That's not to say Resident Evil 5 is in any way a bad game, because judged on its own merits it's a very enjoyable and polished effort, blessed with considerate checkpointing, well-balanced enemies, sensible ammo-placement and the removal of the needless backtracking that used to pad out many of the previous titles. You can even buy ammo and health between deaths, upgrade weapons and tool up when things are getting too difficult. That's all fine, but Capcom might have been better off presenting this as an action-focused spin-off series in the same way it did with its numerous lightgun titles. But it hasn't. This is it now. This is where Resident Evil has gone.
Fortunately, there are quite a number of saving graces. Firstly, there's the ludicrously camp drama that ties things together. We're bound by sinister threats from revealing specific plot details, but suffice to say that it's brilliant in its complete ridiculousness, and worthy of Scooby Doo in its chucklesome improbability. If there's one thing Capcom hasn't lost the ability to do, it's weaving an air of sinister mystery throughout, so that even going from A to B to C and shooting everything in between is never less than captivating.
But what really boosts the game's appeal is co-op play with a friend. Although the AI does a reasonably decent job on normal difficulty, it's by no means infallible, and, at worst, can be downright dim-witted in the choice of weapon and use of health (you'll waste plenty of ammo on the early scorpion boss, for example, because Sheva struggles to draw its attention so you can blast its weak spot). The fiddly inventory system, likewise, is a real toil when you're under pressure. Simple procedures like dishing out spare ammo and health to your partner take place while the action goes on around you, and with no quick way of doing so, it's almost pointless to try during a fire-fight.
Crank it up to Veteran level and matters become unbearable, with your partner consistently getting into difficulty during even the earliest encounters, and often no quick means of helping her out. Given how many people will want to play the game on their own, this is more than a minor oversight. Resident Evil 5 as a single-player game is nowhere near as entertaining as Resi 4. But that doesn't apply when you're able to play alongside a pal. With a skilled friend in tow, it's one of the best co-op shooters I've played - at least if you dare to crank up the challenge.
On Normal level, Capcom has done what so many developers have done in this generation, and made it too easy. With all the checkpoints available, an average player will breeze through the game in 10-12 hours, beating most of the bosses on the very first attempt. However, Capcom has made one exceptionally smart design decision in rewarding game completion with an infinite-ammo assault rifle.
While this is a fairly standard reward in Resi games, it works particularly well with co-op in mind, because it enables you to tackle the enormously entertaining Veteran difficulty on a surer footing and wade into enemies like never before. The entire style of the game transforms, as one player harvests all the ammo while the other becomes a kind of point man, taking the lead and a lot of the risk into the bargain. Because enemies are so much tougher at this level, and dish out so much more damage, what might have been a mindless procession turns into a challenging, tense affair that plays out superbly with someone providing backup.
Even better, Capcom has managed to get the whole thing working well whether you're playing locally or over the internet. Offline, the split-screen mode is excellent, with an interesting horizontal split system that, rather than splitting the screen in half, shifts both views to a specific portion of the screen area to maintain the aspect ratio. If you're lucky enough to own a big TV, it feels like having a proper screen to yourself, which is rarely the case in these situations. Online, of course, is at the mercy of connections speeds and lag, but in the right conditions holds up remarkably well.
So while Resident Evil 5 might not be the game that the traditionalist might have hoped for, it still stands out as hugely enjoyable in its own right. Bereft of puzzle and exploration, Capcom has instead pointed both barrels at the action element in the hope that the masses will warm to it. Thanks to the game's stubborn loyalty to stop-and-shoot, the result is distinctive, but with suspect partner AI to contend with, this is a game that only truly comes into its own with a friend who's up for a challenge.