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11:50 PM on 10.01.2009

Interface and Control: Resident Evil 5

With the recent introduction of "motion" controls to Resident Evil 5, Capcom has acknowledged one of the more significant issues with its sordid franchise: the Resident Evil tank controls. For the uninitiated, tank controls refer to the movement of the main character in a 3 dimensional space in which pressing "up" on the directional stick causes the on screen character to move in the direction the character is facing. While it sounds logical, this control setup opposes the typical 3D control mechanics strongly established with genre defining games like Mario 64. In these games, the on screen character moves in the direction the user moves the stick- regardless of the direction the character is facing.

So what's the big deal? The popular survival horror series is on its 5th true title and the series as a whole is well respected for its atmosphere and gameplay. Well, at the risk of being berated by the plentiful Resident Evil fanboys, the once-fitting tank controls now feel archiac and limiting compared to much more modern games with similar gameplay.

Firstly, Resident Evil began as a series that utilized fixed camera angles to create dramatic tension and implement outstanding prerendered backgrounds. In these instances, tank controls allowed players to maintain a sense of direction while the camera constantly shifted. This all changed, however, when Resident Evil 4 was released in 2005. Considered the best in the series, RE4 changed the typical Resident Evil gameplay by introducing a third person perspective and providing a more action oriented experience. Unfortunately, the controls did not follow suite. The result was a character that could not move in any given direction without first being turned. Against somewhat faster moving zombies and infected creatures, your main character was about as capable as a remote controlled Nerf tank. Fitting, as that is what the controls seemed to be modeled after. Still, the unprecedented visuals, gameplay, and story were enough for most people to overlook a simple control scheme.

That was 2005.

Resident Evil 5 arrives 4 years, a new controller, and several succesful 3rd person shooter games later. In the four years between RE4 and RE5, gamers have been treated to quality titles such as Gears of War 1 & 2, Dead Space, and Ratchet and Clank. All of these have used the more traditional control scheme made famous by that endearing Italian plumber. Sure none of these games are Resident Evil, and I can appreciate a certain purity to maintaining an atypical control mechanic (see the jumping Ghosts and Goblins- also a Capcom game) but the RE5 demo really showcases just how much better the game could be with a more traditional control setup.

Take the following scenario for instance: As multiple infected humans approach you with various weapons brimming with the AI-determined attack procedure, the typical Resident Evil response is as follows: Raise your firearm up, fire shots. Implement the quick 180 spin move, run forward to a safe spot, perform another quick 180 spin, and then repeat. All while dealing with a slow targeting reticule and the overwhelming feeling that the environment is just to cramped. Oh, did I mention that you can't move and shoot at the same time? Another oversight or a specific choice in game design? Well if the intent of the game is to be at all enjoyable then Capcom had better concede to the former, because it is not fun to combat enemies that can move in ways and do things that you cannot.

Tank controls and the manipulation of combat by hindering movement was fine in 2005, but gamers have moved on to much more intuitive pastures. The possibility of correcting these issues while maintaining Resident Evil's unique gameplay is evident in past RE games. Have we forgotten the various RE remakes which have traditional controls? I also have not forgotten Resident Evil: Outbreak 2 which contains a character who can move and shoot at the same time (albeit at a snail's pace) without breaking the survival horror feel of the game. Motion controls, at this point, are simply going to add more frustrations. The fundamental issue is that the PS3 wand is trying to emulate a control method (the joystick) that is already trying to emulate another control method (mouse) which is conceptually emulating a very important gameplay function (viewing/aiming).

Players should never have to think too much about the controls or else gameplay will quickly take a backseat. Learning curves are natural, but even after an hour with RE5 I found myself wondering why I couldn't just move backwards in a fashion more fitting to the current high speed threat in front of me. As it is, RE5 is a lesson in bad controls that ruin an otherwise polished game. Meanwhile, I will say one quick thing about the interface. As the amount of action in the game increases, so does the need to quickly change weapons and use items. The inventory interface is another holdover from the slower RE games. Also, in general, theres a lot of work that needs to be done on a cooperative interface, as I don't think we as gamers have the communication skills you think we do.   read

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