Resident Evil 5 perfects the "Gun Survivor" series.
Resident Evil 5 had a lot to live up to, and a also a little to live down.
More like its immediate predecessor, Resident Evil 4 (RE4), than like the first three games in the series, Resident Evil 5 (RE5) is more of a third-person shooter than an adventure game.
That being said, RE4 was an amazingly popular and successful re-imagining of the original series, and many fans of that game had high expectations for the next installment.
So, the question is, "Did RE5 live up to the expectations of most fans?"
The answer is, "Mostly."
So where does it fall short of expectations?
There is a relatively firm split between those that prefer the original three Resident Evil game's mix of shooter and adventure game, which Capcom called "Survival Horror," and those that prefer the solid "shoot-em-up" gameplay of RE4 and 5.
For those fans hoping that RE5 would re-introduce some adventure game elements into the series, there wasn't really any of that to speak of.
However, regardless of which side of the fence you are on, there is no doubt that RE5 is a great game.
It has excellent pacing, great gameplay, awesome environments, and an interesting horror theme.
Where the game falls short is with the horribly implemented coop system, and the lackluster item collection and inventory management.
You will never be bored playing RE5, the gameplay is that good. You start out in a seemingly abandoned African village, and quickly find your way into the thick of zombie madness with your trusty pistol and your combat knife (which actually does something useful in this game, unlike most other RE titles).
It isn't long before you get into the pace of the game, and you are suddenly faced with a rather difficult section of the game, right in the beginning.
I would normally complain about that kind of steep difficulty in the beginning of a game, but it actually works well with the pace of the game, and the story you are playing through, a serious testament to the quality of the design.
Continuing through the game, you are faced with a number of challenges, both strategy and reflex dependent.
You are also faced with absolutely stunning imagery from an transformed African countryside, to a Tomb Raider-like ancient ruins, all worth the price of admission.
While it's true that RE5 continues the complete abandonment of the original series adventure game elements, there are some goodies thrown in as "shout-outs," probably intended to placate older fans who miss the original games. This can be seen in the level design of the research facility and in the storyline, which is much more closely related to the first five games (RE1, 2, 3, Code Veronica, RE Zero) than the RE4 was.
Unfortunately, this game is not without it's flaws, the biggest of which being the coop system.
There are three big issues with the coop system.
One is that it dramatically diminishes the "horror" aspect of the game; if you have a buddy or an A.I. bot to hold your hand through the game, it really kills the suspense. For that reason alone, the coop system was a terrible choice for this game.
Two is that Shiva's A.I. is totally broken; she is nothing but a burden as an A.I. bot and will invariably get herself killed if you don't watch after her. This reminds me a lot of RE4's Ashley character, which was one of the more grating and annoying parts of that game.
Why Capcom decided to retain the single most hated element of RE4 and actually expand it's role in the gameplay is totally beyond me. Ashley was a bad decision, Shiva is even worse because she never goes away.
Three is that, when you are playing coop with a proper second player, the game is waaay to easy; coop mode should not have such a dramatic effect on difficulty.
Another big, huge problem is the inventory system. The item holding screen from the last game has been turned into a "magic box " that you can access any time you want., and you can upgrade your weapons with money. You can find gems to sell, and cash-money littered throughout the game.
First, let me address the "magic box." Those who have played older RE games know that the "magic box" started off life as an actual box that you could access from the save game rooms. The box was magic because when you found a new save room, and a new box, all of the stuff in your other boxes would "magically" appear in the new box.
This slightly quirky inventory system was sometimes criticized for lacking realism, but was generally accepted as part of the Resident Evil game format, and it was also an important part of planning a strategy to win the game,.
Enter RE4, goodbye "magic box!"
RE4 replaced the box with a standard inventory screen which had a limited amount of space. It seemed as though the designers wanted some realism.
Unfortunately, the realism ended there. RE4 also introduced a preposterous weapon upgrade mechanic that allowed the player to "buy" upgrades and new weapons from a "merchant" that just happens to be hanging around for business in whatever hell-forsaken, zombie-ridden little hamlet you are currently in the process of destroying.
I can't gauge how others felt about this new inventory mechanic, but I think it's horrid. In any case, RE5 did away with the merchant, but it kept the upgrade/new weapon purchases of RE4, and created a new "magic box" screen that can be accessed at any point in the game.
I'm glad the "merchant" is gone, but why can we now buy things in the middle of Africa when the story has us desperately separated from our teammates and any other non-zombified humans. It's just stupid.
The item/inventory management mechanic in RE5 is perhaps the element which could have made the biggest positive difference in the over-all feel of the game and, together with the terrible Shiva, help pull this game down from a five star game to a four star game.
Resident Evil is a good, occasionally great , shooter with stunning visuals and solid core gameplay mechanics; its only flaws being its horrible coop system, a lack of imagination in the item management, and tragically linear level design.
That is the end of the "RE5" part of the review, what follows is some analysis of RE5 in the greater context of the series...
I would like to say that the above review is attempting to rate RE5 on it's own, mostly outside of the greater context of the Resident Evil series, and it's legacy. If I was rating it based on that, it would be lower, for a few reasons. One is that it's not scary, not even a little bit.; the whole point of the original series was that you had only yourself, and a limited supply of ammo. When you have lots of ammo and powerful guns, you can just kill all the baddies, and there is no suspense. Removing the psychological suspense element, totally changes the point of the game. Furthermore, there are so many other good shooters that RE5 just comes off as another variation on a theme.
RE4 is not the first time Capcom has made Resident Evil shooting games. The lackluster "Gun Survivor" series from a decade ago failed to really capture the spirit of Resident Evil or to succeed enough for people to forget about it's divergence from the core series. So why in the world did Capcom and the RE development team decide to make another shooter?
Let's take a little trip back in time to find out!
~*~*~It's the winter of 2004/2005 and nobody is playing Resident Evil games anymore. People have had the chance to play the first five games on practically any device capable of rendering them for the past ten years. The production team working on RE4 knows that people are going to want something different than a clone of the past five games. They just released a new version of the first RE game with improved graphics and a new game, RE Zero, which is much like the previous four RE titles.
They know that people are stuffed to the gills with RE, and figure that people don't want anymore of it. So they look at what kind of games are making money, what people are actually buying.
Half-Life 2, Unreal Tournament, Far Cry, other shooting games? Yes, people are buying those games.
Adventure games? Nope, not those! In fact, all the big adventure game studios have been chewed up and spit out by bigger companies, and they have no voice anymore.
So they do the only thing that makes any sense, they pour serious time and resources into what basically amounts to a "Gun Survivor" game with high production values. ~~~
In the end, both RE4 and RE5 were such good games that many longtime fans were happy about the change.
The old Resident Evil game formula had gotten a bit stale, and shifting the series to the shooter genre made it more interesting.
For better or worse (as of this writing), RE5 has sold more than any other RE game before it.
Does that mean it's a better game, that history will remember it as such?
No, it absolutely does not!
In fact, music history, which is much older than video game history, is filled with such examples of great bands becoming more commercially successful long after their best material has been released. This can mean any number of things. Perhaps their popularity over the years manifested itself in public interest at a certain time, or maybe the advertising was just really good for that one album.
I think that this is the case with RE5.
RE4 was a great game that was occasionally a bummer to play, but it was fresh and had new ideas in it. RE5 is just a clone of the previous game with most of the same limitations. Furthermore, the RE4 formula is so simple and straightforward (literally) , that it has become "stale" after just one or two games. To make matters worse, many other games have come along since RE4, that do very interesting things with the third person (over the shoulder) perspective.
The lack of intricacy in the gameplay of RE4 that seemed so fresh at one time, has revealed its limitations with RE5, and shown the two games for what they really are, linear arcade games with funny viewing angles.
All of this adds up to make RE5 a somewhat forgettable critical darling that most professional reviewers cannot bring themselves to pan or criticize because of its pedigree.
Time can only tell if the next game will break the stale approach of the RE "Gun Survivor" series, or continue it, ad infinitum.
Final Verdict: play it, have fun, try not to think of it as a real Resident Evil game, but as a highly improved, properly realized member of the "Gun Survivor" series, because that's what it is. Let's hope there is another core "Resident Evil" game to play someday, it's been almost ten years!