Resident Evil is about fear; that single, paralyzing emotion that is designed to prevent human beings from placing themselves in harm’s way. Some view it as the original human defense mechanism, a thing to be embraced and heeded while others view it as a roadblock toward the pursuit of happiness. Some even enjoy and revel being in its grip, with phenomena such as horror movies and rollercoaster rides proving this very notion. Capcom tapped into this primal urge in 1996 when they released the original Resident Evil for the PSX and watched as legions of gamers embraced their fear and confronted the unspeakable horrors that awaited them inside the Arklay Mansion in the fictional Midwestern town of Raccoon City. It was a “haunted house” experience in its purest form, with a bit of George Romero and H.G. Wells influence mixed in for the sheer jolt factor. It was also an instant success. Thirteen years and numerous sequels later, Capcom has brought Resident Evil 5 to the dusty, mahogany banquet table in the hope that all of those who had reveled in being scared to death will push aside the cobwebs on the candelabras and reach for a “fifth” helping. Although Capcom is likely to see their desire realized in zombie-like hordes with this intensely gorgeous thrill-ride, Resident Evil 5 grabs the “survival horror” genre in its freshly-grown tentacles and tears it in half; throwing the “horror” part into the industrial furnace. This “survival” title proves to be about as frightening as watching an episode of “24” with all the house lights on… and while talking to mom on the phone.
Players take control of Chris Redfield, our hero from the very first title. It seems that Chris has spent a considerable amount of time hanging around Major League Baseball players, as his entire body now resembles an upturned tanker truck. Chris is a member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, (the B.S.A.A.) an organization whose role is to thwart the use of bioterrorism and the creation of biological organic weapons. He heads to the fictional African nation of Kijuju, following a tip about a major arms deal that is about to take place. There he meets his contact, Sheva Alomar, an agent from the local chapter of the B.S.A.A. Sheva remains at your side through the entire adventure, a first for the series. She serves as backup for your firepower, assistance for your health and also as a spritely little pixie that can leap and reach certain areas and alcoves that our tank-ass hero Chris would be too large and lumbering to access. In the single-player campaign, Sheva definitely does her job well (as far as AI controlled teammates go), even though she seems to be a bit quick to waste an aid spray and seems to insist on using her 9mm pistol against the largest of abominations, despite carrying a machine gun and both a grenade and rocket launcher in her inventory… which brings us to the next point about Sheva.
The Resident Evil games have earned a reputation of being difficult to the point of aggravation when it comes to inventory management. There are many theories as to why this is, but this reviewer has always felt that the constant shuffling, discarding, combining and limits on amounts that can be carried was deliberately designed to be challenging. The original Resident Evil games relied heavily on solving elaborate puzzles (in addition to all the horrific mayhem) in order to advance the plot. Players would normally find themselves standing in a far-too-ornate-to-be-realistic building, shuffling paintings and statues around the room in order to trigger some sort of Goldbergian event, such as the opening of a hidden passage or the unlocking of a door. The number of items a character could carry at once was always made to be “just short of comfortable” so the player would have to decide what to take and what to discard. It felt as if the inventory system was a puzzle in of itself that lasted through the entire experience.
The addition of Sheva to your campaign adds nine more inventory slots to your loadout while still maintaining the “just short of comfortable” status. Yes, it’s still frustrating to pass items back and forth to your teammate and to consolidate slots by combining certain items, but since Capcom has removed the puzzle-solving aspect of the series almost entirely (there are still a couple of the good old “find 4 pieces of object to stick in recessed lock to open” variety), this seems like a homage that keeps it challenging, adding an element of strategy to this otherwise point-and-shoot experience. Also gone is the sense of “every bullet counts,” from the previous titles (prior to RE4), as players can find ammunition nearly everywhere. Not being able to pick up those magnum rounds because both your characters are already filled to the brim with items may be the last true element of fear left in the series.
The actual gameplay is the same variety that first broke ground with Resident Evil 4. The over-the-shoulder perspective is one of the more welcome changes to the series, providing a thrilling up-close-and-personal aspect to all the events. You still cannot fire weapons while moving, so players will often have to run away from a situation in order to regroup and aim. Sheva is usually to be found running behind you or standing in front of you, staring as if waiting for the next command. Players can issue two different orders to her that demand she act in a certain way. She will either go on the offensive or act as backup to your actions depending on the selection. You can also give her ammunition and supplies as well as demand any items she may be carrying.
Sheva’s addition to the campaign is actually a “double-first”, as the whole story mode can be played in an online co-op fashion. Yes, if you wish to have Sheva’s decisions made by an actual human that you can blame for their mistakes, it is possible to play through the entire game that way. There is also an unlockable multiplayer mode that veterans of the series will be familiar with that involves killing hordes of enemies in a time-trial situation.
Graphically, the title is absolutely stunning. The environments and enemies are a sight to behold, with extremely high polygon counts and stunning detail in the models. There is a bit of repetition going on in the number of on-screen enemies you will encounter, and it’s not a rare thing to have two identical, virus infected men standing right in front of you like some twisted Doublemint gum commercial. Particle and weaponry effects are satisfying and brilliant, and the water looks good enough to drink (if you can avoid the alligators). The sound design is another superb achievement, with everything sounding exactly the way it should. The infected villagers scream out in rage and agony, the clang and crash of heavy steel weaponry smashing to the ground next to you is jarring, and the elaborate, matrix-like abilities of certain enemies will have you crying out in amazement (and perhaps frustration). The orchestral music is both foreboding and anthemic, depending on your situation. You will likely find yourself humming the music to your favorite boss battles long after playing.
All in all, the game is a total blast and thoroughly enjoyable, with a frenetic pacing that doesn’t let up for the entire run of the game. It’s just not scary in the least. The total experience can be summed up to be a lot closer to that of a Gears of War campaign, rather than the soil-yourself-in-the-dark style that made the series famous. The conclusion of the storyline in this title does tie up some long standing plot threads, making the entire series ripe for a fresh start. Maybe the developers will spend a night or two camped out on the former site of the Arklay Mansion and figure out how to “bring scary back.”