Resident Evil 5
Review by Lsnake
"Technically great but doesn't quite live up to expectations."
After the fantastic success of Resident Evil 4, often hailed as one of the best games last generation, there was little doubt that Capcom would continue the beloved franchise with Resident Evil 5. Initial information and trailers didn't reveal much apart from Chris Redfield being the main character once again. Much enthusiasm built up as it started to feel like a true sequel to the series, where Resident Evil 4 often felt like a sidestep from the Umbrella storyline. A few years later, the game is done and in the sweaty palms of countless players who have waited long to see what would happen with Chris.
Was it worth the wait? Read on to find out.
Chris Redfield, one of the main characters from the original Resident Evil is back in action. Juiced up with some serious muscles and attitude, he is now a member of an anti-terrorism group called BSAA, tasked with investigating and eliminating biological terrorism and threat. He is sent to Africa to investigate a mysterious outbreak that has affected the locals in a desert area, where he is quickly joined up with the female agent Sheva. In true Resident Evil fashion things go from bad to worse as they dig deeper into the African area, and what seems to be a simple outbreak at first becomes something much worse.
The cutscenes are somewhat brief, but they're entertaining. Capcom has a thing for making fun cutscenes that tells you exactly what it needs without dragging it out, and it shows. In addition the cutscenes really feels like they belong to the other games in the series, and it's in those that Capcom shows that they still got a rockhard grip on the Resident Evil feeling.
If there should be a complaint about the story, it would be that it lacks focus. It's a bit hard eventually to know exactly what you're there for, since the main objectives change primarily three times within the story. It almost feels like the story restarts during parts of the game, stopping you up and asking "What now?". Having a varied story is fun, but it still doesn't prevent the story from feeling somewhat disjointed. Compared to the previous games, this one seemed to lack focus, and it shows throughout the game. Resident Evil 4, despite being placed quite far outside of the main Umbrella Storyline had a far more fluid and better laid out plot.
There are however parts of the story that works, and the game still manges to surprise you with some unexpected (but not quite unpredictable) twists and revelations. To say I didn't enjoy the story in this game would be to lie, but to say I didn't enjoy it as much as the older games would be closer to the truth. Still, it stuck with me long after turning off the PS3, and as I'm writing this I'm still thinking back at the experience. And that is a good sign of a game that did do most things right. It told a story that will be remembered.
Forget everything you knew about the old Resident Evil games. The closest thing that will describe RE5, is a next-generation version of RE4, with a partner. It plays completely unlike the previous games, RE4 being a taste of what to come in RE5. Short story, if you miss the old Resident Evil (Pre-RE4) then this will only further make you miss it, and if you loved RE4, there's a good chance you'll at least like RE5.
RE5 uses the same "Over the Shoulder" perspective as in RE4 which worked quite well that put the action infront of you, not beneath you as you often felt in the earlier games. You can run around, investigate and pick up items, and of course shoot monsters. However, you can still not run and shoot, you are still forced to stand still while aiming and shooting. While I personally don't mind it, it has quickly grown to become one of the hardest criticisms of RE5 simply because the world of gaming is constantly evolving, and RE is still standing..still. The intended effect is that you're supposed to be nervous about stopping up and losing mobility against much more mobile enemies, but in reality it ends up being nothing more than annoying. Problems especially arise when encountering enemies faster than you, where you have to rely on the classic 180-degree turn and run move to make some space between you and the enemies.
To say that this game is based on an aged, archaic movement system is more than an understatement. The enemies have gotten quicker and much more agile, the action has become more intense, but your own movement still feels unnaturally slow. I won't detract anything from the game for this, as it's a part of the game just like Herbs, First Aid Sprays and Rocket Launchers, but Capcom should look into improving their controls for the next game.
But perhaps the biggest news in RE5 is the Cooperation. Throughout the entire game, you play alongside Sheva. But Sheva is not just a helpless companion like Ashley in RE4, she's a pretty good A.I player that is more than capable of taking care of enemies. You can chose to let the A.I take control of her, or you can even play with other people online, where one plays Chris and another Sheva. This works actually quite well, and can be highly entertaining. Playing with other people can be both a blessing and a curse, as good teamwork is an essential and exceptional experience, while bad teamwork is just frustrating and can mess up a good game. In that sense, it's easier to get what you need with the A.I, but it's less satisfying. If you don't have the ability to play it online, you can also play it splitscreen with someone else locally. This can also be quite fun, but a big TV is necessary just like every other splitscreen session, because it can be notably harder with the reduced view. Still, Resident Evil 5 offers a surprisingly good multiplayer support.
To my surprise, I found the A.I to be quite competent. There were only a few times when Sheva messed up, and while it's annoying when it happens, her overall intelligence more than makes up for it. She is smart with the ammo, doesn't pick up your ammo and if she does, she'll give it to you when you got room. Instead she'll try to pick up only the ammo she can use herself to prevent you from having to shuffle the inventory any more than necessary. Good thing, and more on that soon. She'll automatically use health items when you're low, and she's also quite clever with reaction attacks. Her biggest issue is that she wastes ammo, especially at first. She is alot more effective with a one-shot weapon like a Rifle, as she has a decent hit rate and can often cap enemies faster and further away than you even notice. Just make sure you turn off friendly fire, as that can really mess things up.
On the whole, cooperation works really well and the only real issue is that being two is not as scary as being alone. But then again, this can no longer be classified as a horrorgame so it goes well with the theme of the massive onslaught of rabid monsters. It doesn't really feel right for the series though.
Another major change is how the inventory works. Before you could safely take your time to reorganize and check your inventory from another screen, but now all that happens in real time. So if you haven't combined that red and green herb when you're low on health and a horde of enemies are running toward you, you're gonna regret it. With a press of a button you'll open the new menu in real time while the action is going on, and you have to navigate, combine, equip and discard items on the fly. During slower parts of the game this works better than the old systems since you don't have to load the inventory screen, but if the action picks up and you're not prepared it's somewhat bothersome. It gives the game a sense of realism, and it forces you to be more ready, but it also makes crucial moments of the game unnecessarily harder. For example if your inventory is full during a hectic fight, and you need to pick up a herb but you don't have room, you need to open up and navigate to the items you want to discard (They'll be gone for good as well, silly but true. Why can't they just be dropped on the ground?), before you can even pick up the new item.
But that's not all. The new inventory is seriously reduced in size, and you only got nine slots to put items in. I should say luckily that all items occupy one slot each, but this comes at a price. A Herb, takes up just as much space as a Rocket Launcher. This is no more realistic than the old system, and it ends up being worse since you ultimately can't carry all that much around with you. Though, your partner also has nine slots, and when playing with the A.I you can exchange items and manage it. But this is even worse during intense action. Sometimes if you're desperately trying to clean up inventory space to pick up a herb by dropping a grenade or ammo, the A.I will sometimes run over to you and hand you more ammo, filling up your inventory again. The inventory system is ultimately flawed for many reasons, and the only good thing about it is mapping four items in the inventory to the directional buttons for fast access.
Another somewhat small complaint is the new "Dying" condition that is guaranteed to happen sometime during the game. If you or your partners health is depleted, you'll enter a "Dying" state where you're absolutely unable to do anything but stand around and wait for your partner to come and save you. You'll be vulnerable as a sheep between twenty hungry wolves, praying you'll be healed in time before something kills you. This is yet another more than annoying mechanic that is supposed to enforce the importance of partnership, but ends up being annoying in the end. The same goes for your partner, if Sheva ends up with a Dying Status you'll immediately see it, and you have to hurry over to help her. The A.I is generally capable of avoiding this situation, but it will happen and it's all the more annoying when it does.
Like Resident Evil 4, you can buy and upgrade weapons. However, there's no mysterious merchant waiting for you. It has been replaced with the ability to shop between the levels, and each time you die and retry. So when you complete a level you'll be able to spend gold on upgrading and buying weapons, first aid and some ammo. You can sell treasures for more gold. The system works well enough, but it's easy to miss the old Merchant which seemed alot more welcome. You can also visit the shop everytime you die, which is welcome. This allows you to spend some gold on a few First Aids if you're low on healing items, before retrying the boss fight or another section of the game.
Another part that has been changed quite abit, is the saving system. No longer do you visit a typewriter and use ink to save, the game automatically saves during checkpoints in the game, and between levels. This works quite well as most checkpoints are reasonably placed just before tough sequences. This also works because you're now able to select what level you want to start on when playing the game again, and you can adjust difficulty for each level individually once you've cleared them and use Chapter Select. It makes perfect runs much easier to handle, and it's also much easier to replay favorite parts of the game.
So that's a little bit about the changes to the gameplay. Cooperation and the new inventory system are the two biggest changes to the series, and for most of the game it works pretty well, with some annoyances.
Yet again, the Mercenaries minigame is back in action. Great fun once again, and it goes straight to the action, relentlessly sending enemies at you while the time is ticking and you attempt to score high combos and points. Higher points award you new characters, costumes and stages. Mercenaries is a great timekiller, a rewarding, quick and satisfying minigame that should please fans of the series. Some unexpected, but awesome unlockables are hidden in here. And speaking about unlockables, RE5 is filled with it. Not only does it have entertaining trophies to obtain ranking from very easy to the brutal, but it has many other fun items and bonus features to unlock. This is a game that can keep you occupied for a long time, provided you don't mind replaying the game quite a few times.
One complaint, would be that it feels alot shorter than RE4. Longer than the older RE games for sure, but clocking it to nine hours was a bit disappointing, considering my first playthrough of RE4 took me 16 hours. Then again, good replayability makes up for it but it was over a little too soon and I had really hoped it would last longer.
Make no mistake, Resident Evil 5 looks very good. It's not the prettiest game around, there are some really low-res textures in some places, the framerate sometimes dip (but not enough to affect gameplay) and it's not always impressive to look at. But by all means, it's a good looking game on the whole. The environment takes the price, some places looks absolutely stunning, including several outdoor locations by the sea. I found myself putting down the controller to enjoy the view for a little while.
Models are generally good, Chris and Sheva are both well designed and look good with just the amount of detail you would expect from a next generation game, but they don't really blow your mind either. In terms of movement, there's nothing here that comes close to the fluid animations of Metal Gear Solid 4, but it looks pretty good and the characters move naturally. Monsters are looking pretty good, but somehow it's not as impressive as the environment. It suffers from a very common problem with gory games, gore and blood simply doesn't look good enough. Games still have a long way to go to compete with movies in terms with gore, and I couldn't help but being annoyed by the weird looking effects.
The framerate is pretty much stable all throughout, even during intense moments of frenzied monsters running around it never bogs down or becomes unplayable. While RE5 doesn't push the console or represent it's peak, it remains a good looking game that can be enjoyed on a big-screen TV without much notable issues except for some low-res textures and at times average models and animation.
Just as important as the graphics has been for the series to push the atmosphere, the sound has always been there to back up the Resident Evil series. From the classic moment where you play parts of Moonlight Sonata in Resident Evil 1 to the obligatory dark voice who announces "RESIDENT EVIL!", the series has always maintained a very strong soundscape. RE5 doesn't come out on top of the series here either, but it remains strong from start to end. The music never reaches the excellent soundtrack of Resident Evil 2, but I was pleased that several scenes in the game are really heightened by the music. That is however mostly during cutscenes and important moments, while the ambient music still remains rather uninteresting. By itself, the score is not very fun to listen to and suffers the same problem as the score to RE4, but in the game it works well that it never gets in the way (Although it also hardly creates any interest), and it succeeds during keymoments.
The voice acting is just as expected. Less cheezy than the older games, but never quite right. It's hard to find any faults with it, there really isn't any except for a slightly bad voiceacting from the character Irving. Intended to be a bit nuts, the voiceacting doesn't really nail it and it sounds off. The rest is acceptable, but I was never blown away by it. It's performed with all the forced intensity and emotion you'd expect, but that's all you get. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to applaud either.
Same thing goes for the sound effects, which unfortunately aren't all that memorable or effective. Part of this comes at the expense of the more human-like opponents you face now, and it further makes the game feel like an ordinary shooter instead of the Resident Evil you once knew with classic zombiegroaning and moaning.
Bonus: How does the game feel?
Unfortunately, it doesn't really feel like a Resident Evil title anymore. It's a good game by all means, a very good game, but it's no longer survival horror. Uninspired monster designs, sunny and completely casual environments from start to finish ensures that it never feels completely right. Even though Resident Evil 4 changed around alot, it still maintained a good sense of desolation and was all around much more tense and alien.
Enemies are thrown at you almost constantly, and the series seems to have gone from quality to quantity as hordes of monsters often gang up and are waiting to be killed. There's a few times when the game manages to be suspenseful, especially when introducing a certain familiar enemy, but it quickly ruins that later on by tossing hallways full of them at you. In Resident Evil 2, it was enough that one enemy dropped through a roof to give you a run for your life. In Resident Evil 5 you're exterminating a horde of them. Simply put, everything feels expendable. Later on during the game, it becomes worse as most humanoid enemies start using real firearms. It reaches a point where you're shooting your way through similar looking industrial complexes, fighting infected humanoids using standard weapons. Simply put, the game becomes more like a standard FPS game, than a typical horror game.
And while I'm not gonna detract this from the score, I will say this. I was getting to a certain point where I wondered if this really was the right game for me. It just didn't feel like Resident Evil anymore, it feels like it has taken the last step of the mutation and turned into a FPS Gears of War clone without the free moving action. Where are the puzzles? I counted two, and they resembled Tomb Raider more than Resident Evil. Where is the horror? The terror? The suspense? Where is the feeling at all?
Technically, this game is stunning. There is little to complain about from a programming perspective. But the direction the series is heading is starting to concern an old RE fan like me. Because Resident Evil 5 is a great game, but it no longer feels like Resident Evil. I just might not be as quick to buy the next one, if this is the direction the series is taking.
The conclusion must be that while Resident Evil 5 strays quite far from the original gameplay of the series, it still delivers a solid and intense experience that should be enjoyed by any fans of the series. Just don't expect to be afraid, for whatever fright and scare that once was a part of the series has finally been laid to rest and it doesn't seem it will come back from the dead unless Capcom changes the direction. Technically solid with no glaring flaws, it controls and plays well enough, has plenty of content to boot and should keep you busy for a while..
..If you can muster the interest. Levels are often uninteresting, and unlike the exploration and feeling of being lost in a dangerous place like the older games, you more often feel like a mercenary on rails going from level to level shooting down countless of enemies. If I sound a bit negative, it's not because the game is bad but because it no longer feels like the original series. Bad or good? The game has sold exceptionally well which is good for fans of the franchise, but personally I hope they'll take a sharp turn back to what made the series so fun in the first place. Zombies. Tension, Atmosphere, Exploration, Survival. This game lacks all of that.
Still is a pretty good game though, I'll give it that.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/27/09
Game Release: Resident Evil 5 (EU, 03/13/09)
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