VIDEO: The trailer for Resident Evil 5
Is it racist? The question has been plaguing Resident Evil 5 since its infamous trailer debuted at the 2007 Electronic Entertainment Expo. A short video showed little besides a buff Caucasian named Chris Redfield mowing down legions of impoverished and feral African natives. Even in a subculture known for controversy, the conflagration that followed in the gaming community was unprecedented. Cries of "Racist!" echoed from all sides. Non-gamers stepped into the fray. Nobody, it seemed, could mention RE5 without asking the same thing.
|Resident Evil 5 | For PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 | Rated M for Mature | Developed and Published by Capcom|
There's good news and bad news. Unlike that ill-fated trailer, the full game benefits from the context of the storyline. It's clear from the start that the homicidal villagers are under the control of a parasite, victims of a bio-terrorism program sponsored by a multinational corporation. One of the first villagers we see, in fact, is in the process of having an icky, many-legged worm shoved down his throat. The swarming foes that surround Chris have taken on rainbow hues; they include Arabs, Asians, and even the occasional white person. Chris also has an African partner named Sheva. And it should be said that, in the heat of battle, the last thing you think about is what your enemies look like. Threat assessment takes priority over racial quotas.
On the other hand, you still don't do anything besides pump these poor, stereotyped souls full of lead. RE5's occasional reliance on outdated imagery would be hilarious if it weren't so shocking. The middle portion of the game has enemies in grass skirts throwing spears at Chris and Sheva. Some even wear witch-doctor masks and juggle torches. These symbols are loaded with unfortunate historical baggage — it's like a 19th-century Belgian trader's idea of the Dark Continent. Capcom surely intended no offense, and reasonable people can disagree about the end result. Either way, "problematic" would be a fair description.
But RE5 has a more pressing problem: it's not very good. Anybody would be hard pressed to top RE4, but the creators of the fifth installment appear to have decided they'd rather not try. When RE5 isn't regurgitating action-game tropes — like chaining Chris and Sheva to gun turrets or populating rooms with exploding barrels — it's simply repeating stuff from the previous game. There's another enemy with a chainsaw, another ogre that's a dead ringer for RE4's "El Gigante," and, of course, more mind-numbing quicktime events, in which you have to respond to button prompts while watching your characters do things. Even worse: though the stop-and-pop gameplay is as tense as ever, late in the game RE5 poorly implements a Gears of War–style cover mechanic.
It's not all bad. As a computer-controlled partner, Sheva is accurate and helpful, though she chooses the wrong weapon for the job every time. Better to play with a friend, either locally or on-line. Sharing ammo and herbs is a nice twist on the usual survival-horror problem of scarcity of resources. But given the lack of situations requiring ingenuity and teamwork, playing co-op more often feels like playing single-player simultaneously. It's just two people pulling the trigger until it goes "click."
Which brings us to RE5's biggest problem: it isn't scary. It may be a fine action game, but there are no surprises. You never feel alone and outgunned — certainly not when you and your buddy are arguing over whether the mustachio'd zombie more closely resembles Freddie Mercury or Saddam Hussein. Fun this game may be. But Resident Evil it ain't.