A series just surviving
For a series to receive a sixth instalment, as well as plenty of spin-offs and a blockbuster movie franchise, it has to be doing something right.
Long before The Walking Dead, Nazi Zombies or Zombieland there was Resident Evil; a game that put players in dire situations against legions of the undead. Fast forward to the present, and Capcom delivers a game that offers a lot, but whether it is a lot of what players want is a challenging question.
Every new Resident Evil instalment offers something new, be that the ever fearful Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, the over-the-shoulder perspective from Resident Evil 4, or the enjoyable action elements from Resident Evil 5.
Unfortunately, however, Resident Evil 6 doesn't look to follow along this path of improvement, but instead offers four separate story arcs that culminate towards the end of the game.
Each arc has players following paths that eventually lead to each other but provide different stories and elements about the C-Virus that has seemingly spread around the world.
The days of infected townsfolk in Raccoon City are gone. Bioterrorism has gone global and the DSO (Division of Security Operations) and BSAA (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance) are looking to stop the efforts of Neo Umbrella, who plan to heighten the use of their weapons in warfare.
Starting in Edonia, heading to Tall Oaks and eventually Lanshiang, China the game spans many continents and settings. Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy return, and are joined by Resident Evil 2's Ada Wong and Sherry Burkin. Newcomers include Helena, Leon's comrade throughout the game, Piers, Chris's BSAA partner and Jake, Albert Wesker's son who joins Sherry as the man with the antibodies to cure the C-Virus.
Each character plays a key role in Resident Evil 6, some with a personal vendetta and some just looking to save the world from the big bad.
The game has its fair share of frustrations. The camera is not utilized well and tends to take a sporadic twist, especially in tight spaces or rooms.
Resident Evil 6 adopts Raccoon City's duck and cover mechanic but takes an extreme approach. Players must hold down the left trigger as if aiming and be close to a wall or barrier whilst tapping the A button, which admittedly doesn't sound like too much of a challenge, although in the thick of combat the requirement to hunt multiple buttons to find cover is frustrating.
Even when in cover, popping out and shooting is a complicated task on its own. There is no auto-targeting, which can leave players searching for foes for a few precious seconds whilst exposed. In many cases it's simply not worth using the cover mechanic at all.
Resident Evil 5's punishing Quick Time Events make a return with an increased capacity to raise blood pressure. There are some moments with these events that can leave players wanting to walk away or yell obscenities at their TVs. One scene has Chris waking up and aiming his gun at an enemy who is about to kill Piers. The shot must be very precise otherwise it's game over, the punishment being a repeated cut scene. The QTEs that require players to hit alternative shoulder buttons, as if climbing a rope or steep surface, are infuriating at best and can really test patience. Analogue stick wiggling is especially unwelcome, as big hands can only stick wiggle whilst accidentally hitting the Xbox or PlayStation home buttons. Be prepared to feel disjointed from the action when the home screen interrupts the suspense.
The notion of Resident Evil being a pure survival horror game is lost with this latest incarnation. The elements that players grew up experiencing, such as limited ammo, cheap scares and zombie murmurs around the corner seem to have disappeared. Leon and Helena's campaign is meant to provide the closest survival horror experience but only touches on it slightly with dark corridors and creepy lighting. The fast paced action in the rest of the campaign can be likened to Resident Evil 5, which focused on over-the-top scenarios of near death experiences and guns - lots of guns. Chris and Piers' campaign feels very much like an army shooter in which waves of enemies must be defeated in order to progress to the next room. One of these missions is even called "Duty Calls".
Tailoring Resident Evil to the action-orientated is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as its done right. Unfortunately Resident Evil 6 tries too much in this department and it doesn't quite gel together the way it's supposed to, leaving players wanting a better experience.
It's not all doom and gloom though. There are some elements that make the game an improvement over its predecessors. The health mechanic is good - simply combine herbs as normal and equip them to the designated right bumper button. Any time health is needed, simply tap a the bumper and health will recover one block.
Capcom isn't afraid to insert humour, and one such example sees Chris sitting on a panda-shaped ride in the playground. Of course, he looks like a total ass doing it, and that's all part of the joke. The game also allows the ability to simultaneously shoot and move, although shooting in a stationery position works fine because the shoot and move mechanic is too slow to make a difference. It's better to shoot, run or back away, then shoot again just like in previous titles.
Capcom has also mixed up the enemy types this time around, and apart from standard zombies some campaigns contain the J'arvo, a new human infected enemy that can morph into many different forms. Some sprout emu-like legs making them jump higher to reach players, some turn into flying beasts and some just grow obscure body parts. The design and transformations of these happen in real time and look amazing. Boss type enemies aren't short of talent either with some extreme transformations that put the Autobots and Decepticons to shame. Without spoiling anything, look out for the boss towards the end of Leon and Helena's campaign, it's a bit of a digital art and design done right.
Poor use of voice acting sees many of the NPCs in China speak Cantonese, which is native to Hong Kong. This is a small gripe, but it's akin to setting a game in London and having all the locals speak with an American accent. Apart from that, expect the great cheesy B-grade dialogue and acting that Resident Evil is synonymous with.
Apart from playing the four main campaigns the staple Mercenaries mode is back, pitting players against waves of enemies. The main levelling-up element is saved for the time between chapters, where skill points collected can be used to upgrade skills. This doesn't seem to play a large role in the game and feels tacked on for a slight RPG flavour. A new mode called Agent Hunt has been introduced to give players a chance to enter another player's game as an enemy type. This can be fun as human controlled infected can provide irrational behaviour or something random that players may not be used to.
As a survival horror game, Resident Evil 6 fails on almost every count. As an action game, it could be considered mediocre, and as a combination of the two it's little more than acceptable. If the main Resident Evil series continues along this path many long term survival horror fans will eventually tune out, and those who are keen on fast paced action may be interested to see what the series has in store next time round.
Let's just hope Quick Time Events are removed entirely, and tighter duck-and-cover mechanics become the norm.
Resident Evil 6
For: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Ups: The merging of story arcs is a welcome concept, and the enemy types are beautiful in a grotesque way.
Downs: Combination of elements don't gel, horrible duck and cover mechanics, Quick Time Events are awful.