Co-op Review: Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360)

Editor’s Note: We’re trying out a new approach to major game reviews here at Silicon Sasquatch: The Co-op Review. Because Resident Evil 5 was designed to be played cooperatively (and because Nick and Aaron played through the game several times over Xbox Live) it serves as a great opportunity to give this collaborative review style a test-drive. Let us know what you think in the comments section!

It’s gotta be tough to work at Capcom these days. After all, it’s a nigh-insurmountable task to create the latest and greatest blockbuster action game in a market flooded with big names like Halo, Gears of War, Resistance and Call of Duty. But when you’re the developers responsible for the one game that arguably gave rise to the latest generation of action gaming — Resident Evil 4 — you’ve got to feel that burden more than anyone else.

But the day of judgment is finally here: Resident Evil 5 (RE5) has hit store shelves all over the world. But skepticism is not unexpected, as every fan must be asking the same question of him/herself: “What are you buyin’?”

Well, here’s the good news: Resident Evil 5 has a robust selection of things on sale, stranger! Aside from a couple of quirks and the inexcusable omission of a certain creepy trenchcoat-wearing arms dealer, this is the sequel almost every Resident Evil fan has been hoping for.

You can’t keep a good zombie down

In an age where sequels run rampant, original games are endangered species in the retail space. Gamers who hold out for a fresh, new experience are often left ignored in the annual deluge of sports games, first-person shooters and movie tie-ins. But an even more elusive beast than the brand-new blockbuster franchise is the time-honored series that manages to completely reinvent itself and rise far above its laudable roots. And there’s no better example of taking a groundbreaking formula and transforming it into something infinitely better than 2005’s Resident Evil 4.

Talk about a game that defied all convention and pretense. Capcom had the audacity to tether the Resident Evil franchise exclusively to the Nintendo GameCube, a platform filled to the brim with youth-conscious titles and a coat of purple paint to match.

When Capcom announced it was developing the direct sequel to Resident Evil 3 — the first new entry in the series for more than five years — for Nintendo’s console, it was anyone’s guess what the result would be. (After all, Devil May Cry resulted from an earlier attempt at creating a fourth Resident Evil!) But what emerged was arguably the platform’s crowning achievement: A lengthy, painstakingly designed action/adventure romp through parts of Spain you won’t see in any travel brochure, filled to the brim with unlockables and pitch-perfect B-movie voice acting. It marked not only the rebirth of a groundbreaking franchise, but the raison d’être for a surprisingly capable gaming machine that was often dismissed by the so-called “hardcore.”

How could Resident Evil 5 improve upon a game that still stands among the greatest yet released? Capcom’s answer is a relatively conservative one — more guns, bigger explosions, nastier enemies, cheesier voices — essentially the patented Cliff Bleszinski, “bigger, better, more badass,” approach. There is a key distinction, however: Resident Evil 5 was built from the ground up to play as a co-operative game, whether online or off.

Dr. Gameplay or: How we learned to stop complaining and love the controls

Resident Evil 5 is a gratious thank-you to the franchise faithfuls, a title that closes the book on the plot of rivalry, revenge and roid-rage between Chris Redfield and Albert Wesker. Capcom wisely chose to continue the series’ proud tradition of zombie-filled romps with a cheesy, drive-in movie feel.

Playing RE5 is a lot like grabbing lunch with an old friend who hasn’t changed much over the past few years, and that’s a good thing.

Familiar stand-bys of the series — grid-based inventory management, color-tiered health system and limited analog movement — are all there. And yet, it’s that sameness that endears Resident Evil to so many gamers but bothers the rest.

This was the case with Resident Evil 4: At release, gamers saw numerous changes to the Resident Evil formula, but controls that were still disjointed, awkward and “old.” The proverbial pitchforks were equipped and the torches lit forums aflame.

The harping upon is understandable amidst today’s videogame market. The controls, in comparison with modern third-person titles like Gears of War 2, Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4 with their free range of motion, are archaic and remnants of a console generation long past. But without them, RE5 wouldn’t be the series bookend it’s meant to be.

In the first Resident Evil titles, the stiff walking of the characters with their cross-shaped movement patterns was as much based on gamepad limitations as it was a tool for suspense. It’s an assured freak-out moment when being rushed by an eight-foot-tall Tyrant in Resident Evil 2 and Leon moves like C-3P0; panic ensues, Capcom succeeds. The controls weren’t broken — they were intentional.

However, Resident Evil 5 de-emphasizes the importance of suspenseful control schemes. Instead, the development team’s motivation for keeping the d-pad-like movement is because of consistency; certainly, to link all of the Raccoon City-related characters’ stories together. If gamers burst into the fictional Kijuju, Africa with a cover-emphasized mechanic and full, 360° directional movement, the game suddenly doesn’t make sense under the auspices of its digital forebears. An injured Chris even holds his stomach the same way he does in Resident Evil 1.

Unfortunate as it is for some players, the controls make RE5 gel with its predecessors, and despite their retrospective leanings the controls aren’t at all awful. After 30 minutes of the game’s superb gun play and cooperative pathfinding, most won’t give those dusty old controls a second thought.

The only thing gamers should be concerned with in Resident Evil 5 is shooting the parasite-infected population (Majini) in their faces. Luckily, Chris and fellow B.S.A.A. agent Sheva Alomar handle effortlessly. Aiming is a breeze, thanks of course to the familiar red laser sight. Occasionally the bullet damage won’t make sense (shooting a Majini in the stomach probably shouldn’t cause his head to explode), but the gun selection delivers anyway with an array of handguns, shotguns, rifles, sub-machine guns and super-weapons. It wouldn’t be Resident Evil without a rocket launcher or a gigantic magnum, after all.

In a series first, players now have combat alternatives to firearms through Chris and Sheva’s tandem melee combos. Unfortunately they aren’t as useful as they could be, especially toward the end of the game. It’s unlikely by that point to be close enough to the Majini to need to somersault kick them. If anything, the combos are visually impressive at first but occasional afterthoughts later on. Sheva herself, though, is certainly not an afterthought.

For once players can expect to die because of their own mistakes, not their computer-controlled teammate’s. Even splitting up — a nefarious cliché of dual protagonist games — proves manageable; Chris and Sheva are rarely out of each others’ sight, and both can hold their own in separate battles.

The emphasis on partnership is the strongest element of RE5, and not in terms of plot. Even playing solo in a game billed as a complete co-op experience works because of the top-notch partner A.I.

Sheva’s a little trigger happy with the ammo cache, sure, but she definitely has Chris’ back. It’s certainly refreshing to not have to babysit an NPC at every turn.

The master of (weapon) unlocking

The master of (weapon) unlocking

Perhaps the most surprising element of RE5 is its high level of replayability.

Throughout the campaign, players will constantly upgrade their favorite guns by collecting and selling various treasures that could be found in a Kay Jewelers ad. It’s a similar experience to Resident Evil 4, but Capcom streamlined the pseudo-RPG elements by doing away with the store-based format of the last game. Now, guns can be improved wherever and whenever one sees fit.

It’s hard to find any complaints with the change, because the constant upgrades to a growing stock of firearms are both addicting and satisfying, particularly during later playthroughs on harder difficulties — it’s like Pokémon with gunpowder.

Subsequent runs of the game on Veteran and Professional mode are eased if the right weapons have been upgraded with infinite ammo. Veteran is slightly more trying than Normal, while Professional requires extreme patience, skill and unlimited bullets. Most players won’t feel the need to test their mettle in a mode where one-hit kills are commonplace. That’s only for the achievement hunters, who already have a lot to like about RE5.

Though the merits of achievements vary from gamer to gamer, those who enjoy the feature will stay busy in the savage lands of Kijuju.

Capcom successfully balanced the list among mission complete, collect-a-thon and skill-based achievements, such as deflecting an arrow with the machete. Achievements here do their job to promote investment in the game; the extra playtime spent scrounging for points translates well to the weapon-upgrading minigame. Nothing palpable is awarded for unlocking an achievement, sure, but because of them players might learn such things as flash grenades devastate the annoying spider enemies much easier than bullets do.

 

A blood-soaked table for two

Above all else, Resident Evil 5 is a not-to-be-missed co-op experience. Many other console titles have their own versions of a co-op campaign, but RE5 is arguably the most all-inclusive example in stores today.

Bringing a friend into the world of RE5 isn’t limited to finishing all six chapters’ worth of missions: Players can truly help one another out by trading ammunition, health items, treasures and even the weapons themselves. This is a distinctive element of the game, as offering such free-form gameplay in single-player but not in co-op would have ruined the game.

Friends likely don’t want to be given a rotten egg, but the fact that it’s possible goes a long way to vindicating Capcom’s interpretation of what videogame cooperation truly means.

It’s extremely impressive that a Japanese developer has one-upped western developers, who have so far kept co-op relatively tame and predictable.

Aaron’s take:

As enjoyable as it is to rack up subsequent playthroughs of RE5’s story with a friend, the mode with the most longevity has to be Mercenaries. This mode, unlocked after finishing the game, is essentially Capcom’s answer to the currently popular “horde” modes found in games like Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: World at War and now Left 4 Dead.

Mercenaries relies on time-based survival, where the weapons are limited to the character you choose but the waves of infected villagers never stop coming. The time allotted increases by smashing the scarce hourglass icons found around the various mission maps, and extra ammo and herbs can be picked up from defeated enemies.

While fun, the mode works best with a seasoned pair of players. That’s because the main problem with Mercenaries is its ranking progression. It’s quite unfair to players, even those who’ve managed to complete the game, to only unlock new maps if their alphabetical score is high enough.

The mode is difficult, and while points are earned regardless of success or failure, completing the current map in any fashion should unlock the next. It’s a small but important gripe to those who’ll be interested in Mercenaries.

Otherwise, RE5 has stayed fresh throughout five separate playthroughs with three different friends. I can’t remember the last console co-op experience where the same sentiments apply.

Nick’s take:

I can’t speak for the other members of our editorial staff, but I think Mercenaries is the perfect addition for the hardcore player. I’m not the type to shy away from a challenge, and Mercenaries returns to the do-or-die structure of classic arcade games — you either survive long enough to set a high score, or you learn from your mistakes and do better the next time. It’s not the most accessible mode, but it’s a hard-hitting testament to the enduring quality of Resident Evil 5’s combat. In essence, Mercenaries is almost a Pac-Man clone where you’re hurrying from power-up to power-up in order to make your stand against swarms of enemies as the odds of survival grow increasingly slim — the only difference is that you’re more likely to have your head sawn off by a guy with a bag over his head in Resident Evil.

While I won’t deny that I’ve had a blast playing through Resident Evil 5 cooperatively several times, I think it’s important that the virtues of the single-player experience aren’t completely ignored. While I don’t share the same blind enthusiasm of former MTV Multiplayer blogger Stephen Totilo, I relished the opportunity to poke around and discover the game’s secrets without having to worry whether I was keeping pace with my partner. I could pore over every cheesy document, discover new ways to deviously slaughter waves of Majini — hell, I was even able to squander the fifteen-or-so minutes it took to nab the “Be the Knife” achievement. There’s a quiet satisfaction in completing the game on your own, but don’t let yourself become a recluse. The real fun begins when you jump online and blast through the game with a buddy.

Resident Evil 5 is available for a suggested $59.99 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Both reviewers played the game to completion multiple times on multiple difficulty levels.

Recommended for:

  • Anybody who’s a fan of any one of the following things: Zombies; action; suspense; shooting zombies; stabbing zombies; stabbing and shooting zombies simultaneously with a friend
  • Budget-conscious gamers who look for serious mileage out of a full-price release

Not Recommended for:

  • Anyone hoping for the series to return to strict survival-horror gameplay. Sorry, folks: It looks like action-suspense is here to stay