Like a nasty strand of T-Virus, the Resident Evil series continues to evolve. Shambling zombies become tricky infected, lickers become hunters, and Wesker transforms into a character from The Matrix. In its recently revealed trailer for Resident Evil 6 (seen below), Capcom sets the tone for a high-stakes, action-filled adventure brimming with excitement. So, what can we infer about this game, and what can the upcoming Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City tell us about the next entry in the main series? No matter the answers, one thing is certain: we're not in Raccoon City anymore.
"The dream would be that the millions of Call of Duty fans that are enjoying these fast-paced online games are attracted to this Resident Evil." That's a quote from Capcom UK's head of marketing, Dave Turner, via Joystiq, speaking about RE6. Add to that executive producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi's quote that "over 600 people" are working on Resident Evil 6 and producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi's use of "dramatic horror" to describe the tone, and the intention is clear. Capcom is pulling out all the stops to make this sequel--as philosopher Clifford Bleszinski would say--bigger, better, and more badass.
Operation Raccoon City feels like a petri dish of new ideas that are being field-tested for RE6.Operation Raccoon City feels like a petri dish of new ideas that Capcom is field-testing before the release of RE6. What if Resident Evil had free-flowing melee combat? Faster gunplay? A dedicated cover system? Nearly every aspect of this game tweaks the Resident Evil formula. Chief among these is cover, which is seen in both the RE6 trailer and ORC. In the trailer, Chris slides into and sticks to cover, enemies pull him out of cover, and he even shoots people from cover.
The prevalence of cover changes the flow of combat. In ORC, cover-based firefights are about acting fast and shooting the enemy the second he sticks out his head. Therefore, RE6 needs an aiming system that's faster than in Resident Evil 5. It also needs to move the player into and out of cover faster--something glimpsed when Chris slides into cover. Cover could also change how melee combat works. In ORC, when you're fighting off zombies that take just a few shots to drop, there are few opportunities for context-sensitive melee attacks. The solution is a free-flowing melee system. And if RE6 wants to match that scale of action, it would do well to adopt similar mechanics.
Additionally, if Capcom is serious about attracting "millions of Call of Duty fans," it will need something that speaks to them: competitive multiplayer. They already have the mercenaries game mode, but simply remaking that seems insufficient. Since the core experience is built on teamwork, a Left 4 Dead-style mode with two teams competing amid hordes of AI-controlled zombies makes sense. This would be a massive new addition, but thankfully ORC gives Capcom a chance to figure it out. Gaining experience and unlocking weapons, customizing loadouts, and assigning perks--it's all there. Naturally, there will be adjustments based on the game's reception, but the framework is in place.
Will Resident Evil 6 simply be a reskinned version of ORC? Absolutely not, but it would be foolish not to consider the parallels between them. But there's also another angle to consider: back in the mid-'90s, Resident Evil was the talk of playground legend--a mature, terrifying game from Japan filled with all sorts of horrors. We'd never been ambushed by a zombie-dog in a hallway before. These games were an unknown quantity and had some of the best production values on the market. It was easy to get sucked into the flames of Raccoon City.
Restrictions helped make the classic Resident Evil games so scary. The act of moving a character through the environment using those tank controls was challenging. We've all had that moment when we're trying to escape from some impending doom that's right offscreen only to get stuck turning circles in a corner. It's right behind us, just turn around! Your character was weak. The technology didn't exist for giant environments that you could fly through while gunning down hordes of enemies all at once. Instead, you fought fewer, tougher foes. And since we didn't know the conveniences of modern 3D movement, the chunkiness added tension.
In the RE6 trailer, the ease with which Leon dispenses zombies makes him look like a superhero.Today, we live in a post-zombie-dog world. As video game technology has evolved, so has the Resident Evil series. Better technology means giving the player more options and more abilities. Those encumbering controls just don't cut it anymore. In the Resident Evil 6 trailer, the ease with which Leon and friends dispense zombies in hand-to-hand combat makes them look like superheroes. You can't instill the same dread with characters that powerful.
Not that Capcom hasn't tried, and it will surely try again. In Resident Evil: Revelations on the Nintendo 3DS, the selling point is a return to the classic Resident Evil style of horror. There's Jill, creeping through the poorly lit halls of the Queen Zenobia, just like old times. Except it isn't. This is now a known quantity, and the emotional response isn't fear, but nostalgia. Then, there are sequences with different characters in which you mow down hunters or mutated wolves by the dozen. When we return to Jill, we're supposed to come down from that combat high and start feeling spooked again. But how can you when you know these characters are so capable?
Ultimately, there's a do-it-yourself solution for determining what to expect from Resident Evil 6. First, recall the Del Lago boss fight with Leon in Resident Evil 4. You were in that tiny wooden boat on a fog-choked lake--so small against that massive beast. Second, recall the Irving boss fight on the yacht with the machine guns as Chris in Resident Evil 5--just you and a friend roaring away on those chain guns. Finally, ask yourself, "How will Capcom top itself this time?" Answer that, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what's to come in Resident Evil 6.