Preview: Resident Evil 6

It quickly became clear to Chris how ‘Thick’ Bob got his nickname.

Capcom came under heavy fire when it released Resident Evil 5 and it is easy to see why.

For stalwarts of the series it was unsatisfactory. Chris Redfield, the main character, had been Gears-of-War-ified – all testosterone and steroids – leaving him in stark contrast to preceding protagonist Leon Kennedy. The darkness, isolation and dread of all previous entries in the series were replaced by brightly lit savannas and a chatty co-op buddy.  These changes were viewed as too much.

Likewise for anyone coming into the series for the first time, given that a whole slew of third person shooters were available, Resident Evil 5 felt a little like an anachronism. The control system was made for a time before dual-stick control was de rigeur, and the racial stereotypes were enough to make The Cole Train shake his head in disgust.

With this in mind the Resident Evil 6 demo seems to demonstrate Capcom taking on criticism from both camps in an attempt to have its cake and eat it. Therefore Leon is back and set pieces are here to stay, but the wonky control system has been replaced by something more forward thinking – allowing you to aim, shoot and move, all at the same time.

The demo is broken up into three distinct sections, each lead by one of the three protagonists: old hands Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield as well as new guy Jake Ijustmadethislastnameup.

Leon’s section seems to be a clear apology to the loyalists: not only does it star the man people remember most fondly but the section has the slowest pace and darkest setting. You start out by shooting the President in a University that appears to be the epicentre for the latest outbreak of the zombie virus. The whole section only lasts about ten minutes but it is impressively lit and the rooms and corridors that you traverse are suitably moody. Certainly the tension is undermined by the fact that you are unable to draw your weapon for quite a long time. This means that any perceived threat is utterly false as the game is clearly not going to throw anything at you when you can’t defend yourself. Still, the foundations of this opening are interesting and the game does its best to creep you out even when the action turns into a Quick Time Event followed by a scene straight out of Left 4 Dead.

“Always bring guns and ballons to a zombie party”

Also promising is the section featuring Jake.  It starts off with a fairly protracted on-rails chase sequence but culminates in an arena boss battle. This area is open plan with plenty of opportunity to get to a higher vantage point or take advantage of explosive barrels. The boss smashes through pillars and generally makes a nuisance of itself.  Although not brilliant it at least displays more progressive boss battles with experimentation and imagination being encouraged rather than rote memorisation of attack patterns.

The Chris Redfield section is awful. Far removed from the Leon Kennedy approach, Chris is running across rooftops gunning down rifle-swinging zombies, taking cover at appropriate times and getting up close and personal for melee finishers. As someone who grew to tolerate the more action focused RE5 but wished that the control hadn’t sucked I should have liked this, but the camera is so abjectly terrible that it sucks all the fun from the experience.  Frequently you are being shot at from all directions but the camera makes the character the centre of the screen and peripheral visibility is piss poor at best. This results in firefights that should be hectic becoming unmanageable. Both of my playthroughs degenerated into me running at everyone, meleeing them and resorting to shooting when enemies were out of reach. The segment also ends abruptly and with little resolution, which doesn’t help the already underwhelming experience.

“America!”

I think that, despite Capcom’s best efforts, this demo is going to be divisive. The Leon section does not look sustainable throughout his segment. The Chris section looks like it still needs work before it will even be enjoyable (there were several buddy AI issues as well as the camera problems and awful framerate). On the upside, the boss fights look like they could be a lot of fun.