The Resident Evil 5 demo went live on Xbox Live today, but only for residents of Japan. Luckily enough, I happen to now be a resident of Japan, and I’ve put a little time into the demo (if you live in another country you’ll have to wait, but if you are adventurous you could try this). The game is very clearly an evolution of Resident Evil 4–it’s the same basic interface, the same controls, the same enemy reactions, the same sort of game play. Run into a house, barricade the doors, fight off the hoards of zombies that approach. The graphics are in HD now and look great, but they retain the same sort of feeling as the previous game; dilapidated shantytowns inhabited by angry zombies are again the norm. There’s even a couple of analogs for the chainsaw man, including an axe-wielding giant. The second character, Shiva, seems to be more of a burden than a help, which is unfortunate; Resident Evil 0 had really nicely controlled AI partners that didn’t need a lot of hand-holding.
I feel like this game is a culmination of all of Capcom’s recent Resident Evil work. The co-op mode works off the rules defined by Resident Evil Outbreak, the moment-to-moment game play is all Resident Evil 4, and the play-with-a-partner puzzles are straight out of Resident Evil 0. One biggest change compared to RE4 is that the item select menu does not pause the game; switching weapons and using health items doesn’t stop the crazy knife-wielding zombie dudes from bearing down on you. While this change makes the combat all the more stressful, I think its a feature that was necessitated by the network play requirements of this game rather than the horror aspects (Outbreak, if I remember correctly, works the same way).
The demo contains two missions, “Public Assembly” and “Shanty Town”. Both are hard. It’s been a couple of years since I played Resident Evil 4, and my Xbox controller is running out of batteries which causes the game to pause annoyingly every few minutes, but I was still surprised by the level of difficulty that the demo commands. I have only played about an hour so far, but in that hour I’ve died several times and I have yet to complete either mission. I suspect that the final game will be quite challenging, though I also think that it will get easier as I remember how this type of game is supposed to be played.
Interestingly, the zombies themselves come in several shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. I wonder if Capcom added non-black zombies to the game to address the accusations of racism that early gameplay videos received. In any case, other than their appearance the zombies themselves seem to be absolutely the same as those in Resident Evil 4.
All that said, I think that the co-op mode may be the feature that sets this game apart from its predecessors. There’s a lot of opportunity for interesting co-op play (one character reaches a sniper location and covers the other, etc), and games like Gears of War, which were clearly inspired by Resident Evil 4, have received a lot of praise for their multiplayer. I’m really interested to try this online with friends and see how well it works (offline co-op, a rare feature nowadays, is also supported).