heard great things about its co-op. With this in mind, we both went into the game expecting to have a lot of fun. Sadly, this was not to be...

The first problem we encountered was that the game does not tell you how to set up a split-screen co-op game. The second player has to press start (which was easy enough), but it will then tell them that they cannot save unless they select a storage device. If they choose to do so, it kicks you back to the title screen under their profile. Whaa? In theory, this makes sense as the game only records your save progress for one profile at a time, but this is not made clear. As a result, we spent an extraordinarily frustrating 10 minutes worth of menu exploring, cutscene watching, loading, and going back to the dashboard before finally figuring out something that should have been very, very simple, and selectable from the main menu.

Once we finally got the game running on split screen, we encountered another problem; the game is very slow at the offset. We spent the first 10 minutes doing little more than picking up ammo, figuring out where to go, and watching cutscenes. Since it was my game, I wanted to collect all the items and ammo I could find, but I didn't want to bore my friend, so I didn't explore every nook and cranny as I would had it been a single-player game. If the game continues to be anything like RE4, there'll be a lot of slow moments between the action, where you have to scavenge around for resources.

This may be fine for the RE4 initiated, but to those who haven't played Capcom's prior survival/action/maybe-a-tad-bit-of-horror classic, this will be an arduous and grueling process. Not the least of which because inventory management is rather cumbersome. Those who are not familiar with the franchise won't even know how combining herbs works. Child's play for us veterans, but a lot to take in for the outsider friend who just wants to pick up the controller and have fun. Compare this to something like Gears of War, wherein after the first five minutes of holding the controller, you'll understand everything you need to know to sustain the entire game.

Therein lies the core flaw of RE5. As a single-player game, the combat is buggy with an unintelligent AI partner who insists on wasting your ammo, who you cannot strategize with. And as a co-op experience, the action may be a lot of fun, but the parts in-between are far too slow and inaccessible to the uninitiated. And don't get me started on the real-time inventory management system. Even as an RE4 vet, I had trouble giving the items I wanted to my partner during the thick of action. For the novice player, that will be next to impossible as they're just trying to come to grips with the controls and what all the items do.

I'm not saying that RE5 is a bad game. Not at all. I still find the core shooting mechanics to be as satisfying today as they were four years back in RE4. I don't even mind the sometimes awkward controls all that much. I do, however, feel like the game is an unceremonious mix between RE4's slow, methodical single-player experience and Gears of War's balls-out action approach to co-op. In the end, it falls short of pleasing either camp as well as it could or should have.
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