Amazingly polished, yet flawed in some ways.
It’s a bit strange where Capcom is these days, in some ways they are the rouge Japanese developer that goes against the traditions of Japanese game design with games like Bionic Commando and Street Fighter HD Remix, but sometimes they fall back on their Japanese roots with some things like the online in Street Fighter 4. Resident Evil 5 stands in the middle of these two things, and what it results in is a game that is very similar to Resident Evil 4 that has solid and great action with amazing set pieces that Japanese developers specifically are very good at, but falls into a sort of schizophrenic mess as the game also tries in some areas to keep the company’s maverick status.
The game stars two main characters, Chris Redfield which was the main protagonist in the original Resident Evil, whom makes a return in this latest iteration of Resident Evil. With Chris is a new character in the series; Sheva Alomar. Both Chris and Sheva never come off as particularly interesting characters but also not disinteresting; it’s a strange attachment that I personally have never experienced in… anything. They are neither empethisable, yet never apathetic, neither forgettable nor particularly memorable, it’s strange to say the least. You never feel detached to what is happening to either Chris or Sheva,neither really attracted nor engrossed, it just sort of… happens. Though there are other characters besides Chris and Sheva throughout the game that are personalized and some are particularly interesting in their own way. It’s no secret that Wesker makes an appearance in the game, the former S.T.A.R.S agent turned traitor, turned maniacal plotting evil genius is an interesting character particularly because he is distinctive and the role he plays and played in the Resident Evil storyline. His god complex personality and his agenda throughout the many games just inherently make him intriguing, the dialog and writing though does make him fall flat sometimes, but it can be overlooked if seen from a serious angle rather than an ironic critical standpoint, which for most fans of Resident Evil, will see it from the former angle than the latter. There are other supporting characters, but in true Resident Evil fashion, they either killed off early on or are never really fleshed out into someone interesting, so you will primarily be dealing with the personalities of the two protagonists and the antagonist. The middling personality’s runs in a way that makes certain story sequences never unsatisfying, so big boss fights and boss fights that run personally with the protagonist don’t feel detached or unsatisfying when you finish them. In the end the characters are just that… middling, in fact that is what I can say for most of the story.
The story starts with Chris entering this fictional country in called Kijuju. Chris reintroduces himself as now a BSAA agent or Bio-terrorism Security Assessment Alliance. Chris is sent to investigate a possible bio-terrorism incident in the country, and assisting him is Sheva Alomar, whom is part of the African BSAA branch. The game starts off by you not actually shooting for a good while, instead, you walk through an area of the town with Sheva while the locals are giving a sinister looks. It’s a good way of introducing unease into the situation and adds a creative bit of tension. You’re then asked tofind a man called . Soon enough though, the action starts, the locals start going crazy and you’re faced with crazy men with clubs and axes, and it’s you or them. Resident Evil has had a pretty notorious reputation for having a very cheesy, B grade story on the surface. On the surface of Resident Evil 5, it’s been promoted from B grade story to generic action movie. The dialog, the initial plot is all very much of that of a generic action movie. As said before, it’s pretty middling, which means it’s not the worst story you’ve ever heard but it’s certainly not the best. The story does a good job though of promoting a very simple situation into a very epic one at the end, which progressing through the story reveals a bigger and bigger scheme behind each chapter, and in the end, the stakes in the beginning are nowhere the same as the stakes in the end, and without feeling rushed on top of that. But overall on the surface, the story is Chris and Sheva out to investigate a situation in this country, and Chris revealing the deeper meaning of why he is here, which is to find his old partner Jill Valentine from the older Resident Evil games. Couple that with some plot twists that can be seen a mile away, and you’ve got a really generic story. Notice though I said “on the surface”. Resident Evil is a series which on the surface looks like either a cheesy B movie or a generic action movie in each game, but there is an overarching conspiracy and lore behind the universe which makes it fascinating. There are several documents scattered throughout the game that reveal info about the T-virus, Las Plagus, and other experiments as well as documents under the hidden agenda of the new Tricell company and the notorious Umbrella company. Of course none of this will make sense to anyone new to the series, but for anyone interested in the deeper story elements of Resident Evil, there is some value to it in this one.
First and foremost, the visual presentation of this game is bar none some of the best in the business. The game doesn’t look realistic, but it has this stylized look to it that is accompanied by unparallel level of details in the models themselves. From the texture of Chris’s clothes to the skin complexion of Sheva, it all just looks amazing. This is also accompanied by some really amazing lighting that show off in the environment really well, there is one instance where you are in a dark cave, and youor your partner have to navigate it with a large lantern, and you can just see the light being diffused as you look further into it, and you can see every crevice bending and blocking the light. Body Animation is almost impossible to distinct from a real body to a digitized one, animations also show off well by the special attacks you commit such as Chris’s haymaker, straight, and uppercut punches and look just as they would in real life. Some of the best visual presentation though comes from the cinematography, just the way the camera moves during real-time cutscenes, and how it flows together just works, as well as it being in context of a game as small camera close-up’s subtly reveal tactics and weakness’s of bosses you fight. Facial animation is some of the best and is highly believable giving subtle expressions of concern, persistence, and struggle. Environments are surprisingly varied and make good use of all the technical aspects of the game as well, you will find the shanty towns of Kujuju that echo’s influences of Black Hawk Down, while exploring the dirty and rusty industrial fields such as oil fields, and also the dark marshes of the swamps of Africa. In all, the visuals in Resident Evil 5 rival that of even most CG movies.
The audio is also of top quality. The voice acting of Chris, Sheva, and Wesker all do great performances, Wesker standing out as having the perfect voice of the mysterious, egocentric mastermind. Obviously the dialog somewhat hinders the performances of these voice actors, but they do possibly the best job with the materials on hand. Very few times do they overreact or sound over the top, even in the situation they are in. The musical score is done really well but would have benefited to more use or more repetitious use of a theme to give it more of an identity, though what is there fits well with the setting and subject matter. The main theme echo’s Black Hawk Down similarly to the first few environments, while after that the music accompanies the tight tenseness and desperation of the setting. It’s not particularly memorable but it fits and blends together through the game and is dynamic towards the situation you are in. It’s an orchestral score that makes heavy use of minor key’s as any game of this type should, but what’s strange is the use of major key’s in some boss fights, this has the effect of making you almost feel empowered. It’s not bad or anything, but it serves to almost show the change in direction Capcom is making with the franchise. Most of the sound effects are re-used from RE4 and they still sound fantastic and add a sense of familiarity to the game, but new sounds could help not feel like it’s too recycled from the past, but the sounds of flesh meeting lead, and the explosive sounds of a shotgun making heads explode is still gruesome as always. The parasite infected citizens of Kujuju sound vile and angry with distant screams and violent yells, on many occasions you will see the parasite pop out of their heads with violent disarray and alien sounding cries. Overall the sound design and audio though has very high production values involving good voice acting, a well conducted orchestral score, and although recycled, still great sound effects.
But what’s on everyone’s mind is the gameplay. Resident Evil 5 serves as a strange mix of old and new that doesn’t exactly work out. It serves as an example that western game philosophy of change and innovation is not always a good thing. Resident Evil 5 plays very much the same as Resident Evil 4, though there have been many significant changes to the formula of the gameplay, the biggest addition to this is the addition of full-time co-op play. Sheva is always your partner whether if there is another human being playing or not. This serves as a detriment and a benefit to the gameplay as a whole, but none the less represents a big change. The detriment being is the game is no longer naturally scary as you always have someone else with you, the benefit being that there is an ability for multiplayer co-op as almost everyone wants co-op in every game.
I personally do not have a problem with the concept of co-operative function, however the way Resident Evil implements it is fairly flawed. The initial problem is that the co-op AI is not very good, or to be clear, is that the presence of an AI partner is a lot more punishing than that of other games. Many other games create an AI companion that is simply an extra arm or benefit to the player with little punishing weight to it, like Gears of War or Half Life 2, the AI companion has infinite ammo and generally large amount of health compared to yours requiring less taking care of to your partners. In this game, your AI partner is basically a copy of yourself, following the same rules of ammo, health, and inventory as you are. This stems the problem that you and her share the same amount of ammo and health, as to be expected, the AI partner does not exert the same amount of efficiency as “professional” players. Sheva will often exhibit very low efficiency by using whatever weapon to commit body shots, while a seasoned player will know that head shots coupled by a special attack will save ammo and is more effective crowd control in the long run. More problems stem as you cannot direct the AI to exhibit particular behaviors that you wish for it to do. There are only two basic combat commands you can commit to AI sheva, “Attack” and “Cover”. In cover mode, Sheva has an odd obsession with the pistol. Regardless if you give her a sniper rifle, shotgun or even rocket launcher, she will always stick with the pistol or the weakest weapon until she run’s out of ammo; however she will generally stay out of the way of being hit. Attack mode rectifies much of this by having her switch to the most powerful weapon but this causes a bunch of new problems. She becomes overly aggressive and often times with a shotgun, will attempt to run point blank range and get hit in the progress, and also wander far away from you. While using the pistol or machinegun, she will wildly waste ammo on inefficient bodyshots. There’s just not enough control on your partner to feel comfortable with her, it would have been especially nice if you could direct her to a pinpoint location and use a specific weapon as well as telling her to stay in a particular position. Considering ammo is more scarce then it was in Resident Evil 4, it get’s fairly frustrating when you are being punished for the AI’s behavior as you will easily see giving her a 100 pistol bullets go down to about 30 in 5 minutes. To it’s credit though, the AI does well in other areas such as searching for boxes and barrels that are missed, picking up ammo, getting out of the way of your shots, giving ammo to weapons you only use, dodging QTE’s, and healing when you or her health is low, she also is fairly good at pathfinding, only occasionally getting stuck in the larger open spaces. Though the AI is fairly incompetent and serves as a hindrance more than a helper, often times will you run into situations where you or your partner gets hit or outright dies because of stupidity on her part or her for some reason not helping you when you get grabbed from behind. A lot of the time, especially on the higher difficulties, you will most likely imagine that it would be better for you if Sheva was not there at all, and you were just alone.
So why not just play the game with someone else? True, that would rectify a lot of the problems that the AI generally has, but playing co-op easily destroys the immersive experience. The constant chatter of the low bit-rate mics come from Xbox Live only serves as a constant reminder that you are just playing a game. It very much destroys the singleplayer story experience, and not only that, it makes awkward moments between you and your partner when you’re watching an emotional cutscene. Even then, there are also problems playing it with someone else on your first playthrough, as you will frequently find 6 page documents and diary entries scattered everywhere, and your desire to read them may not be the desire of someone else onthe other side. And there is also the logistical concern that you and someone else may not want to run at similar paces. So ultimately you gain a flawed experience either way. This can be avoided by playing on a much lighter difficulty by your self, and going for the harder difficulties with someone else. However for RE4 veterans, you might be tempted to touch the Veteran difficulty level, which feels about right for the most part, but because of the AI, you should really consider playing it on normal first and then the higher difficulties with someone else.
Granted even with all these problems, Resident Evil 5 still plays with the underlying conventions of Resident Evil 4, which is a game with great, solid, action mechanics. The way you deal with enemies, ammo management, and light tactical options still sets it apart from many of today’s shooters. Enemies will come at you 5 or 10 at a time and often surround you from many sides; giving the game a nice intensity that runs stimulates the “fight or flight” response. The light tactical options come from the games combat mechanics as well as the level design. Often you will use Chris or Sheva to execute a special attack either by shooting “zombies” in the arm, head, or leg to give a powerful uppercut or a slit to the throat. There have been changes to the melee combat mechanics from 4, which all you could do then was give someone a mighty roundhouse kick. You can now execute combos which take a fair bit of coordination, but very satisfying and an efficient way to make use of a single bullet. Sheva can shoot a “zombie” in the arm, which Chris can execute a hook, which Sheva can execute a mighty kick, which then Chris can end with a powerful straight punch to the chest. Other tactical options include the ways the levels are designed, some with housing for shelter, some with high ground, and some with obvious and not so obvious environmental kills. My main complaint about the level design is they are too “gamey” in a way. It’s too obvious sometimes that when you stumble across an area that these locations are obviously going to be “arenas” or “boss fights” or even scripted sequences, putting off some of the tension as you already know what’s going to happen before it even happens. It’s fairly minor though, and you can probably get past the fact that the level breaks the immersion a bit, by the fact it’s reminding you that it’s just a game.There is a great variety of enemies that all come with different strategies to deal with them that help keep the game feeling fresh, but what Japanese developers are very good at are making great boss fights. These boss fights are a lot of times big in scale, intimidating, and tricky to contend with and come with a satisfying end when you finally kill them. They are never that hard when you objectively look at them, but the QTE’s and blemishing weak points constantly make it interesting and most importantly tense, as your window of opportunity to kill them when you figure out their weakness is very small, but very possible to achieve. Like the Devil May Cry games Capcom also makes, they are epic, fair, and give you enough notice of how to beat them, and above all satisfying and memorable.
The most controversial omission is of more westernization of the game, such as the fact that you still cannot move and shoot in this game. Personally, I would not have an issue with this, if the game was simply designed around this. Unfortunately, Resident Evil 5 fails very much in many cases of being too in-between keeping core game design, and new directions. The enemies may look, react, and even attack in the same ways that they did in RE4, however there are some slight tweaks to them that make them significantly harder to deal with. They are faster for one, they have new attacks which come from a longer distance, a lot of the enemies have more health than relative to the previous game, they come in greater numbers, and there are a lot less ways to dodge your way out of enemies than before. In design, this is probably compensated by the fact that you have another partner with you, especially if it’s another human being. This however is mitigated by enemies that you encounter later in the game which makes you think “why did you put this in, yet not make me move and shoot?” It’s a slight spoiler, but fair ways into the game you encounter infected people with AK-47s. These enemies really take out what makes Resident Evil’s combat special, and also makes the controls rear its ugly head. Instead of tactically picking out your shots and extending every bullet, you are forced to take them down by conventional means, and since you cannot move and shoot, it starts to become very irritating as you are trying to inch out the side of a corner so you can headshot one of them by pulling up the gun, realizing you haven’t moved enough, pulled down the gun, move a bit to the left or right, pull it up again and do it again until you see him, it’s frustrating, irritating, and totally unnecessary. There is a cover system, but it’s scripted cover meaning that you can only get into cover of things the game will let you in particular areas, and it’s not even that useful as you are restricted to one point and with limited ability to pivot and see around you, which can be a problem when facing a lot of enemies.
Another aspect that suffers from the lack of westernization or conservatism from the previous games is the inventory system. The inventory is dealt by using slots rather than the tiled blocks in Resident Evil 4. The advantage to this is the avoidance of playing Tetris with your items, but the system simply isn’t implemented well. The system is set up so that you can have 9 blocks of items and some items stack for each character making up a grand total of 18 blocks of items you can carry with you. This may seem like a reasonable number of items you can carry, but know that it also includes your weapons, ammo, grenades, healing kits, and even body armor. So let’s do some number crunching to see how much you can actually carrymidway through the game. There are two types of body armor, and they take up 1 slot each, so giving each character both would result in 14 slots left, now a reasonable number of weapons to carry would be about 3. One for close range, long range, and one is your crowd control like a shotgun. So that’s 6 slots taken out, but those 6 guns need ammo for each of them which take up another 6 slots! Now we only have 2 slots left, but we need healing items which a reasonable amount would be 2 of them. We now have 0 slots left for any herbs, eggs, or grenades we may come across during the level Of course you can organize this and make do with two weapons instead of three, and also take out the body armor, but the issues don’t also come from the limited amount you can carry. An issue stems from the fact that everything = 1 slot if it can’t stack with another thing. So one pistol bullet somehow takes up as much space as a rocket launcher, and it can also cause a bunch more inventory issues, like how carrying 3 different types of grenades will take up 3 different slots. Let me state that the pervious inventory system did not have this issue; however this system does have some advantages over the pervious one. For the most part, it is that real time weapon change is now possible by mapping your items to the four directions on your d-pad, however this in itself isn’t as implemented as well as it should be. There’s no head’s up display for choosing your weapons, so you have to remember what gun you placed where, and which weapon you select. Also, when you use something like a green herb, it disappears from the slot you assigned it to, instead of perhaps replacing it with another green herb or another item, and also you cannot assign the 5 different other items you may have in your inventory, which means if you want to use them, you would have to open the menu and actively use it, in real time on top of all that, which is really something you don’t want to be doing when literally a mob is right behind you wanting to kill you. All these issues stem from the fact that Capcom sometimes goes far into western game design, but not far enough, and sometimes you get the impression that if they simply made a game more similar to the last in some respect, that this probably would have been a better game.
Value wise, you are totally getting your moneys worth in Resident Evil 5. The story mode runs on an average length of about 7-8 hours, but there are tons of unlockables, hidden extras, and the mercenaries’ mode to take care of. Achievements are really well set and give you the impression that it’s highly plausible to get them all, so most likely you will most likelyundertake some of them if not all. You will also probably go through the story more than once, not only because it would just be inherently fun to go through it over and over again, but there are incentives to doing so and performing well at them, to unlock points which can be purchased for unlocking action figures and infinite ammo for your weapons. Mercenaries for those who don’t know, is an unlockable tradition in the Resident Evil games, which by beating the game you unlock a little mini-game which is an arena-style combat mission which is to rack up the highest score in the shortest amount of time. It can get highly competitive as there are now friends leaderboards and global leaderboards, so you can finally show off to your friends that you are the best Resident Evil player around. It’s also a good way to earn points to purchase in the store, and it also has co-operative play and unlockable characters beneath that. When it’s all said and done, Resident Evil 5 can take up a good chunk of your time.
Do all the problems make Resident Evil 5 a bad game? No, certainly not. As I said before it still plays on its predecessor’s footsteps and very much retains a lot of the qualities of what made Resident Evil 4 a tour de force back in the day. Things such as the way enemies react when they get shot, the light tactical options, and how boss fights are presented and how they work which still to this day shooters have a difficult time managing, are on par if not better than most games today. Add that with the amazing production values such as voice acting, cinematography, and sound design, and you just have a great game. The decision though of whether you want to buy this or not, solely depends on how much did you like the last game and what do you want and expect out of a shooter these days. If you want the next evolution of Resident Evil 4, then you should probably looking at a game like Dead Space, but if you can bear with the problems of westernization in Resident Evil 5, and willing to tolerate some of the problems with the AI, then you will most certainly find a great game, with great production values that is wholly worth recommending, just be sure that you’ll bump into a few issues.