Resident Evil 5 Final Version Impressions

In Resident Evil 5, you play a two-legged bull with mad knife-fighting skills. Make that a two-legged elephant-necked bull with arms like a cement mixer. I'm not sure when Chris Redfield got his hands on A-Rod's stash, but holy arms-like-pythons and barrel-chested beefcake, Batman. Goodbye welterweight jock of bygone games, hello Lou "Mr. Olympia" Ferrigno.

While those chiseled biceps won't lend Chris's knife arm any extra RPMs, it does seem to imbue him with superhuman strength in RE5. Step next to a slavering bloody-eyed-zombie-thing and you'll have the option to pop hooks or uppercuts that send the bad guys flying across the screen. "Rescue" your teammate from a pileup and your punches knock the entire group off its feet. Step over a fallen figure and your stylish stomp splatters skulls. Goodbye Chris Redfield horrified-barely-survivor, hello Chris Redfield super-action-hero.

But let's back up. Have you played the demo? The final version embarks a few areas prior to the teaser's "public assembly" level, the one where you (as Chris) and your African-English-European-Jamaican-Irish-East-Indian-composite partner Sheva tango with hordes of virally amped-up locals. It's been 10 years since the events of the first game, and you're investigating some hardscrabble village in a fictional African country that's experienced an "incident," and we're not talking just a finger in a bowl of chili.

Forget the sublime transition from status quo to surreal here, you're deposited sans niceties at the outskirts of a town inhabited by scowling weirdos. These guys lean against awning struts and roll their eyes as you wander by or simply glare from the shadows. Their heads swivel robotically as you pass, tracking your motion like CCTV cameras. They're not pulling pitchforks and machetes at this stage, but friendly chatter (much less handshakes and hugs) is clearly off the menu.

In terms of the visuals, it's hard to imagine the game looking any better — or bleaker — at this point. Here's how I described the two-level Japanese demo back in December.

[Heaps of] rack-and-ruin building[s] flanked by corrugated sheets of metal. Oily plumes of smoke rise in the distance. A few tires are half-sunk in the ground with the characters 7BER5 gouged in grimy rubber. The sun flares at the edges of objects. The sky is clear blue with a few wispy clouds.

Ranging further afield in the final version, you'll find the entire town a dust-smothered mass of shanties with shaggy thatched roofs and cadaverous structures pieced together from dingy slabs of stucco and crooked shafts of wood. Several of the locals wear heavily stained pieces of clothing (Blood? Chocolate ice cream?) and engage in disturbing activities, like hacking fly-caked hunks of meat, or standing in circles and kicking a bag that's squirming. The churchy, gothic look of the earlier games is gone, replaced by something out of a Slawomir Idziak film, desiccated in lieu of haunted, contemporary instead of remote, and with its Black Hawk Down vibe, eerily familiar.

Getting around still feels on par with Resident Evil 4's third-person controls (for better or worse). The camera hangs behind Chris at approximately shoulder level and off to one side, providing an unobstructed field of view. You can't shoot and run, which actually seems appropriate considering you also can't (effectively) in real life.

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