Love In The Time Of Las Plagas
"We are strong, no one can tell us we're wrong. / Searching our hearts for so long, both of us knowing..."
- Pat Benatar, "Love Is A Battlefield"
Our boat stops in front of a corroded, blood-red gate. The pilot, a West African military man with at least a full clip of ammo strapped to his hip, explains that Shawn and I need to exit this increasingly unsafe vessel, navigate our way through a mindless horde of infectious monsters (and two giant turrets), then flip two switches at the same time before we continue.
He does not offer to help.
We mantle up the side of the pier and take cover behind a couple of large crates, upon which sits ammunition for a handgun. Immediately the bickering begins.
Shawn and I didn't plan to play Resident Evil 5 together. It'd come up during instant messages meant to distract one another from the grind of our days, but it wasn't until the disc was spinning in my drive that the concept of a professional partnership took hold. It was also never our intention to play it all weekend, well into the night, or to take it quite so seriously. Sometimes Fate just brings people together, however briefly. After four days of running, shouting, shooting and swearing, we weren't quite sure which had captivated us more: the heart-shocking terror of RE5, or our own personal bromance. Both were equally epic.
As much as I love co-op, there aren't a lot of people I can play these games with. It's not a reclusive thing: I consider myself a fairly social person, with a full Friend's List and a multitude of people in my life with whom to play games. I've been in guilds, clans, parties and what was once ironically described as a "murder" of Diablo 2 players. Most of these groups fell apart in a burst of interpersonal drama and conflict, power struggles and petty bickering. Little actual cooperation was involved. But solving a game's puzzles in an immediate and enjoyable manner requires a certain chemistry: a compatibility in thinking and play styles, and a sizable amount of communication.
Not unlike marriage, I've heard.
We begin adopting roles from the beginning. I commit my Sheva to bringing the heavy heat to our fights and outfit her with an assortment of machine guns and explosives. In contrast, Shawn turns into a giggling child when we discover the first sniper rifle in the game. The sheer joy he gets from popping a zombie's head off its shoulders, gore spewing from the open hole, is as infectious as the virus that created them. No matter what, he wants the headshot. He lives for the headshot. Even if it means some giant infection tentacle will take that head's place and beat me to near-death. He might even enjoy that part more.
Those roles extend even further. The longer we play, the more we realize that my Oscar and his Felix need each other to survive. I want to run into the middle of a horde and experiment with the game's melee mechanics. He prefers to sit back and watch me fail. One endgame encounter involves shooting a boss in the chest, then getting close enough to yank a gem out of the gaping wound. Shawn can't get close enough to pull on the gem without getting smacked, but my Quick-Time Event-fu is strong.
We also find ourselves approaching the game's traps as a team. During a sequence in an oil refinery, a crazed zombie with a sack on its head leaps down into the locked room I'm in. After a couple of horrific deaths wherein I am introduced to the business end of a chainsaw, we work out a strategy. Of course, that strategy involves me running around distracting the zombie while Shawn plays the hero and snipes him repeatedly, but we eventually kill the bastard. Point is, we work together rather well.
Finding the right partner is the hardest part. I don't want to be tethered to John Rambo, running through the tribal villages, bogarting all the grenades and leaving me in the dust. At the same time, I don't want to be saddled with a sidekick who misses every shot and blows through my precious ammo and medkits.
I need a partner who is as interested in pacing and exploration as they are in lighting a zombie rush on fire. I can't imagine playing through with someone who wants to finish as fast as possible, and I certainly won't play all the way through with a stranger. I need a partner that won't drive me crazy.
After 11 hours, a few epic boss fights and an awful lot of gore, I found Resident Evil 5 to be more about teamwork and cooperation than any other recent game. Capcom's gamble on co-op mechanics lead to a game I'd have otherwise ignored, and certainly wouldn't have played myself. I don't see myself doing another run through, but I'll always have those memories of me and Shawn, locked and loaded, eradicating the zombie menace one gratifying headshot at a time.
We'll always have Kijuju.