Chris Redfield is back, jetting off to Africa always in pursuit of Umbrella Corp's next nefarious move. He quickly meets up with the athletic and alluring Sheva Alomar, his teammate against the creepy semi-undead Majini. Together, they get on the trail of whoever unleashed this latest strain of whichever virus Umbrella is cooking up this week, turning the unsuspecting populace of a handful of dusty desert shanty towns into drooling cannibals.
The first thing you'll probably notice is that Resident Evil 5 starts out hard. Unfairly hard, it would seem. I originally fired it up on the PS3 with the girlfriend, lights out and speakers cranked, expecting an evening of freaks and frights. Instead, it resulted in near broken controllers, tons of WTF moments, and much frustration. Why? It's nothing new to RE players for ammo and supplies to be scarce, but both the quantity and quality of enemies thrown at players in the very first level of the game will have you wondering if you accidentally set the difficulty to Insane. Nope, that's just how it is.
How's one expected to overcome these odds? By grinding. You can slowly accumulate more ammo and money over time, thus allowing you to upgrade your weapons for larger ammo capacity, more damage and piercing power, and faster reload times. The thing is that you'll spend enough time grinding the same levels just to advance an inch that the miles ahead start to look less appealing. The grind can be tedious, but the story line, animation, visuals, voice acting, and every other aspect of the game are top-notch and worth the initial suffering … to a point.
First and foremost, enlist a capable partner online to take the reins of whichever character you're not playing. This can cut down on the amount and type of ammo the AI can sometimes waste, and if you luck into partying up with someone who has some of the end-game perks — like unlimited ammo, crazy big weapons (chain gun anyone?) and super damage — it can make the proceedings easier to endure or even lucrative, if you play your cards right. Again, it's still a grind, and after you memorize where every single enemy pops out of the woodwork, it starts to feel less like fun and more like your job.
The presentation is great and the online co-op is solid, extending to the Mercenaries mode that exists outside the main continuity. Here, you're tasked with killing off as many enemies as you can within a time limit. Crank it up to No Mercy mode (exclusive to the PC version), and you get triple the enemies. This is where you might run into technical limitations and dropped frames, though.
Great visuals always come at a price. With that said, the game features both DirectX 9 and 10 modes, ensuring compatibility with systems that may be a couple of years old and/or haven't leapt from Windows XP yet. I haven't upgraded my video card in about three years, and on the lower end of the detail spectrum, I was able to squeeze 30-50 frames per second out of the game, and it still looked pretty respectable.
Perhaps the biggest plus this has over the console editions is mouse and keyboard control — something the PC edition of RE4 could have used — which affords much more precise aiming. This leads to less wasted ammo, a tremendous boon in a game that's already short on spare rounds. On top of that, you're given actual crosshairs to aim with, which are much more useful than the laser pointer targeting used on other platforms. It's almost impossible to hit someone more than 30 feet away with the laser pointer; crosshairs, on the other hand, had me picking off beasties with headshots from 100 yards away with a submachine gun. Might not be terribly realistic, but in a game where you fight some cleverly wicked monsters in pursuit of a guy who can dodge bullets like Agent Smith, I don't think realism is the selling point. The overall speed of mouse look versus controller camera panning almost makes the quick-turn button completely unnecessary.
The only black eye on the mouse control is that look-slope (or whatever you want to call it) is on by default and can't be turned off that I've found, forcing your character to automatically look up when going up stairs or inclines, and down when descending. This threw off my aim more times than I care to remember, but I'll still take mouse aiming over controller aiming any day of the week, though this game supports controllers and encourages using the 360 controller.
Perhaps the best and worst thing about RE5 at once is that it requires Games for Windows Live to function. This is great for earning Achievements and keeping a persistent friends list, which is a boon for any multiplayer game, but particularly a co-op one. However, online and offline profiles are disparate, meaning that if you create one for online play and finish the single-player campaign, none of your progress mirrors over to an offline profile, should you be without Internet access and want to blast some Majini. What's more, I've run into issues with other GFWL games where save files won't transfer between computers. In a game where your progress — and time spent grinding for essential upgrades — your save files are basically being held hostage and made a complete pain to manage. Valve has solved this with Steam and their games; I don't understand why Microsoft (and more recently Ubisoft with its online-only Assassin's Creed 2 save system) won't learn a thing or two from them.
What's more, GFWL checks for updates every time it starts (just for itself, not your game) and gives you a warning that once updates are installed, it may restart your computer. More time wasted. Initial installation uses SecuROM and requires the disc to be in the drive to play at all times, which is a tiresome pain given the GFWL tether you're saddled with anyway. After about an hour of installing, letting SecuROM and GFWL do their things, I was finally able to start working with the game.
The first thing you're going to want to do is run the benchmark test to see what your system can handle. This is a handy tool for determining where your settings should be, based on hardware specs. However, if you run the game full-screen and try to alt-tab out to another window, when you return to the game, it can take literally several minutes of reloading to bring back the screen. Strangely, however, running the game in a window — even a window as large as your entire screen — causes this issue to disappear entirely. Changing any graphics options while in game (even at the main menu) again triggers several minutes of loading before anything becomes active again. I tried to get around this by alt-tabbing out to do something else while I waited, which is when I encountered the aforementioned issue.
Sound effects overall are well done. There are lots of gushy squishy sounds when splattering undead all over the walls, metal doors clang when being kicked in, wood splinters believably, and the characters are voiced in a way that boosts the tension in a story where you're almost always outmatched and have to act fast to stay alive. Music also sways toward calm or tense, depending on the situation.
For those with money to burn and the hardware to support it, the game supports Nvidia 3D vision glasses to great effect. As crawlies slither out of the screen into your lap, I dare you not to be weirded out. This is likely the future of games, so you'd better get used to it.
Multiplayer isn't a huge hit, though it's not from a lack of trying. At 10pm on a lazy summer evening, there are only three people playing, and one of them is somewhere in Europe.
Overall, if you can put up with DRM and GFWL headaches, and don't mind risking losing your save games and progress — or at least having them tethered and more complicated than they need to be — Resident Evil 5 for the PC is probably the version to get. If you don't want to finagle with hardware settings and the like to get the visuals fine-tuned and don't care about mouse support, there's not really anything here to yank you away from picking up the console version instead.
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