Without a doubt, this will be the early odds on favorite for Game of the Year (GOTY). One of the more highly anticipated games of 2009, this does not fail to deliver the goods.
The game picks up some time after the events of Resident Evil 4. You take the reigns as Chris Redfield once again, this time as an agent of the Bio terrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA). You are teamed up with Sheva Alomar, another BSAA agent, to investigate an occurrence of Bio Organic Weapons (BOW) research in an unnamed West African nation. The usual and expected Resident Evil antics happily follow.
Game play is essentially the same as in Resident Evil 4. The view is an “over the shoulder” view, with some specific views, such as when you use a sniper rifle. Movement, aiming, combat actions, and the like are all ports of the RE:4 system, so those who have played RE:4 will already be familiar with them. I must admit it took me a bit to get used to them again after playing so much Call of Duty, and it having been so long since I played RE:4. Even so, it all came flooding back in short order.
Unlike previous Resident Evil games, there is a strong co-op play element here. It is not necessary to play co-op to complete the game, as the co-op AI is fairly intelligent for once. Not perfect, but more capable than many games. It does not pay usually to get too separated from one another, as if either you or your partner dies, it’s game over. With such a strong co-op aspect to the game, there are some “new” commands to work with that are situation specific. If you or your partner is trapped or pinned by the enemy, there is a command to help them out (or call for help), which is indicated once you are in range. If you or your partner are dying, you can rescue them by getting close enough and pressing the O button. Doing so will restore just enough health to get you or your partner out of the dying status, but you better have an herb or first aid spray ready. In addition, there are several situations where you will have to separate yourself and your partner to get past an obstacle or to gain an item. One will “assist” the other in a jump, which will be indicated on screen.
The co-op play aspect is very central to the game. While not necessary to have a partner to play with, I can see where it will enhance the game play. I have not yet tried co-op in any form. You can play co-op both online or off line. Off line is split screen, so having a “big screen” TV will be an asset here. Otherwise I suspect you will lose detail, and the play will actually be hampered by the lack of ability to see enemies approaching your partner.
Combat, as previously stated, is the RE:4 engine, just refined a bit. Weapon combat is relatively unchanged. You aim, you fire, repeat as needed. Where the noticeable improvement comes is in hand to hand combat. In the right circumstances, you get opportunities for some “special” hand to hand attacks. As an example, Chris Redfield can do some nasty upper cut type punches, knocking back and stunning enemies, and in some cases, kill an enemy. Sheva has some of her own as well, but I haven’t had an opportunity to try them out yet.
The weapon assortment is nice. The weapons are all real world items, from the M92 pistol, to an RPG-7 type launcher. I’m not quite sure why there are 3 different models of sniper rifle though. There just isn’t quite enough variation between them honestly. In total, there are: 4 Pistols (M92F, H&K P8, SiG P226, M93R); 4 shotguns (Ithaca M37, M3, “Jail Breaker,” “Hydra”); 4 SMGs, though 2 are Assault Rifles (Vz61, AK-74, H&K MP-5, SiG 556); 3 Sniper Rifles (S75, Druganov SVD, H&K PSG-1); 3 Magnums (S&W M29, L.Hawk, S&W M500). Ther are some “special wepaons” as well. There is a grenade launcher (like the ARMSCORP rotary launcher), the mentioned RPG-7 style launcher, a stun rod (suped up cattle prod), a long bow (so you can go all Rambo), a Gatling Gun (think Jesse Ventura in Predator), and at times, some turret weapons, mounted on trucks or fixed emplacements. Just as with RE:4, you can buy upgrades for each weapon, increasing various aspects. Unlike RE:4, there is no “mysterious merchant” from which to get items and upgrades. Instead, you can buy before you resume a game, after you die, or between chapters. This is a good/bad thing. The good is that if you get stomped, you get a chance to upgrade after dying. The bad is that you don’t get an in game opportunity mid chapter as in RE:4.
The enemies are a varied assortment of bad guys from previous Resident Evil games. I mean, who knew that having played the Resident Evil: Outbreak series would ever come in handy? Most of the opposition are variants from RE:4, the Las Plagas infected zombie types, and such. The bosses are interesting for the most part, with varying degrees of difficulty. There are a few “old friends” who make their appearance in the game as well. I won’t go into details here as I don’t want to spoil any of the story elements.
The story itself is interesting. The designers and writers have definitively moved the game story on, and are not just rehashing the same scenario over and over. OK, so they are in a very broad sense, but the devil is in the details. The biggest change is the setting. Instead of being in a dark urban setting, or in a claustrophobic base set up, you are in the wide open of West Africa. No brooding storm clouds hang over head, it’s not perpetual night. The sun shines brightly, sometimes too brightly (to be expected in a tropical clime). The various open spaces, such as the villages, are actually more troublesome than the close confined spaces of previous games. If you’ve ever seen the movie (or read the book) Black Hawk Down, there are several scenes in game which will evoke those same images. The combat situations tend to be short, intense affairs, and can come somewhat unexpected. I say somewhat, in that you know something is going to happen, but the timing is just off enough to throw you a bit.
A quick note here on the game story and the Resident Evil: Degeneration movie. While it is far from necessary to have seen the movie for the game’s story, it will give you just a bit more back story to the bad guys in game.
The graphics and sound design on this game are superb. The cut scenes are extremely well rendered, using motion capture technology to improve the movements of characters. Much like many of the current generation games, the scenery itself is worth just taking a moment to look around. The villages are wonderful in their details, the shading and light sourcing is paid careful attention to (shadows are “correct”), and the characters and enemies move “naturally” (though there are still moments where things don’t look quite right). The sound is well done as well. Not only do you get the “background noise” of an environment (wind, water dripping, machinery, etc), but even “proper” sounds of running enemies, and things going crash when they get shot or knocked over. A good example is in Chapter 3 when you’re cruising around a lake on an air boat. You get a proper meshing of the engine whirring, and the water splash from the wake and the boat slapping up and down. Majini (the “new” basic zombie) also make a nice thud when you run over them in the boat.
I had been eagerly awaiting this game since the end of last year. I even “geeked out” and went to Gamestop’s midnight release to get it. I still am of the opinion that RE:4 was one of the best games for the PS2 I ever played. So, my expectations for RE:5 were fairly high. I had played the demo several times prior to release, but all that did was whet my appetite. The full game has not disappointed me at all. As I have not yet played any form of co-op, I can’t speak to that. Nor can I speak to the DLC available. Nor have I attempted the Mercenaries or Versus modes yet. I’m not that good yet. Even so, there is replay value here. After surviving a first play through, you should have enough stuff, upgrades, and points to spend, that you can be a bit more thorough in a second or thrid play through.