With the Xbox 360 Resident Evil 5 demo hitting Japan earlier this week, naturally some effort was put into getting our hands on it sooner rather than later, and now we can report back on how the game is looking and how well the demo plays.
First things first. The graphics are every bit as good as they’ve looked in the screenshots and videos. There’s an incredible amount of detail everywhere you look, and the only complaint I can level at the demo is how static objects you can’t interact with can be.
The demo features two areas from early on in the game, both pretty similar in style. Anyone who has been watching videos of the game will recognize them both as areas that have been pretty heavily shown off already. You have a marketplace where Chris and Sheva get besieged by villagers and a hulking brute brandishing a massive hammer, and a shanty town where Chris and Sheva will have to split up to progress and ultimately fight a guy wielding a chainsaw.
The game plays very much like Resident Evil 4 at first glance, no bad thing in itself, but here’s a heads up for anyone expecting the core gameplay to have been advanced in any major way: The default controls in the demo are set up very like Gears of War. Left trigger aims, right trigger fires while aiming. The A button is run. You move with the left stick, aim with the right. When your character is stationary, you can strafe back and forth, and while running, of course you can turn and run-and-gun.
Where they are markedly different is that you cannot shoot while not aiming, and you cannot move at all while aiming. If you’re coming from Gears of War, that’s going to be pretty hard to get used to, but if you’re coming from RE4, it shouldn’t be a major surprise.
The classic RE4 controls are still available as control type A, and you can play with those in the demo too. Even though using them prevents you from strafing, it doesn’t really make a big difference, and speaking personally at least, they just felt right.
The main differences are that you are now either playing with a computer controlled partner at all times or playing with a friend in split screen or online, and you can no longer perform any actions while the game is paused. In the past you could heal, change weapon, check the map, etc., at any time and the game would freeze while this was going on. With RE5 having such a co-op focus, that is out the window and makes a huge difference.
The intensity you’d feel when facing a large number of opponents was one of the things that made RE4 so good, and this small change only increases it.
Having a second player or a computer controlled partner certainly doesn’t make the game any less scary either. Based on the demo it seems that they’ve increased the enemy numbers quite substantially. The second level forces you to split up at one point and gives you the option at another to have one player boosted up onto a rooftop to lay covering fire for the other player.
With Sheva being the lighter of the two characters and Chris being the stronger, you don’t choose who does which part. Sheva can’t boost Chris onto a roof or throw him over a large gap. Aside from that, though, the characters seem to be essentially the same in terms of abilities (although they do have custom melee animations much as each character in RE4 did).
Sheva is left-handed and so is switched to the right-hand side of the screen. It takes a little getting used to, but it actually makes it easier to cover a room or aim through a doorway since each character’s blind spot is reversed.
When one of you gets grabbed, the other can melee them off of you, and since some melee attacks leave an enemy stunned, you can have some fun double-teaming the crazed villagers.
If anything RE5 at this point seems more challenging even when playing with a friend, and due to Sheva not being so smart in single player, really seems more challenging in single player.
Sheva does fairly well in single player, but you don’t have the same opportunities to try more advanced tactics like one of you running diversion while the other snipes from afar, and if you’re a fan of the melee attacks, she’ll often shoot an enemy you’re about to melee before you get there, knocking him out of the stunned state.
The demo is a short taste of the game that lets you get a basic understanding of the controls and the combat. In co-op it feels brilliant, different and challenging, while really making you feel reliant on your teammate in much the same way that Left 4 Dead does so brilliantly. In single player it feels like RE4 with a competent sidekick, but one that doesn’t really add to the depth of the game and occasionally can feel like a bit of a liability (though obviously much more capable than the defenseless Ashley).
How the game shapes up as a single player title … there’s some cause for concern at this point, but based on this small taste my expectations for how fun this game is going to be with a friend have definitely increased.
The full version is currently slated for March next year on Xbox 360 and PS3 (pre-order your copy below), and this demo should be released in the US soon.
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