The Resident Evil series has survived three generations of consoles starting back on the PlayStation 1. In the original game you controlled a STARS squad with Chris Redfield as one of the main characters, and it hasn't truly been until now in Resident Evil 5 that Chris has gotten a proper return. While the original game had Chris partnered with Jill Valentine, Resident Evil 5 has another female sidekick watching Chris's back in Sheva Alamor, a character in which another player can take control in true co-op fashion.
Fans of Resident Evil 4 should feel right at home in the latest iteration of the game. It's a more action oriented game, and even a further departure from the series' survival horror roots. Honestly, this isn't a bad thing, but those of you looking for the game to be more tried and true need look elsewhere. From the moment you and your buddy are dropped into plagued Africa, you realize that defeating everything in your path isn't always the best option. Sometimes you simply need to run, it's a lesson best learned early and remember later. This is where the fear comes in, not in the jump out of your pants because of spooky sounds or monster closets, it's the uncertain. It's the what's around the next corner and how I'm going to approach it.
As you make your way through the game you'll uncover various weapons, gold and treasure littered in boxes, crates and on the fallen. I find it odd that the poverty stricken African villages like to keep stashes of gold and rare herbs in barrels in their living room - but to each their own. The dozen or so weapons are upgradable and purchasable in between chapters, and treasures you collect are can be sold to boost your gold. To add a bit of the persistent spice, you are able to bring your upgraded weapons in and out of co-op games with friends. It can add some imbalance joining a friends game in chapter 1-1 with a completely upgraded shotgun, but damn if it isn't fun watching infected villagers fly! During missions you can trade weapons and ammo between players through the inventory screen - and you can even send a request for items if you need them. One slight but understandable annoyance is the inability to trade upgraded weapons to an friend player.
Making your way through the game with a friend truly is a rewarding experience. I never felt like the co-op was forced upon me, the co-op actions we performed flowed naturally into the game world. Sure a broken ladder here or there might have seemed almost too convenient for a assisted jump, but there's something really satisfying about donkey punching an infected off your partner. I was really impressed with how the boss battles managed to lend them self well to cooperative strategies. For instance one battle had a player leading the boss into a furnace while the other player hit the switch to ignite the flames and (hopefully) not your partner.
Team work is crucial throughout the game as ammo is limited. Your best bet is picking a few weapon types for each character and sticking with it, this way you can spread the wealth of ammo pickups between each other as you find them. Some areas you'll simply find yourself so over run it's best just to sit back and try to pick off the enemy while your partner covers you, but keep an eye on the interface for clues when they'll need assistance. Others you'll be thick in the mix of a zombie swarm and frantically calling out for your teammate to heal you both. Speaking of the interface the game makes it easy to see what weapon your partner is using, how much ammo they have in the clip, how much in reserve and their health. After seeing it I've begun to wonder why we haven't seen more co-op games do something similar.
There are a few issues with the interface though, namely item management is more of a chore than it needs to be. In the heat of a battle with a partner it's annoying to say, "Cover me, I need to move some stuff around in my inventory."
One thing that stood out to me was the nice mix of levels and pacing the game offers. While the game starts out a little more traditional with tight corridors, and infected dropping in from god knows where - you soon find yourself in an open swamp controlling a boat and collecting artifact pieces. There's even some on rail vehicle sequences where you and a partner will be using mounted guns to take out infected on motorcycles. Near the end you'll swear you are playing a scene from Uncharted. And yes, there's even co-op quick time events, but thankfully they are few and far between.
Finally the game added an arcade style Mercenaries Mode that adds fast paced score style gameplay. Think of it as Horde mode but with limited time. The rounds typically last 4 to 5 minutes and are an absolute blast to play. Of course - this mode is completely playable in co-op.
By the time you make it to the end of the game with your co-op partner, you'll both be masters at communication and zombie survival strategy. Resident Evil 5's story completely engrossed me, and the gorgeous cut scenes moved things along at a hollywood-esque pace. I don't care what the internet says; cooperative gameplay was the best thing that could have happened to the series. It has moved the series into the next generation of games, and laid the groundwork for further and greater cooperative experience. While the journey may not be perfect, it's one I'd gladly play through again.