The Capcom Resident Evil 5/Bionic Commando event featured some 30 consoles loaded with the Japanese demo of RE5 that went live in early December.
devious dedicated Resident Evil 5 fans will have already played these levels and can skip to Part the Second where I talk about the "never-before-seen" levels Capcom showed off. For everyone else, here's what I came away with having played the levels Japan won't let us have 'til "early 2009."
My co-op buddy for this event was Joystiq's Randy Nelson (blog solidarity). I got to play as the "host" of our online match - making me Chris Redfield and Randy the female sidekick Sheva Alomar. We started out with the dusty shanty town level to get the hang of moving, shooting and not shooting at our co-op buddy. There's no friendly fire in the game, but it's sort of rude to keep shooting at your buddy's face.
The inventory system took me a while to get used to. Unlike Resident Evil 4 where you had a nifty briefcase and the luxury of a paused game when you opened it, RE5 doesn't stop the game when you tap the inventory button. This adds a whole degree of difficulty to combat when you're trying to change guns mid-fight, but I don't know that it doesn't interrupt the combat just as much as if the game did pause.
Luckily, you can hotkey weapons to the D-pad and green herbs seem to magically appear in your hand if your partner is injured and you're standing close enough to you to heal them. And I figured out how to reload your gun without using the inventory screen. It's slightly tedious because you have to hold down the left trigger and press A (reload) instead of X (fire). This is how I wound up shooting Randy more often than reloading my gun.
The demo also teaches you how to interact with our buddy. The B button (or Circle as the case may be) is all partner interaction stuff, from reviving them to giving them boosts onto broken ladders. The X button (Square) is all about you - taking ammo, stomping downed zombies and kicking down doors. I thought it was kind of cool how you could pick up ammo and items with B, thereby dropping it in your buddy's inventory instead of yours. But I'm an item hog, so I never used this feature. I did use B to punch zombies holding my buddy down and also to haul my buddy up from a ledge.
That section cleared, we reloaded the game into the next sample stage which looked exactly like the first one (I assume because they're both part of the same level). This part had us sneaking into a building to watch an execution hosted by a guy with a megaphone and a creature that looks like Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill series.
Upon being discovered by the guy with the megaphone (who then calls upon the crowd of zombies to come kill us), Sheva and Chris have to hunker down in this confined space and gun down anything that busts through a door or breaks through a window. Eventually, the Pyramid Head guy breaks through the wall and you have to unload at least five clips of handgun bullets or three boxes of shotgun shells to get him to go down.
At that moment, the game felt a little like Left 4 Dead - there were too many zombies, my partner needed to be rescued, and for a while there weren't enough bullets to kill them all. I was teetering at the edge of zombie-induced anxiety, but before I could take the plunge into "Oh em gee, this is scary," all the enemies were killed and Randy and I were at full health. And a bunch of handgun ammo spawned in where the dead zombie bodies had evaporated.
It wasn't scary, and it really wasn't challenging. Maybe that's a tall order for a demo, but I really felt like something was off with Resident Evil 5 based on this demo. Maybe it was the fact that I could punch zombies - that kind of reduces their scariness. Although, you could kick zombies in RE4 and that didn't ruin it for me. So maybe it was having another person with me the whole time - one with her own guns that usually didn't need saving.
I was still mulling it over when Randy suggested we move on to the "new" levels. I told him about my misgivings and he shrugged, saying maybe the new stuff would be a better representation of the game.
By better, I hoped he meant scary. And by scary, I'd accept any from Left 4 Dead "Oh shit, too many zombies!" to RE4's mostly-unsettling-occasional-oh-shit moments. Anything but bland post-apocalyptic shooter...