Every once in a while, you have to reassess what you think you know about something: using animals for medical research, representative democracy, Sinead O’Connor - anything. You have to acknowledge that circumstances can change over time, and that you could benefit by giving things a fresh look. That’s what Capcom did when it decided to renew its efforts to make PC games as if the PC was the only platform it developed for. And that’s what you should do when you decide whether to play Resident Evil 5, because it isn’t just a thrilling third-person shooter and the best co-op experience since Left 4 Dead, it’s the most ambitious - and successful - console port in the history of PC gaming.
I don’t fault you for being skeptical. The port of Resident Evil 4 reduced a great videogame experience to a muddy-looking sequence of death animations as you struggled to control your character with keyboard controls more hideous than any undead monstrosity. But Resident Evil 5 goes beyond what we expect from even native PC games.
The game begins with Agents Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) deploying to the fictional African country of Kijuju to intercept the sale of a biological weapon, unaware that their arrival is not only anticipated by the arms dealers, but part of their plan. As the agents fight their way through throngs of natives who have been transformed into a suicidal army of the sorta-dead by a new-and-improved zombie virus, Redfield discovers that the perpetrators may have knowledge of the whereabouts of his missing former partner, Jill Valentine.
By the time Redfield and Alomar realize that they are hopelessly outnumbered and outmaneuvered in a hostile environment, the mission to intercept a single arms deal has become a personal struggle to save a friend, and they’ll find themselves confronting a plot and an organization much worse than anything the Umbrella Corporation ever considered in its executive retreats.
So far, so familiar. The story and the characters are classic to the series, a combination of conspiracy theory and soap opera, X-Files meets Aliens via Days of Our Lives, delivered with its signature elements of poor taste and camp: There are unsettling scenarios that evoke real-life events in Africa contrasted with a screechy character who sprouts tentacles and declares: “I just had an extreme makeover!”
Where Grand Theft Auto IV overwhelmed you with its scope, Resident Evil 5 does the same with its incredible detail - and you’ll only see just how detailed it is on the PC where, at the maximum resolution of 2560x1600, you walk through pockets of hot, stifling dust under corroded tin roofs in poor villages; it’s difficult not to be distracted by the near-photorealistic rusted moorings of the nearby docks. Explosions create blinding yellow spheres of hot gas and villagers bear pockmarked skin over their gaunt frames. Animations are spectacularly detailed, particularly the lurching walk of the infected, as well as Redfield and Alomar’s nuanced facial expressions.
Capcom has also reassessed the pacing of Resident Evil 5’s gameplay. This is an action game, as opposed to the cringing, lonely and desperate survival horror of the previous four games. There are still more than a few scares, and one in particular nearly ruined my office chair, but they’re no longer the main event. If anything, Resident Evil 5 has become an anxiety-action game. You spend most of the time under attack, surrounded, and while ammunition may not be scarce, you’re dealing with pretty tough characters that don’t cry uncle after a compound fracture.