Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Your Demo Sucks

Shamus Young | 22 May 2009 17:00
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I played the demo for Resident Evil 5 a couple of months ago. I felt like whoever put the thing together was trying to talk me out of getting the game. I know Resident Evil has always been notoriously impoverished in the story department, but for the demo even that barely-perceptible vestige at narrative had been stripped away, along with all of the other things that might have made the experience compelling. There was no building of tension, no explanation of the world or the characters, their purpose, or even the situation at hand. No puzzles, no meaningful dialog, no in-game teaching of basic concepts before the fighting starts. The demo simply drops you into zombietown and makes you fight zombies until an invisible timer runs out and you win. At the end there was no hook, no situation where you can't wait to see what happens next, because you're never given any clue as to what's happening to begin with.

The only thing "demonstrated" in the demo is the raw combat mechanics, which I don't think is the selling point here. I doubt there are many players just dying to seize control of a musclebound turret-man who handles like a forklift in a phone booth. All told, the demo offered only a few minutes of gameplay. There was no real story, no sense of tension, no investment in the characters and their plight. It was just an arena in which to shoot stuff that was bad and not shoot stuff that was good. Nice try Capcom, but Robotron accomplished that much way back in 1982.

Because complaining about bad entertainment is my favorite form of entertainment, I mentioned this on my blog. The Capcom faithful came to the defense of their title. "The demo was just for series veterans, not newcomers," they said. "It was just a gameplay demo, not a story demo."

I don't think that's much of a defense. Either this demo was intended for potential customers and failed utterly to offer them a compelling reason to take interest in the series, or the demo was aimed at fans who were already going to buy the game. Either way: What's the point? Isn't the ultimate goal of marketing to get people to buy stuff? How does wasting everyone's time move us any closer to that lofty goal?

"Don't be stupid. Everyone knows the story of Resident Evil. You shoot zombies. You're just looking for something to complain about."

I'd buy that argument if this wasn't part of an overarching trend. I spent a weekend going through a lot of Xbox 360 demos and was amazed at how many of them were just a few minutes of chaotic action that made no effort to engage the player or make them want more. There were games I'd never heard about that just began with the assumption that I was already familiar with the series.

The demo for Dead Space was the same as the Resident Evil 5 demo. No explanation for who you are, where you are, what's going on, or what your goals are beyond "go over there and press a button." You start in a hallway, read some tooltips, and then open a door and start blasting away like you're playing 1992's Wolfenstein 3D. Plot? Characters? Pacing? Suspense? Why would a survival horror game need any of that?

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