Undead again

Pub date April 1, 2009
SectionArts & CultureSectionGamer

Resident Evil 5

(Capcom; Xbox 360, PS3)

GAMER With sales hovering around the 35 million mark, Capcom’s Resident Evil series has become less of a cash cow and more of a cash elephant. If I explained to you that Resident Evil 5 is in fact the seventh game in the main series, you might care, but suffice to say that between a bookshelf’s worth of games, novelizations, comic books, and feature films, expectations for the most recent installment are running high.

The new title takes place in Africa, where franchise stalwart Chris Redfield has arrived to be gruff and kill things in the name of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. The world is beset on all sides by misanthropes with syringes full of tentacle-rich zombifying megavirus, and only the BSAA can keep us from being turned into creatures that look like a walking combination of ground beef and motor oil.

Redfield is joined by his hard-bodied counterpart, Sheva Alomar, a local operative who accompanies the player throughout. Cooperation is the name of the game this time around, and you’ll have to pool resources and abilities to survive. Sidekick A.I. is one of gaming’s greatest deficiencies, and though Sheva’s is certainly passable (read: not a constant frustration), simple online and same-room co-op features make two-person play the optimal approach.

The game retains Resident Evil’s infuriating "stop-and-pop" controls, rooting you to the spot every time you aim your weapon. This is ostensibly to preserve the series’ survival-horror roots, although you would be hard-pressed to find anything scary during the game’s paltry 12 hours of gameplay. RE5 plays like an action title, with streamlined item-management and save utilities and a lot of relentless gunplay.

Visually, the game is stunning, creating an atmospheric and detailed world for the player to riddle with bullets. If only the other aspects of the game’s presentation had received even half as much attention — the writing is horrifically stilted, and the story is incomprehensible. Sometimes it seems like the designers are purposefully insulting the players’ intelligence — "The power is off. Maybe there’s some way to turn it back on" — and every single point is made with a sledgehammer. Early trailers for the game brought accusations of racism (white cop mows down herds of bug-eyed Africans), and while this charge loses potency in context, the appearance of grass-skirted "tribal" zombies who literally throw spears at you is extremely problematic. Thankfully, when your back’s to the wall and you’re running out of ammo, it doesn’t really matter if the zombies are black, blue, or green.