As though the world needs any more commentary about this game – but I played it, and more commentary you, dear World, will get.
First things first:
Does it live up to the hype? Yes.
Is it racist? No. However, the African setting, and the large cast of black characters make this a completely fair and honest question.
Interestingly, as the first screenshots made their way onto the web and into videogame magazines those sensitive to these sorts of issues began the cat calls of racism. It is not racist. In fact, in a political context it is quite the opposite. The plot itself is essentially about racism – more over it concerns itself with a particular sort of racism; institutionalized, legitimized, governmental/corporate racism of the Tuckseegee experiment variety. The plot revolves around cleaning up after the Umbrella corporation after they have experimented on an unspecified African population, unwittingly and against their wills. Essentially, the nation has been zombified and used as test subjects by the corporation for their bio-weapons research and other products. And why was a country in Africa chosen by the fictional corporation? Although its never explicitly said in the game, through the presence of the character Sheva and the insight she gives us into the fictional African world Capcom has created, it was chosen mainly because the world probably wouldn’t care, because our privileged world turns a blind eye to the third world, and thus makes it a perfect mark for exploitation. It’s happened before and it probably will happen again. This is probably one of the most progressive and obvious political messages ever put forth in a videogame and it is NOT a message of racism. In fact, it is quite the opposite, it is a message of racial justice.
As described, the videogame does more than enough to satisfy a political and message-minded gamer, although, I will admit I was a little disappointed that as ballsy as they were to pick Africa as the setting, and as ballsy as they were to not-so-subtly inject politics into the game, they sadly decided to forego any real sort of exploration of the major African issues of our time; poverty and AIDS. I really did hope, and thought the game might set up some sort of subtle symbolism of the zombie virus as a stand-in for AIDS, but the makers opted out – which, really, is just fine. Too much politics may have ruined a pretty good gamer stew.
Actually, an excellent stew. Politics and controversy aside this is a solid and entertaining game. The controls and playability were so similar to its predecessor, Resident Evil 4, that I do dare say, it felt almost exactly the same only this time in Africa and with next gen graphics.
And what sweet graphics they were. Worthy of particular mention were the excellent cutscenes which weren’t just up to par with the best motion pictures, but blew quite a few of them out of the water. These cutscenes were directed by the same guy who directed the crapfest “Pulse” in 2006. But here he’s working with the latest technology called “virtual camera” that is also what James Cameron is using for his film Avatar which will probably decide whether the new spate of 3D movies will continue or not. More about that here, but to understand it in a very elementary way, basically the entire CGI/fake environment is within the camera’s viewfinder, so whilst the actors are doing their acting/stunts/etc. against a greenscreen, the director is actually seeing them perform within the fake set and can direct them as such… This is in comparison to the old-fangled way where the actors do their thing and later, in post production, effects and CGI are added around them.
As extraordinary as the game looks it does have it flaws. For one, its not particularly scary. Cool as hell, yes, but not scary. The environment itself just doesn’t lend itself to the creepy, fogginess of the Russian castles and weirdo cult members in part 4. And although it has some extra wonderful monstrosities, such as a hornet/bat thingie and a character who turns into a water monster – still, they are just not scary.
I recall my first Resident Evil experience with part 1 on the Gamecube – it was my first survival horror experience and it was truly terrifying. Because of the horrendous control scheme (which was purposeful and truly part of the terror as even turning around and getting the hell out of a room took particular effort and could send one’s heart pounding through one’s chest) I would never play it again – but the memory is there, and this game, sadly, will not imprint itself on my psyche as the terror-fest that was Resident Evil 1 has – even years later I fondly remember getting up sorta shaky and unsteady to turn off the Gamecube wondering what in the hell just happened. More recently there is particular moment during Mirror’s Edge that is more heart-poundingly, frightening than anything in Resident Evil 5, or any other recent game for that matter. Still funny to me is that Mirror’s Edge has absolutely no aspirations to be a horror game whatsoever, and yet it still sent me practically scrambling across the couch.
But regardless, back to Resident Evil 5 – consider it an action game instead of a horror game and you’ll get over it. This is not to say that there is not something historic about this game, with not only its technological advances, but also its locale and political underpinnings. It’s just a shame that what Resident Evil is known for – terror, mood, unease, – just is not particularly successful this time around. Although, to be fair, it is not due to lack of trying, and it may be partially be due to the fact that I am a more immune and jaded audience and have gotten use to the scares. I will also admit to a tingle of excitement during one portion in a shanty town when I heard the faint sounds of a chainsaw in the background, and the payoff of the impending attack.
In the end Resident Evil 5 holds a nice place in the Resident Evil saga, and as you progress through the game you unlock all sorts of readable histories that fill you in on the Resident Evil lore from the other games.
So, if you don’t know the whole story now, by the end of this game, assuming you’re up for quite a bit of reading, you will. As a matter of fact, the veritable library within this game and the few brief cutscenes involving flashbacks to Resident Evil 1 and the early Umbrella corporation – Wesker and the gang – make me want to steal the kid’s Wii and play The Umbrella Chronicles. I just may do that.
Here are some of the actors from the game talking about the accusations of racism: