Game Review

by Dave Riley, Oct 14th 2012

Resident Evil 6

Xbox 360, PS3

Description:
Resident Evil 6
Resident Evil 6 ditches most of the series slow paced and thoughtful gameplay for an all-out action and crams as much of the main cast as it can into four separate campaigns, each as long as the original Resident Evil.
Review:

There's probably too much game here. There's four separate stories, all six+ hours long, each centered around a different theme. One is meant to be more survival horror-like, one is pretty much a cover-based shooter, and one keeps forcing you to run away from this Nemesis stand-in called The Ustanak. Featured are Resident Evil stalwarts like Chris and Leon, along with a couple new faces, and a reappearance from Sherry Birkin, who we last saw in Resident Evil 2 as a 12 year-old acting like a 7 year-old. She's aged, but only proportionately: now in her late-20s Sherry looks and acts like a teenager, despite her promotion to "United States Special Agent." Claire is mentioned, but nowhere to be seen. Sheva receives not even one cast-off line of dialogue, despite her promise with Chris of "partners 'til the end [of Resident Evil 5 and no further, apparently]."

Everyone involved is very stern-faced and stoic in the face of some very serious global bioterrorism. Jokes about the absurdity of the situation are severely curtailed and there isn't a pantalooned Napoleon-statured antagonist in sight. There are one or two moments of decent pathos, but usually the writing thrashes blindly about, groping for sympathy it has not earned. Chris Redfield is now an alcoholic (and an amnesiac?) because the writers wanted to tell a grim and gritty story about a drunk soldier suffering from PTSD, so they slotted Chris into the role. But that doesn't really gel with our picture of him, or Resident Evil as a whole, because we still remember Chris punching a boulder into submission and kicking an anthropomorphic leech man into a sea of lava. There's nary a hint of the satire or insanity of previous Resident Evil games so, without the leavening absurdity of a brain-controlled Jill Valentine in a bird mask, Resident Evil 6's relentlessly dark tone is exasperating more often than it is intriguing.

The plot is in no way complicated or indecipherable, but the dour tone makes it harder to excuse than previous, sillier games. In the middle of Leon's campaign a high-ranking government agent is revealed to have double-crossed the heroes before he even appears on screen. This is treated as a plot twist, but how can it be a plot twist when this character did not previously exist in the plot? Ada Wong's writing is so poor and her voice acting is so flat and affectless that dialogue meant to come off as sanguine makes her sound more like a psychopath.

And all that would have been fine, because lord knows few people come to Resident Evil for the plot, if there were more than a handful of exciting moments amid the slog of samey shooting bits and awkward melee combat. They have taken what is generally thought of as the worst part of Resident Evil 5 -- the slew of gun-toting, RPG-firing soldiers towards the end -- and made an entire game out of it. This preponderance of ranged enemies completely changes the pacing of combat. At any moment a salvo of bullets can land you on your ass, forcing an uninterruptable recovery animation (during which you are still vulnerable to attack). Gunplay is made frustrating because it's a crap-shoot whether or not the enemies will react to your bullets, even when shot in the head. Compared to your ceaseless vulnerability, your opponents may continue to spray their guns at you (and put you back on the ground) even when riddled with bullets, so firing fast shots without regard to accuracy is the prefered method of play.

Ammo is far more prevalent than previous games but not unlimited, so the player feels forced into melee in order to remain efficient. Close combat at once feels completely overpowered, since you no longer need to stun the enemy with a headshot first, but also annoying to use, because you'll often end up karate chopping and kicking at thin air. Auto-aimed shots, which are stronger than manually aimed ones and only nominally limited by a stamina bar, are fired by pressing both triggers at the same time. Can there be a more damning show of no confidence in your game mechanics than explicitly allowing the player to subvert them? Characters can slide, roll, jump-kick, and do a whole host of other things that Resident Evil characters have never been able to do, but they do so at the expense of almost entirely ditching the deliberate "crowd control" mentality of RE combat. In its stead is a far more fast-paced and almost purely action experience.

And even that wouldn't be so bad, but the game is mired in slapdash QTEs and fixed-camera chase sequences. These are things we recognize from Resident Evil 4, but in phenomenally greater numbers and without a hint of that game's finesse. Button prompts come at you with "blink and you'll miss it" speeds and failure is usually fatal. We could excuse them for these "gotcha!" moments if the split-second margins on timing didn't make repeat screw-ups basically inevitable. Furthermore, a QTE struggle will sometimes tie up one character while the other has nothing to do but stare at the screen or run around in circles, leading to absurd situations where Leon picks his nose while his partner gets her face sheared off by an exhaust fan. Camera control is stubbornly wrested away from you at every opportunity, whether it be for another "run towards the screen" sequence (the game clocks nearly a dozen of them) or just so you can spend twenty seconds staring at the next objective marker.

This shift in mindset is also evinced by the utter lack of exploration. When the fighting is over in a given area there really isn't much else to do. Combat zones are very small, with few nooks and crannies to uncover, and more often than not the game is slavering behind you, waiting for the next scripted sequence, begging to take control of your character and the camera, and the design of environment is telling you nothing less than "hurry up" or "go this way" or "there probably isn't anything interesting to see here." And you know what? There almost never is. For all the neon lights in China and crumbling castles of Europe, there is rarely a ladder in Resident Evil 6 that hides a secret treasure chest, and there is never a moment on par with shooting down a lantern in RE4 and seeing a cave-full of collectible gemstones glistening back at you from the darkness.

There are still crates and boxes to smash, but in much fewer number and with the far less satisfying currency to collect. Instead of upgrading weapons a character now buys and sets a layout of three skills. The difference should be semantic, but there's only a couple skills that are worth a damn and any set of three can be maxed out in about a campaign and a half. After that there's nothing to look forward to. You will eventually have eight templates to swap between, though it's hard to imagine many situations where you'd be better served with esoteric skills like "sniper zoom" over broader ones like "attack up." Being offered eight loadouts when you barely need (or want) one seems like some designer's bad joke.

This is a far cry than the economy of Resident Evil 4 and 5, where money acted as a de facto limiter of what weapons could be equipped. Since a character could rarely afford to upgrade a shotgun and a pistol and a machinegun and a sniper rifle, money spent between levels dictated a player's style far more than RE6's handful of milquetoast character skills. This, combined with a limitless weapon inventory, means every character has every one of their weapons equipped at all times, and each one functions at peak efficiency. This leads to a miserable homogeneity, where each gun feels equally suited to every task. The best weapon to use for a job is almost always the one you have currently equipped, because you are always, exhaustingly, at risk from ranged attacks and time spent shuffling through your inventory only exposes you to further damage.

If you charted a graph of previous games, you would see moments of extreme intensity (the village square, the execution plaza) followed by exploratory sections of relative calm. Even in Leon's campaign, the one made to hew close to older games, the latter are mostly absent. When they do exist they are usually marred by infinitely spawning enemies. In their place are setpieces: a clunky vehicle mission, a cumbersome and easily failed running sequence. Resident Evil 6 never seems sure of itself enough to slow down. There is always a character who must be caught right this second or a sample that must be retrieved yesterday. Nothing is ever finished, there is never time to rest. You are always forced into the next moment, and the next moment, and the next moment. The game is never confident in leaving its players to their own devices. There must always be something better, there must always be something more.

That is why people say Resident Evil 6 is too much like Call of Duty. It's not because there aren't enough zombies, and it's not because it's too "American" or too "Western." It's because the game never slows down, never stops, and is never finished showing you the next cool thing, even when "the next cool" thing has worn out its welcome. A boss in Leon's campaign must be stunned with bullets then finished off with a melee Quick Time Event. Only, here, "finished off" is a hopelessly, hilariously cruel phrasing, because this pattern repeats, and repeats, and repeats, ten times or more, until one gets the idea that all of this -- the QTEs, the Indiana Jones boulder chases, the vehicle missions -- have been plugged into the game because they were fast and they were easy to make, and that's why there are so many of them, and that's why none of them are very good. A boss in Chris's campaign begins with yet another poorly signposted running sequence. When you're through it -- and it'll take a few tries before you get the timing right -- and you can finally shoot him, and you kill him, you're forced into another scripted running sequence. When it's finally done you think "thank god that's over, because I never want to do that again." And why would you want to do it again, when half of the boss fight is holding the analog stick in a single direction and occasionally pushing a button to dodge? What other facets of that are there to experience? What other strategies could you try? What other depths could you plumb?

There's still a Mercenaries mode and it averts most of the campaign's problems, as expected. Mercenaries has never featured QTE cut-ins or vehicle missions, and without them the game becomes far more palatable. The lack of weapon upgrades isn't a problem because Mercenaries was never about upgrading weapons, and the Mercenaries-only skill sets are a bit more interesting than the ones in the main game. But the shooting is still mushy, and the enemies still knock you down constantly, and the bevy of dodge-rolls and firing-while-prone maneuvers are occasionally useful, but rarely have any purpose beyond looking cool. That's what this game does wrong: it assumes that "cool" is job one. It assumes that all anyone wants is action on top of action. They must, because that's what sells Call of Duty and Michael Bay movies.

But we weren't buying Resident Evil games because they were paced like Call of Duty, we were buying them because they were different.

Resident Evil 6 does have its hints of inspiration, like constantly mutating enemies who may become stronger, or more agile, or more resilient when you remove one of their limbs. It has a great idea in pairing you up with other players when storylines intersect, so that a 2 person game becomes a 4 person game, and the Chris you meet when playing as Leon is not an NPC, but an actual person somewhere out there who happened to be at the same boss fight at the same time. Enthusiasm for these things is difficult to muster, stultified by the conga line of scripted events. Interesting segments exist, but they are in tiny bits and pieces, and the rest of the game is the part where you think "thank god that's over, I never want to do that again."

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : D+
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : C-
Gameplay : C-
Presentation : D-

+ Some semblance of the tried-and-true Resident Evil mechanics remains and contributes to a handful of exciting sequences
Game mired by poorly designed instant-kill moments, also ditches many beloved traits, like the weapon upgrade system.

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