Resident Evil 5
OverviewPlatform: Xbox 360
Bring a friend and suncream, as the latest Resident Evil series goes all co-op in a fresh African setting.
The road to release has been rough for Resident Evil 5; much harsher than you would expect a new instalment in a well-known and much revered gaming franchise to be subject to. Despite its status as a triple A title RE5 has been at the sharp end of everything from a zombie race controversy and a clumsy marketing representative detailing a non-existent run-and-gun control scheme to having the creator of the series, Shinji Mikami, saying he won’t be playing RE5 because it’ll stress him out. While these have certainly been significant hurdles to overcome the biggest obstacle in its path is Resident Evil 4. The RE5 team have had to undertake the unenviable task of creating a follow-up to the most successful and critically acclaimed survival horror game of all time, a game which has had an impact so profound that without it many of today’s blockbuster titles, titles which have significantly contributed to the success of entire consoles, would not exist. RE4 is undoubtedly a hard act to follow, bearing in mind the numerous genre innovations as well as now ubiquitous gameplay conventions established in RE4 it is no easy task keeping expectations for RE5 grounded.
Let’s not beat around the bush, RE5 is very similar to RE4 in a number of aspects, it sticks very closely to the reworked Resident Evil formula established in RE4, parallels exist in both gameplay and in setup. Just as Resident Evil 4’s leading man was a familiar face in the form of Leon Kennedy Resident Evil 5 puts the player in the shoes of series regular Chris Redfield. After escaping, the zombie infested Spencer Mansion and leaving Raccoon City the former STARS member returns some years later as a member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) who has arrived in Africa to stop a deal involving biological weapons and investigate reports of a mysterious project known as Uroboros. Predictably, things take a grim turn for the worse and after witnessing a number of locals undergo disturbing changes Chris and new partner Sheva embark on a mission to uncover the secrets of the project and stop the ambitions of those pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
The most unique facet of Resident Evil 5 is the setting, unlike in previous titles RE5 starts in open environments which are well-lit and therefore take away opportunities to scare or startle the player, which is a series staple. Instead, the unique setting and the environment itself are so jarring that it provides an unsettling tension without the use of any clear threats to you. While the areas are open and the sun is glaring down upon you it still never feels safe since the towns are peppered with small malevolent pockets of darkness, some may be random areas of shade while others are clearly cover for some despicable activity.
The attention to detail in the game extends beyond cosmetic details on the character models and environments to the atmosphere, in the early environments seemingly insignificant things work to subtly convey a sense of an impending calamity, aspects such as the use of wildlife or the reactions from the town’s folk delicately create an uneasy and suffocating atmosphere.
While this is obviously not the appropriate setting to discuss whether RE5 is racist or not It’s hard not to factor in the fact that you are a large white man in a place predominantly inhabited by black people. The effect of this isn’t one of racial hostility but more one of alienation and isolation, as you walk through the towns you become more and more aware that your presence is unwelcome — it’s hard not to feel a little uneasy when a gang of men armed with makeshift weapons created from nails and wood stop the questionable activities they were engaged in to turn and watch you walk towards them.
Unfortunately this use of intense atmosphere as the primary form of ‘scaring’ the player doesn’t last, the game quickly abandons the African setting in favour of the usual and generic series of environments that have been featured in almost every Resident Evil game thus far, while it’s hard not to notice how beautiful, detailed and well crafted each environment is you’ll still find the majority of the time you’re in an all too familiar cave/underground futuristic lab/ancient ruin.
Beyond the initial few environments the atmosphere as well as the gameplay changes in a way that makes Resident Evil 5’s classification as a survival horror seem ill-fitting. RE5 moves the series from the traditional survival horror model of gameplay to a purely action orientated model, the gameplay is focused on moving through different environments while dispatching enemies that inevitably emerge to attempt to stop you. After the initial setup the game essentially boils down to a series of elaborate kill rooms all of which play out in a very similar fashion; you enter, reach a certain trigger point, enemies flow in, you kill them and then move on to the next room. While Resident Evil purist may reject this and cite it as corruption of the series most players will either fail to notice the change or simply be too busy enjoying the action gameplay to raise any objections to it. With the emphasis on all-out action the game leaves behind any attempts at scaring the player or maintaining an uneasy or tense atmosphere, the player simply isn’t in an environment long enough for it to register and if they are spending a lot of time in a single environment they’re usually being set upon by enemies and are too focused on killing them to take anything else in. The Resident Evil games rely on the inherent fear that arises from uncertainty, it’s the not knowing that is truly terrifying, with RE5 sticking so close to the formula established in RE4 some would argue this eliminates the uncertainty and hence the fear arising from it.
The controls in Resident Evil have become a polarizing topic, the controls have remained largely the same as in RE4, the main difference being the ability to strafe, while this does not change the combat in a significant way it does allow the player to position their character better and evade attacks quicker. Although they function well for most of the game there are a number of occasions where the aiming speed will place the player at a significant disadvantage against certain fast-moving enemies. A great deal of the core Resident Evil experience is inherited through its restrictions, what you aren’t able to do or see. Whereas games such as Left 4 Dead provide you with complete awareness of the environment and fellow team members Resident Evil relies on the lack of awareness to create tension, in RE5 turning around to reposition yourself is a risk, the battlefield could completely change behind you, the challenge lies in the players ability to cope with a limited toolset and adapt to the changing battle conditions, it’s this relinquishing of complete control and the ability to cope that maintains the tension in RE5 while shifting the focusing to action.
The single-player Resident Evil 5 experience is nothing to be dismissed but where this game truly shines is co-op, RE5 is the first in the series to have co-op play and the game has clearly been designed around this. Chris is partnered with local BSAA agent Sheva Alomar; in the single-player campaign she functions as a somewhat useful partner in combat who will intermittently take a break from wasting all your ammo and using herbs at the most inopportune and unnecessary moments to kill a few enemies and also act as a mule for your items. However, the game also allows a second player to take control of Sheva and this is where the game is at is most enjoyable, the issues Sheva’s AI presented in battle are negated and the experience of having a partner throughout the game makes every battle both more enjoyable and tactical, with different weapons spread out over the two characters as well as different ammo types and pickups the game promotes teamwork, the limited inventory space forces players to compensate for each other as well as work to benefit one and other. The boss battles in Resident Evil 5 are noteworthy for a number of reasons ranging from the disgusting and grotesquely macabre design of the various bosses to the breathtaking scale but are particularly worth-mentioning for their co-op design, having your friend with you on a mounted machine gun while attempting to gun down a rampaging mammoth monster or distracting a particularly irksome boss while you lay traps is very satisfying. As with previous titles in the series completing the game unlocks the Mercenaries mini-game in which you play one of a number of characters who is left to kill zombies in a particular location for a set amount of time, killing enemies in quick succession builds up a combo and rewards the player, this mode also benefits from co-op play and significantly extends replay value – especially if you aim for a high position on the leaderboard.
Those who have been unable to restrain their expectations for RE5 will likely come away feeling at worst disappointed and at best ambivalent but those who have stood strong under the tremendous pressure of the games potential and tempered their expectations will find that Resident Evil 5 is an immensely enjoyable game and a worthy instalment in the series. While it has pretty much abandoned any notion of being a ‘scary’ in exchange for a greater emphasis on action its transition into the action game genre is an undeniable success. The return of various familiar faces and frequent references to previous games and the overall Resident Evil mythos makes this a must play for Resident Evil fans interested in seeing how the mult-game story arc concludes. Those looking for a solid action game as well as anyone looking for a high-quality Co-Op experience need look no further than Resident Evil 5.