Resident Evil 5 Review
The bigger the game, the more susceptible it is to scrutiny. And no game in recent memory is as big as Capcom's much-anticipated next entry in their long running zombie-slaying series Resident Evil. Like any other mega-franchise effort with blockbuster aspirations and a marketing budget to match, RE5 felt the harsh crack of the criticism stick long before it even infected game consoles. The two primary discussion points cluttering blogs and forums regard the game's seeming abandonment of the survival horror style that originally put star Chris Redfield on the map back in his mansion-dwelling days, and its control scheme that, in the wake of Gears of War and other polished shooters, is feared to be dated. As a fan who's faced the undead army in all the RE entries, save for some of the rail-shooters and spin-offs, I too wondered what to make of the franchise's current-gen debut, and how its mix of old and new would hold-up in a generation that's come so far since RE4 shook things up four years ago.
Addressing the latter concern first, I'll say the term "tank-like" should never again be used to describe the series' unconventional mechanics. It was a fun-poking (and even fitting) way to complain about the original title's too-stiff controls, but RE4's re-tooling swiftly stripped this archaic analogy of any credibility. Still, folks--ones I'll venture have never actually driven a tank--continue to toss it around in a very general way to describe the series' controls. That said, RE5's system is very similar to the last game's, and those who've never played that title will need some time to adjust, especially if they've been brought up on quicker-paced third-person shooters. Those who peered over Leon S. Kennedy's shoulder, however, will not only feel comfortable, but delighted, as if an old friend has returned.
That's due to the fact these controls feel right at home in Resident Evil. More accurately, they are Resident Evil; they're an inherent part of what makes the series unique and a huge factor in immersing players in the experience. Running and gunning wouldn't feel right in an RE game, just as its own stop-and-shoot formula would seem totally out of place in Master Chief's world. In addition to being a part of the game's DNA, the set-up serves to ratchet the uneasiness, such an important ingredient in a horror game; picking off baddies with Hollywood flair might be good fun in 50 Cent's game, but it's not a style that lends itself to building tension. Stopping, surveying, and picking your targets carefully, lest you piss away your limited ammo supply and wind up with a zombie feeding on your jugular, is encouraged through RE5's controls, making for a more engaging experience. And, if I may revisit the "tank" analogy for a moment: If anything in RE5 can be compared to a hulking piece of military hardware, it's Chris Redfield. The dude is massive, and he's lugging more gear than an Everest-bound sherpa; his less-than-quick pace totally complements his tree trunk-like build.
Now, regarding RE5 being more "survival action" than "survival horror", I'd totally agree. Although, I'd also say the series had already made this shift in the last game, so I'm not sure why it's surprising anyone this time around. I welcomed this change in RE4, and I embrace it here as well. As much as I loved the early games, I found many of the puzzles tedious, the backtracking boring, and the key fetching tiresome. So, I was stoked when the last game injected a hefty jolt of adrenaline into the action. Of course, being the first RE to harness all that power under the hoods of the Xbox 360 and PS3, that adrenaline syringe is brimming with the buzz-inducing juice; there's more zombies on-screen at once, the bosses are bigger, and the explosion effects are like something out of a Jerry Bruckheimer film.
This cinematic style extends to the rest of the production as well. RE5 is easily one of the best looking games yet; from the intricately detailed characters to the near photo-realistic environments, it pops off the screen at every turn. And, if you think you've seen it all in the Africa-set screenshots, think again. While a lot of fuss has been made over the sun-soaked settings, this one actually packs plenty of variety, including levels that wouldn't look out of place in past RE entries. One of my favorite new areas takes place in an ancient underground tomb. With its enormous crumbling artifacts and torch-lit pathways, you'll almost expect to see Lara Croft digging up a relic in this atmospheric area. There's also some impressive set pieces, including a breathless boss fight aboard a ship that makes RE4's boat-based battle look like a tussle with a guppy.
Capcom's latest creep fest also adds co-op play, and although I dug poppin' zombie heads with a pal, I actually preferred going it alone. Just as the controls are a part of this series' heart and soul, so is its single-player vibe. This is a game to be savored by yourself, lights out and sound up. Sharing it with a live partner--in the same room or over a headset--invites too much distraction and unnecessary chatter. If I want to take on the infected horde with buddies, I'll play Left 4 Dead, but please, leave me alone with my Resident Evil. That said, I did enjoy having a well-armed AI partner at my side. In fact, once I learned Sheva's strengths, I sorely missed her the few times she didn't have my back. She's a crack shot with a rifle--be sure to upgrade it for her--and she comes out of nowhere with the life-sustaining goods when you're about to keel over. Best of all, she knows her way around the herb garden; I was never a huge fan of managing the healing plants, so I welcomed Sheva's green thumb. If you want to get the most out of your partner in brain-bashing, let her grab all the herbs, health sprays, and ammo--she's johnny-on-the-spot with that, too--and hook her up with the best rifle money can buy.
My only real complaint about the two-player format is the back-and-forth chatter between Chris and Sheva. Quick replies and pleasantries are exchanged every time you interact. Things like "You grab it" followed by "Okay" are heard far too often, and can occasionally break the immersion; Sheva responding with a peppy "Thanks partner!", after you've pulled her neck from the jaws of an undead mutant, doesn't exactly sell the scares. Aside from the annoying voiceovers--something this series has always struggled with--Sheva's definitely a welcome addition to the war on bioterrorism.
RE5 will no doubt please those who unknowingly unleashed hell when they pried open the doors of that mysterious mansion more than ten years ago. But it should also satisfy unseasoned zombie slayers as well with its rich mix of gory action, creepy storytelling, and blockbuster production values. Not straying far from RE4's successful formula puts this latest entry in the awkward position of retaining what worked so well, while also injecting some innovation into the mix. RE5 lacks the the impact and newness of the last game's dramatic reboot, but its polished presentation combined with a few gameplay evolving elements make it a worthy entry in the franchise and one of this generation's must-plays.