Resident Evil's an interesting beast. The first game, which released way back in 1996, is remembered fondly by many gamers as their first foray into survival horror, a genre which was really still in its formative stage at the time. Much of the horror, for me anyway, came from the truly awful controls, which were deliberately designed to be crap, in order to add to the tension and difficulty.
Time marches on, and with it, gamer expectations. The Resident Evil series seems to have lost its way of late, with even big fans of the franchise regarding Resident Evil 5 as a bit of a misstep. Can Resi 6 buck the trend and bring gamers back into the fold, recapturing some of the magic of the much better Resident Evil 4?
These questions and more were all swimming through my head as I sat down to play a couple of levels from the game in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. What I found, while far from conclusive, was complicated enough that it's taken me this long to figure out what I wanted to write about it.
To start with, the levels I played were each from a different perspective: specifically, Chris and Leon's perspectives. In most other games, the difference between two characters might be as simple as a different looking model (the game is, after all, played from the third person perspective) or as complex as having a different set of skills to use (like a Mage versus a Rogue). Here, it's much more like you're playing two completely different games.
Let's start with Chris. A reluctant participant in the zombie-related events that threaten to end the world as we know it, Chris plays like your typical third-person shooter star. Lots of ammo, guns that pump out rounds like they're unlimited in supply, and a melee fighting system that lets you carve up zombies that get close to you; you'd be forgiven for thinking you were playing Gears of War. Survival horror, this ain't. Sure, there were plenty of nasty enemies, including some that were seriously freaky, but smart corner management, overwatch, and other military tactics would see you through the relatively open areas unscathed.
The next guy I got to play was another signature character from the vintage series, Leon. Star of the seriously good Resident Evil 4, you'll be pleased (I suspect) to hear that his play style is much more in keeping with survival horror tropes that hearken all the way back to that game and beyond. Moving slowly, and with very little ammo, Leon is restricted to making his way around very narrow corridors in very low light. Bad things frequently happen to the poor chap, and the impact of each is made all the more severe by his limited ammo and general uselessness when it comes to melee. Thinking, and reacting smartly, is key to survival when playing as Leon.
It's not super clear, yet, how the various characters will interact, but Capcom suggest that there will be three intertwining campaigns to play as a part of the overall Resident Evil 6 game. There's also an interesting new take on Multiplayer, in which the game will dynamically assign you co-op partners for certain sections of the campaign - much like the recent PSN game Journey, perhaps.
I came away nonplussed with experience of Resident Evil 6. Nothing about it was bad, as such, but the combination of clunky controls, fairly typical survival horror mechanics, and mish-mash of genres just left me feeling a bit cold. It looks pretty decent, and it's clear that Capcom are keen to bring the series back on track with this iteration, but the jury's still out as to whether they're headed in the right direction or not.