I've always been a fan of Resident Evil ever since I heard the iconic 'lockpick' line way back in the first game. From then on the series has had a rocky road to follow and CAPCOM have always been the market leader in the survival horror genre. The biggest change to the series came with the arrival of Leon S. Kennedy and Resident Evil 4, transforming the slow paced survival horror game into great 3d and nail biting action sequences.
A direct follow on starring Chris Redfield and Sheva (his new partner), Resident Evil 5 continues the Las Plagas storyline from Resident Evil 5 and transposes the action into Africa. There are Bio Terror weapons on the loose and Chris accompanied by Sheva has to investigate. That's all you're getting in terms of story, no spoilers.
Resident Evil 5 plays akin to Resident Evil 4. Gone are the typewriter save points, now the game saves and checkpoints fairly regularly. This usually happens before an epic encounter or a boss battle for example. If you quit out of the game you also save your character's status, this includes any money found, equipment and items earned. You can manage your character's inventory and upgrade weapons at any time between the levels, or from the main menu. In this way it's possible to amass a decent arsenal prior to various encounters with a little min/maxing.
The attaché case from Resident Evil 4 has gone; it's replaced with a 9 slot inventory for both you and your partner character. The inventory can be managed in real time and the game doesn't pause when you select your equipment and so on.
Movement is based on several control schemes all clearly labelled, the new control scheme for Resident Evil 5 allows you to strafe as in a 3rd person shooter. This small addition helps you to maintain a tactical advantage in combat. Whilst you have to stop to shoot, even being able to strafe and acquire a new position saves a lot of hassle compared to the old Resident Evil 4 control method of 'spin and pray'.
You can also issue orders to your partner and help them out should they become overwhelmed in combat. The orders system is simple and requires only a button press combined with a D-pad direction to pull off. There are also context sensitive commands that trigger in certain circumstances, for example if Sheva or Chris is grappled by the enemy, pressing B when standing close to them will assist. If an enemy is stunned then pressing X will execute a close combat move. You can combo these in cooperative play with a human partner.
At certain points you can also take cover by pressing X and this injects a little Gears of War style play into the mix.
There is also a quick-select for items, so that if you place the weapons and items you need in the top, left, right and bottom slots of the inventory you can press the D-pad in the required direction to select them.
At certain points in the game QTE (Quick Time Events) rear their heads and require you to press a quick button combination to survive the encounter. These are often epic cinematic sequences that drive the larger than life storyline on, showcasing just how badass Chris and Sheva can be.
Talking of cooperative play, you can play online, system link or even split-screen with a partner and tackle the game's storyline. These mode is drop in and out with your characters sharing the wealth as well as a seamless inventory system that allows you to swap items, reward play with a quick timed press of B to offer a compliment (on a nice shot) or so forth.
There are several sequences that are really excellent in Resident Evil 5, some great boss battles, some vehicle sections and even a surprise or two. I'm not going to go into detail or tell you where they are, for that you're going to have to play the game.
Resident Evil 5 is a good looking game, there's a real sense of atmosphere to this title and whilst it's not as scary or disturbing as the previous games it has some nice moments. Taking the series and putting it in sunny Africa dampens the dingy survival horror element but still manages to deliver a gripping game thanks to the excellent texture, lighting and graphical effects. This game has some real eye candy and the levels of detail to the models are simply stunning. From the stubble on Chris' chin to the detail of Sheva's costume, Resident Evil 5 maintains a superb level of clarity throughout. It also manages to keep a solid frame rate too.
Whether it's fighting with a knife, shooting the various weapons, interacting with the environment or performing a wicked looking back-flip kick as Sheva, Resident Evil 5 delivers in the animation front as well. The game is beautifully animated in combat, the cut-scenes that all use the in-game engine are superbly done and the characters have life to them, even the enemies and various allies you're likely to meet. It ties in nicely with the Gameplay and you get a real feeling of pride at a well executed defence when the hordes of enemies bear down on you and you watch the characters battling against superior odds. Chris and Sheva have unique personalalities that shine through their animations, there are some sections in the cut-scenes when the lip synch seems a little too forced but since it's so good, it's a minor qualm only.
The physics engine handles collisions nicely; bodies fly to grenades and gun shots combine with excellent animation to cause the enemies to stagger or even fall down depending on the force of the blast. A shotgun is a great weapon for up close and personal combat and will often send a bad guy sprawling back to be finished by a quick X-stomp context sensitive attack. Your characters react to heavy blows as well; some enemies can either kill them outright or send them reeling with a massive hit.
Overall the AI is pretty solid. There are some moments when the partner AI for Sheva seems a little dumb. She'll often use her pistol regardless of a machine gun for instance and then find more ammo for the pistol when she's stocked up with rounds for the smg. Again this is a minor quibble and it vanishes when you play in coop. The enemy AI is suitably decent, they'll use rush tactics if they can, some will use ranged attacks and many of them can throw their hand weapons should they decide to. They can grapple and attempt to bring you down, bite you, or even in the case of the mini-bosses - chop your head off with an axe or chainsaw.
Sound design is solid, there are no quibbles with it and the various guns have a nice solid effect to them. The spot and ambient sounds are excellent and the whole package fits together nicely.
The game has a great score; it matches the action and exploration perfectly. It provides some audible cues when things are going to get frenetic. This can lessen the tension a little since you know someone's coming, it can also heighten it as well since the music is often relentless.
Resident Evil never has the honour of the best written or indeed has the best voice actors, in 5 though CAPCOM have managed to do a decent dialogue in most of the scenes and the voice actors deliver their lines in a solid manner.
A really solid cooperative mode is included, Split Screen, System Link and stable Xbox Live play. With rumours of an adversarial mode to boot, this is a nice addition to the overall package.
Concluding the side-story from Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5 has a lot to offer. It's shorter than 4 (considerably) and there are some unlockables, along with a game mode or so. It's a great all round package that's worth more than one play through and superb with a friend.