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Looking Back at 10 Years of… Resident Evil 5

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As unbelievable as it may seem, but 10 years have already passed since the release of Resident Evil 5. Ten years since I played it while suffering from a nasty cold and chugging down unimaginable amounts of tea. It feels like only recently I got excited over every new tidbit of information regarding this new title; excited over the return of Chris and at the opportunity to once again delve into the world of survival-horror.

Where did the time go? I want my decade back.

But pardon my deviation. After the unexpectedly brilliant Resident Evil 4, which brought significant changes to the franchise, fans were likely eager to see where the series would go next, and what other innovations it could potentially explore – especially with the 7th generation of consoles still in its early years. Whether Resident Evil 5 would carry on with action or return to its survival-horror roots remained a question.

But regardless, whenever a game debuts on a new console – Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, in this case – it just permeates with a special kind of excitement. An excitement which implied something new and unexplored. Which was definitely the case with Resident Evil 5, although, perhaps arguably, it ultimately failed to deliver upon certain expectations.

Between a Rock and a Boulder

Further building upon the action-oriented game mechanics established by its predecessor, Resident Evil 5 re-introduced Chris Redfield as the main protagonist. Chris had not made the main series appearance since the remake of Resident Evil in 2002 and, well, his character underwent a serious makeover. Forget the frail-looking man in his signature S.T.A.R.S. uniform, instead, this rather tame and appealing character got replaced by a buff brute, pushing giant boulders during lunchtime and saving the world.

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With Jill seemingly deceased, Chris, now accompanied by a new partner, Sheva, arrives in Africa. As members of B.S.A.A. (Bioterrorism Security Assesment Alliance), they team up to investigate the occurrence of a new virus in the area. This virus, labelled Uroboros, transforms local people into blood-thirsty madmen. With hardly any assistance, they must rely on their own skills to persevere through the hardships ahead.

Resident Evil games never boasted an exceptional narrative, but this time it got even more oversimplified. Despite introducing multiple characters, most of which were forgettable – expendable, even – it didn’t hold up to the quality of previous games. Characters were given a simple motivation just to propel their actions forward. And the dialogue took too many cues from action movies of yore which, by that point, were obsolete.

A somewhat redeeming factor came in the form of Albert Wesker: the recurring antagonist of the whole series. With complete control over the new virus, he evolved into a super-human of unbelievable proportion. Battles against him were easily the most fun and interactive in the whole game. He evaded bullets, for God’s sake, and Albert’s taunting attitude towards the characters further improved his power-hungry persona.

Welcome to Africa

Setting plays an important role in either making or breaking a horror atmosphere. Take Dead Space, for instance, which released just a few months earlier and did an excellent job at that. Unfortunately, when it landed on store shelves back in March of 2009, Resident Evil 5 failed to maintain the strong horror vibe of previous titles. Gone were the dark and intricately designed environs of Spencer Estate or R.P.D., or even the gloomy European village in Resident Evil 4.

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Placing players in a sunny, deserted environment of Africa did not pan out well. As disturbing as local shacks might seem, with rotting animal carcases presumably used for ritualistic purposes, they did not possess a significant fright factor. Levels with open desert scenery, even less so. I can probably only think of one game which managed to make a desert locale scary.

Following it up by an expansive swamp area or a bland underground lab did not improve the situation. This, along with the action-heavy emphasis, made Resident Evil 5 too foreign in comparison to its predecessors.

A Shared Problem is Half the Problem

Resident Evil 5 retained the over-the-shoulder perspective from the fourth entry. Like before, enemies could be shot in the legs, arms, torso or head to achieve different results. And headshots were as gory and satisfying as ever, often blowing off the entire head of the enemy.

Notice how I didn’t use the word “zombie” anywhere. That’s because there were none. Instead, they were replaced by regular humans infected by a virus and possessing almost no control over their own actions. Sounds very much like zombies, but they did not possess the same terrifying aesthetics and looked quite bland. Though similar to the Ganados in Resident Evil 4, these new enemies lacked the same kind of mystery. And what seemed fitting as an adversary once, did not work so well for a second time. And the addition of a partner removed almost any kind of tension from combat.

Speaking of a partner, one feature in Resident Evil 5 turned out much better than anticipated: co-op. For the first time in the series (not considering Outbreak spin-offs) players could complete the story cooperatively, either online or via a local split-screen. It did affect the already somewhat lacking atmosphere, but taking out hordes of enemies with a buddy or a stranger online led to some truly exciting gameplay segments.

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Working together to bring down a boss or interacting with the environment in different ways, created an experience new to the series. With two characters, item management also became less of an issue, as both protagonists could simply exchange loot and weapons at any time. Intricate puzzles from some of the previous entries were also gone. At most, players could coordinate to open a gate, but rarely anything more complex.

Poor Performance Indeed

Despite significant deviation from core values, Resident Evil 5 turned out to be a good game: a good action game, to be precise. But not sufficiently good as a survival-horror game, let alone a worthy Resident Evil title. If nothing else, it showcased Albert Wesker reaching the pinnacle as a super-villain, capable of catching incoming missiles with his bare hands.

This over-the-top approach might not appeal to everyone, but the game provides some memorable events, nonetheless. Moreover, it featured a surprisingly enjoyable co-op mode and a large assortment of different weapons. Playing through the story with a friend was fun – even mandatory – due to the somewhat lacklustre AI.

It received surprisingly favourable scores from critics upon release, and I do remember it rather fondly myself. Should you wish to experience or revisit Resident Evil 5 for yourself, you can do so by purchasing the HD Remake on Xbox One or, as always, via backwards compatibility. Going with the former provides a crisper picture quality along with all previously released downloadable content.

With Resident Evil 5 celebrating its 10th year on the market, now is the best time to experience it. And, perhaps, reevaluate it from a new perspective.

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