Resident Evil 5 is a strange product of an exchange of ideas. Resident Evil 4 is an incredibly influential game, and with other developers taking ideas from Resident Evil 4 while crafting their own third-person shooter, Capcom takes ideas from all the Resident Evil 4-influenced shooters as a kind of compensation for making a game so awesome. Resident Evil 5 gets the short end of the stick, though, because a lot of what Capcom takes from other games compromises much of the rebooted gameplay established in Resident Evil 4. It’s still a well-crafted, usually thrilling shooter with a well thought out online component, but it has no ideas to truly call its own and anything it does take tends to dilute the visceral nature for which Resident Evil 5 tends to strive.
For all the effort Resident Evil 4 put into getting away from all the convulsion of the series’ storyline (and then falling back into the convulsion with subsequent re-releases tying the game to the rest of the series), Resident Evil 5 gets right into the thick of it, mentioning Umbrella and various viruses, tossing in an optional Resident Evil chronology, and reusing Wesker as the Baddest of Bad Men for good measure. It’s a very definitive game and ends conclusively, as Chris Redfield and his partner, Sheva Alomar sniff out some shady biological dealings in a fictional town in Africa.
The game’s narrative is more or less Capcom. There’s not much to it, but the way it’s presented makes it easy to pay attention to. The cut scenes are crafted with such care, and the visuals are so immaculate, that just the incredibly cinematic nature of it makes it compelling. Call me shallow, but I followed every line and every development with more than a modicum of interest because of the insane production values put into display here. This is especially true during the first half of the game, when Capcom does a successful job of presenting a very serious setting with the very serious usage of biological warfare, only to undermine itself as it gets more and more ridiculous, ludicrous, and kind of fun to see things unfold. Ultimately, Resident Evil 5’s narrative is always interesting. It’s awfully familiar to how Resident Evil 4’s plotline got dumber and/or got better as the game went on, but the rift in tonal consistency feels less jarring this time around.
Once you get into the gameplay, it too feels awfully familiar. The familiar over-the-shoulder perspective, the off-center camera, the digital nature of Chris’s walk and run – it all makes one feel right at home. The shooting, which encourages you to shoot specific parts of the body to follow it up with context-sensitive melee attacks, still works really well, and when that methodical shooting method is juxtaposed with the white-knuckle nature of the game, where being surrounded is common, it creates a unique brand of gunplay that held strong way back in 2005, and still holds well five years after.
Only when it’s doing it right, though. The artificial limitation of not being able to move and shoot at the same time is still present in Resident Evil 5. This never was a much of a problem when I played Resident Evil 4, but it’s really something that hurts its sequel. It’s definitely not because times have changed, but rather, a lot of the combat scenarios and situations, especially towards the last half of the game, completely forget about this limitation. Once enemies have guns, and speedy, tongue-lashing crawlies start coming into play, there’s suddenly a demand for the ability to move and shoot simultaneously. Whereas Resident Evil 4 was built entirely around this restricted movement, Resident Evil 5 occasionally forgets how its own systems work, but the game goes on anyway.
The last half, in general, just skates along without much thought to what made the rebooted gameplay so successful. The introduction of a generic cover system is the greatest indicator of this, as you take cover and pop out to take a few shots, while dim-witted AI take constant peeks, leaving them open to bullets. It feels like an unrefined version of Gears of War. Oh, funny thing: Gears of War was a game that built itself around its cover mechanic; while again, Capcom puts things into Resident Evil 5 carelessly, without much thought into how its foundations would support it. It still has plenty of strong moments sprinkled throughout the entire game, like those massive, exciting boss battles, but the tail end of the game is mostly a wash.
Of the many things Resident Evil 5 containshas, the cooperative play is one of the few elements that is a genuine success. The game has tons of situations when you need to work together as a team and when everything clicks – you’re covering each other’s backs, you’re trading and giving ammo, combing and shifting herbs around – it makes the game much, much better. When her actions are left to the AI, she’s more helpful than she is a detriment and is generally unobtrusive, making her generally innocuous, but Resident Evil 5 is best played with a friend or someone who’s willing to work with you. Results will definitely vary, but as long as you’re not stuck with someone who bought the game to just grief around, its co-op play makes the game much better than it would’ve been without it.
It’s evident that online play is a key feature. There’s a degree of persistency with your Chris or Sheva. You can revisit any chapter you’ve completed already, and any supplies you gain can go straight into your inventory, which has an infinite amount of space. Essentially, you can mine for supplies and trinkets to sell, and the progress you make there is something you take online. This potentially even opens up opportunities to trade some stuff around with people. The single-player and co-op intertwine really well. Instead of these two modes feeling divorced from one another, they tie together thoughtfully.
Visually, Resident Evil 5 has very few peers. This is a gorgeous, outrageously beautiful game that somehow makes even the industrial environments of the game look amazing. Seeing a game like Resident Evil 5, seeing a game like Crysis, graphics not needing to look better is such a valid and true argument. Games look great; Resident Evil 5 looks great. No need to push the technical boundaries of what you can achieve graphically, guys, just work on the how the game plays now. The game sounds fantastic, too. It directly lifts some of the gun sounds from Resident Evil 4, right down the reloads. It’s strangely nostalgic. Voice-acting is solid, all the kill-hungry bad guys speak their native language, so the audio is just all-around greatness.
It takes about eight or less hours to get to the end of the game, but there’s plenty of reason to go back. Besides the co-op mode that boosts replay value tenfold, the popular Mercenaries mode from Resident Evil 4 is back, and with the addition of leader boards and co-op, it’s a fun, addicting mode. Most of the more exotic guns also open up after you finish the game for the first time, like the tri-barreled shotgun, which is, yeah, an incredible gun. The PC version also comes with one new costume for each character, which looks great. There’s plenty to see and do.
There are a lot of things about Resident Evil 5 that just makes me ask “Why?”. Why are quick-time events still not implemented well? Why is there a cover system? A lot of questionable decisions weigh down the game, but it still manages to pull through as a great game with a lot of replay value. The well-done online component is a major plus, and when Resident Evil 5 gets it just right – when gameplay hits those highs that Resident Evil 4 hit on a constant basis almost effortlessly – it’s enough to give this game a recommendation.