While Resident Evil 4 is generally regarded as the highpoint of Capcom's survival horror series, it also represents the point at which the franchise began abandoning its nerve-fraying focus in favor of a more action-oriented experience.
Of course, if RE4 is the title that started alienating fans who prefer raised goosebumps to ratcheting body counts, then zombie frag-fest Resident Evil 5 is the entry that pretty much gave them the finger.
With their next numbered entry, however, Capcom hopes to lure back those who'd rather tax their fragile psyches than their twitchy reflexes, as well as satisfy those content to simply fill shambling foes full of buckshot.
The developer dabbled with this concept a bit in Resident Evil: Revelations on the 3DS, crafting an experience that combined both spooky exploration and ammo clip-emptying action. With Resident Evil 6, though, they're pushing this roots-revisiting approach even further. The upcoming sequel will include a trio of distinct, but interwoven, campaigns starring three different protagonists. Players can begin the game in the boots of Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield or newcomer—and Albert Wesker offspring—Jake Muller. Each main character is also accompanied by a partner, which a second player can control in split-screen or online co-op. The idea is to offer a dedicated, compelling experience to fans old, new and somewhere in between.
Opening in Tall Oaks, a small town possessing a strong Raccoon City vibe, our hands-off preview begins with Leon facing a zombified President of the United States. Following a dramatic scene in which he's forced to kill the brain-craving commander in chief, Leon teams with female secret service agent (and second playable protagonist in co-op) Helena Harper. As cryptic as she is curvy—this is a RE game after all—Helena hints that she knows who's behind the bio-terrorism attack that turned the President into a walking corpse. She convinces a reluctant Leon, who's also being framed for the attack, to follow her to a nearby cathedral where she'll share more information with him.
Before they can get there, though, the pair must escape the university where the political rally was interrupted by a menacing fog; we learn of this hazardous haze from a panicked man whose persistent hacking suggests he was caught in its grasp. When not coughing like a two-pack-a-day smoker, the victim begs Leon to help find his daughter who disappeared when all hell broke loose. As the trio starts exploring the abandoned school, we get a strong sense the demo is squarely focused on proving the series is still capable of scaring the pants off players.
Save for the occasional crack of thunder and flash of lightning, the campus' interior, immediately evocative of the original Resident Evil's creepy mansion, is quiet and dark. Especially eerie is the banquet hall where the president's post-speech reception was to take place; bright bouquets of helium balloons, champagne glasses, and place settings await guests who will now probably feast on human flesh rather than fancy hors d'oeuvres. As Leon, Helena and the mystery man with the nagging cough continue to search the building, they encounter scurrying rats in an abandoned kitchen, a bloody handprint on a closed door, and plenty of hallway windows we half expect a virally-infected canine to come crashing through. There's also plenty of empty rooms to explore, corridors to cautiously creep down, and closed doors—with god knows what behind them—to open. The demo's first half is completely devoid of undead enemies, yet it affectively gets the hairs on the back of our necks dancing an uneasy jig.
The first real monster-in-closet-moment comes when the lost girl surprisingly jumps out, revealing that she too has been stricken with a cough as well as a nasty limp. With the tension knob now turned to 11, the quartet of survivors make their way to an elevator. Once inside, the lights go out and the unsettling silence is replaced by squishy sounds and guttural growls as father and daughter succumb to whatever that fog infected them with. While we totally expect the dad to turn into a flesh-craving crazy, the teenage girl going feral admittedly catches us off guard. We weren't actually clutching the controller, but we receive a nice jolt of adrenaline as Leon and Helena fight off the decaying duo in the dark, claustrophobic setting.
With the elevator down two passengers, its doors open on a parking garage crawling with walking dead. The demo shifts into high gear and we're given a peek at some of Leon's new moves; in addition to finally learning how to walk and shoot simultaneously, he can also scurry about, shoot, and perform melee moves from a prone position. We also watch him plant a meat cleaver in a zombie's face just after pulling it from its chest. The concluding moments of the demo are focused on spilling entrails rather than chilling spines, but it still reminds us the protagonists are more struggling survivors than gun-toting action heroes; a quick cut of more undead hordes forcing their weight against the garage's ever-weakening gate affectively conveys a sense of impending dread.
While Capcom was intent on proving they put the horror back in "survival horror", they also teased a number of new tweaks. Apparently health-reviving sprays have been replaced by tablets, and refined inventory and HUD elements will help streamline previous entries' oft-criticized clunky interfaces. Zombies, which can wield weapons, dash, and jump, replace the infected crazies we've seen in recent games, while a new breed of baddies, dubbed J'avo, can heal themselves and mutate into random monstrosities depending on where they're shot. The impetus for this fresh cast of meatbags is the C-Virus, a new strain which incubates its victims in cocoon-like pods called Chrysalids.
Based on our brief look, it seems Leon's story is the one old-school RE fans will want to tackle first. That's not to say it'll have them scrounging for ammo and saving games with typewriter ribbons, but it definitely seems to favor delivering bumps in the night over bullets in brains. Presumably, Chris' and Jake's campaigns, which begin in China and Eastern Europe, respectively, will provide more trigger-pulling thrills in the vein of RE5. What we're especially curious to see, though, is how the gameplay and narratives evolve once all the characters cross paths in China, where the bulk of all three stories unfold. Hopefully we'll be infected with some revealing hands-on time before the RE6's October release.
A full-time freelance journalist for over seven years, Matt Cabral covers the videogame industry for a variety of mainstream and enthusiast outlets. Find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @gamegoat.