[8 October 2012]
Resident Evil 6 wants to be the ultimate Resident Evil experience, incorporating multiple established characters into a single story alongside a decent dose of both horror and action. The concept sounds fine on paper. Feature multiple campaigns that differ in tone, allowing the game to appeal to every type of fan in some way, but this plan fails in execution.
The biggest failure is one players arguably brought on themselves. Capcom listened to the fan and critic feedback from Resident Evil 5 and implemented the requested changes, so now your character can move and shoot at the same time; a big deal for this franchise. To compensate for this new player ability, enemies are now faster and more nimble. However, when you actually try to move while aiming, you move very, very slowly. So slowly that you may as well be standing still. Previously, you were slow and the enemies were designed around that fact; now you’re still slow, but the enemies are designed to be fought by someone faster.
Combat drags the game down. It’s easy to get surrounded and pummeled. The camera is pulled in so close that you have no peripheral vision, so you’re often knocked down by attacks you never see coming. Enemies come from all sides, so you can’t perform any kind of tactical crowd management. Even when you try, they’re faster than you, so you’re still surrounded and pummeled. The all-important head shots were difficult enough thanks to the reticle swaying back and forth, but with all the added distractions, the game demands that you waste ammo by shooting things as fast as possible.
The story wants to be the biggest, most disastrous zombie apocalypse the franchise has ever seen. There are three campaigns and a secret fourth one that unlocks after you beat the others. Each campaign follows a different character from past games: there’s Leon, the hero from Resident Evil 4, Chris from Resident Evil 5, and Jake, a new character, but he’s paired with Sherry, a girl that hasn’t been seen since Resident Evil 2. The game wants you to believe that this is the Resident Evil equivalent of The Avengers, featuring an ensemble of established characters coming together to take on a huge conflict, but this simply isn’t true. There’s some crossover amongst characters, but for the most part, everyone is off doing their own thing. They’re not actually fighting together; they just help each other out occasionally. Also, since the bulk of all four campaigns take place in the same area during the same time, the story doesn’t feel big at all. It feels very confined.
Part of this has to do with the level design. As a shooter, the levels are designed to funnel you from one action moment to another, so there’s no exploration and a ton of narrow corridors. As a result, the game sets a fast pace from the start and never lets up, but it’s hard to grasp the true scope of a citywide infection when I’m only focused on the zombies around me. The success of the level design hurts the overall tone of the game.
Another part of this has to do with the repetition in each campaign. Characters spend a lot of time in the same general area, so you spend a lot time revisiting places you’ve seen before. At the worst of times, you’re literally playing the same level again. On top of that, there are several bosses that regenerate so quickly Jason Voorhees would be jealous. You fight these monsters multiple times within a single campaign, then multiple times again in another campaign. These are the moments when Resident Evil 6 feels utterly uninspired, as if the bosses are repeated so often because no one could think of anything better to offer the player to do.
The short length of each campaign doesn’t help. You start in the middle of each story and scramble to catch up, so, by the end, it feels like you only got half the plot. Chris and Leon’s campaigns are especially guilty of this. These old guard heroes are motivated for personal reasons. It seems like you spend half their campaign chasing down one person, then spend the other half fighting them. Their stories are oddly offered up on a small scale. Perhaps this is because their stories are meant to be played first (you can actually play them in any order, but the unofficial order is Leon, Chris, then Jake), and the game doesn’t want to solve its mysteries right away. This is understandable, but it doesn’t change the fact that these stories feel slight and not at all like the ultimate Resident Evil experience that the conceit implies.
Thankfully, just when a sense of malaise threatens to set in at the thought of playing through the same area with the same bosses yet again, Jake’s campaign appears to save the game. Paring this new character with a supporting character from long ago makes their story just different enough to be interesting. Sticking with them pays off, since they deal directly with the outbreak and attempts to contain it. In fact, Resident Evil 6 really feels like their story: They tie it all together. By comparison, Leon and Chris seem shoehorned into the game to the detriment of everyone. It helps that Jake and Sherry are a likable couple with genuine chemistry, which immediately makes them preferable over the other couples. They could easily carry a game on their own, and probably should have.
The secret campaign is also quite intriguing. It effectively ties up all the loose narrative threads and actually develops one of the most stoic and bland characters of the franchise into a complex anti-hero.
The content of each campaign is just as hit or miss as the stories, and again, the old guard heroes fare the worst. Their campaigns very deliberately try to evoke other games. The cathedral and caves that you see with Leon would look at home in Resident Evil 4 (there’s even another mine cart ride), and the constant military action that you get with Chris is just Resident Evil jumping onto the military-shooter bandwagon. On the plus side, Leon’s campaign does contain some of best action moments in the game: a fight on a plane, in a train, and against a gas monster that turns nearby survivors into zombies.
Jake’s campaign also has a nice variety of action and locations. His story feels like a globe-trotting adventure, and each chapter has its own special gameplay twist. At one point, you have to escape from a lab with no weapons. It’s a great sequence that stands out because of how different it is, and at this point in the game, a change of pace is a godsend. However, the secret campaign is probably my favorite because there’s a fantastic bit on a submarine, but more importantly, you don’t have an AI partner along. This significantly ups the stakes of every encounter and slows the relentless action pacing. This homestretch could have been a painful slog, revisiting areas for the fourth time, but the uptick in quality in the latter half of the game will carry you through to the end.
Speaking of AI partners, they’ve improved since the last game but not because they’re smarter. They’re now invincible, and every shot they take comes from their own supply of infinite ammo. It’s nice that you don’t have to worry about them burning through precious bullets and healing herbs, but they’re now such a destructive force that they can pretty much beat the game for you if you’re patient enough to let them. I spent one boss fight scrounging for supplies while my partner did all the work, and we actually won.
There are a lot of great moments in Resident Evil 6, but for every inventive boss or action sequence, there’s one that’s just stupid: A boss designed to make you waste ammo, mazes filled with infinitely respawning enemies, chase sequences filled with one-hit kills, etc. Invincible enemies are always a good horror standby, but when that enemy is so slow that you can out walk it, the boss becomes painfully boring.
Resident Evil 6 feels like a half hearted attempt to pander to every demographic. In doing so, the game loses the design and control quirks that made the series unique; it loses its identity. Thankfully, the latter half of the game returns to form enough to make the whole experience worthwhile.