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Demo Impressions: Resident Evil 6

September 4, 2012, Author: Trent Pyro

It’s coming. After the somewhat cautious reception Resident Evil 5 received, with its action-heavy slant and Hollywood-style sheen, many fans were more than excited when early info on its sequel pointed to a decidedly different tack. We now know that Resident Evil 6, one of the most anticipated games of this year, will feature three, distinct campaigns and bring together all the elements of the ever evolving franchise.

Leon Kennedy returns as the secret service agent along with his new partner Helena, once again caught up in a town gone mad with a new strain of the seemingly unbeatable T-Virus. Fan-fave Chris Redfield is drafted back into the BSAA by fresh-face Piers after a stint as a barfly and gets back into pumping round after round into mutated beasties. Rounding off the triplet of stories is new character Jake Muller, son of the ever-present antagonist Albert Wesker, who brings a brand new mêlée focus to proceedings as he galavants around with Resi 2 alumni Sherry Birkin.

The demo has just come out on XBLA for all to play and offers a taster of all three campaigns. The big question is: will splitting up the action into three, distinct flavours appease fans, or just make us wonder why they couldn’t mesh it all together?

Leon’s campaign is a tense and creepy affair. Beginning with the trailer-announced bombshell that is our boy having to evacuate the President’s brains due to some serious infection problems, things slow down quickly and most of the demo section is spent padding around a dingy college looking for survivors.

While there are bumps in the night, lighting flashes and fleeting shadows I have to admit I wasn’t really ever scared at all. For the campaign which Capcom assured us would bring back the old-style horror we all know and love, it felt a little too ‘Paranormal Activity’ for me. The graphical prowess, however, cannot be denied. It looks sublime, with some of the best lighting I’ve ever seen. Leon and Helena animate wonderfully; little touches like Leon automatically pushing open an ajar door really enhance the immersion.

The same can’t be said for the controls. While movement and camera seem smooth, the game insists on choosing whether you walk or run, seemingly at random. At one stage I was forced to walk slowly down an uneventful corridor before finding it hard to open a door because all of a sudden I began to run. You can almost feel the cinematic hand forcing your actions, but rather than feeling cinematic it just irritates. The new inventory system is baffling, seemingly using two separate systems and never making much sense. I’m sure this will be explained better in the full game, though, and you don’t really need to use it in the demo.

After plugging through the main body of the section you end up in a lift. When the doors open, all hell breaks loose and Resi 6′s new combat mechanics get their first run. I found the shooting a little more clunky than Resi 5, although that could simply be down to the fact I haven’t played it in ages. The main issue I found was that, while the game limits you to one clip of ammo (obviously harking back to the ammo-strapped days of the older games) it floods you with fast zombies that can down you in a few hits.

Back in the day, when the undead shambled like traditional Romero zombies, learning to run past them was an absolute must for survival. Here that’s nigh on impossible, with the zombies obviously geared towards action but the resources indicating survival. It’s a bad mix and this final section was frustrating and very little fun.

After being picked up in some Eastern-European dive bar by BSAA recruit Piers, Chris slingshots forwards in time to a more interesting point in his story. He’s part of a team sent to fictional Lanshiang to resolve some sort of B.O.W-related issue. Essentially trying to turn Resident Evil into a cover-shooter, it fails at pretty much every turn. The aiming and shooting remain the same as before, but with the notable addition of being able to move while shooting. The J’avo, new baddies infected with the equally-new C-Virus, can use guns and put up quite a fight, echoing the later sections of Resi 5.

The biggest issue is the lack of suitability. Instead of redesigning the classic Resident Evil mechanics to fit the new action-style (as seen in, although I hate to say it, Operation Raccoon City) Capcom have just crowbarred in a shoddy cover mechanic and hoped for the best. Activated by pressing X while aiming, it feels wrong on every level and the fact it needs to be used all the time ruins the experience for me.

The fact that the enemies can now cover and shoot removes all the threat; you just duck down and pop up to wipe them out. Admittedly there is still a mêlée variant in the form of brutish, shield-armed blokes, but they’re far outnumbered by the waves of trigger-happy J’avo. Don’t mistake me for being a fanboy here; I have loved every Resi game from day one and actually welcomed the change in pace seen in Resi 5. My criticism is simply that it just doesn’t work when done like this. Chris feels clunky to control, even more so when forced to use cover.

The inventory remains baffling and it took me a while to figure out how to use a First Aid Spray. Although Green Herbs can be found, it seems they can’t be used; only combined with other herbs. Even the combinations can’t be used though, so I’m baffled there. The only way to replenish health is to use the new ‘Pain Pills’ system. Tapping RB munches a pack and refills one of your blocks of health. This, again, feels ridiculous. Unlike the use of herbs in previous games (where getting the most out of them was key), the pills always recover one block of health. If you lose three, that means standing still and pressing RB three times to heal.

Ammo is still relatively scarce, which is irritating considering the level of combat you have to get into. In Resi 5, although the enemies were quick on their feet, there was always scope to pick your targets if you were good. Here, the J’avo dart around so quick, ducking and diving and firing off salvos with pin-point accuracy.

In a standard cover-shooter this would be normal; as would an abundance of ammo. Yet the amount of rounds needed to take down just one J’avo and the minimal likelihood of landing a headshot mean that you’ll often be left with just your pistol to fend off the onslaught. I actually ran out of ammo twice in one playthrough, despite being a relatively good shot.

The finale of the section involves holding out against waves of various J’avo. They come from all sides and, if you’re unlucky, can kill you in seconds. Death results in a kick back to the title screen and having to do the entire section again. A floodlight blinds you from one direction and you can’t shoot it out. Herbs are dropped by enemies but it seems no pills make an appearance, so if you used them up on the way you’re stuck with no way to heal.

While the new mêlée and dodge moves help, the section is still a tedious exercise in conserving ammo while trying to avoid three attacks at once. You’ll often be concentrating on avoiding a close-range attack and get shot from off-screen, or be taking cover to avoid gunfire and be wiped out by a shield-arm from behind. It’s messy and frustrating.

Paired with a now-adult Sherry Birkin, new-boy Jake’s story begins with the two of them getting chased down a sewer pipe by an enormous, Tyrant-style B.O.W.. A few simple QTE’s later and you get to run around for about 30 seconds before big-boy shows up again. The entire demo section is a big boss battle, although don’t get too excited.

Essentially the heavy follows you around smashing things, and you have to lead him about so his path crosses with the numerous explosive barrels littered around the warehouse that serves as the arena. After blowing him up umpteenth times you’ll likely run out of barrels and/or ammo, causing you to run around like an idiot with no way of harming him. You can, of course, attempt to down a few of the constantly respawning J’avo making your life more difficult. They take so much damage, however, that you’ll likely be side-swiped by the boss while you’re plugging away.

For all the talk of Jake’s superior mêlée abilities he’s piss-weak in practice, dealing more or less the same amount of damage up-close as the other characters. Sure, he can throw a nice combo, but when every enemy sidesteps at the mere whiff of a pause and you’re left punching into air, it doesn’t really make much difference.

If you do manage to grab some extra ammo or get the hang of the overcomplicated remote bombs stashed about the place you’ll eventually fell the beast, sending him crashing through the floor with Jake and Sherry close behind.

Rabid disgruntled Resi fans take to the streets after playing the demo

Overall I’m immensely disappointed with Resident Evil 6 so far. Leon’s story seems to be a lot of fear-deficient walking about, with the occasional spike of average combat. Chris’s part involves the worst cover system ever and what I feel is a step too far in the action direction for the series. Jake’s section appears to focus on his useless mêlée abilities, denying him enough ammo, and as a new character he seems to bring nothing to the table.

It feels as if Capcom have tried to make one control system for all three ‘styles’ of play and instead broken it. The action-movie dives and slides feel stupid for Leon’s more down-tempo bits. The cover system is just plain awful and turns Chris’s sections into clunky cover-shooter moments rather than tense action affairs. The inventory is unfathomably overcomplicated; the case system from Resi 4 was my favourite but even the traditional square layout revived in Resi 5 was better than this messy shite. Healing is reduced to hammering one button and hoping you have enough pills. It all just feels like one big mess.

I understand that this is a demo and that I’m only playing small sections of each campaign for a short amount of time. Maybe with more time and effort in the full game, many of my grievances will fade to nothing and Resident Evil 6 will blossom into the great game was all want it to be. However, the simple fact is, this is what Capcom have given us to judge the game on. This is their biggest marketing and advertising tool; there is no better way to sell a game than to let the people play it.

Based on what I’ve seen here, Resident Evil 6 is going to be a big disappointment for everyone. Old fans will be dismayed at the almost unrecognisable face of the franchise, while newcomers will be put off by the messy control and muddled mechanics. I genuinely hope the full game turns out better, as I’ve been looking forward to it since it was announced and that first reveal trailer still makes my heart leap. Please don’t let us down Capcom, because as it stands my impression is that you’ve ruined the franchise. There’s a reason you can’t please all of the people all of the time…