Life is like a box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump's mum once said - you never know which one you're going to get. Resident Evil 6's flamboyant cast of C-virus victims is kind of like a box of chocolates, too. It's not just that they come in all shapes and sizes - invisible snakes, half-rotten sharks, Nemesis wannabes with drill-bits for arms and a Chainsaw Dude who resembles a stack of mating lobsters. It's that they have a habit of transforming into something else depending on where you shoot them.
Blast a guy's arm and odds are he'll sprout a tentacle, all the better to pluck you from cover. Shear his knees away and his torso might fissure and pump out spider legs, turning a regular bogey into a fast-moving wall-crawler. Worse still are the enemies that fizzle to a chrysalis when strafed, shattering seconds later to reveal one of the game's elite nasties - a mound of pugnacious basalt, for instance, or a vulture made of gristle, or highly annoying frilled lizards who spit toxic gas and darts.
As you may have deduced, summing all this up as a "zombie game" is a tad ridiculous. After 20 plus "main" releases, five blockbuster movies and Lord knows how many mobile titles, Resident Evil's bio-mutating bug has long since gravitated beyond the garden-variety walking corpse. The original's lumbering one-way shoot-outs are a distant memory, too - nowadays, the undead wield AK47s and fly helicopters, amply justifying the presence of a lock-to-cover system that's, alas, never as clean and effective as that of Gears of War.
Thanks to those mutations, even the most throwaway of zombie dust-ups has the potential to mushroom into - well, there is a mutation which looks rather like a mushroom, one that explodes in your face. Resident Evil 6 itself is the most volatile monster of all, however. The fourth game's survival-action pressure cooker is at bursting point here, as Capcom seeks to ignite waning enthusiasm for the series via sheer scale and variety. Don't let the slew of returning faces and the bassy title screen announcer fool you - this is an enormously ambitious sequel, albeit one that, as a consequence, can't always decide what it wants to be.
Gears of Sprawl
The 30-odd hour runtime makes room for a tank chase through a bathhouse, a trip to the subway complete with renegade trains, puzzles which involve reflecting laser beams, hostage scenarios in Hong Kong tenements, HUDs tailored to each of the seven playable characters and a multiplayer mode where you seize control of the zombies in somebody else's campaign.
Often, the pick-and-mix approach reaps wonderful results, the sort of lovingly crafted curios you just don't get from Western developers, more rigorous in their ironing-out of tangential concepts. Midway through one campaign new boy Jake Muller and chirpy acquaintance Sherri fetch up on a mountainside at night, and must search for three keys in a blizzard. This involves a trip up a glacial slope in the face of sniper fire. Fall over under the weight of bullets, and you'll slide all the way to the bottom like an incredibly macho toboggan. It's a beautiful moment, believe it or not, and you'll never see the like in the game again.
The returning off-set gunplay just about holds everything together, though the bombardment of novelty appears to have given it the shakes: aiming dots wobble about inside cross hairs and you'll do a lot of the fighting on your back, recovering from a knockdown. Some may miss the crispness and lower-key suspense of Resi 4's shooting, but the new game trumps its predecessors in terms of supporting systems.