What a difference a couple of year makes. Resident Evil 5 was critically annihilated for featuring a cooperative system that was, for all intents and purposes, miserable if you weren't playing with another human being. Sheva was an OK character, and mechanically speaking playing through Resident Evil 5 with a friend was basically roided-up Resident Evil 4 with co-op., but a solo experience was terrifying for all the wrong reasons. You never knew what the hell A.I. Sheva was going to do, except for the fact that it would usually leave you light on ammo, short on health, and wrought with frustration.
Right out of the gate, Resident Evil 6 drops the mic with an improved cooperative paradigm. In our closed-door demo the folks at Capcom explained that Resident Evil 6 would follow three simultaneous narratives featuring six characters; Leon Kennedy and Helena Harper, Chris Redfield and Piers Nivans, and Jake Muller and Sherry Berkin. Each story is a self contained entity from start to finish (meaning the Resident Evil 6 won't jump back and forth without your consent), but each pair of characters intersects at various points in their respective timelines. During these sequences, one pair will complete a scene from one point of view, while the other completes a necessary task on the other side.
What's interesting are the fine details of this interaction. In our demo Sherry wound up having a brief reunion with Leon (presumably the first time the two had met since Sherry was a kid in Resident Evil 2) and the two wound up getting separated from their respective partners. If you were playing online with an open game, Helena would have gone with Jake, and two different games would have briefly intersected before reuniting with your original partners (and real life friends) a little bit down the road. It's a neat approach to asymmetrical cooperative play, one that, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to replicated elsewhere.
But what if you're playing by yourself? After our closed door demo concluded I played the three separate scenarios on the show floor. Chris, who apparently has secured an alcohol problem over years, hit the road with Piers in a combat-heavy sequence. The most notable difference was the ability to move and shoot at the same time. Guess what? Moving and shooting doesn’t break the game, and it actually felt quite natural. There was also another new move where you character, in the midst of firing off rounds, and fall onto his or her back and continue to open fire. That came in extremely handy on a number of occasions. A.I. Piers, to his credit, behaved admirably by healing me when I was overwhelmed and not shooting off his entire supply of ammunition. A couple new enemies were encountered along the way, specifically a new gargoyle type of baddie that flies around and dangles the mangled remains of the corpse from which it spawned before (ironically the way to dispatch that guy was still a headshot, albeit from the bottom as opposed to the top).
Leon's segment, on the other hand, couldn't have been more different. Combat was almost completely absent, as instead the entire sequence was a story-heavy haunted house run through a vacant mansion. The whole place was decorated for a political party that never happened, presumably because Leon had previously (regretfully) murdered the zombified president. Most of the lights failed to work properly (which was a great showcase for Resident Evil 6's dynamic lighting), suggesting a greater focus or partial return to the more subtle and horrific artifacts of Resident Evils past. It's too early to know if the dividing line between Leon and Chris scenarios will be an ode to survival horror and action, respectively, but Resident Evil 6 is certainly shaping up to follow that path.
Another aspect that was universally reworked was item management. The folks from Capcom detailed how they wanted the player to feel like they had complete freedom with regard to movement. Busting open crates can now be accomplished on the run, inventory management is a breeze, and there's even a dedicated button for consuming items to replenish health. Interestingly both Chris and Leon had almost completely different item management interfaces, further suggesting divergent play styles.
Resident Evil 6's October 2nd release date is rapidly approaching, and I don't think the game could look better. It played great, it looked better, and Capcom not only has a grip on proper cooperative play, but also happens to be doing something completely novel with it at the same time.