CAPTIVATE 08: Resident Evil 5 demo walkthrough delivers chills

As is typical with games of its caliber, there is much about Resident Evil 5 that is shrouded in mysteries and questions. At Capcom’s Las Vegas media event, CAPTIVATE 08, co-producers Jun Takeuchi and Masachicka Kawata aren’t exactly forthcoming with the answers you might have wanted. Speaking via a translator to a room full of weary gaming journalists (tired from a long night of drinking and Rock Band, of all things), the Japanese-speaking Takeuchi present to us most of the things we already knew.

Resident Evil 5 sees the return of series-regular Chris Redfield, who has joined a new organization and is sent on assignment to Africa, where a virus is transforming its people and animals into mindless, blood-thirsty creatures. Takeuchi introduces us to the trailer you’ve no doubt already seen by now, dimming the lights and politely asking us to resist our own animal urges to take notes. Not surprisingly, the trailer reinforces much of what we already knew, and manages introduces a new unknown — a mysterious female that appears to fight side-by-side with Chris. But Takeuchi’s lips are sealed.

“As much as we would really love to tell you all about her right now,” Takeuchi laments, “we can’t reveal any information about her just right at the moment.”

It’s easy to understand why they might be hesitant to reveal too much. The team is only 60% through development of a game that will offer over 20 hours of gameplay; with E3 right around the corner, they’re sure to reveal more soon. And with that, Takeuchi thanks us for coming, and says he looks forward to showing us more in the near future. The angry groans and pathetic sighs of the room were audible.

“Everybody’s like ‘What? What the hell is that?’” jokes Takeuchi. “You want some more information? Do you want to see some more?”

“OK, as a special gift to you guys, we’re going to show you a little bit more, and we have brought the world’s first playable ROM that we’re going to show you guys today at CAPTIVATE,” he told us as the lights went dim, and I got excited fanboy chills down by spine.

With an Xbox 360 controller in his hand, Kawata-san launches into a playable presentation that begins with Chris standing inside of small house, seemingly out of harm’s way from whatever is happening outside. And there is a hell of a lot of stuff happening outside; shouts and sounds of a riot come from beyond the doors, and you can see aggravated movements through the windows. It becomes apparent that this area isn’t very safe after all, as enraged villagers try to enter, rattling the windows and banging on the door. Kawata fires off his pistol in their direction, shattering pieces of the wooden door, and dropping enemies who crumble to the ground before they bubble up and disappear into pools of black goo.

Kawata-san realizes his mistake — forgetting to barricade the door — and he runs over to a nearby shelf, tapping “A” furiously to push it in front of the damaged door. The enemies slam into the barricade to no avail, before wandering off, apparently to look for another way in. He’s safe for now, and takes this moment to explore the room, pulling out a long knife to smash through a pile of tomatoes. This, as we soon see, is only a hint of the environment destruction planned for RE 5. Seconds later, enemies are coming in through the roof — yes, through the roof. The enemy AI appears as aggressive, if not more so, than in RE 4.

Baddies drop in to the room, wielding axes and pipes, some stumbling slowly, and others at a frenzied pace. Kawata dispatches most of them easily with his firearm, with a few well-placed shots taking them down with little trouble. But more are coming, and by way of sheer numbers, a few break through his defenses. A wild-eyed villager wearing a tattered plaid button-down shirt leaps at Chris, and the game prompts Kawata to shake him off with the analog stick. Kawata runs up to a stunned enemy and delivers a powerful uppercut which sends him flying, a move that’s use is evocative of Leon’s roundhouse kick in RE 4. More shots fired clear the room, but the silence and calm doesn’t last long.

The room rumbles as a gigantic hole is torn in the side of the building, and we see the source of the destruction — a mask-wearing giant wearing what appears to be a leather smock is wielding a gigantic, makeshift axe/hammer of some sort. Even with all of its brute strength, the weapon-wielding fiend has to heave the weapon — what appears to be a cinderblock chained to a pole — with terrifying force. As if that weren’t terrifying enough, the newly created opening lets hell enter the room. Kawata clears a path with bullets, and quickly makes an exit.

It’s here that I realize just how beautiful RE 5 truly is. Using an advanced version of Capcom’s MT Framework engine (which powered Devil May Cry 4, Lost Planet, and Dead Rising), it’s clear that the title is set to drop jaws the same way RE 4 did when it first hit the GameCube and refined “gorgeous” in gaming. Describing the game’s visual quality is as easy as me telling you to look at the trailer. What you see is what you get — all of that is done in the game’s engine. And despite some framerate issues in the demo (60% complete, remember?), there’s no doubt Resident Evil 5 may set a new standard for visuals in gaming.

Out from the confines of a tiny room, we see the true scope of this area. It’s a huge village, clearly torn apart by inhabitants gripped by this maddening sickness, and the enormous hammer-wielding psycho tearing apart pieces of the world isn’t helping matters. I confirm with Takeuchi that all of the damage we’re seeing is unscripted, and completely in real-time.

“One of the things that existed in the Resident Evil series for a long time was the idea that you could just hide somewhere that there weren’t any enemies,” he tells me, “and then you were safe. [Resident Evil 4] changed that a little bit, where you could created barricades. So to expand even further on that, to increase the tension that the player feels, and to make them feel even more afraid, [that] is one of the reasons we added the ability to destroy environments, and break stuff down. To get rid of your last hiding places.”

At this point, it’s just a matter of survival, as dozens of villagers seem to be crawling out of the woodwork. Kawata is doing a decent job of fending them off, either by tossing incendiary grenades at crowds, climbing up ladders and hopping building to building, or taking them on one at a time with massive shot gun blasts. At one point, Kawata fires up at a power line, dropping an electrified transformer to the ground to trip up his enemies.

 It’s not hard to be reminded of the first village in RE 4, but Takeuchi is quick to point out that the area is four times the size as the now-classic encounter. In fact, so much of RE 5 at this point seems an awful lot like the previous game. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in a clear case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But there’s a clear emphasis on fast-paced action in RE 5, which is a fact which Takeuchi himself admits. Because of this, we’re told that quick time action events will appear even more often than in previous titles, even outside of boss battles; one example he gave was being knocked down by the hammer-wielding giant, and having to press buttons to dodge out of the way of his weapon.

If the inclusion of a female partner character at the end of the latest trailer is any indication that the rumored cooperative gameplay is true, Takeuchi and Kawata aren’t talking. Well, at least the Capcom PR Cat’s got their tongues. The do hint at a new gameplay element, one which they’re eager to talk about … but they just won’t. Or can’t.

“Regarding the new system, that announcement we reckon will take place at E3,” he tells us. “It is definitely something that will meet your very high expectations for this game, so please look forward to that unveiling.”

With E3 only a month away (and Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu being scanned weekly), I’m certain it won’t be long before more on this “new system” is revealed. As for the game itself, Takeuchi repeated that the team is shooting for a release “this fiscal year.” My guess is that you won’t find this game in your stocking in 2008, but it’s looking pretty certain that it’s going to be worth the wait.

Nick Chester