Review by SuperPhillip

"Don't pee your pants..."

In 2005, horror reinvented itself as Resident Evil 4 took a chainsaw to the franchise's mainstays-- the fixed camera, clunky controls, and prerendered backgrounds. The game garnered praise from both gamer and critic alike. More often than not you can find it nestled among many top ten video games of all time lists including yours truly. Now it's four years later, and the expectations of the long-awaited Resident Evil 5 are at their highest. And while it doesn't reinvent the wheel the way its nearly perfect predecessor did, Resident Evil 5 stands strong as one hell of a game.

Resident Evil 4 had secret agent Leon Kennedy on the job with the task of searching for the president's kidnapped daughter in the rugged European wilderness. While there are some plot elements that come up in Resident Evil 5, most of the links between the two games are as loose as a Licker's tongue. Whereas Leon toured the countryside of Europe, Chris Redfield of the original Resident Evil is sent to investigate Kijuju, a West African village whose citizens seem to be infected with the same virus that swept over the zealots Leon dealt with. In past games, the Umbrella Corporation and any other players in the series' past were only glossed over. This isn't the case at all in Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil 5 aims to wrap up all of the series' loose ends, and while the knot isn't as tidy as it could have been with a plot hole or gloriously campy dialogue here and there, the player is left satisfied as the story concludes.

Resident Evil 5 doesn't have the leaps and bounds of differences and enhancements that the bridge between Resident Evil 3 and 4 had, but RE5 does do things to separate itself from past entries. The main hook of the game is that you're never alone. You always have a partner, and this one just so happens to be a mercenary named Sheva. At any time, a friend or even a complete stranger can jump in online to take over the role of your partner. Alternately, you and a buddy locally can control Chris and Sheva with split-screen. Both characters have a 3x3 (nine items max) grid of on-the-go inventory space to utilize. Between picking up ammo, equipping guns and other enforcers, health items, and grenades, you're forced to use this limited space intelligently and with a bit of strategy. You can combine items to save space. This is simple with a buddy who knows what he or she is doing, but with the AI, you'll have to babysit their inventory the majority of the time.

Between chapters or when you or your partner die, you can deposit any goods that you aren't using into an item reserve. This is a great and much needed way of saving space, storing a sizable amount of a given item, and having a place to store your weapons of mass destruction. Almost every gun in the game-- pistols and magnums, machine guns and rifles, shotguns and any number of explosives-- can be upgraded with the money found from fallen enemies, sold goods, and among broken boxes, barrels, and other breakables. You can boost the ammo capacity, firepower, lower the reload speed, and much more to give your armaments that extra pow, right in the kisser. Additionally, the shopkeep of "Whatcha buyin'" fame from Resident Evil 4 is nowhere to be found here. Perhaps wearing all that black in the arid desert would have killed him worse than some virus... In his stead there's a personality-less shop which buys and sells gear ranging from weapons found in the wild, grenades, health items, and other goodies.

Those familiar with Resident Evil 4 will then be familiar with Resident Evil 5's structure. Each section of game is divided up as chapters. Unlike RE4, you can actually return to a completed chapter at any time instead of having to play through the entirety of the game just to reach a desired point. As for each chapter, you go through each room or area, some more linear than others as a lot of areas have rare treasures found off the beaten path and are just waiting to be sold at a high price, and you work your way from point A to point B. There's seldom any time that you're clueless about your destination since the map always marks where you need to go. A fortunate feature added to the game from past installments is that your map can stay on the top-right corner of the screen. Another added bonus is that there's a fair share of checkpoints sprinkled throughout the game as well usually before and after a big fight, puzzle, or section of room completed. As for puzzles, those who criticized RE4 for not having as many bewildering brain-busters in its repertoire will have even more to complain about as the amount of puzzles in the game can be counted on a single dismembered limb. And the puzzle solution(s) are so simple that even a Majini can do it.

The list of games that were inspired by Resident Evil 4 is a who's who of now-generation gaming. All of these games drew inspiration from the over-the-shoulder third-person shooting that RE4 made famous. There's Gears of War, Dead Space, Rainbow Six Vegas, and so forth. Most of these incorporated the ability to move around as you shoot. Resident Evil 5 stays tied and true to its precursor for better or worse. The tank-like controls are still here, and compared to something like the Wii version of Resident Evil 4 where turning and shooting was almost too good, Resident Evil 5's controls can sometimes come off as cumbersome and clunky. Moving around to someone perpendicular-- on your side-- is a bit slower than optimum. Considering that the enemies in this game are not the sauntering savages they were in previous games, and it seems like the controls haven't become faster while the enemies have. This leads to harder, if not, frustrating sections of the game. That isn't to say that it's impossible. Many times, the trick to defeating an enemy is as simple as taking a few shots, running away, taking a few shots, running away-- you get where I'm going with this. Perhaps even borrowing from games that borrowed something from its ancestor, Resident Evil 5 allows Chris and Sheva to take some much needed cover as later enemies are armed with locked and loaded machine guns, crossbows, dynamite, and the house-rocking chainsaw to name a handful of enemy party favors.

Let's not forget the party favors from your own partner. If Dickens were alive right now and played this game, he would write "A Tale of Two Resident Evil 5s". He'd work on the wording of the title, mind you, so no worries. Anyway, that's really what it is when you play with a human playing Sheva and the computer playing Sheva. With a human, you can easily exchange or combine items between another. With the computer, you can do this, but the AI won't combine items most of the time to make space. This means you must oftentimes organize both of your inventories. Did I mention that you organize items in real time? The game does not pause when you bring up the item screen. This can be more angering than fear-inducing. Thankfully though, you can assign four items or weapons to each direction of the d-pad for quick selection. On easier modes, the ineptitude of the computer AI isn't so obvious. Enemy attacks are relatively weak, so it's easy to overlook the faults of the AI. However, on higher difficulty levels, it becomes much more apparent. Sheva can get knocked down to her knees in one hit meaning you have to constantly be by her to resuscitate her if and when she needs help. Unfortunately, the AI does not have a firm grasp on what the adage "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." I cannot count how many times I've been in the near-death phase, and she just stands next to me with health items in your inventory and allows me to die. These problems ramp up to irritating levels on sections of the game where you have to split up and cover your partner. Criticisms aside, these are very minor challenges throughout the first three difficulty modes. The hardest setting is where these AI problems really shine, so it's best to find a buddy to play instead.

The campaign of Resident Evil 5 will last anywhere from eight to a dozen hours pending on player ability and difficulty. The campaign is memorable and thrilling enough to play through more than once as the levels are really well-designed, and it's easy to miss secrets the first time around. The boss battles are incredibly epic, and they each have their own method and stunt to them. They're interspersed throughout the campaign that you're never worn out. Actually, you might have the problem of not wanting to stop playing! Yes, the pacing of the game is excellent. One chapter you'll be sauntering slowly through a shipyard while another you'll be shooting enemies off motorcycles from atop of moving jeep. Then there's a returning favorite from RE4 that is separate from the campaign (though the campaign must be beaten to play it), The Mercenaries, which is an arcade-style romp where the goal is to earn as many points as possible as you mow down Majini, grab time-extending bonuses, and try to stay alive. There's eight levels in all, and you can play online with a partner, locally with a buddy, or by your lonesome.

Resident Evil 5 is a technical beast. Not only are the most obvious thing gorgeous like textures that never look ugly no matter how close you get to them and the fantastic character, enemy, and boss models, but little things like the delicate use of bloom lighting, the way dust spins around in a swirl, and light reflecting through the cracks of walls all lead up to an unbelievably impressive package. Voice work is done well given some of the hilarious bad dialogue. Things like "The switch isn't here. Maybe it's somewhere else". Oh. Really? Thank you, Sheva, for that. I would have never guessed that. When we get out of here, I owe your ass a beer for that awesome revelation! The soundtrack is suiting throughout the duration of the game. When enemies pop up, the music kicks in, so when you hear a melodic phrase, you know you best be on your guard. It gives a perfect ambiance to each section of Resident Evil 5.

Resident Evil 5 does not revolutionize the series like Resident Evil 4 did, and frankly it's unfair to think it would. Those who yearn for the survival-horror days from yesteryear will be plenty disappointed as Resident Evil 5 is almost 80% pure action. However, those desiring a wonderfully put together, adrenaline-pumping, in-your-face game will definitely not be disappointed. The partner AI may be mediocre, but the experience is not ruined at all by this fact. Boost up the sound system, crank up the volume, turn off the lights, and like Shinji Mikami said many E3s ago, "Don't pee your pants!"

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/21/09

Game Release: Resident Evil 5 (US, 03/13/09)


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