Resident Evil 5 Xbox 360, PS3
First of all, a little background information. In my entire reviewing tenure I have only ever given top marks out to two games, Super Mario Galaxy and Resident Evil 4, with the latter being one of my personal favourites of all time. I’ve always been a fan of the Resident Evil series, with their mixture of point and click-esque puzzling with some tense action sequences, but like most people, found that the formula had started to drag somewhat with the release of Resident Evil Zero and the countless poor spin-offs. So, the fourth game was a breath of fresh air – changing the camera to the now often-copied over the shoulder viewpoint, emphasising the strategic action elements and giving the entire “survival horror” genre a massive boot up the arse that until the recent beast of a game that was Dead Space, nothing at all could even compete. I mean, look what has happened to Silent Hill…
Following up Resident Evil 4 was always going to be a hard task. I mean, if you were involved, you’d have two choices. Take a massive risk with your bread-winning series and try and reinvent the wheel once again, or, like most games in this HD generation, play it safe with a highly polished update, sticking close to the tried and tested gameplay that succeeded before while tweaking a few little things here and there.
It is no surprise that Capcom have taken the easy option here, but when you’re building upon what is literally one of the best games of the last ten years, is that necessarily a bad thing? All of the things that made Resident Evil 4 so good are still here; the varied settings, spectacular cinematic setpieces and the excellent gunplay, which required you to think on your feet, find your spot and use your surroundings to your advantage and, over time, it turned you from a scared, panicking newbie to a hardened soldier. The ridiculous but strangely compelling plot is here, a few more twists and turns are still to come, with classic character Chris Redfield making a return as the hero and the villainous Albert Wesker still being up to no good, as well as a few new faces – the most important of which is Chris’ new sidekick Sheva Alomar. It is all here and wrapped up in some of the best graphics seen on any of the current consoles, with some areas and characters having a level of detail that verges on photo-realistic. To say this is merely a high definition version of the previous game isn’t entirely inaccurate, but to use that as a negative is somewhat ignorant. When the formula gets tired, Capcom will have to step up their game once again, but right now, it still feels unique and engaging – it still feels like Resident Evil 4.
It is a shame, then, that the concessions they have made to “update” the core gameplay fall somewhat flat. The first of which is the new control system, which has been a favourite of tedious fanboy internet ranting since the release of the demo. Here is a quick breakdown of the basics of Resident Evil controls – you can run forward, step backwards and rotate Mr. Redfield using the left analog stick. Holding down the right trigger will root him to the spot, draw and then allow you to freely aim his selected gun at whatever you want to shoot at, achieved by jabbing on the required face button. Holding down the left trigger will allow access to your knife – for close encounters – and hitting down and A/X will turn you 180 degrees on the spot, allowing for a quick getaway from any hairy situation. Fast forward four years and we now live in a world post-Gears of War world, a game which has become the benchmark for 3rd person action titles with its fluid controls, cover system and, of course, borrowing the excellent camera from Resident Evil 4. Compared to its peers, movement initially feels clunky and lethargic, with most of the complaints being about the lack of free look and movement and the inability to shoot while in motion – all things that can be done in Dead Space, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand Theft Auto IV and the aforementioned Gears of War. But here’s the thing; Resident Evil 5 didn’t have the same design manifesto as those titles. It is a game that wasn’t designed with the ability to do these things in mind and, therefore, you rarely find yourself in a situation where running and gunning between cover, or strafing around a boss are viable methods of success. However, the default control scheme is a half-arsed amalgamation of the classic Resident Evil control scheme and something resembling these newer games, and for the most part, doesn’t really add anything worthwhile to the mix. Sure, you can sweep the camera around as you see fit and sure, you can now strafe, but do you really need to? Perhaps the bigger debate is unique controls vs. genre standards, but ultimately, if they work, does it really matter?
The other new addition is the second character, Sheva Alomar. She’s with you for the entire game and clearly only there so a second player has someone to play as in the new cooperative mode. Co-op is in every game these days and can make a bad game fairly tolerable (Mercenaries 2, I am looking right in your direction), so in a decent game it is always great fun. Resident Evil has never been a co op game, however, and with early videos only showing Chris Redifield, it does make one wonder if this is another feature hastily added to appease the masses. With another human player at her reigns, she is no problem and a decent addition to the growing cast of the Resident Evil series, but in single player, her A.I. is somewhat questionable. For the most part, she is a solid sidekick, but in a few of the mandatory separation points – again, clearly there for the multiplayer experience – you don’t truly believe you can rely on her. Seeing her picking up ammunition while a gang of infected humans try to eat your ENTIRE HEAD is one of many frustrations, and a lot of the sections where you need to cooperate to proceed seem very tacked on when playing on your own. On the harder difficulties, she becomes even more of a burden, getting herself executed with alarming regularity and insisting on using the weakest weapon in her inventory regardless of the situation. Obviously, this can all be avoided when playing with a friend, but it does really seem to be a case of ‘co-op for co-op’s sake’.
Ignoring the A.I., the game is an excellent example of ‘survival horror’. It follows the blueprint laid down by its predecessor note for note. You start right in the thick of things, in the middle of a siege by the infected. After you survive that, you battle your way through the various stages, against the enemies and your own personal ammo crisis, until you acquire enough firepower and start to find your comfort zone. Just as you start to feel empowered, this is where it keeps throwing new beasties and setpieces at you to ensure you never get totally complacent. The bosses are still essentially huge puzzles, each with its own weakpoint and method for its destruction and working them out is still hugely satisfying. Cutscenes are spectacular and occasionally throw in a few quicktime events, turning them into some Dragon’s Lair-esque pieces of interactive cinema.
The puzzle elements featured in earlier games have been toned down a lot, meaning less backtracking but also a more linear route to the end. It is a lot more action orientated and one of more simplistic progression through levels. You won’t find yourself ever having to walk across an entire area because you’ve found a key to a door you passed a few hours ago. It is also quite a short game, which is hardly a complaint as all Resident Evil titles could be finished in a matter of hours, but even on your first playthrough it shouldn’t take much longer than 10 hours. Things are also a great deal easier – checkpoints are more frequent and it saves automatically, rather than having to find save points, and weapons can now be bought between levels and when you die, meaning you can upgrade your arsenal if you get stuck at a particularly brutal section. Saying that, there is plenty in the way of replay value here, with weapons to be upgraded, bonus features to be found and unlocked and, after finishing the game once, the Mercenaries Mode.
The Mercenaries. First introduced in Resident Evil 3, but perfected in Resident Evil 4. Essentially a score attack mode, you pick a character and are put in one of several arenas filled with enemies that just keep coming at you until the time limit expires, like some mental zombie-filled Robotron. Each character, including several unlockable, have their own weapon loadout and require different strategies for success. Higher scores give you access to more levels, characters and bump you up the new online scoreboards, giving it even more replay value than it had before. The genius part is, your score is only registered if you survive ’til the time expires, so when you stumble across an ‘extra time’ pick up, you have the risk/reward situation where you can gain an extra minute to go for a bigger score, but potentially get yourself killed and lose it all. Best of all, it is now playable as a two player team, locally or online, meaning you and a friend can work now together and it makes an already amazing game mode even better than before. Honestly, there are few people out there who would be disappointed if Capcom released a fully-fledged standalone version of The Mercenaries, featuring characters from all the older games. As it is, however, it is still a very big cherry on the Resident Evil cake.
This console generation is one leaning toward luxury rather than innovation. High definition and online play are the big leaps forward in the current consoles and because of this, most sequels are made to rely on the gameplay they already had, only with a few token multiplayer gestures and some wonderful graphics to get by. Look at GTA IV, for example. An incredible game in every way, but think about the actual mission structure – is it any different to the original Grand Theft Auto? More to the point, should it be chastised for that, especially when changing those fundamentals would change the series into something else entirely? Resident Evil 5 is hit by this problem harder than most other titles.
It is a great game and one that is a faithful update to a game that only four years ago attained universal acclaim. But in that time, things have changed and, for better and for worse, Resident Evil 5 has only made baby steps when compared to the giant leaps that its predecessor made, and because of this, won’t be getting near that perfect 10. The issues with A.I. and the controls will put off some of the more fickle gamers, but for those of you who part with their £40, like an A.I. controlled Sheva to a horde of zombies, you’ll find plenty here to get your teeth into – fans and newcomers alike. Maybe we asked for too much? Maybe the hype was insurmountable? Maybe the game we all wanted wasn’t even a Resident Evil game any more? Perhaps next time, Capcom will completely reinvent the wheel, but right now, the car is running fine on the ones it already has, looks absolutely stunning and is better when you’re with a friend.
Just don’t let the A.I. drive, for God’s sake.