As I entered Capcom’s Resident Evil 6 booth at E3 to get my very first hands-on time with the game, I was surrounded by themed decorations and was told to pretend that I was entering the fictional city of Lanshiang, China, which is where part of the game takes place.
But as I began playing the game I realized that I didn’t care where I was, because this was just good, old-fashioned zombie-killing mayhem that was so familiar that I felt right at home. Much like Resident Evil 5 was, in some ways, Resident Evil 4 in Africa, my time with Resident Evil 6 proved to be, more or less, Resident Evil 5 in China. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear that we would be able to choose from one of three campaigns, starring Chris Redfield, Leon Kennedy, and Jake Muller. So I selected Chris’s campaign, just in case the Leon campaign was the same as the one that was demoed during Microsoft’s press conference yesterday (which, as it turns out, it was not). I sat through a cinematic in which it’s present day and we open on Mr. Redfield getting hammered in a bar somewhere in Europe. After being approached and reminded by Piers Nivans that he let his team die during a previous operation — this is something that I assume will be explained more at some point in Resident Evil 6, because that wasn’t part of the events of Resident Evil 5 — Chris is coerced into leaving the bar to rejoin the BSAA.
I assume there was some passage of time between the end of that cutscene and when I actually began playing, because Chris was suddenly fully suited up and in the midst of a full-on zombie-infestation. The level took place in China and had me running around from rooftop to rooftop in an attempt to get to the other side of town to a nightclub (while meeting up with my partner Piers along the way).
Unfortunately, one of the very first things I noticed was that there were some camera issues, a problem with which the Resident Evil series is not unfamiliar. Aside from the fact that the over-the-shoulder camera was entirely too close to Chris in the first place (his body had to have been taking up at least a third of the screen, but some may argue that that’s due to his seemingly steroid-enhanced physique), as soon as I started getting close to walls or trying to look directly above me, I ran into some problems with clipping. And not only did I sometimes disappear into the wall, the camera would occasionally clip right into Chris, turning him invisible as I essentially shifted into a first-person mode with very poor viewing angles.
But to be fair, while the camera problem was one of the first things I noticed, it was really the only serious issue I came across. The rest of my experience was perfectly smooth and, yes, like I said, it will be very familiar to those that have played Resident Evil 4 or 5, in terms of how it’s played. I know this was a common criticism of RE5 (that it was too similar to RE4), but I think it’s the right call: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Players should be happy that Capcom found a successful formula — for example, doing away with the fixed-angle camera views — and hasn’t looked back since.
Adding Some Spice
That’s not to say that Capcom hasn’t spiced things up a bit. For one, there is now a cover system, though it does seem to be a bit choosy in terms of what exactly you can hide behind. I loved the fact that cover was handled by simply squeezing the left trigger to get into cover and letting it go to get out (an incredibly simple and effective system I first experienced in Rainbow Six: Vegas and have since wondered why more developers don’t copy it), but it only appeared to work against corners of high walls. I couldn’t seem to get it to work near the waist-high walls and crates that were scattered around the environment, but perhaps that’s just a kink that needs working out.
After killing a few enemies, I noticed that they would occasionally drop “skill points,” which obviously points toward an RPG-esque skill progression system, but I was unfortunately never given the opportunity to spend the points. I’m very curious to know what sort of skills you can spend your points on, and I think such a system has a great deal of potential. I’m also wondering, however, if this intends to replace the system found in previous games where you could find treasures, exchange them for money, and use said money to upgrade your weapons. We’ll have to wait and see.
And depending on your preference, you may or may not be dismayed to hear that inventory Tetris appears to be a thing of the past in Resident Evil 6. Gone is the well-known square grid in which you have to fit all of your possessions. Now, there simply two inventory wheels (one for weapons, the others for items like medical supplies or grenades) that you sift through to manage your items.
Other small tweaks have been made to movement and combat, including the ability to roll and dodge at will. Granted, it’s a slightly cumbersome execution, as you have to ready your gun first, point the left stick in a direction, and then hit A, but overall I think it’s a nice touch. Players can also perform quick shots, which are basically shots from the hip, by squeezing both triggers simultaneously. This is a brilliant idea, because a game like Resident Evil is basically filled with moments in which you’re scared or caught off-guard and you instinctively mash the triggers for a split second before getting your wits about you. I cannot tell you how many times an enemy popped out and triggered my reflexes so I could, without even thinking, shoot them and back them up before actually taking the time to aim.
And perhaps my favorite part in the entire demo was when I (admittedly, accidentally) performed a counter melee attack on an enemy that was taking a swing at me. It’s essentially a quicktime event, with a very small window in which you can hit the melee button, but when performed correctly, it’s an incredibly badass sight to behold. In this instance, Chris ducked under his opponent’s swing before stepping forward, drawing his pistol, and firing backwards beneath his arm into his opponent’s back.
Some of the game’s new additions seem like they may make the player’s job a little too easy, however. Punches and kicks can also be performed on the fly now, simply by pulling the right trigger without readying your weapon first. Previously, in Resident Evil 5, players had to shoot enemies first to stun them before running up and completing quick-time cues to perform a melee attack or combo. In Resident Evil 6, you can swing away to your heart’s content as soon as enemies get too close to you, and should you connect, you’re instantly prompted to hit right trigger again to continue your combo. Once you knock your enemy down, you can finish the job by running up to them and hitting right trigger one last time to stomp them.
It may be satisfying, but it’s also very easy to do and basically ensures that your enemies are never going to get that close to you. I realize that in Resident Evil 5 you could pull out your knife on the fly and take a swing if someone is closing in on you, but that was a very last-ditch, generally feeble attempt to fight them off. That move would barely slow them down (and do virtually no damage to them), whereas with the melee attacks in Resident Evil 6, your attacks are so powerful that you’re automatically launched into a combo. Even getting swarmed isn’t that much of a concern because you can hit more than one enemy with a well-timed swing.
Also making things perhaps a little too “user-friendly” is the addition of an objective locator, which highlights your objective and points the camera in the direction that you need to be going. On the one hand, I like the idea and I think it can be handy if you’re getting confused or lost, but on the other hand…isn’t that part of the challenge?
And — now, this is just conjecture — seeing this feature also made me a little nervous, because its inclusion suggests that things are going to be pretty linear (I mean, there’s no doubt that the demo I played was very linear, but that’s to be expected). In the past, Resident Evil was all about solving puzzles, backtracking, and revisiting different rooms or areas once you have the right item or key to progress. Now, the game seems like it may being going in a “get from point A to point B” kind of direction. But again, that’s just a theory.
I did enjoy the relative challenge of the last part of Chris’s demo, however, where we had to make a last stand and fight off waves of zombies as we waited for extraction. It was frantic, chaotic, and I had the added challenge of having to run around picking up the drops from my enemies corpses because, in true Resident Evil fashion, ammo was a bit of a commodity. It was also the only time my enemies managed to land some melee attacks on me, because there were so many that a few were able to sneak up behind me. It was awfully stressful, but one hell of a way to close out the demo.
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