I don’t know how many of you have ever watched a movie series called “American Ninja”?

The series had two main characters (Joe and Michael) who never actually starred in the same movie until the fifth and final one in the series. Resident Evil reminds me of this series a little because it also has two main characters; Chris Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy, and again, neither of these characters has appeared in the same game together (but won’t it be awesome when they eventually do!).

The last Resident Evil game had Leon as the front runner but for Resident Evil 5 it is finally Chris’s time in the spotlight again. But this time he’s not alone, oh no, this time he has a new female partner named Sheva.

Having a partner in an Resident Evil game is nothing new, but what is new is that Sheva has the potential to be much more than just an AI character that helps you. This time the Resident Evil series introduces co-op into the game.

While Resident Evil 5 is fun to play through on your own, it doesn’t truly shine until you have a buddy by your side, then it’s even better!

Moving through the levels whilst figuring out who carries what (and sharing ammo and other items) creates a great bond between you and your partner. This is even more apparent during the boss fights where team work can be very important. Even though an AI-controlled Sheva can get the job done, the game is definitely better with another person at the controls. I personally felt AI Sheva wastes ammo just a bit too much and doesn’t really help you when you are in trouble the way a real person would (unless they’re a jerk).

Because of the focus on co-op there’s lots of ways to work together. You can help each other to reach places you normally wouldn't (only in context sensitive spots) or if a zombie grabs your partner you can punch/kick them off and save your buddy’s butt. There is a really large focus on teamwork which makes the game a lot less scary, but a lot more fun.

Actually, it’s not just the co-op that makes it less scary. It’s safe to say that Resident Evil 5 is much more an action game than a horror game. So instead of scares, it’s more thrilling. During some of the bigger battles where you are trapped in an area and simply have to survive for an unknown amount of time it can be extremely exciting and will definitely get your blood pumping. Also, because most of the game takes place outside during the day with the bright African sun, it makes the game even tenser when you do have to go into a dark tunnel or cave.

While your journey through the game will be mostly linear, many of these big battle areas are in fairly open spaces with a few options of where you can go in order to get away from the never ending army of zombies (sorry… infected).

When you do get away and find the quieter areas of the game, you can take the time to appreciate the absolutely gorgeous graphics. Resident Evil 5 looks amazing. The lighting effects, explosions, animations - basically everything just looks incredible. It really does a great drop of bringing you into its world. Another thing that helps this along is the story. I am currently almost half way through the game, but even from here I can see that this is definitely one of the better stories in the Resident Evil series so far. I also get the feeling from where I am that it haven’t even fully opened up yet.

The cinematics are extremely well polished and the characters are brought to life with very good voice acting.

On the opposite side of the coin, something that does a very good job of pulling you out of the game is if you play co-op with split screen. I simply cannot understand the design decision behind this. Instead of the traditional horizontal or vertical split, here each player is given their own little box within the screen. Then each box is slightly to the side of each other. The advantages of this is that each player gets the same full view they would in single-player, albeit just a much smaller version of it, which makes everything seem so much further away and text very difficult to read. The downside to this is it leaves the top right and bottom left corners of the screen completely blank. It’s very distracting and can completely kill the immersion of the game.

It is clear that playing co-op online is the way to go, but for those who don’t have the option or prefer playing with a friend on the same couch it is a shame this was the best solution the developers could come up with, especially when you look at the quality of everything else in the game.

The best thing Resident Evil 5 has going for it is its variety. It’s not the same game the whole way through, as it gets broken up with different segments (on rail shooters, interesting boss fights, interactive cut-scenes through quick time events, driving sequences etc). It's constantly changing and modifying the pace of action and the situations the players find themselves in. It keeps the game moving at a great rate and makes sure it always stays interesting, keeping the players on their toes.

So far I am having a blast going through Resident Evil 5, especially when I have someone else playing by my side. While it definitely has a few problems with its design, it’s not hard to see why this is one of the most anticipated games of 2009 and best of all, It’s almost here!

Keep an eye out for our full review in the next few weeks where we’ll give the game our final verdict. Will Resident Evil 5 just be another great addition to the series for the fans? A really fun game but with some clear and glaring flaws? Or potentially an early competitor for Game of the Year? Stay tuned to Gameplanet to find out!