If you want to know what bioterrorism fantasy looks like, try the latest chapter of the “Resident Evil” series. At the very least, it’ll make you think about investing in a mask.
Resident Evil 5 is the culmination of a saga that has evolved from a zombie-killing, bump-in-the-night scarefest to an action-packed monster thriller. By fully coming out of the shadows and adding a mythic spin on the world of biological weaponry, this piece from Capcom is one of my favorite titles of the early year.
The earlier games scared players with clusters of zombies and surprises bursting from dark corners and through windows.
Resident Evil 4 changed a lot of that, ditching the traditional, slow-moving zombies for faster, psychopathic enemies and creatures infected by an engineered super-virus. It also brought these horrors out into the open field, content to pollute players with feelings of helplessness, disgust and panic rather than sudden fear.
Now comes RE5, which features Chris Redfield, one of the original heroes from the earlier games, as an anti-bioterrorism specialist now on assignment in Africa. He partners up with Sheva Alomar, an African-born operative who also has a history of fighting bioterrorists.
Their job is find the source of some bio-weapons action going on in an African village. Before they know it, they’re fighting off crazed villagers who turn into goo upon death and have tendrils coming out of their heads. Other disturbing things follow.
The duo’s journey takes them from the expanses of Africa to a weapons facility with a Matrix-like room full of encased bodies.
All of the scenery is stunning, with the character models of both the heroes and creatures littered with disturbing detail. I can still smell the slobber of the mutated dog that tried to kill us with the massive jaw in between its two heads. I like to avoid spoilers, so I won’t talk about the look of some of the freakier boss characters.
Speaking of characters, Capcom action games have usually featured an interesting mix of the heroic and the annoying.
Countering the stoicism of Chris and the understated sexiness of Sheva is the ear-rupturing voice of Irving, the sleazeball weapons dealer, as well as the condescending tones of Excella Gionne, an attractive and narcissistic company executive. Solid voice acting brings these characters life, and the background music deftly handles the balance among drama, terror and action.
Balance is also key when it comes to working with Sheva as your partner. She’s either controlled by the AI in the single-player campaign (you can pick her when you finish the game), or she can be controlled by a friend online for some co-op action.
I’d suggest finding a friend, simply because the AI for your partner fluctuates between Jack Bauer-like combat awareness to showing signs of brain damage. It won’t stop you from enjoying the game, but it will add some extra minutes of frustration.
You also need a little time to get a feel for the controls, which sometimes don’t feel as agile as you’d expect from a game that asks you to do so much. The “quick turn” move helps, but it takes a mission or two to get used to steering Chris around.
Helping you navigate whatever movement issues you have is the weapon system, which is like a game within itself. You’ll pick up valuable trinkets as well as gold to either purchase new stuff or upgrade your weapons. It gives the game a role-playing feel to it, something that will resonate with people still buzzing from marathon “Fallout 3″ sessions.
I was a little irritated with the slightly inconsistent difficulty concerning enemy creatures. I think sometimes designers get too preoccupied with “weak spots” and make creatures oddly impregnable to almost any weapon that doesn’t hit the spot. A grenade launcher should be able to knock stuff down at least, regardless of light armor or gooey exoskeleton.
Wrapping a lot of this up is the story, which cobbles together events from practically every Resident Evil game made while mixing in elements of evolution and the horrors of mishandled bioweapons. It’s a stretch to say there’s a message in the game, but it does leave an impression.
Resident Evil 5 felt like a complete experience, and that’s without delving into all the unlockable goodies and the game’s “The Mercenaries” mode, where you just blow away enemies all day. It’s an excellent continuation of the series, even though it has me thinking bad things whenever someone gets sick.
Resident Evil 5
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Rated M for Mature