Resident Evil is one of Capcom's top-tier franchises. Over the years, the individual games in the series have been re-released multiple times on multiple platforms, always finding an audience. Part of the reason for the franchise's resilience has been its ability to adapt and evolve — not unlike the virus that drives most of the story lines. Resident Evil 6 takes that concept to heart, maintaining the horror aspect of previous titles but ratcheting up the action to a new level.
Owners of Dragon's Dogma on the Xbox 360 got a sneak peek at Resident Evil 6 earlier this summer when Capcom released an exclusive demo. That demo featured brief segments of gameplay from each of the three main campaigns. While short, it offered a quick teaser of what is to come. Last week, Capcom sent over a more recent build of the game. Containing seven levels plus the Mercenaries mode, it offered a much more representative look at the game.
If you've played the Resident Evil 6 demo, the first question you likely have is, "Have they fixed the screen tearing?" The answer to that is, "Mostly." While the preview build is not final, the egregious amounts of screen tearing that were present in the demo have generally been eliminated. It still pops up from time to time during gameplay, but it isn't nearly as visible as it was in the demo.
Resident Evil 6 kicks off with a prologue that also functions as a tutorial level. If you saw any of the videos from E3 2012, then you know what to expect here. The prologue starts off with Leon and Helena escaping from a crash. They make their way through the burning ruins of a city, escape into a chopper and then crash again in a spectacular fashion. Surviving that, the two enter a large chamber, only to have the game cut away after a partially obscured B.O.W. comes into view. It's flashback time.
At this point, you're given the choice of three different campaigns: Leon Kennedy and Helena Harper, Chris Redfield and Piers Nivans, or Jake Muller and Sherry Birkin. Ada's campaign is initially locked, though the mysterious woman in red doesn't take too long to appear. You'll end up getting clues from Ada and you'll fight alongside her well before you get a chance to play as the secretive double agent.
Playing alongside others is something that seems to be a core design element of Resident Evil 6, with co-op play seemingly taking precedence over all else. Sure, you can play it as a single-player game with an AI partner, but Resident Evil 6 shines the brightest when a human partner has got your back.
The game offers up quite a few options for customizing your online matchup parameters, including limiting yourself to partners of the same region or allowing the game to match you with anyone worldwide. An objective setting gives you the ability to let other players know if you're doing a casual run, trying to earn medals or are looking for a serious partner. One label, "Here for Events," sounds promising, especially when you consider the recently announced ResidentEvil.Net service.
Even more interesting than the announced features was a comment in one of the loading screen tips. It appears that when playing online, the game servers will actually look to partner up groups of four. Even though the scenarios are based on teams of two, some sections have character crossover. If what the tips imply is correct, during those crossover segments, it's possible to have more than two human players fighting at once.
Character crossover happens because each of the story campaigns is happening at generally the same time. Individual paths are different, but ultimately, the final goal should be the same. By playing through each campaign, you'll get a fuller view of the entire story, with reveals happening in one that you won't get in another. The story seems to be well detailed, introducing plenty of new information without forgetting the past. Characters are not shy about referencing past incidents, so fans of the series shouldn't be disappointed there.
Where Resident Evil 6 is likely to be the most divisive among fans is in its pacing. While the game maintains the horror elements of the series, it also pushes the action to new levels. There are certainly sections of the game that focus on horror, especially when playing as Leon, but other segments feel as though they are straight-up, third-person shooters.
If you loved Resident Evil 5, you will likely appreciate the changes made to Resident Evil 6. You now have the ability to move while shooting, so you're not locked into place. Enemies are faster and smarter, making for more of a challenge. If you're coming from more traditional third-person shooters, however, there is going to be a bit of a learning curve. The primary thing you have to learn is that there is no circle strafe. The second — and most important — is that you usually don't have to shoot everything. Resident Evil 6 is not shy about tossing enemies your way, yet limiting your bullets. Just because it looks like a shooter doesn't mean you can play it like one.
Perhaps the one exception to that rule is the Mercenaries mode, where the goal is to earn as many points as possible in a limited amount of time. Each character has a different default loadout, so picking a fighter has a real impact on play. After that, it's off to the zombie-killing races. A combo system encourages you to quickly kill one monster after another, while the limited ammo forces you to be accurate. Melee combat is effective, so long as you're not boxed in by a group. Bonus crystals extend time or your combo meter when shattered.
The three maps we saw in Mercenaries mode were a city, a bridge and an underground mine. All give the illusion of being large and open, but are nicely crafted into a series of defined walkways that funnel combat into tight areas. Your zombie attackers start out with a trickle but appear in larger numbers soon enough. Really, the only odd bit about Mercenaries mode is the generic dance club soundtrack that plays throughout. Given the excellent mood music in the rest of the game, it's completely out of place, even if quite humorous.
In a bid to encourage replay, Resident Evil 6 tracks your performance across all campaign levels, but it also features a customizable skill system. Skill points can be earned in the campaign as well as in Mercenaries mode. You can then spend the points to unlock upgrades for your characters. These upgrades apply to whatever character you play, but you can only have three skills active at a time. What you choose depends on your play style. For example, one skill upgrades firearm damage, while another gives you a better chance at finding items.
Where Resident Evil 6 looks to shine is in the sheer amount of content. Even if you ignore any collectibles or upgrades, each of the four campaigns should be plenty meaty. Based on the time we spent with the early levels, 25+ hours of gameplay should be a realistic estimate. Most players will likely end up spending more time with the game.
Resident Evil 6 makes a few distinct changes to the gameplay that has long defined the franchise. It's a risk that may turn off some longtime fans, but at the same time has the potential to attract new ones. Ultimately, what's going to matter the most is how the camera and controls handle in the final version. If they are solid and responsive, then Resident Evil 6 will find a receptive audience. If they end up being loose and sloppy, even the hardcore fans will go elsewhere.
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