New ‘Resident Evil’ plays just like the last

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By Phillip Levin

By Phillip Levin

It’s ironic that the very thing that makes “Resident Evil 5” such a great game is also one of its biggest weaknesses.

Capcom’s anticipated “Resident Evil 5” is here, and it’s every bit as gorgeous and as much like “Resident Evil 4” as you hoped. “Resident Evil 5” plays like an encore of its predecessor. The game really does play just like “Resident Evil 4,” so if you’ve played the game, you’ll feel at home immediately.

That’s the good news.

Here’s the downside: “Resident Evil 5” feels just like “Resident Evil 4.” What’s the problem with that? Primarily, it’s that “Resident Evil 4” is a four-year-old game, and its age has started to show. Consequently, “Resident Evil 5” feels a little too familiar and predictable, even if it’s fundamentally a great game.

The series creator, Shinji Mikami, did not produce or direct “Resident Evil 5.” Rather, Jun Takeuchi, who created “Lost Planet” and “Onimusha 3,” helmed the title. It’s obvious right away that there’s new blood behind “Resident Evil 5.” It really does feel like Capcom let someone new try their hand at making a “Resident Evil” game, and the result was a less remarkable version of “Resident Evil 4.”

“Resident Evil” games have always had sort of nonsensical plots, but “Resident Evil 5” majors in absurdity. Things start out sound enough, with Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar on a mission in Africa to hunt down Ricardo Irving, who is suspected of selling viruses on the black market. But things quickly become weird. If you thought “Resident Evil 4” went too far off the path, consider yourself warned. “Resident Evil 5” is even more ridiculous.

Even if the story was well-written, it wouldn’t matter because the storytelling is weak. The cut-scenes feature great cinematography, but it’s all marred by unfocused narrative. The dialogue is unnatural and quite silly at times, and the lack of character development is a significant problem. Sheva, an integral character, is about as big an unknown after the credits roll as she is when the game first begins. Capcom doesn’t spend enough time developing the character or any of the other characters for that matter.

Further, while the choreography in the cut-scenes is impressive, it’s all a little over-the-top. The cut-scenes in the game feel more like “Metal Gear Solid” than they do “Resident Evil.” Admittedly, “Resident Evil 4” leaned in this direction, but “Resident Evil 5” practically falls over trying to imitate “Metal Gear Solid” — at least as far as cut-scenes are concerned. And, frankly, Jun Takeuchi is no Hideo Kojima (the creator of “Metal Gear Solid”).

As a single-player game, “Resident Evil 5” is a letdown. Even though the game never bothers to develop the character of Sheva, she is still a fundamental part of the game design. There are puzzles, enemy encounters and other segments that require you to coordinate with her to progress. But trying to coordinate with a computer-controlled Sheva is a truly frustrating and annoying experience.

Thankfully, there’s two-player co-op play, which lets two play through the game together, and it saves the day. In co-op, “Resident Evil 5” is a significantly more enjoyable, entertaining game. It’s a different game entirely, in fact. Co-op play really does save “Resident Evil 5,” and it’s completely worth playing through the game with a friend. It’s easily one of the best co-op experiences out there.

As fun as the co-op is, though, there are some other design choices that dampen the experience. At times, “Resident Evil 5” feels more like an arcade game than it does a story-driven single-player title, which is what the series has traditionally been. You can blame this on the game’s pacing. Once you complete an area, the chapter ends, and you never re-encounter that area again. You’re constantly on the move from area to area, and as a result, the world feels disconnected. Past “Resident Evil” games have had exploration and backtracking elements that tie the game world together, but “Resident Evil 5” doesn’t really have either of these things.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment about “Resident Evil 5″ is that it’s not even somewhat frightening. Capcom has totally transformed the survival-horror series into an unintimidating action game. Whereas past games in the franchise have featured dark, sinister environments, the ones in”Resident Evil 5” are bright and unintimidating. It’s almost as if Capcom didn’t even try to make the game frightening, which is just a letdown considering the series’ roots.

While “Resident Evil 5” is a somewhat disappointing installment in the franchise, it’s not a bad game. The addition of co-op and improved controls combined with stunning visuals and the same “Resident Evil 4”-style game play that you know and love make “Resident Evil 5” a truly entertaining experience.

Despite its problems, it’s an intensely fun game. There might be a lot of complain about, but don’t mistake “Resident Evil 5” for anything less than a great action title.

Just don’t expect another “Resident Evil 4”-caliber experience, or else you might come away disappointed.

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