Game Review: Resident Evil 6 [Xbox 360/PS3/PC]
This is it. With all the Resident Evil media and marketing we’ve faced in the last few months, it’s finally arrived. Resident Evil 6 is here, and never before has Resident Evil been so huge. With 4 campaigns at about 5 hours each, this is the longest Resident Evil game in the history of the franchise. It evokes memories and tones of the older games, the pioneers of what we know now as ‘traditional survival horror’, and sets it with modern touches that inject a well-needed spark back into the franchise.
Director Eiichiro Sasaki, who helmed the Resident Evil: Outbreak two-parter that focussed heavily on multiplayer aspects, has delivered some interesting twists on co-op play by incorporating it into a weaved narrative of four different tales – following the adventures of government agents Leon and Helena, BSAA agents Chris and Piers, Agent Sherry Birkin and mercenary Jake Muller and, of course, tying it all together with the wonderful Ada Wong. You will meet various characters in one campaign, then in the next find yourself as that supporting character, finding out what they were up to before meeting up with your previous campaign characters and what their involvement in the viral mess was. You will never learn the full story by playing only one campaign, as each reveals more pieces of the puzzle until you complete them all and understand the entire tale. Whilst the pacing of the narrative is a little off in parts, it all ties together well to make a rich experience never-before seen in Resident Evil. It is also really fun idea to drop in other people’s campaigns online, whether that’s to assist them in their quest as a supporting hero in the campaign or to spoil their day as a zombie in Agent Hunt mode. Sometimes however, you will find that repeated parts of the campaigns will go on a little too long when you’ve already done them before, even though they’re still fun to play. Jake’s campaign in particular suffers this far too much. But what’s fantastic about the co-op is that there are moments where a great deal of power is given to the second player, so that they’re not just supporting you – they’re kicking major butt. For those of you that prefer to go it alone, the supporting character AI is very much improved from Resident Evil 5 – no longer will they waste a field’s worth of herbs on you if you suffer so much as a splinter, but they remain responsive and attentive (especially when you’re just about to die). Loading times are good, although sometimes the placement of extremely short cutscenes will draw you out of the experience as they are sandwiched between loading screens.
A new route guide will help you navigate the areas, but may ruin the experience for some who prefer to explore, in which case it is possible to turn off this option. However, if you get lost and change your mind, tapping L2/Left Trigger will give you a pointer in a Batman: Arkham City Detective Mode-esque filter. Also new to the gameplay is the ability to move whilst aiming your gun (long overdue and very welcome), a dodge manoeuvre which will help you escape the various tentacles sent your way and dashing and sliding abilities that complement the faster pace of modern Resident Evil. The cover system has been revamped since its inclusion in Resident Evil 5, but unfortunately it isn’t particularly fluid in its controls. In Leon’s campaign especially, the cover system steals away the fear of what may be hiding around the corner which has been a quintessential part of Resident Evil scares for the past 15 years. Quick time events are heavily emphasised in the game, and whilst this allows for interaction in the Uncharted-like cinematic moments of the game they definitely feel overused. There is also a melee function that will make guns feel somewhat redundant unless you are overwhelmed by monsters or run out of stamina, but they make for powerful, fun, satisfying kills.
The game generally controls fluidly, the new action moves feel effortlessly awesome, and it is now easier to select weapons (with a simple tap of the directional buttons) and heal (just by pressing R2/Right Trigger) than ever before. There is always still the challenge of having time to combine herbs and store them in your case before a zombie eats you, which makes for a nice compromise for the easier controls to maintain the tension mid-battle. The gunplay is also pretty smooth, and whilst shaky handling from your character can make it a little difficult to aim at times there are a really fun array of guns at your disposal, and interestingly you can no longer buy guns since you find them in the campaigns. Bringing back this aspect of the classic games really adds a challenge as you are forced to make do with what you have once again, rather than stocking up all your coins to buy a portable arsenal as you could in Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. The gameplay isn’t without its flaws, however. It can take far too many bullets to kill a simple zombie, but then will unexplainably simply die after a tap of the melee button. Sometimes during the high action battles vehicles will blast into the scene from unexpected directions with no advance warning, leading to frustration and a number of retries. Often just after you’ve been healed or revived after being in the danger/dying mode, there will be no time for you to move or react before something else attacks you and puts you back on death’s door.
The menus, designed differently in each campaign, can be a little hard to get used to – particularly Chris’ rather odd circular version- and seem to have been created for aesthetic rather than practicality. They feel a little clumsy and initially it can be hard to navigate them. Strangely, you can only pause the game if you set it up as a completely offline game – so if you want to take advantage of the multiplayer features that allow other players to interact as supporting characters in your story, you better be prepared to hold that bathroom break off for a while.
Gone is the gold and the merchant’s store. Skill points are now the new collectable of the series, and gaining enough skill points will allow you to purchase various abilities that you can apply to your characters (greater defence, increased ammo pickup, greater offence etc). There are 8 sets of 3 slots for skill points in total, so you can create various sets of abilities that suit your play style and will assist you in specific campaigns. They can address your weaknesses (finding it hard to break away from a zombie’s grasp? There’s a skill to make that easier) and affirm your strengths and favoured weaponry (use the shotgun most? There’s a skill to help you collect more shotgun ammo). These customised abilities make for an interesting addition to the gameplay and will greatly help you in your journey. You won’t be able to upgrade your guns anymore, but once you’ve cleared every campaign you will be able to unlock the infinite ammo skills, which are available for purchase with skill points.
The visuals are hit and miss – sometimes facial models, landscapes and cutscenes will look absolutely stunning, but then are ruined by some atrociously sloppy graphics that will leave you considering how and why Resident Evil 4 looked better than some parts of Resident Evil 6. Often this is due to pixelated, shoddy textures (particularly on the ground) and flat objects in the background (from bottles in a bar to floating petals in a pool to wires on the ground). Occasionally textures pop in, and there are many instances of clipping. While the lighting is gorgeous, the overall image is sometimes way too dark to see what you’re doing (even when you turn the brightness in the game all the way to the maximum, you may still need to adjust the brightness on your TV set). Many corners were cut in the visuals department, and it’s incredibly frustrating for a series that was once a pioneer in its graphics and technical ability. The worst problem of all in terms of visuals, however, is the camera. It will often let you get killed as the angles change during a cinematic chase sequence, since it gets stuck in a wall. It is a very awkward design decision that will cause a lot of irritation. The sound design, however, is absolutely top-notch as creepy groaning sounds will have you squirming in fear. The music sets the dark tone perfectly to complement the scares and tension whilst remaining grand to capture the sense of the huge, movie-like experience of Resident Evil 6.
Leon and Helena’s campaign opens with a dark, slower paced sequence set in Tall Oaks University, reminiscent of the classic Resident Evil days with its long corridors, sudden lightning flashes and creepy piano music playing from afar. Zombies have finally made their long-awaited return to the series (and they look fantastic). “It’s Raccoon City all over again”, Leon exclaims. “My first day as a cop and already I’m in a shootout!” complains a survivor fighting off a zombie horde in the middle of outbreak-torn Tall Oaks. So far, so nostalgic. Whilst it’s genuinely tense and scary, the very linear nature of this sequence doesn’t allow for much exploration, which was one of the aspects of the old games that built up a lot of tension and suspense. Capcom had portrayed this campaign as traditional survival horror, which it doesn’t seem to maintain in the later half of the game the darker tone becomes high-octane action. It’s interesting to think about how the classic slow suspense made every single zombie a terrifying threat in the older games, when thousands are now at your disposal to mow down in the newer games and never really feel much of a threat, creepy as they are (just like every other modern zombie game out there). Resident Evil 5‘s Lost in Nightmares DLC began to recreate the older tone with a modern twist, and it’s a shame that it couldn’t be fully realised in Resident Evil 6 too to create the fully eerie effect. Despite the gripping first scene and an interesting town sequence reminiscent of Resident Evil: Outbreak, the first chapter and a half is a little tedious, particularly during dull sequences set in an underground train tunnel and a cathedral cemetery. But those who stick with the game will be rewarded with a campaign that crescendos into a fantastic Resident Evil 4-like experience complete with eerie settings, some interesting puzzles and some brilliant enemies. It’s the best campaign of the lot. Leon S. Kennedy is back and at his butt-kicking best. He is joined by agent Helena Harper, a character very reminiscent of the guilt-ridden Angela from Resident Evil: Degeneration (coincidentally, they both share the same voice actress), who, with a little more development to her story, would’ve earned the sympathy and emotion her character deserved. But the two of them have great chemistry, and you will have a blast with them in their campaign.
Chris and Piers’ campaign is certainly more action focussed, but don’t let that put you off if you’re a fan of traditional Resident Evil. Their adventure is a definite improvement on Resident Evil 5 – better partner AI, dark and creepy settings, challenging new level designs that get you up close and personal with the monsters – setting the perfect horror vibes combined with plenty of gunplay. The new action moves added to Resident Evil 6 – sliding, dodging and shooting whilst moving – complements this style extremely well, but despite all your physical advantages you still have to conserve your ammo and navigate some of the narrow streets and alleys filled with J’avo zombies and other grisly creatures – including a terrifying new take on Resident Evil 4′s Regenerador, known as the ‘Rasklapanje’, that will have you panicking. There is also a new side to Chris Redfield that we haven’t seen before, which thankfully adds a lot of personality to his increasingly robotic character (most Resident Evil heroes are the same cheesy musclebound, righteous do-gooders – as much as we love them). Piers Nivans, another new character to the franchise, unfortunately isn’t as well developed with his lacking personality.
Weakest of all the campaigns is Jake and Sherry’s. Whilst there is an intriguing irony in the pairing of our heroes Jake Muller and Sherry Birkin (children of two former prominent Umbrella scientists, Albert Wesker and William Birkin, who once worked together and were villains of previous titles), their relationship isn’t particularly interesting and are hard to find engaging. Whilst Leon’s campaign was clearly focussed on older survival horror and Chris’ was focussed on modern action horror, this campaign feels a little muddled in its tone and style – slow, gritty and suspenseful one second, ridiculously over-the-top next. There are moments in this campaign that are some of the best in the entire game, such as a gunfight in a snowstorm, escaping a white-walled clinical facility with barely any weaponry and a quiet stealth sequence in an icy cave. But these are let down by some of the ludicrous set pieces and events, such as escaping a massive avalanche on a snowmobile and an overblown motorbike getaway scene in China. Our heroes are pursued throughout the game by a B.O.W. known as the Ustanak, deliberately bearing a large resemblance to the classic Resident Evil monster Nemesis T-Type. Whilst the Ustanak is a tough enemy that will have you scrambling in a panic, the extremely linear campaign means that his scenes are entirely set up for the player, meaning that you only have to fight him in that scene and then move on to the new section in which old enemies don’t always follow. In Resident Evil 3, the Nemesis T-Type would pursue you almost without warning, and – aside from his boss fights – the player would have to run away on their own until he stopped following. There was no indication of the chase scenes ending or new areas to hide in, as the old games included a lot of backtracking. Whilst Resident Evil 6′s method is far more cinematic, it doesn’t create the same sense of fear and isolation that Resident Evil 3 did. As a result, the Ustanak will never have the same presence or strike the same terror as the Nemesis.
An unlockable campaign featuring the femme fatale spy Ada Wong is still fairly heavy on the action but features an experience that fans of the older games were looking for, perhaps including even more traditional survival horror elements than Leon’s campaign. Many scenes of her story will make your nostalgia senses tingle with happiness – puzzles necessary to get to the next part of the game, finding various keys and even a section where your route guide will not help you much as you are forced to explore an eerie facility to find passcodes. Ada is a lone wolf who likes to keep out of the spotlight, so her campaign is the only available in single player, and your isolation is emphasised by the narrow corridors and streets you travel through populated with Neo-Umbrella nasties. Unfortunately her experience is a little let down by the last chapter in which she is mostly just a supporting character, but these scenes are still really fun to play.
With the welcome return of zombies and the introduction of the J’avo (like Ganados and Majini on speed), the ensemble of monsters is a little messy. Whilst some are brilliant nods to famous Resident Evil mutations (such as the Hunter-like Napads or the Regenerador-like Rasklapanje) and some new additions – such as the Shrieker – are very freaky, others seem to unfortunately fall into the lazy blobs-on-legs category. The Ubistvo is a very lazy enemy, rehashing Dr Salvador and the Chainsaw Majini before it, and is especially dubious in its organic chainsaw feature. However, the boss fights are particularly fun and memorable, many of which will remind you of some of the classic creatures of Resident Evil like Alexia Ashford, Yawn and Neptune.
The Versus mode included in Resident Evil 5 has not made its way over to Resident Evil 6, but you can still fight other players in the new mode Agent Hunt. In Agent Hunt, you can drop into another player’s campaign as a monster and try to take them down. It’s a really intriguing idea on paper, but suffers appalling execution. Whilst we all knew zombies were slow, the animation time for an attack is so long, and the zombie’s movements are so clumsy, that it is almost impossible to land an attack on the hero players. Even as the faster, military-minded J’avo this can become a consistent problem. Most of the time, if you win a match, it’s because the AI zombie bots did the job for you. Series regular The Mercenaries however is better than ever and a joy to play with a friend as you battle your way through zombie hordes. The maps include testing narrow passages that will definitely force players to step up their game as they become filled with the relentless undead, and you will experience the challenge of reserving your ammo as you become overwhelmed by monsters. There will be 3 more modes available as DLC, coming first to Xbox 360 and at a later date for PS3 and PC gamers – Siege, Predator and Survivors.
Whilst Resident Evil 6 is definitely a flawed game, it is certainly an improvement on Resident Evil 5 and is also a step back towards Resident Evil’s traditional horror roots that will please fans of the older games. It was said shortly after Resident Evil 5‘s release that Resident Evil 6 could take up to 8 years to make, and whilst hungry fans may be happy that it has in fact only taken 3, it does feel a little rushed in places and could’ve taken the extra time – maybe another year – to iron out some of the technical and storytelling problems it suffers. It is overall, however, an absolutely solid experience with a lot of fun and frights to be had, a breath of fresh air for the series and a step in the right direction for the franchise.