It’s an experience many gamers could relate to (although not many like to admit it). Sitting in your bedroom late at night, feeling cocky, self assured, convinced you can handle it, you decide to stick on some Resident Evil. ‘After all’, you keep telling yourself, ‘it’s just a game!’ Feeling confident, you even venture to let out an arrogant little chuckle as the title screen starts loading ‘Those zombies make me laugh!’. But, after you find yourself back in that empty police station with its chaotic briefing room, barricaded windows and that overwhelming sense of isolation, it only takes about 5 minutes for all that bravado to melt away, and for you to completely bottle it.
Moments like this have come to define the Resident Evil franchise. For more than a decade it has had gamers breaking out in cold sweats as they flinch and cower their way through some five editions. Capcom really had their formula for terror down to a tee. RE settings never failed to give players a terrifying sense of isolation. They consistently featured disturbing scenes of chaos within secure environments like police stations, and always forced players to go back… Breaking from tradition in Resident Evil 5 is therefore understandable, but the main problem with this sequel is that by excluding many of the characteristics which have come to define the Resident Evil franchise, Capcom provide little to compensate for it.
It is immediately apparent from the game’s location that Resident Evil 5 is going to be very different from its predecessors. Set amidst the searing heat of some fictional African hell hole, the player once again assumes the role of Chris Redfield who is in hot pursuit of some spin-off-Umbrella terrorist organisation. Although the cooperate giant has fallen, the threat from bio weapons is far from over, and with his new partner Sheva Alomar, Chris must stop the terrorists carrying out an arms deal with potentially apocalyptic repercussions. However, progress is hindered when demon-eyed-African villagers wielding bottles, axes and crossbows – swarming on mass like something out of Zulu – suddenly descend upon the pair.
What results is a game which is less like a Resident Evil survival horror and more like some Black Hawk Down style action/shooter. In fact, references to the Ridley Scott-war-flick just seem to crop up everywhere, from the man wearing a pair of aviators and yelling through the megaphone, to the burning tires, to the point where you rush to the crash site of downed helicopter… The game is just a constant series of running fire fights. There are never any ammo shortages, in fact, bullets fall from downed enemies with such abundance you barely have room to carry them all. By Chapter 2 you’re wielding more weapons than Schwarzenegger in Commando, with MP5s, Shotguns, machine pistols, sniper rifles, and grenades all hanging off you like Christmas tree decorations.
Not that this is a bad thing, but such trigger-happy-action is certainly a far cry from the days when bullets in Resident Evil were like gold dust. It does make the gameplay feel a bit shallow however. ‘Where are all the puzzles?’ I kept thinking. ‘Where are the random items…the crank, the cable, the cog?’. You soon realise there simply aren’t any - almost like there just isn’t time for all that as you rush between areas; mowing down scores of natives. The whole game just seemed to lack the same degree of depth of prior RE editions; the levels felt linear, there was little to explore, and then, after only around six or so hours of gameplay, it’s all suddenly over…
Had it not been for the visuals, which are absolutely stunning, Resident Evil 5 might have risked being a flat out disappointment. However, the brilliance of the in game graphics – the scenery, the heat (which you can almost feel), and the superbly choreographed cut-scenes do much to enrich the gaming experience. As for the system specifications, anyone with a duel or quad core system and half decent graphics card, should be similarly blown away. The controls are also brilliantly formatted on PC - especially regarding hotkeys. The fact that you can switch weapon, turn 180 degrees and perform knife attacks at the touch of a button does much to undermine the characteristic RE awkwardness. In fact, Resident Evil 5 has to be one the greatest PC adaptations of a console game (in many ways it’s superior to its console brethren).
Overall Resident Evil 5 is a fantastic action/shooter. But it is frustrating to see Capcom take away so many of the traditional Resident Evil formulas from this sequel. Removing the slow pace of gameplay, the puzzles, the mini-games, the isolation (undermined in RE5 by Redfield’s partner and continual contact with the outside world). In their place the game offers more guns, more ammo, and more enemies. It means Resident Evil has become just another shooting game - almost indistinguishable from the mass of other shooter titles which already line the shelves. After getting through half the game without one single scream, you may find yourself pinning for something a bit more edgy. But cowardly gamers like me - thankful for a Resident Evil addition they can play alone in the dark - may actually find this a welcome relief…