Japanese crafted gameplay is a very different experience to that of most Western developed games. There's a clear goal from the outset, especially when said Japanese development studio (or publisher) are dealing with a beloved franchise.
The differences come in a variety of forms, but the stand out result seems to be the same across all games (with some exceptions) – Eastern videogames are just that; they're videogames
Take Square Enix for example, and their long-standing JRPG series, Final Fantasy. Your item management, game-world interaction, turn-based battles and - most importantly
- HUD (Heads Up Display) and user interface are almost always utterly in
your face. The series' narrative too, bolsters a unique and often alien experience leaving gamers detached from their protagonist in the wake of a completely self-indulgent plot. Basically, you're constantly reminded you're playing
This isn't necessarily always the case with every single Japanese developed game (and it's not always a bad thing, either), but for the most part the look and feel, as a result of the above, does take away a key factor that is blossoming in modern Western game design, and that is a desired achievement for the immersive quality of the ever-expanding game-world, user-interface and player-relative story, all evolving as part of a bigger effort to maintain suspended disbelief.
Despite many games becoming more complex, the minimalist design ethos of less invasive factors of information and control (sometimes with the aid of devices with a relative point of context to the game's point or foundation, such as the Pip-Boy in Fallout 3) are helping players become more and more immersed in their game-worlds. But it's a factor most game development rearing its head from Japan is avoiding, and whether it's part of a less evolutionary process or a direct parallax to discern from Western development, the process leaves a mixed response, especially when applied to aforementioned "beloved franchises".
Which brings us to Resident Evil 5. As a true sequel to Resident Evil 4, arguably one of the greatest action games ever crafted, there's no denying RE 5 has some pretty big shoes to fill, but this also gives us an immediate point of reference for Resident Evil 5's design philosophy and achievements overall (as well as its shortcomings).
Resi 4 changed the face of the Resident Evil series forever. Gone were the pre-rendered untouchable backgrounds of the Umbrella-owned mansion nestled ominously in the Arklay Mountains just outside of Racoon City. And gone were the incredibly difficult controls, purposefully placed line-of-sight obscuring camera angles and, of course, zombies. In fact, removing the zombies was as much a testament to the series' point of change as creating a fully 3D game-world to play within.
Resi 5 continues this tradition with a game-engine most other development studios only dream of creating. It's a serious point of reference to the advances in gaming when you're watching an in-game cinematic running in real-time off the [RE 5] engine and wish the original CG sequences from the Resi games of old were that good. Resident Evil 5 really is a stunning title.
The game plays in much the same way as RE 4 did as well. You have a cache of weapons and equipment you can use. You still collect and combine herbs to heal, treasures to sell for weapon upgrades or purchases and you still have that somewhat awkward digital movement interface where the protagonist either walks or runs – with nothing in between. The levels are a mix of corridor walkways, rooftop shenanigans and open areas for swamping. You're still fighting NZs (Not-Zombies
who might as well be
zombies), and they still walk creepily slow towards you. You still cut through barrels and crates for your pick-ups and you still fight bosses. But with all the added value of the Resi 4 foundation, the new team sans creator Shinji Mikami (now working elsewhere) have branched beyond to craft their own game with its own flavour, and the more time you spend with Resident Evil 5, the more you'll realise it is very different.
That last statement also holds another truth. In the wake of progressive games like Dead Space
, you need to force yourself to deal with some of the control/camera/interaction 'shortcomings' of Resi 5. I say 'shortcomings' because much of the original design concept has been maintained here for relevant reasons. It might feel stiff and odd, archaic and uncomfortable, but there's method behind this madness, and it's but one piece of a larger puzzle that works to create an overall sense of intensity.
And Resident Evil 5 is
intense. From start to finish the entire experience is one massive rollercoaster ride with a progressive and steady climb to an extreme gut-twisting drop (and then across the finish line). You're constantly outnumbered by hordes of Majini (essentially the African version of the Spaniard "Los Ganados" enemies from Resident Evil 4), and their various offshoots. Newer enemies are introduced though, such as the hyenas and dogs whose heads split in two to reveal ravaging teeth and an even scarier mouth. The Majini can have their heads blown off to reveal the modified Plagas virus alive and kicking inside their flesh - still flailing about, and still just as deadly.
There are new airborne enemies and hybrid animals to deal with (don't want to spoil it for you, half the intensity is from being attacked by a new creature you've never seen before or don't understand), among so much more (as well as some old Resi 4 favourites, too).
Boss battles return in full-force, though I couldn't help but feel, while looking as epic as ever, the actual physical act of taking these monstrosities down was a little on the easy side (especially with the big
fella, no matter how cool his new beard was), which in the face of said epicness
was a real missed opportunity.
The truly game-changing factor here (from Resi 4 gameplay), is the inclusion of a more-than-competent AI sidekick, Sheva. Ubisoft's Ben Mattel said they included the Prince's Elika as a non-obtrusive tool for making you look
cool in the latest Prince of Persia
, but I argue that wasn't the case with that title. Here, however, Sheva more than achieves that goal because she, herself, is damn cool.
You can string melee combos together with her if your rhythm and timing are right, and when you're hurt and low on ammo, more often than not her nimble and aggressive ways go a long way to helping clear the immediate area of too much enemy rubbish. And really, once you realise the strength of what you're facing, she's not even close to a gimmick, she's damn well required.
You do have to look after her though, at least in the way of making sure you're not just spending all your money on yourself for your own upgrades and new weapons. The game progressively becomes more challenging and the sheer numbers you face (along with their strength and cunning) means you really couldn't play this as a single-player outing, at least not without some serious frustration at constant restarts.
Pacing in general is quite fast, and you'll often find yourself even beginning chapters with massive enemies in tow. It works in the game's favour, and further distances it from both Resi 4 (which had many solitary, slow-paced sections) and the previous REs. That isn't to say Res Evil 5 is without its fair share of puzzles, it just means the intensity is turned up to 11 during these segments, which is more in line with the likes of Dead Space than of Res Evil 4.
Another distancing element is Res Evil 5's scare-factor, in that there really is none. You're often playing through the game in daylight (with stunning lighting, I might add) and while there are darkened areas, they don't really offer up the same thriller/horror element as previous iterations of the game. So Resident Evil 5 is even more an action title than its most direct sequel, and despite keeping you on your toes, is a point I feel does let the game down given the series' pedigree.
Purchases and upgrades have been stripped back, and there's no creepy merchant as found in Resident Evil 4 (much to my chagrin – I loved that guy). What's more is whenever you die you can reorganise yourself and Sheva, making things just a bit too easy. Resident Evil has always been about giving you as little as possible so you'd learn to conserve things like ammo, or even find other ways of taking out the bad-guys – but here it just seems a bit too accessible and simplified.
Other issues arise in technical areas. It's a stunning game, but there's limited connectivity to the game-world with a fairly substandard and less-than-impressive physics engine – this means you're constantly battling invisible walls which doesn't necessarily work with the already awkward digital movement inputs (walk and run).
Screen tearing is also a huge problem; especially during the awesomely directed cut-scenes (creating visual frustration) and you can most definitely find yourself lost and confused in the dark areas because of AI controlled lighting (coupled with the digital movement and invisible wall points).
More often than not the single ability to aim and walk as separate entities (in that you can't do both at the same time) helps to add to the game's intensity, and I accept and even applaud the decision to maintain this – though it's abundantly clear a lot of people (especially anyone who never played Resi 4) may not appreciate its adding to the game's challenge. But as I mentioned earlier, if you can put up with it for a bit, it'll all become second nature fairly quickly.
There's also the sometimes intrusive HUD mixed with the aforementioned elements, and all of this combined brings the game back down to the videogame
versus immersive experience
point from my intro. Resident Evil 5 feels
like you're playing a videogame. It feels old-school (in some places for good reason), and stands as a different sort of experience when compared to the likes of say Fallout 3 or Dead Space. It's not that there's a even clear warrant for these comparisons (at least not with Fallout 3), but it's a standing when looking at design philosophies and being in a position to see a change along the interactive landscape that is
furthering the interactive experience.
For all its old-school charm and Resident Evil throwback elements, RE 5 just doesn't cut it to break into the 9.0 realm here at AusGamers, despite being an absolutely stunning game with heaps of action and plenty to keep you coming back for more (unlockables, co-op, extra missions etc). Moreover, while it does attempt to distance itself some from RE 4, there's just not enough progressive thinking here for it to have the same impact as Mikami's last ever RE title (telling perhaps?).
Yet none of that stops this game from being awesome in its own right, and if you can look past the awkward and clunky controls, you're going to have a lot of fun. Here's hoping the next update thinks as far outside the box as Res Evil 4 did in comparison to its original counterparts.