While not revolutionary, a refined, great series iteration.
With Resident Evil 4 serving as an introduction to the series for me, I was not drastically surprised when this next game turned out to be even more action based, relying less on its survival horror roots- after the critical success of RE4, one would immediately presume the sequel would expand more on the features that dragged the franchise into modern gaming. The way Resident Evil 5 does this in some senses makes it seem like a natural progression, but in others it tends to stay a little close to its predecessor in terms of gameplay. At times, the game arguably strays slightly too far from the feel of the survival horror genre that the previous title managed to maintain despite its departures concerning the way it played. This is in particular a result of one especially controversial, albeit well executed addition.
Let’s start with a positive- RE5 looks beautiful. For sure, one of the most graphically appealing games this generation, which, uh, I guess means ever. Of all 2009 releases only perhaps Killzone 2 trumps it in the eye candy department, but that still makes it one of, if not the best looking thing on the 360 to date, with facial animations and character detail close to MGS4’s. The locations vary more than I originally thought, with the dusty sub-Saharan urban locations changing just as they are about to become monotonous, to murky and foreboding tribal villages, treasure-filled cave complexes, and metallic facilities, all of which have been expertly crafted. I could not shake the feeling however of the opening locales being overly inspired by a certain recent masterpiece of Hideo Kojima though- the colour palette and textures are extremely reminiscent of the Middle Eastern warzone that begins that game. That said, this is a minor gripe, and nothing else derogatory can be said of RE5’s visuals and environments.
Gameplay is of the highest standard, with the top notch gunplay of RE4 present here- hit detection is present and correct, and works well with the melee combat system- shooting at the leg to bring a majini to his/her knees gives opportunity for an uppercut, for an example. This translates into coop, allowing for combos to be chained up. Movement is slow, and turning, even with a 180-degree flip around, is somewhat tasking, but this, combined with the fact you cannot move and shoot, add a layer of uniqueness and need for tactical retreats that help the game to stay different to others on the market. Still though, the game plays remarkably like RE4 and few changes have been made to the overall fundamentals- the style won't be for everyone, some will call it archaic in light of new releases of the same type, but with all the remarkably similar third-person shooters out there, it is no bad thing.
As expected, the dialogue is pretty bog-standard here- not on a ‘master of unlocking’ scale, but nothing that’s going to win any awards. Characters can be justifiably called two-dimensional, personality wise-we barely get to know Sheva, and a certain well-known antagonist of the series returns as something of a Matrix Agent wannabe. The same can be said of the story in terms of its depth- its adequate enough to provide motivation for you to continue, it pushes things on well enough, and takes the overarching fiction in some interesting directions- but at this point, people look to RE for the same reason they look to most other gore fests- good game play, as well as interesting and unsettling enemies to fight, which brings me ideally on to another point- Resident Evil 5, while its monstrosities are lovingly crafted, black tar and all, simply does not inspire scares, and this synopsis can be applied to the game as a whole. This is mostly down to the major inclusion of cooperative play into the game-you’re never alone. When considering the game as an action thriller, this addition can be noted as RE5’s most significant, as well as best implemented, progression. Playing with a friend adds reason to play through the game again, giving an extra layer of competitiveness to the already robust ranking system that grades you on each level. Playing as the other character, African native Sheva, may be confusing to some at first, with the camera facing over the left shoulder, the opposite to protagonist Chris Redfield’s, but it's nothing that a little time and practice can’t stop you getting used to.
The AI that controls her while a second player is absent isn’t the best- but passable, most of the time adequately reviving and healing you even if it does get rid of ammunition faster than you can provide it- the ability to control and swap between both character’s inventories is invaluable in ensuring Sheva is well equipped enough to help you. It can now and again be difficult to get her to take a certain path, for example, making her pull the switch while you go up on the lift rather than vice versa, which can provide a break in the immersion. The space in the inventories seems rather limited, but again, it's something the player adapts to, and this goes some way towards forcing you to predict what you'll need to survive, adding a layer of tactical challenge. The intelligence on the side of the enemies as a whole is not as exceptional as that of, say the Helghast soldiers of Killzone 2, but good enough that many a time you’ll find yourself grabbed from behind by an enemy who crept up on you.
As far as judging the game from an atmospheric, horror standpoint however, the presence of a companion goes a long way in lessening RE5. Don't get me wrong, there's still a great feeling of tension as you and your partner attempt to dispatch enemies that slowly encroach upon your position, your ammo supply dwindling, your retreat speed questionable- but the feeling of desperation and loneliness no longer present- conversely, if the game had no coop, I’d probably be here complaining the game was not up to the standard set by other third person games of this caliber, such as Gears of War. At the end of the day, if it adds replay value (something another modern horror game, Dead Space, as brilliant as it was, lacked) and, most importantly, fun value, it can only be a good thing.
The is no scarcity of breathtaking set pieces throughout, with inventive boss fights galore- the usage of fire for some of these works particularly well. Main bosses can be satisfyingly gigantic in scale, which no third person action game would be complete without. The quick time events, while not my favourite feature in some of these half-cutscene, half-not moments, have some form of structure, which makes them a little easier, but the way in which they can take you by surprise as you kick back to watch what you thought was a completely non-interactive scene can catch you unpleasantly by surprise, causing frustration, as well as lack of concentration on the actual scene, as all focus is drawn to the spot where the button cue appears at seemingly the most inopportune of times. Does keep you constantly on your toes though.
The amount of attainable weapons is great, as are the bonus unlockables, with figurines and infinite ammo upgrades up for grabs, and what game would be complete without collectibles hidden in the most baffling of places for completionists (read: the obsessed)? The Mercenaries mode unlocked after a single playthrough of the story brings back an old favourite from Resident Evil 4, bringing with it coop, which unarguably betters the experience, making the whole thing much more competitive, as well as adding depth. The addictive mode doesn’t wear out quickly, and the leaderboards will keep you coming back.
All in all, while it's never going to be remembered for utterly transforming a franchise like its predecessor will, Resident Evil 5 is nevertheless a refined action game, and while perhaps not as scary as the previous incarnations, is a polished, fun, and addictive experience with lots of bonus content on the side, all of which ensure you get your money's worth.