One of gaming’s spookiest series’ Resident Evil has appropriately launched its sixth installment at the start of the spookiest month of October, just in time to add more scares to horror fans clambering for nightmares, but is Capcom’s latest title bigger on thrills than it is on chills?
Resident Evil has long been the standard to which horror games strive. It is most often referenced when describing survival horror games and for many years it was king of the genre. Resident Evil 4 was hailed by fans and critics as one of, if not the, best in the series and was praised for taking the horror franchise in a refreshed direction. However, the fifth game disappointed many players for being more of an action shooter than a survival horror game and when Resident Evil 6 released its E3 2012 trailer, people were equally skeptical of the direction the series was taking. Was this to be another action game? The trailer surely pointed that way, with more explosions than a Michael Bay movie, but Capcom assured fans that they would be seeing a return to their horror roots and, in some fashion, this was true.
The first major complaint many will have with Resident Evil 6 is the absence of a manual inside the case (or a digital menu option). Those wanting to catch up on story or learn which new game mechanics are mapped to which buttons are out of luck. Instead players are expected to rely on the game itself to introduce all of the new controls – which would be fine if there was a decent tutorial and informed prologue. Unfortunately, there is not. In fact, with four different characters’ stories to play through and several years since the events of Resident Evil 5, it’s incredible that relatively nothing was provided to ease players back into this world, current story events, and (as mentioned) a number of change ups to the core gameplay formula.
At the offset, players are greeted with a “prologue,” a horribly weak tutorial where Leon carries his new partner, Helena, through a building while being pursued by a helicopter in a zombie infested city. For the most part, players will learn how to move around and press the buttons (a fitting introduction to the amount of QTE segments they’ll face as the game progresses) as well as some basic concepts: herbs heal things and guns kill things. Want to learn more? Hope that you learn enough during the loading screens – which provide helpful hints for a few short seconds.
At this point players are given a choice between three different characters, Leon, Chris, or newcomer Jake. Capcom promised three different styles of gameplay with each character, which is an exaggeration. The major difference between each character is in their story and enemies they encounter. Leon will be facing down a lot of zombies and his scenario will take players back, as it attempts to focus on the old days of Resident Evil complete with dark rooms, eerie settings, scares (admittedly, I jumped a few times) and more underground laboratories than you can shake a B.O.W at. Complete with few puzzles sprinkled about and a ton of quicktime events. Chris’ story plays more like RE5 with plenty of transforming J’avo, vehicles, heavy artillery and generic, jarhead archetypes. Jake’s campaign is similar to the Chris section but with more Kung Fu and a Nemesis like character. Ada’s unlockable campaign incorporates more stealth and puzzle elements. In the end, they are all fairly similar and they all rely on heavy gunplay and outrageous action.
Luckily, all of this action is pretty fluid. Quick select for weapons and items makes it easy to keep up with the fast pace of the game and the ability to roll, jump back and kick your way through enemies will help players survive – while at the same time looking pretty cool. At the beginning of each scenario, players will be able to choose whether to play as the main character or their partner and the character not chosen will go to AI or another person either over the internet or right next to you with split-screen, a rare and appreciated option. Players who choose to go with an AI partner won’t be disappointed. The AI in Resident Evil 6 is quite good. Aside from being practically invincible, which is always nice for backup, they grasp tasks quickly and efficiently and always help in a jam.
Unlockable “Skills” make the game a little easier to play – and range from increasing gun damage to improving item drop rate, the gaming experience changes with more time players put in. Skill points used to purchase these the upgrades replace currency this time and are found in caches around the game or drop after dispatching most enemies. The only real issue many will find is the absurd amount of skill points required for many major skills. Unless they plan on several playthroughs, or farming certain areas, players shouldn’t expect to acquire some of the higher end skills.
Of course, with the addition of another Mercenaries mode, gamers have the option to acquire points by decimating hordes of enemies in the allotted time. Agent Hunt mode is another option – where players can take control of random enemies in other people’s games. Fun for a lark, but not exactly crucial to the game package.
The RE experience is usually accompanied by an interesting story – at least a creative one. No one has ever claimed that the writing in a Resident Evil title was perfect or the dialogue was especially good but, normally, the games managed to offer a fun and inventive narrative. Resident Evil 6, however, takes all of the storytelling flaws in the series and amplifies them – to the point of making little sense at all. For example, the beginning of the game’s prologue, with the helicopter shooting at Leon and chasing them through an abandoned building? This was a setup for what was to come. After Leon and Helena meet with an undisclosed enemy, the game does a flashback, which allows gamers to play up to the events in the prologue. One problem though, when they catch up to those events, they are completely different. The helicopter isn’t shooting at them, it’s protecting them. Helena isn’t injured, she’s just fine. In general, the story is manipulative – and serves to only make the moment-to-moment conflict interesting with little regard for tying everything together.
When playing through the fourth scenario starring Ada Wong, there are quite a few discrepancies. Was this Capcom’s way of not disclosing crucial plot points? Maybe, but the execution is still flawed. Each character’s story intersects at different moments, so players are led to believe that there is one cohesive storyline. However, when repeated events are dramatically different, depending on alternate perspectives, it shakes the game’s foundation. With more care, Capcom could have delivered an intertwined experience that wasn’t nearly as convoluted. But hey, the voice acting was pretty good.
The overall story isn’t terrible but it is predictable – following similar paths as previous games. An underground group is releasing a bioweapon on the world and your mission is to stop it. Mix in some gross creatures and mostly bland characters – don’t expect a lot more . Resident Evil 6 does little to progress the overarching mythology, if there even is one at this point. There isn’t much in the way of character development either. No major characters go through any significant change and many of the arcs rely too heavily on boring antagonists that come back again, and again, and again, and again (seriously). If this game teaches players anything, it’s that nothing is actually dead even when it is… because it’s not. Expect the same boss fight over and over again, with slight variations. Even if you’re not a stickler for story, beyond the underwhelming narrative implications of flat characters and repeated boss encounters, the mostly enjoyable gameplay becomes extremely redundant – a major letdown given the action-focused design. How many times do we have to alternate pressing the controller triggers to avoid falling? Apparently a lot.
Even if you can excuse the story, the game doesn’t work very hard to immerse players in the environments – or to even make use of the new game mechanics (such as an underwhelming cover system). Players are mostly just expected to deal with whatever crazy situation or gameplay challenge that is being thrown out. Ultimately, where other Resident Evil games have relied on smart and tense gameplay set-ups (boss battles in tight enclosed areas, limited ammunition, restrained control options), Resident Evil 6 chooses action over substance at every single turn – delivering plenty of enjoyable zombie encounters surrounded by everything from over-the-top (and overused) QTE sequences, multi-faceted (albeit mostly uninventive) boss fights, to downright brainless puzzle segments.
Resident Evil 6 isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Players who can familiarize themselves with the new mechanics and can overlook the convoluted story, will likely find enjoyment amidst the frustration. The gameplay is solid and, as a shooter, it’s an enjoyable experience. Like the cheesy action flicks that seem to inspire the new series direction, audiences should be able to enjoy the game for what it is: exciting, mindless, action with little emotional investment or deep character development.
That said, Resident Evil 6 is not the sequel that longtime fans have been asking for – it’s clear that Capcom was attempting to appeal to too many audiences at once and the result is a game with an identity crisis. Not quite survival horror enough for Resident Evil faithfuls not quite polished enough to be a competent third-person shooter alternative. If there was any proof that survival horror was dead, at least with this franchise, Resident Evil 6 is the final nail in that coffin. Take a tip from the zombies that once permeated the series, shamble toward this one – don’t run.
Resident Evil 6 is available now for PS3 and Xbox 360.
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