An Enjoyable Experience, With Or Without The Buddy System
Horror fans have come to love the Resident Evil series over the years for its excessive use of gore, pants-pissing surprises, and wacky storylines. The original Resident Evil titles were famous for providing terrifying moments that'd give an adult gamer nightmares, but changes were in store for the fourth installment. Resident Evil 4 for Gamecube took the series in a new direction by doing away with the tank controls that plagued the first few games. Capcom left most of the horror-filled gameplay intact, but this time, they actually made it playable.
Not only were the controls a drastic improvement, but the game was bestowed with visuals that put most other last-generation games to shame. In addition to the stunning makeover, many of Resident Evil's most archaic gameplay elements were removed. Players no longer had to solve abstract puzzles, the environments were now fully 3D, and save points were far more frequent. Most Resident Evil fans and newcomers alike loved Resident Evil 4 for its drastically improved gameplay, hideous monstrosities conveyed in beautiful 3D, and interesting storyline. Any sequel would have a lot to live up to, so series fans feared for the well being of Resident Evil 5.
Resident Evil 5 was a long time in coming, but with its gorgeous HD visuals, it's understandable why the wait never seemed to end. Fans didn't worry about the state of the visuals--after all Resident Evil 4 was arguably the best looking Gamecube game, but many players wondered if Resident Evil 5's gameplay would meet the standard set by its predecessor. They also wondered if RE5 would be able to accurately convey horror in sunny, outdoor environments. Instead of taking place in grimy city streets, haunted mansions, or medieval European villages, Resident Evil 5 is set in the beautiful African countryside and impoverished shanty towns. Conveying horror in these well-lit environments would certainly be a challenge, so it's understandable that many fans feared that Resident Evil 5 would be about as scary as a county fair haunted house.
Another issue that created a public outcry was Resident Evil 5's portrayal of Africans. Whether or not Capcom's horror fest is actually racist is a matter of debate, but the fact that one game led to numerous blogs on a serious issue is quite impressive. While RE5's setting had some fans worried, it didn't make much of a dent on the game's sales, and that is likely due to the return of Resident Evil 4's amazing gameplay.
In Resident Evil 4, the player would shoot las plagas infected Spaniards by holding down the left trigger and aiming the right analog stick. Resident Evil 5's controls are nearly identical, despite being on a different controller. Like its predecessor, you can only aim while stationary, so it's important to choose an ideal position to stand when aiming at your foes. However, you can move the camera's position while running with the right analog stick even though you're unable to shoot. Capcom claims that this design decision was intentional, and was implemented to heighten a player's sense of fear.
Not being able to shoot while running may feel odd to some players, but so will pulling out your trusty knife. To unsheathe your blade, you have to first hold the left bumper, and then press the right trigger to slash. Whoever decided on this clumsy control mechanic obviously doesn't realize how important knives are to close quarters combat. I probably would have used my knife to save ammo if it was easier to access, but instead, I relied on my pistol and attack combinations.
As with Resident Evil 4, your characters can execute a series of melee attacks if you strike an enemy while he's off balance. Simply tap the button that appears on screen, and you'll execute a headbutt, uppercut, or various other moves, depending on where you first shot your opponent.
Besides having access to combination attacks, you also can wield an assortment of weapons. Like with Resident Evil 4, you'll find a variety of shotguns, pistols, sniper rifles, etc. and each controls differently. Experimenting with Resident Evil 5's various weapons is a blast, because they all control like the real thing. Automatics are hard to aim, but they're useful for unleashing a barrage of bullets into an enemy posse. If you do this too often, your limited machine gun ammo will be depleted, so it's often useful to use a pistol for close range targets. Just focus on getting headshots, and you'll make quick work of your enemies. On the other hand, if you're backed into a corner and in a state of panic, just whip out your shotgun, and unload some shells into their kidneys. That should send all but the biggest foes packing. For the deadliest of enemies, you might want a ridiculously expensive one-use rocket or grenades, but a better use of your money would be one of Resident Evil 5's powerful sniper rifles. These babies pack a punch, and usually spell instant death for your foes as long as you penetrate their noggins.
Resident Evil 5's standard weapons are a joy to use, but wait until you witness the weapon upgrade system. For Resident Evil 4 fans, this is old hat, but new players will love upgrading their arsenal with the money they earn during each mission. In Resident Evil, your inventory size is limited, so it's important to choose upgrades carefully (even if you have a fat wallet). If you plan on using a shotgun regularly, you'll have to choose between power, reload speed, capacity, and specials unique to that weapon. You can eventually max out every stat for a particular weapon, but you'll want to be careful, as there are often better weapons to be found. Luckily, if there's a weapon you've grown particularly fond of, you can continue to upgrade it after your initial play-through.
Few gamers can argue with Resident Evil 5's great weapon customization options, but some players feel that Resident Evil's gameplay hasn't aged well. Resident Evil detractors claim that the included controls are cumbersome, and would benefit from a Gears of War-like revamp. Even though Resident Evil 5's controls are a drastic improvement over the original Resident Evils, these players argue that it feels outdated when played alongside titles like Dead Space that allow you to run and aim at the same time. These players are driven insane by having to hold a button to run, and being unable to aim at all times.
To their credit, the controls do feel a bit cumbersome, but they certainly aren't game-breaking. They'll take new players fifteen minutes to adapt to, but at least the controls don't feel ancient like those in the Playstation Resident Evils. Like some other players, I don't quite buy Capcom's argument that stationary aiming is essential for providing a sense of horror, because both Bioshock and Dead Space were more frightening, and each of those titles utilized a dual-analog control scheme.
Even though Resident Evil 5's controls don't quite measure up to those found in other recent horror experiences, it is still an impressive title. What most players will notice first are the game's highly detailed visuals. Resident Evil 5 is visually stunning, and would even give titles like Gears of War 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 a run for their money in a beauty pageant. Let me put it this way, if I had to choose between Resident Evil 5 and the world's hottest model, I'd have to pick Resident Evil (and not just because it's cheaper). The lighting effects, shadows, character models, and environments are all mind-blowing. The shanty towns, oil fields, and savannahs look so realistic that you actually feel like you're on a trip through various regions of Africa. It's evident that Capcom spent an enormous amount of time researching or at least gawking over photos of these regions, which is nice, as it provides for a more convincing gameplay experience.
Resident Evil 5 looks beautiful whether you're navigating dark catacombs or massive research facilities, but what's more amazing is that its excellent gameplay manages to rival its stunning outer shell. Much of the controls and gameplay mechanics are similar to those found in Resident Evil 4 as I mentioned earlier, but new to Resident Evil 5 is an updated inventory system and fabulous co-op gameplay. The reworked inventory system works in tandem with Resident Evil 5's co-op elements, so I'll cover Resident Evil 5's teamwork first.
Many wondered if the co-op system would work in Resident Evil 5 not only because former online Resident Evils had failed miserably, but because it could take the horror out of the experience. Admittedly, there aren't many scary moments with the bright environments and the addition of a teammate, but the action-packed gameplay more than makes up for it.
In co-op, one player controls Chris Redfield of Resident Evil fame, while player two controls a femme fatale named Sheva Alomar. Both characters are cops of sorts, but they are working to stop terrorist organizations who plan to unleash biochemical weapons upon the world. The las plagas virus has spread to Africa, and Chris and Sheva are sent in to investigate, and eventually they're tasked with stopping a familiar foe.
Thankfully, your characters are more than capable of the job. In two-player local or online co-op, you can team up with a pal to tackle the adventure together. In both modes, there is no noticeable lag, and there are many segments where it's handy to have a teammate at your side. Teammates your useful for a variety of reasons: some areas are only accessible to the second player, your ally may replenish your health or get your out of a tight spot, and you can strategize to overcome difficult enemies.
It's nice having Sheva along in local, online or AI form, because she can climb hard-to-reach areas with Chris' assistance, she can hit distant switches that will allow you to cross a formerly impassable chasm, and she can open a locked door from the other side. Familiar Resident Evil puzzles involving keys are still there, but these co-op puzzles shake up the gameplay in a positive way.
I played Resident Evil 5 in local co-op, single-player, and online, and while all are fun, each mode has its distinct advantages. Single player is a more frightening and challenging experience, because you're fighting the same hordes of enemies solo. Your AI partner is fairly reliable, and can usually get you out of a pickle, but you'll be the one doing most of the fighting. As a result, it's easier to horde most of the items for yourself, which is great if you want to upgrade your weapons. Capcom did an admirable job making Sheva perform like a real player in a variety of situations, so Resident Evil 5 still manages to be an enjoyable experience without a friend. She'll often revive you and will be at your side when you need her, but occasionally, Sheva will make bone-headed decisions when you have to split up. I can only remember one particularly aggravating moment, but it was memorable enough that it was worth mentioning.
At one point in the game, you have to protect Sheva while she's moving a massive block across a bridge, so she can clear a path into the roof of a house that contains a switch. She's being pursued by several mutant freaks called lickers, and they're quite deadly. Unfortunately, Sheva's AI loses all of its sense during this situation; instead of unlocking the door so Chris can aid her, she walls herself in the house to be devoured by the lickers. You can get around this by careful planning, but I had to restart this segment multiple times. Still, 20 minutes of frustration out of hours of enjoyable gameplay isn't all that bad, so the single-player adventure is still worth a play-through. If you have the option available, however, you'll want to play with a friend.
Playing in split-screen mode with a pal is an invigorating experience that more than makes up for the lack of scares. It's easy to swap items with Resident Evil 5's new inventory system, and segments where you split up are more fun than in the single-player mode (as long as your partner is more competent than the AI). The inventory system is a bit different than Resident Evil 4's--instead of continually upgrading cases that can hold more items, each character can hold a static amount of nine items. You can trade anything that isn't a gun at will, so if too many things are weighing you down, it's easy to unload them without having to press pause. Even better is that Resident Evil 5 allows you to assign weapons to different buttons on the d-pad. This will allow you to be better prepared for the situation at hand.
If there's one way that online-play 1ups split-screen, it's the size of the screen. As the name implies split-screen divides your screen--but unfortunately, it's not divided in half. Instead, Resident Evil 5 gives each player a tiny little window, so a quarter of the TV screen isn't even used, which renders that large HDTV you purchased useless. Luckily, online-play allows you to use the entire screen, so the only negative issue you'll potentially have to deal with is an uncooperative player.
Regardless of which way you play, Resident Evil 5 is generally an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, there are still a few aggravating moments. I already mentioned the occasionally poor AI, but even worse are a few unbalanced segments of the title. Most of the game is a riot, but a few scenes are excruciatingly painful. Sadly, Capcom didn't fix them after releasing the demo. The initial scenes of the game feel like they didn't receive enough testing, because the parts where you're being chased by a mob and a chainsaw wielding dude are quite painful. The mob in the first stage is nearly unavoidable, and you'll have to run in circles for what seems like an eternity to avoid an axe-wielding menace. Your ally who's supposed to pick you up in a helicopter is fashionably late, and seems intent on making you suffer. The chainsaw situation is quite painful as well, but the power tool admirer can be taken out with careful planning. It sucks that you have to go back a ways though, if you aren't careful.
Resident Evil 5's early levels are some of the worst in the game, but patient gamers will be rewarded with an interesting plot, gorgeous cutscenes, and fun boss fights. Unfortunately, there is one other scene that will put a damper on your enthusiasm--the final boss fight. While I won't spoil it, the final boss reminds me of a Soul Calibur reject. Fighting game bosses are usually known for being absurdly cheap and ridiculous looking, and this cheesy boss is no exception. Figuring out how to beat this boss defies common sense, but fortunately, it's only a minor part of the Resident Evil 5 experience.
If you couldn't get enough of Resident Evil 4, and don't mind fewer horrifying moments, Resident Evil 5 is a rewarding experience regardless of the way you play it. It's great as a single-player experience and it's fun in local or online co-op. The AI generally performs well, and the plethora of upgradeable weapons makes for some fun moments when fighting Resident Evil's monstrosities. Also, if you're into eye candy, this is a game you won't want to miss. It's accompanied by excellent sound and voice acting as well, so the complete audiovisual experience is covered. Even though the controls may feel last-gen to some, Resident Evil 5 is a well-rounded package that comes with enough replay value to keep you satisfied for weeks. Just be sure to get some sun once in awhile, so you don't turn into a zombie yourself.
· Jaw dropping visuals
· Slightly modifies Resident Evil 4's excellent gameplay
· Two-player co-op works well online and during local play
· Sheva is generally a competent AI partner
· Loads of unlockables and extra modes provide for plenty of replay value
· Great cutscenes and voice acting
· Features a variety of gorgeous environments
· Capping las plagas infected individuals never gets old
· Frequent save and checkpoints
· There are written accounts of previous RE stories, for those who missed the games
· Some surprises are in store for long-time Resident Evil fans
· Sometimes feels like Resident Evil 4 part two
· Where's the horror?
· There is less of a story than its predecessor
· Not many new enemy types
· The cheap final boss feels like he's straight out of a fighting game
· Very few new weapon types
· Split-screen doesn't fully utilize your display
· Sheva occasionally makes boneheaded moves
· Some early portions of the game could have used more testing. The Resident Evil 4 controls have been eclipsed by games like Dead Space