Resident Evil 5 Was a Very Silly Triumph

Capcom’s controversial sequel abandoned what made Resident Evil great, but skated by on goofy thrills.

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Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest games ever made… but it arguably wasn’t a very good Resident Evil game.

Sure, RE4 helped popularize the over-the-shoulder camera that would define a generation of action titles, and yes, surviving (or, more likely, failing to survive) your first encounter with its infamous chainsaw man was just one of many thrilling moments that were showered with praise. But to achieve its lofty heights, RE4 had to downplay the methodical exploration and puzzle-solving that had been a series staple for almost a decade. Then, in 2009, Resident Evil 5 grabbed a shotgun and put those classic elements in the grave.

Capcom’s decision to double down on its bestselling RE game was understandable, but while RE4 retained some of its predecessors' oppressive mood and tense resource management, four years of development produced a follow-up akin to a playable Michael Bay movie. Resident Evil 5 proved to be both a phenomenal action title and a lousy Resident Evil game, one that would ultimately lead the franchise to some serious soul-searching.

Just another day on the job for Chris Redfield.


When Resident Evil 1 star Chris Redfield and newcomer Sheva Alomar find themselves trapped in an African slum while investigating a rogue bioweapon, their desperate struggle for survival against hordes of parasite-infected “Majini” feels like it’s evoking the harrowing village battle that sets the tone for RE4. Unlike RE4, however, this early moment is likely the last time RE5 players will seriously need to count their bullets and healing supplies. RE5 ditches the “survival” element of survival horror, and it’s not much of a horror game either.

Instead, it polished RE4’s shooting and walked players from one ludicrous battle to another. Forget wondering if you have enough resources to survive whatever twisted monstrosities might be lurking in a dark laboratory; RE5 just makes you wonder if Chris and Sheva are depleting Africa of its strategic exploding barrel reserve. By the time you’re hunkering down behind cover and exchanging fire with zombie-like Majini packing automatic rifles, the confines of RE1’s Spencer Mansion will be a distant memory.

RE5’s shooting has a panache that makes the 1000th splattered head just as satisfying as the first. Moving from city to swamp and underground temple to industrial facility showed off what the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were capable of, and even the music and voice acting were elevated to match the game’s blockbuster tone. By the time the story introduces mind control, it’s hard not to get a little invested in its ludicrous swings.

RE5 abandoned dark mansions for sunshine, which left the scares behind too.


It also helped that Resident Evil 5 brought co-op to the series. Taking advantage of a growing demand for split-screen and online play, RE5 proved perfect for blasting through with your friend over the weekend — and then again the next week to dig into all the unlockables. Co-op especially shines during some tense cat-and-mouse boss fights against various assemblages of tentacles and goo, the only moments when RE5 feels like a Resident Evil game of old.

Beyond those fights, the RE name is an anachronism. In particular, the “puzzles” never amount to more than slotting an emblem or moving some mirrors around. They’re a nice breather, but they don’t exactly strain your intellect. This is a game that climaxes in a volcano, where Chris Redfield angrily punches a boulder out of his way. For better or worse, RE5 wasn’t going for thoughtful tension.

RE4’s innovations largely earned it a pass from critics and fans for abandoning franchise staples, but RE5’s “bigger and dumber” strategy saw some reviewers — and many fans — begin to pine for what Resident Evil had once been. It didn’t help that RE5 attracted controversy, as the optics of the white Chris Redfield gunning down infected African men by the dozens were questioned. Critics and even scholars weighed in, with some arguing that RE5 critiqued Western interference in African affairs, while others accused it of peddling old dark continent stereotypes. This wasn’t the sort of prelaunch hype Capcom was looking for.

RE5’s design ethos summed up in one image.


Regardless, Resident Evil 5 would sell 10.6 million copies by 2018, smashing RE4’s 7 million. Capcom looked at this number, assumed criticism of RE5’s action focus came from whiny dorks, and tripled down for Resident Evil 6, a game synonymous with big-budget letdown. When RE6 hit shelves in 2012, the silly shooter was such a disappointment (GameSpot gave it a withering 4.5) that it forced Capcom to return to the drawing board. Five years later, the company reemerged with Resident Evil 7, a stripped-down sequel that brought the franchise back to its survival-focused roots.

This puts Resident Evil 5 at an odd junction in franchise history, wedged between an all-timer and an all-time dud. Few fans would call it their favorite title, and no one is clamoring for an extensive remake like 2, 3, and 4 have received. But if you can look past a few quirks, it remains a fun ride. RE5 was the height of Resident Evil’s action era, and is worth revisiting as the franchise once again figures out where to go next.

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