Upon its release in early 2005, Resident Evil 4 started an industry-wide ripple effect that’s still felt to this day. Its radical redesign of the long-running RE franchise has influenced titles from Gears of War to Dead Space, and its lauded as one of the best action-adventure titles of all time. It was simply a matter of time before its updated stylings were brought to the superpowered consoles of today, and Capcom has tried to do just that with Resident Evil 5.
Following series mainstay Chris Redfield, RE5 transplants the action to Africa, where Chris (now a member of the anti-terrorist group BSAA) teams up with a female agent named Sheva Alomar to track down Irving, an arms dealer trying to sell bioweapons to the highest bidder. However, they stumble upon a plot much more sinister, involving an updated strain of the parasitic Las Plagas, a company named Tricell built from the ashes of Umbrella, and plenty of ghosts from Chris’ past. Long time fans will see lots of loose ends tied up, but newcomers to the franchise may find themselves a bit lost, especially when it comes to the main villain of the story and a few other elements.
The production values on the game are in the stratosphere, with virtually every pore of the game’s audiovisual design oozing polish. The cut scenes, always a high mark for Capcom, manage both a sense of cinematic weight and dynamic impossibility, juggling realistic sensibilities with physics-defying camera work. Without a single drop of irony or hyperbole, I can honestly say that this is the best-looking game I have ever seen.
Of course, the near-flawless presentation also makes the game’s warts stand out even more. The controls, which have never really been RE’s strong suit, seem especially clunky after RE4’s contemporaries have shown how they can (and should) be done. Chris’ movement feels less like a well-trained commando and more like a tank with one broken tread.
Compounding this is the inability to shoot while moving, forcing you to take careful aim before every shot. While this may have been a deliberate design decision, it takes away from some of the tension of the game, as enemies who run at you fell speed will suddenly slow to a stalking creep to close the last few feet so you can line up your shot. Even Sheva, the game’s much-hyped AI partner, was as much a burden as a boon. Between her strange reliance on the pistol as a weapon and her tendency towards “shutting off” at the worst possible times (often leading to her game-ending demise), she brings very little to the experience. Her character, on the other hand, lays down the groundwork for a long overdue co-op mode that proves to be quite fun with a friend, both online and in splitscreen.
The most inexplicable and infuriating change, however, stems from the completely broken inventory system. After RE4’s brilliantly executed attaché system, 5’s 9-slot throwback is like a slap in the face. Certain items like grenades can stack, but health sprays and eggs will take up an entire slot all by themselves, and while you can combine herbs like in previous games, you can’t do it from within your partner’s inventory, forcing you to go through an item-swapping two-step in order to get your desired results. Even simple actions, like moving select items to the four cardinal points of the inventory to assign them to the corresponding D-pad axis, can only be done in a pre-level loadout screen, which also replaces RE4’s cloaked salesman as your means of procuring weapons.
Despite these major flaws, RE5 is still decent fun. The action is gorgeous and visceral, the story is just goofy enough to keep it from becoming melodrama, and the oodles of fan service are appreciated. It just seems ironic that a series whose major villains are obsessed with the advancement of the human race would regress back to flaws that its predecessor completely eliminated.