After the mixed reception yet unarguable financial success of Biohazard 5, it was no surprise that Biohazard 6 was in the works. The only apparent question remaining was which formula the new title would follow. A split community is no easy task to appease, so which route did Capcom take? Is the series heading back to its roots or is it loosing its series staples? What if I said both?
Upon downloading the trial I treated it's precedence to be that of a full title. Despite not being a gamer, my girlfriend wanted to experience it with me as well. With the lights off I was ready to play Biohazard 6 for the very first time. Going in the natural order of things, Leon's scenario was first so that is what we booted up. As an original fan, admittedly this portion had me most excited.
The scenario started off with the dramatic opening we've seen featured in trailers, Leon disposing of the president as he turns into a flesh eating zombie. It's a great thing to see zombies back in the Biohazard universe and not in the form of homage, but a mainstay. As the demo progresses the player is given control of either Leon or Helena, both of which can be selected prior to starting the scenario.
The first noticeable change upon taking control are the controls themselves. Gone is the option for classic tank controls, in its place is a standardized TPS control scheme akin to modern day action titles. Some may feel this is a departure from the series, though it ends up being a way to unify the games controls without the necessity of countless control schemes. In Biohazard 5 for example, one configuration had side step while the other classic set up did not. Biohazard 6 attempts to retain the feel of classic titles through the characters movement and it's button configuration, but brings them up to speed with a necessary revamp.
Though the camera can be a bit wonky at times, the controls work well and still feel like Biohazard. In fact, this departure was long overdue. With it comes a lot more freedom of movement, something a next-generation Biohazard title certainly should have. Players can move (not run) while shooting, dodge and duck, sprint, cover, slide and even roll in multiple directions while on the ground. Quick shots can be used and work as an auto target in regards to the closest enemy. Melee is no longer a stun bonus but a natural combo associated to RT/R2. Healing is associated to a button now and herbs can be combined into tablets via the main inventory menu. Weapons can be selected via the d-pad left and right while items use up and down. The controls overall work seamlessly and take minimal time to get used to. Their complexities are nothing given the series they're associated with.
With the controls understood, we embarked into Tall Oaks University for the first time and got a feel for the game visually. A few steps in and it both impressed and depressed me. There are some serious tearing issues, though I'm hopeful they'll be tended to by final release. Some textures and overall detail lacks polish that even the beta builds of Biohazard 5 possessed, yet there were other areas that literally trounced any of the previous entries efforts, such as the catering hall Leon and Helena stumble upon. Overall the game looks great and on average better than Biohazard 5, though it is a double edged sword in some areas. Another element that helps the overall production quality are the scripted interactions. A lot of older Biohazard titles had little to no interaction when bumping into scenery; some similar western games are the opposite and end up in overreactions of items flying everywhere, Biohazard 6 does it just right. While not all items are interactive, the intentional set pieces that are react in a scripted but ultra-realistic way. Chairs falling correctly, balloons popping and even Leon holding on to a railing in a realistic manner, it all helps aid a more believable product in the end. Consider it personal opinion, though I feel the art direction is one of the best in the series and to me that goes a long way. It's a much darker and more realistic atmosphere than the previous couple of entries.
Technical properties aside, the scenario was immediately interesting simply due to the mood and tension, something that has been missing from Biohazard for quite some time. Every crash of thunder was startling and every element had us overthinking. Suddenly it felt like I was playing next-gen Biohazard, as I had envisioned it back in 2002. Due to the pacing some interactive items, puzzles or files would have helped, though literally none were to be found. This could very well be due to it being a trial build, though I hope to see some more of these elements in the final version. Outside of that, the atmosphere and overall quality that went into the universities design helped keep things interesting throughout. Every small event felt meaningful and the eventual encounters with zombies were both dramatic and rewarding. This scenario reminded me much of an Outbreak scenario such as 'Outbreak' or 'Decisions, Decisions'. To see the events unfold from the beginning and watch normality fade away is always the most eerie part of a horror script and Biohazard 6 introduces it quite well. I can see these chapters being replayed heavily due to their epic set pieces alone, especially with the inclusion of online co-op.
Next on the list was Chris Redfield and what a different experience it was. More or less the entire scenario has the player jumping from roof top to roof top fighting hordes of enemies that are seemingly thrown at the player. It felt more like an arcade experience, especially after the beautifully paced Leon scenario. Despite its action packed nature however, the controls and such were one in the same and we were finally able to test them out to their full potential. The game feels fluid and offers a ton of options. Enemies can be thrown off of ledges, combo attacked, sliced, shot and even countered mid move. Needless to say, the new engine suddenly feels completely necessary with this much chaotic action. Taking away hit stun bonuses such as melee and introducing it as a natural combo takes away a lot of the strategy that the older titles had, though in its place are various other reaction testing moves. Dodging, ducking and counter hitting feel just as rewarding, if not more. It's still Biohazard; it's still skillful and most of all it’s still fun. I'm assuming Chris' scenario will have some varying pacing, though as it stands, it was chaotic. Assuming the full game mixes it up a bit, it'll be a solid scenario but one that differs heavily from what we started with.
Last on the list was Jake and Sherry's scenario and perhaps the most unique of the bunch. Leon's scenario is catered towards classic Biohazard while Chris' is centered around the new style introduced by Biohazard 4 and 5. Jake and Sherry's however, it introduces something completely fresh. The scenario starts off with the couple running from a giant creature who looks like a cross between Nemesis and Tyrant Steve. The first portion is an action sequence in which you have to run from the monster but retain full control over the characters, no QTE segments. Next up is a small break in where the two explore a warehouse and find all sorts of supplies. This is followed by a final showdown with the Tyrant where the player is required to use firepower, mines, environmental explosions and overall quick reflexes to dodge and survive. The warehouse quickly becomes a cliché barrel ridden arena, but a fun and interactive one at that. Perhaps the most unique part of this scenario is Jake. His secondary weapon is no weapon, but instead his fists. Like his father Wesker, Jake excels at hand to hand combat and has a bevy of moves. It all feels in line with the games engine however and hardly stick out, surprisingly enough. When his fists are equipped his dodge skills are more akin to a boxer than a mercenary. This allows for a ton of unique ways to dispose of enemies, even those as big as the Tyrant. Also good to note, there are a ton of skill points hidden throughout this scenario, so it's likely that Jake will be able to further his CQC. Thanks to some dramatic set pieces and a new gameplay element, this scenario feels the most fresh of the bunch. If Nemesis were to chase Jill like it were Last Escape all over again, we could only hope it'd be this tense. The Biohazard 6 engine also has less invincibility frames than other titles in the series, so don't expect kicking a ladder or picking up an item to provide any brief periods of safeness. It's a struggle straight through and that is what makes this segment so much fun.
In the end this game has a ton of differentiation. There is no doubt in my mind it was done to appease to all sorts of fans and gaming factions, but the different scenarios were embraced and logically presented. There are games that try to cover too many areas of the spectrum in order to appeal to the masses; they usually end up in an identity crisis. Arguably Biohazard 5 is one of these titles, however Biohazard 6 is not. The engine is unified between all the chapters yet the gameplay differs due to logical and well-presented situations that are ongoing in different areas under different circumstances. It all
culminates into one huge Biohazard that properly covers different properties, style of gameplay and stories that'll all eventually intertwine. This demo is a solid look at what is to be a solid entry in the series.