Release Date: March 13, 2009
It's rare for a series to reinvent itself as heavily as Resident Evil has. The original Resident Evil was the forefather of the modern-day survival horror game. Be it Silent Hill or Fatal Frame, everything in that genre owes a little something to Resident Evil. Yet Resident Evil 4 took the series in a completely new direction, forgoing the series' trademark zombies altogether and introducing more action-heavy elements. It was an unusual change, but it gave us one of the best games of the last generation. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Capcom's Resident Evil 5 is following the same basic structure as Resident Evil 4, but adding some interesting new features to the mix.
Resident Evil 5 opens up not too long after the events of RE 4. We rejoin Chris Redfield, star of Resident Evil and Resident Evil: Code Veronica, in his new job as part of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, or BSAA. In the wake of the bioweapon manufacturer Umbrella's downfall, their deadly virus weapons have been co-opted by various black market organizations and terrorist groups who seek to unleash zombie hell upon the world. BSAA was formed to combat these deadly biological weapons. Chris, along with his new partner Sheva Alomar, is sent into the small African village of Kijuju to investigate rumors of a black market bioweapons deal. Before long, however, they discover that the village isn't just the site of the deal but also the testing ground for a modified version of the deadly Las Plagas parasite, which Leon S. Kennedy battled in RE 4. As a Resident Evil title, the twists don't stop there, and before long, Chris and Sheva finds themselves neck-deep in yet another biohazard outbreak that can threaten the entire world if left unchecked.
The basic gameplay is almost unchanged from RE 4. Indeed, if you've played that game, you won't have a difficult time leaping into Resident Evil 5, and many of the same tactics still work. Resident Evil 5 offers a new control scheme that allows you to strafe, as well as variations on the old RE 4 controls. The basics are still the same, though. You can't move and shoot at the same time, and you have to target specific enemy weak points while standing still. Hitting enemies in the head or limbs can stun them, allowing you to follow up with devastating melee attacks. The controls may feel a bit strange to gamers coming off titles like Dead Space or Gears of War 2, but with a bit of practice, they work just fine. Quick Time Event mini-games also return from RE 4, although significantly toned down. Most of the instances occurred during actual gameplay and involved pressing a button to dodge an attack or duck an oncoming pipe. In the entire preview build, we only encountered one QTE in a cut scene, which occurred near the beginning of the game and was quickly over.
All in all, Resident Evil 5 feels very similar to RE 4, but there are a few differences that make it stand out from its predecessor. The big change to Resident Evil 5 is the addition of a partner. While this isn't the first time that Resident Evil has been built around the idea of two people working together, none of the previous games have focused on it quite to this extent. From the beginning, Chris will be partnered with Sheva, and except for a few sequences where traps or enemies separate the players, they'll be together at all times. Sheva is a trained soldier and functions almost identically to Chris. She is a bit faster and lighter than her male counterpart but balances this by having slightly less health. By default, Sheva is controlled by an AI partner, but at any time, someone can drop in — via System Link, split-screen or even online play — and take control of her, allowing two players to work together to conquer the infected hordes. You partner is usually immune to damage, but players looking for a greater challenge can turn on the "friendly fire" option.
It's worth noting that the entire game is streamlined for online co-op play. Many of the elements from RE 4 have returned but in modified ways that prevent online play from slowing down. Most areas have a "partner door" that can only be opened once both partners have arrived, preventing one player from getting too far ahead of the other. Save points have also been automated, so the game will automatically save at specific checkpoints scattered throughout the stages, rather than forcing players to stop at typewriters to record their progress. Likewise, the merchant from RE 4 has also been replaced by an automatic shop, which pops up between levels or after a Game Over, and allows you to spend your hard-earned money on items, sell treasures you've picked up during the mission, or store items and weapons you don't currently need.
The inventory system has also been drastically changed. Both characters now have a 3x3 square inventory, with each possible item taking up a single slot. This inventory can be opened at any time by pressing the Y button, but unlike every other Resident Evil title, the gameplay doesn't stop so you have to manipulate the inventory in real time. This includes not only juggling items, but passing items between your two characters. Ammunition is limited, and if your friend is low on ammo, you'll have to give him some of yours. Thankfully, there are a few shortcuts to make this easier. There are four "hot keys" that you can access by placing items in specific slots in the inventory screen, each corresponding to one of the directions on the X360's d-pad. Once an item is in a specific slot, you can instantly access it by pressing the corresponding direction on the d-pad. If you choose ammunition or a healing item this way, or simply "equip" them from the item screen, you can pass them to your partner by pressing the B button when he or she is nearby.
Resident Evil 5 also brings back the cooperative moves found in RE 4, although since Sheva is a trained soldier, not the President's kidnapped daughter, she can be a significantly greater help than Leon's sidekick, Ashley. Depending on the situation, pressing the Partner button will cause you to interact with your partner. Chris can help toss Sheva over an extra-long gap, ask her to turn a crank while he guards her, or even send her off by herself to collect ammo or valuable items. If Chris is grabbed, he can call Sheva for help, causing her to kick the enemy off him and reduce the damage he takes. Likewise, he can assist Sheva in the same way. Chris can even order Sheva to pick up items and money, which can be a lifesaver during a tense battle. Partner moves also play into the game's new "dying" status. If either of the team is severely injured, they won't die instantly but enters the "dying" status, where the screen flashes red and the player can't do anything but limp extremely slowly. If you're hit again, or if both members are dying at the same time, the game is over. However, if you can get the surviving team member to his injured partner and press the Partner button, the player will be able to use a healing item and save the character. If you have no healing items, your partner will get an emergency injection instead, which saves him or her from "dying" but doesn't restore much health.
These partner moves form the crux of most of the major events that we encountered in Resident Evil 5. Chris and Sheva would have to combine their abilities to pass almost every obstacle we came across. One scenario had the duo trapped in a pitch-black cave with only a heavy battery-powered lantern to light their way. They had to switch the lantern back and forth, with one guiding the light onto oncoming enemies and the other blasting them. Another had one of the pair separated by a gate, with the trapped Sheva having to keep enemies away from Chris as he tried to find a way to open the gate. In single-player mode, most of these event scenarios are a bit pre-planned. Chris has to complete his task while Sheva either tags along and waits for commands or does things on her own. In co-op, however, the two players will have to work together to complete these tasks, sometimes discovering new and more effective ways to do things that the AI just can't manage.
Sheva's single-player AI is surprisingly good at staying alive, and in the default Cover mode, is very reminiscent of Ashley from Resident Evil 4. She'll hide behind Chris and move along with him when he runs, allowing you to avoid damage without too much trouble. Dodging enemy attacks is no problem at all, and Sheva rarely took damage without Chris being injured too. In the build we played, however, she did have a few flaws. She used ammo a bit too freely and didn't aim her shots as well as an average human player would. She could hit with great accuracy but tended to aim for the chest, instead of the head or limbs. Her AI also has a bit of a problem with healing items. If Sheva has a Green Herb and Chris is lightly injured, she'll use it, even if it would be wiser to save that item for mixing with a Red Herb. This was alleviated by giving her pre-mixed Herbs and First Aid Sprays, so she only used them when Chris was about to "die," but it's annoying to have to lug around all the Green Herbs myself. As a side note, for those worried about Sheva running headfirst into a chainsaw for a game over, don't fret. In all my encounters with the chainsaw-wielding infected, the only time Sheva got hit was when I intentionally made her. As long as Sheva is being controlled by the AI, a chainsaw isn't a one-hit kill but does instantly bring her to "dying" status.
The enemies in Resident Evil 5 may feel pretty familiar to folks who played through RE 4. The primary enemy, the Majini, are upgraded versions of the Ganado from that game. They're a bit faster, a bit smarter and come in much greater numbers. Like the Ganado, they house Las Plagas parasites inside them, although these ones are a mite nastier than the ones from RE 4. The Plagas can burst out and fly at your characters or emerge in horrible pillars of fangs and claws, and unlike the Ganado version, have no problem coming out in daylight. There are also some newer and nastier versions of the Majini, such a huge fellow armed with brass knuckles who can withstand a shotgun blast without much ill effect. The Majini are far from the only foe you'll face, but they are easily the most prevalent. We also came across various Plagas-infected wildlife, which provided some rather interesting challenges and a few nastier surprises.
We encountered a few nasty bosses in our playthroughs, and each one required teamwork to defeat. The first one was a crawling mess of claws and fangs who was immune to bullets, so one of the characters had to lure the beast into a furnace, while the other remained outside to trap the beast inside. Another was a giant mutant bat-monster with an extremely heavily armored front, which required both players to take turns luring it their way while the other unloaded on its unprotected underside. We even encountered a new and improved El Gigante, who was far more durable than the one that Leon battled. Both heroes had to man jeep-mounted machine guns and work together to delay El Gigante's powerful attacks long enough to expose its weak point.
Resident Evil 5 looks fantastic. The updated visuals are fairly stunning in motion, and while a lot of the animations look similar to those in RE 4, the differences are enough to keep the game looking fresh. The new melee attack animations are surprisingly brutal and have a lot of impact, giving them a greater sense of power. There was no slowdown whatsoever, even with bullets flying everywhere, tons of Majini on-screen and explosions aplenty. The use of lighting and shadow is even better than it was in RE 4, and there are some really clever uses of the in-game lighting to provide creepy moments or hints about enemy weaknesses.
In many ways, Resident Evil 5 is Resident Evil 4 with some upgrades. There are some major changes to the inventory system, but the controls have seen only slight tweaks and changes. Nonetheless, the introduction of co-op gameplay does a lot to change the feel of the game, and while it makes for a better multiplayer experience, the AI Sheva can hold her own well enough for players who want to play through solo. We only got a brief taste of Resident Evil 5, but what we played has us hungry for more. It's more of the same fun and exciting gameplay that made RE 4 so great, but this time, you can bring along a friend for the ride. Players interested in experiencing the newest in survival horror can try the limited demo available on Xbox Live, or wait until Resident Evil 5 hits stores this March.
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