'Resident Evil 2' and the Lost Art of the Video Game Demo

 motherboard.vice.com  1/14/2019 6:25:19 PM 

The zombies were banging at the door, and it creaked inwards with every strike, like it was about to give in. This was my punishment for running from enemies instead of standing my ground. Now, I didn’t have a choice. They were about to come through that door, and I only had 12 rounds of ammo left. I squared up, and took my aim. They burst through, blood streaking their old clothes and greasy hair, and lurched towards me. Blam, blam, blam—and just like that, they were down. Three rounds left. I became suddenly aware I’d been holding my breath, and exhaled.

The 30-minute “one-shot demo” for the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake, released on Friday, is a tight experience that doesn’t let up. It’s also a reminder that in the age of “early access” and months-long beta tests that seem to endlessly inch towards becoming something truly enjoyable, like an asymptote never touching its axis, there is something pure about the humble, old school demo.

Demos are different from the way most gamers currently play games before they're released. Early access games on Steam, for example, let players get their hands on a game before launch, but often ask players to pay for that access and to provide feedback on (and put up with) ongoing development. Beta tests are often launched right before a game is released and are free, but serve a legitimate technical purpose—to test servers and balancing, for example. As such, beta tests and early access titles rarely show the best a game has to offer.

A proper demo, on the other hand, can uniquely impress when a game is putting its best foot forward, which is exactly what Resident Evil 2 did.

The original game first terrified players in 1998, and it’s now been remade (or reimagined) using modern tech—specifically, the beefy RE Engine that made its debut with 2017’s Resident Evil 7. In the lead-up to the Resident Evil 2’s release on January 25, the developers released a short demo that allows the player to die and restart as many times as they need to within the 30 minute-time limit, but after that, no more chances. That’s it until release day. All in all, more than one million people played the demo over the weekend.

The demo is gorgeous and gory—you’ve never seen a zombie’s head explode with this much gruesome detail—and controls very well, a welcome change from the original’s tank-like controls and fixed camera. It plays a lot like Resident Evil 7, but with an over-the-shoulder camera, and that’s a good thing. The zombies are really, really scary, and it feels tense and satisfying to plant your feet and land headshots until all the baddies are dead(er), or the clip runs out.

The time limit also works, because even though it was too short for me to “finish” the demo (count me among the two-thirds of players who didn’t succeed in completing it), it showed me that there’s way too much detail and atmosphere in this game to just breeze through. That hasn’t stopped some players for whom 30 minutes was not nearly enough, however, as they’ve reportedly figured out how to game the system to play again by creating duplicate accounts. Some players are even speed-running it in as little as three minutes. As with many of the very best game demos, Resident Evil 2’s “one-shot demo” is proving to be an oddly irrepressible experience.

It’s a testament to how, when done right, game demos are still the best way for a video game to make an impression. PT, the “playable teaser” for the shelved Silent Hills game by Hideo Kojima and director Guillermo Del Toro, is a recent example of a demo transcending its usefulness as an ostensible promotional tool. PT has garnered a cult following, and it’s often referred to as a game in its own right. Fans have painstakingly re-made it so it can be played on PC, after it was released for PlayStation 4 and pulled from the console’s store. The demo inspired at least two other games.

Releasing such fleshed-out experiences to promote an upcoming game feels like something from a bygone era, before Minecraft showed in 2009 that people would pay to play a game that's still in development. If done well, it brings to mind the sheer excitement of playing the first demos for Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life, or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (that level editor). Paradoxically, they’re satisfying experiences that leave you wanting more, increasing stoked-ness whereas early access tends to bleed enthusiasm slowly.

I appreciate a solid demo, basically, and Resident Evil 2 delivered. At the very least, it did what all demos are called to do—it sold me on the game.

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