The continued success of Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise rests on one simple, yet undeniable fact: People like shooting zombies. We’ll forgive a lot – bad voice acting, endless load times, impenetrable plots – just so long as we get to shoot zombies. Resident Evil 5 has all of those faults and more, but you really won’t care. You’ll be having way too much fun applying a lethal coat of lead to the infected citizens of Kijuju to notice.
As the game begins, former STARS member Chris Redfield has joined the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) to wage war against those who would tinker with nature for their own nefarious ends. The fight has taken him to Africa, where he meets up with another BSAA agent, Sheva Alomar. They start off trying to prevent the sale of a particularly nasty bioagent, but things, as so often is the case in Resident Evil, rapidly get out of hand. A heartless corporation has been conducting biological experiments that – wait for it – have led to the creation of mindless, violent monsters. Not exactly straying far from the RE playbook, granted, but shooting zombies is why we show up in the first place.
They’re not actually zombies in the traditional sense, though. As in RE4, the enemies in RE5 have been infected with the parasite Las Plagas, though the strain taken to Africa has been modified to be even more dangerous and unpredictable. The result is smarter enemies that are better capable of working together towards a common goal – namely, eating your brains. This makes the combat demanding and exciting; you’ll concentrate your fire on the choke point in front of you, only to find that several infected are creeping up behind you or dropping in from the ceiling. Archers will distract you with fire shots while their knife-wielding pals zero in for the kill. There isn’t a whole lot of variety when it comes to the infected, but what they lack in distinctiveness, they make up for in tenacity.
Older games in the RE series placed as much of an emphasis on puzzle solving and exploration as they did on combat, but RE5 is all about the gunplay, which makes the stick-and-shoot controls even more frustrating. It’s not that you have to stand still while attacking that’s the problem; your immobility forces you not only to take a more tactical approach to combat, but also to stay acutely aware of your surroundings, both of which make for a more vital and tense experience. The problem is the monumental delay between shooting and running. If you knock an enemy back and want to follow up with your knife or even a punch, it will take you so long to run to him that he’ll be ready for you by the time you get there. Similarly, it takes so long to switch from shooting to running that by the time your feet actually start pumping, an infected has your neck in its mouth. If the transition from attacking stance to running were smoother and faster, then it wouldn’t matter, but as it is, it’s maddening. Walking is completely out of the question; your pace is so stupefyingly slow you may as well hang a sign around your neck that says “Zombie Food” and be done with it.
Fortunately, you have Sheva backing you up. RE5 is most fun when played co-operatively with a friend, but if you have to go it alone, Sheva’s still a valuable ally. Her AI is excellent; she doesn’t get stuck, lost, or in the way. She’s quick with the healing items, but not so quick that she’s dosing you with health spray every time you break a nail. She also provides genuine backup and support in a fight, instead of just hanging back and letting you do all the work. Sure, you have to keep her supplied with ammo, but it’s a small price to pay for having her gun at the ready. At times, the interaction with her feels a bit forced, as in sections where both characters are required to push an obstacle or kick open a door, but those scenarios are fairly infrequent.
As much as you’ll appreciate having Sheva’s trigger finger at your disposal, you’ll be even more thankful for her pockets. Your available inventory is terribly small, but Sheva is happy to perform packhorse duties for you, effectively doubling the amount of items you can carry with you. The limited carrying ability means you’ll have to be a bit more strategic about what you bring with you, but you can store your extra gear in a larger inventory space that’s accessible between chapters. The same menu screen lets you sell any treasure you may have collected, buy weapons, upgrade your current arsenal, and generally organize your crap. It doesn’t have the peculiar charm of RE4’s merchant, but it gets the job done.
If I have one lament about RE5, it’s that it continues RE4’s trend away towards the “horror” part of survival horror. The game has monsters aplenty, and the idea of anyone using innocent villagers as lab rats is certainly horrible, but RE5 just isn’t all that scary. Tension comes from the scarcity of ammo and your opponents’ ability to laugh off hails of bullets, not from any kind of fright. The Resident Evil series has traditionally been more about the “Boo!” than a growing feeling of dread, but RE5 doesn’t even try for that, and personally I miss it.
Resident Evil 5 throws a few new ideas at you, but for the most part, it’s more of what we got from Resident Evil 4, which is all it really has to be. The control scheme can be very aggravating, especially in the thick of a fight, but having a partner backing you up keeps things from ever feeling truly insurmountable. Though the game’s pacing is at times uneven – it takes forever to get started and some areas are choked with loading screens – once it gets going, it’s a damn fun time.
Bottom Line: No one is going to accuse Resident Evil 5 of being particularly deep, but who cares? It’s more shooter than survival horror, but you’ll thoroughly enjoy mowing down infected and slaughtering the over-the-top boss monsters even without the scares.
Recommendation: Grab a friend and get to Africa. There are zombies that need killing.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Susan Arendt thinks the greatest moment in Resident Evil‘s history is the zombie shark. Come on -it’s a zombie and a shark. How awesome is that?