A couple of Augusts ago, Capcom dropped the first Resident Evil 5 gameplay videos on an unsuspecting Internet. Perplexed that zombies in Africa would for some reason look like dead Africans (the Afro-Caribbean origin of the zombie tradition itself notwithstanding), the knee-jerk wing of the Web reacted with predictable vitriol to its contents: footage of Resident Evil series veteran Chris Redfield in an intra-apocalyptic Africa, beset by hordes of mutant zombies fashioned from the locals.
Of course, this had less to do with any kind of actual card-carrying racism on the part of Capcom’s RE5 team and more to do with the aforementioned reactionaries’ Limbaugh-like desire for attention. While the debate still rages, the tide of opinion seems to be turning in favor of the “You don’t seriously believe that?” crowd.
Just like its last few dozen iterations, Resident Evil 5 is a game about Mustache-Twirlingly Evil Corporation A unleashing Mutant Zombie Apocalypse Virus B on Unsuspecting Population C and forcing a “Lucky” Few Survivors and/or Special Ops Team D to fight Genre-Appropriate Monsters E, F, and G in Linear Genre-Appropriate Settings H, I, and J. The only difference is the application of Location-Specific Palette-Swap K, which in this case is set to a continent whose Population C just happen to have a higher melanin count than half of its player-controllable Special Ops Team D.
Resident Evil 5 isn’t racist against Africans any more than Dino Crisis was racist against velociraptors or The Day of the Triffids was racist against corn. It is, however, a boring, frustrating experience, mostly because of the application of Overused Survival Horror Tropes L, M, and N, Infuriating Interface O, and Enraging Control Scheme P.
Capcom must fervently believe in the dangers of technologically forced mutation that the Resident Evil series espouses, as they apparently see every new console generation as a challenge to restrain unchecked advancement. Despite the incremental advance in its standard-issue gameplay—a tiny augmentation of RE4’s control scheme here, an iteration of Umbrella Chronicles’ rail-shooting there—RE5 is only audacious in its sameness, a Greatest Hits of Resident Evils past run through the brightness filter of an African noon.
It would be perversely forgivable if Resident Evil 5 was a frustrating mess; at least then Capcom would have the difference between intent and results on its side. No, RE5 is instead a fine-tuned engine of frustration and boredom 13 years in the making. While other franchises live or die by their growth and evolution, RE5 single-mindedly plods down the same path as its predecessors, parleying brand recognition into financial success while steadfastly refusing to modify the core elements that are now of questionable necessity.
After a few hours of facing the same old horrors that Resident Evil players have been dealing with since 1996, I found myself less feeling like the tongue-in-cheek Great White Hunter that the reactionaries feared RE5 would engender in its players and more like a jaded Victorian burnout.
“Oh, look,” I’d mutter to myself seconds before an instant kill. “An albino alligator. That must mean it’s angry and wants to eat me. Of course, all alligators probably would eat me if given the chance, so that’s really a moot—oh, now I’ve been eaten. What a bother.”
“And here’s a man made of worms,” I’d say while trying to convince the trademark Resident Evil Control Scheme of Unending Torment that I wanted to switch weapons before the worm-man did horrible things to me. (NOTE TO CAPCOM: With 16 buttons and two analog sticks per controller, weapon use shouldn’t require two buttons. Putting that kind of hindrance in your game is like putting a restrictor plate on a riding lawn mower because your grass isn’t evolving fast enough to make mowing a proper chore.) “Isn’t that just smashing? Oh, now he’s burst into flame. Bully for him.”
Of course, I’m probably alone in this. The gaming community at large is wrapped up in the idea of RE5’s two-player online cooperative mode, as though the rudimentary strategy and the shared experience are an even trade-off for another mouth to feed and another weapon to try to keep loaded long enough to survive. At the risk of sounding like I’m about to kick some kids off my lawn, I say let ’em have it.