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Review: Resident Evil 5

Posted by Nick Dinicola on April 24, 2009

residentevil5logoOne of the reasons Resident Evil 4 was so well received was because it didn’t have any of the game design tropes people had come to expect from the Resident Evil series. In doing so, it certainly didn’t feel like a Resident Evil game, but that was fine because it didn’t really want to be one. There was no Umbrella, no zombies, no alphabetical virus, and the only link to the other games was the main character Leon (yes Ada too, but her role was really more of a cameo). Resident Evil 5, on the other hand, wants very much to be a Resident Evil game, but also wants to embrace the fast-paced action that made 4 so popular, and as a result ends up feeling a bit schizophrenic.

Resident Evil 5 works as an action game, all the controversy over the controls (the fact that you can’t move and shoot at the same time) is unwarranted. Majini attack in groups and always run straight at you, giving you plenty of time to shoot before they get too close. And if they do get too close, it’s easy to do a quick 180 and run back to relative safety; even in the open arenas you’ll rarely be attacked from behind. However, unlike other action games Resident Evil 5 tries to stay true to its survival-horror roots and never wants you to feel like too much of a badass, it never wants you to feel comfortably prepared. There’s an ever-present fear of running out of ammo, and after every encounter you’ll think “I could I have done that using less bullets.” Resident Evil 5 effectively walks a fine line between being intense and annoying by limiting how much ammo it gives out: Never giving you enough to feel safe, but always giving you enough to scrape by.

It’s a shame the same can’t be said for your partner Sheva, who is either controlled by another player or AI, and unfortunately for those antisocial folk out there, the AI has nerves made of tissue. Sheva will happily empty an entire clip of ammo at a Majini half a mile away, reload, and then keep doing it until you take away her ammo like the babysitter you are.  She only changes weapons when her handgun is out of ammo, apparently the idea of using a strong gun on a strong enemy and a weak gun on a weak enemy is too much for her. In a game that hinges much of its intensity on the amount of ammo you have, having a partner that knows nothing about conservation is infuriating. But it’s worth noting that for all the negative things said here about Sheva, she’s not as much of a hindrance and you’d think. She can hold her own pretty well, she never makes any fatal mistakes, and if you upgrade whatever gun she has she becomes far more effective, but there will still be those inevitable moments that make you want to shoot her and go the rest of the way alone.

Halfway in, the game seems to realize it’s a Resident Evil game and not just another action game. There’s the requisite underground lab and conveniently placed journals fill in the backstory of the T-Virus’ origins and Umbrella’s connection to the latest pharmaceutical giant. Story wise, Resident Evil 5 makes up for Resident Evil 4, which could have been renamed something entirely different and no one would have been the wiser. But in true schizophrenic fashion, in latter half when the story returns to classic Resident Evil form, the action goes in the opposite direction. The infected actually get guns and shoot back (and are oddly excellent shots), and a new cover mechanic becomes integral for survival.

This is a fun action game, while your AI partner may not be playing with a full deck at least she knows how to use the cards she has. Playing co-op with another person removes much of the frustration and adds to the fun. While the story will satisfy even the most thirsty of Resident Evil fans, the game itself is a far cry from the spooky Raccoon City I remember so fondly. It’s faults are easy to point out, but it’s hard to argue against the panic-inducing excitement it pulls off so well. Love it or hate it or just tolerate it, this is the new Resident Evil experience.

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