This past March, Capcom released the “final” chapter of the Resident Evil game series, Resident Evil 5, for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. RE5 is the first game in the survival-horror shooter series to adopt the new infected-killing standard of play set by the franchise-kickstarting Resident Evil 4 in 2005, and acts as the final chapter in the long-running Umbrella storyline. Long-time fans finally get to see dangling plot threads addressed, and RE4 fans will recognize the new gameplay as a revved-up version of the kind that made RE4 such a mega-hit.
Chris Redfield returns as the game’s main protagonist, representing an anti-bio-weapon taskforce, while West African local Sheva Alomar debuts as his partner. One of the game’s largest draws is that the new gameplay focuses on cooperative play, a series first, somewhat similar to Gears of War or Left 4 Dead. The main player plays Chris, and a friend (or the computer) plays Sheva, as the pair fights their way through the fictional Kijuju region of West Africa, sharing adventure, doom, and ammo.
The game retains the widescreen over-the-shoulder view from RE4, and has more or less the same control scheme. Chris remains on screen at all times, with the view zooming in closer as he aims his weapon to give players more control over what they’re shooting at, and then zooming out when he’s running so players can actually see what’s around them.
For the most part, I really enjoyed the co-op play feature. Capcom really took the opportunity to re-design how your opponents will try and flank/surround you and swarm you under, so having a partner who can cover your six (even the AI who can’t aim) is a welcome addition when you’re being attacked from 2+ different directions. I have to admit, I thought having an omnipresent partner would detract from the tension of the scenes (RE4’s Leon took on the infected hordes by his darn self), but Capcom adjusted play nicely to compensate. Infected humans and other monsters come swarming out from all directions, and the close calls by which you and your partner survive only compound your feelings of abandonment during the occasional moments when you get separated.
Furthermore, there’s twice as much brain to munch. Neither Chris nor Sheva are invincible, and even if a zombie lunges and misses you, he might very well get your partner in the back, and should either of you get hurt critically and are unable to be healed by the other, that’s all she wrote and dinner is served.
Long-gone is the time-stopping inventory button with its Invisible Briefcase of Infinite Holding; Chris and Sheva are limited to what they can visibly carry. It’s actually quite entertaining watching Chris frantically sling his empty rifle across one shoulder, grab desperately at the shotgun across his other shoulder, and frantically load shells from his belt while Sheva yells for help. Between the two characters, you have more or less the same amount of weaponry available as in previous games, but to use something your partner has, you have to ask. Everything happens in real-time, whether it’s grabbing another weapon or getting something from your partner, so smart players will plan out how they’re going to use their gear before the shit hits the fan, because things get real bad real fast.
Capcom really gave players the chance to create their own style here, or, for that matter, to fail completely. A well-organized pair might divy up weapons so no one is short ammo they need, or one player might shoot, while the other player spots targets while standing by with grenades and a shotgun. A disorganized pair will probably die precipitously screaming futilely at one another for more ammo.
Visually, the game is beyond perfect. The lighting and textures are possibly the most realistic that I have ever seen without falling into “uncanny valley” territory. Dark hallways are positively foreboding, the slums are claustrophobically cluttered, and you can practically feel Chris and Sheva sweating while their guns unleash fiery hell. There’s just so much visual detail to look at, the zombies/infected can actually catch you by surprise while you’re taking it in. Chris does look a little, ah, “juiced,” but that’s clearly nothing compared to what his opponents are on.
RE5 is the final chapter of the Umbrella corporation storyline begun in Resident Evil. Umbrella is long-gone, but its legacy remains as the story begins in 2009, when Chris arrives in Africa as a Bio-terrorism Security Assessment Alliance agent (say that 5 times fast with an infected zombie tongue!). He and Sheva, a local BSAA agent, join a group whose mission is to arrest a major black-market supplier of bio-weapons. Naturally, shit goes impressively south, and our pair finds themselves back-to-back, guns blazing, as they’re attacked from all sides by the infected inhabitants of this fictional West African slum.
The first third of the game involves Chris and Sheva trying to stay alive while they pursue their target, a weasel-like weapons dealer who could out-cringe a Steve Buscemi character. While the action is fast and furious, I got increasingly frustrated with how this (uninfected) guy kept slipping away. This feeling was compounded by the fact that the dealer’s only appearance during the pursuit was in the cut scenes where he got away. Now, threads of the larger plot began to appear, but the railroading plot events really began to wear on me, and who likes being outsmarted by a slimy-looking scumbag?
There is one villain who definitely doesn’t disappoint. It is, naturally, Wesker, triumphantly returning, to get his megalomaniacal plotting on in a big way which will have series fans cackling with glee. Knowing that Wesker was coming back may have contributed towards the other villains seeming weak and unconvincing, but the rest of me didn’t care because I was watching Wesker work, and it was awesome. I’m not going to say any more, but the last third of the game was just all-around fantastic, with a return to a sense of urgency, horror, and impending death which was really missing from the initial plot, constructed around a very interesting look into what made Umbrella really tick and how its beginning really defined its ending.
In general, I give RE5 full marks. There are a few things I wish were a little different, but it really feels like a even more polished and advanced evolution of what RE4 introduced into the series, and adds a depth of play that players with regular online friends to play with will really appreciate. Left 4 Dead players should really enjoy RE5, as there is a similar planning element, and while the monsters are slower in this game, they’re a lot tougher with a lot more variants, and it’s just you and a buddy against the world.
Last Note: There was a lot of talk when the demo came out about the racial sensitivity of setting this game in Africa, and honestly, that’s worth a post all by itself. I intend to tackle this separately, so if you’re concerned, all I’m going to say right now is that I think there’s definitely some cause for concern, and some things that were I Capcom I would not have done, but the overall excellence of the game won me over.