-- I'm not sure how long Microsoft's going to leave this little loophole open, so you've been warned, but it's possible to pull down the new Resident Evil 5 demo whether you're physically in the Land of the Rising Sun or simply somewhere the sun also rises. How do I know? Because I just grabbed all 472.65 MB of it, thanks to instructions compiled by Planet Xbox 360. Anecdotal addendum: You don't appear to need an Xbox LIVE gold account after all. I opted for Silver, because I couldn't find the "free trial" option, but the demo was available to download a couple seconds later anyway.
I'm not going to do a shot by shot analysis. If you want that sort of thing, see the usual message boards, where folks will no doubt pore over every last particle and pixel in search of hidden meaning. Give it a day and someone will be elucidating how the game reveals Chris's favorite color is green, he liked Firefly but hated Serenity, and why he won't eat pineapple on pizza.
The demo offers two levels, one called "Public Assembly," another called "Shanty Town." Also: Single play or cooperative play (online or offline).
Public Assembly starts midday without fanfare, just the protagonist Chris Redfield and companion standing on the shadow-side of a rack-and-ruin building flanked by corrugated sheets of metal. Oily plumes of smoke rise in the distance. A few tires are half-sunk in the ground with the characters 7BER5 gouged in dusty rubber. The sun flares at the edges of objects. The sky is clear blue with a few wispy clouds.
Nearby: What looks to me like an African banana tree, which may suggest an East African locale like Uganda, Burundi, or Rwanda. (I could be totally wrong, I'm just guessing based on the prevalence of that tree type in those areas.) Your companion, a woman, has a rifle slung across her back and a pistol in hand. Her name is Sheva Alomar (first name apparently pronounced CHEV-uh) and I was going to say she had an Australian accent until I read that the actress who voices her was aiming for an African-English-European-Jamaican-Irish-East-Indian composite (which still sounds basically Australian to me). She has a tattoo on her upper left arm that reads "shujaa." Not ringing any bells.
The world around you has the sort of geometric irregularity you'd expect from the Real Deal, but your interaction with it is limited to the smooth, slightly recessed contours of the automap. I don't know if there's a design term that better describes it, so I'll call it "the old invisible wall trick." Waggle your knife at tree leaves or walls and nothing happens, you simply connect with empty air.
Let the controller alone, and after a moment or two the already minimalist display icons melt away for unobstructed rubbernecking. Chris looks around and dusts himself off. Sheva shuffles in place and runs the back of her partially gloved hands beneath her chin. They both make weird, repetitive gasping sounds, as if the locale were up the side of an extremely high-altitude mountain instead of somewhere sea-level.
Movement and camera location feel comfortably Resident Evil 4-ish. Proceeding to the edges of things invokes a prompt to "jump down." Stand by a closed door and you can "open" it, or near a window and you can "climb" (or smash) through.
Here's the control scheme: Strafe with the left thumbstick, A plus the left thumbstick to run, Y to open inventory, LB plus RT to swing your knife, RB for the map, LT plus RT to fire/throw, LT plus A to reload, RT to locate your partner, and B for "partner action." That's the "Type D" default control scheme. There's a Type A that reverts directly to an RE4-style layout.
The 3 x 3 inventory grid lets you equip, give, combine, or discard items. I can't figure out how to split totals because I don't think it's an option, sadly. I had 10 bullets, Sheva had 10, I gave her mine, but when I requested them back, she gave me 20, no ifs, ands, or buts.
The menu cleverly doubles as a d-pad configuration tool: Drop weapons and grenades in the desired up-down-left-right slot, so you can quick access them by tapping the d-pad without invoking the grid. Nicely done.
Eventually red-eyed zombie-things (which incidentally look and lurch-run toward you the same as RE4's red-eyed zombie-things) show up and start climbing through windows or opening doors or knocking down walls to get at you. Shotgun, handgun, knife, they work the same here as the last time around. If you stay in close, melee triggers occasionally appear, say the option to pop a hook or uppercut, or stomp on non-quite-dead dudes while they're down. Sheva has finite ammo and isn't afraid to spend it, so the game breaks with two cliches: You partner's actually an effective crack shot, but doesn't have infinite stores of bullets for you to hide behind.
Weapons: Ithaca M37 shotgun, M92F handgun, S75 rifle, grenades, and of course: the nondescript knife.
Otherwise the mechanics feel really familiar: Do you waste precious time going for deadly headshots? Or fire at less vulnerable but easier to hit body parts, wasting precious ammo instead? Mix and match. Repeat.
Gamey stuff: Doors close on their own. You can shoot and swing a knife "through" your partner (collision detection). Gold and ammo pop out of corpses. Some structures have destructible parts, but tethered to trigger-events. I'm also not sure the "inspect" descriptions have the "gravitas" they once did. Walk up to a table with a mess of gunk on it and Chris's reaction is: "A chainsaw...? What were they doing here?" Let's see: Buzzing flies, check. Pulpy mass, check. I'll give you one guess, Chris, though I'll take two if you say konepuukko.
The second level, Shantytown, is dingier looking, with a linear lunge through waves of zombies and giant bugs. You can see from this level where some of the drama's going to hinge on "partner assist" missions, places where you're arbitrarily separated and have to keep the bad guys off Sheva (or she, off you) so one of you can perform some action that'll let you both progress.
Overall impressions: A little underwhelmed, to be honest (be gentle, I genuinely loved RE4). The game looks sharp and carefully detailed and runs hitch-free, but that also describes the last dozen games I've played. Otherwise there's not that much to do here. The bad guys are fairly dumb (they'll often stand next to you, but take several seconds to turn and attack), and spinning Chris left or right while running feels clunky, since you grind to a dangerously vulnerable halt if you turn too sharply.
Silly, petty quibble: The demo's end splash reads "Fear you can't forget."
New translator, please?