Not being a significant devotee of the Resident Evil franchise, I suppose I am the target audience for this game; its developers claim their intent in making it is to expand the appeal of the franchise to a new audience. The demo has three separate sections, which I will discuss separately.
Each section offers the player a choice of characters, and a different gameplay style.
One: Leon and Helena
My limited knowledge of this franchise is that it is a horror game – and that its roots are in exploration and resource management. When the demo section begins with a Gears of War style walking-while-talking section in which I am not even permitted to raise a weapon or control my pace, and the game provides clearly marked waypoints and a “breadcrumb-trail” button which tells me where to go, I am not merely disappointed but annoyed. It’s not making the most of the potential for games to cover horror; if I know when a scripted event is due because my HUD disappears, or I am close to an objective and nothing has happened, the scare becomes predictable and dull. It may elicit a jump, but that is hardly using a medium such as the video game to its fullest. Furthermore, the significant amounts of banter, exposition, tutorial and music going on create a busy soundscape; Bioshock, a game which I feel handled horror far better, knew when to be silent, when to rely only on atmospheric noise and when to go wild with sound to disorient the player. Generic horror building strings and creaking floorboards combined with some lackwit AI ally (and lackwit they are, blocking narrow gangways, bumbling around amusingly during cutscenes) telling me to shoot zombies in the head and cramming exposition wherever it will fit kills the atmosphere completely.
The first “horror setpiece” is an objective to “follow the shadow” – the player’s control is removed and they see something move around a corner. Here is a place where the omnipresent chatter could be useful – leave the player in control, leave it up to them to be looking in the right place, but have their partner say “Did you see that?” or some such – if they player didn’t then suddenly they’ve been made aware of something but don’t know where, or what. That’s horror – that’s evoking Alien in the best possible way. Having a big arrow pop up saying “go here” is just the wrong kind of gamism. Similarly, this marks a point where you can arbitrarily move faster than a walk, although only for one room before being hobbled again to build up suspense. This stop-start pacing, combined with the game’s insistence that you see what it wants you to see, at the time it wants you to see it, is awful. In this first sequence, you spend less time playing the game than watching it do things for you, the result being something neither fun nor suspenseful.
There is no sense of discovery by the player, instead it is a haunted house in which you are ushered from creepy moment to creepy moment with incessant talking in between. A massive part of successful horror is the sense of the unexpected; that danger comes out of nowhere, and no safe place is truly safe. Resident Evil 6 instead offers you brief, predictable moments of tension with neat resolutions in a straight line. Even an apparently tense dining room scene is a maze of immobile chairs; a hugely illogical concession to gamism that feels like wasted potential. There is nothing to explore, no potential to deviate from the game’s precise logic. Indeed, even when the interactivity of a game offers the potential to outthink horror cliché (find a suspicious person and choose not to trust them rather than have them lead you into trouble), you cannot – your bullets bounce off allies, they open doors for you that you apparently cannot otherwise. The experience is so closely curated that it has no value.
When the moment of release of this pseudo-tension occurs, in the cramped confines of a lift with a zombie in it, even the response is curated in this way; the player must complete a quick-time event to defeat it. The subsequent confrontation with many more undead is similarly lacking in tension; what seems to be a deadly ambush is resolved in seconds and potentially ominous moments like the revelation of a zombie horde again remove the player’s agency, creating an absolute sense of safety – the zombies will not attack because the player has no means to respond.
Two: Chris and Piers
If Leon’s mission was an attempt to evoke the classic zombie film and the creature-feature suspense horror ala Alien, this scenario is its Aliens. It follows deadpan, hard-drinking soldiers fighting in Hong Kong against armed mutant enemies in a scenario entirely devoid of tension and which may as well be a poorly-controlled third-person shooter. This sort of scenario can have tension but here does not; the hero is too well-equipped, and running out of bullets does not equal inevitable death but merely an inconvenience. Similarly, while the enemies are supposed to be mutated zombie-like creatures, they instead seem to simply be incredibly tough humans with guns which barely trouble the protagonist, and who attack with so few numbers and so little strategy as to be no threat.
The segment is defined by waiting for an AI ally to open doors rather than stand around like a fool in an empty room, and again is completely linear and uninspiring. Even when the creatures become more fantastical, sprouting wings and giant arms, all this means is that they take more bullets to kill but still move in the same predictable ways. The joy of a piece of military horror like Aliens is the hubris of the soldiers; their guns are proven useless against the foe for some reason. In Resident Evil 6, guns are more than enough and so there is no tension even in a survival sequence where the enemy rush the heroes. There is little else to say about this segment; it is short, ineffectual and quite dull, neither working as a piece of horror or an action-shooter.
Three: Jake and Sherry
The third sequence of this demo is an awkward marriage of the other two, a boss fight against a monstrous cyborg creature with a mechanical arm. It attempts to feature the action of the second section and the tension of the first, and the result is unsatisfying. The initial pursuit sequence is poor from a gameplay perspective, with a mobile camera employed where a fixed one would be better – it is easy to accidentally alter the perspective of the scene, find the movement controls do not work as expected, and die instantly. Once this section is complete, the player fights mutants as in the second sequence, but even less threatening and used only as a constantly replenishing source of ammunition (giving the illusion of limited resources but at the same time just adding a layer of busywork to the collection of more). The boss itself feels exceptionally dated; it is a stupid charging enemy which will run into walls and stun itself, and must be lured near environmental hazards. Doing this enough times kills it.
If this simplistic gameplay were well-done, it would not be so bad; however, it is in fact incredibly tedious owing to the slightly clumsy controls, the fact that unthreatening yet evasive enemies must be killed to regain ammunition, and the button prompts for jumping and moving over cover being incredibly unresponsive (which, in a fight based around dodging a charging boss, is less than ideal). What is more, the boss is hardly a threat; its punches and grapple attacks do minimal damage, its charges are slow and easily avoided, and there are so many hazards to attack it with that it can be defeated before it seems like the fight has started.
From having sampled the three types of gameplay that are felt to epitomise Resident Evil 6, it seems to be a shoddily-designed and unrewarding game that is neither scary nor thrilling. The experience is too closely curated and awkwardly marrying gamist tendencies with filmic structures to succeed either as a horror game or a shooter, and often during the game I felt I was only playing it when it let me, and only in the way it wanted me to play it. There was not even an illusion of freedom, with most of the levels comprising narrow, single corridors without even the possibility for side-areas. If the demo is representative of the entire game, it is distinctly lacking even when judged from the perspective of someone who has no interest in the franchise as a whole.