Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Resident Evil 5

It's not really a surprise that Resident Evil 5 is not as good as Resident Evil 4. It's not an insult to say that either, because the latter is one of the best games to come out in the last decade. 5 takes the core gameplay and design philosophy from 4, and expands on it in a new setting in some ways that are interesting, and in other ways that will leave you scratching your head. It's probably a more ambitious game, but on occasion its reach exceeds its grasp. When it's just following up on what 4 did right, it's a perfectly serviceable action game. It gets sketchy in other places, but at least it never goes completely off the rails.

The biggest change to the series is pretty obvious; the entire game is designed to be played with two people. The first player controls Chris Redfield, a recurring hero of the franchise who's worked out quite a bit since the last time he was seen. The second player controls Sheva, his lithe but functionally identical partner during his mission in Africa, where a nefarious biological arms deal is going down. They support each other through the entire game; healing each other, saving each other from danger, sharing equipment, and working together to get past certain obstacles. Even if you're playing alone, Sheva will still be there, controlled by the AI. This is the way I played the game, as more than two years after the game came out I didn't like the odds of finding a reliable co-op partner on the PS3. For the most part, the single player mode works just fine. Sheva stays out of danger reasonably well and isn't overly wasteful with her ammo. There are some situations though where she's kind of a millstone, notably when it would be best for no one to use any bullets at all or when the correct strategy is to attack an enemy from two directions at once. And unfortunately, these situations seem to pop up more frequently as you continue through the story. I was genuinely annoyed by the execution of the one player mode on a couple occasions before I managed to get to the end. All things considered though, it could have easily been worse.

Besides the two protagonists, it's more or less more of Resident Evil 4. You work your way through African villages and swamplands, eventually reaching more unexpected areas and the inevitable top secret research laboratory near the end. I never really stopped to think too much about the whole race thing. It is a bit odd to be playing a game about shooting a bunch of African civilians, though to be fair they're fairly racially diverse and trying to kill you. There were definitely some weird choices that seemed to be the result of ignorance or insensitivity though, especially involving the more natively tribal enemies you eventually run across. Just looking at it as an action game about fighting zombie-like monsters though, as well as their many amorphous and/or insect-like allies, it does a pretty good job of keeping things fresh and reasonably challenging without getting too frustrating. I became less happy with the general design as things went on, though. A chapter taking place in an underground temple was interesting in theory but not especially well executed, and later they implemented some pretty sloppy cover mechanics and poorly thought out boss fights that the controls didn't really support. When you're just trying to stay out of arms reach of disorganized, mindless hordes, Resident Evil 5's controls are fine. When you have to worry about guys firing guns and coming at you from multiple directions though, it gets dicey. It's never too bad to stop the game dead, but it probably wasn't the best direction to take the second half of the game.

As far as bringing Resident Evil to the current generation, I think they did a good job. The graphics still look nice now, with some really good character modeling and animation, especially on the main characters. The sounds are very familiar if you've played 4, and still work effectively. The voice acting also is a bit less terrible than series fans are used too, though some characters are just wretched in that way where you can't tell if they were serious or not. The story attempts to connect the Las Plagas plot from 4 with the Umbrella and Wesker stuff that came earlier in the series, and does a reasonable job of doing so, though honestly the entire history of the series' fiction is some pretty silly, stupid stuff. It's a weird pastiche of supernatural and science and horror and action, and while I kind of enjoy the absurdity of it all, I would hesitate to believe anyone who claimed to know whether this was actually going anywhere or care that it did. It's flimsy justification to have a game where a couple of special forces guys fight zombies on motorcycles, giant pulsating piles of tentacles, and guys in trench coats who look like they walked off the set of The Matrix. And that's all it really needs to be. The Gold Edition packs a bunch of extra content, mostly all the downloadable stuff that was released in the period after the original game came out. I haven't actually dug into that stuff yet, but it certainly seems like plenty of value for the package. It would have been really hard for 5 to reach the classic status that 4 did, and it didn't reach that goal. But it's still an enjoyable game anyway.

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