Resident Evil 5
Review by XIII_rocks
"A frustratingly great game. While it is almost impossible to argue its quality, there's a similar sense that it could have been so much more."
As arguably the defining series of the survival horror genre, a new Resident Evil game is always eagerly awaited - and after the blockbuster hit that was Resident Evil 4, the sequel became an even hotter property than before. It took the series in a whole new direction; far more action-oriented, it introduced a new emphasis on weapons and action, a new over-the-shoulder view, and smarter, faster enemies - while to some extent maintaining a frightening atmosphere in a remote and rather creepy area of Spain. Furthermore, the story was far removed from the older games, making it easy to jump right in.
The protagonist, Leon Kennedy, was one of the only surviving remnants of the prior games in the series.With the series safely re-ignited, brought into the 21st century as it were, Capcom decided to give Resident Evil 5 a little more significance in the main story arc. Back, then, come Albert Wesker and Chris Redfield, the thinking obviously being that 4 was a good enough game to justify people playing or at least researching the RE back catalogue - or Capcom just assumed that people wouldn't buy a series' 5th incarnation without knowing about the previous games. Long time fans of the series will no doubt be pleased with this; so many questions have been left unanswered over the years and, to its credit, RE5 does a good job in answering them, without it ever becoming a game dedicated purely to fan service.
Maybe I'm being a little hasty with that, though. Playing through Resi 5 does, occasionally, give you the sense of "have we been here before?" Las Plagas, the parasite responsible for the monsters and various nasties of 4, makes a return, and as a result the enemies are similar - although it has to be said they're better looking, thanks to the fabulous technology of the PS3/360. And yes, there's more of them on screen at once for the same reason. But the similarities, unfortunately, don't stop there. The iconic enemy from RE4, the chainsaw-wielding maniac, returns, as do the zombie-infected dogs. Some of the enemies - "it", (and fans of 4 will know what I'm talking about) for one - are completely recycled. The inclination is to give the game the benefit of the doubt here and treat these as attempts to recover some sort of continuity, now the T-virus has been replaced by Las Plagas. But, well, does anyone remember the boss in 4 that you beat by pulling liquid nitrogen tanks out of the wall? An identical device is used here. There's a line between paying homage to the prequel and being lazy, and depending on your cynicism levels, these re-used devices will either straddle that line or leave it in the dust.
But hey, if the biggest complaint with the game is that it replicates its world-class predecessor, then that's not too bad, right? Unfortunately, though, there are bigger ones.
This game's tumour is the inventory system. 4's "attache case" system was simple, easy to use and master, and most importantly, made sense. A rocket launcher took up considerably more room than a first-aid spray, for example. Here, though, ammo stacks into one spot but healing items do not. The maximum amount of handgun ammo you can have in one spot is fifty. The maximum amount of eggs you can have in one spot...is one. Maybe this wouldn't be such a complaint if the game didn't give you 9 inventory spots per character, maybe not, but it doesn't matter. What seems to have happened here is that Resident Evil has suffered from something that plagues modern video games - the obsession with realism. It perhaps makes logical sense that Chris and Sheva would only be able to have 9 item spots each (as opposed to Leon's magical and invisible attache case), but that doesn't necessarily mean people will enjoy it. On the contrary, it's a major source of frustration throughout. You can't purchase inventory expansions either, like you could in 4.
Another inventory-based gripe with RE5? It's "live". You don't pause the game to take out a weapon, you open the inventory and equip what you want in real-time. Capcom make a very respectable attempt to resolve this problem by giving you the ability to "hotkey" items - if you put a weapon at the top, left, right or bottom of your nine-space inventory then a simple press of the D-pad in that respective direction will instantly draw that weapon, or, if you prefer, a healing item. But this only solves part of the issue. Say you've got three weapons, mapped to three hotkeys, and two healing items, one mapped to the remaining hotkey. You take a hit and decide to use your herb or eat your egg. Sheva's on the other side of the level and takes a hit herself, which puts her in the "dying" status. With your partner about to bleed out, you get to her in time, with her surrounded by enemies about to finish her off. Stopping next to her, you heal her automatically, so long as you have a healing item (an admittedly nice touch). However, you've just waded into a sea of bad guys with your own health low. And the game will not stop for you to heal. The solution here is to just...not get into that position, but that still doesn't excuse the fact that Capcom's system is poor to say the least. It seems apparent that they did it to make the co-op system more fluid.
But it would be unfair to use the co-op as a crutch to criticise the game - for that is the reason it truly shines. With so many enemies on screen it seems like a must; RE4 had Ashley, but she was practically defenceless. With a friend playing as your partner, the game becomes far more enjoyable. It even manages to alleviate some of the gripes that the inventory system creates - sharing ammo, weaponry and herbs with a partner who just so happens to possess a brain just makes it simpler to get down to the crux of the matter: the core gameplay.
And the gameplay is as fun as ever - it has all the polish and aesthetic veneer that 4 had. Melee moves have been given an upgrade; when an enemy is stunned, both characters can pull a variety of moves depending on where the enemy was hit. Sheva's more acrobatic moves are excellently and fluidly realised, while the brutality of Chris' "Captain Falcon-esque" straight punch is similarly well done. Heads explode and the high impact of the shotgun is as satisfying as ever. Importantly, no one weapon keeps complete dominance (apart from the special weapons like the gatling gun, of course), which makes the whole experience highly customisable, with the co-op factor adding a layer of tactical depth that 4 severely lacked - one character can have a Rifle, while the other has a Shotgun, for example, or one can specialise in rapid-fire crowd control while the other opts for medium-range precision.
But this is not to say that this is a purely co-op game. When you choose single player, Sheva is good for the most part, reviving you when you need it and more than holding her own in battle. Personally, the Sheva AI was a huge concern going in, but Capcom have pulled it off admirably. Yes, the game is better played with a friend, but really, when has this not been the case? How often is a computer brain preferred to a human one? The single player more than holds its own.
Keeping up the slew of positivity, the environments in 5 are as vastly different to 4 as you can imagine - while 4 was all about gloom and fog, darkness and despair, 5's stunning recreation of the African Savannah stands in stark contrast while maintaining the same obvious quality of design. The pacing is excellent and, as mentioned at the start, the story - particularly its latter stages - will delight many long-time fans of the series.
Which is a good job, really, because in terms of "delighting long-time fans of the series" there isn't much else here to do so. The game's slogan is "fear you can't forget", which seems odd. Well, in any event, certainly this game doesn't have the horror aspect that every previous Resident Evil did. Even 4 had some real atmosphere and genuinely frightening moments - fans will remember the "oven man", for example - but 5 is pure action. This is what Resident Evil is now. It's action, straight-up white-knuckle action. There is clear evidence of Capcom trying to add horror and tension to this game, but these attempts for the most part fail. You still cannot move while shooting, either. With the sheer amount of enemies on screen, this seems a poor decision. That and the aforementioned "live inventory" system are both devices that seem designed to make the game harder, which is a noble goal - in the end, though, these simply become unfair methods of artificially increasing the difficulty of the game. Not being able to move while shooting with the amount of enemies you are required to defeat is more frustrating than it is challenging or rewarding. Not to mention that on the higher difficulties, Professional and Veteran, these become even more significant problems.
It almost seems to have suffered from the superior technology of the PS3 and 360 as opposed to the PS2 and Wii; more enemies on-screen can at times make the game flat-out unfair. The Mercenaries, a minigame unlocked upon completion of the story, is the most obvious example of this, in particular when several enemies attack you from behind with absolutely no warning. Mercenaries still manages to be fun, very much so - the opportunity to play as Wesker again is almost enough to do that on its own - but it can't beat 4's version for that reason.
In all honesty, that is something that can be said for the entire game. The core gameplay remains great fun. The graphics are improved. But it seems that some of the small things that made RE4 so great are lacking. For example, you no longer get combinable treasures. While this may seem like an inconsequential feature on its own, it was little touches of that ilk that gave 4 depth and replayability - an area in which 5 just cannot compete. The merchant is also gone, replaced instead by...nothing, except for a generic buy/sell screen that you get when you die or finish a chapter. Resi 5 probably isn't even half as long as RE4 either. 4 was a 20 hour game, 5 can easily be done in 10. Oh, and one more thing: remember when you could have 20 save files in Resi 4? Now you can only have one. To start an entirely new game you have to create a new user account on your console - which is just bad design whatever way you slice it.
Perhaps it's unfair to judge Resident Evil 5 in such close comparison to 4. They're different games on different consoles. But, on the other hand, 4 and 5 are almost like a mini-series on their own and will always be compared. Capcom made great decisions in the game's early development - sticking to what was so successful with 4, what with the similar gameplay and upgradeable weaponry - but something was lost along the way. It's got none of 4's charm, and the improvements it makes are mainly cosmetic. It needs to be made clear, however, that this is by no means a bad game. It's wonderful, in fact, and had this been Resident Evil 4, had its prequel not existed, I might have fallen in love with it. But that is not the case, and the concern now is that Capcom have set a dangerous precedent. Will Resident Evil be a co-op series from now on? Who knows.
To summarise, well, firstly, let it be known that the 8/10 is a very high 8. Secondly, my advice to anyone wanting to play Resident Evil 5 would not be to expect a game better than 4. Don't go in expecting improvements across the board. Don't go in expecting survival horror. Expect a fun action game with high production values, good online features and some frustrating controls. But if the only way you can fall in love with a game is to lower your expectations, then you know something is wrong. A great game with an aftertaste of disappointment - it could have been one of the greatest games ever, but as-is, it is simply "very good".
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/15/09, Updated 12/21/10
Game Release: Resident Evil 5 (EU, 03/13/09)
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