Man vs Boulder – Resident Evil 5 Review

(First published on Gamepad Magazine, 13th January 2011)


It took me ages to recognise that's Africa in the background!!!
It took me ages to recognise that’s Africa in the background!!!

Let’s face it, you can’t talk about the Horror genre in gaming without making mention of Resident Evil.  Whilst others, namely Silent Hill and Dead Rising, have tried to replace it, Resident Evil is the undisputed King of the Horror world. Though its premise has always been simple; to survive in a environment that has become infected and to kill zombies by the bucketload, it has maintained great appeal.  Resident Evil 5, the latest in the main strand of the series, was released in 2009.  It uses many of the same dynamics that had been employed in Resident Evil 4, which greatly changed the way the series played and received some serious acclaim for it. So, how does 5 stack up?

Story-wise, Resident Evil 5 brings back one of the popular protagonists of the series, Chris Redfield, and places him in an unidentified part of Africa as part of a biohazard prevention team. Upon his arrival, he is partnered with a local member, Sheva Alomar, and told to investigate the area. What they find is that the inhabitants (known as the Maljini) have become feral and begin to attack them. From here on in, Chris and Sheva must battle against the hoards of infected to find the truth about the situation, and Chris must ultimately resolve issues with an old enemy.  It seems that Capcom have decided that the average zombie is no longer cutting it, as for the last two instalments, the enemy have been infected members of the Spanish and African communities respectively. In any case, it doesn’t appear to have impacted upon their ability to produce a ridiculous, over the top plot. Some of the enemies undergo insane transformations, a Resident Evil trait that will never die out. Add to this some high speed car/gun chases, taking down trolls with mounted turrets, using satellites to melt gigantic sea-creatures and some unexpected throwbacks to previous instalments of the series, and you have a pretty solid, if crazy, plot to follow.

And special mention must go to one of the most absurd and fantastic moments ever encountered in a video game, when Chris Redfield fights a boulder inside a volcano filled with molten lava. Thats Oscar winning material if I have ever seen it.

As mentioned before, 5 uses the system that had been introduced in 4; you can move Chris/Sheva around as you wish, but when you want to shoot, you must stay still and aim from an over the shoulder perspective allowing you to aim for certain body parts (go for the head), until you let go of the aiming trigger. I can understand that Capcom introduced this to heighten the sense of fear as several enemies come closer to you, but I personally do not like the change from the olden days; for me, it slows the game down too much as you start and stop every five seconds to get some distance between you and the Maljini to aim properly. Admittedly you do get used to it, but why can’t there be a system like in Gears Of War where you can move and shoot at the same time? I will say, however, it allows for some great interaction with the enemy. Shoot them in the leg, and they topple to the ground, a bullet in the hand causes them to writhe in pain, and the good old fashioned headshot brings a suitably gruesome end.

Otherwise, Resident Evil 5 is pretty solid in the gameplay stakes. Starting off with the basic pistol, you obtain ammo and gold from fallen enemies, and you can buy and obtain stronger and more powerful weapons as time goes on, including a cattle prod to beat people to death with. Herbs are still used to heal you and your partner, and you can swap weapons and items in game with them thanks to a very handy mini-menu.

Another good element is the team based puzzles that you must solve as you progress, with levers and emblems aplenty, causing a few heads to be scratched. It’s also nice to see that the characters are individualized, if only ever so slightly; Chris is a right hander and will punch his enemies in close quarter combat, whereas Sheva is a left hander and can deliver some roundhouse kicks that would make Chuck Norris proud.  Also stolen taken with thought and care from 4 is the use of interactive cut scenes. Sometimes you will be prompted to press/smash a button at the right time to make a jump or block an attack. Basically, they are there to keep you on your toes. However there is a disappointingly small amount of these events in the game, a few more would have been greatly welcomed.  Where 5 improves on 4 is the introduction of co-op gameplay, as two players can take control of Chris and Sheva and complete the missions with them. This works fine, as the puzzles from the single player are simply left for both players to complete rather than having the AI work for you. My one complaint with this is that the screen, for whatever reason, isn’t split in half in a local game; there’s an ugly black background around each camera which takes up about half the screen. Why Capcom left this I have no idea, but its something that should have been fixed.  However, add to all this collectibles hidden throughout the missions, bonus costumes, time-trial modes, and the return of the popular Mercenaries as an unlockable bonus mode, and you have a solid game to play through.

This man will kick your ass and send you home crying. Just a warning
This man will kick your ass and send you home crying. Just a warning

Graphically, I really cannot fault Resident Evil 5. The characters are well detailed (just look at Chris’s stupidly big muscles lol) and the enemies that you fight look suitably deformed and evil, especially the big scale bosses, and their reactions are pretty lifelike, although the undead still haven’t learnt to run it seems. The setting of the game is pretty well developed as well, throwing in shanty towns, caves, and the inside of a ship to move and shoot through, as well as the remains of an underground lab which looks fantastic at times. A very fine game to look at.  Sound-wise, Resident Evil isn’t particularly well known for great voice work (‘Jill Sandwich’ anyone?), but in 5 its quite solid. The writing suffers at some points leaving Chris with some hilarious quotes (“FLAME ON ASSHOLE!!!!!!”), but no-one in the main cast stands out as being particularly bad. Where the game shines is with the ambient noise, most of the time there’s no music at all, just leaving the howls and screams of the enemies to fill the air. And to be honest, that’s the way it should be in a horror game.

So far, so good. But then we come to the real problem with Resident Evil 5, and the problem is the game overall. I know it sounds strange, but bear with me. I said at the start that Resident Evil was king of the horror genre.  Resident Evil 5 is not frightening. Not even remotely. When the first trailer for the game was released in 2007, it looked amazing; there were a massive number of very capable enemies (some of which were running) on screen at any one time, and the fact that it was just Chris on his own made it look like it could become a great survival horror game. Come release date in 2009, many of the things that had been promised by Capcom, such as hallucinations and moments of blindness from the sun and heat, hadn’t made it to the game at all, and Chris now had a partner in Sheva, meaning that the lone survivor aspect had been removed as well, something that put off a lot of players and veterans of the franchise.  The gameplay then reinforces this; very rarely will you immediately die, instead you are put into a ‘dying state’, where you cant shoot but are kept alive long enough for your partner to heal you back to full health. Also, there is far too much ammo on show for the game to be considered a survival horror game, and too many action sequences instead of moments of actual horror. Trying to pass this game off as a horror game is simply wrong, because its an action game: simple as that.

Resident Evil 5 is a game that I believe would have been much better accepted if Capcom had released it as a new IP, rather than an extension of the franchise. It’s a great action game, don’t get me wrong, buts it’s not Resident Evil as I remember it, if they want to get the series back on track, it needs to be much scarier next time round.

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