Release Date: March 13, 2009
For most people, Resident Evil 4 was the best reason to own a GameCube, at least before the PS2 port came around. As a fan since the series' inception, I never got behind the complaint about "tank" controls being obtuse, or the inventory system and save systems being a pain to manage. Granted, Resident Evil 4 still contained some of the trappings of the original title, but it was a breath of fresh air that I didn't even know the series needed. Also, it was the first true follow-up for the somewhat convoluted story line, coming out after the lukewarm Resident Evil Zero prequel.
So now, in our current generation of consoles, we're pretty much ready to accept the newest Resident Evil title, Resident Evil 5. For those who expected to see a major change from what Resident Evil 4 offered, prepare to be disappointed. It's obvious that Capcom has taken an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" stance here, but for those who really got a kick out of RE4, there's plenty to love in the new sequel.
While RE4 focused on Leon Kennedy, this time out, we're reunited with Chris Redfield, one of the heroes from the first title. Chris has hung up his STARS hat, the special ops team he was with in Raccoon City, and has teamed up with the BSAA, a counter-terrorism unit that specializes in biological threats (naturally). He's been sent to Africa to investigate a possible problem and is teamed up with series newcomer Sheva Alomar, another BSAA agent that's active in her homeland and is brought in to acquaint Chris with the untrusting townspeople. However, things quickly get out of hand, and Chris and Sheva soon learn that the entire area has become one big biological disaster, which is obviously unsurprising to anyone who's ever played a Resident Evil title.
Since the story line focuses so heavily on Chris and Sheva being teammates, RE5 has a very heavy focus on cooperation between the two, but it's also used in a fashion that's far better than what Resident Evil Zero had to offer, which also used two characters under the player's control. Sheva is mostly AI-controlled when you're playing alone, with the only real player-controlled actions being simple directives that you can give Sheva, like falling back, going forward, or following Chris around. You can manipulate her inventory by handing over stuff or having her hand things to Chris. She'll sometimes automatically pick up items like ammo, but usually found items are left in the control of the player, so you can sort things out on your own. Her AI is mostly decent, at least when playing in normal mode (the default difficulty), but she tends to waste ammo and doesn't focus on making headshots or disabling shots. However, if you get in a jam, she's usually pretty quick to help out, and if you're close to dying around her, she'll almost always revive you in time.
Even when it comes to running away, Sheva generally does a solid job of staying out of the grasp of the infected, and I rarely had issues with her getting hung up on different objects in the environment — although this did happen. Her pathfinding ability is also pretty spot-on, and if there's a shortcut to your location, she'll almost always take it. I can't really complain much about the AI in RE5, and I was expecting it to be a bit more troublesome than it was. However, it's still not a real replacement for having another player actually stand in, but it's completely passable on the regular difficulty.
Bumping up the challenge to the Veteran level causes the small issues, such as her waste of ammo, to turn into much larger ones. It's hard to take on the regular ground bosses because she'll typically blow through her ammo supplies, and you can't leave her without bullets because she becomes a sitting duck. I found it useful to stock her with the healing supplies, since the AI is pretty good about not wasting them when you have a nearly full health bar, but I'm not sure I could complete the game on the Veteran difficulty level without the help of another player.
The online co-op play is pulled off without a hitch, and I never had any issues with lag or other random problems that are sometimes evident in other online games. When you begin, you can opt to search for open games, join friends or start your own game. If you begin your own game, you can set your online preferences so that it's open for anyone to join, just friends, or you can keep the game closed. There was no shortage of people online to play with, and it takes no more than a minute to find a game to jump into when you're dealing with random players.
Visually, RE5 is absolutely beautiful, and while it only outputs at 720p on the PS3, it's still a remarkable-looking game. Chris has obviously bulked up from his old Resident Evil days, but the animation for Chris and Sheva is pretty slick, and they even do a great job with the facial animations, keeping them out of the sometimes creepy-looking "too real" territory. The same can be said for the various enemies, human and otherwise, that you'll encounter. I like the monster designs in this title than I did the ones that showed up in Resident Evil 4, and there are a couple of encounters that feel epic in scope. It's a really great-looking title and shouldn't disappoint fans who are particular about game graphics.
The audio is equally impressive, and while RE5 doesn't feature my favorite soundtrack in the series, the audio is definitely in line with the other main titles, with small haunting themes and large clashing bits during the high intensity sections. The audio also does a good job of cueing you into where enemies are, even when they're just getting ready to appear, and while you can argue that the game has lost some of its ability to scare you since the environments are mostly set in the open and during the day, there's definitely a scene or two that will make you jump, and that's almost entirely due to the sound work. Also, the voice-over work is extremely well done, even with the minor characters … well, aside from Irving.
RE5 also has a fair amount of replay value, as completing each stage will net a score based on the S ranking system that's popular in other Japanese-developed titles, which takes into account lives lost, time, and enemies killed. Getting S ranks in all stages will take a while, but it's well worth the time if you enjoy that kind of thing. There's also an additional mode that unlocks after completing the main game, and you can go back through the game as Sheva, who plays differently than Chris. The weapon upgrade system can take some time to fully complete, but it's the only way to unlock some of the better weapons. You can also hunt down all of the BSAA medals hidden around the various levels. There's a lot to do outside of the main story line, which provides players with a fair amount of content for the price.
Altogether, I came away from Resident Evil 5 feeling pretty impressed, and while the change isn't nearly as radical as it was when Resident Evil 4 was released, it's still a really solid follow-up that keeps everything that worked from the previous title. It builds upon small things while introducing a great co-op system for series fans. I'm not sure that this is the game to bring in people who are unfamiliar with the story, as you'll probably feel a little lost jumping into this, but it's a really fun action/horror title that is well worth picking up.
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