It’s impossible to overstate how important Resident Evil 4 was to the zombie-smashing franchise, and (surprisingly) the industry as a whole. Within one game it banished the shambling undead, revamped the rustic, horrid controls and pioneered the over-the-shoulder view that countless games have since taken as their own (see: Gears of War, Dark Sector, Dead Space). It was the definition of revolutionary, and successfully reformed the aging series into a must-play experience.
Resident Evil 5, on the other hand, can’t possibly do all that again. It can’t set a new standard for third-person action as it so closely apes RE4 that it’s almost the same game with amazing new visuals and a few enhancements. In other words, kind of like what RE3 was to RE2 – a technical improvement but lacking in imagination.
Above: A rough analogy, but apt
However, RE5 does manage to improve upon certain gameplay touches we all adored in RE4, as well as deliver one teeth-shattering scenario after another, so don’t for a second think RE5’s come up short. It had an impossibly tough act to follow and even caught in the long, long shadow of part four, manages to stand out as one of the most memorable action experiences of late, particularly with two players.
But realize what we said – one of the best action experiences, because…
Resident Evil 5 humbles even part four’s more-fight-than-flight gameplay. The vast majority of the game, which takes bio-terror agent Chris Redfield from the sun-baked village of Kijuju to elaborate underground facilities, focuses on shooting the living hell out of anything that moves. There’s no fright, no jump scares, no sense of terror whatsoever. You’re almost always weighed down with ammo and top-notch weapons, ready to eviscerate infected Majini villagers, bat monsters or whatever other bioengineered horror is scurrying through the hallways (including one long-absent creature from the PSone days).
Above: Lickers are back!
Button-mashy melee attacks are far more prevalent than before, and are key to downing enemies quickly. Shoot a guy in the leg, for example, and he’ll stumble into a position where Chris can uppercut, then stomp his head into paste, saving several bullets in the process. You can even chain these together with a co-op pal, flattening some big baddies in no time. Naturally you’ll need to break out the firearms for groups or larger than life monsters, but there’s definitely a more visceral, in-your-face approach than before. It’s a drastic change, but one that makes asploding parasitic monster heads immensely entertaining.
Above: Chris winding up for a face-caving uppercut
Other action-oriented changes: the map is an easily read heads-up display instead of a separate screen, and you buy/upgrade weapons in between each level instead of tracking down a gravel-voiced vendor. Die, and you pop right back to that item screen for re-stocking, then return to the mid-level checkpoint. This ups the adrenaline and gets you back in the game quickly, but sacrifices any remaining chance of the game ever scaring you in any way. There’s hardly any sense of danger or loss at all.
Above: You know what’s not scary? Turrets!
The “KILL IT NOW!” direction makes repeat plays quite inviting, as you no longer have to worry about conserving ammo or losing tons of progress per death; you’re free to unleash hell at your leisure.
Combine this streamlined interface with enemies that are even more active than RE4’s bloodthirsty Los Ganados, and you quickly forget you’re playing Resident Evil. The afflicted Majini soldiers lay down cover fire, man boats, talk openly amongst themselves and deftly race motorcycles across bumpy African wilderness while firing automatic weapons. They’re about as far from zombies as you could get, but, in tandem with all the toothy monstrosities, definitely make for exciting shootouts and offer plenty of over-the-top gore-splosion moments.
Control, usually stiff and limiting in RE titles, has been further tweaked to accommodate all the rocket launching, grenade tossing violence. You can now walk with the left stick and move with the right, plus quick-select weapons with the d-pad, enabling quicker responses than even RE4’s improved handling. Strangely, remnants of vintage Evil are still intact, squishing RE5 in between two disparate genres:
Above: It’s an action game with horror trappings
Despite the much-appreciated two-stick control, you still cannot walk and shoot at the same time. Capcom has said this is due to the series’ survival horror roots, but um, what “roots” are we talking about? The ones part four trimmed, or the ones part five douses in weed killer? If it looks like Gears, has occasional cover like Gears and has the same one-button partner revive like Gears, we expect to be able to at least walk and fire at the same time (hell, we’d even settle for a dive-away-from-danger jump like every other action game on the market).
The idea is that limiting your movement ups the fear factor. It worked for the first four games just fine, but given that RE5 is in no way a horror experience, it would have made a whole lot more sense just to let us move freely.
Other horror silliness disrupts the “go-go-go” gameplay, like puzzles involving crests and chalices (which are slowly working their way out of the series) and knee-high objects that neither Chris nor Sheva can step over, forcing you to sniff out the proper path when, if it were any other gun-heavy game, we could hop right over. If you’ve made your peace with this kind of stuff, it won’t bother you at all. If you’re trying RE for the first time because of the cool-ass trailers and explodaganza screenshots, such bizarre restrictions could irritate enough to make you put the controller down and fire up a game that doesn’t insist on clutching dusty old ideas.
Next page – how co-op makes the whole thing better