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Resident Evil 5 is the first title in the series to really elicit any sense of controversy aside from the typical “violent video games debate.” Taking place in to a fictional area of Africa named Kijuju brings with it a certain amount of baggage, most notably, needing to feature Africans. The initial outcry was intense, and screams of racism surrounded the title after the native Kijujuians were shown as inhuman, bloodthirsty monsters. In context, however, it all makes sense, considering the series is known for its bloodthirsty, inhuman monsters. On top of needing to get past the initial fears, Resident Evil 5 also needed to be one of the best in the series for more reasons. Aside from continuing the franchise on next-generation consoles, Capcom has said that this will be the last in the series, and a proper send off for such a well-established and beloved franchise is the least gamers could ask for.
The original Resident Evil’s star, Chris Redfield, is sent to Kijuju, a fictional area in Africa, after the inhabitants have become overwhelming aggressive. A new age of terrorism has gripped the world, and after the Umbrella Corporation’s falling their products have become a commodity. Chris isn’t new to the idea of Biological Organic Weapons, otherwise known as zombies, and is joined in the area by another member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, Sheva Alomar. Unlike past Resident Evil titles, where the two characters travel different paths to the same inevitable plot points, Chris and Sheva move side by side, assisting each other, and creating the first original entry in the main series with cooperative play.
But there is more to the plot than a country’s inhabitants being turned into Biological Organic Weapons: Chris is also looking for his old partner, Jill Valentine, who is believed to be dead. Since the original title, Chris and Jill have been wandering the world looking for Albert Wesker, the series only real returning antagonist, and attempting to take him down. After a meeting went awry, Jill disappeared, and has been missing ever since. She was declared dead, but without a body Chris has remained confident, and is searching for his old partner as well. There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot of Resident Evil 5, none of which are all that surprising. It’s nothing too profound, but gives a better look at the characters, their histories, and the series as a whole. While playing through the story files are unlocked, adding pages of text to read about every person, corporation, and detail of the series. It’s all stuff that technically could have been squeezed into the instruction booklet, but there’s still a wealth of information that compliments the story, and ads more depth to even insignificant moments and characters.
The game sees itself exploring fantastic locations, from dark, dreary caves to crocodile-infested marshes. It’s well paced, and features a variety of different enemy types. The basic “zombies” are, as they were in Resident Evil 4, not actually zombies. Infected by a similar Los Plagos that created the Gonados in RE4, the Majini are fierce combatants, and the more evolved Los Plagos have created even more terrifying beasts. Besides that, classic monsters return more vicious than ever, and the bosses are horrifyingly awe-inspiring. There are also vehicle segments, on-rails battles, and everything that could be expected out of an action game. In fact, the white-knuckle action replaces any sense of fear and the game is closer related to Gears of War than it is the other Resident Evils. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it will surely upset anyone who was truly put off by the series departure from survival horror in the first place, since the only horror aspect is the fear of running low on ammunition. There’s a focus on the epic, as well as large-scale encounters, and Capcom seems to have pushed the Resident Evil formula – or at least what’s left of it – to the absolute limit.
None of this should come as any surprise to anyone who played the previous games. After the success of Resident Evil 4, which promptly turned the horror series on its head, there was no way Capcom could return to the ways of old. When the original was released, the fixed camera allowed the developers to create photorealistic backgrounds that were better than anything gamers had seen before. Now, with the technology allowed by modern consoles, this approach simply isn’t needed. The same goes for the controls, which seemed to be modeled after a Sherman tank, and were changed to be more fluid and user-friendly. While the changes from 3 to 4 left many fans out in the dust, it brought in so many new ones that the argument was moot, and continuing the series in the action-oriented path was an easy choice to make. In some ways, they both went too far with this and not far enough. It still forces the player to stop to fire a weapon, hit a button to jump, and hold down another button to equip a knife, creating a somewhat slow experience. On the other hand, strafing was added, as well as expanded melee attacks, giving the game more of an action feel. The two sides seem to rub against eachother, almost uncomfortably, and the excuse of staying true to the series wanes when the enemies, which were historically shambling zombies, have machine guns and riot shields.
The inventory has also been shifted into this area, and attempts to emulate the system introduced in Alone in the Dark and Dead Space. It’s real time, which means no magical time stoppage when mixing together herbs (yes, they return, but are instantly turned into sprays) or changing weapons. There seems to be a weird delay when moving through the inventory, which isn’t really an issue most of the time, but it can be during combat. Different objects can be assigned to directions on the D-Pad, but requesting or exchanging items with Sheva is a hassle that’s usually better left for out of combat situations. The change was a necessary one and compliments the gameplay as well as handling the idea of managing multiple inventories at once, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t testing, and some additional fine tuning definitely would have gone a long way.
But the inventory mode might be the only aspect of the game that doesn’t drip polish. Similarities will likely be drawn to Killzone 2 and Metal Gear Solid IV, and while it might not be there there’s no denying that the game is downright beautiful. Chris and Sheva’s character models are remarkable, and give life to the characters. Not since Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2 has there been a more charming and wonderful cooperative partner, and although she’s far from the sharpest tool in the shed the animators and voice actress did a fine job crafting a genuinely interesting and compassionate person. The characters simply pop out of the screen thanks to the environments, which are equally as impressive, and much of the game borders on photorealistic, threatening sending bloodthirsty zombies into the Uncanny Valley. Lacking body physics, enemies’ death animations are often weak and could be amplified with rag dolls, but it usually doesn’t show through the polish too much. It’s a triumph, and will likely be seen as one of the best looking games of the generation.
As an AI compatriot, Sheva is usually passable. She’ll take down enemies, heal Chris, and automatically give Chris ammunition for weapons he’s currently using. Early in the game, she was slashing crates and picking up items, but as time went on the fear must have gotten to her, and she slowly lost her goddamned mind. She’ll run up to objects and stare blankly at crates, she’ll stand next to Chris and stare as a Majini attempts to remove his head, and she’ll attempt to snipe with her shotgun from fifty yards away. That’s not to say she isn’t helpful, it’s just that the computer’s AI, which seems to fluctuate between irreplaceable and downright ineffective, limits her use. Most of the time, she makes a completely adequate AI partner, but there are others where she’ll simply stop being an advantage. When played by a human, however, it isn’t an issue, and it expands the game’s replayability immeasurably.
After completion of the singleplayer, the popular Mercenaries mode is unlocked, which can be played both online and off cooperatively. It’s a simple points-grind, but it adds a nice bit of content outside of the story and does a good job at masquerading Resident Evil as an arcade-styled shooter. Zombies attack in waves, as well as the occasional boss, which can be quite difficult to take down. With several maps, unlockable characters and online multiplayer, there’s plenty to do in Mercenaries mode, and posting scores online adds another layer to the Resident Evil 5 experience. There are also other unlockables, such as models from the game that can be viewed in a secondary mode, as well as several unlockable costumes for the characters. Needless to say, the RE5 experience is far from over as the closing credits run.
All in all, very little negative can be said about Resident Evil 5. The cooperative gameplay might not be what some expected or anticipated, but it’s hard to deny that it adds something unique to the series. The fear is gone. Entirely. There’s really nothing scary at all. Either way there are very few games that can deliver the overall experience that Resident Evil 5 does. It’s presentation, mixed with the absurd amount of polish makes it a must own. Resident Evil 5 is a great conclusion to the series, and an experience that shouldn’t be missed.