You can almost picture the scene on the set of Resident Evil 6. Shooting is rapidly falling behind schedule due to Chris Redfield’s continuing demands to have his muscles re-oiled before every take and Leon Kennedy is becoming increasingly irate. Meanwhile, newcomer Jake Muller is remonstrating with the director over a perceived lack of screen-time compared with the other, more established leads. He’s hoping RE6 will be his big break, landing him a starring role in NBC’s desperation supernatural spin-off Law & Order: Spectral Victims Unit. And now Chris is furious over the stunt team’s refusal to allow him to use the new slide move they’ve just taught to Leon.
Leon: No, what they’re saying big boy, is that with that much baby oil slathered all over you, once you start sliding you’re never going to stop, there’s just no friction.
Chris: Oh, I think there’s plenty of friction right now, buddy.
Of all 2012’s blockbuster sequels, Resident Evil 6 is perhaps the most conceptually intriguing. Months of pre-production meetings seemed to have delivered not so much a design document for the game as a giant tangle of new and nostalgic threads, with Capcom apparently convinced that if it tugs on them all simultaneously with enough force and heart-felt conviction it will somehow create the most elaborate and all-encompassing Resident Evil tapestry.
With three stylistically different but narratively converging campaigns, each with its own central hero and complimentary sidekick for two player co-op/AI companionship, there can be little argument that RE6 is as ambitious and reverential a piece of fan service as you’re likely to find. The real danger for Capcom though, is that a game which has the potential to become the definitive Resident Evil release ends up without any distinct identity of its own. Nothing more than a compendium of compromises, a Resident Evil tribute band replaying the series’ greatest hits but without the bite or panache of the first time you experienced them.
Of the trio of campaigns – each of which alone is reportedly 70% the size of the entirety of Resident Evil 5’s story – it’s Leon’s that’s intended to appeal most to RE traditionalists. To date, however, the evidence is somewhat contradictory. While an early section of gameplay set in the dark, claustrophobic corridors of an American university is heavy on atmosphere and features longer, increasingly unsettling wind ups to satisfyingly brutal B-movie crescendos, a demo filled with exploding buildings and crash-landing helicopters designed to grab eyeballs at E3 looked more like the submission of a student doing a master’s degree in Michael Bay studies.
It’s this increasing action-ification of the traditionally more stilted and cerebral survival horror template that was the calling card of Chris Redfield’s African excursion in Resident Evil 5. And his portion of RE6 is almost a direct epilogue to that game that once again forgoes much of the brooding suspense for a cavalcade of quick-fire shootouts.
Joined by new B.S.A.A. buddy Piers Nivans, this time around Chris will be facing off against more dynamic and intelligent enemies in the form of the J’avo, C-virus created super-zombies who can coordinate their attacks, use weapons and, when wounded, mutate in some grotesquely intimidating ways. They’re an appropriately matched adversary for Chris to test out the new shoot-while-moving controls, cover mechanics, quick heal and weapon switch options Capcom have added for RE6.
Not to be ignored as part of this series renaissance, the spirit of Resident Evil 3 has also been invoked by Capcom as the central inspiration for Jake Muller’s story. It’s one of several twists that make Muller’s section of RE6 potentially the game’s most exciting, not least because debutant Jake is the son of former S.T.A.R.S. member and recreational biological super-villain Albert Wesker and accompanied by Sherry Birkin (yes, that Sherry Birkin Resident Evil 2 fans).
Jake’s pursuit by a giant B.O.W. called Ustanak, combined with his aptitude for parkour and hand-to-hand combat promises a genuinely inspired and exciting evolution for the franchise. A thrilling up-close and physical chase made all the more fascinating by just how and why his path crosses with those of Chris and Leon at such a tumultuous time in the series’ fiction?
With locations for Resident Evil 6’s action spanning America, Eastern Europe and the Far East, those eagerly awaiting another shot at Capcom’s monster franchise certainly won’t be left wanting for variety in settings or game play systems. A return for Mercenaries mode is sure to have its cult following singling RE6’s praises as well, while a new Dark/Demon’s Souls-inspired Agent Hunter mode will allow internet-connected players to jump into the games of others to play as the infected.
All told, Resident Evil 6 is a frighteningly big package and a frighteningly large undertaking for Capcom. It’s probably the scariest thing they’ve ever done with the former survival horror franchise. Perhaps the biggest question, however, is will there be anything left to fear when they shout “action”.
Resident Evil 6 is scheduled for release on2nd October.