Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360) review
"Throughout the first chapter while trying to escape an entire city that hated me, while hiding in dark corners and climbing walls to escape the bloodthirsty masses Resident Evil 5 provided a heart-pounding, frightening, and thoroughly playable adventure with some disturbing real-world implications. I knew these people weren't evil, just sick... but I killed them anyway. I had to kill them to survive they were bursting through ceilings, climbing through windows, hiding behind fences. By the end, I was shooting everyone on sight, and feeling pleasure. Heaven help me if there was an actual innocent soul wandering the streets."
"Are you OK?"
How on earth could Dkembe be okay? He was just force-fed a slimy, squirming, parasitic little beast by two people he considered friends. And then, instead of pulling the creature out, a burly American started asking goofy questions.
The American outsider extended his hand, as if to say "We're here to help." Dkembe's response was less than cordial.
The blood-glazed eyes, open-jawed snarl, and tentacles protruding from the screaming African man's mouth were all clear symptoms of a Las Plagas - type 2 infection. This is the biohazard that Chris Redfield faces in Resident Evil 5. I missed the fourth episode, but as best I can make out, "type 2" is an advanced form of the same epidemic that Leon Kennedy faced. Instead of injecting people with eggs and waiting for the Plagas to mature, adult versions of the creature are crammed into peoples' mouths. It's a gruesome visual, and the sounds of crunching and gnawing -- as the parasite devours the host's insides -- made me wince.
At first I thought, "Okay, the parasite is essentially turning people into mindless but agile zombies. Same game, different name." Shortly thereafter, I witnessed an execution scene, during which a black man wearing shades shouted propaganda through a megaphone, inciting throngs of black men to cheer for the impending slaughter . . . more specifically, the slaughter of the swarthy (non-black) fellow who had helped the white American. Upon catching sight of white man Chris watching from a window, the militant black man barked another order and the infected black crowd gave chase.
So it's not as if the parasite completely wiped peoples' brains; instead, it supplemented their minds with a violent fervor. This revelation shed new light on the earlier "force-feeding" scene . . . the two villains were not torturing their victim; they were turning him into one of their own via grotesque baptism. It's an "us versus them" world: convert those who are worthy and kill the rest. One could suspect me of making much out of very little, but all of the above -- so clear to me within the first fifteen minutes -- is explicitly stated throughout the final two chapters via text documents and frequent (but brief) cutscenes.
Since the game revolves around a white man (and his African partner) gunning down crazed black men, some people have accused Capcom of racism. I think that's unfair. Resident Evil 5 is set in west Africa, so it's natural that the majority of infectees would mirror the majority of the populace. Besides, there are white villains. The top-tier masterminds, the ones subverting and controlling the black men, are white.
Is Capcom racist for showing that black men are dominated, controlled, and killed by white men?
Or instead of immediately dismissing the game's content as racism, should we instead consider the game as an allegory for the destruction of cultural traditions -- via physical colonization in the past, and via ideological dominance in modern times? Detractors criticize the game, saying that Capcom didn't present the African populace in a sympathetic light . . . but I find it hard not to sympathize with an oppressed people who are forced to fight on the frontlines for an evil overlord.
The above storyline could make for an amazing experience with some actual relevance. Throughout the first chapter -- a chapter spent escaping an entire city that hated me, while hiding in dark corners and climbing walls to evade the bloodthirsty masses -- Resident Evil 5 provided a heart-pounding, frightening, and thoroughly playable adventure with some disturbing real-world implications. I knew these people weren't evil, just sick . . . but I killed them anyway. I had to kill them to survive -- they were bursting through ceilings and smashing through windows, determined to eat my brains. By level's end, I was shooting everyone on sight and feeling pleasure. Heaven help me if there was an actual innocent soul wandering the streets.
Even throughout the next chapter, which was decidedly less hectic and decidedly more linear, I was still bound by the game's spell. I had to defeat the creature that annihilated Alpha Team . . . but how does one go about defeating a puddle of slime? The game features a lot of weaponry, with generous servings of ammo and upgrades, but none of it seemed particularly effective against this toxic beast. I knew there had to be a way, and I knew it was most likely hidden within the stage itself. While searching for the answer, I died many times. Fortunately, Resident Evil 5 generously provides checkpoints before each difficult encounter, so I was able to try and try again without treading over covered ground. I was engaged. The game had swallowed me into its world.
Then it suddenly spit me out. You see, when Resident Evil 5 begins, Chris is tasked with preventing a notorious arms dealer from completing a sale. Chris's newest female sidekick, Sheva Alomar (competently controlled by computer, or incompetently controlled by beer-guzzling buddy), was also ordered to apprehend the criminal. The arms dealer repeatedly eluded their grasp and eventually commandeered a battleship. Chris and Sheva successfully overtook the armored battleship via speedboat, at which point the arms dealer turned into a polar kraken. More specifically, he turned into the polar kraken's tongue. The other twenty tons of beast sprouted from his back. Chris and Sheva proceeded to fend the beast off with rocket launcher turrets.
Ah, classic Capcom.
Later on, Chris cures a brainwashed buddy by ripping a giant eyeball thing right out of their chest. Thank goodness it was just stuck to the skin's surface and hadn't attached itself to the heart, brain, or any other important bodily organs. And it's really too bad Chris didn't try that approach before he blew all the black guys' heads off.
Chris later tops all previous heroics by flying a plane into a volcano. He then disembarks. INSIDE A VOLCANO. Fortunately, there are rocks floating in the lava. Even Capcom wouldn't let people walk on lava.
Then again, perhaps they would. After all, over the course of several episodes, Chris's recurrent arch-nemesis Wesker has transformed from "traitorous scum" into "man who catches rocket-propelled grenades in his hands, and doesn't mind too terribly if they explode". Wesker fans who purchase Resident Evil 5 won't be disappointed -- his ninja arts are put on display several times throughout the game. Strict survival horror fans will likely roll their eyes when Wesker uses his sunglasses as a weapon.
It's absurd, but I'll be damned if all the ridiculousness isn't endearing in that cheesy Devil May Cry way, although Chris isn't nearly as nimble as Dante. One of my favorite moments was a fantastic gunkata showdown, reminiscent of the final battle in the film Equilibrium, during which the combatants repeatedly dodge each others' feet, fists, and bullets. That's a far cry from the gritty military mission that began the adventure. Considering the way such a fantastic premise turned into B-movie silliness, I actually feel really guilty for enjoying Resident Evil 5 so much. Capcom absolutely squandered an intriguing setting and a powerful premise. But damn it all, I still enjoyed it.
. . . even though I still couldn't shoot while moving.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 17, 2009)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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