Review by Donald Love 87
"With the fifth main series installment, Resident Evil has won me over"
Okey, I'm going to be totally honest with you right from the start. I never were a fan of the Resident Evil series. I played RE3 (PS1) and thought it was ok, but then bought REmake (GC) and Code Veronica (PS2) and I couldn't bother to play through them even once. The gameplay felt more annoying than scary, and the only reason you were afraid of dying was that you wanted to keep your saves down due to the Ink Ribbons.
Then along came RE5. I got it because I found it cheap, RE games are pretty much classic "must-haves" for collectors, and I heard that the series changed with the fourth installment. So I didn't really know what to expect when starting it up the first time. After a short introductory phase where I had some problems with getting used to this style of game, I fell in love. This is, without a doubt, the best RE game I've played to this date.
The overall style of the game has changed pretty much from that dark mansion at night from the first Resident Evil. During this game, you'll travel through parts of Africa, and visit a lot of different types of places - caves, towns, marshlands, factories, ships - both in broad daylight and during night. All these environments looks very different from each other, and helps keeping the game fresh from beginning to end. A lot of detail has been put into each area, even far into the background, which makes everything look very nice. This is especially apparent in the later chapters where you'll see some very impressive rooms and open areas.
Another thing the developers put much detail into are the 3D models of characters and monsters. While they doesn't look like the pure realistic models from Heavy Rain (though that game is pretty limited in other aspects because they focused so much on realism), they surely look better than the characters in the Rockstar games (GTAIV, Red Dead Redemption) released for the PS3. The developers were so satisfied with it, they even made a figurine (which are the 3D models) collection feature - with points you get as you beat levels, you can buy figurines for a collection, where you can view the models in the game, listen to voice clips and such. While the figurines are not moving at all, the characters on the other hand are animated nicely - especially the bosses have a very nice smooth flow to them, and some of them are of a very impressive (gigantic) size.
Sound effects and music
This is probably one of the weaker parts of the game. The music is good, and it's the kind of orchestral tension and action music that really gets you into the game but will (along with the weapon sounds) annoy the heck out of people that are sitting close by but not following the game. The problem with music for the gamer, however, is that it tells you a bit too much. You'll often hear music in an area before you see the enemies, which means you'll be on your guard, and just as it fades in when enemies are appearing, it stops when you've killed them all. As far as I can remember, the game never tricks you with that. Which means that you never get scared (it doesn't even start with a scare chord!) when the enemies come, and if the music don't stop you can start looking for a sniper or someone tucked away in a corner.
At the beginning I was not very impressed with the voice acting. I don't know if it's because it's heavily compressed (but why, on a BD?) or if it's an effect they added since most of the conversation is done via radio, but very often it comes out as muddled - not under static, as radio "simulation" would be - but muddled. The more I played the game, though, the more I learned to live with it. Thankfully enough, the sound effects are good, and the guns really have a nice "boom". The monsters sound disgusting just like they should too, so yeah, it's pretty much only the voice acting that sounds odd.
This is what personally made me get this game. While I wasn't too fond of the earlier games, I really liked the story. Or, maybe not the story of any of the games, but rather the concept. Resident Evil is among the few games (Fallout is another good example) where the story being told isn't the thing everything revolves around. Instead, a great universe has been built where there's so much happening that's not within the frame of any game in the series, but instead you have to read up on it in files and documents instead. It really feels like you're up against powerful companies, and that it's really hard to do anything against them, but while you eventually manage to dent them they still be able to live on and operate behind the scenes. You're just small pieces in a very big game, the question is if you will play the role they planned for you or break out of it.
The actual story for this single game is mostly about Chris Redfield, who since we last saw him has joined the BSAA (an anti-bioweapons group formed by the Global Pharmaceutical Consortium after Umbrellas activities were exposed) as a Special Operations Agent. These agents go into areas where the BSAA can't get in a whole squad of people (the SOU - Special Operations Unit) but instead needs to be a bit sneaky. Chris was one of the first eleven members of the BSAA, and he's also the one of the group that has taken on and finished most assignments. Due to personal reasons, Chris has asked specifically to aid in the operation this game revolves around - busting a bioweapon arms dealer named Irving.
It's here the actual game begin, with Chris coming to Africa and getting greeted by his new teammate Sheva Alomar, one of the local BSAA African branch agents. While Chris has a lot of Resident Evil backstory, Sheva is new to the series and therefore is a little bit harder to connect to. Over the course of the game you'll learn more about her, and while her story might seem a bit like a cliche, if you think of it it's one which must be very true to many people in the Resident Evil universe. I can't really say anything more about the game, since I don't want to spoil anything, but I find the overall story very interesting and after a while it starts to tie in good with the other Resident Evil games (I've read up on the stories of the ones I haven't played, in case you wondered).
The game is split up in several episodes (1-1 to 6-3, with two or three chapters in each), and each episode take you to a new part of the setting and of the story. Even if the environments are very different, the game still takes place over a rather short amount of time, making it rather compact. It feels bit weird that the settings sometimes progress faster than the story should allow it to. Even if it IS explained by the story, it feels strange that at one point you go very quickly from a marshlands boat trip to going down into ancient ruins. But that's also a thing that helps keep the gameplay fresh, and the ruins chapter almost has a Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider feeling to it, and it's pulled off really good.
The controls are a bit complex so they might take a while to get into, but once you learn how to play it'll be nice, smooth and easy. Now my problems might have come from me not playing many third person shooter games - the only ones I've played that are remotely like that are GTAIV and Red Dead Redemption, but they're more sandbox/mission-based games than pure shooters. Anyways, after a while you get into it. What felt especially weird was that instead of changing directions with the left control you rather just use it to move - both forward, backward and strafing. Other than that, you mainly use the L and R top buttons to do the weapons work - with L1 you ready (aim) your main weapon and with L2 you ready your knife, and use R1 to attack. The shapes buttons are mainly used for menus and are pretty context sensitive. Triangle is used for opening item menus, Circle is used for all kinds of interactions with your partner, X is used for running (or reloading when having a weapon ready) and Square is the leftover button for opening doors, picking up items and otherwise interacting with objects.
So while the controls might seem a bit complex, all I can say is that they'll eventually (after 1-2 hours of playing) attach themselves to your reflexes and you'll probably not think too much of what buttons you're actually pressing. Of course, every now and then I have a blackout and take out my knife when I should really get my gun instead, but it doesn't happen that often. Overall, I'm impressed with the controls and how well they flow when you just get into them. Also, if you don't like the default control scheme, there are some others for you to choose from, so you should probably be able to find one that you like.
Here comes the interesting part, and what really made me like this game more than the earlier Resident Evils. You've probably, like me, heard that the series kinda changed direction with 4 and 5. I can verify that, but I didn't think it would be that big difference. It is.
Instead of running around in an enclosed space, avoiding zombies while looking for that crest to open a random door, this game is a pure third-person action game. It relies more on making you feel intensity than actually feeling scared - and I think it's a good move considering you were never (at least not I) scared of the enemies in the earlier games; you were just scared of dying so you'd have to play through that last hour again because you didn't dare to save because you were afraid of running out of ink ribbons. Sure, all the games had their "jumpscare" moments, and they happen a few times in this one too, but it switches all the dead time into action instead. So when in an earlier game you had to run past a zombie in a hallway a few times to get to where you needed to go, here you shoot through hordes of enemies instead. It also feels much more scary when an enemy actually CAN catch up with you and you need to kill it before it does, than just running around it. Also, another thing that's better than the old games is that this one is much more streamlined - you rarely need to figure out a puzzle by running around randomly trying different things. The puzzles in the old games were pretty illogical too, and you very often were limited by the amount of items you could carry. Here you get 2*9 slots for weapons, ammo and other items, and all important stuff like keys and keycards have their own space in your inventory, separate from the other stuff.
Enough with the comparisons to the earlier titles. The game plays out like a 3D shooter with a great twist - the partner system. All the time during the game, Chris and Sheva are a team, and that makes it a unique opportunity for some co-op. You can choose to play via internet or on split-screen with a friend if you have a second controller, but you can also choose to play alone with the AI controlling the other character. This system feels fresh since co-op has always been in the shadows of competitive playing. It also adds an extra dimension to the game that you have to look out for someone else but yourself - if one character get held down by an enemy, if you're fast enough you can knock off the foe before any damage is taken. When a character loses enough health, they won't die directly (except for when hit by some special attacks) but rather go into a state of "dying", where the partner can still save you with a healing item or a shot of adrenaline (which are unlimited). That's pretty much the key idea of the game - TEAMWORK. You won't get anywhere without it, no matter if you're teaming up with a close friend, a stranger on the internet or the AI.
Other than teamwork, most of the game will be centered around killing enemies and exploring the story. The story is explained through cutscenes and a few times through dialog between the player characters, and in between those cutscenes you often just shoot through a lot of enemies. It might not sound that fun, but considering there are many different types of enemies and they can be dealt with in many different ways, it'll not be a problem for a long time - I weren't bored with the game at all until the final hours of gameplay when I just rounded everything up for 100% completion with trophies and game stats. Also, I like that unlike many other games where enemies just spawn more or less endlessly, here it's kind of believable since you're in some poor, overpopulated country in Africa that has been overwhelmed with a disease that controls people - the old X Files motto of "it's only scary as long as it's believable" rings very true. It makes it feel more realistic than those war games where you play as one man against a whole army and wins; the disease is actually quite flawed making the affected weaker. What also helps keeping the game interesting is all the small stuff you can do - look for emblems to shoot (hidden in the game, used for unlockables) or to find hidden treasures (between chapters you can upgrade your weapons and buy items with your money). Overall, I'd say that this game, along with Metal Gear Solid 4, has the best replay value of any game I've played for the PS3. While you've seen the story when you played through the game the first time, you can't get access to different bonuses until you've completed the game multiple times.
One thing that is really good and worthy of a separate mention is the boss fights, which are also pretty rare in games (except RPG's) nowadays. They are intense, requires strategy and on difficulties harder than amateur, bosses can be extremely lethal. So they help keeping you on your toes, and many of them also gets easier the better you are at teamworking with your partner. So if you're the kind of person who miss the great boss battles of the NES/SNES era, this game won't let you down.
Overall, this is a renewal that the Resident Evil games needed so much. While some people who really loved the old-school gameplay might not agree with me, I don't think that the series would've survived with that. They couldn't get any new fans, and sooner or later even the most hardcore fan would tire of doing the same thing over and over.
If not comparing, it's also great. The story is very interesting, and it wouldn't surprise me if somewhere there are companies experimenting with just the things the game revolves around; some parts of the game really get you thinking about the world we live in too. The graphics are detailed and beautiful, the controls work well once you get into them. While one playthrough is rather short, you'll have a lot to do if you want to unlock everything, and it doesn't get boring until the very end (I put 55 hours into the game to unlock everything). This is a very good game, and since you can find a platinum version for almost no money nowadays, there's really no excuse to not have it in your collection. It's a 9 out of 10.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/07/11
Game Release: Resident Evil 5 (Platinum) (EU, 02/19/10)
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