Last time we saw Resident Evil 6 during E3 back in June, we were encouraged by Leon's slower-paced campaign section and less convinced by Chris's balls-out action-packed section, but we weren't completely turned off by the prospect, though somewhat apprehensive. Jake 'son of Albert Wesker' Muller found himself on the run from the relentless Nemesis-like Ustanak, and in Capcom's Gamescom demo, we find the characters in similar situations, and if it's possible, we're even more apprehensive about Chris and Jake's chunks of gameplay. It's possible that Capcom finds itself in an awkward position, with Resident Evil 5 racking up huge sales despite its slide into more action-oriented territory. Be afraid if you didn't like Resident Evil 5. Be very afraid.
We'll start with the bad stuff, and by bad stuff we mean the entirety of Chris Redfield's and Jake Muller's portions of the demo. Chris's section sees the musclebound BSAA man rolling down an Eastern European cobbled street in an armoured escort with a convoy of tanks and other military vehicles, set upon from all sides by marauding J'avo – Resident Evil 6's knife and gun-toting bio-organic weapons – and before long, we're hiding behind cover, shooting at the unrelenting waves of enemies. Traditional Resident Evil this ain't. Worse still, the cover system feels utterly useless, with you holding the trigger to hide and using the left analogue stick to peek out and shoot. That's the idea, except it seems to be completely broken in this current build.
Furthermore, the sub-par shooty action is exacerbated by the staple Resident Evil tradition of scarce ammunition. As a result, rather than being able to shoot down the onslaught of J'avo, you're left scratching around for ammo pick ups just to scrape through each encounter. It feels like the game has an identity crisis and can't decide whether it's an action game or a Resident Evil game. And while it's obviously both, it doesn't seem to fully embrace either, leaving it feeling confused and consequently, a joyless affair in its current state. As far as set-pieces are concerned, there's still more than enough spectacle, but it's mired in sloppy gameplay execution that desperately needs to change. You need to be either furnished with enough ammo to finish the job or presented with less weapon wielding antagonists to deal with or Resident Evil 6 runs the risk of being far too messy.
With the crowd and ammo management bypassed after an agonising scramble for ammo, a gigantic bio-organic beast pushes his way between ruined tenement buildings and onto the street. Size-wise, he's about five times bigger than Resident Evil 4's El Gigante, and ten times uglier. With your partner Piers Nivans running around like a headless chicken, it's down to you to take down or keep the towering BOW at bay while waiting for support to arrive. Shooting the creature in its gaping maw or the pulsating red tube on its back is the only way to damage it, and once the beast has been plugged with enough lead (if you can find enough bullets) it'll drop onto one knee (presumably not to propose marriage). Apparently, Chris can then scale its back and deal some major damage, but we never had the chance with a few ragtag J'avo stalking the environment to hamper our progress. In short, it was all a bit of a clusterfuck.
Visually, Resident Evil 6 is one of the best looking and most consistently spectacular games we've seen in recent years, and this gigantic BOW creature is a stellar example with its detailed, putrid ashen grey hide flecked with throbbing buboes and its mouth a huge set of bloody mandibles with yellowed, disgusting teeth. As the reinforcements finally break through after a protracted fight for survival, we watch the monster stumble away hurt, falling through a building as he retreats. While this sequence indisputably brings the action in spades, it left us with a bad taste in our mouths, a lot like Jake Muller's part of the demo, which suffers from some of the same problems as Chris's bit. The difference is, Jake is packing as many guns as a fully paid up member of the NRA, with a shotgun, sniper rifle, handgun, assault rifle and other weapons at his disposal, where Chris only has a pistol and machine gun.
With Sherry Birkin in tow, we pick up with Jake fighting more advanced breeds of J'avo who randomly encase themselves in an impenetrable cocoon before transforming into a Chrysalid: a scurrying reptilian creature that can sustain more damage than your common J'avo. Again, it doesn't take long to expend Jake's ammo and we're reduced to utilising his hand-to-hand combat skills, which are actually rather rubbish. Downed numerous times by the J'avo and Chrysalid, Sherry does a good job of reviving us, but ultimately it's more of the same kind of action-packed nonsense from Chris's campaign, devoid of tension or scares. Leon's campaign by comparison is far better, playing more akin to Resident Evil 4 in terms of pacing and actual survival horror.
Back on the same Ivy University campus from our last hands-on, we find Leon Kennedy and agent Helena Harper making an attempt to escape, stalking through dark corridors and deserted classrooms littered with corpses. Pre-emptively shooting the corpses doesn't do anything, and as you'd expect they spring to life in scripted fashion, shambling towards you en masse. As Leon, you can break out the melee moves like Chris or Jake with the right trigger, stringing together roundhouse kicks that can floor a zombie, leaving it ripe for stomping. Using melee moves leaves you exposed however, so you'll still need to rely on your guns.
Leon can switch to dual-wield at the touch of a button, but obviously using twice the ammo isn't always advisable given the dearth of ammunition. Busting out the melee moves at the right time is vital for conserving the bullets, and goodness knows you'll need them to deal with the undead hordes that await you, wielding glass bottles and other blunt weapons. Biting faces simply isn't good enough anymore it seems. Each bullet that hits a zombie leaves its mark however, tearing chunks out of their decaying flesh, while blasting their head rips it clean off with a satisfying, albeit nasty gooey squelch sound. Given the sheer number of virus-infected walkers, it's not long before we're downed (again), but Helena is quick to react, waving some reviving herbs (or rather what looks like a packet of mints) in our face to bring us back around.
Like every Resident Evil game worth its salt, there's a few jump scares and some doors to unlock with a hidden key or two, and so Leon's section of the demo treads far more familiar territory. It's a shame that the gameplay aspects of Chris and Jake's parts of Resident Evil 6 don't presently measure up, as it leaves us feeling uncertain of how the full game will pan out. It's no good if only 33% of the game is worth playing and the rest is unbearable, intolerable rubbish. Our E3 hands-on was more encouraging, but this Gamescom showing has done what the other 66% of the demo couldn't manage: it's scared us. We have a very real, terrifying sense that Resident Evil 6 might not deliver unless something radically changes with the shooter mechanics in the action-driven sections. Capcom needs to either fully commit to their action remit, or go back to what made the modern Resident Evil games so playable in the first place.
Resident Evil 6 will be creeping into stores on October 2nd, 2012.