I just flew in from Kijuju and boy are my arms tired! Ba-Dum-Cha!
Resident Evil 5 is a hard game to review as you have to approach it with a measured amount of sensitivity thanks to the controversy that has undeservingly swirled around it. And yes, I said "undeservingly." Having played through the entire game (on Veteran mind you) I can say that the influence of "racism" has been overplayed. If you can get over the fact that you're curb-stomping someone into oblivion, you can get over the fact that you're shelling out buck in Africa. The violence is so over the top that it hardly matters who is the recipient of your bloody massacre. The fact that made all of this controversy moot for me, however, was how everything distinctly looked zombieish. Even though you could make a colonialist era comparison to some of the characters, that's all it is, a comparison. Nothing here resonates so strongly with truly racist metaphors (i.e.: the Hottentot Venus imagery, African Pygmies, or Sambo), and instead the game tries to embrace the uniqueness of the locality. Mind you, nothing here should be regarded as anything more then science-fiction, so all of the African settings and character models are really just window-dressing to flavor up the violent themes of the game. With that said, this game really doesn't have a lot of good taste to begin with, so hopefully if you embark on this journey you're not thin-skinned.
Speaking of visuals, this game is gorgeous. Not only do heads and limbs explode with satisfying splatter, but the backgrounds make the origins of the Resident Evil saga seem downright primitive. Character animations are rich and varied, and cinematics are as good as anything you can see in a blockbuster action movie. All and all, this game is staggering to look at, even the most critical eye will find tons to love in the visuals of this game. Trust me, they're the best around. Sound effects are less impressive, but are definitely solid. The music is not-remarkable compared to the last installment's haunting soundtrack, but the tunes still are the result of high production values. The sound of explosions and gun shots are what you'd expect, but I believe the Resident Evil team is the best in the business when it comes to creating the Gallagher like head explosion sound, and other similar gritty noises of dismemberment.
With the esthetic's part of the game getting a decided A+, it's on to the next controversial part of the game. The controls. The reality that you have to stand still in order to shoot has been a thorn in many gamer's sides. But, I actually enjoyed the pace that this mechanic maintained. You won't be running around mindlessly spraying lead anyway, and thought needs to go into your course of action in any given encounter. Additionally, you always have a companion present (either virtual or human controlled), so I felt the controls were appropriate, even if they aren't a revelation from Resident Evil 4. Another concern is the inventory system, which is actually very manageable, assuming you don't want to pick up everything you see. Just think about what you carry, damn it, and it won't be a problem! Who needs fifteen flash grenades?!
More noteworthy then the controls is the gear you will be wielding throughout the game. Every item ranges from great to frickin' awesome, with the evolutionary weapons system once again playing a prominent role. If you don't have something you adore killing with, don't worry, by the end of the game you'll have found some tool of destruction to be fond of. The only cause for concern is that you'll constantly be asking your partner to pick up items, each time with some conspicuous innuendo. (Por ejemplo, Chris: Grab this. Sheva: Roger.)
The level design falls in line with it's venerable series history, meaning that the game is brimming with unforgettable sequences. The games cast also adds to the tension and enjoyment of each chapter, as every character is both well-crafted and memorable. In particular the protagonists Chris and Sheva are some of the most likable avatars this side of Gordon and Alex. Thanks in part to their presence, the game experiences very few lulls, and doesn't simply feel like a rehashing of Resident Evil's greatest hits. There is some genuinely thoughtful encounters and events over the course of the games twelve hours, none of them disappointing or anticlimactic. The story too is enjoyable, and runs the gambit of a guilty pleasure action movie. Even though there aren't any true plot twists or reveals, the story arc feels well thought out, and engaging. On top of the games writing there are unlockable documents that neatly tie the Resident Evil history together, and help expand the dimensions of this universe. It may be a matter of personal taste, but I was satisfied by the way the story ended and really appreciated the suitable depth the writers put in. Quite an accomplishment, considering the language barrier and the infamous history of video game writing in general.
Once you've completed the game there are a ton of fun unlockables to play around with, along with the before mentioned documents. With a new difficulty, c0-op and alternate gameplay modes available (and on the way) there is plenty of reason to keep slaughtering the infected again and again.
If you haven't figured out that I really love Resident Evil 5, then your powers of deduction need some fine tunning. Many games have come and gone over the past year, leaving the bitter taste of disappointment. Resident Evil, in contrast, is a fully realized experience and along with Street Fighter 4 is proof that Capcom still is near the top of the gaming hierarchy.
My advice is to ignore the controversy and give this instant classic a try. It may not blaze a new path for gaming, but it is a masterpiece of the modern entertainment landscape.