Since we were last closely acquainted with a playable build of Resident Evil 5, Capcom has evidently gone back and had a little think about how to make the game more appealing to Western gamers.
The first thing to note is that a new alternate 'Action' control system has been introduced alongside the traditional one we all know and love/hate. Prompted by producer Jun Takeuchi's affection for first-person shooters, it remaps the aim and fire controls to the left and right triggers. "Obviously the Resident Evil series is really popular in the west, so we wanted to put in a system that western users might find a little easier to control," he tells us.
If you've spent any time with Call of Duty or Gears of War, you'll find it comes naturally, and as a result of being able to do what comes naturally, you don't have to clamber over the usual Resident Evil obstacle of rewiring your brain to adapt. Equally helpful is the decision to map the knife slash and various punches and kicks to the right trigger depending on the context.
But although the fire and aiming basics are retooled, the important thing is it still feels very much like Resident Evil, with the same stop-and-fire combat style that's characterised the series since day one, so diehard fans needn't panic. As ever, the tension comes from the need to conserve ammo, and to do that you need to pull off headshots on demand, aided by a laser pointer.
Like the E3 demo, the section we're given to play also showcases network co-op, with a split-screen, offline version also shown. Similar to Resident Evil Zero, context-sensitive actions and puzzles are the order of the day, with lead character Chris Redfield providing sidekick Sheva Alomar with a leg-up (prompted on-screen where necessary), and the duo doing things simultaneously to solve puzzles, or providing crucial cover fire when set upon by shambling T-Virus victims. (Can we still call them zombies?)
In terms of Resident Evil 5's puzzle content, Takeuchi reckons, "It's probably about the same amount as Resident Evil 4," but claims it will feel like more of an adventure than last time because of more elaborate level design. "Resident Evil 4 didn't have much in the way of exploration or going off down different paths - it was very simple. Mikami-san himself described the game as a big circuit, basically. So, in Resident Evil 5, the layout of the game will be more complicated, so there will be more of an element of exploration and adventure than 4."
Set ten years after the events of the original, we're told that the game effectively joins the dots for Chris Redfield in the intervening period. "Bioterrorism is taking place in various parts of the world," Takeuchi states, "and people are using the T-Virus to commit various acts of terrorism. The reason Chris has been sent to Africa is to fight an incident of bioterrorism that's broken out there." Now a member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA), Redfield meets up with fellow agent Sheva, who acts as your guide for the early portion of the game.
Asked if the game would reprise the roles of other familiar characters, Takeuchi said enigmatically: "You may see some familiar characters from other games that you already know." In terms of playable characters, however, "It'll just be Chris and Sheva." Later in our chat with Takeuchi-san, he allayed fears that Resident Evil 5 would be any less epic than previous efforts. "We've been saying it'll take 20 hours to play right through it, but recently the staff have been playing through the game, and even the really good members of the team are finding it still takes them about ten hours to get through it.