I find it a bit difficult to believe that, fifteen years ago, Capcom released the first Resident Evil game. I was just entering puberty when the M-rated horror title hit the Sony Playstation and, when I finally got my hands on it a couple years post-launch it damn near terrified me. To this day I cannot go back to the original, Playstation version of the first game, as it scared me quite a bit more than my 13 year old mind could accept, not to mention my 27 year old self today. After getting over most of my fears with Resident Evil 2 I quickly embraced the series, enjoying every core title in the series and looking forward to the next entry that was just around the corner.
Fifteen years on however, many things have changed. Gone are the design paradigms Shinji Mikami originally set out with strict camera angles, open world gameplay, ammunition scarcity and so much more that made every Resident Evil title from 1996 to 2002. In their stead we have third-person, player-controlled cameras, linear gameplay design and more than enough ammo to take out the dozen or so enemies that you encounter in every area you visit. Resident Evil may have begun as a series designed to keep the player on the edge of their seat, waiting for the next big scare but with the arrival of Resident Evil 4 the saga completely changed, focusing on cinematic action and weapon-wielding, intelligent human enemies.
The second core title in the series to be released since Shinji Mikami’s departure in 2006, Resident Evil 6 marks the last Resident Evil of this console generation. With the design lessons learned from entries four and five, can this sixth installment continue the tradition of exceptionalism we’ve come to expect from this decade and a half old series?
Title: Resident Evil 6
Release Date: October 2, 2012 (PC, 360, PS3)
A Resurrection of Evil
Three years after a superhuman Albert Wesker was stopped from transforming our world into a planet of Uroboros-mutated monsters, the threat of bioterrorism has reached near pandemic levels. A new infection, known as the C-Virus, has become weaponized and is being used in major military conflicts such as Edonia, an Eastern European nation in the middle of a civil war and the site of where Resident Evil 6 begins. Composed of four separate campaigns (the fourth is unlocked after completing the first three), Resident Evil 6 follows two heroes per campaign, each with separate paths and endings for each set of heroes, albeit with intersections between them all at different points throughout the story.
Chronologically, our story begins on Christmas Eve, 2012, with a new character: Jake Muller, a mercenary whose platoon has been hired by the local Edonian rebels. Muller’s platoon is equipped with stimulant injectors which turn out to actually be C-Virus containers, turning them into J’avo (pronounced jue-wha-voe, a Serbo-Croation word meaning ‘devil’), soldiers with mutation abilities similar to the victims of Las Palagas and Uroboros. Muller is forced to fight off his fellow soldiers after his injection doesn’t work on him and, shortly thereafter, encounters United States DSO agent Sherry Birkin. Birkin, the grown-up daughter of G-Virus creator Dr. William Birkin, reveals that Muller’s own antibodies are impervious to the effects of the C-Virus and could be a cure for the new pathogen. Jake, being a mercenary, offers his blood up provided he is compensated handsomely. Of note you will find that this campaign is a bit reminiscent of Resident Evil 3 as the pair are continuously stalked by an enemy called the Ustanak, a towering foe not unlike a cross between an El Gigante and Nemesis on steroids.
Chris Redfield’s campaign begins six months later in June of 2013 in Lanshiang, China. Brought out of retirement by BSAA member and former subordinate Piers Nivans (owner of the single most ridiculous name this year), Chris and crew are charged with countering a J’avo terrorist attack that is gripping the city. There’s more to this threat than just a J’avo incursion however as Chris and Piers find out early on. This campaign plays out quite a bit like Resident Evil 5, heavy on the action and frequent player-on-player support sequences.
Leon Kennedy and new protagonist Helena Harper’s story begins a day before Redfield’s, in the American city of Tall Oaks. A sudden outbreak of the C-Virus outbreak occurs during US President Benford’s speech where he had planned to bring to light the events that took place during the Raccoon City incident and the subsequent death of the Umbrella Corporation. With the President dead and Helena hiding secrets from Leon about the cause of the outbreak, the two must struggle to survive the outbreak that has engulfed the city, a stark reflection of what he experienced fifteen years before. This campaign plays tribute to Resident Evil 4 and, of the three main campaigns, leans the most toward a core RE experience.
One final campaign is made available after having completed and since it’s already been widely reported as to what it is I’ll just come out and say it. Starring elusive mystery woman Ada Wong, everyone’s favorite red dress-wearing protagonist(?) gets her own campaign that, unlike the others, does not come with a partner and is therefore a singleplayer only experience. Ada’s campaign serves as a kind of ‘best of’ experience, exploring levels and areas previously seen in the other three stories albeit from a different perspective.
As stated before, each campaign occurs mostly in parallel to one another with several intersecting points between each one, though all three never come together at any one time. Each consists of five chapters measuring between an hour or two to complete. I can confirm that the overall length of the game takes at least 18-20 hours to complete so it is fairly lengthy, especially for a title like this these days.
The problems with Resident Evil 6’s story don’t necessarily pertain to its length however. More so, it seems that it is the way the story is presented. Each campaign is completely separate with their own endings so you never tradeoff between the three sets of heroes. Because of this you don’t really get a sense for the overall story until you begin Ada’s story. Ada’s experience wraps everything together but, after being provided with three separate stories with their own endings and very little closure between them, looking back, I can’t help but feel that we are told far too little in the Leon, Chris and Jake’s stories.
This is made even duller by just how little story is presented to us. Each campaign begins in medias res, giving next to nothing in background as to your current situation and what has been leading up to it. Capcom somewhere along the line also decided to get rid of one of the series’ staple features: books, journals and notes that can be found littered around the environment. These really added to the overall world of the previous seven games, giving depth to events and establishing an emotional tone for just what is going on. Even beyond the confines of the story they were at the heart of many of the puzzles in the game and gave context to characters and bosses. Without these you are left with an environment in which the player is forced to just go with the flow, missing one of the primary driving forces that get a player to go from point A to point B. These items, though small, add to the overall scope of a good story and their disappointing removal from Resident Evil 6 not only harms the overall narrative but it also sets forth a terrible precedent for what will follow with the next eventual sequel. People don’t just come to Resident Evil for the gameplay, Capcom, they also care about the universe it is set in.
As it stands, the structure of the three campaign system is an overall disappointing experience. Had they been told chronologically or perhaps jumped from one perspective to another Resident Evil 6’s story could have been far more discernible, if not entertaining. In its current state though the story just isn’t satisfying.
A New Horrorless Paradigm
Resident Evil has changed dramatically over the past decade and a half but while the stories have remained a strong, interesting narrative (until this title), what has shifted dramatically is the variety of gameplay to be found across all the titles. For the core, numerated titles of the series, Capcom chose with Resident Evil 4 to go with a behind the shoulder, third-person view with tight controls that were reminiscent of the tank controls that were typical of the first five titles in the series. Resident Evil 6, takes this trend to its logical conclusion. This reviewer believes it is more than fair to announce that, with the arrival of this title (should this be indicative of the core experience going forward) that Resident Evil is now a third-person shooter. Yuck.
The shift towards third-person shooting is made quite clear thanks to Capcom’s alterations to the control scheme. The camera, for example, is now unlocked and allows the player to pan it around their character in almost any direction (save for directly up). Players can now run by default instead of having to hold a button down which now substitutes as a sprint feature. Players can now switch over-the-shoulder perspectives to get a better view of what they are looking at. Even the movement has changed, allowing you to move a bit more freely in the direction you want to though not nearly free enough to justify the transition. To explain, allow me to offer this example: it took me ten seconds to proper align my character to open a box in a room. This new movement scheme, at times, can be quite annoying.
The transition from survival horror to survival action in the form of a third-person shooter could not have been made more certain than when you take a look at the combat and the pacing thereof. Thanks to the new movement controls players can now run, sprint and even dive and roll to avoid attacking enemies. A new quickshot option has been made available so you don’t have to even aim in order to fire off a bullet. Several weapons in the game now feature alternate fire modes such as a grenade launcher on your assault rifle or even multiple firing rates for a pistol. Players can now move while shooting, an item many have asked for since Resident Evil 4. Melee combat has been introduced alongside a stamina bar which the player can utilize to do combination attacks that previously required precise timing and were massively effective when done properly. These features certainly lend credit toward being a shooter-oriented title but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Beneath the water’s edge of this potential ship wreaker is a plethora of different gameplay design compromises and regrettable choices; the game’s pacing is right at the top of this list. Unlike previous entries in the series, Resident Evil 6 allows next to no time to calm moments between encounters with enemies. Previously, calm moments allowed for both the player to prepare for the next area while building tension for what’s just around the corner. This game throws these moments out the window as, save for a few key moments during Leon and Ada’s campaigns, you never are allowed to rest. The game even forces you forward at times, continuously respawning enemies until you either retreat or are killed.
Another big sign of an ill-advised shift in gameplay design: a full cover system. Yes, you read that right, Resident Evil 6 has taken notes from what was accomplished in the two previous titles and added a full cover system to the series. Utilizing a hold-to-cover system akin to Rainbow Six: Vegas, the game allows you to stick to corners for cover by holding down the left trigger. When at a piece of waist-high cover however you have to aim and press another button in order to hide behind it. It’s unfortunate however that the cover system is quite broken. More often than not, strafe shooting near a corner will result in you sticking to it rather than actually allowing you to continue on. The game also has trouble at times figuring out whether you want to crouch behind something or whether you want to vault right over it. Even when firing from cover, your angle of attack is very limited and, quite often, is obscured by your character. Many times throughout the game, this reviewer ended up getting hurt or dying as a result of the cover system being way too sticky for what it should be. It just doesn’t work when and how it should and, given that cover systems have been one of the biggest and most widely used innovations of this generation, it is inexcusable.
The cover system could have been tolerated had your partner AI been worthwhile. As it turns out, despite words coming out of their mouths and being able to aim and shoot, your teammates are about as smart as an expired turnip. They can be relied upon to aim and fire at what is in front of them but anything other than that is simply false hope. Even when teamed up with multiple friendly AIs, I found myself being shot at quite often by a J’avo that all my allies decided to rush past and completely ignore, forcing me to dispose of it in order to move on. I was frequently abandoned to die by my teammate AI as it felt that it was time to move on to a new area. The only saving grace to be had is that they are both damn near indestructible and do have unlimited ammo.
It seems that almost every aspect of the two previous Resident Evil titles have been given a makeover or been redacted entirely in this entry. Gone is any sense of proper inventory management within or outside of gameplay. The economy system has been completely removed and replaced with a create-a-class skill-based system, making the player spend earned skill points found throughout the game on character upgrades that don’t seem noticeable most of the time. Resident Evil 6 even features a segmented regenerative health system, a series first and a detriment to any attempt at retaining any sense of horror.
Capcom, what were you thinking? And, for that matter, what were you on while making this? Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been legal.
Abandoning a Heritage
As I stated before, Resident Evil 6 now plays like a third-person shooter. That being said and despite all the changes to the basic gameplay design that made the fourth and fifth numbered titles so good, does this sixth title still have what it takes to be a solid game? This reviewer is running out of page space but I will address some of the most important features.
Open world gameplay was often been a strong aspect of core Resident Evil titles. Despite being a refinement of what made Shinji Mikami’s departing title so strong, Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar’s adventure in Africa retained many open areas to explore and find things. This new title all but abandons any notion of backtracking or open exploration. Save for a few particular areas in Jake and Chris’ campaigns, the core experience of Resident Evil 6 is a linear corridor crawler that leaves no room for exploration. Strike one.
The feeling of unease that has long been a staple of the series has also been disregarded here. Throughout the course of the game, you never have to fear sudden enemy attacks as only the most dangerous encounters are prefaced by a bounty of ammunition and health items. Beyond that, you always have a sense of control thanks to enemies dropping more than enough ammunition to get the job done. There was not a single encounter in Resident Evil 6 in which this reviewer felt that a situation could not be handled. Capcom seems to have lost sight of this crucial element. Strike two.
These two facets have always tied into the most important element of them all: the horror factor. Resident Evil 6, despite how it may sometimes appear, isn’t a horror game at all. In fact, the final version is far from it. Instead, the game is focused more on "gore porn", trying to gross out the player more than actually present genuine scares. It seems that Capcom is trying to scare the player by producing gross looking enemies and, because they are ugly to look at, Capcom seems to think that you should be afraid of them. No, Capcom, we are not afraid of them. Thanks to almost every gameplay aspect that I mentioned previously, you can be absolutely certain that I am not afraid to take on an Ustanak or any other enemy in the game. Regenerative health, plenty of ammo, and AI that can focus squarely on a boss without the fear of death? There’s nothing to be afraid of here, Capcom, nothing at all. Strike three, you’re out.
The Dethroned King
For fifteen years, Resident Evil has been the poster child for the survival-horror genre. As of October 2nd, 2012, that magnanimous title no longer applies. Somewhere along the line, this project took a turn and went in the wrong direction, one similar to the one that drove this year’s disastrously bad Operation Raccoon City off a cliff. Not only is Resident Evil 6 worthy of the name that made us cringe in fear over the past decade, it can only be called a Resident Evil game in name and story, less so in the latter.
This is certainly not what anybody wanted and it should not be regarded as something Capcom should be proud of. At best, Resident Evil 6 is a mediocre third person shooter with zombies and plenty of unnecessary rail sequences. At worst, it is a detriment to the entire horror genre.
Capcom, it is time to seriously rethink this series. If this is what we will be seeing going forward for the series then this reviewer does not look forward to what will arrive in Resident Evil 7. Reboot it or simply move on. If this is the future of Resident Evil then it would be much better to put the series down now than to let it limp on for another few years.
(Bad – Only a few good qualities are barely noticeable here.)