MattFini Survived Resident Evil 6...And Why You Should Care
Resident Evil was the watershed gaming event for horror fans. How many people, upon seeing that sucker, decided it was time to buy a PlayStation? Finally there was a video game that wonderfully captured the atmosphere and sentiment of our beloved genre. With a wonderfully simple premise (A SWAT-esque team on a rescue mission gone awry), oodles of spooky atmosphere and jaw-dropping blood and guts, it was everything we could’ve wanted in a console experience.
Hard to believe that was nearly twenty years ago. In that time we’ve had numerous sequels, next-gen remakes, spin-offs, an enduring movie franchise and much more. As far as video games go, it’s hard to find a legacy as enduring as Resident Evil. Which brings us to Resident Evil 6 - the most recent entry in the series, released on both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 this past October. As a longtime fan of these games, I bought it the day it was released but never found the time to play it. Now that I’ve finally finished it, I thought I might weigh in on the most 'controversial' title in the long-running franchise.
At launch, it was surprising to see such a divisive reaction for an AAA title. Some critics praised the game’s scope and approach. Others derided it as a mess. Gamers couldn’t come together on much common ground, either. The fast-paced mixture of action and horror had its appeal, but others bemoaned the series’ continued departure from the survival horror subgenre. In fact, a depressing amount of Metacritic user reviews seem unable to take into account anything other than the fact that this game has moved away from its roots (something that has been happening steadily for the last decade of Resident Evil games). I don’t begrudge dissenting opinion but so much goes into crafting a large-scale game like Resident Evil 6 that it’s disappointing to find so many people unable to appreciate what is there, as opposed to what’s not.
Especially when these supposedly missing elements are present throughout Resident Evil 6. They’re done differently, sure, but here’s a game where our characters are constantly scraping by, barely surviving their adventures. This is a game where you’ve got to frantically hammer away at the left and right triggers to outclimb a massive monster nipping at your heels. A game where you’ll frequently find yourself without ammo and forced to either run for your life or battle the, ahem, resident evil with melee attacks. It’s a game that throws you up against seemingly invulnerable bosses, saying ”good luck!” as you search for a way to win. There are numerous moments throughout Resident Evil 6 where the characters are lucky to be alive. Moments that are tight, tense and occasionally scary. Moments that fit this series like a glove.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. For starters, the control scheme feels a bit loose and unpolished. Surely the developers could’ve tightened them up a bit. Certain mechanics, like grabbing cover behind a wall, seem not to work every time, and some surfaces flat-out reject your cover attempts entirely. It’s a function that really needed its own button designation on the controller but Capcom’s insistence of an “always online” gaming experience derives it of that. Because players can potentially join your game anytime, you can no longer pause to sort through your inventory, mix herbs or switch weapons. Instead you do all of that on the move, meaning some of your buttons need to control these menus. The idea of keeping things moving at a steady clip is admirable but there are moments where this becomes incredibly frustrating. Sometimes you need to mix herbs on the fly, or take more than one second to choose a gun once your current firearm runs dry. I died more than once because of these circumstances and it can make for a slightly annoying experience.
Worst of all is the over-abundance of quick time events (QTEs). They come out of nowhere; so unless your hand-eye coordination is akin to that of a fighter pilot, expect to die. Often. The good news is that Capcom was smart enough to anticipate these instances of grim death, and the game always reloads just before said QTE. Regardless, the developers rely just a bit too much on this mechanic. It’s hardly a game-breaker but I suffered more “YOU ARE DEAD” screens here than in any other game in recent memory because of them.
Thankfully, the majority of the combat is fluid and fun. There’s a nice flow to the action so you can whittle an enemy down with a handgun, charge forward and switch to your knife while running and get in a few hacks before choosing to finish him off with a heavy melee. The variety is fun and the approach is entirely up to you: stand your ground and pump every last bullet into an enemy if that’s your thing. Slash the bastards to ribbons with your blade if you want to get up close and personal. Or run around the room and beat the damn things to actual pulp. It’s the first time a Resident Evil game has given us this much variety in combat and, because of that, it offers some pretty significant replay value.
Another plus is the way enemies react once they’re shot. Pop them in their shoulder and watch their bodies jerk with reaction to the gunshot. Marksmen can take the legs off fast-advancing enemies, blow the hands off armed zombies or go for coveted headshots that make heads pop like grapefruits. Shotgun blasts will take chunks of flesh right out of an enemy’s side and knives offer messy decapitations. The bodies react believably to whatever kind of punishment they take, making this the most satisfying Resident Evil to date where combat is concerned.
On the story front, RE6 is a fairly well written experience, although the fact that it allows the player to progress through the campaigns in any order is a potential detriment. Choose the wrong place to start and the twists will be ruined. Offering four different campaigns is a cool idea and it’s executed well, minus one caveat: the game forces you to replay certain scenarios that shouldn’t have happened. For example, in one campaign, you and your partner are racing for an elevator and the characters from another campaign wind up getting there first, leaving you to take the stairs. But when you play the campaign from the other characters’ perspective, it’s you who misses the elevator this time. It feels like the developers just wanted to reuse level assets rather than create a few new areas to explore.
Leon’s story is essentially “ground zero” for everything, and we slowly glimpse the greater, global picture as his campaign progresses. A stolen submarine, a terrorist cell called Neo-Umbrella, and plenty of twists and turns. It all begins with the assassination of the President of the United States. Leon is framed for the crime and struggles to stay one step ahead of a zombie outbreak while teaming with a rogue secret service agent to clear his name. This is where fans will find the old school Resident Evil vibe: there’s a slow pace (to start), creepy atmosphere and an ever-worsening undead invasion. Along the way there are puzzles to solve and traps to avoid. Probably the best of the four stories.
Next up should be Chris’ campaign. This is where Resident Evil 6 becomes a full-blown war story as a Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (B.S.A.A.) solider, Piers Nivans, tracks down a drunk and disillusioned Chris Redfield whose world has fallen into disarray after losing all his men in a bio-warfare attack months earlier. Piers convinces Chris to lead another team against a bio-outbreak in China that may or may not be connected to the last one. This one’s a redemption story with a fairly downbeat (but appropriate) finish.
From there, go with Jake Muller’s story. Jake is a jaded mercenary doing work in the same eastern European country where Chris lost his men. Here, Sherry Birkin (last seen as a little girl in Resident Evil 2) is tasked with ensuring Jake escapes the country because his blood holds the key to curing the C-virus. The Ustanak, a mutated creature determined to prevent their escape, pursues them. It’s a fun story, complete with some of the more interesting gaming mechanics along the way. Suspenseful stealth-based segments break up the traditional action where you’ve got to hide from the aforementioned monster.
Lastly, Ada Wong’s campaign ties up most of the loose ends. Ada’s storyline is a blast to play through because she dovetails though the rest of the missions, giving players explanations for all the major occurrences (although a few open questions remain at the end). Beyond that, gameplay is varied: from sneaking around a stealthy submarine to providing sniper cover for some of our other characters, to blasting zombie hordes while piloting a helicopter through decimated city streets. Ada is a woman of all trades and her missions provide the game with a nice epilogue to the action.
While we’re on the subject of characters, it’s worth noting that Capcom has gone ahead and assembled a phenomenal cast to bring these people to life. The whole cast is strong, but there are standouts. Returning from Resident Evil 5, Roger Craig Smith plays Chris Redfield as the square-jawed Captain America of the series: A guy eternally fighting for a better world, who’s been burned by the cost of that fight. Smith does an amazing job of depicting Chris’ personal demons. As his partner, Christopher Emerson gives Piers Nivans the contrast that’s so badly needed. Piers is an altruistic soldier with nothing but belief in “the cause” and Emerson creates a genuinely likeable optimist with the material. Lastly, Courtenay Taylor steals the show as Ada Wong. It’s a dual role of sorts, and Taylor distinguishes beautifully between the two. She also graces Ada with the kind of seasoned professionalism that’s expected of Resident Evil’s most mysterious inhabitant. Ada’s demeanor remains cool, even once she figures out people are toying with her. She’s more amused that someone dare provoke her in this way, and so there’s a fun and playful quality to this femme fatale that Taylor captures perfectly.
The content of Resident Evil 6 is surprisingly robust in this age of eight hour solo campaigns. Traversing through all four storylines takes anywhere from 25-30 hours, and there’s a ton of extra content to boot. The enduring Mercenaries online game lets players make their stand against endless zombie hordes. And then there’s a Left 4 Dead-style mode that allows you to enter another gamer’s campaign as a monster and attempt to stop them from progressing. While I think it’s a shame that every single game feels the need to include an online component these days, the content here certainly helps extend the experience for those who don’t want it to end.
And while I think those who’ve complained about the series straying too far from its roots are melodramatic, I wouldn’t be opposed to Capcom taking a step back from the over-the-top action setpieces and globe-spanning scenarios next time. With the company hinting that a reboot is in Resident Evil’s future, one can only hope they’re not too hasty in this decision. The next game can be a low-key affair without flushing almost twenty years of lore down the toilet. Just focus on scares and atmosphere. Bring in some new heroes and villains. Do whatever it takes to give the series a fresh sheen, but respect what has come before. Expand the universe, don’t narrow it.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Resident Evil 6 is a solid game plagued by some frustrating moments. It’s fun spending time with these characters again, blasting across the globe against an array of disgusting monsters to dispatch. Characters are good, environments are sufficiently creepy and the voice acting is terrific. Controls are solid, if just a bit unrefined, and the graphics – while a bit soft – offer the kind of ambiance that’s needed to make for an effective creep out. No, this isn’t the survival experience of yesteryear. Instead, Resident Evil 6 succeeds where the last one did not – as a compromise between the old and the new. There’s definitely room to go quieter, scarier next time out. But here’s a perfectly good game truly undeserving of the flogging that it got. If you haven’t given it a chance yet, check it out. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.
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