When Resident Evil made its U.S. debut on the PlayStation in the mid '90s, it raised an unexpectedly eerie head and launched a brand-new genre called "survival horror." It was primarily an action/shooter game with a few twists—lumbering horror movie-style ghoulies waited around every third corner, dark shadows masked every pathway, ammunition was sparse and what looked like escape routes usually ended up being locked doors or, um, very dead ends.
Hard-core gamers and horror fans were delighted.
Since that critical praise-earning start-up, the franchise has expanded to eight games (never mind the number 5 in the current title). Multiple comics and novels emerged, as have action figures and three major motion pictures. And with all that loot and success ... came change.
The Latest Residence of Evil
The nefarious Umbrella Corp., the global pharmaceutical giant behind all the original genetic experimenting mayhem, has long since been destroyed. And the clue searching and zombie-shooting gameplay that took place fairly exclusively in old crumbling mansions, debris-strewn labs and blood-spattered police stations is no longer confined to dimly lit corridors.
Resident Evil 5 features Chris Redfield, a former member of S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service), the team that brought down Umbrella. He's now part of a paramilitary group that travels the world hoping to find and stomp out the remnants of Umbrella's creations that have fallen into the hands of terrorists and other power-hungry bad guys.
Following up on rumors of a mysterious bioweapon project, Chris lands in a dusty, sun-baked region of Africa—that just happens to be swarming with a zombie plague. He teams up with a local agent named Sheva Alomar, and together this heavily armed duo tries to find reasons for the area's bloody-eyed dementia.
On the gameplay front, this is a pretty straightforward third-person shooter. The mechanics are similar to past games in the series—a little limiting and clunky feeling at times. But they say a slow-moving zombie hunter is a tense zombie hunter. And Resident Evil 5 wants you to stay on the edge of your seat.
There are no shadowy jump scene surprises like in the games of yore. But there are certainly lots and lots of rabid undead running at you in the blazing sunlight or leaping on you when you turn your back. In fact, that sneak-up-behind-you feature—and some hyper-aggressive level-ending bosses—point to another big change in the franchise. The gang at Capcom has taken special care to design this title for co-op play. The game's AI partner is pretty workable if you're playing solo, but grabbing a friend and spilling blood in tandem is what the gamemakers really had in mind.
There are a number of other changes that focus mainly on kicking the Resident Evil play up a notch. Unlike those games from the dark ages, the weapons arsenal here is overflowing and powerful—ranging from knives and grenades to pistols, machine guns and head-obliterating combat shotguns. And the creatures just begging for some brain-pureeing gun blasts are legion. The male and female African zombies come from all directions and in all shapes and sizes—from emaciated meatmen with chain saws in their hands and creepy-crawly things sprouting from their necks, to gangrenous behemoths wielding deadly axes the size of a small car.
Add to this mix tons of bat-like creatures and insectile uglies, roaming packs of cankerous, tentacle-flailing dogs and a building-size mutated humanoid, and you've got a menagerie of critters worthy of any fevered nightmare.
Whether you're making your way around rotting human corpses lying in pools of ichor, or shying away from splayed-open, fly-covered animal sacrifices, there's no shortage of gore and goo. The decaying mess in this latest Resident Evil is, of course, all the more viscerally repugnant due to the PS3's and Xbox 360's capability for high-definition visuals.
Besides that optical onslaught, Resident Evil 5 has seriously ramped up what gamers hear. The f-word and the s-word are mainstays of "conversation." And God's name gets tangled up with "d--n."
The only thing left to your imagination is the stomach-churning stink—which I'm sure will be available once the next generation of game consoles adds odor-packs to the controllers.