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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Resident Evil 5 Review by Ian Friedman

Resident Evil 5 Review by Ian Friedman

Resident Evil is finally upon us, it has been a long wait for fans of the series, has the wait been worth it, or has it fallen short of its goal in wrapping up the saga of Resident Evil?

Story: The story of Resident Evil takes a decidedly realistic turn, with a move away from gothic mansions and police stations that seemed more like something from Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat. In Resident Evil 5 there is an emphasis on the idea of what if Resident Evil took place in the real world (similar to Resident Evil Degeneration). It’s a change that I wish the series had embraced in the past. After a certain point, nothing can be covered up, and Umbrella was going to have to become known.

The past Resident Evil’s do attempt to deal with this (the Spec Ops team in RE3 in the Dead Factory, the National Police Force report on Irons), but at the same time, most of the dealt with escape and survival, which was fine, its just that after Raccoon City was destroyed, there needed to be an switch and shift in tone.

Resident Evil 5 is what Metal Gear Solid 4 was to that series. It does an excellent job in tying up all of the loose ends of the series and providing copious documentation about the history of the series and the people and organizations that inhabit it. Really there are ton of files to be read and examined and I’m happy that the Resident Evil 5 took the time to provide a great deal of information about the series. Most importantly it finally explains what Spencer’s goal was with Umbrella (and it explains greatly a lot of Umbrella’s odd behavior with regards to the idea of making a profit).

The story itself takes place in Africa and despite what some misinformed reviewers might tell you, is not racist and actually offers heroic non-stereotyped roles for blacks and not just as the Cole Train (which isn’t racist either, since everyone in Gears of War is a hyper masculine character, who makes the Ultimate Warrior look even keeled, and I do love Gears of War dearly too). It’s a game that posses a decidedly anti-colonialist streak as pointed out in a recent article and in document files in the game. The story is Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar hunting down leads in trying to explain a rapidly degenerating situation in the Kijuju region of West Africa. If they developers were to just homogenize the location and setting, it would be far worse in my opinion, because then you are simply painting an entirely different region and cultural environment in nothing but a Western shell.

Resident Evil is at its heart a series built up not just from George Romero’s Living Dead series, but also the work of Lucio Fulci and numerous other Italian greats. It also has a decidedly 1980s action movie emphasis on the dialogue and story. The voice acting is excellent, which can be ironic for some considering how the series started out. The writing is still very much what one might hear in Mark Lester’s Commando or Bruno Mattei’s Robowar or Strike Commando. Truth be told, I don’t think I would want it any other way. Some of the best dialog in Resident Evil 4 was the banter between Leon and Saddler and Salazar. I’m happy that for Resident Evil 5 no one tried to “improve” the writing, which would have just made it dull in the end.

Some may find the ending anti-climatic, but it’s logical and doesn’t make you scratch your head. If you’ve ever seen a James Bond movie, which is one of the places that the game takes it’s influence from, it will all feel at home.

Graphics: and Sound: Killzone 2 may be considered the champ for both graphics and sound, but if it is than Resident Evil 5 is close up on its tail. It’s is a wonderful game to look at, from all the detail even when close up to an object. The lighting is great and has an extremely natural feel to it as if one was looking around outside on an extremely hot day. The locations are varied and you never get a feeling of haven’t I been there before. Everyplace in the game has a unique look and style helping to eliminate the feeling in the series in older games caused by backtracking or levels that had a similar feel to it.

The sound features excellent 5.1 sound mixing that is both immersive and engaging. Games like Resident Evil 5, Killzone 2, Gears of War II, and Metal Gear Solid 4 are reasons no gamer should be without even an entry level 5.1 setup. The sound effects are varied and as I mentioned earlier mixed well with the musical score.

The score itself is excellent and helps create an experience that one is playing the latest Hollywood blockbuster and not a simple video game. Resident Evil 5 is a reason to stay homes from the movies and instead just play it at home. I couldn’t test the PCM 5.1 on the PS3, and was only able to test the DD 5.1, but it was excellent.

Gameplay: Now for the most important category: If the gameplay isn’t fun then it can negate all the gains made in the other categories. The gameplay of Resident Evil 5 is an evolution of Resident Evil 4, simply if it isn’t broke, just improve it! Despite some of the hubbub made of the control of the game, I have to say I was able to get a handle on the controls within a short period time, my fellow reviewer Rich did take a little while longer, but eventually was handling it like a pro.

I actually wound up finishing the game solo and found that Sheva controlled perfectly. The game is great at co-op too and will be a huge boon for those who like to play with friends. This is the perfect game to play with a friend for hours on end. I actually didn’t mind split-screen either; then again I was playing it on a 40-inch television. The replay value of the game is immense, and while I can’t describe them, let me simply say that beating the game is only the beginning.

The combat is extremely enjoyable and does an excellent job of building tension and keeping you on your tows as a gamer. The variety of weapons and the new ability to purchase them at the end of each section or when you die, makes the game easier, but allows you to customize your loadout, which leads to more experimentation and variety, which is something I always love. The boss battles were a blast to play and had a lot of variety in dealing with the enemy and how to defeat them (boss variety, which like in Metal Gear Solid, is always a sign of great gameplay).

My standout moment of gameplay was when I was facing a heavily armed opponent on a catwalk and I was trying to shoot him, but I had to reload. The enemy was already starting up their heavy weapon, and I was like damn, I’m screwed. However, at the last second, my friend at the other end of the catwalk snipes the bad guy in the head, killing him and saving me at the last second. It was an intensely exciting and cinematic moment and something that will stay in my memory for a long time. You hope all games will be able to give you a moment like that, Resident Evil 5 does it, but it’s not even programmed in. It shows the great strength of the co-op, that it allows for such gameplay moments.

Overall: Resident Evil 5 is a great game that manages to wrap the series up (and most of the older plot points) in a way that is not condescending or abuses pseudo-magical/spiritual solutions that would upset the new move to realism (in setting and tone). The gameplay is intense and fun, with a variety of different gameplay solutions.

I’d recommend getting the version for whichever system you prefer the controller of, or use the most. The differences between the two is a slightly slower framerate with the PS3 version because it has vsync turned on, and screen tearing on the Xbox 360 version, but a better framerate. The differences are fairly minor, as I said the purchase choice should really be on your own controller preference.

Resident Evil 5 is a great game I recommend for all fans of action, horror, the series, or just great gaming.

5/5 Stars

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