Just before the July 4th holiday, the Resident Evil 6 demo debuted on Xbox 360, and folks who owned a copy of Dragon's Dogma for the console were able to gain first access to the demo.
For anyone who hasn't quite figured out how to download the demo, you need to boot up Dragon's Dogma and select the RE6 demo option from the main menu. After that, the demo should be accessible from My Games.
Most gamers have come to realize that the Resident Evil series is no longer the horror survival gem we once knew, but not everyone has come to terms with the shift. Heck, even Capcom is still clinging to the series' horror roots. At E3, producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi insisted that the survival horror elements are still intact, despite the heavily action driven gameplay we saw.
He certainly isn't lying, because if the demo is any indication, Resident Evil 6 does maintain some of those elements. Thing is, RE6 isn't a survival horror game with action undertones anymore -- it's an action shooter with suspense undertones. These are two very different things.
Clunky All Around (and No Pause)
The demo is split into three parts, allowing you to try a snippet of the game as Leon-Helena, Chris-Piers, or Jake-Sherry. You may choose either character in a pair, which determines how your menu will look. The menus in Resident Evil 6 take a minimalist appearance but feel as cumbersome as the controls, like they were designed to look nice rather than be intuitive. Sort of like how concept cars tend to look sleek and sexy, but many never see the light of day because they simply aren't practical from a functionality standpoint; that's how the menus in RE6 feel.
Options are represented by icons without any sort of text label, and to make matters worse, bringing up the menu doesn't actually pause the game. I repeat: you cannot pause Resident Evil 6. Accessing the in-game phone menu or inventory will only produce a low opacity interface, which allows the player to still see what's going on around them. The action continues regardless of whether you're ready or not, so don't even think about taking a bathroom break or answering your phone IRL -- you could get killed for trying.
The controls haven't taken a giant leap between Resident Evil 6 and Resident Evil 5, though you can actually move and shoot simultaneously now. Players can also fall into a prone position -- either on your stomach or back -- though I didn't really see any practical uses for this during the demo. Even with these additions, the controls are still mostly as cumbersome as you might remember, trapped in a gray area between classic survival horror and standard action.
Interestingly, Resident Evil 6 also features regenerating health, though it doesn't make the game quite as easy as you might think. Your health is segmented into smaller squares, which will automatically replenish if partially depleted. Thing is, once you lose an entire block of health, that little bar is going to stay empty until you pop an herb. This might help keep less experienced players in the fight longer without totally sacrificing challenge. Waypoint markers -- another new feature some fans found upsetting -- can actually be toggled off, although it's on by default.
A Three-Way Story
Like it or not, Resident Evil 6 is a very scripted game (like its predecessors). The first playable section, starring Leon and his new partner Helena, is the most cinematic of all three, showing off atmosphere and cinematic feel rather than straight action. Claustrophobic environments force the duo down a very linear path, though the use of environmental objects to block off alternate routes felt a bit excessive. At one point, the two were in a large reception hall lined with tables, but you could only walk down certain aisles because chairs and other light debris clogged up the others. I imagine Capcom designed the game this way to make use of scripted events like the falling chandelier or other cheap scares. Still doesn't feel like the best use of space though. The pacing is also a little rough, because the game will randomly take away control during certain cinematic sequences, limiting you to a slow walk to your next objective. One minute, you're running freely about, and the next, you're forced to a crawl, unable to aim or do much of anything.
Chris and Piers' portion of the demo felt very much like bizarro Call of Duty, complete with a generic, Third World setting. The two heavily armored (but lightly armed) BSAA agents storm through the slums of a fictional Chinese city, Lanshiang, shooting down winged B.O.W.s (J'avo) disguised as angry Chinese gangsters with automatic weapons. The Chinese makes about as much sense as the African and Spanish lingo spouted during Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 4, though this probably won't bother the majority. The frenetic action here is uncharacteristic of Resident Evil, but pacing is broken up by the cumbersome controls once more. Rather than being allowed to duck, jump, and drop fluidly over obstacles, players need to hit a command for every little action, from hopping off a small ledge to hiding behind cover. Again, this is an issue that can probably be attributed to the game's identity crisis. Is it action or survival horror? A little bit of both, apparently.
The third pair is Jake and Barbie-doll Sherry, who are stuck in Europe, the former being tracked by a boss-status B.O.W. known as "Ustanak." This angry half-mechanical behemoth looks like something out of a slasher flick, and his array of deadly prosthetics makes him pretty dangerous at close and long range. This is probably the most interesting bit from the demo, because it actually features a boss fight and some of that Resident Evil flavor. You don't actually get to kill Ustanak, however, since he's a recurring enemy through the game, showing up later to tangle with Jake, Sherry, Leon, and Helena during one of those four-player "Crossover" moments.
If you're looking for a sliver of classic Resident Evil in all this, perhaps you'll be pleased to know that ammo is still in limited supply -- sometimes. During the first part with Leon and Helena, I ran out of ammo a couple times and had to resort to meleeing the zombie hordes. The ramshackle rooftops of Lanshiang were a bit more generous with the ammo supply, but even then, you had to watch your shooting. Destructible crates still house herbs, ammo, and grenades, waiting to be discovered. Other collectibles can be found tucked away in various hard-to-reach corners.
The cutscenes are also done very well, from graphical quality to the voicework. While I can't comment on Operation Raccoon City, the visuals in RE6 are a noticeable improvement over Resident Evil 5.
Sadly, the lack of a pause option, poorly designed menus, and clumsy fusion of action-shooter and survival horror really didn't make a great first impression.
For those of you who own Dragon's Dogma on PS3, you'll be able to download and play the Resident Evil 6 demo on September 4. Everyone else will need to wait until October 2.