The Resident Evil franchise is one of gaming’s biggest success stories. Boasting 20 titles across multiple platforms (including mobile phones!), Resident Evil is the king of the survival horror genre. In fact, it can be argued that the first Resident Evil, debuting on the PS2 in 1996, is the first game to firmly establish survival horror as a unique genre on console platforms. Popular series such as Fatal Frame and Silent Hill owe huge debts to the game, which itself built upon early PC titles such as Alone in the Dark.
With the popularity of the series, it may be hard to believe that Resident Evil 5 represents the first time the series has appeared on PS3 or Xbox 360. For fans old and new, this means Resident Evil has finally entered a world of high-definition outside of PC ports. No wonder, then, that this latest addition to the series was so heavily anticipated.
The world of Resident Evil has a rich history. The general gist of the games have major characters Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine (among other supporting cast) fighting the illegal (and horrific) experiments of the evil Umbrella Corporation. The Umbrella Corporation is responsible for a biological mutagen called the T-Virus, which turns people into terrifying zombies and other demonic creatures. Some common elements carry throughout all the games in the series, including a third-person perspective, the use of an inventory to carry herbs (medicine), weapons, and ammo, and a focus on survival (meaning resources are typically limited).
Resident Evil 5 is a direct sequel to Resident Evil 4, and as such retains much of that game’s unique gameplay elements. These include context-sensitive controls, laser sights, body-part specific hit detection, and dynamic cut scenes. Those familiar with that game or the series in general will recognize names and places from the past, but such experience is not necessary to enjoy the game.
When first starting Resident Evil 5, I was a bit surprised when I realized the “cutscene” I thought I was watching was actual gameplay. The game boasts the same high-quality graphics that we’ve come to expect from modern 360 titles such as the Gears of War series. The attention to detail is amazing, and creates an immersive, atmospheric environment.
The game takes place in Kujiju, a village in the African desert. While this may seem like a strange setting for a survival horror game, it does an excellent job of evoking the same gritty, hostile environment of such recent games as Far Cry 2. As you make your way through the village at the beginning of the game, you’ll witness the locals watching your every move. The dilapidated tin shelters, the run-down produce stands, and the hostile glances you receive add to a feeling of uneasiness that would not be possible in a game with less than cutting-edge graphics.
The cutscenes are also terrific, which is good considering that you’ll see a lot of them. Boasting a cinematic feel, they do a great job of moving the story along and showcasing the game’s fascinating boss creatures. Certain cutscene sequences require player input, such as tapping the X button when prompted to dodge an attack. While not particularly challenging, they do allow the player to feel a part of these theatrical interludes.
Another area in which the graphics engine excels is in the depiction and animation of the numerous “zombies” you’ll be fighting. The game utilizes hit detection which can tell if you hit a creature in the head, arm, or legs. These hits are accompanied with realistic and appropriate reactions, such as dropping a weapon if hit in the arm or stumbling slowly if hit in the legs. Head shots result in suitably gory fountains of blood, and dead creatures form a bubbling pool of ooze. The main characters are also well-depicted, featuring expressive faces and the ability to pull off complex movements such as roundhouse kicks or jumping through windows. Suffice it to say that Resident Evil 5’s graphic technology makes for one of the most immersive games I’ve played in a long while.
Resident Evil 5’s sound is generally very good. For the first time in the series, the game uses a live orchestral score to enhance the cinematic feel of the experience. The score was composed by Kota Suzuki, who was last heard in Devil May Cry 4. One way in which this score is used to great effect is the way in which it dynamically changes to reflect the danger to the player. The approach of enemies is signalled in musical changes of tempo and tone, and these cues can provide valuable intelligence during the course of play. At no time does the music distract or become repetitive, which is something few games can claim.
Voice acting is also generally well done, and does much to add to the feeling that you’re participating in an action-horror film. While you’ll occasionally run across characters that are a little over-the-top, it’s hard to fault them when they fit so well into the setting. Ultimately, Resident Evil 5 is like coming across that rare B-movie that’s actually entertaining. As such, it’s hard to fault it even when it hits the occasional patch of mediocrity.
Resident Evil 5 utilizes a context-sensitive control scheme that works brilliantly for the most part. Point at a ladder, and you get the option to climb it. Point to a gap, you get the option to jump it. These actions obviate the need for a complex control scheme, while still allowing the player to perform complex maneuvers. There are occasions where this scheme gets slightly annoying
Resident Evil 5 starts out as Chris Redfield arrives in Kijuju, an arid area of Africa. There he is met by a woman named Sheva Alomar, who serves as your AI backup in the game or a playable character when playing co-op. On the hunt for a mysterious man known as Irving, Chris and Sheva soon realize that there are some very dangerous forces at work. Together, they must get to the bottom of the mystery while trying to stay alive in an increasingly hostile environment.
One of the biggest disappointments of Resident Evil 5 is that the game is only half as long as its predecessor. On normal difficulty, expect to spend around ten hours to complete the game on the first run. Fortunately there are a few reasons to come back. Biggest of these unlocks is the game’s Mercenary mode, which will is a special “survival” game in which you must hold out against endless waves of enemies while waiting for extraction. There are also plenty of bonus goodies to unlock including costumes, trophies, and infinite ammo. And of course, there are the customary Xbox Live achievements, which range from the mundane (complete Level X), to the creative (defeat a Majini using electrical current from a transformer). Whether you purchase or settle for a rental depends on how much you enjoy going back through games and finding every little secret, but it