Well, after rigging together a janky wi-fi setup using my laptop, I was able to download and try out the Resident Evil 5 demo for Xbox 360. I've played it now in both single-player and splitscreen co-op, and, for the most part, I'm pretty pleased.
The first demo stage is basically an encore of the village from the beginning of RE4, while the second is a slightly more structured affair showcasing some of the teamwork elements. I'd forgotten just how intense the action could be in RE4, and, playing this after becoming accustomed to the much slower pace of Gears of War, I initially felt overwhelmed. Even though the enemies are not fast and do not use many ranged attacks, their sheer numbers make every encounter seem desperate.
Both stages are fairly short set pieces, and I don't know if the full game will possess any of the minor adventure elements of RE4. I'm inclined to think that a faster pace would be appropriate for a multiplayer game; it's not always easy for adults to sync up their schedules to set up a gaming session, so, when it does happen, you don't really want to spend time scavenging for items. Even so, the survival elements of the series are still in effect, and it's imperative that both characters pick up all the ammo they come across. Thankfully, for some strange reason, many of the enemies drop ammo even though they don't carry guns.
In RE0, the partner character had barely any AI, but the simple presence of another person fighting at your side was still a tremendous comfort. In RE5, while the AI is good and a human partner is theoretically even better, things are actually far more stressful than ever before, especially in single-player, because, in more frantic moments, it becomes hard to keep your eyes on your partner, leading to much worrying over how they're faring on their own. This adds a new element of danger, and I personally consider it a good thing.
The demo offers four different control schemes, including two new dual-analog configurations that allow for strafing and swifter turning, but, no matter which controls the player chooses, running can only be performed in the classic fashion, by holding down the Green button while moving with just the left analog. For consistency's sake, I ended up sticking to the classic controls, which left me longing for the GameCube controller. While it was not the most versatile, its button layout was incredibly intuitive for games like RE4, which basically used only two face buttons during active play.
While I regard the 360 controller as the overall best gamepad out there right now, I really wish Microsoft hadn't used letters to name their face buttons. At the very least, if they were determined to use the exact same letters (A, B, X, Y) and diamond formation as on the SNES controller, they should also have retained the same letter layout. But, no, not one of the buttons on the 360 controller is located on the same spot as the button of the same name on the SNES pad.
As in RE4, the demo would frequently suggest context-sensitive actions by bringing up button prompts. The problem was that, whenever the large X button icon appeared, prompting me to punch a staggered enemy, I would instinctively press the topmost button, which is actually Y on the 360. This instead brought up the new inventory menu, which no longer pauses play. The result was that, not only would I miss my chance to clobber the enemy, but I would be completely immobile and open to attack until I figured out how to close this strange menu that I had never had to deal with before.
Gears of War also featured frequent onscreen button prompts, but the actual letters were hard to read, which ironically made things less confusing, since I would end up just going by the button's color. Really, the buttons are much more easily identified by their different colors, so the use of letters is redundant and only leads to unnecessary confusion for those of us that play on multiple platforms.
Eventually, I did get used to it, and, all things considered, I'm very much looking forward to the full game. I'll certainly give the PS3 demo a try, whenever it becomes available, to see if the controls are any more intuitive. That may very well determine which version I end up buying. With a little over a month before RE5's release, I'm seriously considering playing through the Wii edition of RE4 to hype myself up.