It’s a pity that discussion surrounding Resident Evil 6 leading up to its early October release has mostly been about looking back, rather than looking forward. Before the game is even out, series fans have bemoaned how the game has apparently ‘abandoned’ the core horror themes and gameplay that made the franchise so unique.
It’s true that Resident Evil 6 has replaced the traditional ‘tank controls’ with fluid movement, combat and strafing abilities and it’s true that there is a larger focus on action, instead of prolonged tension and exploration, but for any series to continue to survive and be a success, it needs to change and evolve to match modern tastes and expectations.
What Resident Evil 6 does handily is update the pace at which the game takes place while still including elements fans of the series will find familiar, with plenty of tension, action and horror along the way. During a recent hands-on demo of Resident Evil 6, I was again able to gather evidence to back up these claims.
After playing Resident Evil 6 at E3 this year, I was given my first healthy taste of the basic gameplay systems of the game, and nothing has changed in the months since. It’s still a third-person, over-the-shoulder-aiming shooter, there are still three main story campaigns starring six separate characters (with storylines that intertwine and affect one another), and you can still play the game in split-screen or online co-operative mode (for up to two players, and four players at specific times).
This new gameplay demo at gamescom 2012 once again comprised three missions with chances to play as Leon Kennedy (with partner Helena Harper), Chris Redfield (with Piers Nivans along for the ride) and Jake Muller (with Sherry Birkin for back-up). While each of these characters will go through vastly different scenarios and have to complete diverse sets of objectives and challenges, control- and systems-wise they all have commonalities between them.
Aiming and shooting is like any other over-the-shoulder shooter while melee attacks are performed with a series of button presses with increasingly brutal beat-downs your reward for continuing to attack. These melee attacks will take into account any weapons that the zombies (or mutated J’avo creatures, as the case may be) possess, so cover your eyes when your character whips an axe out of your enemy’s hand and crashes the blade through its skull.
Sound effects in Resident Evil 6 are what some might call ‘juicy’ as lumps of a zombie’s flesh are torn from its body with every shot from your range of rifles, handguns and shotguns. Gruesome spouts of blood complete the horrific effect of destroying zombies as they lurch, stumble and sprint at you, and on more than one occasion I witnessed a zombie’s head simply roll off of its own shoulders once it was killed. Unnerving to say the least.
As mentioned, your shambling dead enemies can wield weapons this time around, using a variety of blades and even limply handled guns to attack you. Some zombies are even content to lie about and act as stumbling blocks for players, and once you run over the body and get tripped up, they’ll spring to life and attack from behind, moaning and grousing as they do so.
Resident Evil 6 makes it very easy for you to find your way around some of the more complex environments, and on show at gamescom was an enormous, long-abandoned university, what appeared to be an East European city in the clutches of a desperate war, as well as the dimly-lit streets and back alleys of a Chinese town, still decorated with traditional lamps and neon signs. If you get lost, with the press of a button you’ll be guided directly back on the path to your objective, which is always visible on the screen to let you know how close (or far) away you are.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your views of the matter, you’ll need to manually pick up items like green herbs (for health), ammunition and weaponry, while ‘Skill Points’ are also on offer for killing enemies. You don’t get Skill Points for every kill, nor am I entirely sure just yet what these points are spent on (upgrading your character and weapons, presumably), but I dutifully went about picking these up just as you would an inventory item.
The inventory system of Resident Evil 6 seems very easy to use and I once again got to grips with it within minutes. Using a system similar to a PlayStation Xross Media Bar, with horizontal and vertical strips of menus that intersect one another, you can flick through your weapons (on the vertical) and items (on the horizontal) to equip and select them. Items can even be set up for quick-access should you need a health boost in the middle of combat, for example, while items such as green and red herbs are also combined in this menu system.
In terms of movement and navigation, Resident Evil 6 is the most advanced of the series and in addition to those melee attacks and the ability to move, strafe and shoot at the same time, you can rush forward to knock enemies back as well as dodge forward, back, left and right. The game also uses a cover system that works very well and allows you to snap behind waist-high obstacles and vertical cover like pillars and doorframes, but this is only really necessary against enemies who are also wielding guns. The ability to climb over and drop down from flat surfaces rounds out the collection of movement options that make Resident Evil 6 that much more of a modern action game than an outdated, traditional survival horror title.
So why do I think that fans should still give Resident Evil 6 a chance to provide all of the horrific tension that they crave, alongside the action-packed combat that modern gamers desire? Playing as Leon, Chris and Jake in succession, it’s clear that each of these sets of campaign missions will provide something different for players to enjoy, with enough crossover that you won’t end up dreading playing as one or the other character.
As Leon, I walked through a series of darkened hallways and grimy rooms with the promise of zombies just around every corner. The sense of unease as you slowly work your way through a creepy, blood-smeared auditorium, an office block and classrooms at the university is truly nerve-wrecking, but I was given ample chance to enjoy the atmosphere while potting at a few shamblers before the tension was unleashed during a few high action sequences where literally over a dozen zombies crashed through windows and leaped towards Leon and Helena with hungry eyes.
The end of Leon’s demo ended with an even more extreme sequence as the pair of zombie killers jumped into a getaway car, only to realise that they didn’t have the keys. I was dropped into a first-person view of the car and while looking at the dashboard with the steering wheel, lights and dials, I had to frantically search for the keys as a dozen more zombies staggered their way to the vehicle, bashing and rocking the car like some kind of terrible riot.
Still in a first-person view, I eventually found the keys hidden behind the windshield-mounted rearview mirror and had to start the car up, back it up into a group of zombies, before zooming down the track again crashing against shuffling bodies. Breath-taking stuff!
Chris’ campaign mission was differently-paced again as I headed into a warzone complete with barricades, riot shield and razor-wire while fighting my way up a city street against gun-toting J’avo. After taking advantage of a turret and gunning numerous enemies down with a rifle and sniper rifle, I was met with the tremendous sight of a two-stories-high ‘creature’ intent on enacting extreme cruelty on Chris and Piers.
I faced off against the monstrosity’s diseased maw while running back and forth along a walkway bridging two buildings, but soon found myself back on the street sprinting for my life. Running out of ammunition at this time was probably the worst thing that could have happened and I was soon caught and crushed by the beast.
Chris might have perished, but I moved on to Jake and Sherry’s campaign which saw the pair making their way through the back-streets of a Chinese-themed area. In this case, Jake had no shortage of weapons with a massive range of handguns at his disposal, including what I remember to be some sort of ‘Elephant gun’ that exploded with power with every squeeze of the trigger. I needed that power while going up against a four-legged fiend that bore a resemblance to a gigantic diseased rat, while continuing to take down zombies flooding the scene.
What ties all of these campaigns together is the careful pacing of the action and tension, with brief cinematics sprinkled in-between to break up gameplay sequences. One campaign is always going to be more action-oriented than the other. Similarly, you’re always going to be swathed in more tension and pure horror in Leon’s story, for example, but each set of missions will include elements of the other for what I think is a great mix so far.
Resident Evil 6 is only out on October 2nd for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so I would encourage you to give it the benefit of the doubt if you think you’ve already dismissed it as a mere continuation of the series’ action-oriented trend. It’s clear the designers have taken criticisms of Resident Evil 5 to heart and thought long and hard about how to satisfy their hardcore fans, while continuing to evolve the franchise.
After playing the game for a total of two hours already during my time at E3 and at gamescom, as far as I’m concerned Capcom has got the balance just right.
Still not convinced?