The Resident Evil series has been a pillar of the survivor-horror genre for over a decade, with over 40 million copies sold and several books and movies to show for it. Resident Evil 4 was one of the most highly acclaimed games of 2005, and the lengthy development period given to its successor shows how important it was to Capcom to maintain that level of quality. More than that, the gameplay changes made to Resident Evil 5 make it clear that they're not simply trying to replicate success, but to really establish what they want the series to be. For better or for worse, the series is being pushed toward a bit more action, and the co-op element is almost a necessity. Read on for the rest of my thoughts.
- Title: Resident Evil 5
- Developer: Capcom
- Publisher: Capcom
- System: Xbox 360, PS3
- Reviewer: Soulskill
- Score: 7/10
Resident Evil 5 starts you off as Chris Redfield, a familiar face from earlier in the series, as he chases down a bio-terrorism threat in Africa. As you soon find out, there is a New and Improved Las Plagas parasite, which sends its unwitting hosts into a zombified and suggestible state. The new breed is, on the whole, smarter, faster and more dexterous. While some zombies are content to swing their fists or throw an empty bottle at you, others will fight complex gun battles, using cover, deadly accuracy, and aspects of the environment to try and take you out. You'll still meet the shambling, growling hordes you're used to, but there's a much greater range of bad guys than before. They essentially fill any role an uninfected human might in a traditional action game. Newcomers to the series probably won't give this a second thought, but long-time fans may be bothered by it.
Accompanying you on your journey is Sheva Alomar, a young African woman in the Bio-terrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) who quickly becomes Chris' loyal partner. This is the foundation of the game's focus on co-op play, since a second player can take control of Sheva and work in tandem with you, either locally or over Xbox Live. For solo players, Sheva is controlled by the game's AI, to generally favorable results. Chris and Sheva each have their own inventory space, and you can shuffle items, guns, and ammunition between them as necessary. They back each other up in fights; when a zombie grabs and holds you, your partner can come to your aid and knock the zombie away. If you are close to death, your partner can resuscitate you.
The AI does a pretty good job at being where you want it, coming to your aid when you need it, and doing a respectable amount of damage to your enemies. It has no qualms about running itself out of ammo, but you can give it more or tell it to pick up more off the ground. The one major problem is that you can't really set up a plan with your AI partner. You can't tell them to stay here and cover you while you advance to a different spot, and you can't direct them toward a particular threat. The enemy AI is by turns intelligent and quite stupid. They'll chase you anywhere, scaling ladders quickly or jumping between rooftops, and they'll duck behind walls for cover. Unfortunately, they also have a habit of running up to you and standing still for five seconds before deciding to attack. You can also just run through big groups of some enemies without a scratch. It's probably necessary for the sake of letting the player have a chance to survive, but it's not believable stupidity, and makes it feel like they're just giving you something at which to throw your extra ammunition. Boss AI is almost nonexistent; they usually play out more like scripted encounters. For some of them, this works well.
The difficulty in fighting any of the game's enemies is strictly tied to how you control your character. Capcom made the decision to forbid movement while using your weapon in Resident Evil 5. If you don't like the idea of being unable to "run and gun," you should definitely try the demo first to see how it plays. The effect it has on gameplay is to make shooting your guns something that takes more thought and planning. Firing for extended periods becomes a dangerous proposition because zombies tend to come from all directions. If you stand still long enough, one will eventually come up behind you and attack. It makes situations where you're frantically firing into a group of onrushing enemies all the more tense, knowing that death may be creeping up on you unseen. Oh, and for whatever reason, Capcom decided to prevent you from moving while brandishing your knife as well. I can understand stopping to aim a gun, and maybe having your feet stop moving while actually swinging a blade, but why can't you walk and hold a knife at the same time? Perhaps they just didn't feel it was worth the time to code the changes for an infrequently used weapon. Either way, trying to hit things with your knife is annoying and often useless.
That said, Capcom didn't balance the stationary firing restriction with more responsive aiming. Even at the highest level of sensitivity, the controls are quite clunky to use when enemies are surrounding you. They did implement a button combo that flips you 180 degrees, and this helps to some extent. However, it's still fairly slow, and you almost always need to spend extra time finding your target after spinning around. Worse is when there are zombies to your right or left; button combos that flip you 90 degrees to one side or the other would have been quite welcome, but you're not given that option. Many similar games have implemented a tracking system for nearby enemies, either as dots on a mini-map or arrows on a HUD. Not so in Resident Evil 5; you're often forced into simply panning slowly around the room to see if anything is heading toward you.
You'll also get to deal with a several types of enemies — such as dogs, spiders, and some bosses — who sometimes move more quickly than you can track them. They don't pose a huge threat to your character by themselves, but they often grab and hold you, allowing other, more dangerous enemies to get close. Those have their own associated problems — for one, a few of the more difficult enemies will just outright kill you if they get within melee range. While this makes sense from a realism perspective, it can be frustrating given the slowness of the movement system, and the requirement that you stop to deal damage. Add to this the huge amount of damage some of them can take, and you end up with regular enemies that feel tougher than the end-of-level bosses.
The boss encounters themselves are hit and miss. Resident Evil 5 makes gratuitous use of Quick-Time Events both during fights and in cut scenes. As the boss prepares to smash you with some tentacled appendage, you'll have a window of a second or so to press a button or get killed. This works decently when you're actually able to control your character, and it's used as part of a normal fight. In one of the later chapters, you get to fight a giant spider that's hanging onto a big, circular platform. As you attack the legs holding it in place, you dodge the ones that are free to swipe at you. It's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, many of the other QTEs are simply distracting. It's used continually in cut scenes to, presumably, keep the player engaged as the game characters are forced into decisions about fighting or dodging. But there's no real consequence to those actions; it's either linearly continue the scene or die (and start again very close to where you died).
One thing you'll notice is that many of the boss fights are just variations on a theme: chase bad guy, catch bad guy, watch bad guy turn into nigh-invulnerable, many-tentacled super zombie. But he has a weak spot! Some of these fights work better than others, and there are more original battles scattered throughout the game as well. For example, a battle with a hulking monstrosity that looks like a troll from Lord of the Rings is unique, but quite simple. The fight scenes with the mastermind who's orchestrating all these events (or, as I call him, "Neo") are more complex and interesting, but tend to suffer from QTEs that rely on fast movement, which is not the game's strong point.
The game ships with over 50 cut scenes of varying length. They're quite impressive to watch, and fans of the Resident Evil story won't be disappointed. They do an amazing job of developing the plot and tying the various levels together in a logical way. The scenes are framed and rendered in such a way that they look like movie footage shot by an actual camera, and it's done well. Monsters, characters, and explosions all look amazing. The story itself isn't high drama, but it's entertaining and serviceable — it's what you'd probably expect from a high-budget zombie flick. The big plot twist is depressingly predictable, but it sets up a cool fight. The settings and scenery during actual gameplay are excellent as well. You're taken through modern slums, primitive villages, underground labs, and a variety of other locales. There's quite a lot of detail, and Capcom took care to make everything colorful and interesting to look at.
Resident Evil 5 is a game that gets much better when you have somebody to play with. As I mentioned earlier, the AI is reasonable, but it doesn't compare to having another human to watch your back or help you kill something. The movement and aiming issues become much less problematic when playing with a friend, since you can stand back to back and limit the area one person has to cover. Once you've defeated the main campaign, you also open up Mercenaries mode, which can be played solo or with a friend. Much like in the previous games, you're dropped into a level with plenty of ammo and plenty of zombies to fight. You have a time limit, but glowing pillars scattered around the map will add time to the clock, and enemies will get stronger as the round goes on. The primary campaign forces you to manage your ammunition fairly strictly — if your accuracy isn't great you can expect to run out of bullets frequently — so being able to just fight without worrying about it makes Mercenaries even more entertaining.
The inventory and weapon selection systems are dominated by ammunition limits. Since you aren't given much of any one type of bullet, you're forced to carry around several different guns. These guns and their associated ammo don't leave much room for healing items, grenades, or proximity bombs, so those are used sparingly. You get the standard shooter-game implements — pistols, shotguns, machine guns, rifles — and the lack of ammo will force you to switch between them fairly often. It can be annoying, especially when you're restricted to a pistol or machine gun when you want to use something more powerful. They also give you a few more impressive weapons as the game goes on, but those are used less frequently. Regardless of the ammunition situation, the weapons themselves are nicely designed. You'll have a broad array of tools for the situations you're given, and each gun has a distinct feel.
It wouldn't be a Resident Evil 5 review without mentioning the concerns of racism that were raised when it was revealed that the game would be set in Africa. To put it bluntly: it's a non-issue. The plot is a natural development of moving the Resident Evil story to a new continent. They make it clear that the zombified people are victims, and that the real evil is the corporation behind the experiments.
Whether or not you enjoy Resident Evil 5 is likely to be dependent on how much you like the controls and whether or not you have a buddy you can play with. The plot is cheesy, but in an entertaining way, and it's basically shown to you as a movie interspersed with gameplay. Fans of the story will be pleased — there are tons of unlockable visuals and bits of information. If you were hoping for a more traditional survival game, you may be disappointed. The action is definitely ramped up, and there aren't really any scary moments. However, it's definitely a worthy addition to the Resident Evil franchise, and the amount of care and effort Capcom put into this game is quite evident.