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Resident Evil 5

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-03-25 15:15:10

Resident Evil 5 - Rank B

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Date: 3/13/09

Also available for PlayStation 3

Resident Evil 5 is an awkward beast to play or even describe, because it doesn't quite know what it wants to be. It adheres to the franchise's archaic conventions, while simultaneously trying to reinvent itself as a modern Western-style shooter. It's as if Capcom took a Resident Evil motor and tried to install it into a Gears of War chassis. The result is a vehicle that looks terrific and is fun to cruise around in, but shifts in mangled crunches when pressed to actually race.

The convoluted control scheme lies at the heart of this issue. Capcom has publicly admitted that they deliberately made Resident Evil controls clumsy in order to heighten tension. Resident Evil 5 definitely inherits this familial genetic defect. Movement is mapped entirely to the left thumbstick, eliminating the possibility of lateral strafing. In order to shoot, you hold down the trigger to go into aiming mode, which also has the repercussion of rooting you into place. The practical offshoot is that you cannot move and fire at the same time. It's completely unintuitive. There's a reason why the Halo control layout has been universally adopted; it most efficiently translates the gamer's intent into action. Resident Evil characters handle like ambulatory turrets that turn at glacial speeds. This is an ancient relic passed down from the days when the original PlayStation had only one analog stick. Instead of increasing tension through carefully crafted environments or enemy design, Resident Evil 5 cheats via the shortcut of making your character handle like shit.

The classic Resident Evil characteristic they should have retained is the horror. Resident Evil 5 abandons the disquieting moodiness and oppressive fear of its predecessors in favor of run and gun action. (Only, as I mentioned, you can't run and gun at the same time.) Ammo and healing is now plentiful, doing away with the anxious rationing of previous Resident Evils. Furthermore, you now have a partner, which eliminates the "alone in the dark" paranoia. There's a comfort level in knowing you have a buddy who can bail you out of a jam. The cooperative nature necessitated the faster pace and detracts from the franchise's traditional strengths. It isn't compatible with methodical exploration and supply scrounging - imagine if BioShock had a co-op mode.

On that topic, I strongly advise you to play Resident Evil cooperatively with a friend. The A.I. of your partner can be frustratingly insipid, and the experience of playing the game is greatly enhanced by sharing it with a fellow (un)intelligent human being. Just like Army of Two, I would drop the grade of this game by at least a full rank if forced to play solo.

The enemy design has also gotten out of hand. Instead of finding creative ways to make standard zombies scary (which they should be!), a plethora of increasingly ridiculous monsters are sprinkled in. Zombie dogs crashing through the windows at you were inventively frightening in the original Resident Evil, but now we're subjected to abominations consisting of writhing tentacles and crab anatomies. If you transplanted them into Gears of War and told me they were a new variety of Locust (the enemies in that game), I wouldn't bat an eye. Or worse, toward the end of Resident Evil 5, the zombies wear berets and shoot back at you with AK-47s. Seriously, Capcom?

I'm gonna beat this comparison to death, but the Gears similarities don't stop there. Once the zombies have guns, Resident Evil 5 employs a clumsy variant of the Gears cover system. Vehicle gunnery sequence - check. Figure-out-the-formula "quicktime event" driven boss fights - check. (Good gracious, I hate Resident Evil 5's button mashing requirements.) Preposterously melodramatic and overwrought storytelling - check. A laser guided orbital satellite strike weapon to defeat an otherwise invincible monster - check. Resident Evil 5 doesn't stop there; it recycles just about every trite videogame trope imaginable. You want switches, cranks, pulleys, ziplines, conveyer belts, and bounce-the-laser-off-of-mirrors puzzles? It's all here.

I also need to note the controversy over racially charged imagery. I decided that I would not take it into consideration as part of this review's grade, but will instead ruminate specifically about it below in an appended section.

Despite these scathing critiques, I do have to give credit where it's due. I cannot overstate how technically gorgeous it is. Capcom may have misunderstood proper implementation of other aspects of development, but Resident Evil 5 is an astonishing triumph of production value. Character models are pristinely animated without framerate losses, textures are detailed to the point of tangibility, and none of the glitches so predominant in current-gen games are to be found anywhere. The cutscenes are rendered with the in-game engine, and they easily surpass the quality of Full Motion Video cinemas of yesteryear.

The replay factor is extremely high as well. I ended up beating the game on every difficulty level and earning all 1,000 achievement points on the Xbox 360 version. I rarely set aside the time to crush a game like that anymore. The culprit is the system of unlocks and weapon upgrades. Each firearm is a deep money sink of tantalizing upgrades. I can't categorize the process as "fun" per se, but I felt irresistibly compelled to keep farming cash to throw at them. As my co-op buddy Joel described, "It's like crack to me..." Toss in the timed survival "Mercenaries" mode, and there's an awful lot of replay value here.

Long time Resident Evil fans simply cannot pass up this entry. It features the return of Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine (the master of unlocking!), the original protagonists. Jill's presence is a minor spoiler, but the storytelling is so forced that you can see her coming from a mile away. Resident Evil 5 also decisively wraps up the series' storyline (I use that term loosely), giving closure to the Umbrella Corp. and Albert Wesker loose ends. The Player 2 character, Sheva Alomar is a wonderful addition to the Resident Evil pantheon, and provides an attractive yet strong female character for a medium so lacking in them. At least, until you unlock her arguably misogynistic alternate costumes which pander deliciously.

The two versions of the game are more or less indistinguishable. If you're having trouble deciding between the two, arrange your co-op buddy and pick up the one for the appropriate console. I repeat, do not play this game alone if at all avoidable.

I almost gave Resident Evil 5 an A ranking. The combination of technical mastery and addictive gameplay almost tricked me into forgetting how deeply flawed it is. But if you're willing to adapt to the controls - to let the game zap you Pavlovian style until you've conformed to its obtuse demands - there's an entertaining game to be found here. Strip it down to its essence and shooting zombies in the face is quite satisfying, particularly with a friend.

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-03-25 15:21:28

Resident Evil 5 - Racist?

Watch this early trailer and then I'll discuss this issue.

A discussion of racially charged imagery in Resident Evil 5 began when N'Gai Croal - a well respected games journalist who happens to be black - commented on an early trailer. That sparked a discussion which immediately devolved into the knee-jerk reactionary insult hurling typical of the internet. Amidst all that noise, many people missed the crux of the debate.

Within a purely Resident Evil game context, it's difficult to find offensive material here. Resident Evil 5 takes place in a fictional African nation, which naturally happens to be filled with Africans. A zombie pandemic breaks out and the hero is forced to exterminate them by the hundreds. Unfortunately, this game exists in our world which has a long and tragic history of extreme racism, and engages in imagery that directly evokes that past which continues to disenfranchise or even brutalize close to a billion Africans today.

I don't get it. What's the big deal?

Resident Evil 5 depicts a technologically advanced Caucasian slaying impoverished black people by the hundreds. This engenders unavoidable correlation to the centuries of merciless exploitation of Africans during the European colonial era.

But they're zombies! By that reasoning, shouldn't the Spanish complain about RE4 then?

Spain doesn't have that same history of systemic devastation at the hands of foreign powers. As for the targets of the violence being zombies, well duh, that's fine within the purely narrow focus of a videogame, but it's nevertheless a disturbing scenario within the framework of a discussion on race.

Making black people zombies is a way of dehumanizing them. There's a connection here to traditional Western attitudes that Africans were savages - subhuman creatures just a step up from animals. This mentality justified the moral outrages Europeans perpetrated on Africans, ranging from slavery to genocide.

That was like, a hundred years ago! Can't we move on already?

The problem is that the effects of that history continue to rage on today. Even worse, there are specific aspects of Resident Evil 5 that are uncomfortably close to contemporary problems devastating Africa. The virus responsible for the zombie outbreak immediately brings to mind the HIV AIDS virus that is currently ravaging the African populace. At best, it's in bad taste. At worst, it's a horrible mockery of the deadliest epidemic in human history. AIDS is currently eliminating an entire generation of Africans. On top of that, many ignorant individuals view AIDS patients as degenerates deserving of their fate, another means of dehumanizing people.

Fine. I understand. Can I just enjoy the game from the perspective of the hero nobly risking his life to save this fictional African nation from the zombie infestation?

Of course. That's what I did. But even within the narrow confines of the game, there are potentially troubling racial connotations. Even before zombies are revealed, as you walk down the main street of the African town, the first thing you see is a group of Africans kicking and beating the shit out of someone in a burlap sack. This immediately depicts these presumably non-zombie Africans as violent beasts, already well down the path to soullessness. This wasn't at all necessary.

Another incident early in the game involves a group of African men brutalizing a blonde, Caucasian woman. This sort of imagery has a history of being perpetrated by the ugliest brands of racism. Specifically in the United States, to this day, this notion of black men ravaging "our genteel fair skinned women" is employed by racists to fearmonger hatred. I have no idea WTF that white lady was doing in that African back alley filled with zombies, but it is an ugly image loaded with generations of racial bloodshed and lynchings. I can't understand why Capcom made this specific decision.

And then later, you fight tribal warriors. Straight up UNGA-BUNGA stereotypes. The game begins in what I assumed was a North African urban locale, thousands of miles away from any of these tribes. Or those beret wearing, AK wielding zombies - they potentially evoke imagery of militias conducting the genocide of millions. I get the feeling that Capcom was lazy in their research, and just decided to throw every thematic element they could think of into the pot, without regard to context or implications.

Resident Evil 5 isn't racist. Racism and bigotry require intent, and I simply don't believe that Capcom had malicious motivations. They just chose Africa as the next interesting setting for their beloved zombie franchise. However, they are absolutely guilty of racial insensitivity and ignorance. After the initial controversy, they sprinkled in a few non-black zombies. This demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the socio-cultural reasons why the imagery in Resident Evil 5 can be perceived as deeply troubling.

Listen, go ahead and enjoy Resident Evil 5. Dispatch those undead hordes with impunity. Just be aware that these elements do not exist in a vacuum, and that some of them could be extremely distressing or hurtful to someone closer to these real world problems.

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