Resident Evil 5 Final Build Hands-On Preview

The producer of Ready to Rumble Revolution on bringing the fight to Atari.

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Such heart-in-mouth moments come a lot thicker and faster this time round, not because there are more enemies, or even many new breeds of enemies, but because those enemies are more challengingly arranged. There are the familiar gibbering wretches brandishing farm implements who advance, step by terrifyingly unhurried step, in the face of your fire, abruptly breaking into a maniac sprint as they close the distance, but there's also a lot more in the way of beastly crossbowmen or Molotov-cocktail throwers, often squatting discreetly on rooftops. As before, the infected can pin you, gobbling away at your health bar till you boot them off by hammering the pad furiously, and a sizeable proportion of them house the aforementioned huge spiky tentacles, who tend to appear just after you've whittled a clip down to its last round. The less said about dogs and their habit of lurking under train carriages, the better.

Just as well then that there's another pair of (very pretty) eyes to safeguard your hulking Caucasian rear as you barricade doors and windows against the Majini, or draw them towards choke points for maximum hit potential. Co-op isn't available in our preview build, sadly, but Sheva's AI fills in plausibly for a second player. The lass can wield any weapon Chris can, from sniper rifles through shotguns to submachine guns, though she favours the default pistol. She can also heal herself (health sprays now have an area of effect, making it easier to keep both characters fighting fit), has her own separate inventory and will venture off independently to break open crates and the like for items. Link would be proud.

The player has a modicum of control over her actions - you can yell out to Sheva for back-up with the circle button, or hold it down to swap offensive and defensive combat behaviours (to little noticeable practical effect, it must be said). Item management, we were glad to discover, is entirely in your hands: you can browse through and cheerily pinch Sheva's equipment by hitting R1 on the inventory screen.

Even without deliberate moves on Capcom's part to craft engaging scenarios around this partnership, the base design inherited from Resident Evil 4 proves flexible enough to accommodate another participant in combat, with subtle consequences. Like yours, Sheva's gun has a laser sight, clearly indicating who or what she's shooting at; like yours, her bullets will jolt, spin or knock their target back depending on where they hit. If you're both shooting at the same Majini, the force of her shot might cause yours to miss. Separating your windows of fire hence becomes paramount.

From such small beginnings the developer builds up to more sustained kinds of interdependence. In the darkness of the mines, one character is burdened with a lantern while the other fights off Majini miners; in the marshes, Chris drives an airboat while Sheva snipes from the bow. It's the gruelling boss fights, however, that really force you to work together - towering, seething geysers of spines, teeth and bad attitude, requiring both nimble reflexes and divide-and-conquer tactics to defeat. Our favourite so far has to be the armour-plated bat-caterpillar thing which comes screeching out of a wrecked fuel tanker in chapter two, though the anaemic, bearded Incredible Hulk-a-like which follows packs a punch.

Given the ludicrousness of those set-pieces, it's tempting to laugh off the game's occasional flirtation with racism. Racial (not to mention sexual) stereotyping is hardly new ground where videogames are concerned - witness the long line of half-cocked African-American supporting acts of which Killzone 2's Rico and Gears of War's Cole Train are recent examples - and the Resident Evil games have always been a mishmash of clichés, with the Spanish coming up for the B-movie treatment last time round. But where other titles regurgitate their stereotypes in a fairly innocent fashion, racy rather than racist, Resident Evil 5 sometimes crosses the line.

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