The Heart of Darkness
The highly anticipated fifth iteration of the Resident Evil franchise is finally here. Building off the formula established in Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5 (RE5) is an action-oriented, third-person horror shooter. The Resident Evil series has always been known as being part of the survival horror genre, but parts four and five have shifted the franchise away from the cramped hallways, stationary camera angles, and heart-stopping scares that previously marked the IP.
As such, this game might not be what Resident Evil fanatics were expecting. Still, the action in RE5 is a lot of fun and should make for broad appeal among a less-discriminating audience. Besides, this is one of the most visually brilliant titles I’ve ever had the fortune to play.
Set in Africa, the story once again catches up with BSAA agent Chris Redfield. After being dropped into a rough and dusty village, Chris partners up with (yet another) female BSAA operative, Sheva Alomar. The beautiful African enforcer is paired with Redfield to act as a local liaison. However, trouble in the village quickly goes from bad to worse (think Black Hawk Down), and the newly formed duo will find they’ll be taking on a new zombie threat unlike anything with which Chris has ever dealt. Fans of the series will be happy to know that a lot of loose ends will be tied up this time around, as the narrative in RE5 fully fleshes out the Umbrella story arc. In fact, gamers who haven’t followed the series religiously won’t catch the subtle layers of plot and may even be a bit confused. Nevertheless, the game is still very enjoyable even to first-time players, as the action depicted and crisp presentation are more than enough to keep anyone interested.
RE5 has a few ways to play through the campaign. For starters, loners can play through the entire game as Chris Redfield, feeling confident that the friendly A.I. embodied by Sheva Alomar will do a competent job dispatching baddies and covering their six. That being said, the friendly A.I. is not quite where I would have liked to have seen it. For example, Sheva is an absolute hog when it comes to both healing items and ammunition – she never seems to use these precious commodities efficiently. In a Resident Evil title, that is a real point of consternation. In truth, players can use Sheva’s inventory for extra slots, but load her up with herbs and pistol rounds and chances are you’ll be left with next to nothing. Consequently, players will be best served to ration ammunition to Sheva directly, or give her a weapon that’s not the same as Redfield’s. Unfortunately, rationing and inventory management of this sort is extremely cumbersome during a fight, and it gets to be tedious between action sequences as well. A more user-friendly inventory system and smarter, more conscientious friendly A.I. would have made playing solo a lot more enjoyable. Even so, the single-player experience is better than a lot of other top games out there.
Of course, playing with a buddy on the couch or across the country is where this game truly comes into its own. All of the previous complaints found in the single-player side of the title vanish once you hook up with another human – assuming the person you’re playing with is smarter than the CPU, which may not always be the case. Nonetheless, going through the story with a real partner allows you to develop complex, cohesive strategies. Truly, the zombies you’ll face will never know what hit them. This brings me to the one gripe I found with co-op play: the game’s no longer scary. Having someone next to you takes a lot of the edge off. This may not be a factor whilst playing online but, even then, knowing a human is there making thoughtful decisions rarely allows your foes to get at you from behind or pop out at you unexpectedly. This lack of scare factor and unpredictability seems to take RE5 out of the realm of survival horror and move it more towards that of action-shooter. This is likely going to be the biggest grievance amongst the Resident Evil faithful.
On the other hand, this may also be what makes RE5 reach a wider audience, giving it more mainstream appeal. The fact is, RE5 is not a title cut from the cloth of RE, RE2, RE3: Nemesis, RE Code: Veronica, or RE0. Those games were undeniably scary and intense, but they suffered greatly from frustrating mechanics, making Resident Evil more of a niche series for true survival horror buffs. Resident Evil 5 is more akin to RE4, which makes it a much faster-paced romp that’s easier for average gamers to sink their teeth into. For me, I much prefer the gameplay found in RE4 and RE5 compared to what was found in their predecessors, but I can definitely see how true fans might feel a little slighted by the action direction the devs have taken.
Even so, if RE5 is viewed as being purely an action title, it still suffers. Despite being fast-paced and action-packed for the series, action gamers will find the game plods along. For instance, the controls are very poor when compared to other games in the genre (more on that later). Also, having to pump multiple rounds into key parts before dropping an enemy is unsatisfying to shooter fans. Likewise, having to conserve rounds and not being able to initiate melee attacks whenever you want (or need to) can be trying. These are all mechanics leftover from the original Resident Evil titles, but they don’t work particularly well with this new action-shooter format. In the end, I think there is a lot of quality content for everyone to enjoy, but the hybrid gameplay just might not be exactly what everyone wants.
After playing through the title, gamers will be treated to The Mercenaries mode. This mini-game, similar to that found in RE4, has players racking up points against waves of zombies before time ends. This free-for-all of sorts isn’t much of a departure from what is found in the main game, but the fact that a timer has been added brings a level of anxiety to the mix that would have been much appreciated in the campaign. As such, The Mercenaries is not simply a superfluous add-on, it’s a substantial addition that will allow players to wring a few more hours out of the title.
Unfortunately, it’s the only extra nugget packed into the retail disc. It was announced by Capcom on Thursday, March 12, 2009 that an additional multiplayer mode called Versus will be available post-launch in the form of DLC. Considering the game doesn’t launch till the 13th, I can’t help but feel players are getting a screw job by Capcom’s marketing department. We’re already paying $60+ for the title, so why should we have to shell out an additional 400 MS points ($4.99 through PSN) for content that should’ve already been included? What’s more, if the recent Trophy update is any indication, further modes, including Slayers and Survivors, will be hawked to players at a later date. I guess gamers look like a big fat teet in need of being milked!
Anyway… enough ranting. Graphically, this is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played. The lighting used is absolutely superb; many companies focus on making their games dark to produce an ominous feel, but Capcom has succeeded in making blinding light every bit as creepy. Of course, dark tunnels and ominous shadows are still present and accounted for. The attention to detail is phenomenal, textures are incredibly realistic, and the African setting is believably brought to life. This game truly looks like one long cutscene, thanks to Capcom’s proprietary MT Framework (which is now at its 2.0 phase and is currently being used to develop Lost Planet 2).
Occasionally, players will notice screen-tearing, and explosions – though absolutely beautiful to behold – that make zombie bodies and even industrial trucks scatter in strange ways. Nevertheless, players will be hard-pressed to find a game on home consoles that can truly match RE5’s quality. On the aural front, Capcom has also done a great job. The ambient noises are second to none, and the voice acting is about as good as it gets. All in all, the sonic presentation does a great job of inspiring the cinematic feel the devs wanted to convey. The overall presentation in Resident Evil 5 passes with flying colors.
On the downside, this game has a clunky control scheme that doesn’t fit with the rest of the title’s quality. RE5 uses essentially the same controls found in Resident Evil 4. While this setup was interesting when it was implemented four years ago, it is decidedly dated and wonky now. The subtle changes the devs have made to the controls simply aren’t enough to engage new players, and old hands may simply prefer using the straight RE4 control layout option. Unfortunately, the problems don’t end there. Capcom also gives new meaning to the term “stop-and-pop.” In fact, I’d like to coin the term “stop-and-plop,” because you’ll be crapping yourself out of frustration. Players are only able to dole out damage by engaging their weapon’s sights or activating their bowie knife, which roots them to their place. Not being able to strafe away from oncoming danger is extremely exasperating and slows the game down to a crawl. The developers obviously used this mechanic to instill anxiety and a sense of urgency in the player, but the design choice simply clashes with what otherwise should be a run-and-gun experience.
On the bright side, players will be treated to some great boss battles and even on-rails / turret shooting sequences that are quite fun. It’s a shame, however, that there are only a handful of mundane enemy character models used throughout the game – why do I have to keep shooting the same five zombies? Consequently, wading your way through the levels feels fairly formulaic until you reach the unique challenges the cool boss battles represent. Thankfully, Resident Evil 5 is highly accessible for players of every skill level due to the multiple levels of difficulty. Depending on which setting you select, you can waltz your way through the vibrant world and engaging story, or have your gaming ability thoroughly tested.
It may seem like I was disappointed with Resident Evil 5. On the contrary, this is my favorite entry in the series to date; that being said, I’m more of an action-shooter fan than a survival horror purist. In that light, fans of the series may have a bone to pick with Capcom. However, I’ve got a feeling this title will have a much broader appeal to gamers at large. Resident Evil 5 is a very fun game that pays fan service to the faithful through its engaging, answer-filled story, and it modernizes the series through an amazing, cinematic presentation. Where the game seems to get bogged down is in its attempt to appeal to everyone. The hybridization of survival horror mechanics with action-shooter gameplay doesn’t work out very well – making it suffer from the jack-of-all-trades syndrome.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.9 Graphics
Other than occasional screen-tearing and some odd physics, the visual presentation is simply fantastic! The game looks like one long cutscene punctuated by bursting heads and killer explosions. 3.0 Control
Subtle touches to the controls originally presented in RE4 are not enough, especially when compared to other action titles out there. Considering this series is now part of that genre, the game is decidedly clunky. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The ambient effects and voice over work are top-notch. Why weren’t the Resident Evil movies this good? 4.0 Play Value
The single-player is fun, but wasting zombies with a buddy is what will keep you coming back. Add to that the intense Mercenaries mode, and you’ve got a lot of solid gaming on your hands… if not quite what fans were expecting. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.