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Resident Evil 5 Demo Impressions (XBOX 360)

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Some five years have past since Resident Evil 4 came bursting onto the scene and reinvented not just what was then a stale, plodding franchise but also the survival horror genre itself with its over-the-shoulder camera, intuitive combat system and zombies that… well, weren’t really zombies in the traditional Romero sense.

It’s 2009 and Resident Evil 5 is a mere six weeks away from release. The demo that recently came out provided me with a good idea of what to expect from the finished article in March, which is to say that Resident Evil 5 will in all likelihood be the king of the genre, but it will not be however, in the same sweeping fashion that its predecessor managed it.

The demo rather generously allows you to play two full stages from the game either in single-player or co-op, via XBOX Live or split-screen. For the purpose of this review, I played the demo in the single player mode. I’ll get this out of the way first; Resident Evil 5 from this demo comes across not as a true bonafide sequel, but more as Resident Evil 4.5. Rather than try and reinvent the wheel as Capcom did (and needed to do) back in 2004, Resident Evil 5 appears to be more of the same with staggering visuals that bring the series kicking and screaming into the HD generation, and of course, the now obligatory co-op mode.

For the millions of people who were enthralled by Capcom’s reinvention of the series this will be both a boon and perhaps, a disappointment. Ostensibly Resident Evil 5 commits a sin that is nowhere near as bad as it detractors may suggest; yes it does simply regurgitate the core mechanics that we saw back in 2004, but such criticism is churlish when so many of us were literally crying out for more of the same in the first place.

The problem lies in those five years that have passed. Although Resident Evil 5 looks and feels every bit like a supercharged Resident Evil 4, it brings with the spectre of game mechanics that simply don’t age that well, especially in the face of fresh upstarts such as Gears Of War.

For example, simply moving Chris Redfield around feels like a clunky procedure, with the character stiffly turning, moving too slowly and just feeling far too rigid. The less than intuitive inventory system also feels like a product of a bygone era, in that not only does the action not pause when you are manipulating it, but it stops your character from doing anything else; often resulting in some frustrating deaths.

Whilst some aspects have inevitably not aged well, the overall package remains a compelling one. The aiming system still feels as satisfying precise as ever, with few games to this day matching the cheerful resulting glee that accompanies a successful laser targeted head shot. The palpable sense of fear and terror that was nailed so expertly in Resident Evil 4, remains all pervading too, with the urban setting evoking an atmosphere akin to the movie 28 Weeks Later.

Predictably from early previews and videos, the game is a treat for the eyes. Insanely detailed character models traipse around the destroyed beauty of neglected African inspired shanty towns, with the highest quality lens flare effects, particle effects and every other type of graphical trickery on show not once dragging the title below the 60 frames per second threshold.

So aesthetically then the game delivers but it’s the base core structure remains largely untouched and it is this which still remains as the major draw for the game. You are once more shooting infected folk in the face, blowing up mutant abominations, solving puzzles, upgrading weapons and of course, mixing herbs, and while co-op does add a much needed dynamic to the game, Resident Evil 5, though not the quantum leap that 4 was over the rest of the series, is still spectacular to look at and extremely fun to play.

If you’re not playing in co-op however, the single player experience remains as accomplished as you would expect it to be. Prior to playing the demo, my main concern when playing in single-player, was how just how effective the AI of your partner, Sheva Olimar, and in particular the basics like effective pathfinding, glitiching etc… would be. Thankfully Capcom have delivered, with an AI buddy, who while not perfect, won’t have you howling at the screen due to their dumb behaviour.

Sheva will prompt you to restock her for ammo if she is out (and vice-versa), call out to you when she is in danger and is almost never in your way; preferring instead to cover you wherever you go. In one particularly cool situation, a horde of the infected was descending upon our small shanty hut that we were both holed up in. Here I was able to tell her to move various bits of furniture in front of the windows and doors to impede their progress, and when they finally did break in, she would always be firing from a distance, only closing in for melee combat if she had exhausted her ammunition supply.

In conclusion then Resident Evil 5 will be cursed by some as not delivering the kind of change that Resident Evil 4 did five years ago. True, the landscape has changed and new franchises have stepped up to the plate, but Resident Evil 4 did more than just reinvigorate a franchise, it crucially changed the gameplay design of Resident Evil, and for many people, Resident Evil 5 is what they are looking for; an accomplished update of that same staggering game design with all the contemporary bells and whistles for the 2009 crowd.

Written by bitsnark

February 2, 2009 at 11:00 am

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