Naught 12 hours ago, I finished Resident Evil 5. As a semi-responsible adult, I generally deflect most accusations of immaturity with ease. However, like a child that has more fun with a toy’s box than the toy itself on Christmas Day, my greatest source of mirth came from hammering on the B button and the end of each level – causing Chris to annoyingly shout SHEVA and HURRY – while my girlfriend wandered aimlessly though the game’s labyrinthine hallways. Good times.
For all the experimental gameplay found in RE5, I’m still amazed at how well-tuned of an experience the game offers. I was always just on the verge of having no health or ammunition, yet I never died for want of bullets or herbs. The game is paced marvelously – something with which Capcom has always had a mastery bordering on the arcane and satanic. Given that some poor Japanese man had to sell his soul to a demon of game design to achieve such talent, I think they really deserve more credit for this than they get.
As happens with experimental games, a handful of gamers conceited enough to consider themselves oldschool, hardcore or any other such nonsense are quick to pass judgment simply because it is different. Common opinions around the internet say that RE5 is too much a departure from the Resident Evil experience. Yet again, this is another case of people forming a gut reaction and complaining without thinking about the alternative.
Capcom designed RE5 from the ground up to be a co-operative game. After all, co-op is the game feature of this generation. I like to imagine this board meeting. A very stern Japanese business man is sitting at the head of a long table, pointing at a dry-erase board that has “Biohazard 5” scrawled on it, next to an arrow sign pointing to a sack of money with a question mark on it. Everyone is stumped, until Resident Evil 5 lead designer Jiro Taoki shouts “Hey man, let’s make this shit co-op!” High fives are exchanged, and the whole entourage rolls to the bar next to Capcom HQ to slam sake for hours. The next morning, Jiro Taoki rolls out of bed and stares at his hungover face and bloodshot eyes in the mirror and before violently barfing in the sink, utters “god damnit.”
It was supposed to be simple! It was supposed to be easy!
Unfortunately for Taoki-san, there’s a fundamental conflict between some elements of the Resident Evil experience and co-operative play. Resident Evil is a composite of many gameplay elements – limited resources, oppressive atmosphere, people giving you a rocket launcher and saying “use this,” and most topically, being alone. There lies the rub – how can you reproduce the fear and loneliness of being alone when someone else is always there?
Now the folks at Capcom had a tough decision. Two diametrically opposed design principles clashed. They could’ve tried to keep them both, but neither would really work. Faced with the decision of staying the same or trying something new, Capcom absolutely made the right decision: they sided completely with co-operative gameplay.
This changes the Resident Evil experience in a number of ways, namely in atmosphere. The game can’t rely on lonesome scares anymore; they just don’t work when someone else is in the room cracking jokes about how you can see up the Majini grass skirts. Pre-5 Resident Evil games provoke a sense of dread as well, leading the player into an area that was guaranteed to have some horrible demonspawn in it. Players would know, just know, that something awful would happen as soon as they step inside this room. Having a player sitting next to you proclaiming that fact breaks the tension, and vocalizing such things often nullifies their efficacy. Again, such techniques just don’t work when someone is with you – they embolden you and strengthens your resolve.
“Dude, did you see that zombie?” “DUDE I KNOW.”
Instead of just trying to recreate the old Resident Evil as closely as possible and hoping nobody would notice the shortcomings, Capcom did exactly what a developer should do – embrace the limitations. Instead of tense scares, they opted for brutal and violent action – more chainsaw-in-your-face and worms-exploding-from-a-dude’s-mouth scary than wandering down an empty hallway with creepy music scary. It’s definitely not as frightening as older Resident Evil games, but it still works while sitting next to another player – something that can’t be said for the older style of gameplay.
The most important point here is that people complaining about the state of Resident Evil 5 never stop to think about what the game would be like if they got their way. What if Capcom tried to make it as old-school Resident Evil as possible, and just shoehorn in co-operative gameplay? I wonder. It wouldn’t be scary, because co-op games can’t be truly scary by virtue of being co-op. It also wouldn’t be much fun. Let’s try to keep an open mind when developers try new things – different doesn’t always mean worse.