Resident Evil 5 impresses old fans with co-op

It’s odd what we get conditioned to in the world of video games and movies. I’m all for giving the bad guys whatever it takes to keep the difficulty well-paced as the player blasts through a game. Capcom’s newest iteration of the Resident Evil franchise finds a good balance in that respect.

Games that don’t waste a lot of time in a beginning tutorial mode are appreciated (especially in sequels), and Resident Evil 5 wastes none, relying on gamers being either very familiar with survival-horror shooters or just adaptable in general.

It’s reminiscent of older games in that the player is thrown into the first room with limited resources, little to no gameplay direction and a decent-sized challenge.

He is then quickly expected to figure out how to get through the first room without dying. Once this is eventually accomplished, this hard-won experience is taken with you to help you get through the next area.

This dynamic plays out in Resident Evil 5 when the gamer, after the prerequisite tension-building moments (which do suffer a bit from the developer’s choice to start in broad daylight), is rapidly thrust into a zombie horde situation with several incoming waves.

Conservation of ammunition turns up as an issue within a couple dozen seconds, and the effectiveness of strategic shooting, taking advantage of the immediate environment, close range knifing and tactics of relying on your partner all must become familiar fairly quickly. It’s very satisfying gameplay once everything settles in, although that may take an hour or so.

In other words, Resident Evil 5 is designed for old fans of Resident Evil to pick up and play unencumbered with tedious tutorials or extra-long opening cutscenes.

As for newer Resident Evil players…well, hopefully nobody comes into RE5 expecting to run and gun their way through the undead apocalypse. This clearly isn’t an FPS, a fact that the game is quick to remind you of when it becomes apparent that the gamer has no choice but to stop in their tracks to shoot.

This felt less like a liability and more like a stylistic choice, but it could’ve been worse without having a good second player plugging away on the side.

It’s that co-op aspect that makes Resident Evil 5 stand out. Playing alone, the game is overall a rather average experience. Sure, it’s a good time killing zombies with your pump-action shotty and dominating with macho-man Chris Redfield’s herculean uppercuts.

But since the game is specifically designed as a cooperative experience, Chris’s partner (and two-dimensional character extraordinaire) Sheva Alomar is always right there, and she either has to be handled by human hands or the AI will take her over.

The former option is infinitely more preferable and easy to do since you can partner up with a friend online or one sitting next to you. Either way, being able to talk through strategy with a comrade helps a lot—there are a million situations where it’s useful to say, “Okay, we’ll go through on three,” “Point the lantern over there for me” or “I’ll go bum-rush the rocket-launching guy if you’ll snipe a path through that pile of spider things from here.”

Plus, it’s nice to have an audience for your Michael Bay-ish one-liners that the game seems to naturally evoke everytime something gets blown away or is set on fire.

One of the biggest advantages of a human ally is that you don’t have to worry about Sheva running into a one-hit kill situation on her own. Once either character dies, both must restart, so it gets annoying very quickly when the AI makes Sheva stop to reload right in front of a chainsaw-wielding maniac.

At least the gamer is perversely rewarded with a well-rendered dying sequence when these things happen, but there’s really no need to have to put up with that, or with the computer burning through all the hard-won ammo or other single player problems. Since the game can always perform an automatic search for random players, it’s hard to ever justify tackling the campaign alone.

Resident Evil 5 was carrying a large burden coming in on the heels of its predecessor, which is broadly considered not just the best game of its type but one of the best video games released for any system. While being so dependent on co-op play might not be the innovation everyone wanted in this game, it’s really great to see this focus.

The seamless transition in and out of one and two-player campaign modes is a great prototype for future games to build on. This is a solid experience offering mostly what one would expect with a few welcome tweaks.