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Resident Evil 5 marks another key break with the series’ initial survival horror theme and is really more of a third person action-adventure game, which often feels more like FPS. The plot sees Chris Redfield, now working for the BSAA (an anti-biological weapons organisation), and his African partner, Sheva Alomar, hot on the trail of bio-weapons developers and terrorists in deepest Africa. The main action of the game comprises of a third person shooter, closely similar to Resident Evil 4.

The co-op form of the game can be great fun and adds a crucial teamwork element missing in single player. Online aspects of the game also add a lot to the game, in both teaming up with an online buddy or in versus mode.

In single player, the game is very much like RE4 and is broadly entertaining, but there are some real sticking points with Sheva. Her AI is riddled with holes. She has two basic stances that are player controlled; attack and cover. In cover, Sheva takes a position behind Chris, but this will usually backfire and she ends up pumping most of her ammunition into Chris (which thankfully doesn’t harm him). In attack stance, any element of strategy and stealth quickly goes out the window and Sheva routinely charges headlong into groups of enemies, wasting ammunition and requiring the player’s help regularly to extricate her from danger. However, she does prove useful for healing and helping Chris with melee attacks in sticky spots. Many of the AI problems are easily remedied with a human partner and this is ideally the way the game should be played. However, as a key selling point of the game, this is a bit of a let-down at times.

Most of the gameplay involves fending off hordes of infected natives. The boss fights are often well staged, but never offer the same breathless sense of accomplishment as previous titles in the series did. Bosses have also become more exotic and tend to be huge, twisted monstrosities rather than the more familiar humanoid tyrants of previous RE titles.

The selection of weapons on offer is what we might expect from an RE title. However, before each section, players do get to juggle items between Chris and Sheva’s inventory, in addition to upgrading weapons and buying much needed items of kit. Ammunition has never been so abundant in an RE game, however, and veterans may well bemoan the lack of any tooth and nail fights with limited 9mm ammo and a knife. The abundance of ammo also allows for greater inaccuracy on the player’s part and precision shooting and ammo conservation are no longer really part of the game.

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[size=9pt]Above: Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar get ready to face down the infected hordes of darkest Africa.[/size]

The game has three difficulty settings, which should be selected in relation to how much RE experience the player has. The lowest difficulty is pretty soft, while ‘veteran’ will initially only be for those who have considerable RE experience under their belt. Veteran does provide a stiff challenge at times, but most players will be best off choosing the middle difficulty.

RE5 is a reasonable length compared to many other current generation titles, and should provide the average player with 12 hours of solid play. Online and co-op aspects should provide a second spin, but not much more. The mercenaries and survivor unlockable content may provide a host of new possibilities for some players, but this applies only to those who have the inclination to carry on after the main game itself.

The game’s settings and characters are beautifully constructed and rendered, and this is a very impressive visual spectacle. The environments on offer include corrugated iron shanty towns, grimy interiors, a dank underground mine, a misty marsh, wattle and daub native villages and the inevitable high-tech laboratory, to name but a few. The levels are a beauty to behold and are definitely a key selling point. The lighting in many settings is also particularly impressive.

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[size=9pt]Above: The main action of the game takes place from a third person view, effectively looking over Chris or Sheva’s shoulder down the sights of an array of semi-automatic and automatic weaponry.[/size]

The characters themselves are technically well designed, but Chris has been overdone and looks a bit too bulky and pumped up (the variance with his appearance in earlier titles will rankle especially with fans of the series). His voice has also deepened considerably to produce a gruff alpha-male baritone. Sheva is also a bit wide off the mark, her skin tone being only the faintest hues of brown. Her plummy (almost British) accent also creates a clear barrier between her character and the game’s enemies. However, the character movements of all the game’s inhabitants are generally smooth and easy on the eye.

The one big failing of the game is its script and plot. Capcom have really fallen short here. The central plotline is nearly non-existent and each chapter is held together with only the flimsiest joining devices. The Jill Valentine sub-plot had potential, but is developed too late to make much of an impact. The ongoing Albert Wesker storyline goes from bad to worse and RE5 sees by far the worst incarnation of a once classic character to date (complete with Neo Matrix-style powers of telekinesis). The central plotline of RE5 is never explained clearly at any stage and proceeds in an incoherent manner to a nonsensical conclusion. The dialogue is laughable at times and is delivered by the voice actors like a bad Steven Seagal movie. In future, this is the area where Capcom could improve most.

RE5 falls short in a number of key areas and very few fans of the original PS1 titles will find this offering appealing. However, more recent RE converts will probably find this an enjoyable follow-up to the hugely successful RE4. The game has finally left behind its survival horror cocoon and there are no tense sequences, dripping with fear in this game. All in all, a mixed bag, but one that will at least entertain most players, especially those unacquainted with the RE back-catalogue.

Does just about enough to stave off our inner zombies for another spell, but will probably kill off many of the RE old-guard: 70%