Resident Evil 5 – Demo First Impressions

resident_evil_5_-_e3-ps3__xbox_360screenshots10287event0011-00000With each passing day, we get closer and closer to one of the most anticipated gaming titles of this generation of consoles, let alone 2009. Resident Evil 5 is coming, bringing with it a horde of chainsaw wielding maniacs, zombies, villagers, and zombie villagers. Capcom was nice enough to give the 360 owners a demo of it on Monday. I couldn’t wait to take it for a spin. Will the game live up to expectations, or is it going to be dragged down and have its bones feasted upon? Let’s take a look at the demo, but remember, all impressions are just that-demo impressions.

The file itself isn’t huge – only 478MB. Do yourself a favor and grab it, especially if you are on the fence. This is one time where a demo might swing your dollar one way or the other, instead of just acting as a preview. It won’t take up a lot of space for what you get, either, so even if your hard drive is filling up with videos and arcade titles, you should be able to squeeze it in. Graphically, the game is top notch, so I won’t discuss those too much. The demo levels take place somewhere in the middle first third of the game, or at least I think they do. There are two micro-levels included. First up is a brutal execution, where you will see the monster with the engine block axe behead someone at the behest of a man with a megaphone. After that, your presence is noted and frowned upon, so you will have to hold off an endless supply of zombies and the axe-man himself while waiting for air support. The next level, Shanty Town, is a much slower crawl through a ramshackle hovel, culminating in a showdown with a chainsaw wielding maniac. The what and the where for conext aren’t that important as this is a demo. What really matters is the how. Resident Evil 4 was a huge step in the right direction in controls for this series. Did they take the next step? Capcom is taking a huge gamble with this one by changing drastically in some ways, and not at all in others.

So, how about them zombies? For a series marked by hordes of undead, Resident Evil 4 and 5 shifted to the “infected villager” option. I’m sure that the Las Plagas from RE4 are going to be used as a way of controlling the zombies in RE5, but we’ll have to wait for the full game to see the story play out. Anyway, the enemies are the infected villagers, including the head-bursting variety. In a cool twist, since light is such a big deal in this game, revealing one of them while outside isn’t a big deal as they shrivel and die quickly. On the other claw, revealing one inside is a problem as they don’t have the sun to kill them. The “boss” monsters, who in the demo are the Axe-Man and the Chainsaw freak, have one hit kills to watch out for as well. The game certainly feels harder and less forgiving than RE4 did.

The Infected still have the three-step sprint followed by the shuffle when they get close. This time they aren’t carrying farming implements so much as pipe wrenches, glass bottles, and kurkri knives. There are a lot more of them though, and they generally move quicker, so you will need to be on your toes. You will get surrounded and you will get killed, unless you are really quick.

Adding to this fear is a general lack of ammo and health herbs. You start either level with two weapons plus your knife, and you have to scramble to find more either in the level or as the corpses melt away. As it is a demo and you haven’t had any chance to upgrade your weapons, what you do have feels rather inadequate at times. Again, this is only a demo, but keep in mind that your guns are rather basic.

Let’s talk about combat next. The demo features a satisfying array of those non-upgraded weapons, and plenty of targets to use them on. You still have one button that draws your weapon, and another that fires. This wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that moving and aiming does not happen whatsoever. If you pull out your pistol, shotgun, knife, whatever, be prepared to stand there and go to work before you move again. Now, we have probably all heard Cliffy B tell us that RE4 was a huge influence on Gears of War. Sadly, that influence isn’t a two-way street. Where Gears let you move and aim at the same time, albeit very slowly, RE5 is going to follow the established pattern and plant your feet. This feels very cumbersome after the gaming advances we’ve seen since RE4.

re5sc1 Also, the laser reticle from RE4 is back. While this is a great improvement over iron-sight aiming, you still have to wait until you see a dot on your target before you fire. And every time you hit an enemy, they react by stumbling, staggering, or falling over. That automatically turns the laser sight from a dot to a line, meaning that your next round will miss if you fire too quickly. What does all this mean mechanically? Aim. Shoot. React. Shoot. React. Shoot. React. Zombie drops. Reload. Move. Now, I’m willing to bet that this type of methodical pacing in a gunfight might have had something to do with the fact that RE4 was already squeezing the Gamecube for all it was worth. Maybe that slower action was necessary. On the 360 (and obviously on the PS3, as well) gamers who are expecting much faster gun action are going to have to recalibrate their trigger fingers. This is likely to lead to a lot of frustrating wastes of ammo, and deaths.

Speaking of frustration, the other “updated” thing to the series is the new inventory system. No longer does the game pause as you check your gear. So if you aren’t alone, you had better have magic fingers to swap weapons, arm a grenade, or use a healing herb. Compounding this is the fact that the same Resident Evil inventory options are there. Use, Drop, Equip, and Combine. When you are getting surrounded, it is all too easy to drop a grenade instead of equipping it. With your partner standing close enough, you will have Trade as an option up there as well. It gets cumbersome in a hurry. This would be a perfect time to grab some bullet-time effect for both players to be slowed down but not paused. Does it add to the tension? Yes, but in my opinion, it is at the cost of smooth gameplay.

Next, let’s discuss what is probably the biggest change-the permanent co-op. This is going to be a game best played with friends. Chris Redfield is joined by femme-fatale Sheva (Really Capcom, Sheva?) as he investigates the African branch of Umbrella. And these two are joined at the hip. Unlike Halo 3, where you have back-up randomly from the Arbiter depending on the mission, Chris and Sheva were never more than a few yards awa.y Granted, it is just two levels, but I bet they never separate in the game when it releases.

You will get a feel for some of the co-op puzzles in the demo. Chris will help Sheva jump over a ledge he can’t cross, and she will unlock a gate for him on the other side. It seems kind of pedestrian, but it gets a lot more involved when you drop her in front of a dozen infected villagers that you have to keep off of her while the door is opened. So can Sheva take care of herself? No, not really. As I mentioned, Capcom was pretty generous. Not only do you have both levels, but you also have single player, local co-op, and Live co-op to experiment with. This isn’t just a one player game. In the single-player mode Sheva’s AI either mirrors you too closely, or she runs off to catch power tools with her face. She will shoot at the zombies you are shooting at, meaning your round goes harmlessly past, or you both hit them at the same time for the kill. Waste of ammo, either way. The inventory can be a hassle when you are the only one using it intelligently.

929198_20080603_screen001All that goes away when you have a live person with you though. Whether next to you or through Xbox Live, co-ordinating attacks with two people is so much easier, and far more satisfying. Just being able to say “I’ve got this way, you cover my back,” makes a difference. The inventory also becomes manageable, instead of a panic-inducing threat.

When you have been clawed, hacked, and bled enough by the villagers, you will start to die. This is made obvious by a flashing red DYING indicator on your health bar. Your partner will need to get to you and use a healing item in this state-you can’t heal yourself. Another cool thing about the Co-Op is that the health herbs are now area effect uses. Make sure to get close before you use them, and both of you get a boost.

So what’s the verdict? Honestly, there are a few things that turn me off about Resident Evil 5. The biggest is probably the no-movement-while-shooting issue. Even slowing to a crawl would be better than not at all. The single-player AI for your partner leaves a lot to be desired as well. Sheva’s a pretty decent shot, but very trigger-happy. I feel like the biggest challenge facing Chris Redfield is the hype-monster that is lurking around the edges. Resident Evil 4 was such an advancement over past games in the series, even on the Gamecube’s less-than-mighty hardware. Now, with the move to the advanced consoles, people are expecting great things. The demo shows that Resident Evil 5 is certainly aiming for a major overhaul of the series, but it needs more than a new coat of paint. The new inventory and the Co-Op are going to take some serious getting used to. And they are changes that a lot of people might not enjoy. Of course, we do have the demo to get used to the new stuff, but, buyer beware…of chainsaw wielding zombies.

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