By Bryan Smith on May 24, 2015 at 11:30am
A common (and often depressing) thought that occurs to me looking back at games is how can one become better? Being “good” isn’t good enough because that carries the bad equally. People don’t want to settle for good enough- they want to go beyond. They want to be absolutely great. A game, heck a movie, TV show, or book, shouldn’t be any different.
So I think I’ll start a series of articles taking a look at games that missed their mark but had great potential. Today’s topic is the game that tore the “Resident Evil” from its horror roots - “Resident Evil 5.” One may argue that the trend bucked with “Resident Evil 4.” “RE5,” however, took far more noticeable turns towards action than horror to the point that it barely resembled horror in the first place.
Here’s how I’m going to approach the “How to Fix” series. I’m going to start with the number one problem and work done with better tweaks for a more refined and coherent product.
Also, MAJOR SPOILERS for “Resident Evil 5.” Be warned.
Fix #1: Change the Game to Something Not "Resident Evil" Related
“Resident Evil 5’s” biggest crime is that it shouldn’t be a “Resident Evil” game at all. If the game released as a different game would have saved the work put into “RE5.” The first thing that I said about this game is that it looked like “Black Hawk Down,” which so happens that the movie was a big influence in the long run. With all the action and an extreme un-focus on horror, “Resident Evil 5” just isn’t “Resident Evil” in the slightest.
For the long explanation, take a look at my article called “The Capcom Stigma,” where a game should be something else entirely but uses a familiar and popular franchise to play it safe. To put it short and sweetly, the game with the work it had should have been a new IP geared towards the military-style gameplay. “Resident Evil 5” itself should have been something else completely.
Fix #2: Change the Environment or How It Acts
If “RE5” can’t be changed to something else completely, then let’s focus on the environments. Light and dark are exceptionally important to horror. The dark hides things away from the eyes, making uncertainties hide away. We don’t know what lies in those shadows, which means moving forward more difficult. The light shows everything, so we can see everything and know that whatever lies ahead isn’t a threat.
In other words, “Resident Evil 5” is almost always sunny or well lit and music plays whenever any enemy is around. That’s a colossal problem when it comes to horror. So how about we go back to making darker and unsure environments where enemies can just pop up like unannounced family members. The DLC segment “Lost in Nightmares” felt just like what a horror game needed- the environment was chilling, foreboding, and enemies don’t exactly have a music cue. You may be running about and the large monster with an anchor could pop just up and gore you without much of a notice.
However, a smart developer would find a way to use the intense sun and heat against the player. Early builds and teasers alluded to the fact that the African heat would take a toll on poor Chris Redfield as he fights for his life. He would start seeing hallucinations of things that weren’t really there or perhaps even friendly people who turned out to be a monster. This would have been a great way to incorporate deceased S.T.A.R.S. members and B.O.W.s to haunt Chris.
Fix #3: Bring Back the Horror/Dial Down the Action
Let’s go back to the point as to why people return to “Resident Evil” in the first place- the horror. If people wanted to buy action shooters, they would gravitate towards “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield,” not “Resident Evil.” Using an established franchise that isn’t an action shooter hurts the game. While it may be a rather high selling game, most fans don’t look back to fondly on “Resident Evil 5” because it lacks horror, which people want.
So let’s put that horror back into the game, shall we? How do we do that? The environment problem as stated above is a good start. Another good fix is to get rid of enemies with guns and dial down the effectiveness of your weapons. Having three different kinds of a gun with several weapon types does not make Chris-boulder-punching-Redfield any less capable of shooting a guy’s face off. In fact, Chris can literally backhand a man in the face and have the head explode. As awesome as that is, that type of action has no place in a “Resident Evil” game. Leon Kennedy could barely take down an enemy with his kicks in “RE4,” so why should Chris suddenly be Chuck Norris?
Building an environment where enemies are just doing their thing also helps. Back in “RE4,” Leon would find a simple farmer stacking a pile of hay. He could simply leave the guy alone and move right along until a loud noise was made. Here with “RE5,” most of the time enemies are placed just standing idly waiting for you to show up. The only moment of organic living in the African villages is at the very beginning where they aren’t allowed to attack you. So why don’t we have villagers using their environments until Chris and Sheva get too close or attack them? Have a villager trying to pump water into a vase, cutting some meat, or simply drinking out of a bottle. Hell, they don’t even need to immediately attack once Chris and Sheva entire a designated area. Make the players think. “Should I risk attacking them? He isn’t immediately attacking and if I do, others might get pissed off.”
Add uncertainty to your areas. Make players question if they should risk being somewhere that looks suspicious. Have death traps that look harmless. Remember in past “Resident Evil” games when you heard distant moaning or faint barking? Add noises to certain areas where an enemy may or may not leap out to munch on Chris’s face. Uncertainty of survival with little means of ensuring it makes a horror game, whereas being a one-man army with infinite ammo breaks that.
Lastly, drop the co-op. I have yet to see a game that is the least bit scary when I can play through with a buddy. Effectively, you would never get ambushed with a partner, as they would have a different view to keep the two of you safe. Nothing tears the terror out of a horror game when I see my friend spin around in circles while an enemy struggles to attack him/her.
Fix #4: Focus on Different Story Ideas
The highlights of “RE5” were whenever Jill and Wesker are involved since the developers went, “Oh right. This was a ‘Resident Evil’ game.” The part where Chris and Jill infiltrating Oswell Spencer’s castle, with him and his castle being the last remnants of the Umbrella Corporation, was great. Having the lickers getting beefed up and being more menacing, which they were before to start with, was a great throwback to classic “Resident Evil.” Going through generic settings of Africans being infected with Uroboros, which was just mirroring “RE4,” is not. “RE5” doesn’t get interesting until Chris finds out that Jill could possibly still be alive.
A major turnoff comes from the fact that the B.S.A.A. is this militant organization with guns turned up past the 11 dial. Even if “Resident Evil” isn’t the best game series to go for story, it goes back to primal survival- you with very limited ammunition and maybe a knife against creatures that soak up bullets like sponges. You either fight or run, and running is almost the best option. At this point, you have to fight through waves of enemies that can be mowed down by your weapons because you are in a military group and you have to stop terrorism.
Let’s go back to Spencer’s castle. The only things you fight there are the giant anchor monsters, and even then there is a segment where you have to use your wits to defeat it without guns. I think that a good portion of the game should have focused on this as the story before heading to Africa. For one thing it would help with enemy variants. There was a far too great emphasis on human enemies this time around. Once in Africa, Chris would be haunted by hallucinations and Sheva would constantly question his confidence since he might be seeing things that aren’t there. Cut down a large chunk of the village settings and go to finding Tricell’s labs and carry out from there.
Alternatively, how about focusing on a whole game where Chris and Jill work together? We haven’t seen a whole game where they fight together from start to finish and they are the two main characters people would think for a “Resident Evil” game. Or how about having Sherry Birkin popping up out of nowhere? She disappeared and rumors floated about where Wesker had her in storage for… scientific reasons. To make things more realistic, how about having Umbrella’s chemicals just leaking out into Africa and Chris got caught off guard by accidental creatures being transformed by viruses? There wouldn’t be a need for a bad guy or company really and it would strength the reason for B.S.A.A. to exist. As it stands, “RE5” is just too generic since it boils down to “Evil terrorists! Go kill! Heroism saves the day,” and nothing more. The flash back for Jill and Wesker screams way too much that they’d be in the game and makes twists moot.
As the end product, the gameplay is functional. “RE5” is just isn’t a good “Resident Evil” game. With little to no horror, ultra emphasis on action, and having a military backdrop to drive the story forward, “RE5” wants to be something different but is forced to operate with “Resident Evil” tied at its ankles. I know that it’s far too late to help “RE5,” seeing that “Resident Evil 6” was released a while back and a seventh entry possibly in the works, but perhaps these fixes could help the horror franchise return to glory.
So what do you think could help fix “Resident Evil 5?” Are there any games you think are good but are weighed down by awful decisions? Leave a suggestion, as “How to Fix” will return in the future.