Over the weekend, Capcom released an early demo of Resident Evil Village on PlayStation systems with some curious time constraints: it was only available to play during an eight hour time window, and the demo itself was only 30 minutes long. To be clear, I don’t mean that the average run came out to 30 minutes (though I did finish with, give or take, 30 seconds on the clock), but that it was a timed demo that kicked you out after a half hour passed. Before I talk about the demo, let me harp on this very moronic decision a bit.
Business-wise it makes perfect sense. It’s the artificial scarcity that has made Nintendo tons of money in the past. While the demo wasn’t for profit, if you release a limited thing, especially tied to a widely anticipated and high-profile release, it becomes an event, something people go out of their way to participate in. You’re sure to turn a bunch of heads, and in games attention can turn to profit real quick. In execution, however, this time restraint deflated the entire experience for me.
I’ve been playing Resident Evil 2 on and off for some months now because it is effectively scary. That is to say, the game utilizes everything it’s got going for it (visuals, sound design, score, layout, mechanics, etc.) to frighten the shit out of me. That only really pays off when I get to sink into the Raccoon City Police Department and feel like Leon Kennedy on the shittiest first day of work ever. Being able to stand in a hallway and think about the scares around the corner, not to mention the tension I’ll inevitably feel when I’m low on supplies, is everything to this experience. But I can only feel it if the game gives me the space to trick myself into thinking I’m there.
The Resident Evil Village demo is functionally fine. It’s reminiscent of Resident Evil 7 biohazard, and it doesn’t really have any tricks up its sleeve. The content of the demo, which has you “exploring” the titular village near the beginning of the game, solve some puzzles and get into two tiny fights, is just fine. It introduces a number of characters who seem like they’ll play a significant role until they don’t. It doesn’t jump off the page as anything super novel or refined, but it’s there and it’s competent. This is about what I expected of the game, but it needed something more. It needed tension.
The demo didn’t have that, though, because of the time limit. I knew that there wasn’t time to crawl through the village afraid of every sound I heard or every little thing that twitched out of the corner of my eyes. I couldn’t really explore the village, which for all I know had more secrets than I could uncover. The full game won’t abide by these same restraints and it’ll likely shine because of that, but this demo sure as hell gave a sour first impression for the exploration that feels key to the tension that drives Resident Evil.
When I hit the pause screen every now and then, all I saw was a timer ticking down. While the game was paused! Even in the middle of cutscenes near the end of my demo! It felt like I needed to speed run the level, and look, I love speed runs, but I’m certainly not trying to run them myself and not the first time going through a game. It felt completely counterintuitive to everything the actual experience of the game was supposed to be to impose an arbitrary 30 minute demo. I bet it will still feel like a poor choice when Capcom releases the full(er) demo that runs for an hour later in the week.
Instead of taking my time to allow myself to be scared by the game and its horrors, I darted between encounters, not giving a damn about what was wasted or what could’ve been done differently. If the developers weren’t going to be precious about the time allotted, I really couldn’t afford to either. Once the 30 minutes were up after all, my time with the demo would come to a very definitive close, pushing me to “beat” something that is best “felt.”
I’m open to the next demo being better, but I’m not holding my breath at the moment. The content will likely be good, but if it’s on a timer it’s just not going to feel like the game should. And yet I liked what I played enough of the village portion, and what we’ve seen of the castle portion coming later to leave the demo installed and try my luck again.
Moises Taveras is an intern for Paste Magazine and the managing editor of his college newspaper, the Brooklyn College Vanguard. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.