I actually have bought two systems in order to play Resident Evil games. When I was 16 I saw the review for RE1 in Fangoria, and immediately ponied up what was then a ridiculous amount of money for a video game system (125 bucks I think?). And in 2004, having been more or less away from games for a while, I celebrated my new apartment by treating myself to a PS2, swayed by the promise of a newly discounted Code Veronica (19.99 for the “greatest hits” version).
(Side note - I also almost bought the network adapter for the PS2 some months later, in order to play the Outbreak games. But the guy at Gamestop told me not to - apparently they work on reverse commission?)
But I’ve had my Xbox360 for a few years now, so I didn’t have to shell out 400 bucks just to play the newest game in the series: the simply titled Resident Evil 5. Nor would it have been worth that much, but it was certainly worth the 60 bucks it cost to buy it (more than the combined total I’ve paid to own the other games in the series, which I always bought at used or discounted prices).
As always, a pair of folks, one you know (Chris Redfield) and one you don’t (Sheva something or other) are tracking down an outbreak of some virus with ties to the Umbrella corporation. And once again, what starts out with just some dogs and zombies (well, “infected” - sigh) eventually adds giant spiders, lickers, mutated giants, etc. And fucking Wesker, who apparently STILL isn’t dead. Haven’t I killed this guy like 3 times already?
The change is that instead of playing through with just one character and never seeing the other, like the first few games, or having a do nothing partner like in 4, your partner is an equal. She has great aim (which is occasionally annoying, more on that later), will help you out when you’re injured, and can be used to store much needed extra ammo or grenades. You probably don’t want to give her too many healing items - she tends to use them up quickly - but if you give her two guns and some ammo, she is invaluable. Also, certain boss fights require the use of a scene-specific weapon (like a flamethrower), and in these cases you want to let her use them, as she knows exactly what to do (unlike me, a human being who will just keep shooting at something until they realize they are wasting ammo).
You can also play co-op, either at the same console or over XBLive (or whatever they call the PS3 network). This works quite well, and it’s actually BETTER when one player is more advanced than the other. Now that I’ve finished the game and maxed out a couple of my weapons (and have infinite ammo for one of my handguns), I can go help out a buddy who is on one of the earlier levels, using my advanced guns and letting him take the ammo/loot drops, while still adding points to my game.
Points are important to OCD folks like me who need to collect everything in a game. Your rank at the end of a level determines how many points you get (i.e. an “A” rank on normal difficulty will get you 1000 points; there are 16 levels in the game), and the points can be spent on a variety of things, such as action figures, new costumes, graphic modes like “classic horror” (play the game in black and white), and unlimited ammo for your guns. Those guns take a ton of points; it’s unlikely an average player will be able to unlock more than two after one playthru. There are also 30 emblems throughout the game, shooting them is a requirement for some of the unlockables (in addition to using points). Needless to say, if you plan on getting everything, you can expect to take at least two, more likely three trips through the entire game, which lasts about 12-14 hours.
As for the gameplay, I quite enjoyed it. Some have griped about the “can’t move while you shoot” aspect, but those people are babies. First of all, that’s about the only thing left from the original incarnation of the game (long gone are the fixed angles, and ink ribbons have also been finally replaced with an auto-save system), and secondly - it adds much-needed intensity to the game. Without the fixed angles hiding things around corners (not to mention a music cue that starts whenever enemies are present, and stops as soon as all danger is eliminated), the game is rather low on scares and suspense (my only real gripe). Keeping you from running around shooting (or, more likely, retreating) keeps you on your toes, and also helps you aim better - you don’t want to be wasting ammo, especially in the later levels when it becomes more scarce (there’s hardly any “loot” in the final two levels).
I also enjoy the behind the shoulder camera, a la Gears of War. It was introduced in 4, but it works far better here in terms of aiming and moving around (though this may be due to my preference of the Xbox controller to the PS2/3 one). And I forget if 4 had it, but there’s a handy auto-equip function on the D-pad, which keeps you from having to root around in your inventory and selecting equip when you want to change guns. I can’t recall a single time where I (or my partner) got hung up on the geography, a huge problem in 4 for me. Chris can also strafe, finally. The system works so well that I would actually like to see the older games redone in this style, especially the original, which is still my favorite in terms of puzzle-solving (which is all but completely absent here) and the story.
Speaking of the story, I’ve long since given up trying to get a strong grasp on the plotlines of these games (it doesn’t help that they keep spreading them across every system - I’ve never played Zero or Umbrella Chronicles, or any of the hand-held spinoffs), but I got the gist of it. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but for once the plot allows a higher variety in locales. You’re not confined to a mansion or even a single city this time. You seemingly go all around Africa - there’s a village, a swamp, an oil field, a ship, a factory, plus a giant underground cave/temple that was apparently stolen from Tomb Raider. All locales feature crates or vases that store ammo or gold to steal, and the standard zombie enemies don’t change much, but the change in scenery is much appreciated. Plus, it keeps you from having to backtrack. Other than that temple level you’ll never need to traverse the same corridors and staircases more than once or twice.
Another minor gripe was the lack of any brain work. As I said, there aren’t any real puzzles to solve (the most complex involves pulling handles that can raise/lower staircases, but there’s no wrong way to do it), but the bosses all have the same pattern as well. All of them are burdened with giant orange sacks that you need to shoot. Capcom’s idea of mixing this up is to sometimes cover them up with black swarming tentacle-y things, but all it takes to remove it is more shooting. There are some timed sequences here and there, but it hardly qualifies as mixing things up. Only the level 2-3 boss manages to stick out, since you fight him from a truck and instead of orange things he has pink/purple things to shoot.
But as a purely visceral, action packed adventure, I can’t think of one that delivers as much excitement and scene variety. Gears of War is great, but the dingy locales blend together after a while. Upgrading weapons and unlocking new ones also gives you a sense of progress and achievement that is missing from the GoW games - you’re always using the game 6 guns throughout the game. Also, the reliance on good ol’ herbs (hey, what happened to blue herbs/poison?) and first aid sprays gives the game a sense of urgency, unlike Gears’ “Hey I’m almost dead so I gotta just duck for a while” system.
One thing they really dropped the ball on are Achievements (and I assume, Trophies). The usual “beat level X”/ “kill Y amount of guys with weapon Z” type ones are there, but other traditional ones are completely ignored when they would actually be more fitting for this particular game. For example, there is nothing for beating a level in a set amount of time, or going through a stage (or the whole game) without dying, or even playing through it in co-op. The Mercenaries mode is also entirely ignored. In addition, things that take FOREVER, such as upgrading every single weapon (without taking advantage of a glitch, this would probably take 10 playthrus), are only worth 30 points, whereas things you can get on the first level (deflecting an arrow with your knife) are worth 60. It’s still better than Dead Rising’s “everything is worth 20 points” setup, but still, they could have put a little more thought into both the achievements and their respective values, especially for a game that more or less requires multiple playthrus anyway.
On the technical side of things, the game is superb. The graphics are amazing (man, do NOT pull out your old games after playing this one. Even Code Veronica looks like an Atari graphic in comparison), and the sound is even better. The voice acting has come a long way since the older games (even though the dialogue is still ridiculous at times, it at least doesn’t SOUND as funny), and loading times are brief. One quirk I want to mention - the loading screens have a theoretically helpful “History of Resident Evil” timeline, but every time you start a new game session it starts over. So unless you play the entire game in one sitting, you’ll see the same initial group of facts (“1960 - Umbrella is founded by...”), and never make it past the early 80s.
The game may no longer resemble the originals, but then again, neither do other big name game franchises like Grand Theft Auto or Final Fantasy. But unlike those series, the overall story has remained intact (one other key franchise member shows up, saying who is kind of a spoiler, though it’s not incredibly difficult to guess), making the other changes easier to go along with. If you have ever enjoyed one of the games, you will probably like this. If you’re new to the series, just keep in mind that it is, at its core, a survival horror game, and retains some of the functionality of one. Run n’ gunners will probably hate it, but everyone else should definitely take the ride.
And it beats the shit out of Alone in the Dark at any rate.
What say you?