The beloved (or should that be “affectionately feared”?) Resident Evil series has finally made the leap to the current generation with Resident Evil 5. Ten years after his experience in the first game, Chris Redfield finds himself in a fictional African country, now working for the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. The biological weapons developed by the Umbrella Corporation encountered in previous games have become available on the terrorist black market, and Redfield is sent to investigate. He is soon partnered with local Sheva Alomar, an AI-controlled character who supports you throughout the game. Naturally, the rabbit hole gets deeper as you progress; you learn more about the origins of the dreaded viruses that have caused so much trouble over the course of the series, and many of the Resident Evil canon’s loose ends are finally tied.
Although the original Resident Evil practically coined the term “survival-horror” as a gaming genre, I’d suggest the latest incarnation is more of a survival-action title. Resident Evil 5 is less horrifying than it is intense and downright creepy. It doesn’t necessarily capture the foreboding sense of dread that, say, the first three PlayStation titles managed so well, but its own brand of spontaneous fear is effective in its own right.
It does, however, put the emphasis strongly back on the “survival” aspect in some very clever ways. As ever, ammunition and health are scarce in Resident Evil 5, so you must use them sparingly – but now you’re also tasked with distributing these already precious resources between you and your partner. Of course, the temptation is there to greedily take everything yourself, but this ill equips Alomar to assist you if you find yourself in the clutches of a pack of frenzied zombies. Secondly, if Alomar herself dies, then it’s game over. You’ll breathe sighs of relief, though, when you successfully negotiate a tricky area, wounded and limping, after almost completely emptying your Beretta’s final clip into a particularly tough boss. It’s the close calls and the actual sense of survival that Resident Evil 5 does so well. You’re no near-invincible super soldier as in so many other titles, and that makes it all the more satisfying when you survive.
Like its immediate predecessor, Resident Evil 5 has largely ditched the types of puzzles that would have you significantly backtracking once you’d found an item allowing access to a previously locked area.
This was one of the true delights of the initial games: the giddy nervousness when you realised that progress was being made, and you wondered whether you’d survive the trek back. Because of this, progression in Resident Evil 5 feels more linear– but with the game’s focus on the action, it’s a logical choice. The co-op puzzles are of note, requiring each character to undertake a different task in order for both to move forward. For instance, at one point, Redfield and Alomar must negotiate a pitch black tunnel. One character must carry a large, encumbering lantern, lighting the path for both, while the other must fight off any hostiles that may emerge from the darkness. Best of all, it can all be done with a friend, who can assume the role of your partner either locally via split screen or online.
Visually, Resident Evil 5 truly is one of the best looking games of this generation. The environments are sharp and detailed, and the enemies superbly animated. The cut scenes are masterfully executed, especially when it comes to character detail, and boast some top-notch cinematography.
On the whole, Resident Evil 5 is yet another triumph for Capcom. It’s enough of a departure from earlier incarnations to make it fresh while still containing enough nods to its roots to satisfy long-time series fans. It may not have the long-term appeal of, say, a first-person shooter, but the campaign has a richness and depth to it that most other games can’t hope to match.