What is survival-horror? Fifteen years ago the answer would be very different to what it is now. Resident Evil's 1996 debut had players shuffling along corridors, peaking around corners, and conserving ammo for the next encounter. Things have changed.
I believe what you can't see is scarier than what is right in front of your face. Capcom doesn't agree. Gone are the days where your first encounter with a zombie would be a big deal. The developer wants you to know this world is full of tormented souls by screaming it at you straight away. Even in Leon's campaign, which is the most thoughtful of the lot, you'll quickly encounter all types of creatures.
Guess who's back...
Zombies continue to amble forward in search of flesh. They are impressively detailed and reactive, wincing with every shot. Some may appear lifeless only to leap towards your position, others will remain asleep until you trip over them. In tight spaces this mishap happens a lot. Average groaners haven't evolved too much. The bulk of undead can be dispatched with a well-placed shot to the dome, but such comforts become difficult when other specimens get an appetite.
Capcom has obviously been inspired by Left 4 Dead. Within hours of starting the game you'll come across enemy types that lack a sense of originality. A gluttonous behemoth stumbles through the door, his ankles barely able to withstand his gut. Boil-infested zombies spurt puss into the air, aiming for your open mouth. Irritating mutts scavenge from dead bodies and play fetch with entrails of the deceased. Some enemies appear to be extras from the Body World exhibition, their mutilated skin reminiscent of bacon snatched from the bins behind Aldi. All have their own weaknesses, but very few ignite a sense of fear.
Resident Evil has become a numbers game. Chris Redfield has his mind set on cleaning up the entire C-Virus mess. How will he do it? Through slaughtering hundreds of former citizens. The most effective moments in the game appear when Capcom stop accelerating so hard. A shadow on the wall, cry in the distance, or even silence begins to bring back the terror of the original games. Continuously blasting through groups of zombies lessens the impact of major encounters, as the title weighs up whether action or atmosphere is its main priority.
When the emphasis is put on the latter, Resident Evil 6 is truly stunning. Placing action on the back seat, every room has a story to tell. Away from bullets splattering the brains of Zombie X, this is a universe filled with heartbreak and emotion. Interrupted gatherings indicate moments of trauma, whether it's a garden party that has been overrun or a family moment around the television. Lighting is brilliantly used to convey terror and offer a hint at who's around the next bend. The game is extremely diverse. One second you could be forced to outrun a helicopter as Jake, the next you could be watching survivors get munched on CCTV as Leon.
You'll often come across human survivors. Capcom want you to consider the notion of losing your peers. Plenty of moments will see them pick you up off the floor and away from danger. Other couples will cross your path, indicating each story is a tiny tale on a pandemic of massive proportions.
Excessive lighting often indicates something bad is going to happen
The A.I fights reasonably well. It's important they actually hit the target, and thankfully, they have a say in your survival. I experienced bleak moments where it looked as if I was main course on the zombie's next menu, only for my partner to place a slug between the eyes of the enemy. They will also need your help fending off any critters before moving into the next area. This game loves to put your back against the wall, as you're often told to eliminate all foes before progressing. While such objectives aren't particularly exciting, the ordeal would be far worse if your colleague had the power of a schoolboy firing his first catapult.
Of course, the entire title can be played alongside friends or random individuals. Much like Street Fighter, anyone can hop into your session at any time. They might add to your resistance by assuming the role of another character. Quite terrifyingly, they might enter your world to kill you.
Once the campaign is completed players are offered the opportunity to invade other games via Agent Hunt Mode. A notice will pop up indicating someone has joined in the role of a creature. They will then spend their time trying to chow down on your delicious face. You're not told which monster is being controlled by a human, meaning any could strike with extra purpose. This is an interesting way of having players interact with each other, as it offers a sense of unpredictability. If the going gets tough and humans keep ruining your fun, all online options can be turned off.
The usual array of weapons appear here. Shotgun blasts create chasm-like wounds, often sending the recipient flying backwards. Sniper rifles offer the guaranteed chance of a critical hit. You can now walk when aiming, meaning the style of play has changed quite dramatically. Picking your shots quickly isn't as vital anymore. If you miss you'll always have the chance to run past the enemy for another try.
Hand-to-hand combat also takes on greater importance. While saving bullets is a good idea, I found the melee to be badly implemented. RT allows you to swing for an opponent. Quite often no impact is made even though you reached their position. The zombie then has the upper hand and often seeks their teeth in. A quick stamp should do the trick to those scurrying along the floor. Instead, it often leaves you vulnerable. Fists fights are annoying jumbled, and when a horde of zombies stumble towards your position, the camera can't keep up.
Such irritations underline the game's flaws. Capcom have tried to evolve the formula into something it isn't. Extra action is acceptable, but not when it softens the attributes that have served the franchise so well over the years. This title excels when it keeps things simple. I thoroughly enjoyed the subtle moments and wished the zombie onslaught would take its Ritalin with greater regularity.
Resident Evil 6 is the disfigured spawn of a generation that is best known for Call of Duty. We've got Resident Evil 4's atmosphere spliced into the body of Operation Racoon City's action. Moments of brilliance clash with sections of irritation. Going back to my original question: what is survival-horror? On the back of this, Black Ops 2's Zombie campaign will underline all you need to know.