Following one of the greatest games of all time can't be easy. For many people Resident Evil 4 is the perfect game. It's action packed, tense, scary, brilliantly paced, full of "wow" moments, features incredible visuals, is jammed full of replay value and surprises from start to finish. Four years later gamers expect this and more from Resident Evil 5. While in most cases Capcom has delivered the goods, making what will undoubtedly be one of the best games of 2009, it doesn't quite have the magic that made Resi 4 so special.
We won't detail too much of the story as spoiling it would hurt your enjoyment, but you play Chris Redfield (Resident Evil veteran from the very first game in the series), now a member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA), who enters the fictional African country Kijuju in order to investigate a mysterious event in the desert. Cue a zombie outbreak similar to that seen in Resident Evil 4 (where we've got infected humans, not the walking dead), with heads exploding and mutated monstrosities bursting out with a general willingness to cause harm to everyone around them.
There's obviously a shady organisation behind all this, working on a virus for its own evil means. You'll come across a whole host of familiar faces, and prepare to be surprised now and again, too. Part of Resident Evil's charm has always been its cheesy storylines and dialogue, and this is carried off quite superbly here. The main bad guys ham it up quite brilliantly, the plot takes Chris to places you simply couldn't have foreseen as you walk the streets of an eerily quiet small town during the game's opening, and some of the one-liners are truly laugh out loud funny.
Much has been made of Resi 5's core gameplay mechanics, with the characters unable to move and shoot, forcing players to stand still every time they want to fire a gun or slash with a melee weapon. This will be a problem for some people, but if you enjoyed Resi 4 it won't be an issue at all. New to the series is the ability to strafe while walking (you can choose to use a more traditional control scheme if you wish), so once you've gotten to grips with the control scheme you're really quite nimble - especially with a powerful weapon in your hand that enables you to run up close to the infected and take them down in one shot.
It's your co-op partner Sheva Alomar (an agent of the West African branch of the BSAA) that really makes Resi 5 a different Resident Evil experience, whether in the hands of a real person or AI controlled. How good a job the AI-controlled Sheva does depends on the situation. If you want her to kill enemies, set her to attack mode and she'll be great, and she's brilliant at healing you when you need "urb", but if you want her to do a specific task (distract an enemy for example) she's more or less useless. This is where a real person (playing online or via single system split-screen) can remove many of the game's more frustrating moments.
When playing with AI Sheva you're going to have to tackle the more complex bosses without much help, moving into the right position to attack their weak spots through your own hard work. If you've got a friend helping you out you can work together to get these bosses exactly where you want them. During general attacks on infected one player can take out the up close enemies, ideally with a tuned-up shotgun, while the other can hang back and snipe. It sounds like simple stuff, but it works really well. There are numerous split-path moments too, so the co-op gameplay certainly hasn't been shoe-horned in. Resident Evil 5 was clearly designed from the ground up as a game best played with a friend.
What makes Resident Evil 5 so much fun to play is the way it's impossible to know what's coming next. You start off in a seriously atmospheric African town, complete with villagers, but you're soon off to an oil refinery, a pitch-black mine, a secret bunker, a yacht and more. Tie these environments to some breathtaking set-piece encounters and you'll be looking back on your time with the game and reminiscing about certain moments just as many people do with Resident Evil 4. There are some spectacular on-rails sections too, and superbly directly QTEs that never make you wish they were traditional gameplay elements.