Today, I watched an old man drive into oncoming traffic on the busiest street in town during high traffic. I sat in horror as he edged his 1970ís Jaguar slowly into oncoming traffic with three other cars poised to take his previous parking spot. Two of them couldnít even see him.
My heart stopped with traffic; the four cars darted towards collision simultaneously. Miraculously, unbelievably, no one got hit and everyone drove off happy. Except for me, who watched the aforementioned events for several never-ending minutes as they transpired. My adrenaline pumped as my eyes darted back and forth; to my surprise, Iíd felt that feeling earlier this week. In a video game.
That game was Resident Evil 5.
Resident Evil 5 is labeled as a horror, but thatís incorrect. Itís a frantic third-person shooter, a genre title Iím inventing here and now. Why? Because the entire game, and all its gameplay functions, are based around staying alive for just a few more seconds, all the time.
Sure, RE5 follows up the excellent RE4 by introducing cooperative play and bringing the series into high-def, but itís essentially the same. With extremely limited resources, players must overcome insurmountable odds. The trick for RE5 are the controls and the inventory.
Unlike RE4 which didnít have strafe as an option, RE5 has four control schemes, classic styles and current 3rd person controls. Regardless of which you pick, thereís not running while you shoot or melee, so picking where you stop to shoot is just as important as shooting. Is this unfair? If you think so, go to your local shooting range and try to hit a target while walking slowly. Hell, do it while walking right up to the target.
The inventory, unlike RE4, is accessed during gameplay, so nothing stops when you shuffle through your pockets for green herbs (health) or grenades. Spend too much time mixing herbs and a zombie will try to eat you. And of course, space is limited to nine items.
These intentionally frustrating design choices are a constant reminder of urgency. Players must work quickly, or they will die. Donít like it? Then donít play, and stop preparing for the zombie apocalypse. You wonít last. Seriously though, this style of gameplay is ultimately much more rewarding; it isnít just fun to win, but to survive. Instead how well you performed is directly proportional to how exciting gameplay is. That means if you kill all zombies with two pistol shots instead of four, youíll have not only saved ammo, but have bragging rights for excellent marksmanship.
All of this is much more significant when there are tens of zombies attacking, or when fighting one of the many challenging bosses. One of the first scenes leaves Chris Redfield and Sheva Alamar, our protagonists, barricaded in a house while zombies try to break in. Thereís little ammo available, especially on harder difficulties, when suddenly they come out of the ceiling. Even if you successfully kept the horde out of the house, theyíre in now. Moments later, a giant axe-wielding zombie with pins in its head breaks a giant hole in the wall. And there are zombies all around him.
Why is this scene so monumental? Because as soon as you run out of the house to get away from el gigante, there are zombies everywhere and itís unknown territory. You donít know whatís safe, where you can stall for time until help comes, or if you even have enough ammo to fight off the horde. So you run looking in every direction for a more hospitable area, but there are none. All the while Mr. Axeman and his little buddies are doing their very best to either eat or decapitate you. The best way to describe it? Exciting.
And itís not just exciting for veteran players, but for someone whoís never played a Resident Evil title before as well. Play it on your own terms; quick and dirty, slow and calculating, looking for every secret or running to the next objective.
One of the best things is that Sheva, the AI counterpart/cooperative 2nd player, is actually intelligent. She has good aim, knows when to heal you, and is generally very helpful. In my playtests, the AI is sometimes more helpful than a real second player. There are still serious limitations; she wonít break open boxes or barrels or pick up items if youíre near unless ordered to, her gameplay settings are aggressive and what I call Ďextremely reservedí, where she will only use a pistol and typically hide behind the big, uber-muscular Chris, much of the time shooting him. Thankfully, thereís no friendly fire.
As expected, cooperative play is an incredible bonus, and online it works great. At home, however, the screen keeps its 16:9 ratio, so a large section of the screen is black and unused. Itís playable, but not comfortable to play except on larger screens. Another mulling fact is Sheva can only be on the bottom screen, while Chris can only be on top. I wonder if Capcom did that on purpose just to imagine reviewers squirm while thinking how to write that sentence.
And like most Capcom titles, the replay value for RE5 is unprecedented. Sure, the first time is unique (when you donít know where to run, hide, or stall, the gameplay is much more hair-raising), but up the difficulty and the ante. Each playthrough lets players keep their collected weapons and money, giving them an advantage for harder difficulty settings, which for professional mode is practically required. That, and infinite ammo.
Beyond the huge lot of weapons, all upgradeable to ridiculous levels; the tens of different ďbad guysĒ and bosses that are always dangerous; the replayability to use a hand cannon or rocket launcher with unlimited ammo just to Ďblow stuff upíÖbeyond all this is a story that goes as deep as you want. Brush through the entire game without watching a cutscene and youíd be fine. Or watch them all, pick up all the documents spread through the 16 levels, and see how Jill Valentine plays a role, how Albert Wesker plans world domination, and what the Uroboros project really is.
Thatís not to say the story is great. Itís not that good, but it is surprisingly gripping. If youíre aware of the Resident Evil timeline, then RE5 is an excellent addition (and perhaps conclusion). If not, it certainly stands on its own with enough twists and turns to keep you interested enough. Some plot elements are highly questionable (how does Wesker dodge bullets, but run slower than regular people?), but weíll suspend our disbelief.
And all that isnít including Mercenaries mode, a gameplay mode thatís all about killing as many zombies as possible within the allotted time. Dead Rising with RE5 controlsÖwhat more could you ask for? Oh yeah, multiplayer. Well thatís coming soon, so shut the frak up.
(Iíd like to make an aside about the dialog. Itís not good, but itís not bad. Remember, Capcom is a Japanese company, and Japanese people donít talk like Americans. Sure, Chris is American and Sheva lived in America, but itís still a Japanese company, with everything originating in Japanese. For a Capcom title that isnít Dead Rising, it was incredibly reserved and not a complete failure at serious dialog. I still make fun of it at times, but itís a step forward.)
(Aside 2: Racism isnít really a relevant issue for this review, but I only saw one thing that Iíd consider racist: Sheva. Sheva is an African woman who looks white. She literally has white physical features, and her voice is not really African in the slightest. Sounds more like a muddled British accent, which doesnít really make sense.)
Overall, Resident Evil 5 is an excellent experience. It literally makes you lose track of time, then wonder where the time went, to the point where I have to plan playing when I have no pending assignments. As a single player experience, it works well enough for several playthroughs with the AI. With a battle-hardened partner, there are many, many hours to be put in, searching for all the unlockables, beating every boss in record time, etc. Itís just good fun that gives back more than just the typical FPS ever can. So even if youíre not a fan of 3rd person shooters, at least download the demo and try it out. I guarantee you wonít be disappointed. Four million people who bought it in the first week werenít.
Thanks to our main cast, Sheva Alamar and Chris Redfield!