Reviewed by Ryan “Plagiarize” Acheson
Available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Developed and Published by Capcom
Four long years ago I sat down to start playing what turned out to be the best game I had ever played. I had been a fan of the Resident Evil series, and I ranked some of them amongst my favorite games, but I didn’t consider any of them to be the best game I had ever played. In my review I felt this duty to demonstrate that I didn’t run around labeling something ‘best game ever’ every other month. That it was a monumental occurrence for me to be point to Resident Evil 4 and to say “this is it.”
I threw around words like “flawless”. Not perfect … but flawless. Some things could have been better, but everything was good. Four long years ago. On a different site. In a different house. On a different console.
Since then I have had plenty of time to reflect on RE4’s position at the top of the pile. I have finished it numerous times over. I have played it on every system it’s been released on. And out of the corner of my eye I have been watching Resident Evil 5.
Any one that remembers my review from four years ago, or that knows I have held Resident Evil 4 as the very best of the best since the first time I played it, has to be wondering … is this one better? That’s an almost existential question. Part of the thrill of Resident Evil 4 was how it compared to the games around it. Nothing came close. It stood head and shoulders above the previous games in the series, and the contemporary titles of the day.
I could explain to you that I think that Resident Evil 5 is a better game, but that Resident Evil 4 is still my favorite game … but it wouldn’t really mean anything much. Do I think that? I haven’t really reflected on it. I didn’t sit trying to think whether or not Resident Evil 4 was the best game I ever played … it just absolutely and plainly was.
No, my mind set in playing the sequel to the best game I ever played has not been “is this one better” at all, but “does this one live up to the last one”. There have been a lot of good games in the interim. A lot of great horror titles. A handful of brilliant ones. But none of them have, for better or worse, played like Resident Evil 4 did.
Resident Evil 4 was a game that not only completely changed the landscape of horror gaming, but that changed the landscape of gaming period. It remains one of the best reviewed games ever. Hallmarks of it’s design can be seen in most of the big budget games that have followed it.
However no one took Resident Evil 4’s blueprint and made a game from the same designs. They took elements of it certainly, but they were planted into and bolted onto other genres. You see its influence in first and third person shooters. In action platform games. Most survival horror games remained firmly rooted in survival horror.
Resident Evil 4 had stood not between horror and action, but bridging the gap. It was unabashedly both. Action horror, and survival action were names bandied about, though none stuck. The closest games to it are probably Dead Space and the Gears of War titles, but neither of them retained Resident Evil’s firm insistence that movement should never be analogue, and that moving and shooting should be mutually exclusive things.
They were great games. There’s no question about it. Some of the people that merely tolerated Resident Evil 4’s gameplay have found new homes amongst the likes of those titles and may very well find it now prohibitively difficult to put up with what they tolerated before. But that isn’t me. Resident Evil 4 was my game. It was the top of the stack and all I wanted, all I have wanted in the four remaining years, was just one more title that played like it. Just one.
I loved the gameplay and the strategy that the fight or flight nature of Resident Evil 4 provided and finally here it is. Never mind evolution vs revolution or any of that nonsense. Resident Evil 5 is Resident Evil 4 Part 2. It has not been blind to all the advances in gameplay in the last four years. It just hasn’t changed its core gameplay much.
The production values are insane. Here stands a game that looks every bit as good as the best looking exclusives on any platform. Given that exclusives get to tailor their strengths to a given system, that just shouldn’t happen. Resident Evil 5 looks so good it puts exclusives to shame.
On a technical level. On an artistic level. There just isn’t a bad thing you can say about the game. Razor sharp textures. Dust particles caught in a stream of light. Blistering exposed desert villages. Damp dark enclosed caves. Every scene it tries its hand at it left me breathless.
How can a multiplatform game look this good? How?
The direction of the cutscenes. The standard of the music. The quality of the acting (if not the writing). It makes the recent CG movie look bad… and this is running on your system in real time. Jim Sonzero may have completely fumbled the remake of pulse, but he deserves special mention here. The energy and quality of the cutscenes … it’s genuinely on another level. No other game comes close.
The fully orchestrated music. The sound design. This was no small title. Capcom recently put out a press release bragging about all the movies the game outperformed on release last week and it’s no surprise. Capcom clearly hold this franchise above all their others, and clearly feel that they have something here that goes beyond just video gamers in its appeal.
I don’t normally talk about graphics and sound and production values as an initial point, but Resident Evil 5 so clearly raises the bar in those areas that it will be the first thing to hit you. You’ll be seeing the incredible cinematics and hearing the brilliant sound work before you get to play the game after all.
So once you find yourself back in control … what kind of a beast is Resident Evil 5? First up the controls are about identical. Chris controls exactly the same as Leon did. If that’s a problem for you, I feel sorry that you’re going to miss out on such a major release as a result. There’s been a few complaints about aiming being looser, but on the 360 version at least, such complaints are unfounded, and trust me when I say I’ve put enough hours into RE4 to know.
Fighting the enemies is basically the same too. Resident Evil 5’s combat is more about carefully placed shots than anything else. Shoot the weapon out of the guys hand. Stun the guy at the front of the pack so you can run in and deliver a devastating melee attack. Try to separate guys and finish them with the knife to save ammo.
The same strategies carry over. Naturally there are some new enemies with different attack patterns to learn and new weak points to focus on, but the bulk of the enemies are essentially the same as the bulk of the enemies in RE4 were. There are two key things that ensure that Resident Evil 5 doesn’t just feel like playing through some areas you missed in Resident Evil 4. They are equally major and obvious right from the beginning.
Firstly, through every step of the game Chris is accompanied by Sheva Alomar. Unlike Ashley she isn’t unarmed. In fact if anything it’s more like the partner system in Resident Evil 0 than anything else. She has the same limited number of inventory slots as Chris (both of which are much more limited than Leon’s inventory and not upgradeable like his). She uses the same resources in the world as Chris, although she won’t just help herself to something you can both use. Even if she does you can exchange items between the two of you so long as you are near enough.
You both rarely die outright on being attacked by an enemy. Usually you will go into a “dying” mode where you can’t shoot or use anything in your inventory but you do have a few seconds to reach each other and then if herbs are available you can heal the one dying, or if not, you can resuscitate them which will leave them with little health, but in full control of the character.
One minor annoyance with this is that you cannot interact with the environment while dying. So if you have lifted Sheva up to a rooftop that Chris cannot get up to, she cannot jump back down to you while dying. Such opportunities to split up by lifting or throwing Sheva somewhere that Chris can’t get to are relatively few, and only occasionally optional. For the most part you will always be alongside Sheva. There is no level or boss-fight where you will be playing alone as Chris.
She will be your constant companion, and you will come to rely on her.
She is the embodiment of the Resident Evil 5’s greatest feature. Co-op. Resident Evil 5 may or may not be the best game I have ever played. It is definitely the best co-op game I have ever played. It isn’t as replayable as Left 4 Dead … what is … but it is still incredibly replayable, and it’s more designed and better paced campaign leads for much higher highs than even the brilliant Left 4 Dead can manage.
As a single player game, it is Resident Evil 4 with a sometimes useful and sometimes stupid and annoying character. As a shared experience between two humans, it really feels like a big step forwards over the last one. I’ve never played a game before where the difference in experience between single player and multiplayer was so major. All the same pieces are in place. All the same things can happen. But truly co-op in Resident Evil 5 is a very different beast.
The way that you can melee chain back and forth between each other for example. The way that you can shoot or melee an enemy off of your partner. The tactics that two thinking people can put into place when faced with odds that would have been insurmountable alone. The random element that another human adds is always a wonderful thing… but here it just seems to sing.
The limited inventory system forces you to focus on different weapons. Your money is shared evenly and you can still upgrade your weapons much as before. If you are playing single player you will still want to upgrade the stuff you give to Sheva so she can better protect you. That stuff will remain yours in single player. In co-op your inventory will be separate to whoever you are playing with, even though you can trade back and forth between you.
Upgrading, buying new stuff, and selling the bits of treasure you’ve found for money happens between chapters rather than at stores. You’ll want to put a lot of thought into how you divvy up equipment here, as once you’re in game, you face the other major change to the gameplay.
Resident Evil 5 is relentless. Most horror games use build up of tension, and then pay off, to generate their frights. Resident Evil 5 almost never does that. It has lead some people to say it isn’t really a horror game anymore, to which I disagree but more on that later. Early on in the game the shit hits the fan, and continues to hit the fan pretty much nonstop for the dozen or so remaining hours.
The tension doesn’t come from wondering when the horrors are going to come pouring down upon you, but from wondering when you’re going to get a chance to draw breath because unlike every previous game in the series, looking at your map or inventory no longer pauses the game. You can assign items to the d-pad for quick access, but doing this in the middle of combat leaves you a defenseless target if your partner isn’t covering you.
While playing co-op online it’s even more drastic. You cannot pause the game. Not ever.
This dispensing of dread and classic tension isn’t just related to the pacing of the game, but the environments too. Resident Evil 4 made a half step away from the dark gothic environments of the previous games (though a third of the game was still set in a castle). Resident Evil 5 completes it.
There are still some dark environments. But much more is bleak and open. Nothing is gothic outside of some things you’ll see in the cutscenes. Is it a change too far? For me absolutely not, for some apparently so.
A lot of people found Resident Evil 4 less scary than the rest of the series, myself included, while a small group found it scarier. The feeling of being outnumbered out in the open by a horde of savages, rather trapped inside a dark claustrophobic house with a handful of slow moving shambling things, hit some peoples horror buttons quite effectively.
I would still put Resident Evil 5 below the “classic” titles in the series in terms of its fear factor, but I actually find myself in the minority that think the game scarier than its direct predecessor.
As the game dispenses with places where you can manually save, instead opting for a more linear series of environments with traditional checkpoints, there is absolutely no way to “reset” your comfort level. You can’t pause for a second to catch your breath, or dash back to a typewriter and save all your progress breathing a sigh of relief.
You have to suck it up and fight on no matter what. No matter how low on health or ammo you are, the only thing you can do to reach a rare quiet moment to collect yourself is to persevere.
Also with environments that tend to be a little more open (though as mentioned before there is no back tracking) and filled with enemies I start to see where those people that found Resident Evil 4 so scary where coming from. That feeling of being hunted by a force that will never stop.
Talking of a force that will never stop adequately dovetails into the story, which is much more of a direct sequel to the previous games in the series than Resident Evil 4 was. It ties the previous narratives about the Umbrella Company into the narrative from Resident Evil 4 while satisfyingly putting tying up a lot of the loose ends.
Albert Wesker is at the forefront of the game as its clear main protagonist and it becomes clear that Umbrella was only ever really a company name put onto the research of Ozwell Spencer. Umbrella may have been dissolved by Ozwell carried on funding his research just the same, and as ever Wesker has his designs set on the results of that research which he wants to use for his own sick motive.
Not all the questions from the series remain unanswered, but there are certainly less questions left in the wake of Resident Evil 5’s ending.
The story isn’t brilliant. It is epic and engaging, but really the story in this series has never really been that big a deal. That said, anyone that does have emotional investment in these charcters is going to be satisfied, and anyone that couldn’t really care isn’t going to find what is going on offensive.
Whether you care or not, Resident Evil 5 offers up a lot of replay value. As if online co-op and split screen wasn’t a big enough addition you have a greatly expanded version of “The Mercenaries”, Resident Evil 4’s great unlockable high score based arcade mode. Again, you’ll have to beat the game once to unlock it but RE5 brings with it twice the levels and twice the characters to play with offering eight of each.
You can play by yourself (with no AI partner) or you can play split screen or online co-op with a friend as you battle waves of enemies and try to keep your score going on rebuilt levels from the main game.
If that isn’t really your thing, you have multiple difficulty levels, and a large range of weapons to purchase and upgrade that you absolutely won’t be doing on your first time through. There’s even a large number of unlockable extras such as costumes and figurines that you unlock using points gained from either playing The Mercenaries or from replaying the main campaign … and as with any Resident Evil game, on finishing the game you are ranked as to how well you did based on how fast you finished, how many enemies you killed and other factors.
While an optional multiplayer mode is coming next month at a five dollar premium, there is certainly a huge slab of gaming to be had here. And while I played it on the 360, what I saw of the PS3 version gave me no reason not to recommend it without conviction.
If there would be one conviction it would be this: ‘If you didn’t like Resident Evil 4, then you’ll want to skip Resident Evil 5. Quite who that would apply to who might be reading this review though, is completely beyond me.
I don’t know if Resident Evil 6 will as close to Resident Evil 5 as it was to 4. I don’t know if the years between now and then will be any shorter than these last four have seemed. But I do know that it doesn’t really matter.
Resident Evil 5 is brilliant. It’s the game I’ve been waiting four years to play. Its production values are incredible. It is horror may be of a different type than that which you may expect from the series, but that really doesn’t matter.
As with Resident Evil 4 before it, this game is at the forefront of gaming showing everyone just how it’s done. Bravo Capcom. Bravo.
4 1/2 out of 5
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