Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 - PS3 version reviewed
Because I'd currently rather spend my time playing Resident Evil 5 than writing about Resident Evil 5, I'm going to break the habit of a lifetime and cut to the chase. In case you haven't heard already, Resident Evil 5 is not as good as Resident Evil 4. It's not ground breaking. It's not going to revitalise the series or the survival horror genre as a whole, and in many ways its play mechanics and indeed its whole approach are curiously dated. Visually it's stunning, but there are things going on here that really have no place in a 2009 blockbuster title. I wouldn't say that Capcom is resting on its laurels, but there's a definite feeling that the developer did all the heavy lifting with the last instalment and is now content to carry on that style. Basically, Resident Evil 5 is to Resident Evil 4 what Resident Evil 3 was to Resident Evil 2; It works with and develops styles and ideas and themes from its predecessor, but focuses more on delivering solid, balls-to-the-wall action than on finding whole new ways to thrill and terrify.
To some extent, this is a disappointment. For much of its running time - bar one key difference that we'll come to later - Resident Evil 5 plays and feels a lot like Resident Evil 4. The change of setting, from a fog-bound, rustic Europe to a sun-drenched vision of Africa, feels skin-deep. The new zombies, the Majini, are much the same as the old ones, Los Ganados, albeit with some new variants brought in by the upgrade of Los Plagas to a version 2.0. For all that we get tribal warriors instead of killer monks and oil-refineries and underground temples instead of research complexes and castles, the differences seem cosmetic. Crowd control with handgun, shotgun and sniper rifle is still the main course, with boss battles, quicktime event action sequences and spots of exploration on the side. It might be a welcome return for RE1 star Chris Redfield, but were Leon Kennedy on centre stage you probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow.
Inevitably, familiarity has drained some of the shock factor that made RE4 so terrifying. We're now used to fast-moving zombies who attack you from every side, drive you to the rooftops and force you to conserve your ammo. We've had them smash through the windows, climb over counters and knock down the doors. We've developed tactics for the gits who throw Molotov cocktails and the ones who pace towards you, hunkered behind shields. RE5 is happy to take most of its ideas wholesale from Resident Evil 4, to the extent of recycling boss battles and incorporating the earlier game's iconic chainsaw-wielding maniac.
The real shock is that Capcom has done little to change the controls or some of RE5's most dated game mechanics. The aim and fire buttons have now moved to the triggers, Call of Duty style, in the default configuration, but while shooting you're still effectively rooted to the spot. For manoeuvrability, think Land Rover Discovery, not Mini Cooper. Some think the restrictive behind-the-shoulder view and equally restrictive controls are part of what makes Resident Evil 5 so cinematic and so scary, but there's a good chance that you will find the combination infuriating at some point during the game. I know that I certainly did.