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Biohazard 5 Impressions and Thoughts

I flew into Tokyo in October 2008 for the purpose of playing a demo of Biohazard 5 (among other things). The Tokyo Game Show (TGS) allows the gaming press and the Japanese public to demo various work-in-progress games. For a low price of „1000 or „1200 (press and public respectively), you have from 10:00AM until 5:00PM on October 9, 10, 11 and 12 to demo any game you line up for. Often, major figures in the game industry show up and make presentations, such as Nintendo's Satoru Iwata's unveiling of the Wii Remote back in TGS 2005, which had a dramatic effect on people's perceptions of how to properly play Biohazard 4.

The Biohazard 5 booth was Capcom's biggest at the show, surpassing the likes of Street Fighter IV and even Monster Hunter 3 (tri). In fact, Biohazard 5 was also playable at Microsoft's separate booth. On Sunday, which is open to the public, to play Biohazard 5 for Capcom's allotted 15 minutes, you were subjected to a wait of at least 90 minutes.

The Capcom booth itself was gigantic, with banners showing Chris, Sheva and the Biohazard 5 logo marking the top of the booth. Widescreen, HD monitors were spread at a few points across the walls showing videos of the first, shorter TGS trailer, as well as a 10 minute video on the game's development and the use of live actors for animation purposes.

The playable systems were out of view from the outside of the booth, so one had to line up on one side of the booth, away from the entrance. There were four possible lines: the 360 version in single player or co-op, and the PS3 version in single player or co-op. This meant that 90 people could play Biohazard 5 at once (not counting the Microsoft booth), 60 of them working together in co-op. The lines formed an L shape around the booth towards the entrance, and Capcom employees periodically closed the line off when no more people could enter the queue, making a wait beyond the quoted 90 minutes longer.

Once you were the first 15 in line, Capcom provided a necklace tag with a number on it to designate your position in line. There were 4 versions, depending on the console and play set up. I opted to go into the single player PlayStation 3 line because it was the first to open up when I arrived. The 360 lines were usually shorter otherwise.

Once you were able to enter the booth, you were first brought to a small standing theater, which showed the second, longer TGS trailer that contained the revelation regarding Jill. Then, an actress playing Sheva arrived, explaining players how to play the game in English, which the monitor screen translating it for Japanese patrons. Then a video explaining the two control schemes played, narrated by Josh, a BSAA member. Afterwards, people were finally shown to the appropriate booth, with a graphic display of the controls placed below the monitor for easy reference. I opted for classic Biohazard-style controls as a diehard Biohazard fan who will accept no substitutes.

The demo was bilingual in English and Japanese, unlike last year's Japanese-only Umbrella Chronicles demo; I opted for English, although Japanese would have been no problem for me. And then I chose the first of the two available areas, Shanty Town.

Once the demo began, I was playing as Chris, with Sheva close by. It took me about 30 seconds to feel right at home with the controls. The characters are moved with the traditional Biohazard scheme, with extra functionality thrown in with the partner dynamic. The circle button communicates to Sheva, for example.

The menu screen is a very interesting change from previous main Biohazard games. It seems evolved from the grid system and lack of action pausing from the Outbreak games, with the different buttons allowing you to manage items (like equipping weapons or using herbs) and move them around. It took some getting used to.

Gameplay-wise, the game is definitely related to Biohazard 4, and in many ways not really that different. Sheva's presence does make for interesting gameplay approaches. Sheva's very competent, and was very helpful to Chris in the demo. Only occasionally did she get into too much trouble against the ganado enemies, but this was not a result of poor A.I. at work, it was rather realistic and a good way to keep Sheva in Chris' range.

The African village could be compared to the first village in Biohazard 4, but denser with more open buildings as seen in the various trailers. There was quite a bit of climbing, window hopping and door busting in the demo. As a result, one could have played the demo using strategies learned in Biohazard 4.

My favorite strategy, as Leon (un)famously tells his partners in Biohazard Degeneration, is to shoot them in the head. I was expecting an Umbrella Chronicles-style twist of headshots being ineffective, but actually, they were a useful tactic. A few of the ganado emitted more sinister-looking plaga after losing their heads, which required more shooting.

In areas that required climbing, using the knife on the edge, as one would have done in Biohazard 4, worked just as well in Biohazard 5. Ammo was plentiful, but of course Biohazard games require conservation. As for the enemies, they behaved almost exactly as the ganados in Biohazard 4, even if they seemed more sinister and aggressive.

Chris was equipped with the standard Handgun and Shotgun. Apparently, a machine gun or sniper rifle could be found, but because I was concerned with evading and killing ganados, I never located it. Herbs and ammo were found amongst crates or dead enemies, as with the previous game.

At one point, a cutscene plays, which showed Chris and Sheva contacting their BSAA backup; they say they will arrive in the village to back the two up, but for now, they should hold out. This was somewhat reminiscent of Leon and Luis' showdown at the cabin, except out in an open area.

Soon, the giant axe-wielding enemy shows up (and we thought Al from Outbreak File 2 was dangerous!), putting Chris and Sheva on the run. The Shotgun is able to stun the axeman, but I soon run out of Shotgun ammo and am forced to employ the hit and run tactic with the Handgun. I'm able to hold out, but I get trapped into a corner and hit with the axe, which nearly kills me. This is where the partner dynamic really kicks in, as Sheva saves Chris from death. I'm able to finish the demo off by ambushing the axeman from the top of a shack and pelting it with bullets.

The second available demo area takes place chronologically after the first. The rescue chopper arrives, but flying plaga take it down very quickly (choppers are clearly a cursed vehicle in the Biohazard universe), forcing Chris and Sheva to continue fighting the ganado. This part took a nod from Biohazard 4 once again, when Chris must cover Sheva from a distance. At the very least, however, Sheva can do some fighting of her own, unlike Ashley.

And at that point, my 15 minutes was up and I was unable to finish the second demo. Other points to touch upon were the visuals, which continued the series' trademark of offering stunning, detailed visuals for their time. The game was fairly bright, but the art still looked unmistakably like a Biohazard or a Capcom game. The animations were looking great, especially when picking up items. Audio was also well-done, with much of the recycled Biohazard 4 audio seemingly replaced with original effects. The headphones provided at the booth were high quality and noise canceling, which meant that the showroom noise was not a bother. It's hard to describe in detail the musical score, which to be honest did not seem as memorable as earlier Biohazard games. I was also focusing so hard on the combat that I cannot really recall the exact tunes, but expect Biohazard 5 to continue the series' strong audio aspect.

I came away from the demo feeling very impressed with Capcom's work. I admit that at some point I was losing interest in Biohazard 5 because of the time lapse since its 2005 announcement. The trailers, the announcement of online co-op, the inclusion of Gears-style controls, and the absence of Shinji Mikami's input really set off alarms amongst hardcore fans. Is Biohazard changing?

Yes, and no. Rather than seeing the online co-op in a new light, it's much more accurate to view this as a merging of the uniqueness of Biohazard 0, Biohazard Outbreak and Biohazard 4. Like in Zero, we've got a partner to watch out for us and vice versa, and the continuous action from Outbreak is back, all layered on top of the phenomenal Biohazard 4 gameplay. Other than these changes, Biohazard 5 still felt like a Biohazard game. The subtle, often unexplainable Biohazard quirks were still there, like the goofy cutscenes and progression style. For better or worse, the difference in feel between Biohazard 4 and 5 is comparable to, even if a bit larger than, the change from Biohazard 2 to Biohazard 3, or from the remake to Zero.

Of course, it is a demo, and the rest of the game may yield a different result. But if Capcom can stay as consistent as they were with Biohazard 4 (Biohazard 5 will be a shorter game), then I think the cries that accuse Biohazard 5 of not being a real Biohazard game hold little merit.

One lingering question amongst many Biohazard fans and general gamers alike is the aiming system compared to what Biohazard 4 Wii Edition yielded and what the Wii version of Dead Rising is now using. The aiming of Biohazard 5 was the same as the standard versions of Biohazard 4, and in that sense Biohazard 5 is pretty competent and polished. However, I couldn't help but miss the seamless Wiimote aiming and consider it the superior alternative between the two control styles. Still, Biohazard 5 is looking to be a fine game with the traditional controller and even the most fervent supporters of the Wii controls should try the game out and enjoy it.


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