Resident Evil 5 Final Build Hands-On Preview
Two's company, three's a crowd of screeching mutant villagers. Is it possible Resi 5 may NOT live up to the hype?
If there was one thing we expected Killzone 2 to lose points for when it finally upended its cauldron of triple-A grit over our PS3, it was the absence of co-op. We weren't alone in thinking so, nor were we alone in taking some flak as a consequence. Many other not-entirely-bowled-over reviewers have been accused of prejudice on this count by feverish fans neck-deep in the cesspools of hype. Such reviewers, the argument goes, are just looking for an excuse to draw unfair comparisons with certain high profile Xbox 360 shooters - Halo 3 and Gears of War, natch - rather than judging Sony's latest heavyweight on its own, more insular merits.
The fanboys may be right, in a sense. The odds have been loaded against Killzone 2, not because some critics are jealously defending Master Chief's sovereignty against all comers, but because co-op is now the norm in 'core' console gaming circles - and the Xbox 360's celebrated online service, bolstered by sociable action releases like Crackdown to Fable 2, bears most responsibility for that shift in taste.
If we're simplifying things a fair bit, blame the recent history of the Resident Evil series. The genre-defining fourth game hit North American GameCubes in January 2005, nine months before Xbox 360. The fifth, due out for PS3 and 360 in March, follows on from one of Microsoft's most successful winters since it entered the console market, with Xbox Live subscribers hitting 17 million worldwide. Strip away the new setting, plot and graphics, and the one major thing Resident Evil 4 doesn't have in common with Resident Evil 5 is a full-figured, on- or offline, drop-in/drop-out co-op campaign. Capcom, it seems, knows exactly which way the wind is blowing.
Resident Evil 5 takes place ten years after the events of the first game, putting you in charge once again of bull-necked Chris Redfield, who is dispatched to a war-torn African region to investigate reports of a flesh-mutating virus, "Los Plagos", by the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. All hell breaks loose on arrival, of course, and Chris is soon stranded amidst hordes of enraged, infected villagers - here known as the Majini - with a distressing tendency to sprout huge angry tentacles when shot. He's joined by Sheva Alomar, a local BSAA operative graced with bizarrely well-illuminated bosoms, and so begins an express tour of abandoned train-yards, waterside warehouses, mine shafts, heat-warped savannas and eerily silent marshlands.
The control scheme is a nipped, tucked version of the one from Resident Evil 4. Left stick moves and right stick orients the over-the-shoulder camera, while squeezing L1 roots you in place to aim your gun. R1 fires. Holding X causes you to accelerate from an untroubled plod to a lethargic trot, and left trigger whisks your machete out for a spot of last-resort slicing and dicing. Other face buttons are used to open the inventory or interact with the environment, while the D-pad handles weapon and equipment shortcuts.
This once-venerated control template feels a little stiff alongside more up-to-date third-person releases, but once you acclimatise to the fact that you can't strafe, lock to cover (save at certain scripted instances) or even dodge out of harm's way (unless prompted by QTEs) the old magic flows back into your thumb joints. Fans of the latest tactical shooters will call it awkward and constrictive, but despite those earpiece mics and special ops teams Resident Evil 5 is still more of a survival horror game than a tactical shooter, and the sense of suffocation which sets in as you lumber away from a mob, turn clumsily and fumble for a clear shot is crucial to that distinction.