It’s not at all disappointing that the suppositions of racism dogging Resident Evil 5 proved groundless. And yet if the story had actually been insensitive (or if it had been intentional exploitation to trump 50 Cent’s game), there would be a lot more to think about. Instead, the latest game in Capcom’s long-running survival-horror series is really just a technically proficient but otherwise uninspiring action shooter.
We jet to Africa with the series’ first protagonist, Chris Redfield. Working in concert with Sheva, a local gunwoman, Chris finds an evolved version of the Las Plagas virus that mutated Resident Evil 4’s Spaniards. There’s no cure for that ill but fire and violence. And so it goes.
Capcom shortens the survival-horror genre to simply “survival.” Along with horror, most of the series’ puzzles and adventuring have disappeared. The plot moves things forward, but your true raison d’être is the collection of ammo, firearms, and treasures that can be traded for them.
Sheva is always by your side. For solo players, that’s troublesome, as she’s needy, insistent, and not terribly bright. But in online co-op, the game sings as a tactical shooter. The straight-ahead action is rarely taxing, but flanking a shambling group of zombies and alternating pop-shots and superhuman uppercuts has undeniable appeal. More imaginative boss battles could up the ante; instead, you have to settle for the unlockable Mercs mode and a downloadable (for a fee) online vs. game.
Beyond the game: RE5 plays directly into several visual and behavioral stereotypes rooted in old images of colonial Africa. The images are striking, but explained away with a narrative wave. The effect is neither racist nor horrific, just dumb.
Worth playing for: The intricately detailed environments. In true Resident Evil fashion, much of the world is static window-dressing, but Capcom built in more areas to explore, and offers generous rewards for those who do.
Frustration sets in when: You… still… can’t… fucking… move while shooting or reloading.
Final judgment: It’s tough seeing horror give way to more action, but patience with gunplay would come easier if the basic design were as compelling as the early survival-horror concepts.