Resident Evil. Since its arrival on the PlayStation, the series has built up an almost legendary status. Resident Evil 5, being a direct sequel and a pretty similar game to one of the best games of last generation, has some huge shoes to fill.
“Welcome to Africa”
The game starts with Chris Redfield, the star (pun intended) of the original Resident Evil and Code Veronica games, arriving in a dusty African town in the fictitious country of Kijuju. He now works for the BSAA, a division set up by various pharmaceutical companies to prevent the use and trade of bioweapons. His mission is to assist the BSAA Alpha Team in capturing a guy named Irving, suspected of trading bioweapons on the black market. Together with his BSAA partner, African woman Sheva Alomar, you’ll the town. Soon after picking up your weapons at the local informant, you'll encounter two men forcing a bug-like creature into the mouth of a third person. The victim quickly shows behavior similar to the Ganados enemies from Resident Evil 4, and attacks, starting a 10 hour adrenaline rush that will take you through, among others, the shanty town, underground mines, a swamp, and the inevitable laboratories, unraveling the well scripted, yet at times tedious, plot. While visiting these locales you will be chased by Majini (the infected) on motorbikes, fight all kinds of monsters, have encounters with our good chainsaw wielding friend and use tons and tons of ammo to blast your way through the gorgeous African surroundings.
Your new partner Sheva Alomar
The Third-Person Shooter plays very much like its amazing predecessor, Resident Evil 4. You'll look over the muscular shoulder of Chris, who looks like he spent all his spare time for the last five years in the gym. His body-building unfortunately not only affects your view on the field but also the gameplay. In the beginning you really have to get used to the slow movements and especially turning and aiming of Chris. Once you complete the game, you unlock the ability to play as Sheva who's much more agile and plays more like Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil 4. Once you're used to Chris' lack of any speed the game is a blast to play.
It’s not just the gameplay that will be an instant recognition to those that played the previous game; the design and progress of the levels and the pacing are very similar as well. This game is very much like Resident Evil 4 without the castle section. That covers both the games' length and its progression, from the town via a lake to the laboratories and the grand finale. The story in Resident Evil 5 is delivered through very well directed cut scenes that feature very good voice acting. Fans of the series will find a lot of loose ends tied up, and it even manages to tie the relatively standalone Resident Evil 4 into the overall storyline. The final plot of the game however is a bit over the top even for Resident Evil standards. And that's quite something for a series renowned for it's cheesy B-level horror scripts.
From the start of the game dozens and dozens of Majini, armed with machetes, bows and later in the game even guns, will chase you, demanding you to react quickly in order not to be overwhelmed. This feeling of urgency is amplified by the controls. Despite being a very action focused game, Resident Evil 5 doesn’t allow you to shoot and move at the same time, as you would in standard shooters or horror games like Dead Space. Personally, I think this design choice works very well because it creates tension and makes the character much more vulnerable than in a normal shooter--as you can't defend yourself while moving, you'll constantly be faced with the question "run or shoot?”. Gamers expecting a new Gears of War will be disappointed though, as the system is definitely much more restrictive and creates a completely different balance than in regular shooters. There are four different control types, so most people will find something they like, but running and gunning is, luckily, no option. Two of the four control types allow for strafing though.
Aim for the head!
The game is divided in to six chapters, each containing two or three sub-chapters, with each introduced by a very cinematic cutscene. Most of the time, you’ll be roaming through the fairly linear levels, but there’s always an unexpected event around the corner. The game is full of quick time events that will have you on edge even when you think you’re safe, but you’ll also use turrets to fight bosses, run against the clock to prevent from being blown up and free roam on a boat through the marshlands. The bossfights are absolutely amazing, and are varied, both in appearance and strategies required to dispatch them. Obviously, as this IS a Resident Evil game, the bossfights will mostly consist of the various Bio-Organic Weapons (BOWs) created in the bizarre experiments the series is known for. Almost every single one of them will take a different approach to beat, although raw firepower will always help as well.
"I just had an extreme makeover"
As an action game, Resident Evil 5 is a fantastic experience. However it does bear the Resident Evil name, which stands for something. Resident Evil 5 is the first Resident Evil that didn't involve creator Shinji Mikami, and frankly, it shows. Those who expect a horror game will be disappointed, as all but a few of the horror elements are completely missing. This is really sad because it could have made the game stand out more in the jungle of third person action games. Overall it must be noted that the game is not really Resident Evil anymore, even more so than RE4. The locales are not as scary and memorable, and the secondary characters lack certain flair. Irving, with his deliberate horrible voice acting and script, does a good job, but on his own he's no match against the previous game's Krauser, Salazar, and Saddler. The fact that half of the game is played in daylight doesn't really help to foster a sense of despair and fear.
In short: Resident Evil 5 lacks imagination, and that's probably because the hand of the genius, Mikami, was missing this time around. While the overall story and theme of the series is still intact, you won't find a lot of puzzles in this game, and the few that are there are hardly worthy of that name. Also, there are plenty of healing items to be found and if you are on the brink of dying your partner can revive you. Sure you will die a few times, especially later in the game when the enemies become stronger, but you'll never have the feeling you're actually struggling to survive.
Chris has grown rather big
"I may not be as big as you, but I can still hold my own"
For the second time in its history, Resident Evil features two characters simultaniously. In Resident Evil Zero, you controlled both Billy Coen and Rebecca Chambers. In Resident Evil 5, you play as Chris and will always find Sheva on your side. When playing solo the AI controls Sheva. She functions as a normal character so she’ll shoot enemies and pick up items from slain enemies and the wooden crates and barrels. Sheva’s AI is one of the worst points about the game. For one she’s very trigger happy, wasting your precious bullets. This can be mitigated by giving her a handgun only (God forbid you give her the Magnum), or simply no ammo, but that obviously makes your own task that much harder.
She also will heal you, which sure comes in handy, but she will always heal you if your lifebar is under a certain level, which is far from the panic stage. This is a waste of herbs (yes, there are still herbs to be found) especially since she will automatically mix two herbs together. Once your life bar is up you are in “Dying” mode, in which you’ll wander around the field unable to control anything. This is Sheva’s most important task; revive you when at the brink of death, since you can’t use any items yourself anymore. This works flawlessly in Normal mode, but since Sheva reacts really slow it’s unlikely you survive many of these events when in Veteran or Pro. Well Pro. This mode is nearly unplayable in solo mode. The AI is just too much of a hindrance to finish it, mainly because Sheva will die in one hit and the mode is that tough that you often won’t be able to save her, triggering the “Your Partner Has Died” screen. It’s definitely unfortunate that Capcom couldn’t find a way to make all modes playable for solo gamers as the series is known for single player experiences and a minority of gamers actually plays online.
He won't be the only familiar face you'll meet
Besides the earlier mentioned controls the game further deviates from being a regular shooter due to the unavailability of ammo. Compared to the original Resident Evil games you have more than enough ammo, but you can't simply shoot around. Handgun ammo is readily available, but once you find the stronger guns, like shotguns and magnums, you have to save the ammunition for those guns to use on the stronger enemies. There’s a huge arsenal of weapons in the game and each type of weapon has several models. There are four types of handguns and three different Magnums for example. This adds to the depth of the game, but it also feels a bit useless at times, because most of the times there’s one superior version of a weapon and the rest will rest in your inventory purely for Achievement/Trophy purposes.
In game you can take a maximum of 18 items, nine for each character. This sounds like plenty of space compared to the early Resident Evil’s where you had just six spots and a shotgun alone would take two, but you still have to arrange carefully. You’ll be faced with loads of enemies and will need to bring enough stocks to manage those. In some levels, a sniper rifle will prove to very convenient (it's a must if you want to complete the BSAA Emblem sidequest), so Chris will likely bring at least three guns plus their ammo, so six spots are already filled. Luckily, you can use Sheva as a mule for herbs and extra ammo. For the first time in the series, there's a live inventory system, which can be opened by pushing the Y button. There are also shortcuts on the D-Pad to those items stocked in the “cross” of the inventory square. This enables you to change weapons without having to access the inventory screen. Opening the inventory system will not pause the game, and the enemies will keep coming even as you manage your items. This adds to realism and tension, as you have to act quickly while switching weapons or using healing items if enemies are around. Unfortunately there are also some issues with the system. Herbs, for example cannot be used right when you find them. You have to put them in your inventory before they can be used. This inevitably leads to the horrible situation that you find an herb, but no spots left and cannot use it.
Saving is done automatically, so the traditional typewriter is sadly gone and you buy and upgrade your weapons no longer at the merchant but simply in a menu in between chapters. There are still a lot of treasures to be found, however they can't be combined anymore to increase the value, which is definitely a shame and lowers the need for exploration.
"I need ammo"
Although the single player is very entertaining despite the aforementioned issues, the game is built with co-op in mind, which takes some getting used to for a series that has been strictly about providing a terrifying single player experience. Having an annoying 15 year old on the other end of the connection is usually already enough to kill the fun, in a game where ammo conservation and tension are the foundation of the experience it will completely ruin your game. Still, with a suited partner co-op is a blast and beats the single player in every possible way. It’s a missed opportunity that there aren’t a lot of co-op specific events in the game though. It will usually come down to helping your partner reach a certain part of the level that’s unreachable without the assist. One of the players will then take a sniper rifle to help while the other player will take the enemies head on.
The offline co-op works well, but features a horrendous screen setup. Each player will get a horizontal screen that doesn’t cover the whole width of the TV, one on the upper left and one on the lower right of the screen. The rest of the screen is black, which looks like we’re still in the early days of splitscreen gaming.
The first thing you’ll notice when starting the game is that it looks absolutely stunning. The character models, both of the main characters Chris and Sheva as the enemies you'll encounter, are full of detail that really brings them to life. Some of the bosses you’ll encounter are made up of dozens of snake like creatures, which is not only looks impressive, but must take a lot of processing power as well.
Sheva: never there when you need her...
The lighting and particle effects are the highlight of the games visuals. About half of the game takes place under the African sun, and that is visualized by gorgeous colors, and there’s always a nice haze of dust hanging above the ground. There’s a scene that takes place while the sun is setting over the African Savanna, which is absolutely stunning. The first part of the game, which takes place in the city really comes to life due to the amount of work put into the details. Later in the game, when the action takes place primarily inside caves and labs, the dark and constrained environments are beautifully lit. The only drawback is that sometimes the environments suffer from poor texture work, seen, for example, in the numerous wooden barrels you'll encounter.
Technically, the graphic level unfortunately seems to ask a little bit too much of the machines. The Xbox 360 version suffers from screen tearing throughout the game, while the PS3 game has an unstable framerate and lots of framedrops. This is really part of the current generation disease of graphics over performance, which is a shame. Aside from this, the game has pop-in. Sheva especially appears and disappears randomly, sometimes even on a completely other end of the screen. Furthermore, there were moments when I could walk through iron bars and saw parts of enemies sticking through a wall. The highlight was a cupboard that was placed to barricade a door that simply vanished without anyone being close.
These issues sound severe, and they definitely shouldn't have been present, but the rest of the presentation is so good that the score is still very high. As said before, the voice acting is very good and everything in the game is voiced. The game also features a very good score. The music is always a good sign of things to come, which builds the tension very well. The music will change subtly, but noticeably, when all threat is gone, giving you some time to relax. The African songs that accompany certain scenes are simply fantastic and among the best original tracks ever in a game.
Despite the technical issues, the presentation of Resident Evil 5 is among the best we’ve seen this generation. I even would go as far as to say it’s the best looking multiplatform game so far and with an amazing soundtrack and a well directed story is definitely deserving its high score.
"Seven minutes is all I can spare to play with you"
With some ten hours to finish your initial playthrough, the game is rather short, but Capcom has stuffed in loads of replay value. You can restart any sub-chapter on any (unlocked) difficulty again, for a better ranking or times, which is very addictive. Your times are also shared in online leaderboards for each chapter and the whole game. It’s nearly impossible to unlock all the weapons in a single playthrough, so returning to the game will be very rewarding as there’s a lot to unlock in the game, like weapons with infinite ammo, figurines of the characters and power weapons like the mighty handcannon, a longbow for Sheva or, my personal favorite, the Gatling Gun. Re-playing the game with a Magnum with infinite ammo will completely obliterate what Resident Evil stands for, but is loads of fun. Playing in co-op will obviously extend the experience as well. So far I've clocked in well over 40 hours and I still ahven't unlocked everything and am still having very good times with the game. Once you change your mindset from expecting a horror game to enjoying a mindless action experience the game really delivers. Being unable to finish the Pro mode in single player is a big minus for me though.
After finishing the game, the Mercenaries mode will be unlocked, which is basically a complete arcade game added to the package. In Mercenaries, you choose a character that has a predetermined weapons roster. You kill the enemies to earn points in a fixed amount of time. At the start of the level you have just two minutes, but there are time extensions hidden throughout. Like any arcade game, the goal is to get as high a score as possible, by killing as many enemies in a row as you can. At the end of each round, your score is uploaded to an online leaderboard so you can see how you stack up against the competition.You start Mercenaries with just a single level and two characters available, but by getting high rankings (A or higher) you can unlock more levels and characters, each with their own melee attack and weapons combination.
With Resident Evil 5, Capcom has definitely abandoned the foundations on which the series was built. The final product, however, goes to show that a quality game can stand on its own.
By Benjamin Cornelisse