Resident Evil 5 keeps the franchise alive, with a little help

Way back in 2002, about the time Paul W.S. Anderson's horrible first Resident Evil movie came out, I was sitting in an eight-person video booth in a Tokyo arcade with my future wife.

It was a cabinet for an interactive Resident Evil mini-movie under its Japanese moniker, Biohazard. In it, a group of Umbrella Corp. mercenaries try to smoke out a monster from the sewers underneath one of the company's research towns.

And while the wife started and shuddered at the puffs of air at our feet meant to simulate cockroaches or the mist of warm water masquerading as blood spray, what struck me most about the story (difficult to follow, being in Japanese and all) was how action-oriented it was — rather dissimilar from the survival horror video-game franchise that, at the time, had relied on jumps and scares rather than all-out gunplay.

Seven years later, welcome to Resident Evil 5, Capcom says.

Modeled after the adrenaline-fueled fourth installment released in 2005, RE5 knocks it up a notch. Besides moving the story to Africa and replacing Umbrella with a company called Tricell (for whom protagonist Chris Redfield now works, basically), the biggest change is the cooperative element introduced by new character Sheva Alomar.

This mostly computer-controlled partner takes Leon Kennedy's ward Ashley one step further, making the AI an active participant or, in the case of multiplayer, a human partner.

This is all part of Capcom's speeding up of the RE formula. Producer Jun Takeuchi says that fans should expect more of this as the series moves even further from its puzzle-based roots and into the realm of bullet ballets.

"I would say that Resident Evil 5 is much closer to an action game like Gears of War or Halo than it is to a traditional concept of a survival horror game," he says in press materials. "Based on the sales and reaction to Resident Evil 4, this is also what the players want!"

As a fan of the series since its 1996 inception, I can appreciate this. RE4 was easily the best in terms of gameplay (although Part 2 is still the best as far as narrative goes). But I wonder: At what point does this stop being the Resident Evil series and simply morph into something different?

Or has it already? It sure feels like it when I have to cover a teammate, ride shotgun in a Humvee, or tote a mining lamp and share witty banter with an equally wisecracky playmate.

That's not to say the current storyline eschewing zombies for the Las Plagas parasite isn't compelling, or that returning personalities like Albert Wesker aren't welcome, given the tentpole nature of this release. (GameStops are open at midnight, with some, like the one at Parkside Mall in Pinellas Park, dressing up the whole block for tonight's release). Rather, the series has turned a corner into reflex-heavy button-mashing that, while a big change, still manages to evoke the original.

I suppose that means it's a good thing someone else is along for the ride this time.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

On the Web

Leigh Armstrong will be shooting photos at Parkside Mall tonight for the release.
Check the scene out Friday
at tbtpics.tampabay.com.

Resident Evil 5 keeps the franchise alive, with a little help 03/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 6:12pm]

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