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Resident Evil 6 -- A zombie mess of confusing contradictions

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The Resident Evil series spearheaded the survival-horror genre before the term even existed, and popularized zombies long before the Walking Dead made them awesome.  Sparing no expense for the sixth installment, Capcom brought in a whopping 600 member development team to pen the next chapter in the Umbrella conspiracy/virus outbreak saga and its gun-toting heroes.    Yet, considering the mass resources and lofty effort, Resident Evil 6 is a beautifully realized game that sees a goal in plain view, but stumbles and gets lost along the way. Rather than settle on being survival horror like the games before it, Resident Evil 6 mishmashes flotsam and jetsam of other game genres into a mess of contradictions, abandoning its namesake and confusing itself as to what it wants to be and where it wants to go.

In the years leading up to and following the end of Resident Evil 5, the Umbrella Corporation met its demise, Raccoon City got literally wiped off the map, and the G-virus has been fully neutralized. But, a new form of biological threat known as the C-virus begins creeping up in the stratosphere; far stronger and deadlier than last year's model, and possessing the frightening capacity of being an airborne strain, leaving no one to chance. The fictional city of Lianshang in China is caught up in a viral outbreak and becomes completely decimated through nightmarish mutations. A new enemy known as the J'avo arises from the woodwork---a highly evolved form of zombie smart enough to brandish weapons and drive vehicles, and can shapeshift into horrifying new forms to suit a situation. With all this occurring at a rapid rate, the world is united by a common fear---there may be no hope left.  Yet, we've got one last chance.  Three familiar heroes and three newcomers band together to put a stop to the C-Virus, call out the stock villain responsible for unleashing it, and terminate him with extreme prejudice.

The game is divided into four campaigns, alI of which can be completed in any order you choose and all emphasizing cooperative play (online or offline).  This means you'll no longer enter the world of survival horror alone---an AI or player-controlled partner is at your side at nearly all times.  I kicked things off with the Leon and Helena campaign; by far the closest to the classic Resident Evil framework. Leon S. Kennedy returns as a playable character since his tenure in Resident Evil 4, and he is joined by a new partner named Helena Harper, a fellow Special Agent blessed with raw talent, a killer body and personal demons. There is quite a bit of exploration involved, but the path is generally a linear one with few forks in the road and a visual compass that directs the player exactly where they need to go next.  It is the kind of hand-holding that compromises the uncertainty of exploring a strange environment, which was one of the more thrilling aspects of the franchise and the imitators that followed.   The Jake and Sherry campaign isn't quite like the Leon/Helena portion, but holds its own more or less. The relationship between Jake Muller and Sherry Birkin is an interesting one as they both share a strong connection with two of Resident Evil's most notorious villains. In this particular campaign, there were a lot of Quick Time Events that broke up the subsequent flow of the game, prompting timed button presses at opportune moments, mashing buttons until your thumbs swell, or forcing the player to wriggle the analog stick like Superman on speed dial.  The third campaign I explored was the one involving Chris Redfield and Piers Nivans---two BSAA soldiers on a mission. Chris has undergone the most dramatic change here in Resident Evil 6 since Resident Evil 5. Following a horrific event that resulted in the deaths of the men under his command, Chris has been reduced to a drunken stupor, heavily absorbing his demons in a pool of alcohol. A heavy binge inherently destroys his memory, forcing fellow BSAA agent Piers Nivans to snap him out of his funk and convince the legendary zombie hunter to concentrate on the greater task at hand. I can confirm that Chris' campaign shares a stark, unapologetic similarity to the Call of Duty and Battlefield military shooters. Most of this campaign takes place in a gritty urban war-torn landscape based in Eastern Europe, not too dissimilar to what you'd see in real-world locales like Afghanistan, making it feel as if you're playing Modern Warfare. The comparisons have been pointed out numerous times before, and theoretically it makes some sense seeing how Chris and Piers are, in effect, military soldiers battling bio-terrorism and B.O.W.s (Bio-Organic Weapons) all over the globe.  The problem here is that the military shooter component becomes a serious issue for a game like Resident Evil. The cover system handles far worse than it does in Operation Raccoon City; enough to get you killed during the most obvious life-or-death situations. If this campaign were going to blatantly model itself after a typical third-person shooter, Capcom should have at least given some thought as to what made games like Call of Duty and Battlefield work so well and less of how to interpret a Resident Evil dynamic within its framework.  In other words, just model it after Call of Duty and throw a bunch of B.O.W.s and zombies in the mix. The campaign is an unfortunate mess of contradictions, and fails somewhat miserably at piggybacking other third-person shooters.  The final campaign involves Ada Wong, who, like Leon, is playable for the first time since RE4, boasting stealth mechanics and puzzle solving with generally decent results. 



All of the campaigns are decidedly varied in nature, creating problems in consistency.  The game is so focused on being everything at one time that it ultimately forgets, if not abandons, what made previous games so great in the first place.  The production values are obviously top notch with fantastic action sequences and jaw-dropping near-death bravado.  Yet, it all feels like you're watching a movie instead of playing a game, as RE6 seems to resent your interference.  Even more infuriating, there may be moments when you'll enter a game over screen from a death you didn't see coming due in part because of poorly-managed QTEs and surprise environmental traps that provide little to no warning (ie. a speeding bus or an incoming subway car)  There's nothing bad about QTEs, but I felt as though Resident Evil 6 overemphasized these elements for the sake of production values rather than effective gameplay.   And you'd better get used to them because cinematic cutscenes and QTEs generally make up at least 75% of the entire Resident Evil 6 experience.

Still, the world of Resident Evil 6 is decidedly creepy with all the dreary trappings of a horror-based atmosphere. My absolute favorite area to visit is the fictional city of Lianshang.  The attention to detail is arguably one of the game's finer points, returning to familiar dark territory from the sun-bleached sands of Resident Evil 5. And everything looks absolutely gorgeous. Enemies are  morbid and disgusting by design, behaving in erratic, unpredictable ways and reacting appropriately to being struck or shot at.  And some of them change into horrific forms that defy the laws of nature, DNA and human reasoning.   Resident Evil 6 does a good job in turning the screws of tension and the feeling of uncertainty during exploration and combat.  Storywise, all the characters have a chance to intersect with one another at specific points. There's no dynamic climax where everybody gets together for a final showdown with the game's villain, but our heroes do run into each other to take down enormous bosses, all while staying the course with their own individual agendas.   I like both the tension and the happy reunions that occur between specific characters, especially Leon and Sherry, whom haven't seen one another since the events of Resident Evil 2. This is also one of few (if only) opportunities for four players to get together and party up against the onslaught of the C-Virus, as Resident Evil 6 encourages cooperative gameplay; a mechanic first introduced in Resident Evil 5. In Resident Evil 6, it handles as decently as you'd expect it to, and if you don't have a friend to play with, the AI isn't quite as stupid as it was in Operation Raccoon City.  But, often at times, the AI may unintentionally get stuck behind a wall or a locked door at the worst possible moment where you need their help getting through an obstacle that requires two people.

Furthermore, apart from the campaign portions, Resident Evil 6 brings back the mercenaries mode, where you and/or a friend kill as many enemies as possible within a given time limit and score kill chains for leaderboard standings. You can even revisit campaigns you've cleared to search for serpent coins that unlock a host of bonuses including character dossiers, retrospectives of events from past Resident Evil games,  and viewable figurines. They're tough to find, but a keen eye and steady observation ensures success. It's also a fun diversion from the rigors of zombie shooting, destined to keep you busy long after you've completed the game.

 Based on my own personal experiences as a fan of the franchise, Resident Evil 6 holds its weight against my expectations of an above-average product, but it falls a little short of being a worthy successor to the brilliant Resident Evil 4 -- much less the entirety of the series.  By trying to take the series in a new direction, it ends up creating a whole slew of problems that compromise both the spirit of the source for devoted fans and the overall fun factor for everybody else.   Its lofty ambitions, 600 member development team and eagerness to showcase as many gameplay styles as humanly possible drags the whole thing down.  Resident Evil 6 is a competent game at best and a successful failure at worst.  It may seem familiar, but just don't expect it to really be the Resident Evil that you enjoyed and loved in the past.

 

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