The latest addition to the Resident Evil series is shocking and emotionally draining. But sadly not in a way that long time fans of the series or gamers in general would find at all appealing.
I really wanted to enjoy the game. I’m a fan. Like many I have fond memories of playing the original all those many years ago. It was clunky, it was cheesy and it was limited by the hardware of the time. But it was revolutionary; it was cinematic and incredibly compelling.
I could complain about Resident Evil 6 abandoning its horror roots for action. But that would be the wrong tack. I’ve already spoken about how Resident Evil as a series has never shied away from explosive set pieces or action movie tropes. No my problem with RE6 is that after playing it for almost 20 hours. I wish I hadn’t bothered.
There’s a lot of content to be found in RE6, three fully fledged campaigns and one unlockable, Mercenaries returns and there’s also the new competitive Agent Hunt mode to sink your teeth into. This is the biggest game in the series to date. Despite this, it still falls short due to schizophrenic design choices and an over reliance on set pieces.
The campaigns overlap in the style of a pulp novel; each revealing a small part of the bigger picture. The problem is that they never reach a satisfying conclusion. At the end you’re left with even more questions than at the outset. There is no pay off at all. It’s like the last page of the script might as well have said ‘ and they all had Lemonade. THE END.’ Sounds childish that’s because it is. It feels like it was written by a ten year old that had just been given a new box of crayons and a 10kg bag of skittles.
After a brief introductory sequence in which Leon fights his way through zombie hordes in the streets of Shanghai before diving onto a helicopter as they explode, Which he then pilots resulting in it crashing and exploding. You can then select from the games 3 main scenarios. I decided to give the new guy Jake a go first.
His campaign starts in a made up eastern European country called Edonia. After failing to give himself the C virus he meets up with the now all grown up Sherry Birkin who’s working as a government agent that fights biological terrorism. He then protects her from a group of the games new J’avo Enemies. Basically the Ganados introduced in RE4 4 but now with guns. Jake and Sherry eventually escape from the angry locals are confronted by Ustanak, this games version of Nemesis from RE3. He then spends the rest of the game attempting to illicit even half the panic Nemesis did and fails miserably.
Sound exciting? Sadly the game’s first major set piece involves helping the BSAA take out the monsters with an air strike rather than killing the beasts yourself. This is done by holding off the militia in a series of gun battles while one of the members of Chris’s squad sets charges.
Once this is accomplished Sherry and Jake then board a helicopter headed for America so that Jakes blood can be used to create a cure for the C virus. At this point Ustanak strikes again. Attacking the helicopter you’re travelling in forcing you to jump to the one accompanying it. As the helicopter crashes he jumps onto a group of attack choppers that come out of absolutely nowhere and begin to open fire on you. Luckily there’s a pair of turrets pointed in the right direction in the new helicopter’s loading bay so you can shoot down the Apaches and the volleys of missiles aimed at you. After shooting down what feels like an entire squadron of helicopters Ustanak manages to board the chopper you are on anyway, forcing it to crash.
At this point we are treated to the first of the games many QTEs that more often than not end in your death. But threat not, you’ll just have to do the same sequence ad nauseam until you get it right. Or you’ll be lucky enough to manage to reload your gun in time and shoot whatever item in the distance the game wants you too.
Next comes one of the games first major low points. Aimlessly wandering in a blizzard looking for a flash drive while you fight wave after wave of J’avos all armed to the teeth and with bloody good aim while your character feels like they went to the henchman academy of marksmanship. It’s not fun. It’s infuriating.
After finally piecing together the drive and finding shelter in a nearby cabin the designers decided to shoe horn in the cabin scene from RE4 minus all tension and context, then jump straight into the same games finale except for this time you’re on a ski mobile outrunning an avalanche instead of a jet ski and a tidal wave.
Jake and Sherry then sneak their way through a series of caverns trying to avoid Ustanak, these sections are oddly reminiscent of the escort sections of RE4 except for this time you’re both playing Ashley. Sound a bit naff that’s because it is.
Despite this they get caught anyway and wake up several months later in a testing facility in China. What follows is probably the most uncomfortable scenes in a game ever. after battling through the test facility with Sherry wearing nothing but a fairly revealing medical gown the couple find a changing room and rather than cutting at this point. We are treated to a scene where Jake checks out Sherry while she’s getting changed. Now I don’t know about you. But the last time I saw this character she was six. I spent an entire game protecting her and trying to keep her innocent. So the last thoughts in my mind when reunited with her several years later are sexual. It just feels creepy. Urgh.
That’s enough of Jake and Sherry, onto Chris and Peers. Chris’s scenario opens with him getting drunk in a bar. This is one of my favourite sequences as it was unexpected and could easily be used as a metaphor for the whole game. It’s tired, its fed up it wants to escape it’s past but can’t find a constructive way to do it.
What then follows is the natural progression of the action heavy Resident Evil 5; minus any sense of danger and more explosions. At times if you just stumbled into the room and looked at the screen you could easily assume it was a straight military shooter. It’s an endless string of firefights and set pieces. There’s little thought given to the why? It just happens.
However, the saving grace of Chris’s and Jakes campaigns is the ability for the J’avos you spend 99% of the game fighting to mutate. This adds an element of the unexpected to every fight. At any point the arm you blew off could turn into a tentacle or if you took out a J’avos legs they could turn in to an arachnids and scurry onto the ceiling. Sometimes at the point of death they’ll retreat into a cocoon only to burst forth as a new and challenging monster.
Sadly this is a double edged sword, with unpredictability comes infuriating difficulty spikes. Battles are either an absolute breeze or a nightmare with little room in between.
This leaves us with Leon’s campaign. I was hoping that this would be the one to redeem the whole debacle. The opening on the surface appeared like a return to form. I was hopeful. It was tense, there was a genuine sense of mystery and it felt reminiscent of the Police station section in RE2. However once Leon and new partner Helena leave the university campus the problems that plague the rest of the game swiftly begin to infect it; Pointless set pieces, driving sections with no sense of speed and vehicles that handle like wheelbarrows, QTES galore and a ham fisted narrative.
Even the return of zombies couldn’t save it. These are not the zombies you remember. They run, they jump, they can mutate into a more aggressive form that leaps at you. There are now also fat zombies and ones that can scream to call more zombies over much like the witches from Left 4 Dead. In fact all of the new zombie types are all ripped straight from Valves classic. However the fat ones don’t explode. They just soak up bullets and the stand in for witches run away until they can call more zombies making both rather tricky to kill but also more of a chore than a challenge.
Outside of the main campaigns there are two other modes available; Mercenaries and Agent Hunt. Mercenaries mode is the same as it ever was. Kill all the bad guys as quick as you can in various maps taken from the main campaign for points and rewards.
These can be used to help rank up various perks that can be equipped to your characters and used during either Mercenaries or the main campaign. Perks include mostly obvious things like improved aiming, reduced recoil, improved firearm damage and the ability to find more ammo or skill points used to level up or unlock more perks. As a means of tailoring the characters to your individual play style or situation at least on paper is a great idea. However in practice most of the available perks feel superfluous. What’s the point in doing extra damage to one type of enemy when you can just level up gun damage? What’s the use of fast reloading when the available slot could be taken up by being given additional stamina or more ammo drops.
Agent Hunt is unlocked after completing one of the three main campaigns and works like a cross between Vs mode in Left 4 Dead and becoming a dark phantom in Demon Souls. You invade someone else’s current game in progress as one of the monsters attacking them. Each of the various beasts you control are varied and a lot of fun and mutating into some of the harder to kill creatures is great for helping to turn the tide of a fight.
Although I did die a lot it didn’t matter because you quickly respawn as another member of the horde. Play continues until the other player dies. This means that games either last a long time or are incredibly short depending on how much health the host player had when you turned up and how skilled they are. I actually found myself having more fun when I was getting my ass kicked than winning, if I win its game over for both of us. As soon as you do you get sent back out to invade someone else’s game. Only problem being that often it was hard to find a game in the first place so winning basically meant that you’d have to spend a long time trying to find a new game afterward. Despite this, I’d say it’s almost worth suffering through the main game to unlock this added treat.
But how does the game actually play? Mechanically the controls are responsive and fairly organic. The characters are much more manoeuvrable than in previous instalments and now have the ability to move and shoot as well as dive back and fire from the ground. However aiming is incredibly floaty, the range of weapons varies wildly and recoil can be a real problem when trying to make multiple shots.
This can be rectified to some extent by levelling up your characters with skill points earned throughout the campaign and Mercenaries mode that are collected from fallen enemies. While playing I thought why would this be happening? Surely a group made up of Government Agents, Soldiers and a Mercenary would have received plenty of fire arms training.
Melee attacks have also been reworked and can be used at any time. Generally they help to mix up the combat as well as get you out of a tight pinch or save bullets on downed enemies by stomping on them. This is tied to a new stamina system which for the most part you may as well ignore. So long as you aren’t near death chances are it will regenerate quickly enough to enable you to continue to kick the infected to your heart’s content.
However when you are close to death don’t even attempt melee. Your character will flail about like a drunk and the slightest tap from anything will kill you, resulting in some incredibly poor death scenes. Yes, occasionally something cinematic may happen during your demise, but this is now the exception. Deaths by flailing arms or stray bullets are much more likely than being dragged away or torn apart. The character just crumples on the floor.
There’s been a lot of talk about the game’s attempt to go after the CoD crowd. I don’t agree with this assumption, What’s more likely is that they were going after a different set of Resident Evil fans. Namely those of the movies which have managed to garner a following in their own right and revenues that eclipse that of the game series which spawned them. The best way to describe them is as an action heavy string of set pieces that vaguely imitate some of the more memorable aspects of the Resident Evil games. This description also fits Resident Evil 6 perfectly. The Hollywood virus has infected the original series in a half arsed attempt at uniting the two disparate fan bases.
As it stands Resident Evil 6 is a missed opportunity. It’s an ambitious game. But it lacks focus. It’s three main campaigns attempt to reinvent and expand on earlier entries in the series, however each of them end up feeling like a shallow imitator. The set pieces that have mostly been ripped from older games and rejiggered lack the punch they once did because they feel shoe horned in. Capcom’s attempt to create an experience that pleases everyone although noble has proven to be misguided. Rather than trying to find a balance between the two like Resident Evil 4 Successfully managed, we are left with an action game without the accuracy of control demanded by the genre and a horror game with monsters galore but absolutely no tension.