Resident Evil 6 — First Look
Developer: Capcom / Publisher: Capcom / Release Date: 10/2/2012 / Platforms: Xbox 360/PS3
Get this: the release of Resident Evil 6 was moved up. Not pushed out, as is usually the case with AAA releases, but moved up from the original plan of November 20th to October 2nd. How? Why? According to Executive Producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi during his presentation of RE6 at Captivate—Capcom’s annual showcase, this year held in Rome, Italy—it was due to “fans wanting the game sooner.” Then, during our exclusive interview with the team, he revealed that it was due to the good will of game director Eiichiro Sasaki. More realistically, it was a result of the pressures of retail competition during that Thanksgiving period for a game that needs to perform spectacularly for its company given the economics of modern videogame development.
Some 600 people are furiously working on bringing RE6’s new brand of horror action to market, comprising around 150 at Capcom’s internal studio, with the rest working on art assets, the cut scenes, and more at other external partners.
What are all these people aiming to produce? According to Kobayashi, “to deliver an entertainment horror experience, not just a survival horror game…where everything is as dramatic as possible.”
This latest installment of the legendary franchise represents several fairly significant shifts in gameplay theory balanced by nods to an evolution in game mechanics. The stated aim—by Kobayashi—is also to return to the tension of perceived threat that was a hallmark of the very first Resident Evil, where you never could imagine what might be lurking around the next corner. For Resident Evil 6 that means more wild creatures that can mutate as you shoot them, and the kind of terror that made walking past a window so potentially terrifying.
But down to basics: Resident Evil 6 is a three-pronged affair featuring six characters, original monsters, and a chilling new C-Virus that’s turning the world (and world leaders) into zombies. These three storylines focus on various elements of the evolving story, before merging together in China for the run-in to the final showdown. They involve some newcomers alongside some franchise veterans, and you’ll be able to pick which one of the three campaigns you want to start with at the outset. The three protagonists—Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, and Jake Muller—are partnered with sidekicks all playable in the seamless drop-in/drop-out co-op option. Kennedy has U.S. agent Helena Harper at his side, Redfield is paired with Piers Nivans, also of the BSAA, and Muller is partnered by Sherry Birkin, the offspring of Umbrella scientists you may recall if you’re fully au fait with Resident Evil lore.
The storylines promise to intertwine as you collectively work towards China, each sporting their own motivations, but ultimately—we assume—working towards the same goal of stopping the spread of this deadly virus.
For Leon, his story starts in the idyllic collegiate city of Tall Oaks, June 28, 2013, attending a speech by the U.S. President outlining his zero tolerance policy for bio-terrorism. Good stand to make there, sir. But wouldn’t you just know it: those damn bio-terrorists pick this moment to unleash an attack that results in the zombiefication of said Commander-in-Chief. Leon—a close, personal friend of POTUS, who looks, for his brief cameo, like actor James Cromwell—has to drop his buddy, but is then framed for assassinating the top dog. Sidekick Harper, as part of the secret service detail (possibly asleep on the job given the outcome at Ivy University), reveals she knows something and can help Leon uncover what the hell is going on.
[An aside: At the Captivate event, Capcom doled out classic white hoodies emblazoned with the Ivy University banner. And blood splatter marks down the arm. Yes, we know something very bad and dangerous happened there. But secreted in the pocket was a polaroid and a hand-written note… from a “Mark” to a “Lucy” who we’ll assume is the saucy little number in the provocative image (and doesn’t she know that kids text these kinds of pictures these days…allegedly?) Who are these people? No idea. They weren’t referenced in the briefing about the game, and when the subject was brought up in front on some of the Capcom PR folks sharp looks darted quickly between them, with nose tapping, and that sense of ‘don’t say anything about it’ swirling through the confusion. Is it part of an ARG? Some extension of the game marketing? Will we see more of Lucy? And by more, I mean more of her character. Start the speculation here.]
The gameplay here, demoed by the game’s lead designer, was a steady pacing of shock-inducing terror. It was dark. The music stylized the scene, pumping and fading to keep you off guard. Leon shot zombies in the noggin (and they didn’t automatically fall, but he did do it while moving, so that’s a bonus for the series). The great hall of the university could have been pulled from Harry Potter, but here was littered with the remnants of what should have been a presidential celebration. Small flashlights secured behind his ear shot a beam of light into the darkness, creating enough shadow to almost guarantee something mean was hidden there. Light fixtures crash down, obscure noises echo in the murky darkness.
An apparent survivor is looking for his daughter. His guttural coughing should really have sounded warning bells to Leon and Helena, but they agree to help without mention of his potential exposure to the virus. His daughter is found in a blood-splashed room… cue emotional reunion. Still no mention of either character’s likely zombiefication… Then the lights go out and—shock!—the RE version of red shirts pounce and need to be capped.
Though clearly early in the campaign, this moment was quite a ham-fisted take on horror scare tactics. Nobody would NOT see that event coming, but it sets you up to expect the expected, and potentially throw you off balance when the unexpected reveals its hand.
Lines like “I can’t believe it’s happening again” and “it’s just like Raccoon City” establish credibility and purpose within the Resident Evil universe. All the commotion of knocking over chairs as you pursue possible targets is on track to keep you focused on the environment since danger can lurk pretty much anywhere (though a new health system removes the first aid packs and lets you cobble together herbs to provide the boost you need, when you need it.)
A throwaway mention of the “fog” will certainly reveal itself to be key in the story progression. Amid bloody handprints on doors and haunting piano music, a variety of techniques are being used to keep you focused, on the edge of your seat, and ready to be shocked and awed.
When the zombies attack, of course, the action pulses with a visceral edge. Shooting them is one option, but pulling a knife from a zombie chest then impaling it under their chin into what’s left of their brain is surely a quick-time moment to enjoy. Various quick-time moment events shifted the action from interactive to observant, but each was presented with a degree of style that kept us glued to the screen as we watched (but didn’t play).
While we saw, fairly briefly, some of the gameplay associated with Leon’s adventure, there are two other paths that will incorporate other gameplay techniques alongside their pointed and original story progressions. You can’t help but wonder what the hell is going on with Chris Redfield. Well, some element of Redfield’s past is revealed that impacts his attitude and focus today. What is that impact? We’ll have to play to find out, but the developers were keen to keep the details close to their chest, asserting that his personality and motivations have shifted throughout his time in this universe, so whatever the changes, long-time fans should not feel disenfranchised by the adjustments.
As Sasaki-san asserted “you’ll see a Chris that you’re not familiar with…the Chris you meet in China is not the one you’re accustomed to.” What that means only playtesting will reveal, but we do know that Piers Nivans is the most accomplished sniper in the BSAA, which no doubt will factor into this gameplay segment.
Other revelations involve the third character, Jake Muller. He’s revealed to be Albert Wesker’s son, and RE6 will pitch him and Redfield on to the same side, though you should expect fireworks. We were able to get the team to reveal to us that some vehicle action will be a part of the experience. A cut-scene shot of Jake on a motorbike was confirmed to be part of the playable experience. Aside from the pure vehicle factor, it illustrates a move to pacing between the three storylines that will mix up the action.
From this initial showcase we can assume Leon’s part to be what might be considered “classic” Resident Evil gameplay, where Chris Redfield will be involved with more long-distance dastardly deeds, and the renegade Muller will be fast-paced, balls-out action. But that’s all assumption.
What we don’t need to assume is the scale of the Resident Evil 6 experience. Refreshed gameplay controls are being incorporated to respond to a more modern approach to gameplay, utilizing abilities that so many gamers expect these days. The co-operative mode that will let a buddy drop in any time (in split-screen horizontal play) looks like the ideal solution to not being alone for this fight. You can even offer emotes, of sorts, to you co-op buddy, offering thanks, praise, and other lines as a quick-hit method of communicating. (Of course, if you’re on the same couch at the time, you could probably manage that by just speaking…but it’s there for the online options.)
The team also revealed a Mercenaries mode that you can now play right from the beginning, and though Kobayashi-san asserted that he’d “prefer you to play the three stories first” you can jump in to this mode from the outset if you so choose.
No doubt Resident Evil 6 is a big game, and throwing 600 bodies at it will get it on shelves early October. The story certainly provides opportunity for originality, with zombies that can run, jump, and wield weapons; creatures like the Jav’o that can morph and evolve, so if you shoot off an arm another totally different appendage emerges; and Chrysalide pods from which crazy-ass nightmares are born. The collective effect is one of continuous horror entertainment (haha) delivered in a format that will keep you guessing. It’s a shift for the Resident Evil franchise, and one that seems entirely on track with the hopes, dreams, and potential nightmares of gamers the world over.