Picking apart the Resident Evil 5 demo

Resident Evil 5

With Resident Evil 4 being one of my favorite games of all time, it probably goes without saying that I've been eagerly anticipating Resident Evil 5 ever since the first teaser images appeared in the summer of 2005. Now that I've had the chance to spend some time with the new RE5 demo, I thought I'd share some of my impressions, both positive and negative.

To start with the positive, RE5 looks and sounds fantastic. The sun-baked African setting is wonderfully polished and detailed, and the music does a great job of heightening the tension, creating a sense of frantic excitement while the player is being surrounded by infected enemies (zombies?). And I feel compelled to give a special shout out to the exploding barrels, which pack more visual oomph than any other exploding barrel in pretty much any other game I've played (and there are a lot of them).

While the game feels very similar to RE4, a lot of small improvements have been made on the gameplay side. It's now possible to assign items and guns to the d-pad for quick access, so there's no more going into the inventory screen to switch between the handgun and the shotgun. Items can also be picked up in real time, without a screen popping up like in RE4. These changes don't really break any new ground so much as bring RE5 in line with current standards.

The co-op is an excellent feature, and despite my initial reservations upon hearing about it, I'm pretty convinced that Capcom has made the right decision to build the game around a two-player experience. Interestingly, the top and bottom halves of the split-screen are staggered so that the top half has a black bar to the right and the bottom half has a black bar to the left. I like the way that it preserves a more natural screen ratio for each player while also making each half feel more separated and therefore easier to independently focus on. My wife and I played several rounds of co-op, and we both really enjoyed the sense of teamwork involved (e.g., grabbing enemies off the other player, sharing ammo, and reviving the other player with health spray). Now my wife is looking forward to it just so she can play it with me.

There are, however, some negatives. While I appreciate that it's now possible to strafe while walking around, I'm annoyed that it's still not possible to move while shooting. They're taking a step in the right direction here, but it's still just a baby step. Capcom needs to bite the bullet and bring RE5's gameplay in line with current standards. This issue doesn't destroy the game, but it definitely hurts it. Another problem is that the framerate can take a big hit during split-screen co-op mode, particularly when crowds of enemies are on both halves of the screen. This is just a demo, so hopefully they can iron this out before the game ships.

A final complaint I have is that the demo didn't include any interesting light-related visual or gameplay mechanics. The developers have been talking for years about how sunlight is supposed to play this special role in the game. For example, they've said that there will be times when the player's eyes have to adjust when moving from bright sunlight to dark indoors, resulting in times where the player enters a room and only gradually realizes that there are enemies inside. It was a bit disappointing to not see any evidence of that in the demo. Maybe they're just saving that stuff for the full game, but it would have been nice to see some firsthand proof.

Criticisms notwithstanding, it's a good demo and certainly does nothing to decrease my anticipation for the game. Here's hoping that Capcom addresses some of the problems that are evident in the demo before the final release.