Zombies can be counted on for one thing: they make great targets. Living zombies have the advantage of being extra gooey when they go.
Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 brings back an army of walking, but not quite dead, humans and other weirdness for fans to return to as they head to Africa. Resident Evil veteran, Chris Redfield, is taking point in this story alongside Sheva Alomar, a new partner, as they investigate the rumors of a bio-weapon being sold on the black market to terrorists. From their arrival at the first village where wild eyes gaze at the newcomers, a man sharpens a machete while a band beats a sack with sticks, and the eerie silence of everyone looking up as they watch you approach, there’s obviously something very wrong here.
The story is filled with set pieces propping up the climactic boss battles and survival marathons, but it’s also completely steeped in the lore of Resident Evil with some of the most twisted individuals to come out from Capcom’s talented design house. It’s not so much that these bizarre people want you to hate them, but how satisfying it can be to see how they end up when the part they play is finished. The solid voice acting coupled with sharp visuals do a fantastic job at immersing the player into this particular adventure.
Players going solo can only opt to play as Chris, although once finishing the game can go back through as Sheva. And of course, it wouldn’t be Resident Evil if everything started off slowly and like its predecessors, tears at the player with rotting fingers only minutes into the action packed investigation. And as RE fans already know, that’s just an excuse to blow away infected, zombie-like people who want to grind Chris and Sheva into spam with their hands and teeth.
These aren’t ordinary zombies, however, and players that have gone through RE4 may feel a chilling sense of deja vu. But as with every RE, there are ways to defend yourself…often having to do with plenty of firepower but with a number of changes from its predecessor. For one thing. RE5 feels a lot more linear in terms of its area progression than RE4, piling on the pressure and forcing the player to think before they leave an area for the next one. And if you remember our friend, the black market guy dressed in a medieval cloak? He’s not around anymore.
Also gone are the “magic chests” that made their contents available to players through any other chest in the game. These were where players could throw extra items into in order to free up valuable, and extremely limited, inventory slots which often filled up with handfuls of limited ammo and healing items that would often evaporate quickly during play. The typewriters forcing players to hoard scarce ribbons for game saves have also been thrown out and not because of cell phones or PCs. Despite losing these and other staples of the series, RE5 has reinvented these aspects into an accessible alternative.
In between each area transition, after dying, before reloading a save, or from the main menu for the game itself, the player can reorganize their inventory and stick things into a virtual space that seems bottomless. They can also use whatever gold they happen to find hidden in the game, or sell items for cash such as gems, relics, or even weapons, and go shopping from the main menu before continuing a save. New toys, and healing sprays, can be bought for the right price and weapons can be upgraded saving the player the trip of having to run back to the last place where a black marketeer may have been waiting. It might not be as realistic, but it made the game much easier to manage and focus on the fight ahead.
And there’s a lot of fight in RE5. Until you get access to more powerful weapons later on in the game, it continually feels like an uphill struggle as the possessed humans and less-than-human monsters just behind them lumber, climb, leap, and pitch spears and firebombs at both Chris and Sheva. Near the beginning of the game, a gauntlet forcing both of them to survive a mob eager to to chew their faces off can be incredibly frustrating or deeply satisfying depending on whether or not help arrives on time. That was in the demo and isn’t typical of the entire game, but don’t expect it to let up much especially when it sends the weird after you.
Saves are handled automatically without the need for ribbons and the checkpoints that they occur at are extremely well thought out and balanced, encouraging the player to keep trying without having to repeat too much progress. Often when the game decides to save, you can bet that it’s doing so because there’s something nasty just waiting around the corner. Fortunately, many of these bite-sized chunks of terror are manageable without feeling too overwhelming, but don’t count on that to last very long.
Movement is something of another story, however, and anyone coming off of EA’s Dead Space may wonder what is keeping the third-person action in RE5 from adopting a more fluid movement scheme…one that allows Chris to shoot while walking. The real-time nature of the inventory menu also something of a mixed blessing as accessing it no longer pauses the action as it did in the past. Fortunately, players can tie items to the D-pad to instantly switch between what they want.
So while shooting still keeps Chris and Sheva planted in one spot, and now that players can no longer hide behind an inventory screen to catch a breather while playing, these add to the meticulously crafted tension without feeling like a cumbersome throwback. Foes feel balanced against characters that can’t move and shoot at the same time, almost never jumping in all the same time if there’s a crowd which can be a little strange in cutting the player some slack. But as measured as it feels against its arguably archaic controls, RE5 never relents from raising the bar on the series by keeping things as eerie and action packed as its predecessors. Running from enemies isn’t something to be ashamed of and will often be the only thing standing in between you and an axe the size of a door.
Even so, death isn’t as brutal an experience with a partner at your side and RE5’s gameplay has been tweaked to help you avoid turning into instant zombie chow. When either partner’s bar dips into the red indicating near death, the other partner can run over and rejuvenate them with a little health to give them something of a fighting chance if they make it in time. Keeping your partner alive is key and the AI is good enough to realize when it should whip out the healing when you’re bleeding all over the floor. You can also gear them up with whatever you might find, trading weapons and items between each other.
The AI is also a decent shot, although there’s no way that you can tell your partner what weapon they should use if you want them to conserve ammo with a particular piece. While they’re great at shooting up things, however, getting physical with their enemies is far less impressive. Arming them with a cattle prod, for example, made them almost completely inept in combat as they usually just stood there while occasionally flailing at an enemy making it something of surprise when they did attack someone. But when it comes to teaming up against bosses, the AI was remarkably good at holding up its end by covering yours.
You can give your partner rudimentary commands, such as whether to cover you or attack, but that’s the limit of what you can do on your own. But if you can jump into someone’s game as a co-op partner online, the odds start looking a lot better. The extra game mode that unlocks after your first playthrough, The Mercenaries, also supports co-op play by pitting players against waves of the dead in a scoring fest to see who is the best at wiping them out.
This particular monster mash can take anywhere from ten to fifteen hours to exorcise and depending on how well the player does in each stage, is graded and awarded with points to spend on little extras like “figures” representing characters from the game complete with voice clips. There are also unlockable staples, depending on what conditions are fulfilled, such as unlimited ammo allowing you to replay the game or selected chapters with unbridled firepower. You can even grind through areas over and over again for cash. Fans that love the series’ lore will also be able to read up on dossiers covering in-game topics as well as a timeline depicting the history of the infamous Umbrella Corporation from its rise to greatness to its ultimate fall.
For newcomers, however, RE5 is as good a time as any to get into the series and experience just what its fans have continued to follow with every installment. The design changes have squeezed RE5’s experience into a more focused zombie buster and although I missed the relatively free-roaming feel of RE4, the streamlined gameplay and polished look turn this latest chapter into a pleasant, partner shared safari where the biggest monsters aren’t lions or tigers.