As a relative newbie to the Resident Evil series, I honestly didn’t know what to expect when word of Resident Evil 5 dropped. I knew vaguely what it was about, had seen the movies starring the spectacular Milla Jovovich, but having never played a game in the series, it was hard to get enthused about it. I didn’t even know how closely the movies followed the series.
When the demo originally hit the PSN store, I was equally disheartened. I hate to be one of them, but initially, I despised the controls. Stand still, take aim, fire, frozen to the spot while reloading, pull out a knife and take a swing only to be an inch short of your enemy, put knife away, step forward one inch, pull knife out, swing again, get struck from behind, get swarmed by another 10 enemies!
Now obviously that’s being dramatic – and I’m glad to say that after picking up the retail version and putting one and a bit play-throughs into it, plus online co-op and Mercs mode, my initial impressions, which were originally quite terrible – have been turned around entirely for this review.
The game revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar, the two playable characters in the title. Chris, a member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) has been sent in to an African desert area in Kijuju to investigate the “Umbrella” terrorist threat.
From there the story unravels, but having no background on the previous games, I can’t give a detailed story history.
What I can comment on though, is the game’s overall movie-like progression. There are a lot of flashbacks to prior installment scenes, interactive cut-scenes and often the game will take control as you watch the story unfold, new characters get introduced etc..
Ultimately, its not an Oscar-winning plot, but its enjoyable enough to keep you interested throughout the entirety of the game.
I’m going to be clear and upfront right away here. Resident Evil 5 isn’t a run-and-gunner. It’s an obvious observation, but some are still confusing the game play even long after the release. RE5 is not about sprinting into a room, charging at your nearest enemy, shooting it point-blank in the face all the while performing somersaults, cartwheels and slide tackles.
In comparison, Resident Evil 5 is more like Metal Gear Solid 4. Assess the situation, look around the room, see where you can take cover, gain an altitude advantage, then – and only then, execute your enemies in a steady, controlled, surgical fashion. You can’t run in, pull a Rambo, blow through 1000 rounds of Uzi 9mm ammo and take everyone out. It’s about precision. Always aim for the head. This is what wins you the game – and this approach is what makes you love Resi 5.
Stating the obvious…
Once you come to grips with throwing out the Uncharted-esque action sequence of killing-on-the-run, Resident Evil 5 becomes a great game.
Having established the approach you take in Resident Evil 5, you notice just how solid and polished the control and game play elements are. Your inventory, which at first seemed small, constricting and generally just difficult to navigate, suddenly becomes a clever, innovative option.
For example, you don’t reload weapons between battles or after kills in Resi 5, rather, you bring up your inventory screen with a press of the Triangle button, select available ammo and Combine it with your weapon(s) of choice. This is essentially a reload, but you can skip that action sequence in the middle of a battle. And in addition, you can reload all of your weapons at the same time within this screen doing away with the need to change through your weapon cycle just to prepare for the next battle. It’s actually quicker.
There are a heap of weapons to choose from and unlock as the game progresses. Each one with a set of upgrade elements, clip capacity, critical strike, damage etc… You choose to put money into the weapons of choice and share these weapons with your partner. Upgrading Sheva’s weapon makes her more useful in battle too.
Your partner, Sheva can also act as a roaming ammunition storage depot. At the beginning of missions you can select which weapons you use, which weapons your partner uses and cover yourselves in both ammo and miscellaneous items (healing for example). All of your items are interchangeable at any time. So you work together on the ammo front too.
Sometimes Sheva will pick up ammo for your Shotgun, but you can then request it from her and she will switch to another more ammo-abundant weapon she is carrying. Similarly if you’re in trouble and on the verge of dying, your partner will run over to you and give you a spray of healing tonic boosting you back to life.
Somebody’s coming up. Somebody serious.
It’s this intertwined cooperative network that Capcom have established in Resident Evil 5 that really makes it special. You and your partner are one entity, you’re separate forces, but working together as one unit. And it works so well – she does what she’s supposed to do (for the most part) and you’re never left stranded when you need help.
Sheva becomes integral to some sections of the game, the nature of the two people, one goal evident in chapters where one of you has to lower a bridge, while the other crosses and opens a door for you. Doors and objects triggered by two separate levers or chains. You’re always working together.
The bright side of ALL of this is you don’t have to rely on the AI for Sheva’s actions. With a simple, effective drop-in, drop-out online co-operative system, your best mate can join your game and take up the roll of Sheva (or Chris) compounding your ability to dispatch enemies and complete mission progress. The online co-op is SO good in fact, you’d never know you were playing online. There is zero lag. The headset support is absolutely flawless. It’s like your mate is sitting beside you playing.
On that note, online co-operative truly saves the Resident Evil 5 experience. The game is geared around partnership, around working with your partner and teaming up to complete tasks – doing this with a mate is the key.
As soon as I gave the online co-operative a try, I was completely sold on the experience and basically refused to progress any further in the story unless my mate dropped into the game with me. I finished the first play-through almost entirely in the online co-op environment. There are very few better experiences than the Resident Evil 5 online co-op. This is how the missions are meant to be played.
There are six chapters in Resident Evil 5, each divided into three parts. You progress from African villages, to swamp/marshlands, to ocean cargo container ships. The scenery is brilliantly contrasted and each setting has its own unique hazards and experiences. Your enemy, the infected Majini start with corrupted villagers and advance all the way up the spectrum to Minigun-wielding brutes.
There are sequences in amazing underground treasure-littered tombs that almost feel like something out of Tomb Raider. If I’d suddenly started scaling the walls and climbing ropes in a bikini, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all. Resident Evil 5 definitely distributes itself across a number of genres with its locations. Solving puzzles involving sun discs and mirror components feels very familiar and rewarding.
They also help to break up the lengthy battle sequences when you’re getting swarmed by hordes of Majini.
There’s even classic vehicular sequences. Hanging out the back of a Jeep, firing an AK at legions of bike-riding Majini and dodging homemade Molotov Cocktails.
Eventually, you’re led into boss battles. They often involve super-Majini type enemies, or – without giving away too much – ridiculously over-sized gooey creatures. The boss battles in Resident Evil 5 usually have a set method of defeating them, so you might run around flailing your arms and expending all your ammo before realizing that all you had to do was set the beast on fire with a conveniently located Flamethrower, or melt it with a conveniently located space laser.
Handsome and a cannibal
Sometimes the boss battles are broken up by tedious (and often incredibly annoying) quicktime events, involving a load of button-mashing and/or matching a series of on-screen button prompts to advance to the next level of boss form.
They’re not particularly innovative in any way – and sometimes they can be quite boring if I’m brutally honest. Particularly going back and playing it on Veteran difficulty, the boss battles seem to be strung out with these lengthy button-mash and stage-repeated sessions just for the sake of making the game longer.
That aside though, the game play and combat aspects of Resident Evil 5, with the inclusion of one of the best online co-operative systems we’ve seen to date, make for a solid, enjoyable experience.
I’ll start with the graphics, because, obviously, Resident Evil 5 is definitely a graphic-rich experience. Chris and Sheva are modelled in superb detail, facial expression, movement, material and clothing, weapon usage, animation – it’s all VERY impressive. You have trouble faulting any of the default set of visuals between your characters. And it doesnâ€™t stop there.
Your enemies are equally as well constructed. Capcom have spared no time or expense in ensuring that you believe the Majini are real, corrupted human-beings. African villagers, completely eaten up by the virus plaguing them, alien-like appendages bursting from beneath their skin, their mouths – and the grotesque death sequences are all infinitely well designed and brought to life.
Accompanied by fantastic audio special effects, you really believe you just shot the head off a charging Tribal Majini.
I briefly touched on the scenery earlier, and equally, these sets are just as well done. From places like Shanty Town, where the African mud and sand villages are real, run-down and almost suffocatingly close, you can’t help but marvel at the attention to detail in things as minor as pots and pans littering the walkways, to the overall scope and scale of the entire village and its infrastructure.
Without a doubt, the next-gen experience is alive and well in Resident Evil 5. It looks and feels like nothing you’ve played before on older systems.
Even the menu systems are polished and slick. Much of the main menu is interactive, moving with your input as you select from the different options. It’s this attention to detail, Capcom going out of their way to deliver a smooth design, even if it’s not necessary, sets RE5 apart from other survival type games.
If you had asked me after the demo whether I was going to pick up Resident Evil 5 or not, I’d have told you no. If it wasn’t for the fact that I got a great deal on this one, trading two old games I barely ever play outright for Resident Evil 5, I’d probably still not own it.
And that would be a great shame.
I can understand the love/hate relationship with the control scheme that countless people have commented on, but ultimately, I can’t understand not making a small adjustment for the sake of what is a really great game. You can adapt to it. After a while, you don’t even notice it when you play the game properly.
The online co-operative is an absolute blessing. Not only does it offer the entire game to you for play-throughs with your mates, but it also equals a whole new level of replayability. I’m certain that on the later difficulty levels, you’d need a mate to get through some of the battles with you. The fact that it works, perfectly really, is testament to the work and effort Capcom have put into this one. Lag-free, flawless mic support, and true drop-in-drop-out connectivity.
There’s loads of replayability, whether its upgrading weapons, collecting treasures, playing through Mercenaries mode, competing online for the Leaderboard scores, or just running around in co-op with a buddy, you can always come back to Resident Evil 5, even after successfully completing the game.
It’s one of those titles that almost went under the radar but thankfully, didn’t.
Had I done an initial impressions on RE5, I would have painted a drastically different picture. I couldn’t even get online co-op working with the demo. The the retail version completely surprises and establishes itself as one of the best titles on the PS3 to date.
Brilliant work, Capcom.