The Resident Evil series has undergone so many iterations and spinoffs over the last few years that it's practically unrecognisable as the original tense PSOne survival horror game. With each subsequent title and change in focus, the fanbase has become increasingly fractious; some embracing a more action-heavy experience while others rail against every tweak to the classic formula. With cooperative-centric Resident Evil 5 and divisive Operation Raccoon City raising more than a few eyebrows, deciding on how to balance the next core franchise entry couldn't have been easy.
Capcom's compromise (Capcompromise?) is nothing short of inspired. Resident Evil 6's globetrotting story will be presented from three unique perspectives, each of which will offer a different take on what it means to be a Resident Evil game. Throughout three lengthy standalone campaigns, playable either in cooperative multiplayer or solo with AI support, we'll trawl through atmospheric corridors, desperately fight for survival against overwhelming hordes and flee from an omnipresent nemesis - with characters and events intersecting at key points in the narrative. Resident Evil 6 will be three games in one, ensuring that absolutely everyone is catered for.
As a recovering Dragon's Dogma addict, I've recently been granted access to the exclusive Resident Evil 6 demo (more details here, Dragon's Dogma owners), and taken a detailed look at how these three campaigns will play out. Be aware that this article may contain early-game spoilers.
Leon S Kennedy: In With The Old
Having been sworn into the Secret Service, Raccoon City survivor Leon S. Kennedy is forced to shoot the President of the United States after terrorists perpetrate a C-Virus attack. Partnered with mysterious fellow agent Helena Harper, the idealistic hero sets out to investigate the group behind the outbreak.
Leon's campaign acts as a throwback to the original Resident Evil, placing the focus squarely on horror and suspense. As you explore the abandoned Ivy University campus in the midst of a torrential thunderstorm, you'll encounter nary a zombie, instead being presented with brooding music, disconcertingly empty corridors and some effective jump scares. The atmosphere is tense rather than intense, and all the better for it (brought home by some sensational lighting effects as lightning and torch beams casts ominous dynamic shadows onto the walls).
Capcom also takes a sly tongue-in-cheek dig at the horrendously cumbersome controls featured in the original games. At the start of the demo, you're limited to a painfully slow walk and a wide turning circle, giving us some unwelcome flashbacks to the likes of Code: Veronica. Upon finally discovering some zombies, however, the shackles melt away, instead revealing an instantly responsive control scheme that's in line with modern third person shooters.
Movement speed is blisteringly fast and bolstered by a sprint. Traditional left trigger aiming slows movement down to walking pace but enables a handy evade move, and you're free to strafe at will. Melee attacks can get Leon out of a pinch, while inaccurate dual-pistol wielding (one button press away) can make light work of massed zombie groups. Resident Evil's new controls are slick, lean and finally fit for task.
To balance the empowering freedom of movement, Leon will always be short of ammunition, requiring him to evade zombies or rely on some swift kicks to shove them aside. Additionally, swapping weapons, browsing the inventory and combining items doesn't pause the game, leading to some desperately tense mid-firefight moments. Even the quick first-aid button requires frequent restocks, keeping the focus on vulnerability rather than brutality.
Which is where Mr. Redfield comes in.
Chris Redfield: Action Hero
Pulled out of the bottom of a Vodka bottle by BSAA agent Piers Nivens, zombie-killer extraordinaire Chris Redfield is thrown straight into a full-scale military operation, with the future of China on the line.
In sharp contrast to Leon's intimate corridor crawling, Redfield's campaign is all about Resident Evil 5-esque carnage, ramped up a couple of notches. Throughout a harrowing run across rooftops and scaffolding, infected J'avo terrorists boil out of doorways and windows, taking aim with firearms or charging with massive machetes. Shattering their fragile masks with some carefully-placed assault rifle shots will usually put paid to them, but some will unpredictably sprout monstrous armoured appendages or leathery wings, allowing them to push the advantage or take to the skies. It's hectic, desperate and incredibly intense.
Redfield and Nivens are primed and ready to take them on, however. Packing advanced firepower, grenades and generous ammo counts from the get-go, the duo is capable of dishing out some major damage. Context-sensitive melee attacks can be used to casually push zombies over balconies or smash them against walls, providing a nifty way of saving ammunition. As you'd expect, the new controls come into their own, and the two characters are frequently split up to provide overwatch and cover fire.
I was also impressed that each campaign has its own HUD and GUI (Leon's stats are displayed by a blue-tinted smartphone whereas Chris deploys a slick green military device), further differentiating between the three storylines.
Jake Mueller: Son Of Wesker
Jake Mueller isn't a normal mercenary. He's the son of fan-favourite antagonist Albert Wesker, so as such, his unique blood type is seriously hot property. Pursued by the mysterious 'woman in a blue dress' and a hulking B.O.W., Mueller will have to run and gun his way out of harm's way.
Pursuit is very much the focus of Mueller's campaign, and fans of Resident 3: Nemesis will instantly know the score. Ustanak, a mechanically-enhanced Bio Organic Weapon, will hound the mercenary at every opportunity; appearing at the most inopportune moments and turning otherwise traditional zombie encounters into panicked flight. During the demo, Mueller and partner Sherry Birkin have to run towards the screen to avoid instant death (classic chase scene fare), and shoot explosive barrels to damage the monstrosity in a boss arena battle.
Many questions still remain unanswered. We don't know whether Resident Evil 6 will be able to keep its campaigns distinct in terms of gameplay. We're not entirely sure whether the drop-in cooperative functionality, which occurs when storylines intersect, will actually work properly. But if Capcom pulls this off, Resident Evil 6 is going to be that rarest of beasts: a franchise sequel that manages to please its entire fanbase.
We'll find out in October.