Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes once and Ian Fleming, not planning to write past five books, composed an obituary for his James Bond, and Capcom effectively destroyed the Umbrella Corporation and all of its sinister zombie-based plots in Resident Evil 5. And from the ashes of that decisive, explosive, and wildly fun conclusion comes… Neo Umbrella, another world domination plot and unfortunately, Resident Evil 6.
It’s rare to play a game that’s both packed with new ideas (many of them terrible) while being so conservatively backwards facing in so many ways when it comes to action games.
Taking place three years after Resident Evil 5, 6 sees an outbreak of the new C-virus through a series of terrorist attacks in North America, China, and Eastern Europe, all under the auspices of Neo Umbrella. Split between the story of its three leads, 6 finds Leon Kennedy framed and on the run for the attack that turns the president into a flesh eater on the middle of a small-town college campus; an alcoholic Chris Redfield is brought out of retirement by the BSAA to respond to the new viral outbreak; and new character Jake Muller, a wise-cracking mercenary, is recruited for a hefty fee so that his blood can be used to find a cure for the C-virus.
Each of the three stories plays out with some crossover between the other two (a “secret” fourth, featuring Ada Wong links the other three), and like Resident Evil 5, you won’t be going it alone thanks to three new co-op characters: Secret Service agent with a secret Helena travels with Leon to guide him to the person responsible for the U.S. attack; fiercely loyal and idealistic BSAA agent Piers joins Chris and provides someone to be so bland that he makes Chris seem interesting; and RE 2 survivor Sherry Birkin is along to soften the hardened heart of bad boy Jake.
Like so much of Resident Evil 6, though, the story is a baffling mess, with the crossing plots (joined at “Interaction” points where your game could potentially cross over with someone else’s campaign in a separate story) amounting to a lot of running around and angsting and swearing vengeance, but no real revelations until you play through Ada’s campaign. The three story hook is really there to justify the game’s three play styles which, on paper, sounds like a terrific idea for creating multiple distinct play experiences in the same unified game. Leon’s is ostensibly a return to the slower paced, more exploration-focused Gothic horror of earlier entries in the series, while Chris’ provides a straight-up third-person shooter, and Jake’s… well, Jake’s allows you to punch dudes (a nod to Wesker’s play style in RE 4’s Mercenaries mode–also, Jake’s Wesker’s son).
In practice, the three campaigns do feel markedly different, but not for the better: Jake’s is by far the worst, with an overabundance of Quick Time Events blocking the action, along with seemingly endless vehicle sequences. Leon’s has the distinction of being second-worst, with ample QTEs of its own, with a seemingly endless stream of zombies and the four-eyed, weapon toting J’avo, broken up by a few no-brainer puzzles and backtrack quests. Chris and Ada’s are the least offensive, Chris’ going for mostly run-and-gun experience which might be competent if handling a gun wasn’t a terribly broken experience. For whatever reason, Capcom developers decided to aid a floating red site in the center of the reticule, meaning that at any given time, your guess where the bullet will go is as good as anyone’s. [Update: Twitter user @barleyTO pointed out that this can be adjusted in the Select menu. Still, it’s a horrible feature to leave as the default]
Plus, when I say “run and gun,” yes, you can move and shoot, but it’s a clunky experience hampered by being too close to the heroes, meaning most times you don’t know where the enemies are relative to your character. Melee moves mapped to the right trigger can allow you to create some distance, but often, it’s a crap shoot whether the game will accurately read your proximity to an enemy and apply the appropriate animation.
And a litany of small complaints don’t help: how many times did I go into a cutscene with an enemy nearby, only to come out facing in another direction and a victim of lost health. Or what about the weird stinginess when it comes to ammo in the gun-heavy Chris campaign (I had to battle the final boss with a knife)? The hidden jewels of the wonderfully addictive loot hunt of 5 is replaced here by canister drops from enemies that provide XP that can be dumped into new buffs between missions, but at the expense of regular ammo and health drops. Also, why does the quick turn sometimes not reorient the camera, leaving your back to an enemy when it’s least convenient? Why didn’t I know about the slide or dash moves until a loading screen popped up about five hours into the 25 hour or so campaign? Why do so many of the abrupt and often frustrating QTEs feel like a pop quiz in a class I didn’t even know I was taking on a strictly pass-fail basis?
Where the game falters in terms of story, mechanically, and just plain fun, Resident Evil 6 should be singled out at an exceptionally good-looking game, particularly in the fictional Chinese city of Tatchi. This cramped urban environment is shared across all of the campaigns and it’s no wonder: from the winding alleys filled with neon and fluorescent-lit cluttered shop stalls, you might linger to consider how detailed it all is when you’re not struggling with the clunky combat. Likewise, I would happily pay for an art book breaking down the modeling and design process for the J’avo–intricately-created, body twisting freak insect-human hybrids. You might gawp in amazement at their bubbling, rippling transformations the first time you see one of the new variants before reverting back to cursing the floaty reticule that won’t let you aim at them properly.
If you happen to really be into RE 6, Mercenaries mode makes a return here along with the new Agent Hunt mode, which is allows you to go online as one of the awkward to control and nearly impossible to orient enemy monsters and attack a player during their campaign. Medals are strewn throughout the campaign which will unlock much of the story content that seems to be kept from you during the actual game as well as character trophies.
While its crisscrossing stories and trio of new characters could have provided a jolt to the aging franchise, along with its decisive shift away from survival horror (Resident Evil doesn’t do that anymore, apparently), in its lackluster execution, it feels like Capcom doesn’t have anything new to say about the series or its characters, simply aping big action setpieces from major Western releases while allowing their game to lose its own identity.
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