01 Apr

When I have a bowl of strawberries in front of me, I generally go for the largest, ripest-looking strawberry available. Most of the time, that huge, visually-delicious strawberry is too tart and I’m left wishing I picked one of its smaller brethren instead. Resident Evil 5 is that huge strawberry. It’s probably the largest budget title to be released in 2009 and clearly a lot of hard work and time has been put into it. Capcom jammed as much content and polish as possible into RE5, but in the end RE5 is just another bad game and I’m left with a tart taste in my mouth. I don’t recommend the game to anyone except lifelong fans of the series. Don’t buy it. Don’t!

Rent it first and if you love it, then consider buying it.

Graphically, the game is second only to Killzone 2. All the environments, character models and item models in the game are developed and rendered absolutely beautifully. During my play throughs, I never noticed a single clipped edge or low-rez panel. It’s simply gorgeous. I only have one complaint about the graphics in the game: Wesker—the series’ lead villain—looks like someone sprayed him down with a can of silver spray paint. Other than that the game is pure eye candy.

After spending 10 minutes with the game, I realized Capcom dropped the ball. The controls in Resident Evil 5 are atrocious. They aren’t just bad . . . they’re inexcusable. In the twelve year span between Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario 64, Mario underwent a drastic control evolution. He started as a plumber who could run and jump and moved on to a back-flipping, ground-stomping, sky-soaring superhero. In the 12 years between Resident Evil and Resident Evil 5, Chris Redfield evolved from a tank to a tank. Granted, the new Chris Redfield tank can swivel his turret in many more directions than the old Chris Redfield tank, but he’s still a tank.

Many would argue that Chris’s immobility added to the suspense of the first Resident Evil. I agree. However, Resident Evil is not the same game it once was, you’re no longer scavenging desperately for ammo and health packs. You’re no longer running through cramped hallways while fighting off the relentless undead. You are however trying to shoot fast moving pseudo zombies ­– in open spaces with many, if not all angles to cover. This turns the tension and suspense into frustration and dissatisfaction.

The new on-screen menu is poorly implemented. It’s simple enough, but it needed more time in development. As it is, the items are too difficult to move and organize. Capcom would have done well to look closer at EA’s Dead Space’s in-game inventory management system (though they obviously did) which was polished and easy to manage even during the fray of combat. Assigning hotkeys on the d-pad was much easier in Dead Space as well. All in all, I’m incredibly disappointed with Resident Evil 5’s controls. Considering Resident Evil 4 was the clear inspiration for games like Gears of War, I’m saddened to see they didn’t improve upon Epic’s design. Resident Evil has shed its survival horror gameplay, but it hasn’t shed its survival horror control.

Most fans know Resident Evil’s story has never been its strong suit. Resident Evil 5 promised to tie together all the loose ends of Residents Evil 1 through 4. Without spoiling the game, I can tell you how it does so: lazily.

Chris Redfield has been sent to Africa to investigate the small town of Kijuju: a suspected black market haven for bio-weapons, manufactured by the former pharmaceutical company Umbrella. Chris meets his new partner Sheva and things almost instantly turn sour. From there, the story unfolds fast and carelessly. The plot twists are transparent to the player within the first hour of gameplay leaving little for the player to care about except catching up to the main villain.

Past Resident Evil entries left you in decimated towns and buildings which had become overrun with the undead. As you worked your way through your surroundings, you found letters on bedroom end tables, keys in dresser drawers and scientific documents in laboratories. The story unfolded in an investigative format and the clues were found in their logical places. Resident Evil 5 tries to mimic that style of investigative gameplay but falls very short. As you progress through the game, you will find “Top Secret Document X” clumsily lying around any random tabletop, desk or bed for Chris and Sheva to discover. This takes away the layered feeling of past Resident Evil titles. I was hoping for a better tie between the T-Virus, G-Virus, Las Plagas and other bio-weapons created in the Resident Evil universe. But by the end of my multiple play throughs I realized the storyline from the more recent live action Resident Evil movies tied the story together more fluidly than RE5.

The settings in RE5 range from the absolutely perfect to the absolutely generic. The game begins heavily with promise. The impeccably created environment of the first few stages gives the player the feeling of being an unwelcome outsider in an unknown place. You will find yourself short on ammo with only a few small arms to defend yourself. However, your time in Kijuju is entirely too short. You’ll quickly find yourself navigating through uninteresting swamps, a Tomb-Raider-esque series of underground ruins, a small laboratory and eventually a freighter—all of which are 100% generic and non-frightening. The uneasy feeling of being the isolated outsider is gone and the game turns into a very bland over-the-shoulder third person shooter with super polished graphics and more ammunition than your local sporting goods store.

The puzzles in Resident Evil 5 are much too simple considering its pedigree. Whereas in the past RE titles, you would pick up clues and puzzle elements before you even had an idea what to do with them. You’d find gems, animal seals, cranks with square heads, etc and you’d have to figure out the mystery of each item. It was part of the exploration and gameplay. Resident Evil 5 however simplifies the puzzles to an elementary degree. There are only a handful of doors that need to be opened with seals, all of which can be found within the immediate vicinity. There’s even a simple light refraction puzzle in the game that most gamers have played in Legend of Zelda and Tomb Raider. The entire experience feels too simple, linear and generally uninteresting.

The voice acting in RE5 is hit and miss. Karen Dyer does a wonderful job delivering Sheva’s lines. Roger Craig Smith, on the other hand, sounds terrible delivering Chris Redfield’s lines. He sounds like he’s had a few too many blows to the head. D.C. Douglas’s portrayal of Wesker is passable, but his lines of dialogue stole a few too many pages from Darth Vader’s book of intimidating phrases.

Resident Evil 5 has Halo 3 level of hype surrounding it and I think many critics and gamers alike have been blinded by this hype. I intentionally avoided all reviews and as many previews as possible before playing and reviewing Resident Evil 5. In the end, Resident Evil 5 is full of wonderful elements but those elements don’t add up to create a good game. I can’t recommend anyone to purchase Resident Evil 5, except for die hard RE fans. We might name it our “Rental of the Year” at the end of the year, but I feel Capcom spent too much time on polishing something that wasn’t worth the spit. Normally I’d recommend downloading the demo to see if it’s your cup of tea. But since the demo takes place in the town of Kijuju, your given a very inaccurate portrayal of what the game really is.

The more I reflect on the game, the more I’m disappointed. Everything except the visuals in Resident Evil 5 has been done better in the past by one of its predecessors. I can credit RE5 with two truly great things. First, it creates a fantastically scary and believable environment with Kijuju. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay in that environment and quickly neglects it for more banal video game environments.

Secondly, it makes the dogs scary again. Very scary.