It's going to be incredibly difficult to make it through this review without mentioning Resident Evil 4. It would be incredibly idealistic to discuss the pros and cons of Resident Evil 5 without discussing the very successful prequel, that has been heralded by gaming critics and the general public alike as being one of the best games of the last generation - if not of all time. It turned the horror genre on its head in many ways, and more importantly, revolutionized a classic franchise by taking the formula and tweaking it so that it felt utterly fresh and exciting while still satisfying the bloodthirsty desires of 'old school' Resident Evil fans. Such former success breeds inevitable anticipation for what is coming next, and a visually stunning trailer released over a year ago now certainly had us drooling, desperate for the next iteration on the current generation of beefy hardware. And here it is. After such a long wait, it's going to be difficult for any game to live up to such lofty expectations, and in many ways Resident Evil 5 is going to fall short of those expectations. After all, following an act such as RE4 isn't going to be easy.
Resident Evil 5 takes place in an African setting. Chris Redfield is back as your main protagonist, and as a member of the Bio-terrorism Security Assessment Alliance, it's your job to figure out exactly why the locals are throwing axes at you and trying to eat your face with their creepy tentacle-like... things. You'll have some help by your side throughout the game in the form of Sheva, who will back you up in combat with whatever you need at the time. She'll shoot enemies, she'll heal you if your health is getting low (assuming she has a herb or two handy) and she'll smash crates to look for more ammunition and supplies, saving you some legwork in the process. The AI for Sheva is generally impressive, especially on the lower difficulty settings where she does more than enough killing of the enemy to steadily ease you into the game. She is also handy for helping push things and open doors, and can access other areas with your assistance by giving her a leg up, which is handy for exploration and certain cooperative aspects.
Some aspects of Sheva can be frustrating, however. She is very eager to shoot the absolute hell out of your enemies, which is fine on one level, but the ammunition in Resident Evil 5 is scarce at best. Having her shoot a near endless amounts of pistol bullets into your foes as you're trying to run in for a melee attack to preserve ammo seems pointless, and often it means that you'll be restricting the amount of bullets that you give Sheva so that she won't waste them. She also won't think to use stronger weapons on her person, even when necessary, unless she runs out of pistol bullets. A small niggling frustration, perhaps, but when you're battling bosses and requiring some serious firepower, it's hard not to question why she's using the pistol instead of the high-powered shotgun you just spent thousands of dollars upgrading. On an atmospheric level, a lot of the fear present in past Resident Evil titles comes from the fact that you are left on your own to fight hordes of enemies; having her always fighting with you makes the game feel a little bit less scary by nature, as you know you've always got somebody helping you and preventing you from being seriously damaged (for the most part.)
The AI of Sheva is not necessarily going to be an issue for everybody who plays Resident Evil 5, of course, because the game boasts a cooperative mode, allowing players to battle with a friend controlling Sheva, whether it be online, via system link or even split-screen. It may be repetitive to say this, but playing anything with a friend is certainly a lot more fun than playing alone, and this is no exception. Having a buddy back you up gives the moments where you do temporarily split paths have more impact, and makes the item management much more bearable, and obviously lends itself to having much more re-playability in the long run. Your partner can also heal you if you get killed as long as they are quick about it, and can be very helpful in knocking an enemy off of you when it is trying to eat your face.
The shooting is almost identical to what was seen in Resident Evil 4. Aim with the left trigger, shoot with the right, and use the knife if you're really struggling with the lack of bullets. A cool addition to the game is the ability to use physical melee attacks to take down your zombie-like opponents. Depending on where you shoot them, you'll be able to use different attacks, and if Sheva is close by, you can combine attacks and hit enemies multiple times. Using these melee attacks at the right time is important if you're going to preserve your ammo for the big baddies that require it, as well as generally looking cool. The other noticeable change is that the inventory system is now handled in real-time, which means that going to the menu to have a herb when you're health is low is not going to stop the hordes of parasites from ripping you a new one. It adds a new intensity to the game, knowing that you have to act fast to heal yourself, combine items or swap ammunition with Sheva when a scary mutant-like creature is slowly walking over to you, tentacles swinging wildly.
Resident Evil 5 has a real variety in the enemies this time around; without spoiling everything that you'll be killing, there are all different kinds of mutants, the most surprising and creepy of which come in the form of locals that look human until you shoot their bits off, revealing pulsating tentacles and fleshy bits that mutate and grow in front of your eyes. As wrong as they look, it's hard not to notice the amount of detail that has gone into these monstrosities, which disgust you in all the right ways before you pump them full of lead. The whole game looks impressive visually, with very detailed environments, effective looking explosions and nice lighting effects, as well as clever enemy design - including our favourite, a giant creature with a belt made out of dangling human corpses. The enemy animations can be a little repetitive after playing the game for a while, with not much variety in the way they approach you slowly with the occasional burst of sprint or lunge, but for the most part it's a very nice game to look at and all flows well.
Horror fans may find Resident Evil 5 a little hard to stomach, as the shocks and scares from the earlier titles that made them so scary have been replaced by a different kind of fear, which can be best related to a sense of claustrophobia. With so many enemies around you, all closing in at the same time with a possessed look on their face, often times you'll find yourself trying to back away as quickly as possible. This is made all the more difficult by the conscious decision to make your feet stick to the ground like glue whenever you're shooting. This often means that the enemies will start to surround you quickly while you're taking aim, as it leaves you quite vulnerable, especially to the unseen foes behind you. It adds to the sense of there being too many to overcome, and is scary in its own way, but doesn't provide the jumps that made the survival horror franchise so popular to begin with, resembling more of an action title instead.
The biggest fault with Resident Evil 5 is that it doesn't do a whole lot different from its successful predecessor. It was a winning formula with RE4 a couple of years ago, and in some ways it was likely a safe bet to stick to the same core gameplay system, simply tweaking it slightly with melee attacks and a real-time inventory system. But the bottom line is that Resident Evil 4 was released a few years ago, and simply using the method of 'lather, rinse and repeat' creates a title that looks fantastic, but doesn't deliver an evolution in gameplay that was really necessary to make it the outstanding title it could have been. That's not to say you shouldn't go out and buy Resident Evil 5. It's one of the most intense action experiences available and should be played by anybody who has a soft-spot for shooting zombies and their parasitical zombie-like brethren in the head with a high-powered rifle. You'll have a lot of fun with this game, there is no question; just don't expect a revolution.