Review: Resident Evil 5 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Resident Evil 5
Genre: Action/Survival Horror
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 03/13/09


So way back in 1996, Resident Evil turned horror gaming on its head and pretty much cemented Capcom as a major player in the 32-bit console wars of the time. Capcom rode that horse through a ton of sequels and spin-offs, some of which are directly addressed as series canon (Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3, etc) while others are often not (Resident Evil: Outbreak, Resident Evil Gaiden). After drowning the market in all things Resident Evil, the franchise lost a ton of steam, largely thanks to the fact that the games were essentially identical to one another from one to the next, so Capcom decided it was time to freshen up the franchise a bit. This brought us Resident Evil 4, a game that was hailed as one of the greatest games to come out that year by many, as well as one of, if not THE, greatest game in the franchise to date.

It also caused our website to implode, but that’s not really relevant to the topic of conversation.

Now, I’m going to admit up front, I not only thought Resident Evil 4 was the greatest game to come out in 2005, I thought it was one of the greatest games to come out PERIOD at that point. When Resident Evil 5 was announced, frankly, I pretty much knew I was going to be singing its praises to the heavens. It plays like Resident Evil 4? It offers online co-op? It looks fantastic and brutal? Yes, please. The demo released earlier this year only confirmed those impressions. No, it doesn’t play like Gears of War, and no, you can’t move and shoot in the demo, but come on! It’s Resident Evil! You were NEVER able to move and shoot, right? Who cares? It’s a fantastic demo! Sure, Dead Space lets you move and shoot, but Dead Space is Resident Evil 4 in space anyway. Resident Evil 5 is going to be SO much better than that, right? The game is going to be awesome, right?

Well, mostly.

So, the plot of Resident Evil 5, aside from having to carry the game along to completion, also has the unenviable task of trying to explain how Las Plagas (the virus-thing from the last game) migrated across the globe, as well as trying to fill in the gaps the last game left. It also had to answer the questions players are already asking after months of teaser trailers showing us all sorts of shocking stuff. The GOOD news is that, astonishingly enough, the story not only manages to pull off the above tasks reasonably well, but it’s also fairly good in its own right. You take control of Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar, two members of the BSAA, an organization formed in the aftermath of the Umbrella debacle that has been catalogued across, well, virtually all of the prior Resident Evil games. Chris, of course, is a survivor of the events of several of those games, having started as a member of the STARS unit that starred in the FIRST game in the franchise. Sheva, however, is new to this series, having been assigned as Chris’ partner due to his lacking of a proper partner (for reasons that are explained in the game). As Sheva is a local resident of Africa, where the events take place, she is given the job of pairing up with Redfield to take down a known BOW (Bio-Organic Weapon) dealer in the area. Needless to say, this plan goes to hell, and the game quickly turns its sights to the standard, “find out the truth, stop the virus, and save the world” themes we’ve come to expect from the series. This time however, the game manages to do this thing in a less… shall we say “OBVIOUS” way than the prior games.

In general, the storytelling in Resident Evil 5 is more well-rounded than in prior games. While the earlier games in the series either featured stories and dialogue that were enjoyable because they complimented the game or were “so bad it’s good”, Resident Evil 5 actually has a story that’s fairly enjoyable all on its own. The game makes it a point to flesh out a lot of the things it wants to get across, be they related to the overall history of the series or the game itself. The dialogue manages to be good enough to carry the different scenes along without stumbling. It is somewhat disappointing that some of the major events in this chapter of the franchise are relegated to cutscenes and flashbacks, and it’s also fairly disappointing that the endgame effectively resolves certain plot elements that didn’t need resolving just yet, but by and large, the writing here is surprisingly solid, it develops the characters well enough, and doesn’t come off like a bad B-movie nearly as often as its predecessors. This means that Resident Evil 5 is actually quite enjoyable for the RIGHT reasons across the board. It’s also nice that they fill in a lot of the gaps in the franchise in this game, meaning that long-time fans will find a lot of their questions answered here, which is certainly satisfying, if nothing else.

The presentation of Resident Evil 5 is a treat across the board, as the game is a visual and aural stunner in all respects. The graphics are easily amongst the best on the 360. The environments are lively and believable, the characters are convincing in both appearance and movement, and the various enemies you face are horrifying in all of the best ways imaginable. The game understands what it’s supposed to be (an action-horror game) and strives to make the visuals convey this. This means you often face down against monsters that are uncomfortable (cockroach-like bipedal monsters), awe-inspiring (giant monstrosities with tentacles extending from their back) or just flat-out horrifying (nearly unkillable crocodiles that kill you in one hit). There is nothing really bad to say about any of it. The special effects are also quite nice, as are the blood sprays after particularly visceral kills, and between this and the awesome general visuals, Resident Evil 5 is easily one of the best looking games to come out this year. Aurally, the voice acting is all quite superb, and everyone plays their given part to perfection, which is nice to see in a Resident Evil game. The music is also top-notch, as it’s both fitting and atmospheric when needed, whether it be in a firefight or a particularly tense moment in the story. The sound effects, as expected, also deliver nicely, as gunfire and explosions are well done, and the ambient effects fit the tone of the game well across the board.

Fans of Resident Evil 4 (or to a lesser extent, Dead Space) will find that the gameplay in this installment is pretty much identical in most respects, but those who’ve yet to play that will need some introduction. The game offers several different control schemes, depending on how you want to play the game, and each style is JUST different enough that writing a broad generalization of the control layout would be… unwise. Instead, we will discuss the generalities of gameplay in broad strokes, in hopes that this will make a bit more sense. In most cases, you will either be in combat, or not in combat, depending on what’s going on at the time, and this is distinguished by whether or not you are directly brandishing a weapon. When NOT in combat, your characters can walk and run around the environment, look around as needed, interact with things, open doors, pick up items, and so on as needed. While the characters cannot jump and duck themselves, they can do these sorts of things when they are in a context sensitive position to do so, which the game will helpfully inform you of as needed. When IN combat, your character will brandish their weapon as needed, and a simple press of a button will either fire that weapon or swing your knife, depending on what sort of combat stance you’re in. You can aim your strikes/shots as needed with one of the two analog sticks, meaning you can hit an enemy in the head to blow their head off or stagger them, shoot them in the knee to stop them in their tracks, shoot them in the arm to make them drop a weapon, and so on. This gives you a good amount of control over combat. You can also strike injured enemies in various ways, depending on how you’ve injured them and where you approach them from, with the press of a button, which further allows you to vary up your combat as needed.

The above will be old hat to fans of the previous games, but Resident Evil 5 tosses a few new things in to spice the game up. The biggest change is the fact that you have a partner with you at all times, and unlike in Resident Evil 4 where your partner was basically just a useless lump, this time around said partner is equipped to wreck enemies just as well as you. Having a partner around doesn’t just mean a second gun, though, as your partner can also heal you, save you from grapples, resuscitate you when near death, and team up with you to accomplish tasks that involve, mostly, Chris throwing Sheva somewhere. Aside from adding some interesting dynamics to gameplay, this also changes up a few of the expected mechanics players were used to from the previous games. For example, healing items are now “area of effect”, meaning using one on yourself will heal your partner in they’re in range. You can also trade items with your partner, as you BOTH have your own separate inventories, which is also pretty neat, as it allows for each character to be specialized for various circumstances. The biggest addition that makes use of this dynamic, of course, is the fact that two players can now take it to the infected hordes, both in spilt-screen and online/system link play. This is the ideal method of play, as one might expect, since your human buddy is (hopefully) going to be smarter than the CPU, but if you can’t play with a friend, the CPU player does a good enough job on their own. Rare is the time where you’ll lose a critical mission because the CPU died or got you killed, which is promising, if nothing else. Playing with friends, especially online, is a great way of doing things, however, as they not only get to bring their own arsenal into the game (thus giving your arsenal a break from being spread out over two people), but any money earned or Emblems acquired (which are used to unlock various bonus unlockables in the game) are given to BOTH players, which means the game doesn’t force you to compete for the good stuff, which is fantastic.

You’ll certainly need the help, in any case, as the enemies in Resident Evil 5 are pretty tough, even on the easiest difficulties. The infected humans, called Majini here, swarm over you like particularly lethal insects. A lot of monsters, both old and new, will show up periodically to make your life hell. Death is always around the corner in the game, and having an ally to watch your back is vital to your survival in this game, especially when there a whole ton of enemies on-screen at one time. The bosses are also quite impressive, as most are enormous and all are quite lethal in some form or another. The game also features several gimmicked battles/stages, including a chaingun shooting gallery stage, a battle on a power boat, several boss battles that make use of interesting weapons and items, and more that change up the pace and flow of the game as you play. This helps to ensure nothing will get boring in a hurry.

To further increase the challenge as well as accommodate multiplayer gaming, the inventory management system has been changed up a bit, as has the save system. The inventory system now gives both characters a full nine spaces to store items, with four of those spaces mapped to positions on the D-Pad. Accessing the inventory screen itself is done entirely in real-time, meaning enemies CAN attack you while you’re goofing around with your inventory. If you’ve assigned a useful item to one of the four D-Pad icons, then you needn’t worry, as you can simply press that direction and whip out the item you need in a flash, which makes weapon switching and item grabbing a snap. The game no longer uses a strange, infinite-capacity teleporting box as the main method of holding items. Instead, you’re allowed to manage your inventory and loadout prior to starting up a mission or whenever you die, to remove useless items and replenish needed goods. Said management screen also acts as a shop, allowing you to buy and sell items and treasures and upgrade weaponry, which is also helpful and makes things a lot easier across the board. The save system, which was formerly based around the whole, “find a typewriter and save your game” mechanic, has been overhauled entirely as well. Now the game simply saves at certain points and allows you to save your character progress at any point, thus allowing you to bail out of a game with your inventory intact as you see fit, which is both convenient and practical for game play purposes.

The game itself will take decent players about six to eight hours to tear through, but even once that’s complete, the game is far from over. Most of the guns in the game can be upgraded multiple times, and upgrading them to the max unlocks infinite ammunition for that gun, which will take a considerable amount of time for the player who wants to max out everything. The “Mercenaries” game mode from previous games makes a welcome return here, allowing one or two players to pick characters and tear through the game world as they see fit, tin an attempt to earn tons of points and wreck everything they see as quickly as possible for single or multiplayer mayhem. There are numerous camera filters and costumes to unlock, library files to pour over, capsule figures to find and acquire, and so on, and with the upcoming Versus Mode add-on for the game coming as DLC, it’s very likely that most players will find themselves spending a huge amount of time with the game, both solo and with friends.

So, yes, Resident Evil 5 is most definitely an impressive game, but is it a perfect game? Not quite. While it makes several interesting improvements over its predecessor and offers a lot of fantastic content, it’s still got a few problems that are worth noting. While none of the problems is truly a HUGE issue on its own, the issues in the game do pile up:

– Playing the game in multiplayer is the optimum choice whenever possible, as the AI ally is, in most cases, not particularly bright. It won’t get you killed, certainly, but it tends to waste ammunition with everything but the machine gun and the stun rod, it won’t change to more powerful weaponry or grenades when you want, and it requires the player to make it feel good about itself (by thanking it for items and healing, for instance) before it’s willing to be very helpful. I understand Capcom wanted the player to treat their partner like a real partner to build up real trust, but in a game where I can just grab a buddy and go to town, having to pat the AI on the head for doing well seems useless and unnecessary.

– The inventory management changes, while understandable from a multiplayer standpoint, are unfriendly and awkward at times, especially for players who are used to the prior games. Now, in its defense, the inventory management HAD to be real-time to support multiplayer games, and being able to map useful items to the D-Pad is fantastic, absolutely. That said, NINE INVENTORY SPOTS? Pitiful. Accessing your inventory in real-time? Useful in multiplayer, but annoying in single player. It’s also annoying having to move an item from a spot OUTSIDE of the map INTO a spot on the map just to use the damn thing in battle, which is doubly annoying in Mercenaries mode.

– Speaking of multiplayer, while the core concept of online and split-screen multiplay is functionally sound, the implementation could use some work. Starting a split-screen game is as easy as pressing Start on the second controller, but this dumps you back to the last achieved checkpoint, which could be annoying, and when the second player leaves, it’s back to the title screen you go. Online play doesn’t FORCE you back to the last checkpoint, instead offering you the OPTION to go there… or to make the other player wait until you get the next one, thus meaning you can either screw yourself or your partner. Again, this isn’t a deal-breaker, but it is annoying.

Resident Evil 5 is about half the length of Resident Evil 4, and while that’s fine for pacing purposes, it makes the game feel less developed than its predecessor.

– Active-time events and instant-death attacks, while in lesser number in this game, are still here, and as such, are still annoying and worthless.

– The game makes it a point to force the player to grind, grind, grind to unlock and upgrade most of the things in the game, and while it’s nice that there’s so much replay value, there HAS to be a better way of doing things than grinding.

– Not being able to move and shoot, while not a problem for series veterans, will piss off new players who are used to this sort of thing in other games. There really isn’t a reason for the game to do this, either; one could feasibly aim with the right stick and move with the left stick, yet the game simply chooses not to allow players to do this. Capcom has long proven that they really couldn’t care less about ease of play over their “artistic vision” (see Monster Hunter’s lack of lock on and Resident Evil Outbreak’s lack of microphone support), but it just seems like an obvious omission that could and SHOULD have been addressed.

– It’s annoying when players of two differing completion rates jump into a game, as players cannot give each other weapons. “Oh ho”, says Capcom, “but that would upset our balance of not allowing players to upgrade weapons prematurely and not allowing them to have weapons before they should in the game.” While that’s fine, if I don’t want to wait to brandish an uber-upgraded handcannon, I don’t see why I should be forced into doing this thing because YOU said I have to. I paid to have fun. This? Not fun.

– Aside from the save system and inventory overhauls and the addition of multiplayer, this game is essentially Resident Evil 4. The gameplay is functionally identical, the layout and enemy progression is nearly spot-on, and most of the notable gameplay mechanics were lifted wholesale from that game. This isn’t a bad thing, per say, as Resident Evil 4 was a fantastic game, but it’s disappointing that more wasn’t done to improve upon the product.

– You still can’t buy ammunition from the shop. This is, I’m sorry, stupid for more reasons than anyone should have to explain.

So, despite a page and a half of complaints, it’s fairly easy to say that Resident Evil 5 is pretty much the best game I’ve played all year, and frankly, most of the complaints I can make about the game are, at most, mild annoyances that don’t make me want to stop playing the game any time soon. The game looks great, sounds great, plays great, offers tons of things to do that will keep you coming back for more, and features a story that’s astonishingly pretty solid, which I really wasn’t prepared for. Multiplayer is great fun, single player is as fun as ever, and the game is easily worth the asking price and then some. Yes, the AI could use some work. Yes, the inventory management system and combat mechanics might not be for everyone. Yes, the game still holds onto some annoying mechanics from the prior games that aren’t worth keeping around. Yes, the game is unoriginal. No, this doesn’t make the game any less awesome and any less worth owning. Fans of the franchise and the genre will love the game to death, anyone with friends who love killing monsters will have lots of fun with this both on and offline, and all in all, it’s fantastic in pretty much every way that counts.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: UNPARALLELED
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: UNPARALLELED
Balance: GREAT
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: CLASSIC
Miscellaneous: GOOD
Final Score: INCREDIBLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
Resident Evil 5 is pretty much everything you’d expect in a sequel to one of the best survival horror games ever. The story is strong, the presentation is outstanding, the game is fun and fast-paced, there’s a ton of stuff to do and unlock, and the game is out-and-out entertaining whether played alone or with a friend. As sequels go, it’s rare that a game retains so much of what made the prior game great while adding in enough new content to justify the cost, but Resident Evil 5 mostly pulls this off well. Some of the new elements work better than others, as the partner AI is spotty, making multiplayer games can be annoying, and the inventory management system is hit or miss. Further, the game isn’t terribly original, it brings back functional issues that weren’t appealing in the last game, and isn’t as earth-shattering as its predecessor. Still, in the end, Resident Evil 5 is worth the asking price and then some, as it does what it does exceptionally well and gives the player plenty of reasons to play and replay the game. Frankly, that’s more than enough of a reason to highly recommend it.

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