Resident Evil has been a franchise slow to change over the years. It adhered to fixed camera angles and ungainly gunplay a little too long until it was finally revamped with the stellar Resident Evil 4--a game that forever changed the genre. We're now four years on from its release, and finally, Resident Evil 5 is here with big guns, big monsters, and even bigger expectations.
Resident Evil 4 took us through the dank forests and villages of Spain as Leon Kennedy attempted to find the President's daughter, but the fifth installment only loosely relates to it. This time Chris Redfield heads to Kijuju in West Africa after reports surface of the same virus that Leon tackled in Spain breaking out among the villagers. While the first four games in the series really left the militaristic motivations of Umbrella and other organizations meddling with the T and G viruses as an undertone, it's the driving force here. It's all about terrorism using biological weapons, and the macabre is really an afterthought.
One thing the story does well is wrapping everything up. If you don't know Las Plagas from the T-Veronica virus, you'll find yourself lost at times, but just about every conceivable loose end left dangling throughout the series is tied up. The cast is comprised of just a handful of characters, so it's easy to follow the immediate plot, but the story's big secret twist is way too obvious. Yet, the people involved are interesting, and the mysteries behind Wesker and Jill Valentine will keep series vets plugged in. It's more an action movie with big monsters, questionable writing, and plenty of plot holes than a horror flick, but it's enjoyable and satisfying if you turn your mind off.
To describe Resident Evil 5's design in a nutshell, think Resident Evil 4 with coop. While there were sections where you fought alongside comrades in RE4, this time a friend can jump in at any time either locally or online and play as new sidekick, Sheva [not sheeva] Alomar. No matter which character you play as, you have the ability to upgrade weapons using money that you collect from crates and dead enemies. Each armament can be upgraded a number of times in several categories, and a big part of the strategy is how you share the upgrades between the two.
Guns and other offensive instruments are plentiful. There are multiple types of pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades, and shotguns, in addition to rocket launchers, grenade launchers, mines, and a stun rod. There's nothing especially inventive about any of the weapons, and a lot of the more interesting guns are used specifically for some encounters and never used again. One weapon has been shamelessly lifted from Gears of War-ironically, a series that borrowed a ton of elements from Resident Evil 4.
While storage boxes are not a part of the game, this is remedied by swapping weapons and items between the inventory of Chris and Sheva. While playing with a friend it's not a big deal, but the computer AI lacks the intelligence to manage inventory, which means you'll spend a lot of time combining items in both inventories trying to clear space for new additions.
The majority of the levels are linear with multiple checkpoints and save points fairly spread throughout. You can break off the beaten path to score hidden items and herbs, and there are a few cases where you can tackle a set of objectives in whatever order you choose before moving on. Otherwise, your goal and the way to go are always clearly defined thanks to a minimap. The rest of the experience is rounded out by puzzles that are insultingly simple, context sensitive moments, and plenty of epic boss fights with some seriously nasty creatures.
The campaign will take most players around a dozen hours to complete, making it much shorter than the last game in the series. Once finished, a mercenaries option becomes unlocked that challenges you to kill as many enemies as possible within a time limit. You also have the ability to play the campaign by yourself as Sheva, though it doesn't change things much. You're not going to get as much value out of Resident Evil 5 as you would from a game with competitive multiplayer, but you'll want to experience the campaign more than once if only to play it by yourself and with a friend, and mercenaries can be surprisingly addictive.
Resident Evil 4 perfected the over-the-shoulder shooting view and then other games implemented free movement to complement it. Resident Evil 5 sticks to its guns, forcing you to stand still while firing. The result is a game that's heavy on intensity, but a little clunky. The enemies are not slumbering zombies just waiting to get their heads taken off. They will run, navigate the environment, and otherwise act like intelligent beings with anger management issues. Well, to a point. The enemy AI has been programmed with the control limitations in mind, so expect to see them rush at you only to stop at the last minute and enter an animation routine, giving you time to deliver a few well-placed shots. It's not particularly realistic, but otherwise, it would be impossible.
When a handful of crazed creatures swarm it can become too much to handle. There's no shame in running away, and eventually it becomes a crutch that you'll abuse over and over. Since so few enemies can run as fast as Chris or Sheva you can simply sprint away, spin around, and shoot until they get close. Then you repeat the whole process until all the enemies are dead. While it may seem like a game-breaker, it's still extremely hectic and mentally taxing. In what seems like a concession to the control's limitations, you'll run across a lot of context sensitive cover points later in the game, which only makes us wonder why a full cover system wasn't included from the get-go.
Inventory management is no longer done inside a safe menu system away from the game. Instead, you must combine herbs, take them, or shuffle items while the game is still live. It should ratchet up the intensity, but you can use the same run away technique you use to fight enemies to manage inventory. You can also set guns and items to a quick select menu using the D-pad. All of this adds up to make a game that's light on challenge until the last few hours, so we definitely recommend playing it on the hardest difficulty setting. When you do die, or load a save, you're presented with the option to buy weapons or items, upgrade guns, or manage inventory before heading off to survive.
There are two different stories where the gameplay is concerned. There's playing by yourself and playing with another human being. The two experiences are like night and day. Playing by yourself and allowing the computer to control Sheva is frustrating and needlessly complex. Swapping items between the two is a pain because she's not smart enough to combine things to free up inventory space. If you drop something, it disappears. If your inventory is full, you cannot pick up an herb and heal yourself or load a clip into an empty gun. It doesn't make a lick of sense, but if you're playing with another human these issues are nonexistent.
The rest of the cooperative play is relegated to pressing a button to perform boost jumps, and a few instances where the two separate and you must cover your partner. Sheva will unload all her ammo in short order, and the two commands that you can give her don't change things much, so managing her inventory is just as important as watching yours.
The context sensitive moments have been toned down significantly when compared to RE4--so much so that it can be hard to see them coming. There are several instances where you take control of turrets, but otherwise, the majority of your time playing is spent with gun in hand and infected rushing in, so it's a good thing that the aiming is easy to pick up and master.
There's not a whole lot that's groundbreaking in Resident Evil 5's gameplay, but it's the pacing that makes it completely irresistible. The entire game is one set piece moment after another. There's absolutely no downtime or sections of the game where you grow weary and want to stop. It has its issues, but when you're going about your day and you can't wait to play again to see what lies around the next corner, the problems seem petty.
Resident Evil 4 still looks good to this day, and we'll be saying the same thing about Resident Evil 5 four years from now. It's a stunner on many levels. The texturing is incredible, with surfaces displaying with a startling clarity no matter how closely you examine it. Heat shimmer, tastefully done bloom lighting, swirling dust, light reflecting off every object just as it should-it all adds up to one amazing looking game. It carries over to the facial animation that manages to avoid a stroll down uncanny valley. Of course, the massive monsters are the real highlight, and they do not disappoint. These massive creatures are high on creativity, but expect to see the same recoil, staggers, and attacks from the rank and file that you saw in RE4. While the cinemas are prerecorded using the in-game engine, the angles are intelligently selected, and some of the fight choreography would make John Woo jealous. There are some strange loading screens before some of the bigger cinemas, but otherwise, the visuals are absolutely incredible.
Voice acting is all over the place. Some characters are completely overdone, while others manage to hit all the right notes and tones. The writing is the main culprit, yet fans of the series will appreciate the campy element. The music is great as it strikes up when enemies are around the corner, providing an excellent sense of foreboding. Overall, the presentation is excellent.
The series has gone from a leader to a follower, but Resident Evil 5 still succeeds at being an incredibly enjoyable video game. You'll get a lot more out of it than you do from typical games with no competitive multiplayer and while played cooperatively it really sings. It's lost a lot of what has made the franchise a pins-and-needles experience, but that sense of dread has been replaced with pure action that's hard to match. Whether you're a master of unlocking or a S.T.A.R.S. recruit, it's hard to put down and well worth the time and money spent.