Review: Resident Evil 5

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As part of the 20th Anniversary of Resident Evil, Capcom is all about re-releases of late. The newest is Resident Evil 5, a 2009 classic now bundled with its DLC — “Versus”, “Lost in Nightmares” and “Desperate Escape”.

Resident Evil 5‘s core campaign follows Chris Redfield of Resident Evil and Resident Evil: Code: Veronica fame, now working on behalf of the Biohazard Security Assessment Alliance (or BSAA) on-mission in Kijuju, Africa. Teamed with Sheva Alomar, a member of the BSAA West African branch, Chris and his partner are ordered to investigate a new bioterrorism threat, which largely has come about due to the fact that many viral creations of the now defunct Umbrella Corporation are being sold to and used by the highest bidder for their own self-serving purposes. Chris and Sheva soon find that this latest threat has far larger implications than originally thought, as Chris begins to uncover the real origins behind Umbrella and its assortment of macabre creations.

In the past, fear in the Resident Evil series has come from its survival element; largely, you’re left to fend on your own whilst battling grotesque creatures. Whilst remaining terrifying, Resident Evil 5 avoids cheap scares (dogs breaking through windows, anyone?) and instead relies on new tension, largely created as a result of your new partnership with Sheva.

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The introduction of your nubile, yet deadly partner means players can team up with a friend and play the game co-op or choose to play alone and let the game’s AI assist. Either way, Sheva’s presence makes you aware of how little ammo and healing items you initially possess, and more importantly, how dependant you are upon one another when you find yourself cornered and in “dying” status. Partnerships are a huge theme — not only in the game, but in the entire Resident Evil series; you’ve never truly been able to survive entirely on your own, and you certainly can’t survive without one another this time around.

While the computer AI isn’t too shabby, it’s not perfect; you’ll find yourself yelling at Sheva as she runs around in circles during boss-fights (which are varied and fun — the boss fights, that is, not Sheva’s glitchiness), or uses too many healing items on herself as she repeatedly walks into oncoming streams of bullets in later levels. In later levels, though, an AI-controlled Sheva can also prove to be invaluable as she can assist in difficult sections that you might not be able to figure out on your own.

Playing with a human teammate can also increase the more mature, tension-inspired fear; if you stray too far apart, you may find yourself cornered by a huge number of enemies and not have the support you’ve unknowingly grown accustomed to, or you may not be able to make it back to your partner before he or she dies from a prolonged “dying” status.

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The new inventory system builds upon the partner dynamic as well; it’s purposefully hard to use and frustrating to begin with until you realise the genius in how it affects your game. Inventory work is done in-game in real time, meaning you’ll have trust your partner to watch your back as you’re left defenceless choosing a new weapon to defend yourself, or pulling out a healing mix to keep both you and your partner alive.

Resident Evil 5 is the last of the core franchise to use its old-school tank controls. In 2009, many argued that Capcom’s decision to continue in the series tradition of having to stop to be able to shoot should have been abolished for the likes of Gears of War-geared (pun intended) gaming. In 2016, and despite a bit of a (re-)learning curve, the need to stop and shoot works in this iteration of the franchise. It slows things down a bit as well, which is something that the run ‘n gun Resident Evil 6 can never claim. Compared to the relatively recent re-release of Resident Evil 4 on the Xbox 360, 5‘s control scheme is still pretty modern. On that note, I’m terrified to see how RE4 will play on Xbox One and PS4.

The stop-and-shoot mechanic also helps to add tension and fear; the requirement to be stationary to shoot at enemies coming from you at all angles means you’ll need to be constantly on alert. At any given time, a single Majini — the term for the Africans infected by Las Plagas — could mean your undoing, coming up on you from behind, unseen. Knife combat, sadly, is clunky and you’re largely abandon it in favour of a Redfield-steroid-powered punch. While the knife is hard to effectively fell enemies, melee’s great fun — shoot enemies in the legs and kick them in the face to your heart’s content!

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Die-hard franchise fans will have a lot to love about the game. Sensing that fans weren’t too impressed with the off-screen demise of Umbrella in Resident Evil 4 (um, spoilers, I guess), Capcom has used this instalment to tie together and resolve most of the series’ over-arching plot points. The scale of the story goes above and beyond epic proportions, and I found myself outright squealing through many of the game’s cutscenes — don’t squeal too much, though, or you may find yourself missing the damned quicktime button-presses required to keep you alive in some scenes).

The game’s DLC was mostly up to the same level of quality as the main game. “Versus” is the black sheep of the bunch, a Mercenaries-style run (and stop and) gun through a cross-section of maps, alone or in teams. It’s largely forgettable.

“Lost in Nightmares”, on the other hand, is a franchise fan’s wet dream. Moody, dark and horrifically atmospheric, it tells the story of Chris and fellow series’ mainstay Jill Valentine leading up to the events of RE5 itself. The DLC was clearly Capcom’s attempt at catering to the crowd who wanted something more in line with the Resident Evil games of old and for once, the publisher nailed it. “Desperate Escape” bookends the entire experience, focusing on Valentine and her new BSAA partner Josh Stone in a parallel story to Chris and Sheva’s. The latter DLC is more action-orientated, but in the refined manner of the main game. Resident Evil 5‘s DLC was en pointe, perhaps paving the way for the equally as impressive, bite-sized episodes of Resident Evil: Revelations 2.

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Resident Evil 5 was released to the market in 2009 with a lot to live up to; RE4 took the “survival horror” genre the series was so famous for and introduced so many different gameplay mechanics that it was thought of as an “action horror” title instead. The series was flipped on its head; old fans either loved it or hated it, but a new group of gamers found the series for the first time and fell in love. In 2016, this game still holds its own, a refinement of the franchise rather than the train-wreck, ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ mentality that befell Resident Evil 6.

Alone or with a co-op partner, it’s hard to go wrong with Resident Evil 5. It is perfect for franchise fans or those looking to get into the series ahead of Resident Evil 7 and the Resident Evil 2 remake. At the time of writing, it’s a perfect time to delve in as well — this, and other Resident Evil games, are heavily discounted. Just avoid RE6 unless you know what you’re in for.

Resident Evil 5 was reviewed using a digital code on Xbox One, as purchased by the reviewer. This review is a revision of our original Xbox 360 review.

 

Review: Resident Evil 5
8 out of 10

The good

  • A brilliant refinement of mechanics introduced in RE4.
  • Amazing co-op play with a real person or an AI Sheva.
  • A new type of tension and fear.

The bad

  • It’ll take a little while to get used to tank controls for some.

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