Also available on: PS3
Genre: Action Adventure
Release date: March 13, 2009
It's rather ironic that the latest Resident Evil takes inspiration from Gears Of War, which was in turn inspired by Resident Evil 4, the daddy of over-the-shoulder shooters. Whereas Gears Of War 2 was everything a fan could want in a sequel, Resident Evil 5 will split opinions of long-time series followers. On one hand it's a near carbon copy of what made RE4 a complete success, and on the other, it deviates even further away from the original intentions of the series. Either way, it's one of the best action adventure games out there, just not quite as excellent as you'd have hoped, and not nearly as earth shattering as its critically-acclaimed predecessor.
Where it borrows so heavily from Gears Of War is the co-operative play that's interwoven throughout the adventure. Whether you're on your own or with a friend (split screen or online), the addition of Sheva is a welcomed one. While it doesn't shake up the action rhetoric too much, or shape the levels extensively for her inclusion, it tests your ability to fight and explore at the same time. There are several instances of the two splitting up, causing a strain to cover both themselves and each other from oncoming enemies, in order to hurriedly open a door or flip a distant switch so you can both progress.
If you are playing on your own, you aren't playing a weaker game; her AI is more than functional, and although sometimes a little thick when it comes to getting out of the way, she can be deadly accurate at covering your back and is always on top of administering health. Playing with someone else however is always much more fun, where you can effectively split up and cover each other, actually use tactics and plan out the tougher boss fights, and bicker about who should pick up those scarce ammo drops. That extra person gives that extra edge in combat, makes it feel more controlled, and gives it more of a direction.
Another feature borrowed from Gears is a cover mechanic for later sections in which the residents become more trigger happy. While it doesn't adopt a health charging system like most other shooters, it works perfectly within the realms of the stop-to-shoot controls of the rest of the game - just tap action to lean against a wall, and hold the left trigger to pop out and shoot. While it isn't a feature that's needed for the game, especially as it's used so sparingly, it doesn't once falter. Well, except when Sheva doesn't jump into cover when you do, showering herself in a rain of enemy bullets. The controls are generally spot-on: while the stop-and-shoot gameplay takes some adjusting to those unfamiliar, especially since you can strafe without a weapon, you'll be dancing around parasitic hordes in no time.
And like Gears, RE5 is a much more focused action experience, with a torrent of enemies to welcome you in every area. Fundamentally it's the same game as RE4, but the pace has been adapted and quickened; there is no longer a paused item menu, with weapon and health use all done on the fly and assignable to the D-Pad; puzzles are all but gone, with only 'pick up key and use on door' tasks remaining to tackle your grey matter; treasures can no longer be combined and the Merchant arms dealer has been replaced by a faceless shop at the end of each chapter. It could be argued that many of these are perhaps required to ensure a seamless co-op experience, but it does erode some of the more engaging and deeper mechanics that made RE4 more than just a straightforward action romp.
It's also not to say the formula is exhausted; each area is filled to the brim with threatening adversaries with pitchforks and petrol bombs, often led by a powerful miniboss with a chainsaw or Gatling gun. The level design is always refreshing, playing you off against a new setting and blend of enemies each time so that each situation feels different and never safe. (It does repeat the idea of rapidly populating areas when you pick up a key item, however.) The Africa setting deviates from surviving the shanty towns to scaling foreboding clay mines, rural marshlands and ancient ruins. And yes, there are a few laboratories in there too - what would a Resident Evil game be without them?
While the adventure is shorter and the pacing goes a little off balance toward the end, it excels by making replay value its real selling point. An extended Mercenaries mode, speed runs, harder difficulties and dozens of upgradeable weapons (that can finally be carried over to higher settings) are all there to devour. As the gameplay lends itself so well to repetition, score based arcade modes and tweaking enemies and weapon types for game replays does go a long way for playing over long periods. With multiplayer on the way as well, this could give shooters a run for their money in the longevity stakes.
If you are looking for a solid extension of RE4's gameplay, then this captures everything it did in terms of thrilling combat and engaging exploration, especially with the added lure of gorgeous visuals and well incorporated co-operative play. But if you're hoping for a return to its survival horror routes, this instalment cuts those ties completely. While RE4 maintained an aspect of tension and atmosphere in its environments, the only threatening feeling left is the design staple of overwhelming you with enemies. Even worse is what is done with the story; while it ties back to the originals, it's so poorly done (and in parts completely bonkers) you almost wish they hadn't. It's an incredibly feature-packed and thorough action adventure game that more than deserves to be called RE4's sequel, but you can't ignore what it's sacrificed in order to keep up with the competition.
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