Heart of Darkness | Resident Evil 5 at 10
I don’t think the developers at Capcom intended to make Resident Evil 5 racist. I find it hard to believe that a group of mainly Japanese developers strolled into a meeting room one day and said: “Well Resident Evil 4 was the best game in the series yet but I feel like murdering black people en mass was what it was missing.” The series had always benefited from either exotic or othered locales: a mansion, an Arctic research station, a Spanish castle. Hence the chosen location of Africa.
Reality never really factored into the Resident Evil series and Resident Evil 5 didn’t buck that trend. Set in the fictional country of Kijuju the game has series regular Muscle Man Chris Redfield team up with Kijuju native and fellow Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) member Sheva Alomar. Tasked with recovering a bio-organic weapon (BOW) Chris and Sheva journey from a destitute city to a tribal swamp to an underground lab in pursuit of the series’ Big Bad Albert Wesker.
The name Kijuju sounds like a slapdash attempt at naming an African country. It sounds juvenile and insulting with little regard for the power of language and names. Resident Evil 4, a series highlight, had the decency to use actual Spanish when it set the game in Spain. The parasite turning people is called Los Plagas, literally the plague. Los Illuminados, the cult spreading the parasite, doesn’t need explaining. Admittedly the Spanish character in 4, Luis Sera, is dressed like a Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator and speaks like he came off a TV novella but you can’t have everything.
The African characters in Resident Evil 5 all have English (read colonial) accents, something last year’s Black Panther made every effort to avoid doing. The series had previously been dominated by all-American types so it was nice to see variety but in comparison to the African villagers the player systematically slaughters over six chapters both Sheva and the one other black character with lines, Josh Stone, feel very westernised.
It draws a distinct line between the black people we can accept and the black people we can’t. The African good guys wear Western clothes, wield Western weapons and speak in Western accents. The Africans Chris and Sheva kill wear tattered or tribal clothes, attack with hooks and hatchets and barely growl let alone speak. The distinction is hard to miss and Resident Evil 5’s lacklustre gameplay made it even easier to spot.
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The combat in Resident Evil 5 was, to put it bluntly, a slog. The Majini – the game’s name for the infected – are fine to fight on their own but it’s when other BOWs come into play that things get boring. One standout is the Dr Salvadore-esque enemy. Dr Salvadore was a chainsaw wielding enemy that appeared rarely and scarily in Resident Evil 4. He was slow, dangerous and a bullet sponge. He was used effectively whereas his Resident Evil 5 counterpart popped up far too often in areas far too difficult to maneuvre around. Getting within a foot of him meant instant death something that happened a lot in Resident Evil 5’s cramped spaces.
Much of Resident Evil 5 was a pale imitation of what made Resident Evil 4 so good and scary. Much like Dr Salvadore’s dollar store impersonator so too was there a giant troll-like monster, a battle on a boat and a fight against a mutated megalomaniac at the end. Resident Evil 4 had its camp moments but they were entertaining especially when set against the putrid and gory boss fights. Resident Evil 5 took itself far too seriously. It was the exact moment where the series began to lose it’s way and it wouldn’t find it’s way back until nearly a decade later.
There’s an interesting geo-political story hidden beneath the murk and madness that so clearly suffuses Resident Evil 5 but it’s told the wrong way from the wrong perspective. Chris Redfield is a decent guy but, much like his erstwhile companion Leon Kennedy, he is a tad dull. Sheva Alomar would have been the better choice but her story was sacrificed on the altar of co-op play. Instead of being the engaging take on Western imperialism’s in Africa Resident Evil 5 is instead another Bland But Well-Meaning White Man Saves The World story.
Resident Evil’s male heroes may have always left something to be desired but the same can’t be said of it’s villains. They are mostly stock characters and archetypes but they are hammed up by some stellar voice acting. BOW courier and eventual river monster Ricardo Irving is only the beginning. If Resident Evil 5 did one thing right it was bring back Albert Wesker.
Ever since the Full Motion Video (FMV) opening – posted below, it’s a hoot – Wesker has looked like he’s been waiting on a call from the Wachowski’s. The man dresses like an Aryan Neo and wouldn’t look out of place in Speed Racer. Stoic and imperious in the original and Resident Evil 0 Wesker is out-and-out insane in 5. His final bellow of “Chrrrriiiisssss!!!” as Chris, Sheva and Jill Valentine blow him away with rockets is one for the ages. Racism and bad politics aside Resident Evil 5’s final act gives Albert Wesker, arguably one of early gaming’s greatest villains, an unforgettable send-off.
Needless to say Resident Evil has improved since then (we don’t mention Umbrella Corps). Although Resident Evil 6 leaned as hard as it possibly could into action and camp it never completely derailed the franchise. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard saw a bizarre return to what had made the series so scary. The game never really felt like a numbered entry in the series but it’s opening, puzzles and Marguerite boss fight stand to it. Resident Evil has come a long way in its nearly 25 years of existence but its fifth entry will long be remembered for its ignorance and poor quality than it will for anything else.