Resident Evil 5 PS3, Xbox 360 Review

Those controls. Those unmistakably sluggish and agonizingly difficult controls. Love them or hate them, a Resident Evil game by name is not a Resident Evil game at heart without those damned controls.

Never have those controls been more needed to define a RE game than Capcom’s first entry in the past four years, Resident Evil 5. Without them, Capcom’s ambitious graphical masterpiece would be as well received as Michael Bay’s Armageddon. All recycled flash and no substance. But that’s O.K. because guess what? We still have those wonderfully frustrating controls to remind us we’re enjoying the latest entry in the Resident Evil series and not soaking in eye candy like a parched sponge.

The best way to pick apart Resident Evil 5 is to imagine it designed with a modern control scheme employed throughout the entire catalog of next-gen shooters. Strip away the inability to shoot while moving and speed up the action tenfold. Many, myself included, begged for this after the first 30 seconds of fending off swarms of zombies approaching from all directions in the demo. Be careful what you wish for.

Beyond the control scheme in Resident Evil 5 is a game that hardly feels like Resident Evil at all. Gone are the old haunted mansions, ravaged buildings, dark creepy streets and jump scares that make you reconsider playing in the dark. The setting is now Africa and the sun is almost always at high noon. Zombies are usually heard stumbling down a dusty street or tunnel long before they are seen. If they aren’t, a shaky-cam cut-scene will clue you in to what lays immediately ahead. Where there are large spaces, automatic weapons and missiles, adrenaline-fueled action bids adieu to the series’ precedent of tension and scares.

The only “jumping” in Resident Evil 5 will come in frustration to the unexpected use of quick-time events for select “boss” battles. The first flashes on the screen without warning, accompanied by electrifying CGI-footage that would plaster a cockeyed smile across Michael Bay’s face. Thrilling, yes, but horrific as you might expect from a Resident Evil game? Not in the least. They weren’t welcome in Resident Evil 4 and they aren’t welcome here either.

As those familiar controls come back into the equation so does panic, and plenty of it. Their forcing you to carefully consider fighting or running (re: walking quickly) ensure as much. You’ll sweat bullets when you and your partner run out of ammunition while 10+ zombies close in for the kill. Melee quickly becomes your friend but how long you can last after all first aid sprays are emptied is what panic is all about.

Adding a partner is a monumental upgrade to the Resident Evil series in more ways than one. While you control Chris Redfield, fresh off mourning the ultimate sacrifice made by his former partner Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 4, the AI or a cooperative human player controls sexy B.S.A.A. operative Sheva Alomar. Though your initial instinct is to play through with a friend, you may be better off letting the CPU manage Sheva’s actions.

I’m not making that recommendation based on amazingly revolutionary AI that transforms Sheva into a perfect weapon. If anything she, and many of the zombies you chase, are a few cards short of a full deck. Sometimes Sheva will shoot at anything that moves even if the target is far away. Other times at close quarters she’ll point her gun off towards a blank wall while right next to her a zombie is grabbing hold of you. Don’t bother letting Sheva pick up grenades as she’s more likely to jump out the screen than toss one.

Zombies certainly will, though, in a strange twist that has you fighting against armed infected people as a strong departure from Resident Evil games of the past. When they aren’t armed, they’ll sometimes attack with reckless abandon or rush towards you only to stop a couple feet short for no apparent reason. The non-human zombies are more aggressive and consistent with their attacks and as such prove more difficult – and realistic – foes.

Sheva’s partial effectiveness as a partner is what makes playing with her a more fulfilling Resident Evil experience against aggressive and passive zombies alike. A human partner will play strategically smarter and you’ll miss out on many of the “panic” situations as two of you mow down zombies as if they were the Locust Horde. Two human opponents are also more likely to “spread the court,” effectively splitting the zombie attack into smaller, weaker numbers. An AI-controlled Sheva is almost always stuck at your side so you’re more apt to be exposed to the full brunt of an attack.

Cooperative play carries forward into Mercenaries Mode, available only after defeating the main campaign on any difficult setting. It is the only available multiplayer mode packaged with the game; additional typically standard multiplayer modes recently announced will cost an extra $5 to purchase. Not including these modes standard in other games in the retail package is a slap in the face to consumers spending premium dollar for a videogame.

Whether playing by your lonesome or hooking up with a friend, no amount of newness injected into the series with drop-dead gorgeous visuals or “action over tension” gameplay design dismisses Capcom’s integration of the classic Resident Evil controls slightly refined in Resident Evil 4. They are your best friend to remind you the universe you are inhabiting, but also your worst enemy when surrounded on all sides and unable to combat 360-degrees of hungry zombies with any degree of grace or swiftness.

Move through a few chapters and the controls will bring back memories and gain your trust and appreciation as they have multiple times prior. All it takes is a little time and patience, something the demo comes up a straw short on providing or allowing.

Resident Evil 5’s genre may have evolved from “horror survival” to “horror shoot-em-up” and the new high-def silky smooth animations may justify that $1500 HDTV you recently purchased. When all of this year’s PS3 and Xbox 360 games are laid out for comparison, you’ll glance at Resident Evil 5 and recall the good times a love/hate relationship with an old friend brought back again.

– Dan Bradley

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