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E3 2008: 'Resident Evil 5'

Checking out the new survival horror game from Capcom

We first saw Resident Evil 5 at last year's E3, and for a while, we thought there was a chance we'd see it again next year's show--but Capcom has now announced a release date of March 13, 2009, for the latest installment in this best-selling series.

This 13-year-old Japanese horror franchise--about people battling undead monsters created by a huge multinational corporation--has inspired a big-screen movie trilogy and tons of copycat games, but also seemed to be losing steam until 2004's Resident Evil 4 put it back on the map with an updated action-oriented vibe, and controls and camera angles that weren't a bigger health hazard than a room full of shuffling zombies (the previous Resident Evil games were infamous for a flaky camera and stiff controls).

Playing through a couple of sample levels of the game, we liked the use of bright sunlight in the game's outdoor areas, which makes the hordes of murderous villagers even more jarring. There's still some tweaking needed on movement and navigation, as it's especially difficult to maneuver and aim in tight spaces.

The newest installment keeps the over-the-shoulder RE4 gameplay style, but moves the action to Africa, where once again the evil Umbrella Corporation is up to no good. The most surprising new addition may be the game's cooperative mode, where a friend can join your game via Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network and play along as a second character. It seems a bit out of place at first, but co-op gameplay is clearly the biggest buzzword trend of the show, and is turning up in several surprising places.

Resident Evil's Japanese creators are infamously tone deaf when it comes to translating the series' stilted dialog into English, and early footage from the game sparked controversy last year with a Caucasian hero blasting away at zombified Africans--many called it culturally insensitive. Eagle-eyed observers tracked the game's stylistic influence to a cult-favorite series of cheap Italian zombie films from the early '80s shot in the Caribbean, but expect to hear more about this controversy as the game nears its release date.

We talked to Evan Narcisse, an African-American freelance journalist who has written about video games for outlets including The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and He says, "The sense of trepidation I had when I first saw the trailer two years ago has diminished, especially after playing the game myself. But, there's still an undercurrent of unease I feel at shooting poor, black people being portrayed at monsters, especially when such portrayals haven't always been relegated to fiction."