Saturday, April 4, 2009

Team Suck v Resident Evil 5: Round 4

From what I hear, Andrew and I are about halfway through Resident Evil 5. In my previous post (round 1), I griped about the game’s lack of diversity and static, painting-like levels. Neither of these have changed. I’m still capping Saddam, and the levels continue to emit a Hollywood-like, albeit beautiful, Vaseline glow, more a painting than an interactive stage.

Andrew has since registered our problems with brain-dead bosses and obligatory vehicle sequences, all the while driving home the fact that, despite our digs, we’re having a blast. Was our joy due to the game, or to our barrel-shooting, epithet-spewing, teamkilling selves?

A few excellent action sequences gave RE5 a firmer foothold in my mind, thank God. For the first time since slaying the initial axe monster, I was impressed by something other than the graphics.

Oh, and that racism thing? It’s back.

You have to wonder what Capcom was thinking when the western world convulsed with politically-correct rage over early RE5 videos depicting beefcake/protagonist Chris Redfield doming black folks. Anyone with half a brain immediately dismissed the allegations of racism. Crass, sure, and culturally insensitive, but RE5 wasn’t racist. As The New York Times’ Seth Schiesel pointed out, it’s equally racist to claim that zombiesm is solely the providence of the white man.

I’ll bet I know what they were thinking. They smiled, nodded , and thought: They’ll lose their shit over the mud huts level.

Minutes after escaping faux-Modadishu, we were encountering bad guys straight out of Kipling – chest-painted fuzzy-wuzzies throwing spears and ululating like fucking braves. Grass skirts and witchdoctor headgear completed the cartoonish ensemble. If there wasn’t a whiff of neo-colonialism about the game’s opening stages, its stench hangs over the tribal levels like microwaved roadkill.

Factually, yes, primitive tribal societies still exist in Africa; and furthermore, yes, it is a compelling plot point to make them the victims of a bioweapon experiment. But gone are the moral ambiguity and gravity of Far Cry 2, where the plainly African landscape and its inhabitants are rendered with documentary fidelity. Resident Evil 5 treats a morally complex situation like a thriller. When you’re blowing away spear-wielding chieftains with a riot gun, Capcom’s failure to ethically sculpt their world registers as something unnervingly similar to racism.

The gameplay has finally hit its stride. An oil refinery level set us against two chainsaw-wielding sackheads and a ton of lesser zombies. A complex game of bait-and-switch ensued, luring the fleet-footed chainsaw dudes near explosive barrels, or dazing him with sniper rounds so the other could rush in for an uppercut. For the first time in the game, I was terrified. I actually yelped when I turned to shoot and instead got a rusty spinning blade through my neck.

Still, I have to agree with the critics: Resident Evil 5 straddles genres in a way that detracts. The inability to shoot while moving was a mechanic in Resident Evil 4, where enemies were slower; in RE5, it’s a liability. The speed and lethality of its enemies are more on par with Dead Space, a game that wisely allows you to pat your head and rub your belly. This inexplicable oversight joins a growing list that I hope to tack to Capcom’s front door like Martin fucking Luther. Four years, guys. Are you really going to tell me not one beta tester complained about this?

Though Andrew mentioned this earlier, the boss battles deserve comment. This is my comment: awful. We fought a sixty-foot giant while stuck in a jeep and incurred not one iota in damage. It was pretty, but pretty wasn’t enough. We were beside ourselves with laughter.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s scheduled round of skull-popping. With the promise of intelligent game design lurking under the highly varnished surface, I’m rooting for RE5. There’s a good game in here yet.