Resident Evil 5

Capcom's survival horror series is back with Resident Evil 5 -- and this time it's left the lights on.

There are few pairings sweeter in life than video games and zombies. The two go together like chocolate and peanut butter, or bikinis and Jessica Alba [or Speedos and Daniel Craig. - Gender Equity Dept.] Even when they clearly don’t belong in a game, they can’t help but be awesome (for putrefied proof, look no further than the Nazi zombie mode in Call of Duty: World at War). We don’t know what it is about those shuffling pus-bags, but we can’t get enough of 'em.

We were therefore giddier than schoolgirls when Resident Evil 5 arrived at our office. As we unfurled the plastic wrapper and stared at the curiously zombie-free cover art, our heartbeats began to quicken dramatically - or should that be ironically? In any event, this is it! The grandaddy of zombie flavoured-survival horror has finally shambled onto our next-gen consoles.

Without a doubt, the guys at Capcom are the Caliphs of corpses and cadavers. Sure, Sega may have got there first with House of the Dead (and Ubisoft got there before everybody with Zombi), but Resident Evil will always be at the top of the undead pile. We could probably spend the whole review gushing about the series and zombies in general, but all you really want to know about is Resident Evil 5. Is it better than the 4th game? Does it add anything new to the table? Are there actually any zombies in it? Like Rhodes from Day of the Dead, the answers are a bit all over the place. [Oh dear - Ed.]

As you’re surely aware by now, Resident Evil 5 puts you in the shoes of BSAA operative Chris Redfield: the head-popping zombie survivalist from the first game. With new partner Sheva Alomar in tow (controlled via AI or a second player), you’re sent to investigate a biohazard in a nondescript African nation, which naturally turns out to be a hotbed of parasite-infected lunatics. Like Resident Evil 4, the enemies take their inspiration from 28 Days Later, which means they’re not technically ‘zombies’. Tsk.

As is par for the course with these things, the entire country is out for your blood within minutes of your arrival, leading to a revolving rollercoaster ride of escapes and explosive set-pieces. We don’t have to tell you that the storyline is completely bonkers - this is a Resident Evil game, remember. Rest assured, fans of the series’ B-grade histrionics will be well served by the cheese on offer. (It’s even got a side-order of ham via pantomime villain Wesker.)

So is it actually any good? The amount of enjoyment you get out of the game will depend on what kind of Resident Evil fan you are. If you’re a series veteran who loved the conserved tension and teasing puzzles of the original, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed. Despite Capcom’s assurances to the contrary, this is a balls-to-the-wall action game for the brain-dead Rambo set - or Operation Wolf dressed up in zombie’s clothing. Like its predecessor, the game derives its horror from a swarming mass of enemies, rather than the limited ammo and shambling adversaries of past Resident Evil games. Old school fans will be displeased.

On the other hand, if you thought Resident Evil 4’s fast-paced action was a change for the better - and it seems that most people do - this fifth instalment will deliver in spades. In terms of gameplay, it’s essentially a next-gen retread of the fourth game with the action dialled up to 11. More than ever before, the emphasis is on killing hordes of enemies, with an occasional token puzzle to break up the gunplay. Doubtlessly, many of you will love this beefed-up formula, but we prefer the tightly coiled atmosphere of the originals. (Clearly we’re getting old.)

Naturally, all this extra combat translates to new and deadlier threats, including gun-wielding enemies - a series first. This changes the dynamic of the action significantly, with faster reflexes demanded from the player as the bad guys attempt to draw a bead on your noggin.

Unfortunately, the inclusion of shootouts only highlights the deficiencies of the series’ maligned control scheme. Needless to say, you won’t be diving over platforms or sliding under cover in the style of Gears of War or GTA IV. We hate to say it, but the character’s glacial turns and lethargic targeting are really starting to show their age. On the plus side, you now have complete control of the camera via the right analogue stick - a change that is welcome, if farcically overdue.

We also weren’t fond of Chris’ AI companion. Apart from providing the prerequisite eye-candy, she doesn’t really seem to offer much to the gameplay (and occasionally proves to be a bit of a hindrance). Personally, we’re getting a bit tired of AI companions cropping up in third-person shooters. If we wanted to play with a chum, we’d invite a real one over. Plus, her constant presence drains the game of most of its tension: it’s hard to feel afraid when you’re not alone.

The similarities between Resident Evil 4 and 5 may also be a little too close for comfort for some. With the exception of the prettier graphics (which are jaw-dropingly gorgeous) and the two-player co-op mode (which is excellent) there’s hardly anything new or different here. But why should there be? For reasons we can’t quite fathom, the gaming press seems to expect Capcom to reinvent the wheel with every Resident Evil game. Indeed, the first sequel was delayed and completely rewritten because journalists complained it was too much like the original. What’s all that about exactly? To our knowledge, no other franchise gets picked on quite so much when it comes to a lack of innovation (Tekken, Gears of War, et al). It all seems a bit unfair to us.

All up, Resident Evil 5 is a worthy, bloody slice of survival horror that improves on its beloved predecessor in most areas. Despite removing most of the original game’s soul, it remains a fun and action-packed experience from start to finish. If you enjoyed Resident Evil 4 (and who didn't?) chances are you won't be disappointed.

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