It must be hard to please such a large spectrum of fans when you're dealing with a series like Resident Evil. The legacy of the franchise cannot be understated, and for the longest time baulking from the tried and tested survival-horror formula of the first few games was instantly frowned upon, leaving the team practically no choice but to stay the course.
Thankfully, then Resident Evil head honcho, Shinji Mikami, realised he was sitting on an action game treasure trove and we were served what would become the modern action survival-horror benchmark with the brilliant Resident Evil 4. But again, as we saw with Resident Evil 5, the team felt a need to stay the course, and with such a legacy to live up to, fell short in almost every way.
All eyes have been stuck on Resident Evil 6 then, to see if the team can finally trump Resi 4 as the best entry the series has ever known, and despite some trepidation coming out of both E3 and Comic-Con, along with the Dragon’s Dogma-locked demo, Resident Evil 6 is definitely shaping up to be one of the top survival-horror dogs out there.
So recently Capcom invited us to check out the game at their HQ in Osaka, Japan, where we not only went hands-on, but were also introduced to the freshly revealed 4th gameplay chapter: Ada’s story. So now what we have is actually four interconnecting takes, each branching across one another, but all fundamentally different. Leon, Chris, Jake and Ada are important components to the cohesiveness of this survival-horror soap opera, and as we learnt while playing Ada’s missions, each character’s campaigns will also allow for a fresh and new perspective on one of the other’s.
The team tell us that each campaign is built around a theme, and with Ada it’s all about the spy experience. She’s investigating as you play, and so her gameplay experience is a bit more measured. We also tackled a lot of classic Resident Evil puzzles while taking her through her paces, as well as some pretty out-there path progression puzzles, which in all gave me serious faith that, on the whole, this team will deliver a stand-out Resi experience.
As far as how Ada felt to control, she was definitely more nimble than, say, Chris or Leon, but there’s also a deliberation in her movements. She’s seen some pretty gnarly stuff in her life, and so not much seems to phase her anymore. This is also carried across in her on-the-fly narrative moments where she’ll remark at elements in the game-world, or puzzles you’ve just solved.
She has a handy zipline that allows her to reach other areas of the level you may have already seen while playing as Leon (as in this instance both characters are in the same location, but for different reasons), but once you take these there’s no going back (it’s not so much an “open” world), but level-design is a very strong element here. You’ll be lead through tight and narrow corridors, and these are often teeming with zombies and other enemies. You might have already heard that classic zombies are back for Resident Evil 6 (the first time in the series proper, for years), but the team also has a plethora of other enemy types for you to deal with, and in classic form, ammo is limited leaving you to utilise each character’s strengths and abilities to tackle the bad guys in creative, ammo-saving ways.
There was a lot of talk about the game’s HUD which we learnt can be fully turned off, including the in-game help system (which essentially gives you location data on where to head next). This means you can cater the game’s difficulty and learning curve to your own desires, which I did and am thankful for the ability to do so. Managing items and equipment is still very similar to both Resi 4 and Resi 5, though each character’s menu system is slightly different (and themed to their specific personality). It actually looks pretty complicated at first, which could seem daunting to newcomers to the series, but after a few seconds of messing around with it I’d worked it all out.
Treasure is also still collectable, though these are now used as a form of XP to upgrade your character and earn new abilities. I didn’t really dabble in this area too much, because we only had a short time with the game, but offering a progressive component to your investment is something new for the series, and a welcome addition in my book. I’m hoping we’ll see the return of the weapon merchant, but so far there’s been no mention or sight of him. Fingers crossed (I loved that guy).
While it could be said that Resident Evil 5’s more action-oriented focus removed much of the “horror” from the series, Resident Evil 6 brings it back in spades. As well as playing Ada’s mission, I also went hands-on with Chris, Leon and Jake, and though Chris’s campaign is focused more on his military personality (read: more action-focused), Leon’s investigative “dropped in the deep-end” campaign was full of creepiness. There’s something to be said about what “horror” actually means in games, and here there are multiple interpretations of it, but for me it was just the underlying sense of unease as you played. Nothing in any of the sections I went hands-on with was sitting right with me - a dread I’d argue hasn’t been in the series since its humble beginnings in the mansion all those years ago, and again another element that has me psyched that this team has hit the Resident Evil nail right on the head.
Much of this was exampled in the overall pacing. Ada’s mission, being a single-player affair (so no co-op here), was full of obstruction by way of puzzles, exploration and enemies. It was all delivered in perfect waves, and left me wanting more and more. Some of the puzzles were also gruesome. In one instance I had to shoot down a corpse from a noose (in a room full of hanging corpses) so he'd fall on a lever activating a gallow trapdoor, and in another I had to line up two bodies strapped to chairs with electrical wiring on the ground. I then had to shoot another zombie so he'd fall on to the same wire, thus completing an electrical circuit to activate a locked door. Each body, conducting electricity and frying before my eye. Death beyond death, it would seem.
There are action puzzles as well. In one sequence I had to collect two different gems -- a gold tooth, and a crystal eye -- from two separate zombies' skulls. Each went down a different path and I had to follow them and essentially run a gauntlet of other enemies. And as mentioned earlier, ammo is still scarce leaving me with no choice but to be conservative and crafty in dealing with said gauntlets. It was exhilarating to make it through in the end.
In Agent Hunt Mode you’re playing as the enemy J’avo. Essentially you have the same movement and attack systems as the AI, how you use these though, is entirely up to you. More aggressive players as J'avo will be rewarded with faster transformations, so it's important you stay alive in order to reach these milestones, because you're not really going to be able to bring down the agent as a single embodiment. Rather, if you can wear them down, there's a good chance at some stage you'll be close enough that you can knock the agent down and then follow through with an execution move when they're on the ground.
There were a few oddities though. For one, the objective I was actually given was “Figure out the puzzles” which I thought was just too on-the-nose for what the player had to do. A more contextual objective line would definitely suit better. Another was just in the game’s camera, which did get stuck a few times in tight spaces. It certainly wasn’t game-breaking, but did stand-out enough for me to want to mention here.
The Ada mission finished up in a boss battle with Debra, one of the game’s NPCs who transforms into a giant, naked winged monstrosity. Now this was horror.
Boss fights are on-par with classic Capcom and Resi confrontations, though I'd argue here they're even more epic. At least in the sequence I played. It is still all very familiar, and the focus on utilising the whole co-op side of things is well implemented in pacing overall, but it's also obviously not necessary to play co-operatively. And thankfully, at least in my short hour with the game, friendly AI was definitely more of a help than either a hindrance or showpiece.
But even during my boss battle I was confronted with more varying gameplay, such as a descent down a mine-shaft into a mine-cart where I dealt with an on-rails section to get to another part of the Debra confrontation. I had to shoot explosives to clear debris, take pot-shots at enemies on and around the tracks, and be aware of overhead obstructions dealt with via quick-time events (that actually weren’t at all annoying, surprisingly). In all, by the time I finished my naked ghoul, I felt like I’d run a marathon, and I’d only touched an hour of the game, tops.
From a gameplay perspective, the area we played was quite confined, and had a lot of impediments as well as a few vertical vantage points.
As we've seen in previous Resident Evil outings though, the contextual A button, which is also used to run, means you can often climb or vault things you didn't want to initially. It's not a huge detriment, but when you are backing the player into a corner where you can potentially get some life-ending beat down on them, there's nothing worse than inadvertently climbing a ladder when all you were trying to do was activate your dash attack.
After messing about with Ada, the team handed over Comic-Con builds featuring Chris, Leon and Jake. I immediately went into Leon’s demo, and walked away fairly impressed here as well. From a control-sense there’s initially a sense of delay or sluggishness to things like aiming, but the reality is the team have painstakingly recreated actual human movement for the game, it obviously adds to the tension at-hand and equally grounds the game in a deeper sense of realism.
Pressing the left thumbstick in while aiming will not only make Leon do a roll, he'll remain positioned on his back where you can scurry forward or hurriedly move backwards. And this move, while in the thick of it, adds another element of dread for the player. So while it might seem par for the course to have a commando roll in a third-person action title, what the team have done with it should be applauded.
The demo took place in a university with lecture rooms and classrooms and the like. In one classroom I decided to perform an action slide across the desk which resulted in papers being flicked up around me in awesome John Woo fashion. It’s minor attention to detail like this that really brings the game to life, though I’d argue there’s also a few major shortfalls the team overlooked in their added realism by way of not being able to shoot any of the bodies around you you know are going to spring back to life at any minute. The obvious point here was to not have the player preempting new enemies, but it just came across as annoying, and if anything, knowing I couldn’t shoot someone on the ground almost immediately gave away that at a later point he would come to life, removing any of the intended surprise or horror.
As an added mode there'll definitely be moments of fun to be had and while anyone can come in and fight you (online), I'd think this is far more suited to teeing up with friends to have a little bit more coordinated fun. Hopefully the various levels and systems in place can keep it feeling fresh.
Moreover, the mode is actually unlocked after you reach a certain point in the game's main campaign, meaning it's locked to the disc, but won't be part of any DLC or monetary plan. As a game that keeps on giving, Resident Evil 6 is a package and a half.
Enemies are still fun though, and the new damage system that sees you being able to shoot chunks out of them, or limbs completely off, never got old. There are also some really cool execution animations, many of which are contextual, like pulling a knife from a zombie’s chest and then thrusting it up through his face. I often felt pretty overwhelmed, but never like I couldn’t crowd-control with a few well-placed bullets to a knee or two (dropping a lead zombie will force any behind him to trip up). Each character’s melee abilities are also more useful this time around, and players will be forced to get used to using them in low-ammo situations.
As an example of the difference between character campaigns though, my hands-on with Chris revealed an entirely different approach. He’s packed to the gills with weapons and military support, and while I was tackling the game’s new non-zombie enemies, the J’avo, who’re a lot tougher than your normal zombies, it was the building-sized BOW that decided to come out and play that really upped the gameplay ante.
It can be a bit awkward playing as Chris at first because a lot of his cover lacks the dynamism needed to fully capitalise on his action-oriented position in the game, but it could also be a product of just plain not having enough time with him to fully come to grips with his scheme. You can get behind cover, shoot from out of it, slide, vault and more, but it all felt a bit too convoluted. And the nature of Chris’ section was much more on the action - something you’d ideally not to want to have to learn to control, but rather pick-up-and-play with ease. I definitely need more time with Redfield to see just how he fares, but honestly, despite the awesome BOW confrontation, he’s currently the game’s weakest link.
Jake on the other hand is very different to both Chris and Leon. He's definitely a more capable melee character, and this became evident in the section I played because he ran out of ammo really quickly. Initially I was scrambling about the level unsure how to control the numbers coming at me, but once I realised I was going to have to do without ammo I went all out with his melee combat which didn't disappoint.
There were three enemy types during his level, all three of which proved beatable with a few well-timed kicks and punches. What struck me though, was the level of balance here, because getting up close and personal meant I took a few cuts, kicks and bullets for the team. Initially, Jake is a powerhouse when you're all up in zombie grill, but he tires after a while and has far less punch behind his combat after taking a few hits himself. It's likely this runs constant through all the characters, but in Jake it really stood out, forcing me to utilise his evasive manoeuvres as well as being aggressive.
I only had a very short time to play as Jake, but he was a stand-out because of the up-close-and-personal nature of conflict. He’s also a pretty cool character and has some great one-liners, so I’m definitely keen to learn more about his background and station within Resident Evil 6.
On the whole the game didn’t disappoint though. Chris’ section, as mentioned, was the hardest to get to grips with, and therefore the weaker against the strength of the other three. I had a huge amount of fun playing as Leon and Jake though, and the longest session I had -- Ada Wong -- left me feeling all Resident Evil nostalgic. If my taste of her is any indication of the game’s other slower, more measured gameplay sections, then I’m sold all the way through. There’s no denying the epic scope at-hand here, and while there has been some concern about whether or not the team can pull it off, I’m convinced they’re on the right track.