Sunday Thoughts: 15/03/09


I don’t like Resident Evil 5.

On Saturday I picked up the game from, er, GAME, and forty real Scottish notes lighter returned home eager to sample just what magic Capcom had poured into this shiny 12cm disk before me. The whys and wherefores that accumulated in me having to dispense with my own hard earned in one of our most celebrated video game outlets is for another story, but that’s all academic, and hey, it’s nice to have a box for a new title once in a while.

So there I am, ripping off the shiny plastic like it’s a Christmas morn of old, placing my faith in a Japanese developer having finally got to grips with the PS3 and thus not making me wait whilst it copies over every single texture, sound sample and gun model to my rapidly imploding 160GB hard drive. Naturally, this isn’t the case and (like most PS3 games these day) Resident Evil requires a lengthy 5GB install and won’t let you play Gradius whilst it does its work.

But then, finally, we’re into the game. A quick customary shifty at the controls suggests Capcom have finally looked at another third-person game other than their own and introduced the now-standard strafe and look controls, and everything else (such as readying a weapon) seemed par for the course. So, cool, let’s ‘start’. Oh, a loading screen. Oh, some text. Oh, it’s gone. Great move, guys: put some apparently important back-story on screen for one second.

And then I remembered: I don’t like Resident Evil.

It’s not just related to this latest game, I’ve never liked them. Ever. And I could list many, many reasons why: the controls are still shit (people don’t steer like tanks, Capcom), the acting’s still abysmal, the storyline’s still utterly ridiculous and the mechanics still haven’t changed since I initially decided I didn’t like the first damned game in the series. Do people actually like playing Resident Evil games? Do they get some kind of morbid enjoyment out of shuffling like the formulaic zombies you’re meant to be killing?

Of course they do, and they’ll refute every point above. The truth is that in my opinion the shambolic retcon it calls a storyline is almost Capcom playing arrogant fashionista and the way it so resolutely refuses to do anything resembling evolution from game to game is baffling. But what even the hardened can’t disagree with is that in no way did Resident Evil define the Survival Horror pigeon hole it so proudly fits itself into. Why? Maziacs.

For anyone not old enough to have a job, a house and a family, Maziacs was the brainchild of Don Priestly and came out in 1983 for the ZX Spectrum. An earlier version for the ZX81 was released a year earlier, but it’s the classic dk’tronics published Speccy version, with it’s minimal graphics, simple controls and tuneless beeps that holds so fondly in my mind. Why? Because it was absolutely bloody terrifying.

One look at the screenshots might well be enough for most of you to close this post immediately, sniggering about the old folk and vowing never to bother with TSA again, but those readers of an open mind will probably hang around for the resolution and it’s here that I’ll attempt to explain why the only thing horrifying about Capcom’s latest survival horror is the install time.

Firstly: random levels. We know Resident Evil 5’s delicately produced environments must have taken years to create, but we don’t care: each playthrough is precisely the same as the last and the human mind can be conditioned to remember even the most barren of landscapes if repeated enough times. Maziacs is different every time you play, and you’ll never be able to learn the layout of the monsters and the goal no matter how many times you attempt it.

Secondly: monsters. Capcom: zombies aren’t scary. Zombies are humans with funny eyes and (in this case) terrible dental issues, for the most part they move slowly, albeit in packs, but when your avatar (and his buddy) have shotguns, healing herbs and checkpoints every 20 paces there’s little need to ever feel afraid of what’s around the corner. Maziacs’ evil humping spider-like enemies are unpredictable, deadly and your constantly but slowly dying character doesn’t carry enough weapons to level a town.

Thirdly: the view. The first Resident Evil offered pre-set cameras to carefully control the view the player had of his surroundings, which to some degree worked, but Resident Evil 5 lets you spin the camera round freely effectively removing any shred of uncertainty the player might have had, and the ridiculously narrow field of vision isn’t fooling anyone. Maziacs’ top down view limits what the player can see to great effect and means that you never know what’s around each corner.

We can do this for every game, of course, but this isn’t just rose-tinted retro-fondness, I do actually prefer the mechanics of Maziacs to those of Resident Evil. Yes, some might find this utterly bonkers, and there’s no doubt that visually Capcom have worked wonders (but no, it’s not the best looking console game) but it just didn’t scare me and I can’t be arsed wrestling with the analog sticks waiting for my character to bother turning.

I tested my theory by playing Maziacs again today, and it is genuinely scary. I’ve yet to bother playing Resident Evil 5 again.