Capcom were never going to appease everyone with Resident Evil 5. As if being the highly anticipated sequel to one of the greatest action/adventure games of all time wasn’t intimidating enough, a whole shower of criticism was laden upon the game before it even immerged. Africa apparently, was a risqué choice of location for the series to migrate too.
“Is it worth it?” Chris Redfield narrates. He’s speeding through a washed African savannah, perched comfortably in the seat of a jeep. Here’s a character far more confident than Leon S Kennedy, bulky and charismatic in tone, searing through a location fit for anything but Resident Evil. It’s sunny and for the first three hours it remains that way. Battling through the small village, familiar to anyone having played the demo, alongside newcomer Sheva Alomar, the shadowy forests of the Los Illuminados remain equally shadowed in memory.
The introduction is all things Resi. Documents marked with the deranged ramblings of a foe yet unseen scatter vacant rooms (‘Investigate X’). Walking through the opening level, a gang are beating a writhing sack, its unlucky contents secret, another screaming man is hauled away into the shadows; a beheaded dog lies in an alley. It’s Resident Evil through and through, purely atmospheric.
Combat is quick to become involved. Again to anyone familiar with the series the controls haven’t been altered. Chris is clunky, can’t shoot and move, takes an age to turn. But without that where would the fear be derived? Inarguably having a partner quells some of the tension, particularly on the easier difficulties. A control scheme that offered the ability to run and gun would only destroy the anxiety crafted through realisation; firing means leaving yourself open to attack.
Whilst this really is Resident Evil by the safest means, enemies from previous games as far back as the Licker from RE2 make appearances and once the villages are left the locations become more and more like the caves and corridors of former titles, the inclusion of Sheva is what sets it apart. It may not be as obvious as a Wii remote, but the second character alters the game in drastic ways. It’s best utilised with a friend on the professional difficulty. When any well placed crossbow or timed charge will leave you staring at the customary ‘you are dead’ screen, it’s a lesson in trust and reliance. Missing shots suddenly becomes a matter of life or death and stockpiling ammunition and health from previous plays through pays off in dividends. It’s nail bitingly brilliant all the way through and undoubtedly the best way to experience the game.
Intact also is the series renowned B-movie script, chock full of hilarious one-liners and ridiculous characters. Disappointingly the story fails to maintain the level of atmosphere established through the first two chapters but manages to see enough old characters through to the end. It’s entirely ridiculous (culminating in a plane landing in a volcano) but equally satisfying. If you’re entering a Resi game expecting an Oscar winning script you’re horribly misguided, and you’re going to be leaving in tears.
The replay value is phenomenal, not only in the main game itself, but also in the returning Mercenaries Mode. Again playable co-operatively, it is a vastly improved take on the popular blend of timed survival and rampage and one that wields ten playable characters, and a far more intense and often more challenging experience than the main game. Besides that four difficulty modes, an abundance of characters and weapons (which are then upgradable), a competitive level ranking system, and the option to play the entire game with a friend make 5 both the most accessible (a notion reinstated with a friendly checkpoint system, amateur difficulty, and generous supply of health and ammo) and the easiest game, in a series spanning 13 console titles, to return to again and again. This is as much a testament to the fantastic gameplay as it is the sheer level of content on offer. Whether it’s an almightily powered Magnum, or Sheva dressed in the bare minimum, there’s an array of content on offer here most publishers would hurl on the marketplace three months down the line and charge £5 for.
Much of this could be deemed criticism too. The narrative isludicrous, the gameplay barely altered, and the friendly AI often negligent to the frailty of life. But when it boils down to the basics, the raw fundamentals, do you want to play Resident Evil 5 – the question that matters most – you have to look passed the race argument, accept the tepidity with which Capcom approached, and acknowledge that Resident Evil 5 is more of a monument to both the franchise’s brilliance and wholehearted fun, than a dramatic alteration akin to Leon Kennedy’s European escapade.
Is it worth it then? Every blundering gore-ridden step of the way.