Since its release, I’ve been playing a lot of Resident Evil 5. The story mode, in all of its co-op glory, is pretty rad. It isn’t the long and epic journey through a creepy and foreign area as Resident Evil 4 was, but this is a different beast altogether. Whereas 4 was not only a revision of the current formula, but also an attempt at creating a completely solitary experience where the player is stranded, and it’s his skills alone that will allow them to triumph. In 5, though, the templates of the familiar face fighting his way in and then out of an environment that they’re not familiar with, but it takes a left turn where 4 took a right.
Instead of the isolation that was such a key role in manipulating the player in RE4, RE5’s focuses on the concept of using cooperation in order to get tasks that one person couldn’t do alone. This is true beyond just the addition of a partner. Throughout the whole game, most tasks above killing villagers and the like require the abilities of more than one person. Getting up to higher areas, defeating a giant in a jeep, fighting motorcycle-riding zombies, getting across areas often have you teaming up with someone other than both of the players.
This element is clear in the story as well. Your goal in the game is primarily to find your partner, and there’s an underlying theme of “trusting your partner”, and even the people pulling the strings have partners. Of course, in being the bad guys, there’s the element of using them and betraying them, but that’s an approach to a situation.
And given the theme of cooperation with others as the main objective in RE5, the game executes this in a satisfying way. The entire game is playable with another person, from the story mode to the Mercenaries mode. It stresses this point in almost every aspect of the gameplay. Limited storage space is shared between, in order to proceed to another area both of you must comply, and so on. This point is stressed so much that playing by yourself is crucially detrimental to your play experience, and there’s little reason to do so, with the option to play online. Not having an Internet connection disables this option, but even in split-screen the game plays better with a friend.
Also aiding the component of co-op is the game’s length. Though it has roughly the same number of chapters as RE4, the chapters themselves are shorter and feel somewhat disjointed. As an aspect of a single-player experience, this is something that hinders the immersion, but through the lens of a co-op game, it helps that they are shorter so that the game can be beaten in single sitting, if you have the conviction to see it through.
The game also tries to make up for the brevity of the campaign by adding some replay value to it. There are multiple difficulties, the game rates you on how well you did on each chapter, so you can go back and try to do better if you wish. There’s medallions to hunt, figures to get, costumes to unlock and all those other sorts of treats to try to get. Additionally, the game packs the return of the Mercenaries mode, where you’re dropped into a particular closed off area of the game and try to get the highest score possible.
And it was this mode in particular that made me realize that the game itself is fun to play. The complaints of restrictive controls are well-founded, with some awkward button placement issues to be addressed, but having adjusted to that, the way your character has weight, the feel of the weapons, their recoils and their impact on enemies, it all feel nice. All the aspects of playing the game, after playing it for a couple minutes, I wasn’t fighting the controls, and that part as well worked in tandem with the rest of the game to make it feel just the right mount of restrictive.
Sure, it isn’t RE4, and it certainly won’t have the impact on the industry that 4 had, but the shift of direction towards playing with someone, while sacrificing the elements of that invoked fear in the past, instead uses the new elements of a partner to create a new sort of tension of taking a certain amount of control out of one player’s hands and forcing them to rely on someone else. This is a different experience with a different template, and it’s refreshing to see something other than a re-hash.