Xbox Resident Evil 5

Scott Tortorice

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Resident Evil 5 is a very good action game, but it’s one amongst many very good action games already on the market, especially those found on the Xbox 360. High production values and solid, at times thrilling, action can’t cover-up the paint-by-numbers, safe approach that Resident Evil 5 takes, never veering very far from the standard that Resident Evil 4 set, a game first released four years ago.

You take the reins of Chris Redfield, team up with fellow Bio-terrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) operative Sheva Alomar, and set-out to investigate some mysterious goings-on in the fictional African country of Kijuju. As time wears on, and the craziness gets deeper, there’s a Resident Evil 4-like outbreak, infection, or parasite thingy taking advantage of the people of Kijuju and you’re caught in the middle. Turns out the infamous Wesker is involved, and now you have to put him down.

The basic premise is simple enough: stop a mad-man and his plans. However, Resident Evil 5 appears to purposely make the details overly complex. By this point in the series there’s been a litany of characters, viruses, outbreaks, companies and conspiracies, enough to make someone’s head explode (which they do). Here they attempt to make reference to them all. It’s fascinatingly ridiculous, and only the most hardcore of hardcore Resident Evil fans are going to get something more out of the story than the average person who will remain either befuddled or detached from it altogether.

And that’s a bit of a shame, because the voice acting is actually quite decent here and the presentation is absolutely phenomenal. If Resident Evil 5 had only one thing going for it, it would most certainly be the visuals. A graphical tour-de-force, Resident Evil 5 pulls out all the stops in lighting, high-polygonal models, texture detail, fluidity, animation, cinematics and special effects. It is perhaps the best looking game on consoles thus far, even giving recent stand-outs Gears of War 2 and Killzone 2 a run for their money.

All of this eye-candy is in service of a game that is heavy on the action. Indeed, describing Resident Evil 5 as a survival horror game is a misnomer – it is more accurately described as a straight-up action game with a horror backdrop. Ammunition is typically well supplied, weapons are fantastically satisfying to wield, things blow-up real well, and there are multiple sequences specifically constructed to get things moving quickly, the blood pumping, and to treat the player to an absolute spectacle.

There’s really nothing wrong with this direction. As a matter of fact, I welcome it. But what’s odd about this more action-oriented take on Resident Evil is the simultaneous reticence of abandoning some of the legacy of the Resident Evil series that serves to hold the series back. The tank control scheme is the most notable of these and in full use here; you move too slowly to begin with, but having to stop dead in your tracks in order to aim and shoot feels so handicapped (and is so universally derided) that it makes you wonder why Capcom didn’t at least offer the option of being able to move and shoot, if only at a snail’s pace, in order to compliment rather than frustrate this more action focused entry in the series.

That said, there are some smaller, welcome refinements that smooth out the gameplay by small measures. For one, Resident Evil 5 features a cover mechanic. From time to time you’ll have the option of taking cover in certain areas. Although not built as a more pervasive mechanic throughout every scenario, it certainly feels good where it is employed. Further refinement was applied to the inventory system, now featuring only a set amount of spaces to carry equipment, with all equipment only taking up one space. Extra stuff gathered along the way stays in an inventory management receptacle that’s accessible between levels and after death. It’s a smart move making things more fun and manageable overall.

Aside from these smallish additions, the most pervasive new feature in Resident Evil 5 is the addition of your co-op partner Sheva Alomar. Ever-present during the campaign, as an AI partner she rarely annoys and is frequently helpful. You can use her as an additional equipment mule if need be, as you can swap items and weapons with her at any time. Moreover, she does a good job of dispatching enemies from time to time and rarely, if ever, goes off and dies on you. She does, however, have the annoying habit of sticking very close which takes up screen real estate – I’d rather enjoy the scenery instead of her back.

Her presence is also a constant reminder that you’re never really alone. She also has the handy ability of reviving you an unlimited number of times if you’ve been dealt a near fatal blow. As I’d mentioned, this game is very much an action game, and whatever was left of the series that was intended to scare you is no longer present. Sheva is a comfort which is, uh, comforting, but this also has the effect of stripping away that feeling of constant dread.

When you piece all of these refinements and new additions together, you end up with a game that doesn’t feel much like a Resident Evil game in the traditional sense. And in that sense, Resident Evil 5, although a great action game, has less about it that feels truly unique.

Co-Op Mode
Online co-op play with friends is in the service of fun, and in the context of a Resident Evil game, unique. By simply playing through the campaign you’re able to set-up your session so that anyone or just friends can join at any time. It’s worked well as I’ve experienced it, and adds a thick layer to the game worth exploring. Still, I wish there were more scenarios specifically constructed to take advantage of co-op play, as what’s offered here is bare bones and sporadic.

Taking further advantage of this new co-op focus is the Mercenaries mode. Essentially a Gears of War Horde-like match where you and a friend must survive increasingly escalating enemy encounters within a set time-limit; it is great fun and a real challenge. Set out over multiple stages featured in the campaign, some of them are quite tough and finishing them will test your skills in a big way. Rounding out this feature are unlockable characters and their unique weapon sets.

Unlockables are prominently featured in Resident Evil 5, and encourage repeated plays of the campaign. Graphics filters, infinite ammunition, character models and so on are all attainable through the accruement of points, gold, and the discovery of hidden items, all of which will require you play through the campaign at least twice. It’s the carrot and stick scenario that’s worked before and again here, and provides enough incentive to prolong replayability.

Closing Comments:

It must be stressed that Resident Evil 5 is a very enjoyable action game. Despite its flaws, there is little here that will drive anyone crazy, and the whole proceeding, right down to the clunky control scheme, feels satisfyingly polished and solid. But it must also be said that the game feels equally uninspired, and one would have hoped for more after four years of waiting. A thrilling and beautiful action game that still stubbornly holds on to past and outdated mechanics, Resident Evil 5 is worth playing but most probably won’t be remembered favourably by hardcore fans of the series.

9 out of 10
 
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