"We have no obligation to make history," said the late Hollywood producer Don Simpson. "We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. Our obligation is to make money." If you've seen Flashdance, you know what he's talking about. Simpson's quote is great because it effortlessly skewers most of the assumptions that any argument about a mainstream movie - or videogame - makes as standard. The only obligation Capcom had with Resident Evil 6 was to make money, and boy does it show.
These days, gaming's mega-franchises don't really compete with each other - you'll notice that the launch of Resident Evil 6 on October 2 carefully dodges both Assassin's Creed 3 and the latest Call of Duty. Instead, they try to repeat and top their own history, which means Resident Evil is caught between two extremes - the original's solitary horror, and the pulse-pounding reinvention of Resident Evil 4. Where the fifth game in the series havered, eventually plumping for '4 with co-op' and satisfying few, the pitch for Resident Evil 6 is no less than this: it will be all things to all fans.
A brief recap of what that means: three distinct single-player campaigns, each with their own style and theme that crossover at certain points, all playable with online co-op. To this add a newly-revealed fourth campaign starring Ada Wong, an unseen 'Prelude' campaign, and at least two competitive online modes, Agent Hunt and Mercenaries. Capcom staff are talking of a 50 hour campaign in total, a claim that needs to be taken with a big pinch of salt, but it's a sign of the scale and scope of Resi 6 that such numbers are even vaguely plausible.
The recent release of a demo, available to Dragon's Dogma owners, did not make a good first impression. It was a poor showcase, composed of three brief snatches from the game that, out of context and badly-tuned, gave me the wrong kind of horror. Having just spent two days at Capcom's Osaka HQ playing the more-or-less final build of the game, including a new online mode and across both Hard and Professional difficulty settings, such misgivings are scoured from my mind. Resi 6 may yet have one or two things to be concerned about, but be in no doubt that this is going to be an absolute monster.
Resident Evil 5 proved to be a divisive release for the Capcom faithful: the survival horror stylings that had defined the series were unceremoniously given the boot in favour of a more action-orientated experience that felt a touch empty and unsatisfying in single-player mode, but proved to be plenty of fun when played online with a co-op partner. Resident Evil 6, released this week in demo form for Xbox 360, offers a supercharged enhancement of the existing formula, but with a hint of gameplay elements that harken back to the original games.
For a series that stubbornly refused to modernise its controls for ages, Resident Evil sure has mutated a lot over the latter half of its 16-year life. During its first eight years, it relied on a nightmarish camera-relative "tank control" system that was much derided in the new millennium. Then Resident 4 came along and transformed the franchise into a tense, methodical action game. Then it was followed by the bombastic Resident Evil 5, which basically excised the horror elements completely in favour of action-heavy co-op.
This didn't go over well with the fans. It caused solo players to rely on incompetent AI and made everything less scary. Rather than kowtow to what fans wanted by excising co-op, Capcom stuck to their guns and decided to proceed further in that direction by improving and innovating the co-op experience.
Resident Evil 6 is split across seperate campaigns. One stars Leon Kennedy, another Chris Redfield, and another newcomer, Jake Muller. Each campaign is expected to last approximately 70-80 per cent of the length of Resident Evil 5. All three campaigns weave together at various points and cumulatively comprise one giant story.
Resident Evil's been going strong for so long that it has become all things to all people: an exercise in suspense and horror for some, or a lesson in video game action at its very best for others. Maybe for you it's a schlocky soap opera set in the world of the undead or - God forbid - a glut of increasingly indecipherable third-tier movies.
For a series spread so wide and often so thin it's not surprising that Resident Evil's dabbled with mediocrity in the past - witness the ill-conceived Outbreak games, or the miserably executed Operation Raccoon City. Even its highs have fallen some way short of what once was, the enjoyable brace of 3DS games showing a series that's now become torn between action and horror.
For two and a half years, a 600-strong team at Capcom has been toiling on a new Resident Evil that's working to bridge that divide. It's a horror game with action set-pieces, a drama in which an undead President is played with the straightest of faces, and a game with tension as well as a warehouse of explosives to play with. It is, in other words, all things to all people - but what's most impressive is how Capcom's all-encompassing take on its long-running series pushes it back towards the brilliance of its glory years.
Last night, Capcom gave gamers a first taster of Resident Evil 6, showing off a decent amount of gameplay amongst the explosions.
The game appears to be divided in three: three protagonists, three play styles and three locations.
Our first glimpse of Resident Evil 6 opens with Leon S. Kennedy, hero of Resident Evil 2, aiming a gun towards the camera.