Resident Evil 5 is a pretty controversial game. Don’t worry, we’re not going to go into the allegations raised against the game prior to its release more than a decade ago. Instead, Resident Evil 5 is controversial in the sense that many people believe it to be the title that killed the survival-horror franchise. Following on from the monumental success of Resident Evil 4, Capcom took the series in a direction that – at the time – made the most sense. With the rise of action shooters like Call of Duty, Resident Evil 5 played it relatively safe by taking the core gameplay mechanics of its predecessor and simply dialling the action right up to 11. This resulted in a game that would be Capcom’s best-selling title up until 2018, but one that ultimately left a lot of long-time fans of the franchise feeling rather deflated.
Taking place in the fictional town of Kijuju, Africa, Resident Evil 5 sees the return of series veteran Chris Redfield who, after the events of the past several years, has joined the anti-bioterrorism organisation BSAA (and apparently has also been hitting the gym a lot). Teaming up with newcomer Sheva Aloma, he’s tasked with capturing a pretty shady character called Ricardo Irving, who is about to sell a bio-organic weapon on the black market. Without going into specifics too much (after all, this is the first time the game has shown up on a Nintendo system), Resident Evil 5’s plot is a much-needed change of pace after the admittedly fairly inconsequential plot of Resident Evil 4. Chucking aside the weird religious cults, Chris Redfield’s latest adventure is a celebration of the franchise, bringing back multiple classic characters and monsters, and ultimately driving the story in a direction that still, to this day, feels like it could have been a fitting finale to the entire series.
If you have played Resident Evil 4 (and let’s face it, you probably have at this point), then Resident Evil 5 will feel very familiar. The core gameplay mechanics remain very much the same, except… well, more. There’s more of everything here, from the Las Plagas infected enemies to the much-criticised quick-time events. The overall pacing is pretty relentless, and it often feels like you’re never given a break to catch your breath, but some of the set-pieces are pretty spectacular. One moment you might be mowing down enemies riding motorcycles with a mounted machine gun, and the next you're fighting off two chainsaw-wielding madmen whilst deactivating a barrier of flames (and of course, giving huge boulders the old one-two). It’s understandable why fans of the franchise consider this to be the downfall of Resident Evil given how much it diverged from the older games, but when experienced as its own thing, it really is pretty great.
Of course, despite feeling very similar to Leon Kennedy's adventure in terms of gameplay, there’s one very distinct difference with Resident Evil 5: the game is fully playable in co-op, and is actually built around this concept. Should you choose to, you can play online or in split-screen mode, and it’s undoubtedly a better experience if you can play with a friend. Playing in single-player mode, Sheva is quite comfortably one of the worst AI partners in gaming. She has absolutely no restraint with her items, spraying healing herbs at the first opportunity and firing her weapons with reckless abandon (despite having the aiming prowess of a Stormtrooper). She’s also very prone to getting herself in sticky situations; we’ve lost count of the number of times we had to resuscitate Sheva from near-death or start an area from scratch thanks to the numerous times she gets herself killed. So yes, whether it’s with Pro Controllers or just a couple of Joy-Con, playing with a friend is definitely the way to go.
One thing we perhaps should have mentioned at the start is that gyro aiming is here, and it’s brilliant. Thanks to a day-one patch, you can activate gyro aiming right from the start of the game, and it actually works really well. It’s naturally a much better fit in docked mode with one Joy-Con in each hand, with the left controlling Chris’s movements and the right focused on aiming. You’ll be happy to hear, though, that it’s also pretty effective in handheld mode. We were a tad dismayed at first, as moving the console around to aim would quite literally move the screen out of our view, but increasing the gyro’s sensitivity within the game’s options pretty much fixes this issue. It’s not quite as satisfying as the pointer controls featured on the Wii version of Resident Evil 4, but it’s overall a much more intuitive way of aiming than using the analogue stick.
Much has been said about the game’s performance on Switch since the demo was released. Yes, it’s a noticeable downgrade from the remastered versions seen on other consoles, but it’s certainly not as disappointing as some might have you believe. First up, the framerate is admittedly a bit concerning at times. It runs uncapped, which means it mostly runs slightly above 30fps, but there are plenty of moments – particularly during more intense gameplay sequences – where it will drop well below. This might be a dealbreaker for some people, but we were honestly okay with the overall performance given the fact that we can play a game like this on the go. Visually, there have also been some sacrifices – the impressive motion blur from the original release of the game is completely gone here, and some of the textures have taken a bit of a hit. It’s disappointing knowing that these features are missing, but in practice, it’s probably not something you’re going to notice much unless you examine the Switch version side-by-side with the game on other platforms.
In addition to the main campaign, there are of course additional modes to keep you busy. Primarily, the game comes bundled with the Lost in Nightmares DLC, which opens up after completing a couple of chapters of the main story. Here, you’ll play out one of the key flashbacks in the main game, exploring one of Oswell E. Spencer’s estates in a blatant homage to the first Resident Evil. Clocking in at roughly 1 hour, it’s not exactly a meaty story, but it’s certainly a more subdued experience than the over-the-top action seen in the campaign, and offers a nice insight into some of the franchise's more iconic characters. Once you’re done with the main story, you can also tackle the Desperate Escape content, which will again probably take about an hour to complete, and shares a lot more in common with the gameplay of the campaign in comparison to Lost in Nightmares.
There’s also the delightful Mercenaries mode which, if you’ve played it on previous titles, is fairly self-explanatory. In a mission to gain as many points as possible within a set amount of time by killing wave after wave of enemies, you’re given access to a decent selection of characters including Jill Valentine and Albert Wesker, all of which are equipped with their own unique loadout. It’s a great way of jumping into some of the more memorable set-pieces in different ways, and playing as classic characters is an absolute blast. Plus, let's face it, tackling these areas without having to worry about babysitting the awful AI partner is a huge relief.
Resident Evil 5 is a natural progression of the gameplay mechanics seen in its predecessor, with classic survival-horror tropes taking a backseat to more over-the-top action. That said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s actually a really fun experience with a story that long-time fans of the franchise will absolutely adore. Performance takes a hit on the Switch, with noticeable frame rate drops and a decrease in texture quality, but it more than makes up for this with the introduction of gyro aiming, which works much better than we could have hoped for. One can only wonder that if Capcom had managed to keep the performance on par with other consoles, the Switch version could have been the definitive way to experience Resident Evil 5. As it is, it’s a perfectly serviceable port that serves as a nice reminder that Resident Evil’s so-called ‘action phase’ really isn’t as bad as some think.