It's not that scary.
Its first campaign might be its worst.
But after making a bad impression when I played it back in May, Resident Evil 6 is now a game I'm looking forward to a lot.
What changed? Oh, I played it for about seven hours this weekend.
I think it should be obvious the spoilers are about to shamble forth, groaning at you. So either stand your ground or run away right now.
1. No, it's not scary.
Unless one jump scare in seven hours counts. Does it? I say no. The game is divided into three main five-chapter campaigns (it seems that a fourth is unlocked later on). Each stars a different pair of characters and each is supposed to have a different tone, with the campaign led by Resident Evil 2 and 4 Leon Kennedy leading off as the creepiest, most old-fashioned one. Which I guess means it's supposed to be scary.
I played about an hour of Chris' campaign and, yeah, at one point, there was a zombie waiting for me on the other side of a door. Creepy! Shocking! I did not expect him and had to shoot him quickly. Otherwise, I encountered no dogs-jumping-through-the-windows moments, if you know what I mean. The other two campaigns aren't even trying to scare you, not in their first two chapters which I almost completed across about six hours.
2. … but playing it is a tense experience.
I was low on ammo throughout much of the game, even, somewhat implausibly, during the action-heavy RE5-ish Chris Redfield campaign in which we are leading a team of special forces (the BSAA, to all you franchise fans out there).
These are not the kinds of people who should be low on ammo, but this is not the kind of game that would be as interesting if you had a bucket of bullets. The combat balance works as follows: you can move and shoot, but you will run out of bullets if you try to pick your enemies off by shooting at them at range or from cover or after you dive to the ground (all of which are possible in this sequel), so you need to rush in to either initially weaken enemies with melee attacks before shooting them or you need to weaken them by shooting them and then run in to do the melee. Your melee moves are extremely powerful and persistently available, since they are mapped to a pull of the right trigger, but here too there is balance, since this game introduces a stamina system that drains if you spam the melee button too much. Zero-stamina melee moves barely have impact.
All of this comes together exceedingly well in Chris' campaign, and suggests RE6 could be a game that distinguishes itself not for its tone but for its combat system, one that requires the same kind of care and strategic focus as the hardest modes do in the game's obvious American counterpart, Gears of War. Put more simply, this is a game that will require you to take a deep breath and jump into a crowd of enemies to beat them up; it's no hands-clean at-a-distance shooter.
3. The quick-shot is great.
A new and nearly perfect combat option is a sort of quick-shot that is activated when you swiftly pull both the left (aim) trigger and the right (shoot) trigger. The result is a sudden shot at a nearby enemy who is otherwise about to maul you. The gesture required here is fitting, as you're basically jolting your hands to cause this sudden action, making the sort of twitchy reflex move you would when you're springing to panicked action. The resulting shot is powerful but saps your stamina, preventing you from just running around the game's levels shooting from the hip. The effect on the enemy is a quick stun, which opens them up to devastating melee finishers.
4. Chris' campaign feels the most modern and, for lack of a better way of putting it, the most American.
Dragon's Dogma players got early access this summer to a small demo chunk of Chris' campaign, which was set mostly on the rooftops of the game's fictional Chinese city, Lanshiang. That first chapter took me an hour and 40 minutes to clear but was only prelude to that campaign's second campaign, a flashback mission in eastern Europe that might as well have been a third-person level of a Call of Duty or a slightly more realistic (and Earth-bound) chunk of Gears of War. In this second chapter, we're advancing up streets in an old snow-covered European city, crossing a bridge, engaging a tank, blowing up a train car and fighting hordes of mercenaries.
We're also fighting more than one Rancor-sized giant monster and these mercenaries are really skilled, mutated fighters—J'Avo—so it's not that realistic. But this is the campaign that seems most made for fans of western games. It also feels the most confidently-designed and controls the best. To give you a sense of the hell-yeah flavor in the game's second chapter, there's a moment when an ally needs to detonate some explosives to launch a train car into the air… Chris and friends run under the momentarily-airborne train car to run to the next area, before the train car lands behind them, blocking any enemies in pursuit.
5. There are no puzzles in the first two chapters of Chris' campaign.
6. Jake's campaign is wonderfully wacky.
The third campaign, starring the evil Wesker's son, Jake, is for people who like Resident Evil when it is at its most goofy. I played it as Sherry Berkin. This campaign has drawn comparison to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis because it appears that we'll be spending much of it (all of it?) being pursued by a very tough enemy, in this case the monstrous Ustanak.
But let's just compare it to any moment when RE was its most cartoonish because, through the 1 1/2 chapters I played, I can confirm that this is the campaign that will have you firing a turret gun out of the back of one helicopter to shoot down the monster hanging from one of three attack helicopters that are pursuing you.
This is the campaign that includes a snowmobile chase. And I think this is going to be the campaign that turns into a corny romance, but that's just a guess.
7. It will make a difference who you choose.
You can play any of the campaigns with a friend, each of you controlling a protagonist, but if you play solo you can only pick one hero. I played Jake's campaign as Sherry, who is armed with a pistol that shoots one or three bullets at once. But her better weapon is something Jake didn't seem to have: a shock stick that was devastating at close range. Jake, who was controlled by the computer, could swing from special red poles in the environment that allowed him to reach places Sherry couldn't.
8. Jake's campaign includes at least one fetch quest and, in its second chapter, suddenly introduced a mini-map.
Weird! I think this is the experimental campaign.
9. Leon's is the campaign I remain worried about.
Leon Kennedy and new character Helena Harper star in the most old-school of the game's campaigns. This one is the one you're supposed to skulk your way through. The other two campaigns begin with battles against the mutated-soldier J'Avo enemies who more or less act like super-powered bad-guy troops from modern action games, but in Leon's adventure, we've got slow-moving zombies—and a couple of runners—who groan, swing axes at you and chip away bit by bit as you shoot them.
The problem is that his campaign makes the game feel like a dinosaur. From the start, as players of the demo already know, we're in a game that suffers from the worst of the environmental uncanny valley. You'll stand in a big party hall that is filled with long tables, knocked over chairs and other ruined-party detritus. You'll know you need to get from one end of the room to the other. But you can't just push a chair out of the way. It's as fixed into position as a boulder. You have to walk around the table the designers want you to walk around, then past the chair they will allow you to move past. This kind of thing happens in room after room. You are a highly-trained zombie killer, but you can't move an easel out of the way.
A different sort of problem arises when the zombie-fighting begins, because here, against slow-moving zombies, we see how badly the game's melee system syncs with the animations of some of its enemies. I punched and kicked right through my enemies, and often the attacks didn't register. These problems persist and add up to one major issue: in Leon's campaign, the gap between what the player wants to do and what the game will permit them to do is unpleasantly wide.
10. My colleague Chris says Leon's campaign gets better.
He says you're eventually holding off a horde of zombies in a gun store while protecting a bunch of survivors.
He captured some video so we could see it. Thanks, Chris!
He says it's intense. I didn't get to that, but that's good news. Where I left off, I was running past zombies in a sewer. No. Correction: I was running past some of them. One of them… I ran at full-steam-ahead and leapt at them with a flying sidekick. Not scary! (But kind of awesome!)
11. Sure, there's cornball dialogue. It's a Resident Evil!
Helena and Leon flee from some zombies, crash a car and have to hurry down a manhole to find safety. Helena appears uneasy. Leon sneers: "What's the matter? Not a fan of sewers?"
12. There was a locked-door moment in Leon's campaign that required me to run elsewhere to find a key and then return to the locked door.
Yep! Old school.
13. The three campaigns intersect.
Which is cool when it happens but jarring when the events you play through don't pan out the same way (I killed the same boss as Chris in his campaign and then as Sherry while Chris watched in Jake's—huh?).
14. No more inventory Tetris.
The sequel's creators have stayed away from the series' wackier inventory-management systems and will let you pack a lot of gear. You don't pause when accessing your inventory, so you'll have to learn how to mix herbs and heal yourself while running around. Tricky, but not impossible.
15. Gun-buying? Nah. Skill-buying.
I didn't see a way to buy new guns in the game, but you can acquire skill points by killing enemies, searching nooks/crannies and can then spend them on all sorts of ability improvements. Here they are:
Firearm: Slightly increases firearm power.
Melee: Slightly increased power during melee attacks.
Defense: Slightly reduced damage from enemy firearms.
Lock-On: Steadies hand when shooting.
Rock Steady: Reduces recoil after shooting
Critical Hit: Slightly increases the chance of scoring a critical hit.
J'avo Killer: Increases strength of attacks on a J'avo.
???: Kill 30 zombies
Eagle Eye: Adds an extra level of magnification to sniper rifle scope.
Quick Reload: Reload your weapons quickly.
Last Shot: Greatly increases the strength of your final remaining shot.
Shooting Wild: Removes your targeting sight, but increases your firepower.
Combat Gauge Boost: Increases your Combat Gauge by 3 blocks.
Breakout: Allows you to break free easily from an enemy's grasp.
Item Drop Increase: Causes more defeated enemies to drop items.
Recovery: Speeds up recovery time when dying
Team-Up: Strengthens your partner's attacks when you are near each other.
Field Medic: Allows your partner to give you a few health tablets when you're rescued.
Lone Wolf: Keeps your partner from helping you when you're in trouble.
AR Ammo Pickup Increase: Allows you to pick up an increased amount of 5.56 NATO ammo.
Shotgun Shell Pickup Increase: Allows you to pick up an increased number of 10- and 12-gauge shotgun shells.
Magnum Ammo Pickup Increase: Allows you to pick up an increased amount of .50 Action-Express and .500 S&W Magnum ammo.
Rifle Ammo Pickup Increase: Allows you to pick up an increased amount of 7.62 NATO and 12.7mm ammo.
Grenade Pickup Increase: Allows you to pick up an increased number of 40mm explosive, avid, and nitrogen rounds.
Arrow Pickup Increase: Allows you to pick up an increased number of normal and pipe bomb arrows.
???: Get 800 kills with grenades
???: Get 1,500 kills with handguns
???: Get 1,000 kills with shotguns
???: Get 800 kills with Magnums
???: Get 1,000 kills with sniper rifles
???: Get 1,500 kills with machine pistols
???: Get 800 kills with grenade launchers
???: Get 800 kills with crossbows
???: Unlocked after all campaigns have been completed.
16. The star of the game may be the enemies.
Some may feel that Resident Evil games are defined by the series' horror or ammo-scarcity; others might celebrate the storytelling or focus on the controls. RE6's best early moments suggest a different element is worthy of our appreciation: the enemy design.
Resident Evil enemies have been as wonderfully specific in their behaviors as the best Mario Goombas or Pac-Man ghosts. Good enemies force players to focus on specific counter-strategies. In the past we've had enemies in Resident Evils who required headshots to dispose of or who were, well, dogs. Here we've got shambling zombies who are armed with brutal melee weapons but who, when engaged properly, can be stunned and then countered so that their melee weapons are used against them.
In the J'Avo we've got mutated enemies who will shoot guns at us but who might also sprout wings or spider-legs (the better to crawl on the ceiling with). One J'Avo surprised me by showing that his mutation gave him a big shield on his arm; another leapt toward me, his mutation giving his legs super-powered enhancements. Chris' campaign seemed especially rich with distinct enemies, each of whom required different techniques to defeat. This created its own set of puzzles, I supposed, causing each encounter to be its own interesting mini-game of movement, shooting, melee, counter-attack and survival. It was my favorite aspect of the game.
17. Mercenaries mode is back.
But I didn't have much time to play the three maps in my preview build. It didn't seem that different. It's set on levels modified from the campaigns. You're still on a timer, melee kills add time, as does the cracking of big glowing hourglasses.
Leon's campaign worried me last May when I first played this game. It made me take Resident Evil 6 for a modern relic. A longer session with Leon and a lot of time with the other two campaigns now has me thinking I made a mistake. Or maybe Capcom did in starting Leon's adventure out so awkwardly.
This game feels like three games. Two of these games are ones I certainly want to play more of. And the third is getting better. We've had a lot of this franchise in 2012. After the enjoyable 3DS game Resident Evil: Revelations and the miserable multiplayer shooter Operation Raccoon City I thought I had enough Resident Evil this year. Nope. I want this new one. It's got my attention. It's leaning toward being very good.
Resident Evil 6 will be out in North America on October 2 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It will be released for PC later.