Resident Evil 5
So it’s been four years since the last Resident Evil. There have been delays. I’ve been waiting and waiting. I’ve been very, very excited… and I’m not sure it’s quite been worth it.
Essentially, Resident Evil 5 is a good game. A very good game. But it has a hell of a pedigree to live up to. Resident Evil 4 is one of my all time favourites – the Wii version is sublime, and the controls are perfect, losing the clunkiness of the Gamecube and PS2 releases. And I can’t help but feel this next-gen version is nothing more than a watered-down remix.
Once again, you’re Chris Redfield, but the setting this time is Africa. And a very pretty Africa it is – the next-gen graphics are outstanding. It’s CGI-quality all the way, and particular attention should be paid to the lighting effects, some of the most outstanding I’ve seen to date. Yet I can’t help but feel this gritty realism takes away some of the ‘horror’ aspect. Where’s the creepy castle, or mansion, or – erm – police station? However, take some time to look around and it’s clear the attention to detail is superb.
A direct sequel to the the previous iteration, Resident Evil 5 sees a pesky corporation causing a biological disaster that turns people into mindless “zombies” (they’re not zombies! I miss proper zombies!). It’s biological terrorism o’clock. Chris has become a member of the Bio-Terrorism Security Assessment Alliance, and gets a new partner in the (rather attractive) form of Sheva Alomar, a no-nonsense African-born lady who works for the West African division.
It’s more action-based than previous versions, and at times doesn’t even feel strictly like a Resident Evil game. It’s often more like a Resident Evil / Gears of War hybrid – but with characters that don’t match the agility of Marcus Fenix and co. And considering the enemies are harder, faster and (sometimes) smarter than before, it feels a little unfair. I have to wonder if the fear would still be there if the controls were more combat-orientated, and it does still feel like the whole ‘not being able to move and shoot’ thing is a cheap trick to inspire survival horror panic for the most part. In addition, targeting seems far too slow considering certain combat-heavy situations you’ll find yourself in. The puzzles, however, are distinctly classic Resident Evil – collect parts, use to unlock door, that kind of thing – though particularly thin on the ground compared to previous incarnations.
Inventory management still plays a big part. I miss the suitcase management from Resident Evil 4 (size-relevant and upgrade- capable). This time you have nine slots, regardless of whether a slot holds an RPG or a healing herb. You will find that there is still a certain amount of management to be done, specifically swapping items between you and Sheva. This is great in co-op mode, forcing you to help each other out in times of dire need.
Level design also seems to be getting very predictable (hell, the whole franchise does), and initially I found very little investment in the game from a plot perspective. However, near the end of the first act there’s a revelation that suddenly made me care. Let’s just say it involves the lovely Jill Valentine and the not-so-lovely Albert Wesker. At this point things certainly picked up a little.You’ll then play through the obligatory on-rails shooting sections (look nice, play averagely) and the button-mashing boss/survival bits, as were introduced in number 4.
Enemies are ferocious. There’s no canon-fodder here: even the mundane prove a threat. Bosses prove a significant challenge, but are nothing particularly new. There’s a massive axe/hammer wielding executioner, Dr Salvador’s (a.k.a. Burlap Sack Chainsaw Dude) African cousin and the usual mix of strange monsters. Oh, and Crocodiles! Don’t even try to fight them. Just run.
Enough of the negatives. It’s all too easy to be critical of the one you love. There are some great new features: co-op mode is outstanding, and is the way the game really should be played – hell, it’s the real saving grace. When playing alone you still have a partner in Sheva – and the AI is, um, variable, to say the least. She’s a useful AI buddy to have, but no match for a friend in co-op mode. She can take care of herself (as long as you make sure she gets a reasonable share of ammo and healing herbs – yes, they’re still present) and she’s a crack shot as well, but she occasionally insists on getting in the way – and only at the the worse possible times, it seems.
Take the sack-headed, chainsaw-wielding mini-boss. The best way to take him down is head shots with the rifle – and guess who suddenly always manages to get in your line of fire far too often? She also tends to insist on using the wrong weapon for the situation, happily ploughing unnecessary fire-power into lesser enemies. This is Resident Evil, love, conserve your ammo! She’s handy at turning up with some healing action in times of need, though. Of which there will be many.
Co-op mode really needs to be played online, with each person having a screen to themselves, and this is where the game excels. The split-screen co-op is just odd – each player an equal size horizontal offset rectangle, one on the upper left and one on the lower right of the screen. It takes some getting used to, but kind of works.Elsewhere, there’s the usual stylistically impressive cut-scenes, some sniping fun, an airboat level, and the aforementioned on-rails ‘protect the vehicle’ section. All nicely done, but nothing significantly different.
It’s also substantially shorter than Resident Evil 4 – expect to complete the game in around ten hours. There’s some definite replay value, though – the usual unlockable infinite ammo, which will make the game quite literally more of a blast, is present, and there’s also treasure to be collected, which you can then use to purchase and upgrade your kit. Gone are the shopkeepers from 4, and purchases are now made between levels. You can also collect BSAA emblems to unlock 3D models.
Rather than the traditional typewriter method, saving is now done at specific checkpoints throughout the game – quite handy, as I was a classic example of forgetting to save in the last game. Levels aren’t long enough to cause considerable pain should you die at any point. All this is a blessing, given the combat-heavy game that Resident Evil has become.
But even with these slight additions and alterations, there’s something missing. Maybe the bar was set too high with 4, I don’t know. Resident Evil 5 just doesn’t feel creepy – there’s no constant sense of dread, just short sections of panic. The result is a game that’s not as engaging as it should be. It does look gorgeous, and it sounds great, but it’s slowly and awkwardly shuffling its way out of the genre. It’s not quite survival horror and it’s not quite action. It’s a meeting of the two that’s managed to lose the best bits of both, but still succeeds fairly well: still a good game, but not a truly great one. Here’s to bigger, redesigned and smarter things for Resident Evil 6.
(And here’s to hoping they bring back proper zombies…)