Hello, and welcome to what will hopefully become a recurring series on Retronaissance. My colleague Professor Icepick has had multiple series focused on rehabilitating a franchise or game that has fallen on hard times or was poorly received, so I’ve decided to play that on hard mode. Sometimes a poor design choice ruins, or at least severely wounds, a game that could otherwise have been great. The easiest and most logical way to fix the game would be to completely remove that design choice, but what if for some reason that wasn’t an option? Could a universally reviled concept be rehabilitated into a good thing, or at least not a detriment? I’m going to give it my best shot.
For my first attempt, I will be looking at Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil 5 had a tough act to follow, Resident Evil 4 completely recharged and revolutionized its series, becoming one of the most beloved games of its generation. Moving away from the fixed camera angles and intentionally awkward controls of the previous Resident Evil games, RE4 was one of the first big over-the-shoulder shooters, and that perspective change coupled with control over aiming made combat so much more fun. Instead of worrying about one or two zombies per room, crowds of parasite controlled villagers hunted you at the same time. You were limited enough in ammo and movement (you technically still had tank controls, but the camera perspective made them much less debilitating) that there was still tension, and the game was gigantic without ever letting up the pace. Even the dialogue managed to be as iconically cheesy as the earlier games while sounding less downright stupid. Anyone would be intimidated at having to follow up a game like that.
So how did Capcom decide to handle Resident Evil 5? The basic combat and structure of Resident Evil 4 was left intact, with a few improvements to your character’s abilities (yep, no more mandatory tank controls), but Capcom clearly felt that they had to go beyond a direct sequel after Resident Evil 4 shook up the series so much. Their main attempt at this was making the entire single-player campaign playable in cooperative mode, and putting in a mandatory computer-controlled second player if you played by yourself. Now as we all know, this was not a popular decision. Changing the core single-player game in such an omnipresent and mandatory way pleased almost no one. If I was trying to fix the game itself, this is where I’d jump in and argue that no reasonable person would complain about the first direct sequel to such a beloved game after a four year wait and that they should just make it play like RE4, but I’m restricting myself from suggesting a change that drastic. So for the purpose of this article, the mandatory AI partner stays in the game. That’s the objective, find a way that could remain in the game without damaging it. Wish me luck.
Why It Didn’t Work
Before fixing it, let’s analyze why exactly it didn’t work. Well, there are lots of reasons. For one thing, AI partners are always going to be far less competent than even somewhat decent human controlled partners. The AI partner was there so that two people could easily play every part of the game cooperatively, which means that the difficulty level was balanced with two humans in mind. So in single player mode, you were at an inherent disadvantage for the entire game. This got especially bad with anything that required synchronization and timing, good luck getting the AI to do their part during the brief window where a boss can be damaged thanks to the efforts of the other player. Especially since the AI partner could also temporarily reduce difficulty the wrong way, by robbing you of (real life) experience you needed. You or your partner dying wasn’t an instant game over, there was a window of time for the surviving character to heal the wounded one. While this alleviated having to babysit the AI to some degree, it also meant you could brute force your way through earlier parts of the game/easier difficulty settings without getting the understanding and skill you needed later. I hate AI controlled partners in games for this reason, let me fail or succeed on my own.
This wasn’t even the only issue. Resident Evil 4 and 5 may have been more action-focused than their survival horror predecessors, but item and ammo conservation was still a much bigger part of the games than in a standard third person shooter. One of the best things about Resident Evil 4’s combat system was that where you shot an enemy, and whether you could get in for a melee attack when they were stunned, could have a great effect on how much ammo you actually used in the encounter. If you thought you had taken too much damage, you could let enemies kill you and try again from the checkpoint so that your stock of healing items didn’t get too low. Now, do you see any issue with having to share your resources with an incompetent AI partner? Yeah, good luck with ammo conservation or strategic use of items when your partner just wants to pump bullets into random parts of a not-zombie until they finally drop dead. Best case scenario, you give your partner no ammo and babysit them through fights that were balanced with two human players in mind. There’s a reason no one talked about this game after the online userbase dried up.
How To Fix It
Okay, now the hard part. How do we fix this while still keeping an AI partner around for every second of the single player mode? Well, for ammo and item conservation, I think your partner shouldn’t use your ammo stock. While my solution for balancing their ammo usage with that in mind may be a little complicated, my best idea is to limit your opponent to the amount of ammo you use. Every shot you take gives your partner a shot to use, thus preventing the player from abusing an infinite ammo well from the CPU character. For the dying issue, I would just make your AI partner invincible, with a caveat I’ll get to in a bit. Staying alive should be their responsibility, right? If you aren’t dying, they have to pull their weight and also not die. If you do die, no assists (except for maybe a rare item that your partner can use to revive you), you just die while your partner yells your name like you’re Solid Snake.
So those changes would help, but how could we make the partner actually add to the gameplay instead of just minimizing damage? And how do we handle things that require cooperation? Well, at the risk of making some hypothetical Capcom employees using 2009 hardware cry (now they know how I felt when I didn’t get a SNES-style MMX9), I think the best way to handle this is letting the player switch which character they’re controlling at will. Press a button, and the camera quickly shifts to the character you aren’t currently controlling. Your ammo and healing items will stay the same (which syncs up perfectly with my idea for the CPU matching your ammo use), but now you can personally handle the enemies on the other side of the area or take advantage of that boss opening you just arranged with the other character. And while your AI partner’s default state would be invincible, they could call for help at certain set points or if you’ve let too many enemies swarm their side of the field. Then you would have the choice of either going to them as your current character, or switching and making them save themselves. I think this could open up a lot of interesting puzzle and set piece battle possibilities, and if done correctly could feel like a positive evolution of Ashley in Resident Evil 4 instead of a mutation that messes up the entire game.
So that’s my best shot at fixing Resident Evil 5 without, you know, fixing the biggest problem. I think that if you were chained to an AI partner like two escaped prisoners, this would be the way to make it the least painful, What do you think, would you like RE5 better if it used my concepts? Do you have other ideas to fix it, or even want to defend the game as it is? Whatever your opinion, sound off in the comments section. I’ll see you next time, if the AI controlling Icepick at the moment doesn’t waste all my healing items.