Resident Evil 5
Somewhere mixed in together with the various oddities that make up human nature is the seemingly absurd yearning for us to actually want to be scared out of our wits. What drives us to watch grotesque slasher pictures and nerve-wracking zombie movies? Why do we tolerate ridiculous lines at theme parks just for the brief opportunity to be sent hurling through the air at sickening speeds? What legitimate reason could we possibly have for running in the streets alongside hundreds of enraged, 600-kilogram animals that are hell bent on our destruction? These are difficult questions, to be sure, but there is perhaps one person who might be privy to their answers. His name is Shinji Mikami – famed game designer, Resident Evil creator, and director of the smash hit Resident Evil 4 – one of the most disturbing, macabre, and absolutely brilliant survival horror titles ever made.
These days, Mikami is no longer with Capcom, but his revolutionary ideas live on in the newest edition of the Resident Evil franchise. Under the watchful eye of producer Jun Takeuchi, Resident Evil 5 takes the basic core gameplay concepts introduced in Mikami’s masterpiece and one-ups them in almost every way. Jaw-dropping graphics, big budget presentation values and a wickedly fun co-op mode for both online and off combine to make this not only a worthy entry to Resident Evil franchise, but also one of the best games on the current generation of consoles.
In a move that is sure to make fans happy, Resident Evil 5 puts you in the shoes of Chris Redfield, former S.T.A.R.S. member and one of the few survivors of the Raccoon City mansion incident depicted in first iteration of the series. The beginning of the game finds Chris – now working for the B.S.A.A (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance) – in Africa, investigating a rumored bioterrorist threat and searching for his missing partner, Jill Valentine. As you would expect (especially if you’ve played the demo), Chris quickly finds himself swarmed by hordes of infected villagers, and the rest of the game’s 15 or so hours play out in an impeccably paced romp from gorgeous location to gorgeous location, constantly under attack by crazed “zombies” and other, more grotesque beasties.
The story itself is extremely straightforward, with only one minor twist (that is telegraphed early on), but it is told remarkably well via some of the best in-game cut scenes I’ve seen. This is partially due to an amazing graphical engine that allows for the portrayal of realistic facial expressions, but mostly because of snappy editing and inspired camera work that puts to shame some big budget Hollywood film releases (I’m looking at you, Quantum of Solace). This is easily the best looking Japanese developed game to date, and a true testament to the talent of Capcom’s design team.
That said, Resident Evil 5‘s superb presentation is only part of what makes the game such an engrossing experience. You see, Chris is never alone. Throughout the entirety of the game’s story driven campaign, Chris is assisted by his new B.S.A.A. partner, Sheva Alomar. Now, Sheva is not like Ashley in Resident Evil 4. She is not a damsel in distress with no means of protecting herself from the horrors relentlessly attacking from all sides. Nor is she like Elika from the new Prince of Persia game; she will not magically bail Chris out of every dire situation he gets himself into. No – Sheva is just a partner. For as many times as Chris has to save her from that lunging zombie that is trying to tear her apart, she’ll return the favor just as many times for Chris. She can hold the same amount of health items, weapons, and other equipment as Chris; and she can do pretty much everything just as well as Chris can. Resident Evil 5 has been built from the ground up around this dual protagonist style of gameplay, and the resulting experience is extremely satisfying and wholly unique.
If you want, you can play through the entire game as Chris and let the computer take control of Sheva. You have some limited control over how she behaves (she can be switched between aggressive or defensive A.I. settings), but for the most part she simply follows you around, shoots threats when they appear and heals your wounds when you take damage. The A.I. does an admirable job of playing intelligently, but if you aren’t playing with a living, breathing person, you aren’t playing Resident Evil 5 as it was meant to be played. Available in either splitscreen or online modes, the cooperative aspect of this game changes the experience completely, making each encounter that much more thrilling and giving every decision extra weight. Who gets to wield that shiny new weapon you both just discovered? Who picks up what type of ammo and when? As is always the case in Resident Evil titles, ammo conservation and inventory management are the keys to success, and when two people are forced to make snap decisions while being swarmed by dozens of blood thirsty, mutated lizards, hilarious lines like, “I’M OUT OF AMMO YOU ****ING IDIOT!” and “THOSE ARE MY SHOTGUN SHELLS *****!” ensue.
Unfortunately, the co-op nature of Resident Evil 5 brings out one of the few negative things I can say about the game – it’s not quite as scary as past iterations of the series. Resident Evil 4 took a step in this direction with more emphasis on action oriented gameplay, but what that game lacked in cerebral creep out factor, it more than made for in disturbing imagery and gore. Watching either Leon or Ashley get literally ripped to pieces or decapitated was disturbing enough to make each encounter a nail-biting affair; especially considering the fact that Ashley was almost completely helpless. Chris and Sheva still have to worry about chainsaw wielding crazies and getting brutally impaled/bludgeoned/eaten/etc, but because you always have someone else around to watch your back, it just doesn’t feel as frightening. That said, there are definitely still some good scares to be had – many of which harken back to certain key scares in the original Resident Evil (does a certain ‘L’ shaped hallway ring a bell?). I fancy myself a gamer with nerves of steel, and, to its credit, the game did get me to jump in a handful of sections.
And really, is this shift from slower, more methodical scares to seat-of-your-pants, adrenaline pumping shoot-outs a bad thing? This is a survival horror game after all, and the thrill of trying to survive with limited ammunition against wave after wave of mutated monstrosities is undeniably titillating – especially during the main storyline’s Alamo-esque last stand segments and in the game’s brilliant Mercenaries mode.
Mercenaries you ask? Yup, the addictive game mode that was so popular in Resident Evil 4 is back here, with more level variations and online and splitscreen co-op support. Pitted against a never ending horde of enemies and provided with only a limited number of bullets, you must run from point to point, killing infected and trying to rack up the most points as possible before the time runs out. You get bonus points for killing creatures in quick succession but this gives you less time to scrounge up ammo – and no ammo means imminent death, which in turn means no points. This delicate and dangerous balance makes Mercenaries insanely additive, and full co-op support is just the icing on the cake. Add eight unlockable mercenaries – each with their own unique melee attacks and weapon load-out – and you have a game mode that will keep players busy for months down the road.
There really aren’t a whole lot of bad things you can say about Resident Evil 5. It’s one of the best looking games on the market, has impeccable presentation and wonderfully campy voice acting (this time, intentionally), a strong plot that brings back a handful of classic characters and, most of all, it’s just plain fun. Whether it’s padding slowly down a dim concrete hallway, complete with flickering florescent lights and ominous blood-splattered walls, or running from a horde of crazed, zombie villagers, Resident Evil 5 delivers a truly engrossing survival horror experience – an experience that you can enjoy from start to finish with a buddy, regardless of whether or not you have access to high speed Internet.
Resident Evil 4 director Shinji Mikami said he’d never play this fifth iteration of the series he was so instrumental in making successful – mostly, I’m sure, due to some bitterness resulting from having been released by Capcom a few years back. That’s really a shame, because if he did play this game, I’m sure he’d find that his ideas have been handled with care and lovingly crafted into one of the very best game experiences currently available.