In the world of gaming, sequels are as inevitable as death and taxes, and unfortunately, the end result is often about as much fun.
Such is not the case with Resident Evil 5 and Killzone 2, two tent-pole sequels that were released in the past few weeks. After a bit of playthrough, though, it's apparent that the way the two games evolve their source material is so divergent that it's hard to believe either are part of a series.
The original Killzone, released in 2004 for the PS2, was a moderately enjoyable FPS full of clipping issues and bad frame rates. There was a mess of a storyline about mutating space Nazis called Helghast trying to kill human colonists who tried to hold interest and failed more often than not. Whether it was worthy of its best-selling status is up for debate, especially considering it came out during the autumn of that console's life.
Consider Killzone 2, which is perhaps the first FPS on the PS3 that truly shows what the console can do. Now we're on the Helghan homeworld, to kill more mutating space Nazis, with another ejectable storyline that serves as nothing more than a backdrop for a shooter so immersive, with character animations, weapons and level designs so painstakingly detailed, it doesn't matter that the designers barely bother explaining why you're there in the first place.
Compare this to Resident Evil 5, a long-awaited (especially for me) sequel that builds on the mechanics developed for 2004's RE4, which were so revolutionary at the time they've affected every shooter since, to some degree. This is a series that spawned no less than 14 titles and has a mythology so rich, Capcom could likely never run out of material.
Problem is, RE5 keeps everything that is ridiculous about the series, and even breaks some things RE4 had solved. This includes adding an annoying AI pal that's more distraction than aid, using an inventory system that is hopelessly obsolete (really, an egg takes up the same amount of room as an RPG?), making the storyline so convoluted even the developers decided to let it end already and, yes, incorporating the infamous inability to move while shooting.
The big difference here is that while RE5 decided to act like an action game, eschewing the series' patented tension and cheap thrills in favor of shooting zombies (excuse me, Majini) on motorcycles — do they even qualify as zombies at that point? — KZ2 takes a much more simple approach: Start with a simple formula, then do it exceedingly well.
It doesn't matter that the plot is threadbare and largely irrelevant. Guerilla Games has made KZ2 such a blast, literally, that all you want to do is crank up the surround sound and fire away. It's what an FPS should be: loud, violent and unapologetic — and depending on your point of view, short.
While Capcom's crew were breaking their arms patting themselves on the back about how they're turned the RE series into action-oriented fare, they forgot to consider that they were either making silly concessions for the sake of faux continuity, or simply creating a different game and slapping the franchise tag on it.
It's not that RE5 is bad, or that KZ2 is good, but rather that RE5 is a decent game with too many bad design decisions and KZ2 is a mediocre game made superlative by its devotion to its genre.
Next time (and there will be a next time for both, surely), we can only hope the motorcycle zombies pay attention to the space Nazis.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.