A preview build of Resident Evil 5 dropped by in the early afternoon on Monday, and before we knew precisely what had occurred, it was time to go home.
A similar scene played out on Tuesday. That's not typical: I prefer to play games in my actual leisure hours, to make that time a resource I must expend. A barbed desire to know circumvented this impulse. Fueled by the uncut product my curiosity quickly morphed into fascination, which then coiled around, binding us to the screen. We've been fans of the series from its first incarnation, a big budget remix of Alone In The Dark. A sales powerhouse with its own strong traditions, they haven't been afraid to warp and twist their "sure thing" with manifestly strange gameplay experiments. They released a cooperative spin-off of the franchise with online play, for a system where the hard drive and network capability were not only optional but difficult to obtain. I'm prepared to call that hardcore.
The loads in Resident Evil 5 come a little too frequent for our taste, nothing on the order of MGS4, but they're always dropping by to insert an ellipsis in truly invigorating scenes. It quickly becomes apparent what these loads are doing: creating environments of horrifying, thoroughly uncanny realism. If it had happened once, or a even a handful of times, I wouldn't mention it. As it stands, it often occurs to us that we are looking at a photograph of a scene, or footage, when it is only the natural interplay of their lighting model, their cinematic effects, and their gruesome animations.
The conversation about the game's controls took awhile to die down, and I've made my perspective on the issue clear, but Capcom didn't do themselves any favors with the demo. Speaking in general terms, people don't like to be decapitated, and the demo offers many opportunities for this to occur. Both of its levels shove the player into maze-like killzones chockablock with dead-ends, and both feature implacable antagonists with wide-arc knockdowns or one-hit kills. Contrary to the industry's building momentum toward welcoming new players into beautiful, gently designed spaces, this game is having none of it. This is not a game where you play some rascal zephyr in a flower's dream. This is a game where you run for your fucking life, for hours, until you die.
It's more or less exactly what we want out of a Resident Evil game, but it's impossible for us to play it without the metanarrative of race providing a grim context for our every in-game action. It's clear when playing it that they've added a few caucasoids to the mix, and also what looks like zombie version of Saddam Hussein, but it's hard to tell what they're doing there. Playing the game does nothing to dilute the imagery people have found objectionable, the trailer wasn't out of context in any way - in fact I would say quite plainly that they go far beyond what you might have believed possible.
It won't be hard to find an authentic, devoted racist on Xbox Live to play as Chris - but is the game somehow less racist if I join someone else's game as co-op partner Sheva Alomar? I hope so. It's sort of like those Magic Eye pictures. You can't see it, you can't see it, and then wham. All you can see is the genocide.