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.
"For people who are new to the series it might take 30 hours to play through the whole game, so if you look at that, and look at the amount of content in the game, it's on a bigger scale than Resident Evil 4," he says. Good news - but its size hasn't meant that it has been a struggle to fit the game onto a single DVD. "It hasn't been that much of a problem, and one of the main reasons for that is that all of the movies in the game all use the game engine, so we don't have to fit in lots of pre-rendered movies onto the disk."
But what about the dreaded hard-disk install for PS3 owners? "We're still working on those technical elements in the last couple of months, but we can tell you that if users are dissatisfied with that kind of thing, then it's certainly something we keep in mind when we develop. We'll do our best to come up with something that users will not criticise, but love..."
Takeuchi also confirms that Capcom has ditched the infamous typewriter save system, and replaced it with checkpoints. In addition, the usual multiple difficulty levels have been retained, and there will be unlockable mini-games of sorts. "We can't say exactly what there will be, but we'd like you to look forward to it." Our spies reckon the Mercenaries mode will make a return, but no confirmation is forthcoming.
A downloadable demo, however, is definitely on the cards: "We'll be making an announcement about that relatively soon," he says. And what about downloadable content? "That's one of the things we're thinking about right now. We do get that question a lot, and people seem to want it, so it's possible that it's something we would like to respond to.
Happily, he also says he would personally be up for going back and remaking some of the older Resident Evil classics, given the opportunity: "If we had the chance to go back and remake Resident Evil 2...you know, I think there is the demand for it. It's certainly something we would like to consider and think about, but, quite frankly our hands are full with Resident Evil 5 right now, and trying to get that out of the door, so we're going to have to put all of our focus on Resident Evil 5 for the moment." Get the online petition started now.
Perhaps predictably, he quickly steers the conversation back towards Resi 5, which he reckons will be amazing. "We have the biggest budget of any game in the series so far, we have the best staff working on it, and Capcom is working as one to make this the best entry we have in the series. All the staff have been looking back at all the great games that have been in the series so far, and they all feel the pressure to make something better than any of the previous games in the series.
"Personally, though, the most amazing thing is seeing how the staff are doing their best and working all hours in order to make them even better than Resident Evil 4, which was a classic." If it's better than 4, I think we'll all be happy...
Resident Evil 5 is due out for PS3 and 360 on 13th March 2009. Check back soon for more news on the forthcoming demo.