Inventory management remains a nightmare. You now have nine boxes per character which you can fill with any object of any size, but the further you go on in the game, the more nightmarish this gets. Because different weapons suit different situations, and because health and ammo are scarce, the game positively encourages you to horde, but later on you find that you can’t pick up, say, the shotgun shells because your nine slots are all full, even though all your other guns are empty and one slot is occupied by – tada! – the empty shotgun. Drop the shotgun or any other weapon and it’s gone for good, so you either drop something else or risk needing the shotgun in two minutes time and not having the ammo to fill it. It’s truly teeth-grinding stuff, and needlessly annoying.
And while I’m on the warpath, let’s talk about checkpointing. Most of the time the game gets it right, but there are times when a death will put you back twenty minutes of zombie slaying, object gathering and lever pulling at a time. Worse still – you can’t always rely on the game having saved your progress at the last checkpoint when you switch off your console. In one case, I had to repeat an hour’s play because the game had saved my character’s status, but not the point that I had reached (even though the Saving message had appeared).
All of this stuff would be enough to doom most games to a mediocre 6 or a could do better 7 when we get to the final score, but luckily – and for all its faults – Resident Evil 5 is not most games. I’ll admit that I’m not 100 per cent happy that the series has taken such an action-oriented direction, or that the game has ditched much of the puzzling that used to be a Resident Evil hallmark (I’m not even sure you can call ‘pull the next lever’ a puzzle unless you’re a barely-functioning imbecile). Were Capcom to consider a more restrained, back-to-basics game that put the ‘horror’ above the ‘survival’ next time around, I’d be delighted. RE5 isn’t actually all that scary. I’m even slightly alarmed at the intrusion of several button-battering quick-time cinematics and – urgh! – on-rails shooter sections in the game. Yet for all my complaints, there’s just no denying that this is one of the most polished, cinematic and compelling horror-flavoured action games around.
Part of this comes down to the game’s one major change to the formula – the addition of a co-op character, Sheva Alomar. In the single-player game she provides backup and covering fire with varying degrees of success; she’s accurate, but she’s rather slow to fire, and you’ll find some bewildering sections – the worst involving giant crocodiles – where she’s happy to stand around and do nothing while you’re brutally mauled. You can call her to your position and ask her to attack or watch your back, but otherwise your management of her is restricted to sorting out her inventory; swapping items back and forth and keeping anything she might waste (I.e. herbal remedies, grenades and first-aid sprays) well out of her way.