At first glance Resident Evil 6 is very similar to its predecessors. The player follows events from third-person perspective - right behind the hero's shoulder - and the story is tightly intertwined with constant combat with both undead and mutated monsters. The graphics are quite pleasant to the eye, with the lighting effects really shining here, and the critters dreaming about the downfall of their fellow man are just the precise mixture of grotesque and danger. Plenty of atmosphere is created by the brutality of the violence - heads will explode, limbs torn off, and bullets rip off chunks of flesh the size of a fist.
On closer inspection Resident Evil 6 differs from the series on a fundamental level. On previous adventures the heroes were given a choice of either moving or aiming their weapon. This brought a constant sense of urgency and panic to the gameplay, even if the design was a far cry from realistic combat.
GRTV: Watch the Comic Con trailer
Now, the characters can both walk, aim and even shoot at the same time! How modern! The heroes can also dodge blows with stylish somersaults and leaps, and can open fire while crawling or laying flat on their backs.
The change of gameplay design brings freedom to movement, but the same effect applies to enemies. They, too, can use space more freely, often circling the player before closing in for the kill. This was made quite clear to me in one of the testing sessions, when I was firing wildly at everything that moved in a haphazard attempt at keeping the hordes of hungry undead at bay.
I kept my eyes tightly fixed forward, giving a lone corpse ample opportunity to shamble close to me. The bastard tackled me to the ground, and before I knew it, he was turning my pretty face into a tartar steak with a heavy glass bottle. Paying attention to your surroundings is clearly more important in this game than in any of the previous ones, especially since the characters are always running out of ammo.
The developers have also streamlined other parts of gameplay. For example, the player picks up herbs from the levels that serve as medicine for the various cuts and bruises one tends to gather in ample amounts. Instead of wading through a cumbersome inventory system, the player now adds the herbs to his personal pill dispenser.
The dispenser spits out the needed remedy with a press of a shoulder button, thus being a welcome quick fix in a tight spot.
Of course, the herbs yield more pills if you combine them with each other, so the player has to balance whether he'll have some first aid available right now, or more pills later on.
A Story of Four
Resident Evil 6's plot is presented in four shorter campaigns instead of a single mammoth tale. The main purpose of this fractured storytelling is to give the game more focus, for each campaign has a very distinct atmosphere, style and characters. As each has two main characters, you're looking at seven playable characters total - two for each main campaign and one single character campaign, unlocked after the first playthrough.
Even though the number of playable characters is quite high, the gameplay differences appear to remain minimal. All characters are armed with similar weapons from pistols to fully automatic weapons, completed with grenades and knives. But there are character specific exceptions. For example, Ada Wong - the unlockable seventh character - has a crossbow that conveniently (and quite literally) pins the restless dead to the walls, while Jake Muller has devastating close combat moves.
Even if the differences in basic gameplay aren't staggering, the style and execution of the campaigns is quite varied. Leon Kennedy's campaign represents more classic survival horror: lots of darkness for the undead to lurk in, with only sporadic lighting showing the shambling terrors as silhouettes against the shadows. The background music is oppressingly tense, giving no respite to one's nerves.
Chris Redfield's campaign is in a stark contrast to Leon's escapades. Chris, a burly action hero, is a member of BSAA, a special forces team that is tasked in clearing out large environments with automatic weapons and extreme prejudice. With the backing of armored weapons and plenty of team mates, Chris's campaign is akin to Call of Duty meets survival horror, complete with explosions, ample sunlight and pompously militaristic soundtrack. It's like watching a Michael Bay zombie movie.
The third main campaign introduces Jake Muller, an Eastern European mercenary, desperately fleeing an unstoppable super monster, Ustanak. Jake's campaign draws its power from panic and fear of the unknown - Jake's main enemies are j'avo mutants, who can, instead of dying, encase themselves in a tough cocoon and soon mutate into a new form. In other words, when a player mows a j'avo down, he may dig his own grave, as the killed j'avo gives birth to a much stronger breed of horror.
After all three main campaigns have been completed, the game unlocks a fourth take of the RE6 story. Ada Wong, an agent extraordinaire working both sides of the fence, is a self reliant operative who works alone and likes using her wits more than her guns. The mysterious femme fatale's campaign requires the player to solve puzzles, like retrieving missing key parts from the horrible undead or pushing the shambling hordes into an electrical current - thus creating a feedback loop that opens a lock. These puzzles give the campaign a nice change of pace, although the problems shown in the playtest build were pretty easy to solve.
Each campaign thus has its own story, style and enemies, but all four campaigns intertwine with each other on several occasions. In the test session we got to play a long scene where Ada helped Leon and his sidekick Helena defeat a difficult boss mutant before the dark haired beauty took off, leaving Helena and Leon to their own devices. It is likely that all campaigns converge on a larger scale towards the end of the game, but all questions posed about the possible alliances, objectives or plot twists were met with a knowing wink and a smile.
GRTV: Watch the four play-styles of Resident Evil 6
The Inherent Beauty of Betrayal
Resident Evil 6 has been developed to be a co-op game from the get go. Except for Ada, the hero is never alone - his trustworthy sidekick is always on his side, ready to go through hell and high water. Even though the AI does a decent and often surprisingly efficient job at dispatching enemies, nothing beats playing with a friend, coordinating your actions and sharing scarce supplies.
However, co-op is not the only multiplayer mode the game has to offer. Resident Evil 6 introduces a game mode called Agent Hunt, which is, for myself, one of the most pleasant surprises in the series.
GRTV: Watch Agent Hunt Mode in action
Agent Hunt lets the player take the role of the enemy, becoming one of the various monsters, and hunt down human players who happen to be in a predetermined spot in their single player campaign. In other word, Agent Hunt lets you tease and torture and tear at your fellow players with reckless abandon.
Agent Hunt mode involves all campaigns, but we only got to test one of them. As Jake Muller and his sidekick Sherry navigated through narrow alleys and dark streets filled with j'avo mutants armed with machetes and machine guns, one of these mutants was a human player, but there's no indication which of the plethora of blood thirsty mongrels was the player-controlled. If the player monster is killed, he either mutates into a different j'avo form or simply respawns shortly at a different location.
The beauty of Agent Hunt relies on humans being devious and cruel, as true predators bide their time. For example, after I was shot and mutated into a j'avo variant sporting a huge tentacle-like arm that could both bash Jake from a distance as well as grab him and pull him close for more tender pummeling, I waited behind a cargo crate for Jake's player to be in a bind. As he got surrounded by j'avo, I emerged from hiding, swung my tentacle at him, and smashed him flat out on the street. The player was immediately swarmed by knife wielding j'avo who happily slashed at the prone mercenary.
Agent Hunt was a huge hit amongst the playtesters, as it's a wonderful way to spend some time before continuing with the main campaigns. A combination of paranoia and torture, Agent Hunt mode can be toggled on and off, as the mixture is obviously not a welcome addition to players who want to enjoy their single player experience in peace, without any outsiders mucking about and making it even more difficult.
Color Me Interested
After the few hours we got to spend with the fresh build, all my expectations for the game went through the roof. I didn't enjoy Resident Evil 5 that much, and the way the series has handled horror has not worked that well on me. I didn't experience fear in this iteration, either, but panic and urgency in ample amounts.
I am quite pleased that Capcom has finally given the old gameplay mechanics the boot and embraces action-oriented design, for the combination of grotesque violence, unearthly monsters and paranoid action was a delight to play. The enemies always outnumber you, and even a lonely zombie can be a danger. You are constantly out of ammunition and get your ass kicked a lot, even though the characters can now roll out of the harm's way and even take cover.
I am also confident that cutting the campaign up in intertwining stories gives the game plenty of tools to give the experience an effective atmosphere at all times. As a whole it lacks in innovative design, but as the different approaches help in keeping a tighter focus with the events, I do not perceive sticking to what you know to be a bad thing.
Of course, it is possible that all this excitement wears off when you experience the game as a whole, but I sincerely doubt it. It is entirely possible that Resident Evil 6 will be my favorite episode in the series so far. I'm really looking forward to the game's release in October.