If I were to tell you that I’d played the first 15 hours of Resident Evil 6, you’d be forgiven for questioning my hardcore credentials, but what if that was only the the first 15 hours of a game that would provide potentially 60+ hours of content, only then you might start to understand the scope and ambition that has gone into Resident Evil 6.
Seriously huge, this is Resident Evil redefined on its own terms, but that isn’t to say that Capcom have shed the tropes of previous games; far from it.
Resident Evil 4 is held in so high regard for a reason, like the very first games of the series, it was genuinely unnerving, a horrendously tense affair that left palms sweaty and nerves frayed. Resident Evil 5 was none of these things, not really. It was an action game. A good one, but maybe more of an attempt to capture a wider audience than an entry into the survival horror that Capcom perfected so many years ago.
Resident Evil 6 is a return to form in so many ways, I’ll barely even scratch the surface telling you why. For starters, zombies are back. It’s ludicrous to say it, but I actually cheered when I saw my first shuffler, just standing there waiting for me to pop his head off. It’s been so long since Resident Evil did proper zombies, the return is incredibly welcome.
I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Resident Evil 6 is split into three campaigns, each the size of a standard Resident Evil game on their own, but each interweaving with one another at key story-beats. The three stories are both concurrent, yet separate, but we’ll start with Leon and Helena’s campaign, because that’s where you find the traditional zombies. They aren’t just slow-shufflers, some mope around, others will run and even leap at you. Variety is the spice of life, they say, and the zombies certainly vary in how they act.
Leon’s story recaptures the tension of the very best moments in the series. Dramatic action scenes combined with unbearably close-quarters skirmishes, in dim-lit corridors and dank sewers. This is Resident Evil at its absolute best, but with a twist. Now you can move and shoot, in fact the controls feel more akin to a modern day Third Person Shooter than a Resident Evil title, but in a very good way. Thankfully, nostalgia hasn’t clouded Capcom’s views, they’ve learned from other developers and have made the entirety of the action more playable.
And what action!
Dodging trains underground before noticing a swarm of zombies too big to tackle, you’ll just have to run away, firing pot-shots to slow the onrushing living dead in their pursuit of you. Ammo is scarce, so don’t waste it on a fight you can’t win. Run! Live to fight another day.
It was playing Leon’s campaign that I noticed another change; an attempt to bring a little more realism to proceedings. Mixing herbs to heal wounds will always break immersion, but now rather than eating the mix, you have some kind of tablet dispenser that you mix the herbs into. This is always equipped, and the better herb mix you make, the more pills you have. Thumping the right bumper (R1 on PlayStation 3) repeatedly allows you to dole out multiple pills for single intake, speeding up the healing process.
The User Interface is extremely slick, but unless you are playing in an offline single player mode, you cannot pause, not at all…not even if you hit the guide button. Survival horror or an annoying inconvenience, that’s down to personal taste. However, the co-op aspect of Resident Evil 6 cannot be stressed highly enough. Moving into the far more action based Chris and Piers campaign, this is hugely evident, as during the second chapter you get your first taste of four player game integration.
You see, as per Resident Evil 5, when you start playing the game you have to create settings for online access, choosing whether or not to let friends, random users or nobody join your game, but Capcom weren’t satisfied with that, they’ve gone one further. If you decide to go online with your game, when you start it automatically (yet silently) pairs you with another group of users playing one of the interweaving campaigns. What does this actually mean? Well, at certain points you and a friend will meet up with another two users playing one of the other campaigns, to team up and go four-player co-op against the enemy.
It’s mind-blowing, hugely commendable and yet another example of the ambition on display throughout Resident Evil 6. None of this is noticeable, it just happens. If you want to, you can set Gamertags to appear over the top of players, so you know who you’re playing with, but alternatively you could – in theory – never know who came into your game and helped you defeat huge monstrosities.
Back to Chris and Piers. Note that I mention them both? That’s because in all three campaigns you can choose which of the duo you want to play as, meaning from the get-go there are 6 playable characters split between 3 full campaigns.
If Leon and Helena’s campaign is more Resident Evil 4, Chris and Piers is straight up Resident Evil 5, even down the daylight sections and enemies that sprout disfigured limbs when shot. These are a new eneny, the J’avos (pronounced joo-a-vo) and they can wield weapons and co-ordinate attacks; think of them more as modified humans, but yes, Chris’ campaign is a full blown action experience. No less fun, just a different fun to Leon’s story. Chris is a far bulkier character than Leon, so you might end up using his hand-to-hand combat more than Leon, but this is another aspect of the combat you’ll find different from past games. Hand-to-Hand is vital now, because ammo is so scarce and you don’t want to be wasteful.
While it may start off difficult, Resident Evil 6 offers multiple special abilities to unlock which are locked to your overall save, so can be carried throughout the game. They range from things like upgrading your weapon recoil or steadying your aim, to upgrading the speed that you can fend off a zombie attack (via waggling the right stick, or hammering the ‘A’ button), all the way to “Lone Wolf” which stops your partner coming to rescue you when downed. You’ll definitely want to steady your aim at first though, because the aiming reticule isn’t steady if you hold aim for too long; the dot sliding to the side, changing a headshot into a shoulder shot. By the time you get to the third campaign (though you can play them in any order, of course) you’ll be far more powerful than when you first started.
What of Jake and Sherry’s campaign? If Leon’s is more Resident Evil 4 and Chris’ Resident Evil 5, where exactly do Jake and Sherry fall?
The truth is, somewhere in the middle. Starting off heavily action-based with a very direct influence from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Jake has the antibody to the C-Virus (the one that’s causing all the problems) and Neo-Umbrella are doing everything they can to stop him from surviving long enough for Sherry Birkin and Co. to make use of him. The Ustanak makes its presence known early on and is very Nemesis like, chasing you throughout the first chapter; a relentless killing machine sent to stop you. However, once that first chapter gives way to the second, the game veers toward a slightly slower pace, allowing for some seriously tense moments following the relentless action that came before.
So that’s the first four hours of each of the three campaigns. Mercenaries is also present and correct, and there is a whole fourth campaign unlockable too. If the rest of the campaigns are as long as the parts I’ve played, this could end up being the largest non-RPG title released to date. This itself actually brings issues to the table. There are already difficulty spikes depending on which order you play through. Repetition is also an issue, as the first chapter of Jake and Sherry’s campaign takes place during the second chapter of Chris and Piers’ campaign, meaning you will actually play the same section twice. They aren’t exactly the same, but parts of them are.
Also, there did appear to be a heavy reliance on holding on until something happened, fending off the enemy until a helicopter arrives, or support comes. If that happens more and more throughout the three campaigns (because it was present in all of them) and you have to repeat chapters from a different character’s points of view, it will be hard to justify such a gargantuan size of game, even with the inclusion of social website ResidentEvil.net launching with the game, and an adversarial multiplayer mode too.
Resident Evil has come a long way, but on the basis of what I’ve played so far, it seems it finally knows where it is going. Not content with merely aping itself, Resident Evil 6 appears to be a monumental effort with a staggering amount of content in the package and an enjoyable experience to be had for fans of all incarnations of the series. Resident Evil is back with a bang, only time will tell if the amount of content on offer is simply too much when the final version is available, but my own personal cautious optimism can now be replaced with a serious desire to play the full game. If three really is the magic number for playable campaigns, then we’ll have a superb title on our hands; I can’t wait to find out if that’s the case.
Resident Evil will be released on the 2nd October, 2012 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. A Windows PC version will also be released at a later time.