Playing alone, RE5 is a great game, not an exceptional one. Fellow BSAA agent Sheva Alomar is hardly the best AI combat partner we’ve seen, and the whole game feels like it’s too scared to do anything but replicate RE4 with a fresh face. On the other hand, grab a friend to chew through the campaign together, and suddenly RE5 becomes a whole new experience, and in our eyes, the only way it should be played. Teaming up to one-two punch a chainsaw-wielding maniac or using mounted machine guns to mow down an oversized meatsack who wears bodies on his belt is exciting no matter how similar the gameplay feels or outdated the controls are.
The levels are built around two people playing together, with Sheva usually wandering off to open a door or to pull a distant switch in tandem with Chris. If a split-headed dog or an infected Majini grabs one player, the other can rush to their rescue and plant fist into bloodshot face. Similarly, when one of you dies, there’s a period of time you can be revived a la Gears of War, ready for action all over again with slightly recharged health. These ideas have all been done before, but somehow the mixture of Gears-style camaraderie with familiar RE trappings makes it seem a bit fresher than it did even in Gears 2. The same goes for the bosses, which are mostly designed in a way that both players have an active role in its destruction.
Another co-op boon is the doubling-up of sellable treasures. Any diamonds or goods you find can be sold by Chris and by Sheva, so there’s never an argument over who gets more money. It’s totally equal, enabling you both to equip your character as you like. This blessedly allows one player to be the sniper, and the other can forgo long-distance weapons and focus on machine guns or grenade launchers. In RE4, limited storage space meant you had to ignore some weapons entirely.
Above: 54 items can be stored, but only nine taken into each level
Now any weapon, no matter the size, only takes up one slot. It’s less entertaining than RE4’s Tetris-like attaché case, but makes a lot more sense in a fast-paced game meant for two people.
There are some unexpected drawbacks to the otherwise outstanding co-op. First is an RE standby that never bothered us until now – the long-winded block of text that describes, in detail, all the myriad viruses and bases Umbrella has employed over the years. Fine to read by yourself, but imagine playing with someone else, maybe someone who’s entirely engrossed with the story and really wants to read everything:
Hm, this is relevant to my interests
Ah yes, that would follow
Oh… there’s more? Very well, I like Resident Evil’s nuanced, carefully constructed storyline
Good Christ there’s more?
Keep in mind you HAVE to scroll through all the pages
You aren’t forced to read it along with the partner, but while they’re poring over every sentence they’re literally standing still, staring at a piece of paper. Should you also check it out? If you don’t care, should you progress and accidentally trigger a cutscene that interrupts their reading? It’s very disruptive and after the third or fourth ream of exposition we both agreed to ignore them and, you know, play the goddamn game.
The other setback is the fact that Sheva stops delivering helpful dialogue during co-op. Playing alone, she does a great job of pointing things out with quick quips that guide you to the next plot point; playing co-op, this dialogue doesn’t occur and you both have to figure out a lot of obscure stuff yourself. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but some areas required such specific triggers to advance we spent hours trying to deduce just what in the blazing heart of Satan we were supposed to do. Trying the same areas in single-player, the AI Sheva made quick sense of the situation.
Above: Sheva up close, with Chris in the distance pulling a switch as well
Without these prompts and no clear direction, a handful of areas are damn close to awful, and once we finished them we swore to never, ever discuss them again. Can’t recall any place in RE4 that elicited such a strong negative reaction, an effect that’s intensified when two people have to suffer instead of one. On that note, let’s hear from Mikel Reparaz, our dedicated Sheva player and professional Player Two.
Playing as Sheva isn’t fundamentally any different from playing as Chris. She can use the same weapons and items, and despite Chris’ balloon-armed physique, the two seem to be about the same where strength and speed are concerned.
The biggest difference is that you’ll always be the one who gets boosted over obstacles or across wide chasms, after which you’ll need to figure out how to clear a path for your partner. So while Chris spends a small but significant chunk of time either covering you from a distance or staring at the walls, you’ll need to wade through hordes of Majini, alone, to find the door (locked “from the other side,” naturally) that’ll let Chris in to resume your normal tag-team ass-kicking. These solo sequences are more dangerous than usual, because there’s nobody to heal you if you get mortally wounded, but they make playing as the sidekick in co-op a little more interesting.
Also, splitting up can sometimes get you out of trouble, as it did in one of the wetlands villages we explored later in the game. Here, Chris had to boost Sheva up to grab a key item from a hut on stilts, because the ladder was broken. Grabbing the item magically caused a Majini swarm to fill the village, and while Chris was stuck on the ground, Sheva had a safe place from which to snipe.
Next – Mercenaries mode and our final verdict on Resident Evil 5