Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Resident Evil 5

The Resident Evil 5 demo dropped on Xbox live this week, and as soon as I saw it, downloading and playing it became my number one priority.

I've loved the Resident Evil franchise ever since I played the first one on the PS1. In fact, one of my favorite memories since moving to the US was staying up all night with my Stepson Frank, playing Resident Evil 4 'relay-style', handing the controller back and forth. I knew I was playing something special when an on-fire zombie burst out of an industrial sized oven and the two of us managed to get a clear two feet into the air while still in the sitting position.

I was pleased to see that RE5 looked, felt and sounded like Resident Evil was supposed to. I was pleased to see that they've apparently done away with the tetris-style inventory management system (there was nothing like pausing an intense, adrenaline-fueled battle to rearrange your attaché case so you could fit in a couple more grenades)…but I was a little worried when I realized you'd be playing RE5 with an AI partner.

Of course, for huge portions of RE4 you had to escort Ashley around, but that was something RE4 did extremely well. Ashley stayed as close to you as possible, didn't wander off, didn't get in your way and made for some pretty intense sequences. For example, having to cover her from afar with your sniper rifle while also having to defend yourself sticks in my mind as a very tense few minutes of gameplay.

Now, RE5 will be an awesome experience if you have someone next to you with another controller in their hand or playing with you over Xbox Live. It's one of the things that really got me excited when I played the demo. RE4 was made twice as awesome through playing it with my stepson 'relay-style', the idea of playing split screen with two different character's sounded awesome. Co-op play could almost have been designed for Resident Evil, with one character attempting to open a door while the other covers…or going back to back in one of those high-tension, back-to-back defensive battles.

However, in my first time through the demo, I saw a lot of things I didn't like with the AI partner.

The first were the few occasions where she blocked a doorway or otherwise just got in the way. Secondly, on multiple locations I was lining up a shot only to have her get in the way…and finally, not only having to share my guns and ammo with her, but her not using those weapons intelligently depending on he situation. For example, I had a sniper-rifle, she had a machine gun. At one point she was happy to attack enemies at long range with the inaccurate machine gun…but switched to her pistol when we were cornered and the badguys were at close range.

In other words, you're in a situation that could be solved with a five second burst from the weapon she's carrying…instead, she chooses to let you get chomped on and shoot (slowly) with her peashooter of a pistol. You can tell her to switch weapons, but the game doesn't pause when you're accessing your inventory anymore, which means getting her to switch means leaving yourself defenseless while surrounded by bad guys.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of other times when she's a joy to have around. A one point, I was running low on ammo, when she suddenly stopped firing (causing me to swear), but then she ran a little way ahead (making me call her a stupid bitch for running into the bad guys)…but then she picked up some dropped ammo, ran back and gave it to me.

On numerous occasions, I got grabbed and she knocked the zombie off me with some well-timed kung-fu, and best of all, used healing sprays on me when I needed it.

I'll happily admit that she definitely does more good than harm…but the problem is poor AI can be a total game-breaker. At one point I was fighting a chainsaw-wielding boss-character, using the classic retreat-shoot-retreat tactic from the previous games…when suddenly, the game cut to my partner getting her head chainsawed off, and it was game over. That right there can flat-out destroy even the best game. I lost that time not because I wasn't quick enough or because my tactics were bad or because the enemy was better…I lost because a character I have no control over got too close to the bad-guy.

Basically, an AI character doesn't have to fuck up often to ruin a game. On my first playthrough she probably saved me five or six times…but what I remember the most is taking damage because she just wouldn't move out of my way, blocking my perfect headshot…and using up all the sniper-rifle ammo on the badguys that were in the same room as us, leaving us with a shotgun and pistols when we were trying to pick off bad guys at a distance from the roof.

I know this is just a demo, and things will probably get tightened up and improved, but I hope like hell that they straighten out the AI issues before release…or RE5 will be multiplayer only unless you enjoy frustration.

No comments: