This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Resident Evil 5.
Resident Evil 1 was a snore-worthy corridor-fest that controlled like reversing a golf cart around a hedge maze, strung together by an extremely silly plot with more holes than a triple-cunted hooker in nineteenth-century Whitechapel. The sequels that followed brought only arbitrary gameplay additions that improved bugger all and more unresolved plot threads to staple on to an arching storyline that increasingly resembled a colony of octopi going through the wood chipper.
But Resident Evil 4 was the first game in the series I liked. Completely retooled gameplay and a story which, while reading like something written out in piss on a snowy pavement, seemed to be going about things with a deliberate sense of ironic, retro camp, which seems to about as sophisticated as Capcom gets. Most importantly, it was only tangentially related to the established plot, keeping things accessible to new players and largely untainted by the stink of mangled octopus giblets. Now we have Resident Evil 5, a sequel that brings only arbitrary gameplay elements that improve bugger all and more unresolved plot threads to OH DEAR!
Resident Evil 4 was a game with an abundance of ideas. At any given moment, you could be fighting a lake monster in a tiny boat, riding a mine cart, navigating lava pits, or - lest we forget - exchanging quips with squeaky-voiced midget Napoleon in the verbal warfare equivalent of two retards playing happy slaps. So perhaps it could be understood if the idea trough was running low when it came time for Resident Evil 5's din-dins.
But the déjà vu hits within minutes when the entire population of the village you're in turn out for a Chris sandwich and you're forced to desperately fight them off and survive for a few minutes before rescue. Which is, of course, a less Spanish version of the memorable opening of Resident Evil 4 that I fondly recall instantly turning my skepticism inside out. Fair enough - it's extremely effective. But when a bloke with a chainsaw and a sack on his head showed up, I began to wonder if we weren't just going through the same script with different actors. Or rather, since RE5 is considerably shorter, going through the Cliff notes.
While the all-important frantic, swarming combat is basically the same, there have been some gameplay alterations. It's just that all of them make me want to cough up blood. Let's go right to the big one, the one that made me spit out chunks of lung: your sidekick. You had one before, but Ashley was more a hanger-on. And you know, I'd never thought I'd miss that wailing, jug-eared chimp, but at least she had the decency to get captured or hide in a bin for half the game and for fuck's sake didn't try to be helpful. Your new sidekick feels she needs to be more than a nice arse bouncing around the room. Oh yes, now she feels she has to be equal to the men. Isn't that cute?
You have to look after her equipment, too, so I let her have the machine guns because I wasn't going to touch the bloody things. And there were moments when she was carrying five hundred bullets for them and was still using her fucking pistol all the time! She'd stand there pathetically picking away at the indestructible carapace of the giant crab monster of the moment. And when she was finished wasting pistol ammo, she'd run off to break some crates and nick some more before I could. It's like watching someone beat their fists against a wall, then running off to hospital before coming back to do it some more. And they used my medical insurance. And it's my wall.
For a while, I let her carry the healing items, because I needed the inventory space for grenades and pipe wrenches and dumbbells and other manly things, but she couldn't be trusted with that, either. She'd waste entire health sprays on me if I so much as stood on a thumbtack. I appreciate the sentiment, but you're not my fucking mum, woman! One time I was low on health - but not too low - and was about to use a small herb to keep myself going when I saw my partner coming towards me brandishing a valuable large herb. And when you're running away from your support character with more desperate terror than you feel for any of the actual monsters, something has definitely gone wrong somewhere! My advice is to get someone to play co-op with you any way you can. If you live alone, kidnap a hobo or train your dog extremely well. Anything.
But you'll still run into my biggest complaint, which you may have already figured out: the fucking inventory system. RE4's attaché case inventory was unique and intuitive. Sure, you had to pause the game every time you wanted to change weapons. Sure, you usually ended the game with massive piles of ammo and enough green herbs to knock out Cheech Marin. But at least an egg was the size of an egg. In Resident Evil 5, an egg takes up exactly the same space as an AK-47. And each character only has nine spaces. Ammo stacks, but healing items don't, so we have the curious scenario that nine green herbs create just as much burden as a hundred and eight explosive grenade launcher rounds.
And if both inventories are full, the fun begins! Say my partner has an egg that I want to use. Can't just hand to me or even just pop it straight into my mouth like a flirty dinner date. I have to exchange it for something of mine, use the egg, then request my other item back, assuming she hasn't eaten it. It's like one of those fucking fox, chicken, worm puzzles. And here's the really fun part. If you want to wear armour, that takes up space, too. You're carrying your armour in a pocket of your armour! It's all such a fucking unintuitive nuisance, and whoever came up with it should be sent to a special hell where he has to pack shopping for crotchety old women. Or perhaps just punched in the stomach.
The game I loved is in here, but the creative spark has gone out, and the stuff they added just pours sand onto the wick. In summary, Resident Evil's falling back into bad habits, most unpleasantly attempting to mangle a kind of resolution out of all the tangled stupidity that has come before. Recurring baddie Albert Wesker is the main villain - now apparently channeling J. C. Denton by way of David Bowie - and the hero is old hand Chris Redfield, whose tiny, dorky head on absurdly muscled body looks like someone left a Chia Pet on top of a fridge.
But let's close this review with a revisit of that lovely matter of racism that's been hanging around like a bad smell. RE5 actually does a lot to defer that accusation: your partner is black (a bit), quite a few whiteys are scattered throughout the early hordes, and real effort has been made into a somewhat realistic and sympathetic depiction of modern Africa. And then... halfway through the game, we suddenly find ourselves in a succession of mud hut villages, fighting crowds of jabbering black people in loincloths and war paint chucking spears, oh dears! Talk about sidestepping a pothole only to fall off a bridge. But one really shouldn't worry about this sort of thing unless there's genuine hatred behind it, and I don't get that impression. Capcom aren't bad people, they're just idiots!
What the hell happened to the pirate merchant guy: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Memory quiz: Without looking back, can you list all 9 items from Yahtzee's inventory in image 116?
What is it with the games industry and Africa lately