Given that it's supposedly due out by April next year, it's surprising we haven't seen more of Resident Evil 5 by now. In the run-up to Capcom's Captivate 08 event in Las Vegas, that seemed to be changing, after reports circulated of a female character, drop-in online co-operative play and a cover system. But despite whetting our appetites with a brand new, mystery-filled trailer introducing, among other things, Chris Redfield's female counterpart, the game's producer, Jun Takeuchi, politely declines to comment on her, co-op or cover, promising a drip-feed of information between now and release and more substantial details at E3. We do get to see the "world's first playable build" of the game, but of course we're not allowed to play it ourselves.
As we know already, Resident Evil 5 sees former STARS member Chris Redfield heading off to Africa - ten years after his unit disbanded - to controversially shoot up some of the locals. Takeuchi says Africa was chosen as a location because it holds the secret to the T-virus. "One of the main story points in Resident Evil 5 is exploring the origins of that virus," he says, only adding that the full game will play out over a period of about 20 hours, and is 60 percent complete at the moment. The trailer we're shown (you can watch it on EGTV) gives us another glimpse of the African shantytown setting we're familiar with. A bright but decidedly uncheerful location, Takeuchi says that the contrast of light and dark will be a key tactic in scaring us to pieces.
It's also the setting we're being shown in playable form on Xbox 360. Takeuchi's colleague Masachika Kawata is on pad duties, and he picks up Chris Redfield trapped in a kitchen defending multiple entrances, besieged by sunburnt zombies keen to get out of the heat and cut open his head with machetes. As they advance, he lowers his sights and shoots them in the leg to slow them down. They clutch at the wounds when shot, even though they're far from fatal, suggesting that Resi 5's zombs can still feel some degree of pain even if they've "lost all semblance of humanity" as Takeuchi helpfully points out. Shots to the head do the trick though, and, once floored, enemies bubble away to nothing following some phosphorescent agitation.
After the zombies breach the ceiling above him and the tide becomes too heavy to turn back, Chris makes a break for it and hotfoots it outside, and starts touring the town to make his escape. "This environment is right at the start of the game," Takeuchi explains as Kawata plays, and is "about four times the size of the village at the start of Resident Evil 4". It's a mess of half-built walls and wonky picket-fences, tyre piles, skeletal buildings loosely cobbled out of planks and steel poles, filled out with market stalls, burnt out cars and the charred husks of buses. Everything is rust and decay, and even the clothes flapping on washing lines are muddy rags.
The draw distance is huge, though, and while the area appears enclosed (at least for the purposes of our demo, perhaps), Chris has lots of paths to choose. Kawata directs him up some ramps onto gangways, and Takeuchi points out that there will be more vertical gameplay. Chris can leap across gaps and hop back down to the ground with contextual action-button usage, ala Resident Evil 4, and the environment is partially destructible.
Door handles can be shot out of the decaying wood, stalls and walls are swept away by grenade explosions, and Chris can fire at oil drums lying around, which envelop anything nearby in flames. In the trailer, we're shown Chris sniping a barrel on a bridge in the distance to take out a group of enemies, and upending a truck that's charging towards him by doing something explosive to flip it onto its side.
His enemies aren't all raggedy zombies, though; the meanest one we're shown is a hooded executioner figure with a giant battleaxe, who follows the player relentlessly, swinging his massive weapon with impunity, sweeping away the environment and even his undead colleagues in his hunt for Chris. When Kawata flees indoors, the hooded monster smashes through a nearby wall, ruining his defence.