Let’s get one thing abundantly clear from the start – Resident Evil 5 is not a survival horror game. Far removed from its predecessors, this latest entry in Capcom’s venerable franchise is an action-packed shooter, filled to the rafters with intense battles, ostentatious bosses, and egomaniacal villains that could quite have easily been plucked from the pages of a Marvel Comic book. And we bloody love it.
Resident Evil 5 kicks off in early 2009, over a decade since the destruction of Raccoon City as depicted in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. The game reacquaints us with Chris Redfield, star of the original survival horror classic, who is now part of the Bio-Terrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA); an organization dedicated to the eradication of bio-weapons throughout the globe, of which Redfield is a founder.
Having been dispatched to the African region of Kijuju, the former zombie slayer (who now looks as though he has been scoffing protein shakes and taken up permanent residence under the bench press for the past decade) teams up with fellow BSAA agent Sheva Alomar as the pair attempt to track down an unscrupulous chap named Ricardo Irving. Upon arriving, however, the duo find that the entire community has been infected with a deadly biohazard mimicking the affects of the Las Plagas seen in the previous game. While we won’t spoil anything, suffice to say long time fans will be pleasantly surprised by the game’s narrative, which adheres to RE’s increasing complex plot far more than its predecessor’s tenuous tale achieved.
Resident Evil 5 offers up essentially what you’d expect from a sequel to the insanely popular RE4, and from the moment you take control of Redfield’s considerable bulk it’s obvious that Jun Takeuchi and his team dissected Mikami-san’s 2005 GOTY down to the bare bones in order to extract what fundamentally made it such a success. As such, the critically lauded over-the-shoulder perspective makes a return, as does a number of other popular inclusions, such as QTE’s, an RPG-esque weapons upgrade system, and a more action-orientated take on the classic RE formula.
However, Alomar’s presence in RE5 represents one of the most significant areas in which the game deviates from its predecessor – co-op. Whether you are playing offline or online with a friend, Alomar remains a permanent assistance throughout the game, adding an entirely new dimension to an otherwise familiar campaign. Cooperating through the game’s six chapters, Redfield and Alomar must carefully manage items and ammunition, overcome puzzles and various other obstacles, not to mention dispatch literally hundreds of Plagas-infected villagers and grotesque abominations along the way.
When playing solo, Alomar is handled entirely by the AI – and for the most part, she proves a competent partner. When you’re low on health, she’ll administer a healing herb or resuscitate you; if she acquires any ammo for a gun you possess, she’ll pass it your way; more importantly, she’ll handle stand her ground against the majority of foes without too much trouble. Problematically, however, it’s in combat situations that faults begin to rear their head. While Alomar has no trouble popping a few pistol rounds in the nearest foe or utilizing the machine gun in short, conserving bursts, she won’t always apply the most appropriate armament for the job. This is best illustrated in confrontations with some of the game’s latter foes, where small arms barely scathe your enemies. Rather than whipping out a Magnum or Grenade Launcher, your partner obstinately sticks with lower tier weapons, making solo operations a precarious business.
Naturally, online play really shines here, allowing you to formulate strategies with your partner in order to overcome tougher foes. This is particularly useful for boss encounters, where one of you may opt to distract an enemy while the other deals the damage from a safe location – satisfying stuff to say the least. On the other hand, if you’re lumbered with the AI, then prepare to tackle some of the trickier bosses without the extra input from your partner. Ultimately, however, the artificial intelligence does solid job and shouldn’t give you too many headaches. Just don’t expect anything too radical.
As always, you have to carefully manage ammunition and healing items throughout the adventure, distributing goods between the two of you via a nine-slot real time inventory system. Not only is this instrumental for item management, it also creates a degree of tension during the many times in which you are required to hastily open your inventory during the heat of battle. Fortunately, you’re able to map four items to the D-pad by placing them in the corresponding slots in your inventory, though this still won’t eliminate the need to fish around in your pocket altogether.
To facilitate this process, however, Capcom has kept things simple – you can equip, request or discard an item using a simple menu, as well as combine various items allowing you to refill your weapons or mix healing herbs. Partner interaction is also kept decidedly simple, mapping the entirety of your actions to the circle button. A lot of them are context sensitive, such as giving your partner items when in close proximity, to calling them over when separated. You can also issue thanks or congratulate your other half when they hand you an item or land a fatal headshot.
No stranger to controversy are the game’s main controls, with Capcom again sticking to the stop-to-shoot mechanics seen in past iterations. There are four control types in total, one of which should be instantly familiar to anyone who has played RE4, though in an attempt to cater more traditional shooter fans, Takeuchi and his team have also implemented a strafing option giving your character increased mobility. While the inability to move and shoot simultaneously won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, we can quite honestly say we never once had a problem with these limitations – if anything, they act as a firm reminder of Capcom’s philosophy in separating the RE franchise from mainstream shooters, as well as heighten the tension in combat. At the end of the day, some will find it frustrating, while others will be willing to look past the cobwebs of this admittedly aging mechanic and enjoy the game regardless.
While the majority of the game has you huffing and puffing from each location to the next dispatching hordes of foes, there’s also a fair amount of other gameplay segments to punctuate the Majini mashing proceedings, such as blasting foes on the back of a jeep in a desperate dash across the African wilderness, to various QTE-heavy cutscenes. Physical attacks also make a return (prompted by the square button when you stagger a foe), which can also be linked together with your partner depending on which attack you perform. Fortunately, combat is as viscerally satisfying as ever, with dozens of adversaries ganging up on you at any one time, and the boss creatures proving no less gargantuan than you’d expect, despite a couple of decidedly underwhelming confrontations.
Another glaring disappointment is the enemy AI – specifically the Majini – who prove relatively easy to dispatch even without heavy firearms, with their lumbering attacks posing little threat provided you tackle each group methodically as a team. Later on, however, you encounter a number of variations including tribal and soldier types, the latter of which carry automatic weapons resulting in some particularly tense shootouts, as well as introducing a context sensitive Gears of War-esque cover system. Puzzles, meanwhile, remain something of a backseat in comparison to previous entries, with a substantial chunk of the game's riddles merely reduced to obtaining a key or object to open a door, or flipping copious amounts of switches. While there are a couple of intriguing additions here and there (these don't kick in until the latter half of the game), don't expect any proper brain teasers.
As mentioned previously, you’re also be able to upgrade your weapons by obtaining cash or jewels, and – while the mysterious Merchant from RE4 is conspicuously absent – the bog standard in-game menu replacement still affords you a copious amount of upgrades and weapons to purchase as you venture further into the game. Capcom has also tossed in an admirable batch of unlockable goodies for player consumption, ranging from detailed files on the game’s characters and enemies, to the infamous Mercenaries mini-game. You can also purchase new costumes and various other items using points you’ve accumulated from locating and shooting the various BSAA emblems scattered throughout each chapter.
Visually it’s almost impossible to extol the offerings of Capcom’s meticulous attention to detailed presented in Resident Evil 5. From the sun-baked remnants of Kijuju’s once bustling shantytown to the eye-popping, intricately crafted architecture of a long forgotten underground civilization, this latest installment is no less of a sumptuous visual fest than you’d expect from the likes of Kojima Productions or Naughty Dog. Further testament to the talented coders at Capcom towers lies in time invested in the game’s character and enemy designs; whether it’s the subtle mourning in Redfield’s eyes or the crazed blood lust depicted in a deranged Majini’s features as you wrestle up close with your malevolent attackers, Resident Evil 5 stands shoulder to shoulder technologically with anything that has graced Sony’s black behemoth thus far.
Equally stunning is the game’s aural component, with pulse pumping orchestral movements working in unison with action-packed shootouts and mammoth boss encounters to build a cohesive, overwhelmingly tense experience, while quieter segments are prone to more subtle, albeit haunting compositions. The game also boasts a stellar voice cast, with the majority of the performances – baring some inherently cheesy dialogue – delivering a compelling tale.
So, does Resident Evil 5 revolutionize the Resident Evil franchise? No, but was it ever meant to? It is meant to be a compelling, unrelenting action shooter, and that's precisely what it is. It has its oddities, but Capcom's latest Resident Evil is a great game and an essential purchase for fans and newcomers alike.
-The Final Word-
Resident Evil 5 is an incredibly satisfying, non-stop action romp from start to finish. An essential purchase for fans and newcomers alike.