Sadly for everyone attending, Resident Evil 5 wasn't able to be played by commoners at Capcom's Captivate 08 event, but we were some of the first on the globe to see a playable version, so we're not complaining.
After showing a new trailer for the game, Jun Takeuchi began walking us through one of the early stages, the African village you've likely become familiar with in recent months. We're told that it's four times larger than Resident Evil 4's starting town, and we can believe it. You can see almost to the edge of the town -- it's sprawling, decrepit and totally imposing. We were impressed that the team has managed to create an environment that's frightening, even without the dark creepiness of earlier games in the series.
"It's a challenge to create the feeling of fear in an open area, and one of the reasons we wanted to do it was to challenge ourselves. In those areas, there's a lot of action going on," Takeuchi tells us later through a translator. "But later in the game there will be darker, more enclosed areas. The combination of those will be Resident Evil 5."
Beyond challenging themselves, Takeuchi says that working in the sunlight of Africa was crucial to the game, which will explore the origins of the Progenitor Virus found on the continent.
The scares aren't just coming from the environment though. Before Chris Redfield has left the first village hut he's already been assaulted by an army of not-zombies, led by a massive hooded figure wielding a gigantic ax hammer. We're told that a single hit from that weapon is a guaranteed "Game Over," and, as if to illustrate the point, Hood Dude swings his weapon and takes a massive chunk out of the roof he's hunting Redfield on.
Animations on both Hood Dude and Redfield already look really solid, even though the not-zombies still need some attention. (All of them performed the same overhead scythe swing as they shambled, giving them the appearance of the world's worst-dressed interpretive dance troupe.) Side note: For the first time, we're seeing a range of not-zombies: white, black, and color palettes in between.
We get to see Chris fight not-zombies with a pistol, knife, incendiary grenades and a shotgun, all of which are as visceral as you'd hope. The beefy protagonist also has melee attacks at his disposal. When a batch of enemies gets too close, there's an "X" button prompt that triggers an uppercut capable of flattening at least two opponents. Similar cues appear on a rooftop, allowing Chris to leap over a gap between two buildings.
The early look at the game (which we're told is about 60 percent complete) is impressive, if not exactly a quantum leap forward for the series. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if some walked away from the demonstration with the impression that Resident Evil 5 currently looks like a really polished Resident Evil 4, but we understand there's still plenty of work to be done and plenty that we haven't seen (we're told that the team's shooting for a 20-hour game), so we're no less excited.
By the way, we saw the game on Xbox 360, but were told that the PS3 version of the game is coming along well.
The biggest surprise of the day actually had nothing to do with the walkthrough, but rather in the new trailer, during which Chris is joined at the very end by an African woman packing a pistol. Takeuchi and the rest of Capcom are staying mum with regards to her for the moment, though he admits she's probably going to be a bit more useful to have around than Resident Evil 4's Ashley.
"But," he says with a sly grin, "Ashley didn't have a shotgun."
Perhaps just as notable is what we didn't see at Captivate 08. There was no mention of online co-op, nor a rumored cover mechanic. But, Takeuchi says, there's a whole gameplay system that has yet to be shown, leaving us hopeful that we'll understand Resident Evil 5's mysteries a bit better after E3.