- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Resident Evil 5, Collector’s Edition (for Xbox 360, Capcom, rated M for mature, $89.99).

The granddaddy of all survival horror games returns with its latest chapter and some familiar friends. The third-person adventure takes one or two players into the smoldering sub-Sahara to stop madmen from infecting the world.

What’s the story: From the manual - When there are reports of a possible bioweapons deal in Africa involving a dangerous parasite last encountered by Secret Service Agent Leon Kennedy, a survivor of the Umbrella Mansion Incident, Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA) agent Chris Redfield investigates. Fellow BSAA member Sheva Alomar provides Chris with backup as he visits Kijuju, though neither has any idea of the horrors that await them.

Play the role: In the solo campaign, the player controls the muscle-bound Redfield as he shoots, punches and blows up a variety of monstrosities and infected humans. He works side by side with the very able, computer-controlled Alomar (a Halle Berry-like beauty in the virtual flesh). Other than liking to waste ammunition, this warrior nearly always helps out, whether it’s climbing a structure to grab a key, healing Chris or giving a foe a roundhouse kick in the chops with a follow-up bullet to the forehead.

Get to the action: Unlike in previous Resident Evil games, combat thrives with an “in your face” intensity and less in the darkness. Environments act as breeding grounds for frenetic horror that encompasses such locales as a maze of shipping containers, a shantytown, a pitch-black mine shaft or a canyon pass.

Always expect the infected will attack. Lumbering zombies are now a quick, murderous species of infected humans ready to harm with teeth, chain saws, flaming arrows, hoes and guns.

Redfield and Alomar find a variety of weapons - from machine guns to grenades and pistols to a rocket launcher - and must manage their inventory effectively to survive. Specifically, a nine-slot menu means a balance among weapons, munitions and healing agents.

Memorable moments: Let’s not dwell upon a story about a heavily armed white guy running around Africa killing innocent natives infected by a virus generated by corporate greed. I’ll leave that bit of political correctness for the college professors.

Let’s revel in fighting giant crocodiles, an ogre mutation and a gigantic bat-earwig and wiping out motorcyclists using a Gatling gun from the back of a Humvee. How about challenging a massive executioner swinging an enormous hammer or a masked madman wielding a chain saw?

Also, an odd emotion welled up about an hour into the game - empathy. The environments are so detailed, especially the Third World villages, that my less militaristic side felt bad for the real-life people who live in this type of war-torn squalor.

Violent encounters: There’s nothing in the game as graphically gratuitous as Afro Samurai, but Redfield and his gal pal realistically shoot off their share of heads and can slaughter anything infected or mutated in their journey. It takes numerous hits to stagger and drop enemies, and once dead, they bubble up into a pile of goo and release a secondary monster from their torso that then must be killed.

The cinematic realism and effects fall between John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Blade 2.”

Multiplayer access: Resident Evil 5 was built for two online players. Teamwork and watching each other’s back is paramount to success, so find a good friend on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network and appreciate the moments.

Even in-the-same-room cooperative play - immediately accessed by turning on another controller - is better than expected. I hate split-screen action, but here, a pair of rectangular windows open on opposite ends of the television screen for an equal view of each character’s action. Suffice to report, the bigger the screen, the better the experience.

Pixel-popping scale: 8.5 out of 10. Fantastic production values make this latest game infinitely more exciting than any of the live-action “Resident Evil” movies. The extensive use of motion-capture technologies offers a new level of realism to the franchise. Also, the monsters are just plain gross nightmares.

The bad: Why can’t I move and shoot at the same time? Why doesn’t the action pause when I access my inventory to choose another weapon or heal myself? Do I look like I need this kind of stress?

Extras and unlockables: Explore to find treaures that have been dropped by enemies or hidden in environments that then can be sold for gold to buy and upgrade weapons. Also, shoot hidden BSAA logos to help unlock three-dimensional action figures of the characters. Finish the game to enjoy a frightening free-for-all-style mercenary mode.

The collector’s edition includes a full-size cloth Tricell messenger bag, a miniature Redfield figurine, a BSAA patch, a Kijuju pendant and a bonus DVD highlighted by a making-of-the-game documentary.

Read all about it: WildStorm Productions offers a six-issue comic-book miniseries called, surprisingly enough, Resident Evil ($3.99). The just-released first issue not only chronicles missions involving the BSAA but also acts as a prequel to the game.

What’s it worth: Resident Evil has evolved from a pure survival horror experience to an action-packed blockbuster that Ridley Scott might have directed. I gotta tell ya, I miss the old days of everything going bump in the middle of the night, but I could get used to the guaranteed panic attacks in broad daylight.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks).

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