Resident Evil 5 Preview

In the end, everyone is black… zombies.

Chris Redfield is not the same clean-shaven pretty boy as he was in the original Resident Evil and Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Either he has been lifting weights six hours a day, or he’s been following a weekly regimen of ‘roids, a mixture of elephant prostate and rhino horn extract, and a couple crates of extra-strength Marcus Fenix hormones just for good measure. (…Or all of the above). Mr. Redfield struts around in a worn pear of white denim jeans, metal kneecap bracers, a knife holder double-belted around his right leg, a belt with pouches for ammo and a radio receiver, fingerless UFC-inspired gloves, a back strap for a rifle or shotgun, an agent-issued wireless Bluetooth headset, and a who-needs-freakin’-armor?, tight-fitting T-shirt whose sleeves can hardly contain his biceps, which could break Leon Kennedy’s neck before you could say “Snap, Crackle, Pop!”

[image1]But aside from my doubts on whether he belongs on the cover of GamePro or Monster Muscle Magazine, his G.I. Joe transformation will likely serve him well on his new assignment to investigate the infected populace in Africa, if not just to intimidate a certain uncooperative merchant. After surviving Raccoon City as a S.T.A.R.S. Alpha member and rescuing his younger sister from the virus-happy Umbrella Corporation, Chris has changed affiliations, aligning himself with the B.S.A.A. (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance). The presence of a bio-organic weapon has transformed the local townfolk into aggressive, mobbing zombies infected mojini. (Wait, since when do I have to call them something other than zombies?! They act like zombies, talk like zombies, smell like zombies… you know what, I don’t care if I’m wrong, they’re zombies. End of discussion.)

And so by “mojini”, I mean an international rainbow coalition of black, white, brown, and yellow African zombie “natives”. Not politically correct? Well, I think any changes Capcom might have been forced to make because of all the black African zombies is as ridiculous as it sounds. Why should Capcom need to backpedal and apologize for (correctly) noticing that Africa has a vast black majority? I mean, really?

In any case, our modern gunslinger has no trouble “dealing” with any zombie hordes of any ethnicity by packing pistols, machine guns, rifles, and if the situation warrants it, wrapping his hands around a gun turret mounted on the back of a jeep. By and large, you can expect him to handle the infected situation the same way Leon Kennedy does in Resident Evil 4. He’ll still have to push empty bookcases to block doors and windows, slice melons with his knife to find green herbs and hidden shotgun shells, and slowly guide his laser-sight handgun to align with some unfortunate infected heads, while the zombies steadily swarm him like an oncoming wave.

While it’s still odd that the Resident Evil protagonist still can’t run and dodge and shoot with finesse, like an athletic international undercover agent should, the controls have been adapted to suit players from either the traditional Resident Evil mold or the general third-person shooter genre. It’s a design choice that keeps the tension high, particularly with the close behind-the-shoulder camera that also shakes as if a cameraman is behind you, while bringing more customizable flexibility to the player.

[image2]Chris, however, is not alone in his battle against the zombies. His female companion this time around is a local B.S.S.A. agent named Sheva Alomar, a sleek, no-nonsense woman who has no problems giving zombies (or Chris) a run for their money bloody guts. This isn’t the first time Chris has had to work with the opposite sex, but now he actually has to spend quality time together needs to team up in full-on cooperative play.

Supporting the idea that two heads are better than one, your duo has several unique abilities that allow them to cross obstacles they would not be able to do alone. In addition to giving each other a lift to ledges that are too high or too far to reach alone, they will provide cover for each other while their counterpart is flipping a switch or turning a crank. Splitting up can also lead to opportunities to separate and flank the zombie pack, cutting through their rancid ranks while hopefully not getting overwhelmed.

Double the power, though, means double the vulnerability. If either Chris or Sheva fall to their doom, the game is over. The computer A.I. for your teammate can generally handle the basic swarm of zombies without a helping hand, but every once a while you’ll have to get your friend out of an unfriendly submission or out of arm’s length from a masked mojini wielding a chainsaw that’s ready to rip a neck out in full cinematic “You Lose” gusto. Princess Elika, she is not.

This means that separating from your partner is as much an advantage as it is a liability, especially in areas where you are potentially forced to split up and conquer (which also means that you will want to find an actual friend – either for split-screen or online play – that’s better than the computer A.I.). Thankfully, a simple button press will point your character to the general location of your lost friend for a hopefully quick rendezvous.

[image3]Expectedly linear in nature, the shanty towns and oil refineries of the African landscape will have your pair fighting in settings that seamlessly flip between indoor and outdoor spaces. Whether it’s a rundown settlement twisting with corroded earthen roads and narrow alleyways between ramshackle stone buildings, or an energy plant that has become a lethal metal labyrinth of grated platforms, rickety staircases, zip lines, and scorching jets of burning gas, there is always a feeling of claustrophobia, an ever-present feeling that escape will never be easy.

Some will still complain that the Resident Evil series has lost its subtlety, its essence as a psychological thriller, and has become more about shotgun-to-the-face diplomacy. It’s an argument that’s hard to dismiss, especially when Chris is such a badass protagonist who, along with Sheva, has the rather unholy skill of dishing out powerful melee strikes that can push back and temporarily stagger enemies. There’s nothing like jump-kicking and elbow-bashing hideous freaks in their fleshy faces.

Both Chris and Sheva can also open a shortcut inventory system which, similar to the real-time menu screens in Dead Space, appears over your character as a translucent 3×3 grid that lets you equip, use, and drop items with ease. It’s sure to cut down on the obsessive need in Resident Evil to enter the inventory screen and start rotating items like a gun-nut squirrel, but be careful: Opening the quick inventory no longer stops monsters from creeping toward you and munching on your shoulders.

And let’s not forget one particular boss that can only be described as an overgrown mutant wasp-bat scorpion. As if coming straight from the abyss of the House of the Dead archives, it has a stinger than can spray a sticky, smelly sludge and can sweep you off a rocky bluff into the very deep canyon basin below. Where is the "Please do not disturb exotic wasp-bat scorpion!" sign when you need it?

[image4]As usual, Resident Evil 5 has been given the full high production treatment and follows the trend of gritty realism so closely that I almost thought I was traversing the sun-scorched African version of the Capitol Wasteland. (Come on, Chris, activate V.A.T.S…. wait…) The sharp lighting makes almost every move Chris does seem like it’s heavy-duty. Every building and character has a glossy shine that reflects the sunlight with piercing effects but also has a contrasting color palette that’s somewhere between the periodic table of dirt and the muted metallic spectrum. But the distinct lack of saturated colors makes for a grimy, tainted setting that you want Chris and Sheva to high-tail out of as quickly as possible.

Resident Evil 5 may be more action-thriller adventure than I-don’t-want-to-turn-the-corner horror, but that’s not a trademarked bad thing, just different. As long as you’re basing a title off its own merits and intentions, it has everything to jump-start your inner zombie (or whatever you want to call them) massacring desires. Look for Resident Evil 5 to raid store shelves on March 13th.