Resident Evil 4 completely changed the Resident Evil series. What was once a series that was getting tired after 5 games of the same unwelcoming gameplay (tough camera angles and controls combined with limited saves) suddenly got revitalized into an action horror game. And no longer was it confined to cities and secret bases, it was suddenly transferred to a rustic village in Not-Spain. The baddies were new, the zombies were gone. It alienated some of the older fans, but it also gave the series the kick it needed to go on to RE5.
In this one, Chris Redfield, who was last seen in Code Veronica, teams up with newcomer Sheva to investigate something in Africa as a part of the BSAA, a new anti-bio-terrorism unit that has formed after Umbrella made zombies and blah blah blah. Honestly, the story matters very little. It’s silly, with over-the-top writing, and it knows it the entire time. I could stand with that, but the worst part is that a good amount of the backstory isn’t even in the gameplay. While you do run into a few of the series’ trademark documents in-game, most of the info is relegated to 30+ page files in the menu. It’s boring and pointless. I imagine the hardcore fans are going to look at this, but I didn’t.
The main draw of the gameplay is co-op, which is also its best part and its worst. The good part is that it doesn’t make the gameplay feel like a retread of RE4 in Africa. Your co-op partner adds new dimensions to the puzzles, gives you a helping hand in shooting stuff, and changes your inventory management. You and your partner each share 9 slots, and you have to balance who’s getting what. There’s also the fact that the inventory doesn’t pause the game. Any weapons switching or healing has to be done while enemies are still advancing on you.
It’s a cool idea, and it’s all hurt by the AI. Now, you can play online with other people. I understand this completely. I just prefer to do stuff like this by myself, or else it seems like I get the person who knows everything and is running through the game rather than letting me experience it. It’s the same reason I don’t like the level 85 to slaughter everything in a dungeon on WoW, rather than letting me experience it with the standard level people. Not to mention random disconnects.
But enough of that tangent. You see, the AI is smart in some ways. It will know to grab items, give appropriate ammo to you, and heal you when necessary (in fact, I found it best to give my healing items to the AI. They bypass the inventory). The problem is that the AI will also always use one weapon. I left Sheva with the pistol, and she would always use that, even when she was given better weapons or more appropriate weapons for the situation. After a while, I just didn’t see the point in giving her stuff. She’ll also pick up everything you don’t as long as she has room, even stuff you don’t want her picking up. It gets old when she’s picking up flash grenades while you’re specifically saving space for healing items. Sheva is also the weakest part of a weak story. She has no in-game backstory (again, not reading that stuff in the menu), she has no emotions through most scenes. Chris spends half the game trying to find Jill, and despite my expectations that she would tell Chris to get over it, there’s nothing. She’s just there. The story is all about Chris.
It may seem like I’m being pretty hard on this game. Which is only because, when it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s awesome. There’s a jeep ride through the African savanna as you gun down enemies on motorcycles. There’s that frantic feeling when the tougher enemies appear, particularly some of the old faces from previous RE games. The puzzles finally feel more natural, completely doing away with the sliding puzzles and such that RE4 still had around. And the boss battles are just phenomenal, giving you special weapons or making you think on your feet. 5 is really the natural progression past 4, going to almost pure action. As long as you don’t follow my example and play with real people instead, it’s a start-to-finish blast.