Being confronted with a violence-thirsty society, it’s worth wondering what makes the difference between high quality horror and your average Halloween farce. It’s the same as differentiating between a Hitchcock movie and the clichés that feature blondes never endingly running up and down the staircase.
We could talk about principles, about that single neuron or unique idea that carve a huge rift between horror as art and horror meant for consumption. Or, just as well, we could talk about conventions and light. And that is how we reach Resident Evil 5, a game that slowly slides away from predefined ideas to the refined and delicious shivers upon the spine.
Those who are accustomed with the darkness from former titles, which hid the infestations of Racoon City or the plague of the Spanish city Las Plagas will probably be disappointed by the fifth title of the series. With the passing of time, Capcom has reached its maturity as a horror game developer, now being aware of all the mechanics behind horror games. So Capcom thought it was time for a change. Detachment and auto-analysis is obvious at all levels of Resident Evil 5, be it the goofy characters, the risky racist tint of the game, or just the quantity and intensity of light.
As soon as the story begins, you will be surprised by the vibrant universe surrounding your character. Kijuju teems with afro-Americans who fight the decomposing heat just like in Baudelaire’s poems. The fact that evil no longer needs darkness or snake holes to develop into a menace is a troublesome idea. And although it’s common sense to believe that fear doesn’t go well with daylight, you will soon realize that, in Resident Evil 5, light is the catalyst of destruction, always somehow resembling the artificial light of science laboratories.
The final impact is that you won’t have the hope of salvation anymore, because Evil has surfaced, it has come to dominate every safe spot or idea, leaving no place for our hero to hide in. The game no longer has the contrast between light and darkness, only a lot of violence injected in its vivid colors.
There’s no doubt that the chromatics of the game and the feast of light in it will chase away the feeling that you’re actually playing a Resident Evil title. Not even the main character, who we go waaay back with (the first title), won’t be able to shrug off the unfamiliar atmosphere.
This time around, Chris has suffered an image boost and we can now suspect him of having fallen into a cauldron of Asterix-like magical potion in his childhood. And because initials just sound right, Chris is still part of the BSAA (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance), an (incompetent) organization that has sworn to fight the development of the biological weapons responsible for so many Resident Evil games.
But Chris isn’t quite Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, as we well know from the previous Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. So the lame five in this title is there just to push the story forward, to explain where Jill Valentine actually disappeared (hint: in a sort of Transylvanian umbrella-decorated Russia) and to explain why lately, Chris drags a sweet Beyonce Knowles along through the savannah.
So, Sheva Alomar and the quantity of makeup on her face is the subject of the discussion above. Unlike Chris, she is a biological weapons expert and really tries to save her people. Capcom has such developed the game that Chris can’t actually cope without her, no matter what he has to do. They have to pry open huge gates together, and sometimes, just sometimes, Sheva lets Chris use her as live crocodile bait.
Thus, we can underline the fundamental difference between Resident Evil 5 and the former titles: here, the cooperative experience, brainstorming and team-play are insisted upon. If you strip the Co-Op off Resident Evil 5 you’ll end up with an artificially animated Sheva that does a great job at dodging all the icky monsters and your very bullets which sometimes seem to mistake her for the rest of the sick inhabitants.
Sheva will never get lost among the masses, will always aim straight and, unfortunately, will never save bullets. And, for a Resident Evil title, that’s not too good for your character’s health. At least from this point of view, the game is still tributary to its past and although you can rummage for ammo, you’ll never really get the chance to reload, let alone smash boxes or pick-up pistol clips. So, if you want to temper Sheva’s female spending tendencies you’ll have to choose between letting her do all the hard work and using her as a pack mule.
If you’d rather prefer the company of a human being, Resident Evil PC allows local co-op sessions, as well as Games for Windows LIVE matches. The latter option, although a Microsoft service, does its job of linking bloodthirsty people throughout the world pretty well.
We could complain about some aspects of the LIVE system, such as having to wait for the next checkpoint to actually drop in a game in progress. Or the impossibility to swap weapons with your partner, which will really slow the pace of the game if your new sidekick doesn’t have a whole arsenal in his pocket, for example. But the actual drop in/drop out system is really elegant, a straight-forward up to five minutes wait.
Communication, on the other hand, is less smooth. Using a microphone is mandatory, because the developers did not integrate a chat in the game. This really keeps the screen clutter-free, which is nice for a horror game. No one would be impressed by the horror elements if they had a half-screen section with continuous spam comments.