Out of Africa: The Resident Evil 5 Review
by Mitchell Dyer
Where Resident Evil 4 planted the seeds for what eventually grew into the contemporary third-person shooter, its sequel stands out above it as a big, blooming example of how to excite players by subtly enhancing what already worked. The constricted combat limits your ability to move and shoot at the same time, which hinders your efficiency, but also stops the game from dipping into the realm of embarrassing easiness. Sporadic batches of ammunition and a limited space with which to store it is initially bothersome, but much like the contrived stop-shoot-walk action it eventually becomes a key component to what makes RE5 the outstanding action game that it is.
Perhaps the hardest thing to cope with is the arduous grind of developing an understanding of RE5‘s restraints. During the single player campaign, tough-guy Chris Redfield’s partner, Sheva Alomar, is more helpful than she is useful. She’s a reliable savior when you’re staring into the gaping maw of a hungry enemy, but her marksmanship is horrendous and she’s rarely where you want her to be. Things get especially rough if your partner runs headlong into a crowd of super-sized infected villagers with nothing but an empty pistol, or when a furnace that would otherwise roast a slimy boss ends up barbecuing your oblivious buddy. Turning your friend into a well-done snack is pretty rare, and your partner is usually competent.
It can get a bit frustrating when inexplicable idiocy stretches your patience, though.
In spite of your tolerance for blunder-buddies, Resident Evil 5‘s cooperative multiplayer is reliant on the existence of a second human character. Fair trade: RE5‘s co-op is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in an action game. While the horror aspect of the series’ traditional “survival horror” moniker should be doused by the smokin’ hot sunshine that fills the African shanty towns and the repeated echoes of machine-gun fire indicating white-knuckle action, tension is significantly amplified by the presence of a breathing teammate.
Since you aren’t stuck suppressing your emotions, there’s rampant shouting about flanking enemies and terrified cries of fear from a player being chased by a chainsaw-wielding maniac. Silently sneaking through a containment center filled with a dozen (infamous) wall-crawling mutants is an intense experience, and if there isn’t anyone you can dump your emotions on you’re missing out. Resident Evil is a wholly different and even more incredible experience when you’re relying on someone to save your skin from overwhelming odds.
This excellence owes a lot to the pacing of the game. You’re constantly being introduced to new threats (though these new enemies are usually clones that attack you in droves) and weapons (which can be upgraded with cash earned from trading treasures), but what really keeps things fresh is the variety of settings. Before the credits roll, you’ll solve a few puzzles, fight some mutated behemoths, and get ambushed in African villages, ancient ruins, and underground experiment facilities. RE5‘s numerous boss fights, which are super-fun one-trick ponies, put you in some surprising locales as well. I was never bored by where I was because things are constantly changing because of the nature of the story.
The dramatic plot sends Chris on a search for his missing partner and one of RE’s leading ladies, Jill Valentine, but it naturally devolves into a mix of adrenaline and testosterone that ultimately results in the online equivalent of a fist-pound as each overwrought cinematic starts. The narrative is laughably lame at points, but it’s also bizarrely engrossing because of the ethically and morally vacant motivations of evil bio-conglomerates, and one mega-badass of a villain. A substantial portion of these aspects are poorly conveyed, however, and unless you’re stopping to read the documents and diaries strewn about the world, you won’t have a strong investment in the story.
How characters adapt to the situations surrounding them isn’t why we play Resident Evil games, though. The action-oriented direction that RE4 took the series is as prevalent as ever in its sequel, if not more so. Due to the increase in on-screen enemies and immediate danger that they’re able to inflict upon you, there’s a strong focus on shooting rather than running. Because your movement is totally restricted when you have a weapon drawn, the odds of being grappled from behind or mauled by a horde that you aren’t quick enough to kill are pretty high. Older RE titles worked in a similar fashion, but it feels archaic now. Add a dozen more enemies attacking you at once, and it becomes slightly frustrating.
Considering Redfield’s hulking size and Sheva’s nimble form, it’s incomprehensible to me that they’re unable to shove through crowds or slip to the side in order to make an escape. The lack of a dodge button — save for the periodic prompt during cinematics — is agitating, but by the time you’ve accepted that you can’t dodge, you’ll probably have stopped thinking about it. Similarly, each character is stuck with a nine-square grid that houses weapons, medicinal herbs, and ammo in equally sized slots. Balancing your gear between players is good for conservation, a traditionally key element in survival horror. As you might expect, though, it’s a pain in the ass to actually have to manage your gear in such a small space. Thankfully, each item fills one square in the 3×3 grid, so you won’t have to tinker with organizing a suitcase to squeeze in your stuff, a la RE4.
I have no desire to cope with antiquated limitations. Yet RE5 had me willing to adapt because the chapters are so brilliantly set up that I quickly became comfortable with whatever the game demanded from me. I wanted to see the story unfold, more so because I loved reading the text documents. The shooting is as fun as it is satisfying, and with dozens of upgradeable boomsticks to tinker with, you can roll with whatever combination of pistols/shotguns/SMGs/sniper rifles you please. Adding to the campaign is the bonus Mercenaries mode, which throws you into a dangerous locale with predetermined gear, a score tally, and a ticking clock.
There’s tons of gratifying gun-play to be had across the spectrum, and that might be what’s so great about Resident Evil 5. It leaves the significantly aged portions of previous iterations behind and gets a bit more in touch with the times. Action heavily outweighs horror, something that will strike fans as complete heresy, but the scares are still present. It’s just a bummer that some little things linger to get in your way while you’re hooting and hollering in sadistic, head exploding glee — or squealing in terror as your character hugs a chainsaw.
Resident Evil 5 sticks to its ghetto guns by limiting storage space and efficient mobility, but the new atmosphere and incredible pacing make for some seriously awesome action. Gratifying combat and phenomenal visuals are great companions to the outstanding cooperative multiplayer. While two friends cappin’ enemy asses isn’t exactly the most original approach, it’s executed so well that RE5 becomes an intensely fun experience that caused me to disregard my complaints entirely.