Solid, But Not Spectacular
When you talk about Resident Evil 5, you're going to hear a lot of comparisons to Resident Evil 4. You've already heard a ton of them. You're going to hear a lot more. There are very good reasons for this. One of them is that RE4 was a groundbreaking game that was an incredible experience. It changed the way people thought of the Resident Evil universe, and was important to the future development of third person shooters. One other reason why the comparisons to RE4 is justified is that RE5 plays almost exactly the same.
If you've ever played RE4, you will immediately know what you're doing in RE5. You walk around, occasionally collect things, and then hoards of people infected with nasty parasites will try to kill you. You stop, you aim, and you shoot them until they're dead. Continue on for about ten hours and you've got RE5. This formula was fantastic for RE4, and it still holds up well in RE5. It's a fun game to play, though sometimes when you see a ton of guys charge into the room you can't help but think, "God, not this again."
The major changes are of course the real-time inventory system and your co-op partner Sheva. The inventory system can be a hassle when you've got enemies pouring towards you, but it makes sense and I can understand its purpose in the game. However, in a situation where a grenade or landmine would have come in handy, I found myself more often than not pouring shotgun shells at the enemy instead for fear of dying while my menu was open. As for Sheva, I've only played the single player, so I can't talk about the online experience. As for the AI Sheva, I found her compenent enough. Definitely better than Dom in the Gears of War games (especially the first one). She is an AI character, so you will of course have moments where you get frustrated and wonder what she's doing, but for the most part she held her own and I was glad to have her watching my back.
So the gameplay is good, if familiar. It was the story that actually disappointed me in Resident Evil 5. That might seem strange to say about a Resident Evil game, but I'm saying it. I know the series isn't known for its stellar storytelling. "The master of unlocking" is an infamous phrase from the first game, and the series history is just convoluted and over-the-top insane. But Resident Evil 4 just kind of shrugged off the backstory of the previous games and seemed to head in a new direction. Sure it still had plenty of ridiculous dialouge and story elements, and it did bring up moments from prior games, but for the most part it stood alone. This was especially good for me, since I hadn't played the other games. From the start it established a really creepy atmosphere, and a lot of the fun was in trying to push forward so you could figure out just what was going on in this place.
Resident Evil 5 takes the enemies of RE4 and pastes them into the Umbrella story line. For the most part, the story in RE5 seems dedicated to tying up the loose ends from the prior games. I can understand why they would do this, but at the same time it made the plot feel like it was lacking something. They try to create a mystery within the story, but if you're paying attention at all you'll guess all the surprises within the first ten to twenty minutes of the game. RE4 had moments where Leon would be taunted by his antagonists as he tried to navigate their levels, and it really made it satisfying to take them down when the boss fights arrived. 5 doesn't really match that. I guess you could say you've had the whole series to develop a hatred for Wesker, but the other antagonists don't really seem to add much. Overall, the story and atmosphere just didn't hook me the way RE4 did. It just seemed to be lacking something that the other game had. If they continue the franchise, I hope they either branch out with the story they started in RE4, or take another cue from that game and go in a whole new direction again. I think that's one of the keys to enjoying those games is to make the player want to discover what in the world is happening. With RE5, you will rarely ask that question. Except maybe when Sheva keeps wanting to use the rocket launcher.
So RE5 is a competent and enjoyable shooter, but it stands in the shadow of its predecessor and can't quite measure up. You've people say it already, but I'm adding my voice to theirs. If you enjoyed Resident Evil 4, give this one a try. But don't expect too much from it.