Resident Evil 5 Review
Written : Tuesday, March 17, 2009
By: Nate Gillick (GT: ThrawnOmega)
The Resident Evil franchise stands out as one of the most well-known game franchises, spanning several console generations, and is the one of the grandfathers of horror games as we know them. Following the success of Resident Evil 4, the series now makes its debut on current-generation consoles, and sends the series somewhere it's barely ever been before: into the sunlight. The change of setting, and the addition of co-op gameplay, present some risks for the renowned series, but ultimately result in a superb action game.
In Resident Evil 5, series veteran Chris Redfield is a member of the Bioweapon Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA), tasked with hunting down and eliminating biological weapon threats. Dispatched to Africa, he meets his new partner, Sheva Alomar, and they set out to track down a weapons project known as Uroboros, which is rumored to have the power to end life on Earth as we know it. It will be up to the two of them to defeat old enemies and defy immense odds to end this bio-weapon threat. Spanning a wide variety of environments, RE5 features plenty of interesting revelations to the series' story, with all the over-the-top action Resident Evil is known for. Newcomers may be thrown through a loop at first as to what is going on, but documents scattered throughout the game, unlockable files, and information during the load screens should provide adequate background information to bring newcomers up to speed.
The locals won't be happy to see you.
The level of action in Resident Evil 5 is above and beyond anything the series has seen before, with situations where there could be more than a dozen enemies attacking at once. Correspondingly, the level of firepower players can wield has been jacked up to meet the challenge, with over 25 different weapons available, most of which can be upgraded to become more powerful. From open area skirmishes against hordes of Majini to close-quarters encounters with fewer, more powerful foes, RE5 does a great job of mixing up enemy encounters, to keep the action from growing predictable and stale. True to series form, RE5 contains epic boss fights, each of which is a truly memorable event in itself, and these encounters provide many of the game's "Oh snap!" moments (though what we actually said can't be reprinted here). Like the encounters with general Majini, there is variety in the boss encounters too.
For the first time in franchise history, the game has been built from the ground up as a co-op experience. Either with the AI in single player, or with another player via split-screen, system link, or Xbox Live; Resident Evil 5 requires teamwork for success. Some enemies may grab a hold of or pin down a player, requiring the other person to step in and help, and in situations where one player has been beaten up so badly that they're dying, only their teammate can resuscitate them to health. Even healing items have a small area of effect, so two players standing next to each other can both benefit from the use of a single health spray. Therefore, trying to Rambo through areas without the AI or a human partner often proves suicidal. Besides the combat necessities of two people, some areas can only be reached through the cooperation of Sheva and Chris. If you don't think you'd enjoy working with someone else, or simply don't play well with others, Resident Evil 5 is not for you.
Playing with another person provides several benefits. Besides having a smarter partner, each player enters the game with all the guns and ammo they've collected so far, creating a larger possible arsenal than in single player, where one person has to split resources with the AI. Both players get any treasures earned, and will likewise both earn achievements for progress, so the system is fair to both parties. Online co-op play ran smooth as silk in all our play tests, and it's easy to set a game up to allow anyone to join, or restrict access only to people you choose to invite. Split-screen isn't as pleasant an option. While saving the world with a buddy on the same couch has its appeal, RE5 doesn't have the best split-screen set-up out there, as each player's view is shrunk to be of equal size, with a lot screen space wasted with a black background. Unless you're playing on a large TV, it may be difficult to see everything in split-screen mode, so it's not recommended if there is another way to play with a friend.
RE5 brings the body count to new heights.
Don't have friends? Resident Evil 5 can be played in single-player, with AI controlling Sheva, so a second player isn't required. While Sheva's pretty smart for the most part, she's certainly no human teammate. She's an excellent shot, and generally knows when to heal, but she can be surprisingly slow to come to your aid when in need of help, even if you're right next to her. She's also been observed picking up ammo for guns she doesn't have, and not giving it to Chris, who could use it. For example, she may hoard up machine gun ammo even if she doesn't have a machine gun, and may not hand it over until its requested. She can be commanded in a limited sense, but the options here are extremely limited compared to other games with squad commanding abilities. Sheva, for example, can't be instructed to aim at specific enemies which makes concentrating fire (which would be a breeze with a human partner) almost impossible in single player. She's usually smart enough that playing alone is a viable way to play through the game, but co-op with another person is much more fun and less frustrating.
To the delight of series die-hards (and the sorrow of straight-up action junkies), resource management remains an important part of Resident Evil. While progressing through the game, players will find gold, or treasures that can be sold for money. This money can be used to buy new weapons, or upgrade existing weapons, and buy other supplies. Ammo, with only a few exceptions, can't be purchased, making careful management of resources necessary for survival. Having to bust open boxes and barrels to hunt down every last bit of ammo is par for the course for Resident Evil veterans, but may seem like too much of a slowdown of the game's pace for newcomers. Part of the tension in Resident Evil comes from knowing every shot has to count, since ammo is limited, and trying to survive from ammo box to ammo box remains an intense experience here. In both single player and co-op, it's incredibly easy to exchange items with each other, so making sure your partner is properly equipped doesn't overly slow down gameplay. Everything in your inventory carries on through multiple playthroughs, so it's possible to start the game on higher difficulties already sporting an impressive arsenal. Getting to keep your guns and see your armory grow ever more deadly certainly makes for a satisfying sense of accomplishment.
Gone from the series is the need to pause the action and visit the menus to switch weapons and items. Weapons and items can now be mapped to the four principle directions of the d-pad, making for rapid weapon switching, which keeps the action intense. Unfortunately, the much-loved merchant from Resident Evil 4 apparently couldn't make the trip to Africa, and the much-needed personality he brought to inventory management has been replaced with sterile menu screens between missions, which is disappointing. Also gone from the series is the need to save at typewriters. Saving now works on a checkpoint system, where the game will save at checkpoints throughout missions, meaning death simply involves restarting from the last checkpoint. Since players will have the go to the inventory management screen before returning to the last checkpoint, players can swap out items to better equip themselves for the challenges ahead, making this save system very user-friendly.
The inability to move and shoot at the same time remains a fact of life in Resident Evil 5, which players will have to learn to adapt to, or play something else. While it's true that the Resident Evil series has never featured the ability to simultaneously move and shoot, with the considerable evolution of third-person action games since RE4's release, this system feels a bit archaic, and may take some getting used to. The controls are excellent overall, and aiming and shooting are a breeze, but not being able to walk and shoot like Gears of War may turn some people off.
Mercenaries provides addictive arcade-style action.
Resident Evil 5's fun doesn't end when the credits roll. The Mercenaries mode from Resident Evil 4 returns here, and it's bigger and better than ever before. This arcade-style game tasks players with killing as many enemies as possible within the time limit where they earn more points for higher kill combos. Players are restricted in what items they bring into the mission, and must hunt for time extensions to delay the arrival of their evac, and more ammo. Mercenaries can be played either solo or co-op, and with eight different maps, ten playable characters, and leaderboards highlighting the world's best, Mercenaries is a substantial side-game, and the action-packed mayhem it provides could very well absorb dozens of hours of your time. RE5 packs several other goodies for players who complete the game and take the time to hunt down the very well hidden BSAA emblems scattered throughout each chapter, and these unlockables keep the game fun and interesting long after the first playthrough has been completed.
Visually, Resident Evil 5 is one of the best looking games on the 360. Bosses are simply jaw-dropping, and the use of lighting and shadow work well to provide contrast to areas and increase tension. This is highlighted in one section of the game where one player must hold a lantern in a pitch-black tunnel, while the other person takes point and has to handle enemies. It's one of the most surprisingly intense moments in the game, and it's all thanks to the graphics. The audio also meets the Resident Evil standard of excellence, with the music building up in intense moments to complement the action, and fading off when the danger has passed. The voice acting, gun effects, and sound of exploding heads are all we could have asked for. While RE5 doesn't make use of ambient sound effects to create tension the same way Dead Space did, it's still remains fantastic.
I think Chris needs a bigger gun...
Capcom has a reputation for making brutally difficult to complete achievement lists, due to either demands on skill, or huge time commitments, but Resident Evil 5's achievement list is actually pretty reasonable. It's possible to net 400-500 points easily in the first play, more if you follow walkthroughs for collectables and the few missable achievements. Getting the full 1,000, however, will take at least two playthroughs, as Professional difficulty does not unlock until Veteran has been completed. Upgrading every weapon to the max, as well as getting every action figure, also look like achievements that take some commitment, but the list as a whole is very satisfying to work through.
Resident Evil 5 provides an exhilarating action-fest, with intense battles and epic boss fights. The necessity of inventory management and the inability to move and shoot may turn off some action junkies, but for the rest of us, the ability to take down Majini in both the story and Mercenaries mode with a friend makes Resident Evil 5 a must-own co-op game. The amount of unlockable content, the ability to keep guns across playthroughs, and the promise of a versus mode coming soon as DLC will give RE5 a replay value well beyond a single run of the campaign for most people. Those who can only play the campaign with the Sheva AI won't have quite as much fun, but the game remains exceptional.
Resident Evil 5 makes great use of music to heighten the tension of battles, and fades off when the danger has passed. Sound effects and voice acting are superb.
Character models are incredibly detailed, and some of the enemies and bosses will send your jaw to the floor. The skillful use of lighting and shadow is renarkable, as are the flame effects. Of course, the gore is everything the Resident Evil series is known for.
The inability to move and shoot feels a bit archaic, and will turn some people off, though it works just fine when you're used to it. The single-player AI for Sheva is decent, but playing with another person is preferred.
The ability to play through both the story and Mercenaries mode with a friend is amazing, and both modes provide many memorable moments. Capcom put in a lot of extra content to keep the game interesting beyond the first playthrough. It's too bad the RE4's memorable merchant was replaced with sterile inventory management screens.
This is probably the most reasonable list Capcom has released. There is a fair mix of points for story progression, special combat feats, and achievements for finding everything. It's an enjoyable list to work through.
Filled with epic boss encounters and memorable battles, RE5 provides a thrilling ride, supported with enough extra content to keep the game interesting for a long time. The inability to move and shoot, as well as the necessity of inventory management, may turn of some of gamers, but the rest of us will be enjoying the co-op for a long time to come.