Resident Evil 6 launches in a little under two weeks, and Capcom have now released a ‘Public Demo’ to give us a chance to work through a short segment playing as each of the three main campaign characters – interestingly, their partners are also selectable, but for the purposes of brevity, I’m writing only about the main three here.

You’ve probably seen YouTube videos of the campaign demos shown so far by Capcom and deduced that Resident Evil 6 is a very good-looking game. Well, going by this demo, it is and it isn’t; Character models are excellent throughout, animation is of a consistently high quality, and everything else looks great at a bit of distance, but get too close to objects and you can see the decals are low-res and blurry and environmental details look very flat. It’s worth remembering that this is a demo, and we have no way of knowing how old the code on display here is – the final game may look much more polished. I certainly hope it will, because while Resi 6 certainly doesn’t look bad, it could look better – after all, its immediate predecessor is still one of this gen’s best-looking games. Elsewhere, environmental lighting is very well-used throughout, especially in Leon’s segment, with excellent contrast between brightly lit areas and those drenched in darkness. There are also some nice particle effects in place – upon shooting a fire extinguisher, a cloud of mist obscured everything from my gaze, which helped to add a little tension to proceedings.

Getting into the game proper, the first thing you’re likely to do is try out the new dodging mechanic. Holding the left trigger while pressing a direction on the left stick and tapping A (it sounds more cumbersome than it is in practise) sends your character dodge-rolling in your chosen direction, landing on his back, gun aimed forward. From here, holding onto the trigger and pressing the stick allows you to either roll to the side or shuffle back or forward. This last move is unintentionally hilarious, as we watch our hero’s knees move up and down while he (very) slowly slides along on his back. The environments we’re given to run around in this demo are made up of many narrow corridors, so it remains to be seen quite how dodging will be of use – hopefully later levels will be more open, allowing a greater variety of battlefield tactics.

Elsewhere in the controls, the quick-knife is now gone, replaced by melee kicks triggered by pulling RT – up against one enemy, it’s entirely possible to kick them to the floor before stamping on their gooey noggins, though it seems a little less effective for crowd control, and a depleting stamina bar means you can’t always rely on your physical attacks connecting. A slight niggle for me is that right stick camera control feels a little… off. I don’t quite know how to describe my issue with it, but it felt like I didn’t quite have the precision control I would have liked, and I often found myself either under- or over-shooting my camera movements. Hopefully this has been tightened up for the final game, as I don’t recall having any issues with the camera in RE5.

Leon’s segment

Leon’s demo begins with that cutscene we’ve all seen a hundred times by now, with the floppy-haired agent and his new partner aiming their guns at the undead president. In truth, it’s a poorly conceived cutscene to begin with; Leon, once rookie cop now hardened agent, has come through the events of Resident Evils 2, 4 and Degeneration, yet here he stands warning a clearly far-too-gone president not to come any closer. “Don’t make me do this!”, he shouts… at a zombie. I know it’s the president, and sure, a working relationship, a friendship even, is vaguely hinted at, but he’s still a zombie, and this is Leon S Kennedy ferchrissakes!

Ok, it’s a small thing – a short cutscene obviously made to inject a little drama – but when we, as Leon, have shot hundreds of infected square in the face over the years, it creates a tangible barrier between the character and the player: We know we’d shoot the guy, and we know Leon would shoot the guy – he’d have to, and he knows it. There’s no other choice here.

Anyway… deep breath… with a brief chat with Resi 4‘s Agent Hunnigan out of the way and a goal of reaching Tall Oaks Cathedral, we’re given control. We set off for the Cathedral through the halls of Ivy University, though this is a different section from the demos we’ve already seen. We make our way through hallways and lecture theatres until reaching a courtyard, and there’s a security gate at the far end that we need to get through. The atmospheric lighting is really quite impressive in this section, illuminating areas with bright pools of light while leaving much of the courtyard in darkness. At first, it appears there might be two or three zombies in the area, but scanning the environment reveals a number milling about in the middle distance, silhouetted against the building.

It’s a cool effect, almost as if the enemies are hiding in plain sight, and I like that they don’t immediately gravitate towards you (or even seem to notice you) as soon as you enter an area – it gives you a feeling that you might almost be able to sneak through un-noticed. Not that you’re likely to try, as the level is positively dripping with handgun ammo (I had over 100 rounds before reaching the end). This is most likely a feature of the demo, and I can’t see the full game being anywhere near as generous with the little red boxes. There are also other ways to dispatch your foes – if they happen to be holding a weapon, softening them up with a few melee attacks will grant you a context-sensitive kill animation whereby Leon disarms the zombie of its weapon before burying it in their rotting skulls. It’s quite satisfying.

Back to that security gate, and of course, this being Resident Evil, it’s locked and we need a keycard. Incidentally, when was it that Resi‘s puzzles degenerated into fetch quests..? We’re sent into a corridor bisecting two outdoor areas, lined with windows on either side. There are zombies standing around outside on both sides of the corridor, minding their own business. So I shoot a couple. This causes them to come shuffling towards the now-broken windows, before trying to climb over the empty frames. I kick them out and dispatch them, and their undead comrades don’t seem to mind. At the far end of the corridor, the door we need to get through is, unsurprisingly, locked. Attempting to force it results in a loud alarm that attracts all the zombies and compels them to smash through the windows, quickly overwhelming our two agents. Hunnigan remotely opens the door and Leon and Helena stumble through with zombies hot on their heels, leading to a pretty cool little section where the player has to pick off a couple of the undead as Harper struggles to slam the door on them.

While fairly obvious, the corridor assault might have been a good set piece had I not accidentally ruined the illusion moments before by attempting to get a reaction from the rotting bystanders, and it might even have been quite atmospheric to be sneaking unnoticed through an exposed corridor only to get sprung moments later. It’s at this point that it occurs to me that at no point have I felt anything approaching fear, or even a creepy sense of dread. I realise I’ve felt perfectly comfortable walking around the halls of Ivy University and dispatching the occasional zombie. I’m willing to concede that this is purely down to a lack of context – I don’t know why Leon and his partner are here, nor do I know any of the events that have led them here, so I’m not at all immersed in the game. This is a problem with all demos, of course, and the reason it’d be foolish to disregard an entire game based on a small slice, and I hope that the full game will be able to draw me in.

Anyway, getting back to our keycard quest, and we’re back inside, quietly making our way past invulnerable corpses that you just know are going to stand up on the way back out. Apparently they’re triggered by a keycard; who knew? Well, I guess I did. Note to Capcom: this does not build fear, it merely reminds us we are in a game and that logic can be conveniently ignored when necessary. But whatever, we have the keycard, and now we can get through that gate! It leads out into a narrow brick alleyway and a gauntlet run of zombies that attempt to close you down quickly. I make a futile attempt to take them out but they quickly corner me, so I decide it might be prudent to sprint to the objective – an empty patrol car at the far end of the alley.

Upon reaching it, Leon and Helena jump in, before a couple of zombies decide to join them by using a window as a point of ingress. Leon hurriedly looks for the keys, helped by the player in a (rather pointless) sequence of QTE prompts, and our heroes make their escape… before crashing a few hundred yards down the road. Oops. Hunnigan informs Leon that she has found an underground route to the Cathedral. There’s a manhole nearby; “Oh great,” I say, actually out loud, to nobody in particular, “a sewer level.” The demo ends there, and already I’m not looking forward to that level. Capcom, don’t end the demo on the promise of a sewer level! No one likes sewer levels!

Chris’ segment

Resi‘s resident rock-punching ‘roid-rager begins his slice of the demo in the fictional eastern European state of Edonia, and visually it reminds me of the assault on Landown in Gears of War 2. Gears is a pretty good touchstone, in fact, as Chris’ campaign taster is all-action and introduces the new, mutating J’avo enemies. Like Resident Evil 4‘s Ganados, you never know if an enemy will sprout a new appendage and come back stronger – this time with a huge, biological armoured shield. This is used both for cover as they slowly approach, or a massive battering ram as they suddenly inject a burst of speed and close on you in seconds.

All enemies in this section are armed with weapons, and they are also more abundant, which makes the game’s cover system more important here. It could certainly do with being a bit less clunky – you hold the left trigger near cover to put your back to it, and for low cover you’ll also need to press the A button to crouch. Two buttons for different heights is overkill, as is having to hold a button to stay out of harms way. Ammo also seems to be less plentiful in this segment, though it may be that I was being wasteful after the Leon ammo-a-thon.

Arriving, Call of Duty-style, on top cover of an APC, Chris’ demo begins with a pitched battle in the war-torn streets, before advancing through buildings with new partner Piers in tow. As the pair cross a bridge connecting the two sides of the road, a new enemy appears, a huge El Gigante-style monstrosity with an obvious, fleshy weak point on its back. The camera zooms in, framing the action as if it’s a cutscene, but we’re still in control and able to move along the length of the bridge taking potshots at the monster’s back. As it advances, we jump from the bridge back onto the street and we’re suddenly taking part in an arena battle as we wait for assistance from the APC. It’s a narrow street, but with two levels on either side, there’s plenty of scope for movement and flanking, and it’s an enjoyable segment as battle flows from one end to the other, one side of the street to the next.

After we take down the enormous creature, it’s time for the rookie squadmate, Finn, to shine. We’re dropped into another arena encounter, this time with a number of standard enemies (with some wielding RPGs), while Finn places explosive charges to create an exit for the squad. Once they’re out, the demo comes to a close.

Chris’ section certainly picks up where Resi 5 left off, and though many seemed to hate it, I loved my time with that game. There does seem to be a slightly less fluid feel to the mechanics, most likely down to that clunky cover system – you’ll remember that cover was contextual and sparingly used in Resi 5, meaning the game kept you moving a lot more. On the strength of this demo section, Resi 6 seems to lack this momentum, but it might simply be a case of getting used to a slightly modified way of playing.

Jake’s segment

Jake’s section begins with him meeting Sherry for the first time in Edonia before a horde of zombies advances on the pair, forcing them to escape down a chute in the wall. It must be a very long trip, because when we rejoin them, we’re suddenly in China. Narrative jumps aside, Jake plays much the same as the other protagonists; despite being touted as a melee powerhouse, his attacks don’t seem to do much more damage than Chris or Leon’s. He does come fully-stocked with an assortment of weaponry, though, and there’s also an option to use his bare fists.

Those extra guns come in handy against the different types of mutating enemies introduced here: Dead Space-style skinned abominations that scuttle along the floor before firing spikes at you (do NOT let these corner you), and a different J’avo variant with a spring-loaded arm to knock or pull you from cover. If anything, Jake’s section feels more action-oriented than Chris’, as we’re dropped into small areas with barred doors that require working with your AI partner to open and an abundance of tough, varied enemies that require you to switch up both your tactics and your weapons. It’s worth pointing out here that accessing your inventory does not pause the game (in all campaigns), which means dipping into your inventory to switch things up will invariably result in you taking a hit. Thankfully, weapon and grenade switching is mapped to the d-pad, and RB serves as an auto-heal button.

As Jake and Sherry make their way through the streets of China, their way is blocked by some new, skinless horror, but we don’t get a chance to test our mettle against it as the demo comes to an end. There is likewise no sign of the Nemesis-like creature we’ve seen stalking Jake and Sherry in other promotional materials, and going by this segment, he’s likely to be tough when we do come face to face with him – this segment of the demo is easily the most difficult of the three on offer here, and attempting to rush through will only get you cornered and killed.

So far, there’s not much to pick between the three characters on offer in Resident Evil 6. They all seem to play much the same, but with upgradeable skills (that don’t seem to be available in the demo, despite the abundance of skill point pickups) perhaps they will eventually play significantly differently to one another. It certainly feels like Capcom has attempted to recapture some of the series’ earlier horror stylings with Leon’s campaign, with his section taking on more of a slow-burn approach with shambling zombies hiding in the shadows. Hopefully, the atmosphere will come into its own in the full game, when we can sit down and allow ourselves to get fully immersed in Leon’s tale. Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see how the three protagonists are drawn together and pulled apart as the plot progresses, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about Jake’s backstory. I’m a fan of Resi‘s camp, pulpy narrative – perhaps more than I should be – so the storyline is as much a draw for me as the gameplay.

Many have complained about Resident Evil 6 being a tale of worldwide outbreak and massive action, calling for Capcom to return to the days of creepy, claustrophobic mansions and gothic horror, but it’s worth pointing out that since the events of Resi 2 (which many fans hold up as the finest installment of the series), this was always going to be the way it went. Escalation. You can’t have a city-wide outbreak ‘solved’ by a tactical nuclear strike and then go back to secretive mansions. So while there are plenty out there already hating the latest installment and willing it to fail, I’m cautiously optimistic that it’ll be an excellent game. The demo is more-or-less what I expected, and I’ve yet to play a main series Resi that I didn’t love (even 5, which many claim destroyed the series).The three characters and their converging narrative threads should do much to keep the experience fresh, and I’m confident that there are many surprises awaiting us in the final game, which goes on sale on October 2nd.

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