An Outdated Roller Coaster That's Still a Good Ride
HIGH Co-op is a great addition to the Resident Evil formula.
LOW The controls are way out of touch with current standards.
WTF A half-naked tribesman drops grenade rounds? Where were they hidden, exactly?
I hate to say it, but I am of two minds when it comes to Resident Evil 5.
From a critical perspective, it's hard not to be disappointed in the fact that Capcom didn't fulfill the next-gen promise of running through a densely-populated hostile land seen in early trailers for the game. With powerful new technology and so many innovative ideas in the industry, the potential for a new paradigm was there. In actuality, besides a change of scenery and more action, there's very little in Resident Evil 5 that we haven't seen before. On the other hand, I've certainly enjoyed following along with the exploits of the S.T.A.R.S. team over the years. It's been nearly 13 since this landmark series debuted and I've spent time with every title, so that's a lot of shared history to have.
A third-person game filled with zombie-like enemies and gruesome monsters to be dispatched with high-caliber firearms... we're all familiar with the typical Resident Evil formula, yes? I thought so. Skipping the redundant recap, let's start with the good.
Finally, after so many entries and so many players screaming for it, Capcom has finally included a true co-op feature. After seeing them toy with the concept in Resident Evil: Outbreak and Resident Evil Zero, I never thought the day would arrive when they'd finally commit to it, but they did, and I'm glad. Investigating experimental biological terrorism with a living, breathing partner added a new dimension that Resident Evil's never had, and it's about time. Although it doesn't add anything that other co-op titles haven't already done, there is a certain joy in calling headshots on infected attackers and having someone around for backup when the Lickers get thick. This is iconic stuff.
Also in the plus column are the graphics and scenario design. No one can deny that Capcom is at the height of its powers with the opulent visuals on display here, and the shift to more action-oriented adventure felt like a very natural progression of the series. Although some may express dissatisfaction that heroes Chris Redfield and newcomer Sheva Alomar aren't exploring a creepy mansion full of gothic puzzles, Capcom has covered that ground several times over. I found it quite satisfying to finally take action in the field rather than reading about it in a dossier found in someone's desk, or hearing about it as the topic of discussion between characters in a cutscene. It may not be survival horror in the strictest sense of the genre's definition, but it feels like the right place for the series to go, at least for now.
Ceding these points as things to praise, the fact is that my analytical, more critical side finds more than a few places where Capcom goes astray. The largest of the issues I need to address won't come as a surprise to anyone: the controls.
Although Capcom's developers have been quoted several times in saying that Resident Evil 5's tank-like controls keep with the series' history as a means of creating tension for the player, I'm not buying it for a second. Even if I did believe it, I'd still say that the attempt was a complete failure. It's simply too cumbersome and clunky for its own good, and comes off as embarrassingly backward when compared to current titles. For example, there were many times when I'd try to slash an enemy with my knife, only to find that I was a little short. Instead of simply walking forward with blade at the ready and slashing again, the game makes players sheathe the knife, walk a few steps, and then re-draw the knife while standing cemented in place before another attack can be made. The same goes for guns, and don't even get me started on the ludicrously slow turning speed. At no point during play did I ever feel as though I was completely immersed in the adventure—there's always a layer of frustration and artifice to push through.
Other parts of the game feel just as backward. Capcom gives players the opportunity to buy weapons between each section of play and also immediately after restarting if a player dies. There is no explanation as to where these guns and gear come from, and that's fair enough. However, what sense does it make to prevent players from buying any ammunition (except for the grenade launcher?) only to force them into combing each level for implausibly-placed barrels and boxes to smash in the pursuit of same? Even worse, exactly where are the African tribesmen in loincloths hiding the cartons of shotgun shells that drop when they're defeated? Such idiosyncrasies weren't entirely objectionable ten years ago, but now it feels as though Capcom is afraid of leaving these outdated conventions behind, making players jump through archaic hoops for no good reason.
Smaller things irritate as well, like not having a dodge maneuver, not being able to give a teammate only some ammunition instead of all, or the way something instantly vanishes if it needs to be put down for a moment when trying to manage the claustrophobic and restricting inventory system. The fact that you can't pass a weapon from one person to another is just insulting. Furthermore, late-game attempts at implementing a rudimentary cover system seemed completely out of place, and only highlight the fact that Resident Evil 5 is in need of a genuinely honest overhaul in most areas besides graphics. To be brutally frank, Capcom feels as though it's out of its depth trying to catch up with more modern design philosophies that the rest of the industry has been implementing for a while.
Its numerous contrivances and annoyances aside, it's hard to ignore the "summer blockbuster" appeal that a huge franchise like Resident Evil delivers. Giant mutants, epic setpieces, and villains you can't wait to bring to justice... It's not just a big game, it's an event game on par with Halo or a new Final Fantasy. Am I disappointed that the developers didn't make better choices and advance the series's real estate past shinier-sequel-plus-co-op status? Absolutely. As far as I'm concerned, Capcom has officially hit the wall with Resident Evil 5, and any future installments will have to go well beyond the incremental exploration on display. However, I can't honestly say that there isn't a solid weekend of low-impact thrills to be had here, because there is.
Players curious about the recent activities of Albert Wesker and the legacy of the Umbrella Corporation can dive right in and enjoy without fear; those new to the series might be surprised at how dated it feels once the high-polygon glamour wears off. Still, it's hard to deny that even an antique roller coaster can be good for a thrill when the mood strikes.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately eight hours of play were devoted to the co-op story mode, and the game was completed one time. Two hours of play were spent in non-story multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language. It should come as no surprise that this game is completely inappropriate for younger players. There are numerous scenes of dead bodies, mutilations, bloody tentacles, and all kinds of graphic violence. Guns and knives are central to the gameplay, and there are definitely no nonviolent options on the menu. The salty language is minimal and there is no sexual content (unless you count the semi-revealing clothing of some of the female characters) but you should keep this title out of your children's hands based on the violence, if nothing else.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You will be at a disadvantage since the game often telegraphs the presence of unseen enemies through audio cues such as moans or growls. Additionally, as long as the ominous background music is playing, you can be assured that foes are nearby. Without this audio information, the game is definitely more difficult. Dialogue in the game is presented with subtitles as an option, so at least the story is fully accessible.