Genre: Other Developer: Publisher: Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 4th Oct 2012 Platforms:
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It's not even about "being a Resident Evil game". I accept that franchises change and evolve over time, as key members of companies leave and the creative vision gets muddied. A mutated creature like Resident Evil, which has expanded into films and become quite an iconic part of zombie culture, can’t help but blink a little in the spotlight and get confused as to its future direction. Resident Evil 6 is an easy target, a convenient scapegoat for game critics to focus their frustrations on. “Look at the silly Japanese game developers and their backwards ways. Hahaha!” While there are certainly some major problems, I don’t think there’s anything here that isn’t also present in a lot of Western-developed games, and to wave off RE6’s idiosyncrasies as a sign of Japanese confusion is fairly lazy (and more than a little racist).
You can approach RE6 multiple ways. Split into character-specific chapters that intersect during certain moments, there’s no direction given to the order in which you should play each chapter. Going through each character’s campaign does little to highlight the moments when all of the stories combine, so it’s worthwhile having a bit of a search online as to the best order for the story to make the most sense – if the story is even important to you. Everything is presented in high-budget, cinematic detail, with lots of “We need to get to X, just because” moments and plenty of side characters needing saving. Resident Evil 6 is a stuffed pillow case hanging on the mantelpiece on Christmas day, except that your initial excitement at seeing such a bulging bevy of gifts soon turns to dismay as you realise that your parents simply raided The Two Buck Shop.
Everything in RE6 is vacuous and meaningless, but then the same is true for a lot of games and in all fairness there is a large amount to wade through. Each chapter alone can take an hour or two to complete, and with four character campaigns, each with five chapters per character, you’re looking at a massive investment. The campaigns themselves are not terrible, per se, just extremely wonky. The opening prologue is a whole lot of QTE bullcrap, but then Leon’s campaign, if you simply work through the menu from the top, offers something much more akin to RE5 in terms of pacing. The environments are all generally quite well presented, comprised of uncomfortable tableaus of violence and abandoned milieu, although the engine sure is showing its age. Some parts of the game simply do not work, however. For instance, the snowmobile “ride”in Jake’s second chapter is ridiculous, causing death after death simply because the mechanics suck. It’s like the driving sections of the Alone in the Dark remake all over again. Jake is meant to be a hand-to-hand expert, but his moves are limited and completely open to being interrupted by firing enemies. This makes some his chapters almost unplayable.
The most apparent change to the Resident Evil formula is a stronger focus on melee, which will divide fans. On the one hand, it’s cool to be a potent zombie killer if you run out of bullets, but on the other it just doesn’t feel right to be approaching zombies head on when the entire series has always been about running away if you can’t handle a mob. They’re not strictly all zombies here, either, but go by the name of J’avo, spin-off victims from the new C-virus. Playable characters now have a stamina meter which depletes as you enact melee moves via pressing R1 (we reviewed on PS3). Zombies require several roundhouse kicks before dying and you can also stomp on their heads while they are floorbound. Defeated undead disintegrate quickly but almost always leave in their wake a random gift, be it ammo or skill points. In this way, the zombies become farmable as you conserve ammo and negotiate their slow-moving attacks to grab hold of them and body slam their heads into the pavement. You’ll still often run out of ammo, though, and there are many situations when zombies will just keep respawning in a very one sided war of attrition against you. You’re often better off just running around and waiting for the mission timer to kick in the next cut scene, which only becomes apparent in hindsight.
Skill points are the main enemy drop and they’re fairly useless as far as the first few chapters go. Most only drop 50 or 100 points, with more difficult enemies dropping the odd 1000 jackpot, yet the skills themselves cost upwards of tens of thousands each. You can only have three equipped at a time, so their usefulness is severely questionable. It’s clear that Capcom want this to be a major addictive element of the campaign. You’ll go through the motions of collecting them, but I question the complete absence of a gun shop offering new weapons and upgrades. This aspect of the previous two games provided so much impetus to replay the campaign multiple times.
The co-op experience is as you would expect. Carried over from RE5, the artificial AI does an okay job of following you around when playing solo. They’re pretty good at running over and reviving you if you get knocked down, which happens a lot. The far larger number of zombies in RE6 means that you’ll often wade into the thick of the throng, elbows and legs waving. The tight camera focus also means that it’s difficult to tell when there are enemies to your side or behind, which creates frustrating tension when something inevitably grabs hold of you, instigating yet another QTE (usually waggling the left thumbstick or mashing X). The only interesting new element is Agent Hunt, which allows you to invade another player’s game as an enemy, hunting them down with limited health. This is borrowed from other games, being most recently done well in Dark Souls, but can be a fun distraction and it adds an extra element of danger if you play with your game open to online intruders.
The final arm of this beast is The Mercenaries, which was one of my favourite things about RE4. Many hours were spent setting high scores, perfecting runs and trying to unlock elusive weapons and characters. Here, you once more face off against endlessly spawning enemies in a bid to keep the timer going (by finding and smashing extra time pickups), while you gain points for stringing together kils. Something is missing, though, and even with the steady difficulty level that requires hard work to unlock new maps, you can’t help but feel that Capcom is just going through the motions. High scores and unlocks lack satisfaction and it is frustrating having an entirely different skill menu for Mercenaries, which requires yet another level of grind. It's hard to even find this mode, tucked as it is behind the Extra Content menu.
Resident Evil 6 is as confused and destitute as its zombies, left adrift without any true direction, an action game stuck over the top of a survival horror engine. As it stands, Resident Evil fans will still enjoy the return of so many iconic characters, the high quality story scenes and the zombie-farming gameplay. The melee focus takes time to warm to, but once accepted becomes something of a pace setter. It’s clear that a “bigger is better” mantra was applied here (the development staff at Capcom reportedly topped 600), and you sure do get a lot of game to wade through, but at the loss of any real motivation to do so. The meta game of slowly accruing money and upgrading your weapons is gone, which is a truly hard blow.
I still hold out hope for Resident Evil. I enjoyed the new environments and character situations offered. However, it should have been far more distilled and guided. Less QTEs and melee, more menacing survival horror and more interesting (and useful) skill points would have lifted Resident Evil 6 considerably. Alas, we are left with a confusing, dense mess that satisfies neither existing fans nor a generation raised on the sharply-honed perfection of Gears of War and Call of Duty.