Taking advantage of our early entry onto the TGS showroom floor this morning, Mike and myself popped over to Sony's booth to play a little Resident Evil 5 co-op. Mike got Chris and a shotgun, I got Sheva and a handgun/sniper rifle, we both got dropped into some African marketplace and had to kill a whole load of zombies. Oh, sorry Capcom PR guy: infected. So, how'd we go?
We died. A lot. The level, which has been played a few times at press events, starts with the two characters trapped in a house while a horde of zombies - and a big dude with an even bigger axe - come at you like spider monkeys. Being the first time we'd played co-op, instead of trying to finish the level, we figured we'd test out some of the co-op specific parts of the game.
These mostly involve one player bailing out the other. Say, for example, Chris gets grabbed by a zombie and is about to get his face bit off. Sheva can run up and with a prompted button press give the offending zombie a kick in the head. Another case is taking a cue from some other recent co-op games by letting one player save the other from death. If Chris, for example, is near death, Sheva will get critical warning messages (which you'll need to heed, since if one player dies, it's mission over). Run over to him, follow the button prompt, and you can revive him.
The other way the game uses co-op is to surmount some obstacles. Long jumps, that sort of thing. Think Ico, with Chris giving Sheva a leg up, etc. Though these are strategically placed, and entirely artificial, making them more a gimmick than any mind-blowing addition to the way the co-op mechanic works.
And how does it affect your Resident Evil experience? Playing with a friend changes things entirely. While both Chris and Sheva will be in the single player game, there's something about relying on AI for help that just doesn't feel right. Indeed, you'll probably end up having to save the AI more often than it saves you. But with someone else there with you, shit is different.
That feeling of having zombies creep in and surround you is gone, as even if they should flank you, a quick shout can get your friend kicking three of them in the face at the same time and saving your butt. I didn't think that single aspect could alter the feel of the game so much, but when you remove a lot of the tension, you realise how big a part tension played in the feel of the last games. Or, at least, Resident Evil 4, since that in turn didn't feel like the previous installments.
I, for one, think it's a great addition, because it drops a lot of the pretense that this is still a survival horror game. Which it's not. This is an action game, just like Res 4 was before it, and adding a co-op mode where players aren't just playing together, but have to rely on each other, is only going to kick this series up a notch.