Friday, March 17, 2017

Resident Evil 5 review

    I actually completed Resident Evil 5 a while back and got caught up advertising my upcoming books (AGENT G: INFILTRATOR, THE SCIENCE OF SUPERVILLAINY) so I didn't get a chance to do up my review. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm basically going through all of the titles available on Xbox one-by-one and seeing how I enjoy them. I'm either going to play Resident Evil 6 or the original with Resident Evil 0 next, depending on what my mood is.

    Resident Evil 5 is a game which gets a lot of flack among hardcore fans while remaining one of the highest selling and critically acclaimed games of the series. The reason for this is pretty simple: it's an action game rather than a horror game. Yes, zombie-like creatures are present but they're no more threatening than any number of aliens or enemies you might slaughter en masse in another shooter. There's also the racism controversy which I'm going to address using elements from the excellent Unraveling Resident Evil essay collection.

Chris and Sheva slaughter a small nation for it's own good.
    The premise is Chris Redfield is a seasoned Biological Security Awareness Alliance (BSAA) agent who has been dispatched to Africa in order to investigate the possibility of terrorists getting access to Umbrella's former stock of biological weapons. Hooking up with local agent, Sheva Alamar, Chris finds himself way over his head as much of the Kijuju region has been converted into Plagas-infected Maijin.

    Slaughtering his way through the victims, Chris discovers another company has taken up where Umbrella left off and is allied with his oldest foe. To which, given this is a ten year old game, I gleefully point out is Albert Wesker. There's also a subplot about rescuing Jill Valentine that Chris thinks is dead but is actually brainwashed by the Big Bad. This would be a spoiler if not for the fact it's abundantly obvious she's the new villainness working for Wesker from the opening cutscene.

    This game has a lot of big Michael Bay-esque action set pieces in the game, turret sequences, and huge bosses which are taken from other games which are the opposite of survival horror. Indeed, provided you upgrade your weapon capacity properly, you won't even have to worry about ammo despite the fact the game store refuses to sell it. Heck, there's even an immersion-breaking option to replay levels over again to get access to treasure and special weapons you may need again (like the rocket launcher).

This guy seems familiar.
    Honestly, I had a really good time playing Resident Evil 5 and am torn between playing it over again versus moving on to the other games. It has the same gameplay as Resident Evil 4 but with the addition of a useful co-op partner who provides you fire support as well as healing items. Admittedly, I wish she'd been a tad more circumspect with using said healing items but that's the limits of A.I. I also enjoyed the turret sections, which I almost never do, because they gave a sense of catharsis after getting my ass kicked repeatedly.

    Storyline-wise, Resident Evil is about as good as Resident Evil 4, which is to say it works well as an over-the-top melodrama. Chris is tormented by his loss of Jill Valentine, Wesker has inexplicably become Ra's Al Ghul mixed with Agent Smith, and Sheva exists to play the plucky sexy sidekick to our antihero's quest for revenge. There's also some fun short-lived support characters with Irving being delightfully hate-able for as long as he's onscreen and Exella, a character I wish we'd seen more of as she could have been a good recurring enemy in the franchise.

Sheva continues RE's trend of ass-kicking fanservicey females.
    While there's some interesting set pieces in the game like the tanker level and marshlands, I'm going to say it feels SLIGHTLY less entertaining than Resident Evil 4 overall. Much of the game is set in Kijuju slums and laboratories that don't really feel as fun as the castle in Resident Evil 4 or decayed Spanish village.

    There were only a few times I really felt the claustrophobia for which the series was famous for and that was when I had to deal with an army of Lickers trying to invade both my elevator as well as a small building I'd tried (and failed) to fortify. The final part of the game takes place in an active volcano which is completely ridiculous but hilariously over-the-top in ways which blow the rest of the game out of the water, though.

I give an extra point to any game with a marsh boat.

    Now onto the controversial element of the game where it was accused of racism for the fact it is a white male American and his light-skinned (possibly mixed race) African partner fighting against hordes of black enemies. Hordes of black enemies which, mid-way through the game, suddenly include a somewhat caricature depiction of grass skirt and mask-wearing warriors who are the ancient guardians of a temple straight out of Indiana Jones.

    While culturally insensitive, the game always makes it clear these individuals are victims of the white-owned Tricell corporation and Wesker. Indeed, the most racist character in the game is Chris Redfield himself as he dismisses Kijuju as a haven for terrorists and ignores rescuing its citizens for Jill while his partner focuses on saving the world. Indeed, white corporate interests exploiting Africans for experimentation is a real-life horror perpetuated by several major US and European firms. Resident Evil 5 doesn't really touch on that since it's about as deep as your average James Bond movie crossed with the Evil Dead but it's nice to know it drew inspiration from real life events.

This is not what it looks like!
    The Xbox One version of the game comes equipped with all of the game's DLC, including Lost in Nightmares, which is a very effective short little horror game that could have been part of the main game, IMHO. Desperate Escape is more of a shoot-em-up with Jill Valentine and a new partner. There's also Mercenaries mode which isn't my cup of tea but something a lot of gamers absolutely adore. One thing which should be noted is that a number of alternate costumes and the DLC can only be unlocked by advancing in the main game.

    Gameplay-wise, the majority of the enemies you'll slaughter are all variants on the same Plagas-ridden locals. The re-use of the Chainsaw Man from Resident Evil 4 is particularly notable. Still, there's a few other variations on the Maijin and use of other enemies like dogs as well as Lickers to keep things Fresh. I also like the fact Wesker is a character who possesses moves wholly unlike any other character in the game. While giving him Matrix dodge powers is a bit on the nose, it works well.

Wesker with a woman? Impossible! All the fangirls will go mad!
    I think there's an abundance of quick-time events in this game but not so much that I was overwhelmed, unlike Resident Evil 6, and the puzzles are fairly decent. During the "hidden temple" section of the story, there were a number of mirrors which had to be angled just right to get the doors to open and I liked the brief cerebral challenge. The game also deserves credit for the amount of scene-chewing the villains do, which is deliciously over-the-top. Wesker, in particular, may have been reduced to a one-note comic book villain but it's a role his voice actor (DC Douglas) excels at. 

    A lot of die-hard RE fans will state that while they think Resident Evil 4 is where the series went off the rails (despite being an excellent game), Resident Evil 5 is where the seasonal rot set in that climaxed in Resident Evil 6. I disagree. Yes, there’s nothing remotely horrifying about this game save the Lost in Nightmares section and maybe the Lickers overwhelming you but that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. I just accept Resident Evil is a flexible universe which can accommodate both action as well as survival horror. I mean, how many RE-themed shooters were done before this game? Quite a few of them.

These guys look familiar.
    In conclusion, Resident Evil 5 is a great game. It's not necessarily a great Resident Evil game, unless you associate the series with big action sequences. I had fun playing it all the way through and I gave it another playthrough afterward. The story is ridiculous, the characters underdeveloped (particularly Sheva), and the set pieces over-the-top but that doesn't detract from a lot of really good moments mixed with excellent action gameplay. So, if you keep your expectations appropriate then you'll have a great time with it.


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