On Tension: A Resident Evil 5 Review

**Minor SPOILERS**  This is to let my readers know that this article contains one or more spilers dealing with the storyline.  I’ve attempted to keep these spoilers minor, and use them only in reference to my argument that RE5 is the most important game you will play this year.


At its core, this is Resident Evil.  It embodies everything Resident Evil embodies, and does it very well.  Part 4 pretty much abolished the cinematic camera angle, and I was sad to see it go.  I felt the camera contributed to the tension in a way Silent Hill and others could not have held a candle to.  Read on for a breakdown of the gameplay as well as an explanation of why this game is the most important game released on any console this year.  


You’ll have to get past the fact that it’s basically a mishmash of Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space.  The blatant rip-off of the realtime menu is a trend I’m both excited and fearful of.  Resident Evil has already popularized context sensitive commands during cutscenes, a trademark Shenmue had been using for years of its own lifespan.  The realtime menu adds an artificial tension that I could have done without.  Also, you’ll see a major drop in your available inventory slots.  All of this adds up to plenty for the gamer to whine about.     

You won’t get much pity here either.  Don’t expect Megaman levels of difficulty, but the Manjini will swarm and kill you.  It’s almost chilling to see them run full speed, never stopping or pausing, to smack you in the face.  It’s even more tense when they begin throwing objects at you while you have to dodge, stop, and shoot.  Unlike its predecessor, you can expect a much higher volume of Manjini to fight with.  This means tighter quarters (a trademark of the series), and weapon upgrades for more damage and effectiveness (any weapon that can pierce will be especially valuable as you progress).   


Where I would have enjoyed seeing more progression was in the treasure gathering.  In RE5, treasure is not combinable.  This means that a ruby that is square shaped is as good as a few gold bars (so why take the time to tell us it’s square shaped?).  Even though some of the artifacts look as though they are missing pieces, you cannot combine treasures.  This small, overlooked portion of the game could have added the same amount of depth its predecessor exhibited.  


What you won’t find in this game is a true exploration of what the series could be, and that’s my biggest gripe.  Watching early trailers, I expected much more context sensitive commands.  I had anticipated a complex dodge system when the manjini attempt to grab or attack you.  Also, the knife has been toned down massively.  Gone are knife head or knee shots that initiate context sensitive commands to kick or punch them out of your way.  I’m also sad to see the splash damage and radial effects of the context sensitive combat has been toned down as well.  


One of the larger draws to the game is its multiplayer aspect.  With the versus patch on the way, we are left with a pretty decent co-op.  Having missed out on earlier itirations of the series on Playstation that featured online co-op, I was happy to give this a try. In single player, you can expect Sheva to act the way most AI partners act.  This means massive ammo consumption, and frequent healing once you (or her) get in the orange.  Most of this is automated, and it will take some adjustment time before you truly understand how to arm your partner.  Be thankful she can move effectively, you will most likely suffer more damage than she will.  When you switch to multiplayer, the tactical decisions involved in the gameplay change dramatically, as does the tension.  It’s not about getting attacked from an angle you saw coming, it’s about hoping your partner is covering the angles you can’t see.  


What’s truly amazing about this game, and why I think you should play it, would be its take on racial tensions.  Regarding the racial news leading up to this review, I was convinced I would not let that factor into how I judged the game as a whole.  When I played it, when I saw what was going on, and when I heard Sheva tell Chris her motives for joining him, I was convinced that this game made some serious statements about race and who we are as people. 


I’m not going to recap the story, too many reviewers have done that already, what I will do is pull an excerpt from it.  Sheva tells the audience that “they” [assuming the antagonist corporation?] are using her homeland as a testing ground for biological weapons.  Coupled with the tribal manjini, there came a point in time where I felt emotional for the enemies I was killing in a video game.  To equate it to a real world feeling, it’s like reading one of the many statistics circulating around the net talking about how most of Africa will be consumed by either AIDS or Malaria within twenty years. 


It’s sad.  It’s sad that we develop biological weapons to kill each other, and it’s sadder that we test this technology on one another.  This game brings that message to the forefront and puts it in your face.  It’s like the first time you saw Lord of War, or Apocalypse Now, and began looking at war a little bit differently than just being a set of GI Joes outside with your friends. 


Resident Evil 5 injects crucial, gritty realism into a game that, at its core, is still about killing zombies.  However, this is not the first time zombies have been used as a metaphor or even a euphemism.  (depending on which side of the proverbial coin you are on)


The bottom line is that you should not expect leaps and bounds in the gameplay.  For this reviewer, it was the take on race that made Resident Evil 5 one of the most important games released so far this year.        


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Published on April 14, 2009 at 12:53 PM  Leave a Comment  

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