An intense, new yet familiar breed of horror
I could fault Capcom for the somewhat lukewarm release that followed (and still is in some respects) when Resident Evil 5 was released. The game was pulling away from its moodier environments, small ammo count and slow, shuffling zombies. In its place where high-octane action sequences, enough firepower to take on a military base and guys with tentacles for heads that more or less can make a break for you. Its trailers were lengthier and seemingly more easier to dissect (remember the identity of the bird lady? and how easy it was to figure out?) And even then, this is really only the second time Capcom has used the gameplay found in Resident Evil 4 and it was dinged by everyone to be "too similar" yet other franchises still get their high marks despite their similar gameplay to previous games or it doesn't get mentioned at all. Might sound rant-y but this is kind of the final fate it would seem of Resident Evil 5: a great game that came out after an even better one and was critiqued for it.
No longer part of S.T.A.R.S. and with Umbrella done for, Chris Redfield is now part of the B.S.A.A (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance) and is being sent to Kijuju, Africa to investigate a terrorist threat. Paired up with Sheva Alomar, Chris is tasked with finding a man named Irving and battling weird creatures, Chris uncovers a plot involving an old rival and an old friend. I'd say more but I don't really want to spoil anything and even though RE games typically don't have deep storytelling, half the fun of a game of this type is the surprise so I'll leave it to you to uncover everything.
Now on one hand I will agree there is a certain...old feeling to the controls of this game. Resident Evil typically uses "tank controls" where pushing Up was always forward but always had a locked-off camera. With RE4 the camera was switched to the almost standard over-right-shoulder perspective but it still felt oddly clunky. Turning is still weird and you're still running a good ways away, quickturning and shooting and you still can't walk and shoot. Puzzles still return although they're strangely (or thankfully depending on who you ask) it's not quite as abstract as before. There's not as much stone medallions that came from chests unlocked with eagle keys which you got by killing a giant lizard that had it on its body etc though they do pop up from time to time. The gameplay does recall RE4 which focused less on small encounters and ammo conservation and more on that intense "being surrounded on all sides and you have 7 shots left" feeling. Instead of bypassing everything, now you're going to have to fight back though the shoot-in-leg-then-melee move is almost too easy mode.
The main switch in the series is introducing a co-op system. You're always accompanied by Sheva and unlike Ashley from RE4, never tends to leave your side except for puzzle solving. The AI for her is...spotty at best. Give her a sniper rifle and she's an amazing shot, give her healing herbs and she'll want to cure any mosquito bite you manage to receive. She'll move to knife some barrels only to stop and making you do it while other times if you're in the way of her shots, she won't move out of the way. Yet if you use the ideal way to play which is with a friend via split-screen or online, the game almost becomes too easy. You might as well play co-op but if you can't, gonna have to be really stingy with what to give her.
Also included with the game is Mercenaries mode, a strangely addicting mode and is made all the more funner with a friend. Within a time limit which can be extended and accumulating points, your job is to kill as much enemies as you can as quick as you can and don't drop kill combos to rack up the points and soar up the leaderboards. Using characters such as Chris, Jill in various costumes and even classic characters, the mode is indeed quite fun although latter DLC was oddly disappointing since they did decide to include Rebecca and Barry however but since the version of the mode that really got people hooked (from RE4) is not here, why not bring back those maps and characters and HD-ify them? They didn't quite do that.
One thing that cannot be ignored is just how insanely gorgeous this game is. Using Capcom's MT Framework Engine, the game has an incredibly sharp attention to detail and lighting. From the environments to the terrific work on boss encounters, the game just screams production values. One area, an underground tunnel system lit up entirely by a lantern a character carries is quite beautiful while a jeep ride through the Savannah with real-time light changes is also well-done. Music is appropriately moody and intense while the motion capture and cutscene direction is a step above anyone at the time. Only real downfall is you do get some occasionally spotty voice acting so while Chris has some nice moments, Irving is just...awful.
Resident Evil 5 is far from a bad game and is in fact near the opposite. The production values were through the roof, it was more story-centric then the sidestory-ish feel of RE4 and boss fights were as intense and insanely detailed as ever. But following a modern classic is always going to have detractors and like Bioshock 2, sometimes giving more of what people love doesn't always mean everyone will love it. Found for nearly 20$ now, Resident Evil 5 is absolutely worth a picking up.