Written for http://www.xboxgamezone.co.uk
When the Resident Evil 5 demo came out in January of this year, many people including myself felt a little disappointed. It was good old fashioned Resident Evil, but outside. Being outside instantly lost the feeling of threat that previous games managed so well, even worse was the realisation that the control system was frankly a bit rubbish compared to modern titles. I am sure I wasn’t the only person that felt rather cheated. In hindsight, it was silly to feel that way. After all, I wanted Resident Evil; I got it, clunky control system included! With trepidation, I approached the full game desperately hoping that the demo wasn’t indicative of the full game. I was both right and wrong, but I’m pleased to say that despite the initial worries, Resident Evil 5 became one of my favourite games of the year so far.
There are two crucial things you need to know about Resident Evil 5. First of all, it starts quite slowly. In the early stages of the game, I spent much of the time frustrated by the lack of ammo available, and worst of all: bored because it just didn’t feel very interesting or exciting. The other crucial thing to bear in mind is that it really does need to be played alongside another person, at least for the first playthrough. You see, the partner AI is just not very good. Now to be fair to Capcom, it was a big step for them to introduce a co-op partner to the game. As a first attempt, I’ve had worse co-op partners than the Sheva AI but not in a few years, so it certainly feels dated in that respect. By now, Resident Evil 5 sounds distinctly average. It has a slow start, odd controls and poor partner AI, why should you bother playing it when there are games like Dead Space available to you? Simply put, because Resident Evil 5 ends up being bloody brilliant! Yet hugely flawed at the same time. No I haven’t been afflicted with split personalities, but I think Resident Evil 5 has.
Resident Evil 5 reminded me a bit of the film Saw. No, not because of the content, there are no unique torture scenes in this. But because, for the first half of the film it all felt rather average to me, and then the second half was so good and different, that I was willing to forgive it for boring me at first. This is exactly how Resident Evil 5 felt to me. I spent much of the early parts of the game fighting with the controls. The story hadn’t really got going at this point. All I could ascertain was that I, as Chris Redfield, was chasing after a ‘mad scientist’ type known as Irving who was trying to sell a bio-organic weapon on the black market. It just wasn’t really doing it for me. It wasn’t a bad game exactly, just not a very interesting one. I persevered and although obviously the controls didn’t instantly improve, I did learn to adapt quite well and I came to terms with the fact that this was not going to be Gears of War in nature. The greatest improvement however was the story. It picked up at a fast pace. It suddenly became bigger than just stopping Irving and along the way came the triumphant return of a few old ‘friends’. I won’t go into any detail regarding the story as it would definitely spoil a few surprises, but it really did grip me in the way that is normally only reserved for Japanese RPGs. What I can say is it ties in wonderfully with previous Resident Evil games so fans should be very happy. As well as that, the game was getting a bit more innovative than simply ‘run to this location, shoot some zomb….infected, collect a key, ad infinitum’ Granted a lot of it was quite similar, but it was the boss fights that made it so much more than a simple action horror game. The first boss that felt slightly impressive at the time was Uroboros, a tentacled creature that can be weakened only by fire. Oh look, there just happens to be a furnace nearby. You can guess what needs doing, encourage him into the furnace, switch it on and watch him burn. A small touch but at the time I was pleased to see a change from shooting an enemy. I honestly thought that would be it in terms of innovation which was probably a little condescending of me. In hindsight, this was nothing for Resident Evil 5. In later stages, a complete change of tactic was required. You actually had to run from a seemingly indestructible boss, not stand and fight. While playing in co-op, it was fun to see how my partner and I reacted differently to this scenario. I suspected that running was the better option but he stuck at the idea that killing the boss was possible. There were a few situations like this where brute force wasn’t required in any way, and just thinking about them makes me want to play it again. It’s extremely difficult to describe many of these scenarios as simply put; it would ruin far too many surprises. I will say one thing though. Only one part of the entire game frustrated me and this was right at the end. But once I figured out what needed to be done, all the frustration was washed away and I was simply awestruck at what a clever method of winning it was. This probably sounds all too mystifying to you, but I really can’t state enough how much I enjoyed playing Resident Evil 5 after its initial shaky start.
Yes the control system is clunky and I can happily concede on that point. I’m not entirely sure what the solution is as I do wonder if changing the control system to a more ‘run and gun’ style might lose some of the Resident Evil feeling to it, but I suspect maybe a reboot of the whole franchise is needed. Capcom have arguably already done this in a way as the game feels less like survival horror and more like action horror. Not one sequence made me alarmed, and overall the game felt a little too open to be scary in any way. However, Resident Evil 5 is extremely well balanced excluding the control system. Although ammo is quite limited and at times difficult to find, it is still remarkably well placed. There is always just enough to keep you going. The transition from a cut scene to the gameplay is sublime, and the graphics on the whole are truly astonishing. The level design has surpassed previous games and although very linear, manages to feel like you’re in a much larger area than you actually are. There are perhaps too few puzzles compared to recent instalments, but the ones that are there are well implemented. I genuinely found that each level was better than the last, with the end sequence in particular being impressively ingenious. Crucially for a game that encourages co-op play, not once did I experience any lag or connection problems while playing online. It was seamless and I might as well have been playing via system link, rather than with someone 200 miles away. My only complaint is you can’t use voice communication in co-op unless you are already in an Xbox Live party which is a minor, but somewhat irritating fault.
As you can guess I loved the game and I’m truly looking forward to going back to replay it a few more times. Capcom have ensured that there are plenty of reasons to return. Besides the obligatory achievements, there are plenty of in-game extras. Perhaps the most fun extra is the infinite ammo options. During the game you can upgrade your weapons, such as increasing capacity or firepower. Once a gun has been upgraded fully, when you complete the game you can unlock infinite ammo for said weapon. Then on a second playthrough, you can use those weapons in their fully upgraded form to play through the game. Obviously this makes things a lot easier, but also a lot more fun! In my case, it meant that thanks to my trusty upgraded shotgun, I could wipe out pretty much anything the game threw at me, including certain sequences that I simply had to run from previously. As well as this, one rather exciting feature is if you complete the game in less than 5 hours, you get a rocket launcher with infinite ammo. What’s not to love there! You can also collect 30 blue emblems throughout the game which adds to the longevity, figurines and outfits to buy, and there are S ranks to gain, whereby you complete a level particularly well, such as by not dying and having a high accuracy rate. If that’s not enough to keep you busy (and believe me, there’s lots to get done), after you complete the game once, Mercenaries mode unlocks. For anyone who’s played Left4Dead or Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, this is essentially the same thing. This as always, on paper, sounds dull, but is quite good fun and certainly a worthy bonus.
Now as much as I’m raving on about Resident Evil 5, that’s not to say, you won’t be infuriated at times. It does get annoying when you get killed, simply because you needed to reload and you have to stand still to do so. I don’t care if it’s more realistic, nothing about the game is realistic anyhow so it could have been avoided for the sake of fun. The partner AI will make you scream at times on higher difficulties, and I would strongly recommend you play Professional difficulty (unlocked after completing it on Veteran first) with a friend otherwise you might end up throwing a controller through your TV. But if you can play Resident Evil 5 with a friend, or don’t mind starting out on Normal difficulty by yourself, I strongly suspect you will have great fun. If you find yourself getting a little bored at first, keep going. Believe me, it gets a lot better the more you play and hopefully by the end you will feel the same as me, quietly impressed at just how clever some of the sequences were, willing to forgive Resident Evil 5 its flaws and desperate for another go of it!