I’ve been playing Resident Evil 5 with my brother in short bursts the last few weeks. Though certainly enjoyable, it has quickly become clear why this game doesn’t enjoy the near universal acclaim that its predecessor does: it isn’t scary in the least. Not that Resident Evil 4 was all that scary, it wasn’t. It was, though, still nominally a horror game, albeit one straddling the line between horror and action. Resident Evil 5 has strayed far from that line. What made the Resident Evil series so enjoyable, despite being kind of clunky and constrained, was the novelty of playing essentially a schlocky horror movie. It if not created then at least popularized the Survival Horror genre. Resident Evil 5, as well made as it may be, is not a Survival Horror game.
I am not an expert on horror or on the Resident Evil series. You can count the number of horror movies I’ve watched on one hand, even If you count horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead. I avoid horror movies like the plague. I am a big scaredy baby and I derive no joy from scaring myself with horror films. I was occasionally mocked in college for leaving the common area of my dorm suite whenever the group chose a scary movie. Oddly, I do generally enjoy horror games. I don’t play a whole terrible lot of them, but I tend to enjoy them when I do. Mostly it is because the gameplay of survival horror games is somewhat slower and more thoughtful than most action games. Resident Evil, at least in its original incarnation, exemplifies this trend. I have neither played every game in the series, nor do I obsess over the mythology, but I have some experience with the series. I fiddled around with the first game on the Playstation, and beat one path of RE2, but I never touched RE3 or Code Veronica. I did play the REmake and RE0 on the Gamecube. Then came RE4, and it shook the whole series up, being pretty much the best action game ever made while keeping one foot in the survival horror realm. Most would agree that RE4 isn’t scary; many would argue that no RE game has ever really been scary. They aren’t wrong, but recall that I am a big scaredy baby. Resident Evil 4, despite not being all that scary, managed to freak me out pretty regularly. While I greatly enjoyed that game, the vagaries of one console ownership kept from playing further in the series for the better part of a decade.
Now I’ve played RE5, and despite being largely similar to RE4 it is a lesser game. The biggest thing missing is that it isn’t scary; not in the slightest. Why not? Because the game is co-op. One of the few things that kept RE4 somewhat unsettling is that, for the most part, you are alone. Leon is alone in a village full of people that are becoming monsters. It is a scary premise. In RE5, Chris is flanked constantly by a teammate. It doesn’t greatly change how the game plays, but it does greatly change the psychology of the game. Instead of a lone survivor facing danger around every corner, you play as part of a tag team ruthlessly taking apart everything that stands in your way. It is scary to be alone, but significantly less so with a partner. Especially since, like all Resident Evil games, the scares in this game are all cheap jump scares. It is all spring loaded cats. Those things tend to lose their effect when you are not alone and already tense. In RE4, you hear that chainsaw start off screen and it freaks you out. You have to find its wielder or you will die. Resident Evil 5 is less scary because there appears to be a safety net in the form of Sheva. RE5 isn’t actually any easier, the player is no less likely to die than in its predecessor, but it seems different all the same. It all comes down to that second player.
Otherwise, the game is pretty great. And playing co-op is a ton of fun. They smoothed off the rest of the adventure portions of the game, leaving it to be mostly shooting. There is much less inventory management and the like. The story and setting is still classic Resident Evil, evil corporations and zombie plagues. It has the same general array of weapons and enemies. Primarily, it is more Resident Evil 4 and who didn’t want that?