Resident Evil has been stuck in a strange void for the past few years. On one hand, Capcom has found quite a bit of success when releasing its older games on newer hardware — on the other, any attempts to do something new with the franchise seem to fall flat.
The recent Resident Evil 5 update seems to fall right in the middle. It's a remaster of a "classic" game that has plenty of fans excited, but the game is also cited as the beginning of the end for the franchise. The new HD port looks good, that's for sure, but are faster frame rates and higher resolutions really going to fix the game's other troubles?
First things first: gamers should know that the recently-released Resident Evil 5 port isn't a true "remastering." Yes, it looks better and plays more smoothly, but Capcom has stated that the team only updated the game's engine to run on newer hardware. Compare this with the updated Resident Evil Remaster, where Capcom actually changed how the game's engine worked at its core.
What this means is that the improvements to Resident Evil 5, while noticeable, won't be as dramatic when compared with those found in the original Resident Evil remaster. There have also been no changes to the story, level design or gameplay mechanics. For better or for worse, this is the same exact game that was released back in 2009: Chris is still an extremely lackluster character, Sheva's AI is still moronic and the game's controls still lock players in place when firing.
To its credit, the original Resident Evil 5 was a perfectly functional game. The controls do take some getting used to, but once players get the hang of things, actually playing the game isn't all that difficult. Criticisms leveled at the original game were more about how Resident Evil should have evolved rather than assessing the controls themselves — and when looking at Resident Evil 5's controls in a vacuum, it's easy to see that the (somewhat clunky) controls don't come close to ruining the experience.
The same cannot be said of the story. Whereas Resident Evil 4 reveled in its campy, over-the-top narrative, Resident Evil 5 takes itself far too seriously. Characters are trying to be intense all the time, and as a result, the goofier moments (like Chris angrily punching a rock) seem out of place, as opposed to feeling like a natural part of the game. Resident Evil 4 knew that it was silly — Resident Evil 5 does not.
That wouldn't necessarily be so bad if Resident Evil 5 wasn't so obsessed with making all of its characters so overwhelmingly boring. The only character with any real personality is the villain: watching antagonist Albert Wesker lose his mind is genuinely fun, but there are far too many joyless interactions between the few high points in the game's campaign. Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar are low points for the franchise as a whole, with both characters being clueless dullards throughout the entire game.
Oh, and there are only so many callbacks that Resident Evil 5 can make to its clearly superior predecessor before it starts to get sad.
At the very least, Resident Evil 5 does benefit from the upgrade to current-generation hardware. The game looked great when it was first launched, and nothing's really changed in that regard. Some textures are noticeably blurry, but the increase in resolution and frame rate help the game play more smoothly than any previous console version.
Network play also performs well. As long as players have a halfway-decent connection, getting into a game with friends shouldn't be much of an issue. Considering that grouping up with an actual human being is easily the best way to play, it's great that the online modes run so smoothly.
What's surprising is the number of glitches. They're nothing that could break the game, but clipping issues are a regular occurrence. It could be a piece of debris, or a simple cardboard box — either way, getting too close to an object at the wrong angle could send it spiraling out of control. Two-player doors can also be a challenge, with some prompts not properly responding — but again, these aren't issues that'll break the game.
At the end of the day, it can be hard to recommend Resident Evil 5 on current-gen hardware. It's not that Capcom did a bad job of transferring the game over — it's an extremely solid port — but the fact remains that the core game hasn't changed at all. As an action game, Resident Evil 5 can be clunky both in story and gameplay; as a follow-up to the stellar Resident Evil 4, it's easy to see why so many fans were disappointed.
If you're a die-hard Resident Evil fan, dropping $20 on an updated port might be worth it — but for those who were already disappointed by Resident Evil 5, this new update isn't going to do anything to change your mind. It's a strong port — but the foundation itself is still flawed.
Both Resident Evil 5 and its sequel are available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 now, while Resident Evil 4 is set to hit the consoles sometime later this year.