Things We Like
Out of Africa: Fanboys are debating whether Resident Evil 5 looks better than the similarly dazzling Gears of War 2, but the debate misses the point: this game looks amazing. The monsters move convincingly and the texture and lighting work is extraordinary. The environments feel gritty and lived-in and there's a refreshing variety of locales for monster maiming.
A Uwe Boll Joint: Everything about the game's plot and execution screams b-movie, but it works more often than not. The voiceover work is hit-or-miss, but the aural and graphical presentation and pacing make you feel like you're a part of a big-budget summer blockbuster. The major exception is a villain named Irving, who suffers from a hilariously awful performance. Fans of the series expect corny dialogue and thin characterizations, and RE5 lives up to its forebears. It's all in good fun, though, and the game definitely delivers.
Best Buddies: In RE5, you're never alone. Like in Gears, you always have a partner, whether she's controlled by AI, a second player on the same console or via online multiplayer. Fortunately, playing with the AI Sheva doesn't feel like a gamelong escort mission -- she can hold her own with a weapon, will heal you when you're hurt and comes in handy as a pack mule since you only have nine inventory slots. Online co-op works excellently and is the way you want to play if possible. Some might argue that the game is too easy because of Sheva's insistence on giving you an adrenaline shot when you'd otherwise die, but you'll die plenty even with the help.
Spice of Death: There's a surprising amount of variety in RE5 with some vehicle and on-rails action in addition to the zombie hunting and it's a welcome change. Only the ridiculously obvious puzzle segments feel tacked on. The boss battles are, almost without exception, clever and memorable, with some extremely gnarly bad guys thrown at you.
Arms and the Man: The game is replete with a wide array of weapons including pistols, machine guns, grenades, bombs, grenade launchers, rocket launchers and rifles. You'll have to collect gold to purchase upgrades for your weapons (which is absurd, considering you're part of a paramilitary organization, but this is a video game after all), but the ability to beef up your favorite weapons is highly satisfying, as are the game's ammo-saving melee moves. The lack of a chainsaw-equipped machine gun is unfortunate, but you can't have everything.
Bone Collector: If you're the type who likes to squeeze every ounce from the games you buy, Resident Evil 5 has a slew of unlockables and plenty of replay value. Once you finish the game, you unlock a Game+ mode with enhanced weapons and a timed monster hunt mode called Mercenaries. Scour the game for emblems and treasures and you'll unlock bonus supplemental material for the truly hardcore RE fan.
Check out Resident Evil 5 in action...
Things We'd Change
Tanks for Nothing: The more RE5 becomes an action game, the more work its control scheme needs. The baddies in this game move fast, and the controls don't do you any favors. Typical example: you slash a zombie with your knife and he reels back. To take a step toward him and keep slashing, you have to sheath your knife, take out your gun, step forward, put away your gun and take your knife back out before you can slash again. Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? Clearly, none of the developers have been in a knife fight before, because I'll tell you, this doesn't work.
Pretty, but Dumb: As detailed as the graphics are, the environments are frustratingly static. You can only climb up or jump down in predefined areas, and there are invisible walls scattered throughout the levels. In one particularly silly level in an open-air market, you're forced to solve a puzzle to find a key to open a door that leads to a dock. Never mind that you should easily be able to just walk around the door -- which has no corresponding wall -- or, failing that, reach around the door and unlock it. Moments like that occur throughout the game and they're annoying, especially when the key turns out to be hanging from a body in one of the buildings. How a guy with no skin can hold a key ring is probably best left undiscussed. On the plus side, you can use your knife to chop up all of the melons, so there's that.
No Scare There: Resident Evil games have traditionally generated their scares by keeping the player's ammunition stores to a minimum and by using the always-effective tactic of having malevolent zombies leap out of the dark and chew on your neck. RE5 has its share of neck-chewing, but you can always find ammo by smashing barrels, destroying crates and, er, raiding the disintegrated bodies of your enemies. There's something a little odd about the notion that a zombie dog has a fresh box of shotgun shells in its body, but there you go. The game is often gory, but rarely works up any genuine scares.
AIeeeee!: The enemy AI is dodgy, with the villagers often pausing conveniently before attacking to give you an opportunity for a shot. Truthfully, I suspect that the AI was gimped because if the monsters attacked you as quickly as they should, the clumsy controls would make it nearly impossible to hit them. Why you can't just walk backwards while you shoot is beyond me.
Five. Five Dollar. Five Dollar Game Mode.: Only a couple of weeks after the game was released, Capcom released a $5 downloadable add-on that enables deathmatch-style multiplayer gameplay. Not a lot of coin, but it feels like a money grab considering how recently the game came out. The Resident Evil franchise has made Capcom zillions of dollars, and making the content free would have generated some goodwill with its loyal community.
Longtime Resident Evil fans may bemoan the series' transition from survival horror to action, but it's a vastly more accessible and contemporary game than the REs of old. It's hard to play it and I wish that the controls had been modernized as well, but once you get used to them, it's a Hollywood-worthy thrill ride with a great deal of replay value.
-- Reviewed by Lee Clontz