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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition (7.2/10)

Ohhhhhhh Lord, I’m dreading writing this one. It’s kinda hard to explain, but either Resident Evil 5 is suffering from some sort of bizarre, crisis of conscious, schizophrenic, delusions of grandeur, twilight zone mind job…. or I am. It’s weird, I’ve beaten this game several times now, but it drives me absolutely freaking nuts every time! And yet, I have a funny feeling I'll play it again eventually...

Resident Evil is known as the quintessential survival horror series, the one that arguably started the modern craze. But over multiple mediums (games/comics/movies/animes etc) and so many installments, the canon has gotten... well, more than a little convoluted. I still don’t really know what’s going on! Basically, there is another outbreak of zombie fever, this time somewhere in Africa.

Chris Redfield (one of the main protagonists in the series, he and Leon Kennedy seem to swap back and forth for each game) hits the ground running with a new partner, Sheva Alomar. Their mission: stop an annoying douchebag (with probably the worst voice-over ever…) from selling a bioweapon on the black market. The intrepid new duo then have to follow the breadcrumbs trailing the evil Umbrella Corporation all the while fighting through wave after wave of psuedo-zombies called "Majini’ and increasingly larger bosses. The Majini are innocents, cruelly infected by a parasitic virus engineered as a weapon. I don't want to give away too much as it takes some reasonably clever twists and turns, but there are so many "Huh, WTF?!?" moments that it loses whatever momentum it manages to build up.

In an interesting design decision that ultimately falls flat, RE5 was designed to be co-oped. Sheva, whether controlled by a friend or the computer, is always with you. But man, when playing with the computer there are some real problems. First, the ally AI sucks. She's pretty useless. For example, you can swap weapons and ammo back and forth. This would be great but for the fact that the computer will only use the pistol, not the machine gun or other situation sensitive armament. It's pretty moronic. She will do things like heal you if you are in trouble, but all too often it's the other way around. After messing around with it for a bit you'll soon understand, she ends up being a glorified pack mule.

And even using her to carry your excess equipment and ammo fails! The inventory screen that comes up, but does not pause the action, is a 3x3 grid giving you 9 total spaces for weapons, ammo, health etc. But even trying to do something simple like getting two herbs together on the same grid to form a healing potion can cause you to pull your hair out! The other problem is you have to be right next to each other in order to trade anything. If things are getting hairy you'd best hope you have everything sorted because if you get attacked trying to equip weapons or ammo you'll find yourself completely buggered. This becomes more of an issue towards the end of the game. This is a real shame because if it was done better, the entire experience would have been far less frustrating.

But what is really crazy is that if you have someone to co-op the game with instead of the moronic AI, suddenly RE5 becomes playable! It truly can be a scary game. The tense actions sequences and scary moments are best shared with a friend. What was intensely annoying becomes intensely exciting! It can actually be a lot of fun if, that is, you can get past the crappy controls and the poor design decisions.

From a gameplay and design standpoint RE5 is hard to define. I’ve heard both positives and negatives about the controls. Personally, I think they suck. They work, sure, but are poorly designed and a pain in the ass. For example, you can’t run and gun at the same time. Are you freaking kidding me??? In this day and age?!? Seriously, it’s freakin daft. If I’m surrounded by fast ass zombies I’m going to want to be able to run the hell away while shooting… it leads to some incredibly cheap and frustrating deaths.

The infamous 'Quicktime' events are back as well. I've always been a fence sitter about QTE. I've found it works in some games, not so well in others. RE5 is, sadly, one of the latter. There are a lot of these moments, and they come up unexpectedly... which wouldn't be nearly so bad if not for the fact that you have to have reaction times in the neighborhood of 0.00000065 seconds to actually pull them off. If you don't, well, you get to watch it load and then all the animations again until you get the timing right. It's not challenging in any way, just annoying because all you are doing it learning a pattern... over and over again.
So what are RE5's redeeming qualities? Well, it has great graphics. When it came out I think you’d be hard pressed to find more too many titles that looked better. The lighting effects are impressive and the animations are very well done, despite the fact that the main protagonist is a poster child for steroid use. It runs smoothly even when things get really chaotic. RE5 also sounds pretty decent. From the growling Majini to the guns cutting them down, the effects sound great. The score does a great job of building tension, but it can get a bit repetitive. Some of the voice work is pretty good, even if the lines are hammy as hell. Oh, and one of the bad guys... good gravy, I was so glad to kill him because his voice was so bloody annoying! It's like the went out through dozens of voice actors before they found the one with the worst pitch and accent possible just to get under my skin...

Another thing that I quite liked, and is probably the reason I have played this game so much, is the weapon upgrading. It's surprisingly addictive. You'll find various weapons on your first playthough, but you'll never really get enough money to upgrade them. As you play it again and get more loot to sell you can upgrade ammo capacity, or firepower. There are a fair number of choices with multiple versions of your standard shotguns, pistols and machine guns and so on. When certain weapons are fully upgraded you'll gain access to special, expensive versions like an automatic machine pistol or a 'super' shotgun. I still don't have them all, but it's fun to go through and upgrade each one:^)

The Resident Evil series is known for it's high intensity boss battles against giant, mutated... things. RE5 keeps the tradition alive. Each boss is arguably bigger and more disgusting than the last. Usually there environmental elements to the boss battles, like early on where you have to trap a reforming tentacle monster in a furnace room and flash fry the bugger... but you gotta lure it in there first. These are easily some of the best moments in the game, just seeing what they have come up with! But more often than not these fail as well because of the poor controls. Mostly likely you'll find yourself running in circles, trying to put enough distance between you and whatever monstrosity you're currently facing, quickly turning to pop off a few rounds before it gets too close. Rinse, repeat... pretty annoying.

I’m convinced that Resident Evil 5 suffers from some sort of psychiatric malady and needs to see a therapist. It can be fun, especially if you are playing with a friend. When it gets is right, it's totally worth it... but let me tell you, it can be really frustrating. The story is mostly nonsensical. The controls are a mess and result in a lot of cheap deaths, as do the QTE's. Sadly, RE5 crossed my personal boundary going from fun to just plain frustrating. This is real shame, because it ends up being one of those games that could, and probably should, have been so much better...


Score = 7.2 / 10

P.S. A quick word on the downloadable content that is included in Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition. Lost in Nightmares reminds me a great deal of Resident Evil 2, probably because it is a direct ripoff of the famous mansion scene. There are various puzzles that you must solve to access the other parts of the mansion in pursuit of the antagonist (I won’t give anything away, needless to say it ties in directly with the plot of RE5). It does a great job creating a scary atmosphere, even if nothing really happens... but ultimately not worth it, in my opinion.

Desperate Escape, on the other hand, is a blast! It follows some of the side characters during the end plot of RE5. This is very much a "Meanwhile..." scenario. It’s frantic pace and constant action left my palms sweaty! It’s also pretty short (both are only about an hour each) and doesn’t really add much beyond some fun action scenes, but I still want to play this one again with a friend. It’s very challenging and very chaotic, especially at the end!

1 comment:

  1. I saw this game at Target and I must admit the "sparkly" gold shine of the packaging lured me into almost buying it.

    But I was nervous because I never played any Resident Evils (but if it evolves zombies I might...)