Resident Evil 5 Review

It really says something about an action game (used here as an umbrella term for pretty much any game where you kill enemies) when you finish the primary story mode and it says you are only about 30% done.

Pros:

  • Solid gameplay, similar to RE4
  • Great value in the forms of extra weapons, modes, and online play
  • Accessible

Cons:

  • Very little ambiance-driven scares
  • Story is incoherent without the wall ‘o’ texts
  • …Accessible

Recommendation:

  • Buy:  Rabid fans of the series and anyone who enjoyed RE4, as well as action game fans with the patience to learn a quirky control scheme
  • Rent:  Gamers who were iffy about the demo, or want to spend a good weekend with the game before waiting on a price drop

Get comfortable, this review is going to be a long one.

I finished Resident Evil 5‘s story mode at about 3:00 AM last night, knowing that I would have to wake up at 7:00 AM today.  Then I started a New Game+, just to check out the new features that unlocked.

Anyone who played Resident Evil 4 will be at home with this game.  The over-the-shoulder camera is back, and strafing has been added to make the characters feel less like tanks.  The controls have been revamped to appeal more to shooter fans, though there is an option to change the controls back to RE4‘s style (hold a shoulder button to aim, press a face button to shoot).

The game still uses a stick-and-shoot scheme, which is frustrating at first, but after a few levels, most gamers will have learned to adapt.  Yes, given the game’s focus on making shooter fans happy, it is odd they stuck with this scheme.  They could easily have gone with Dead Space‘s slow-walk-while aiming setup, but at the end of the day, it is just not that big of a deal.

The inventory had me on the fence for most of the game, but I have recently decided it is able, yet flawed.  Instead of the huge attaché case hidden behind a pause menu from RE4, RE5 has an in-game inventory system.  Every item and weapon takes up one of the nine slots, which are arranged in a 3×3 grid.  Four of the spaces are hotkeyed to the directional pad, which is great for hot-swapping weapons, but the player is vulnerable while the menu is open.

This is especially grueling while players are still learning the inventory system in the early levels, like the two from the demo with one-hit-kill bosses.  Players can share items with their co-op partner (AI or human-controlled) and this is vital to playing the game, but it does create more options in an already complicated active menu.  I remember a number of occasions (some even late in the game) when I gave my partner a weapon that I had meant to equip.  This could easily have been remedied by mapping actions directly to the face buttons (X to equip, A to give to partner, etc) instead of using a drop down menu.

The 18 slots between the two characters is also a bit limiting.  I recall often having to choose between ditching ammo for the weapon I was using in return for a rarer item, such as Magnum rounds.  RE4 got rid of earlier games’ storage crates, and RE5 even got rid of RE4‘s merchant.  Instead, players are given a passive inventory with infinite space that can only be accessed between levels and whenever one of the characters dies.  More on that later.

The limited inventory issue is only compounded when you consider the huge number of weapons RE5 offers.  Old standbys like the M92F and the classic shotgun (an Ithaca M37 here) return, as well as a number of other real-world weapons, like the AK-74.  Most of the weapons are divided into their ammo types, shotguns, regular pistols, sub-machine guns/assault rifles, sniper rifles, and magnum pistols.  There are multiple entries in each category, differentiated by stats like damage, clip capacity, and reload speeds.

The upgrade system from RE4 has returned, and it is a great investment/reward system to keep players using different weapons throughout the game.  While the guns start out fairly close to their real-world counterparts in stats (with exception of stopping power, of course), the upgrades available to them are ridiculous.  The M92F pistol starts out with a 10 round clip, and can be upgraded to hold a hundred rounds at a time!

Money works much like it did in the last game, as well.  Enemies often drop small amounts of money (Nigerian Nairas in this game), and numerous treasures dot the maps, which may be sold for a few thousand a piece.  What is different about RE5 is that the game is laid out in levels, which may be replayed at any time.  Whereas RE4 limited the player on how many pesetas he/she could accrue in one playthrough, RE5 allows players to essentially “farm” Nairas, for better or worse.

The game has a pretty good selection of bad guys to take down, and the familiar faces will please long-standing fans of the series.  The Majini, successors to RE4‘s Gonados, act a lot like their European counterparts.  They seem more likely to carry weapons and change into more dangerous versions when they loser their heads, but they never really overwhelm the player.  Majini later in the game, however, wield guns, and take Resident Evil‘s gameplay somewhere I did not really want to see it go, but that is something else I will touch on later.

All of the boss battles in the game were fun, both to watch and to participate in.  A few will stump players at first, but once their secrets are out, they hit the floor quickly.  It is actually the sub-bosses that will frustrate the players the most in this game.  The Executioner and Chainsaw Majini seen in the demo are formidable opponents, and the latter will hassle you more than once in the game.  One particularly nasty enemy possesses a relatively quick one-hit-kill attack and a tendency to appear in tight corridors.  It accounted for three of Chris’s ten untimely demises in my playthrough, and a few more for Sheva.

Reviews and forum talk regarding AI-controlled Sheva seems fairly split.  Some called her competent and unobtrusive, while others claimed she had a tendency to get herself killed, which is a game over for you, too.  While she certainly ate it more often than I did, they were typically in situations where I was at fault, or would have died soon after.  The only time she gave me trouble was during the first half of the last boss fight.

Some treat the AI-controlled partner (it can be Chris in subsequent playthroughs) as a packmule, only holding items and ammo, while others let her hold her own.  Resident Evil veterans will cringe at the way she goes through ammo, but I felt she was worth the investment.  Sheva was meant to be a companion as much as she was a game mechanic.  Letting her defend herself, I feel, contributes to the experience.

As a character, Sheva Alomar fits into the setting and the series pretty well.  RE4‘s Leon, and RE5′s Chris were both fairly experienced with fighting bioterrorists, so Sheva acts as a fresh face that gamers new to the franchise can sympathize with.

Chris Redfield, for his part, comes across as a believably seasoned veteran, and his history, coupled with competent voice-acting and direction results in a character who shows depth rarely reached in the Resident Evil series.  While this is definitely a game to pick up for the gameplay, I found myself really enjoying his role in the story towards the end.

I never really felt like the writers ever really knew what to do with the RE franchise after they razed Raccoon City, but the fifth canon entry has an adequate story that is fairly self-contained.  With the exception of Sheva, the new characters are pretty forgettable, but the game rolls out some familiar faces towards the end, which give the narrative some stronger footing.  These characters could have just appeared out of thin air and retaken their places in RE‘s story, but the game does a decent job of giving enough of their backstory that newcomers can follow the cutscenes.

Unfortunately, the plot in RE5 takes some effort to comprehend.  The journals and files that have been a hallmark of the series since the beginning return here, and stand out a bit in contrast to the faster paced gameplay.  Good luck finding a co-op partner patient enough to let you read these if you plan on playing online.  It is a damned-if-you-do/don’t situation, however, as the lengthier files are unlocked at the end of certain chapters.  These files actually require you to stop playing the game and resume when you are done.

The writing in these longer files is a bit odd, as they are presented as reports on various characters, yet flow like prose.  Still, all these story elements come together to form a fairly strong and engaging plot, though I think most gamers will miss out on the subtleties.

If there is one thing Capcom has learned how to do with its various action series, like Onimusha, Devil May Cry, and Resident Evil, it is how to do a cutscene.  The early levels are tense, as the Majini pursue the characters with suicidal persistence, and the intro and outro cutscenes for the later boss fights would be at home in a big-budget action flick.  These cutscenes are a little extra incentive for players to keep playing.  They can be skipped at any time, and accessed through the starting menus.

There are some interactive cutscenes mixed in, just like Resident Evil 4, though these are actually fairly infrequent.  This is good, as the first one will likely come as a surprise, and players will stay engaged and on the look out for the rest of the game.

A big issue, albeit one that is not clearly good or bad, is the difficulty level in Resident Evil 5.  As previously mentioned, item management is done after the player (or the player’s partner) dies, and in between levels.  Again, levels are replayable at any time, and are divided into checkpoints.  Players may quit at any time, with the option to save the state of their inventory (including ammo spent and items gained).  The consequence of these facts is that players can go back through at any time to accrue more money or ammo.

On the one hand, this means that players have little incentive to be economical with their ammunition, as was the case in every other Resident Evil game.  One level even has a rocket launcher mere seconds from the start, with no enemies in between, provided the player knows where to find it.

On the other hand, nothing forces the player to farm for items and ammo.  I played straight through about four and a half of the six levels without repeating previous levels, and I constantly struggled to keep my health in the green and ammo in my clips.  The upgrades for your weapons unlock as you beat the levels, so the game never lets you become too powerful, too early, just well stocked.

I played through on the normal difficulty, with ten character deaths and quite a few more partner (Sheva) deaths, though few of these deaths were “cheap”.  There were a few times where I felt stuck or intimidated, but after a little more effort, I was always able to move on.  For the most part, Resident Evil 5 is not a frustrating game.

The two schools on game difficulty are that easy games are not fun, and hard games prevent you from seeing all the content.  RE5 leans toward the former school, though there are plenty of ways for gamers to make life easier or harder on them once they complete the story mode.

The game starts with Easy, Normal, and Veteran difficulty modes, with the harder Professional opening when players beat Veteran.  From what I have read, Pro mode is similar to Devil May Cry‘s Dante Must Die mode.  One hit from most weapons will put players in the Dying state, where they are helpless and their partner has a few seconds to heal them before they bleed out.

There are also ways, with enough effort, to unlock infinite ammo for each of the weapons in the game, and these practically break the game in terms of difficulty, but few gamers will deny that it is just fun to let the lead fly.

Mercenaries Mode makes a return as well, and players will have an option to play with a partner.  Other than this, the mode is largely unchanged from RE4.  In it, players are put in self-contained maps pulled from the storyline and given limited weapons and ammo to use against a nearly-overwhelming amount of enemies and bosses.  Each game is timed, and points are given for kills.  High scores unlock new maps and characters with different starting weapons.  For gamers who thrive on the mode’s nerve-wracking gameplay, Mercenaries Mode has the potential to more than double the lifespan of the game.

I mentioned in an earlier post Sterling’s article on Destructoid about how RE4 essentially severed the franchise from its survival horror roots.  Resident Evil 5 continues this trend, for the most part.  There is one brief segment in the game where one character is carrying a lamp through unlit mines, and the other has to defend both of them while staying out of the way of the light, and this segment may raise a few hairs, but most of the scares in this game are relegated to “oh, shit!” moments during combat.

Many Resident Evil faithful will detest this development, I simply acknowledge it as the way things are right now.  While I would be fine with a reboot that redefined the survival horror genre, RE5 is what we have right now, and it is a damn fine game.

While I will not say I have barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer– I have taken out a pretty big chunk so far– there is plenty more for me to do.  The general consensus is that the game really comes into its own when played online with a human partner.  Hopefully, this review will convince one of my friends (hint, hint) to pick up a copy and meet me online.

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