Readers, I hope you haven’t genuinely experienced this but imagine you had a friend, a really great friend with a ton of potential. This friend did something great once—maybe they scored the winning goal in a high school football game, maybe they were valedictorian, or gave an amazing performance in a play put on by the local drama club. Maybe that friend just came through for you when you really needed it.
Whatever happened, those days are long over. You’ve had to watch that friend throw it all away in a downward spiral of gambling or drugs or whatever. That friend let their once-stratospheric achievement go to their heads and made all the wrong decisions. I’m not saying this situation is equivalent to being really let down by a video game, but I’d be lying if I didn’t feel at least some small fraction of that sort of disappointment while choking my way through Resident Evil 6.
RE6 is finally on the PC, and while Steam’s suite of achievements, keyboard-mouse controls, higher resolutions and crisper graphics do elevate the game beyond what it was on consoles, RE6 is still at its heart the muddled, overcomplicated mess that arrived on PS3 and 360 last October. I missed the game back when it launched, but sadly I have to disagree with our own Jeremy Duff on this one
. RE6 is an exhausting, tedious slow-motion 12-car pileup of good ideas turned bad and bad ideas made worse. And what’s most cbh2181
tragic is that with a little restraint, most of this could have been avoided.
The Resident Evil series is an interesting animal. The first game began development as a first person shooter, but Shinji Mikami and his team realized that the PS1 and its controller just weren’t up to the task; Playstation didn’t have a true analog thumbstick on its controller at the time, and wouldn’t until mid 1997. Controlling a console FPS with the PS1’s clunky, SNES-inspired original controller just wasn’t feasible, so Mikami reworked his game into a horror-adventure, inspired by the original Alone in the Dark.
Playing the first Resident Evil is a pain by today’s standards, but back in 1996 that was exactly the point. Backed into a corner, unable to aim and shoot worth a damn, viewing from an awkward, slanted camera angle so you couldn’t even see what was lurching toward you—these are the things that make unforgettable nightmares, the kind that shock you awake into a cold sweat and stick around in your brain like a disease. This formula worked brilliantly and Capcom made some killer sequels with it, but by the time the Dreamcast and Code Veronica rolled around, dual analog controls were an industry staple and the old RE formula was getting very long in the tooth.
So Capcom smartly rewrote the book on survival horror with Resident Evil 4, jettisoning the increasingly tedious Umbrella Corporation plot and starting fresh. RE4 kept the best elements of the previous games—the tension, the perpetually lengthening odds, scarce resources and even scarcer health—but overhauled the controls and doped the entire game with just enough action to perk it up. Now the tension didn’t come from anticipating every zombie or undead dog around each corner, but panic. The horror came from being hounded by dramatically smarter enemies that could organize and would inevitably hunt you down. The hopelessness came from facing grotesque, colossal bosses that were barely, just barely, killable.
What ultimately made it work was the pitch-perfect pacing of the game, a sine wave of mounting tension that occasionally broke into peaks of frenetic action-packed terror, only to dump you down into a brief lull, sweating and amazed at your own survival, only to begin building that upward climb of queasy tension again.
The problem is that for Resident Evil 5, Capcom learned nearly all the wrong lessons from RE4. Gone was the pacing, instead padded out with gratuitous action. The brief AI-cooperative sections in RE4, where Leon and his charge, POTUS’ daughter Ashley Graham, led to a full-on cooperative mode in RE5 that obliterated what was left of survival horror in the RE series. RE5 wasn’t a terrible game, but it was pretty terribly disappointing, an over-the-top, stuffed and genericized followup that felt like a direct-to-video sequel, which is surprising considering how expensive it was to develop.
If Capcom got the wrong idea from RE4 and over-exaggerated it to make RE5, then they took every last thing possibly wrong with RE5 that they could to make RE6. Instead of two main characters there are now seven, split between four campaigns that intertwine into a hopelessly convoluted and overblown plot that is the most needlessly complicated in the series’ history, which is really saying something. The game is now almost entirely action from front to back, with none of the uneasiness or desperation that has characterized the series from the beginning.
The four campaigns each follow a different character from the series’ past and their partners. Leon S. Kennedy, of RE2 and RE4 fame, probably has the campaign that shares the most heritage with previous RE games. It starts with Leon being forced to put down his zombified boss, who just happens to be the President of the United States. Leon teams up with Secret Service agent Helena Harper to escape the encroaching zombie invasion. Leon’s gameplay feels a lot like RE4 and RE5 but considerably more frustrating.
As Leon (or Helena) you’ll mostly be fighting zombies, at least to begin with. The problem is that the scarce ammo and pinpoint shooting from RE4 doesn’t work well with zombies, who are far too tough and numerous for Leon’s campaign to feel like it has any balance. The worst part is how quick-time-event heavy the levels are, and how annoying the zombies are up close. You’ll often get grabbed by a zombie—which automatically knocks off a full segment of health—and as soon as you shake off or kill the ghoul that grabbed you, you’ll get grappled by another. I’ve literally had a conga line of three or four undead grab me in a row. Even worse, Capcom has implemented a stamina gauge that limits the number of melee takedowns you can perform, so getting caught in one of these multi-zombie meat grinders can exhaust Leon to the point where he can’t even defend himself for a good many seconds.
Leon’s campaign is the most like the games in the series that I enjoy the most, but this makes the glaring and unnecessary changes even more annoying. There are some cool sequences, like sneaking around a rainy cemetery at night and escaping a besieged college campus, but they’re so extensively marred by the maddening combat and inane plot that it’s hard to have fun with any of it.
Chris Redfield’s campaign is the one that embraces the action the most, playing like a poorly-balanced Gears of War clone on a bad batch of amphetamines. It’s also easiest to see here how mostly broken this new action-focused gameplay setup is. Chris is teamed up with Piers Nivans, a kid from Chris’s old combat team who has a rather obnoxious sense of duty. Chris and Piers mostly battle the J’avo, a new breed of zombie that are coordinated enough to wield firearms. I was hoping the J’avo would be smart, organized and relentless like RE4’s Ganados, but as in the other campaigns the J’avo are easily dispatched by literally running circles around them and spamming your melee takedowns.
Most levels in Chris’s story are extended action set-pieces broken up by awkward firefights, where your best strategy is to riddle the gun-toting J’avo with bullets and then run up and abuse your melee takedowns once the crowd of enemies is stunned. Some of the sequences here would have been pretty heart-pounding in a game that fit them better: pushing forward through chaotic Chinese streets during an all-out bioweapon assault, then leaping over rooftops while under constant fire would be right at home in a post-apocalyptic Uncharted game. It just doesn’t feel very Resident Evil at all.
One good example of how this gameplay just doesn’t work happens early in the game. Chris and his team are clearing an apartment building floor by floor, trying to free hostages. At one point the J’avo sprout bug bodies, grab the hostages and start skittering around on the ceiling, forcing Chris to chase them down. The sequence is supposed to be frantic and creepy, but I couldn’t stop laughing. A bunch of heavily armed spec-ops dudes, moving up and down and back and forth through an apartment building, running into walls and each other as bug-people-zombies crawl around carrying panicked, flailing civilians. If you played Yakety Sax in the background it would be an undead Benny Hill sketch.
Chris’s campaign certainly feels the “purest” of them all because it’s pure action; pure, unrelenting, hyper-stimulating action that blunts the senses and leaves you numb. It isn’t frustrating like Leon’s campaign, but it has the same wonky mechanics so it isn’t fun either.
The third campaign focuses on Jake Muller and Sherry Birkin, who has grown up in the time since her introduction in RE2. Jake is the villain Wesker’s son so naturally he has the cure for all the bioweapon viruses in his blood, and Sherry is trying to get him to safety. Jake’s campaign is something of a mix between Chris and Leon’s, with some lulls in the action but also bigger set-pieces and battles than what Leon encounters. While I enjoyed the cynical interplay between Sherry and Jake, their campaign struck me as rather nondescript and generic in gameplay.
The final campaign, featuring corporate spy Ada Wong, was my favorite. While it did contain its fair share of bombastic action, Ada’s story actually included some cool stealth sections. I like the idea of stealth survival horror, where sneaking past statistically unbeatable numbers of monsters is the only sane strategy. I have a feeling these sequences were inspired by Resident Evil Revelations (part of Ada’s campaign happens on a submarine), and with Revelations coming to consoles in May there is hope for the series yet.
The rest of Ada’s campaign reminded me a lot of Separate Ways, her side-story in RE4, with Ada shadowing and occasionally crossing over with events in the other three storylines. Ada’s missions can also be played completely solo, with co-op only being added for online play with another person. I appreciated not having to deal with all of the superfluous “teamwork” that was shoehorned into the other campaigns; Resident Evil is scariest when you’re alone.
Unfortunately all of the campaigns share a number of design decisions that muddle the experience. Inventory management is confusingly split into items and weapons, a far cry from the elegant attaché case in RE4. It’s counterintuitive to the point that I didn’t figure out how to use grenades or health sprays until a few levels in. Healing with herbs is also needlessly complicated, requiring that you mix herbs in your inventory and then store them as little tablets in a pill container. It was handy to have health available with a simple button press, but the tablets are an unnecessary extra step when herbs could just be turned into more instantly-accessible med sprays, like in RE5.
Instead of a merchant like in RE4 or even the inconvenient end-level store in RE5, getting new weapons, equipment and upgrades is done through “skills,” unlockable perks that you can equip 3 at a time. This is an interesting idea but it should’ve been implemented separately from standard upgrades. With such a limited number of skill slots and such a huge list of skills, it sucks having to decide between a stronger pistol and more random loot drops. I really miss the wandering merchant from RE4 and I wish Capcom would turn him into something more ubiquitous and convenient, like Drebin from Metal Gear Solid 4.
If you can make it through all four campaigns without tossing your rig through a second story window, RE6 has some supplemental content as well. The mainstay arcade mode Mercenaries is back, with three other multiplayer modes as well: Predator, Survivors and Onslaught. The campaign also integrates the new Agent Hunt mode, where, if you allow it, any random player can join your single player game as an enemy. I’ve liked this idea ever since it was introduced as Counter-Operative way back in Perfect Dark for the N64. That said, considering the obtuse nature of RE6’s campaigns, letting an anonymous player just drop into your game and start trolling you sounds like a recipe for disaster.
So the gameplay is, to put it charitably, disorganized. But as a AAA title, RE6 at least wows with its production values, right? Well…yes and no. The RE series has always prided itself on stunning visuals, first with pre-rendered backdrops and then with fully polygonal environments that, for their day, were groundbreaking in RE4. From its opening menus RE6 seems set to continue this tradition; the selection screens and idle music make a terrific first impression. So do the character models, and while the lip-syncing and facial animation are still a bit stiff, the attention to detail on each model is impeccable.
Unfortunately the environments don’t fare as well. From a distance they’re pretty impressive, especially with all of the weather, debris and explosion effects there to distract you, but take a closer look and the environmental textures are pretty low-res and smeary. RE6 isn’t ugly by any stretch, one of its few redeeming qualities, but it is disappointing to transition from something gorgeous like FarCry 3 to the comparatively blurry texture work on RE6.
The sound work is also somewhat middling. The voice actors put in some quality performances, especially considering the incredibly ham-fisted script, and I appreciated the effort they put in with what they had to work with. The music however is another matter, and while there are a few good atmospheric pieces, the rest is pretty banal driving orchestral fare. It reminded me of something you’d hear in a made-for-TV movie on the SyFy channel, and made me miss RE4’s moody, wavering, industrial-inspired soundtrack even more.
I have to say, it’s been pretty sad seeing the Resident Evil series transition from the grandfather of survival horror into something unrecognizable. I understand that Capcom wanted to appeal to a wider audience and turn the RE series in more action-oriented direction, but they keep digging themselves deeper. The shift would be fine if RE5 and especially RE6 were competent action games, but they aren’t; at best they’re kind of clunky and unsure of themselves, and at worst they’re frustrating, tedious and unintentionally comedic. RE4 worked because it shifted the setting so drastically and made the enemies scarier. But if you take the characters and enemies from the older games out of their creepy, suspenseful context and dump them into a Michael Bay movie, the whole thing is nothing but patently ridiculous.
RE6 was made by a development team of over 600 people, and that’s precisely the problem. That’s 600 cooks in the kitchen. It’s like Capcom is just throwing ideas at the RE series now; there’s no restraint, no process of whittling down the disparate ideas into a solid core with a few novel innovations. The result is that RE6 is a cumbersome, overcomplicated action movie mess instead of the taut, suspenseful thriller that scared us all in the first place. I hope Capcom goes back to the Resident Evil drawing board a second time to overhaul the series, because as it stands, I can’t recommend RE6 to anyone unless you’re actually looking for an exercise in frustration.