Resident Evil 6
When Resident Evil 2 arrived on the PlayStation back in 1998, the ambitious game astonished me. Protagonists Leon and Claire each had two full scenarios that filled in story gaps in the other, Pulp Fiction-style, resulting in four unique, complementary playthroughs. Fast-forward to 2012 and Resident Evil 6 offers three full-length, intersecting, two-player cooperative campaigns along with a slew of bonus modes. The sheer wealth of satisfying gameplay and insane set pieces has me hooked like RE 2 did back then.
Story took the backseat for most of Resident Evil 4 and 5, but this title returns with a renewed focus on narrative. Unfortunately, it’s a befuddling mess for anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with the drama since The Mansion Incident. Even then, doomed plot devices like cloning are in place to confuse even those familiar with the backstory. For longtime fans like me, it’s a treat to see fellow Raccoon City survivors Chris and Leon exchanging blows over the ambiguously evil Ada Wong. It’s also fun seeing the children of deceased Umbrella bad guys Albert Wesker and William Birkin battling the evolution of their fathers’ monstrous legacies. Sherry Birkin is a likable, empathetic government agent, but Wesker’s son Jake is the Poochy of the Resident Evil universe. His one-liners and edgy ‘tude will have you grinding your teeth. Silliness aside, the fast-paced narrative takes you on a thrilling ride through undead catacombs, infected Chinese streets, war-torn European cities, and much more.
Each of the separate campaigns is a self-contained experience with its own distinct vibe. You can play the campaigns in any order you choose. Leon’s adventure has more traditional horror elements like slower pacing and classic zombies. Chris’s scenario has a focus on all-out battles and shootouts. Jake’s campaign features a persistent, Nemesis-like foe that gives chase throughout. The stories intertwine, so you’ll see familiar situations from interesting new angles. Incidentally, you’ll also rewatch familiar cutscenes. Like past games, many of the cutscenes are packed with contextual button presses. These frequent moments involve crazy feats like jumping from crashing planes or executing a gigantic boss. Some may bemoan the quantity of quicktime events, but I love the way it’s integrated into the cinematics and melee attacks. The variety Capcom has packed into the game is astounding, and giving the game three distinct main arcs makes it feel like there are three separate Resident Evil games (four including Ada’s campaign).
Capcom left the tank controls behind for Resident Evil 6, and the resulting gameplay feels great. Gamers have been moving and shooting at the same time for a long time, so the change was long overdue. New enhancements like dodging, sliding, and firing while prone take getting used to, but are indispensable once mastered. You can switch between gunplay and fisticuffs in a snap, allowing you to settle into a rhythm on the battlefield. Jake can uppercut zombies, knee thrust mutant lizards, and deliver charging palm strikes to packs of foes, resulting in the series’ most satisfying melee to date. Transitioning from melee combos to stomping grounded enemies creates an annoying delay, but it wasn’t enough to turn me off.
While melee combat has been expanded, managing your arsenal has been woefully streamlined. You can no longer customize your firearm loadout or upgrade individual weapons. Unique, well-balanced gun loadouts are predetermined for each character. Starting a Resident Evil game with a pistol, a shotgun, and a sniper rifle feels strange. The series lost its horror focus years ago, but I miss the gradual drip of increasingly powerful weaponry. Instead of enhancing weapons, you purchase and upgrade perks. You can choose between skills like faster reload time, reduced recoil, or increased ammo drops. However, skills like increased firepower and enhanced melee are so widely applicable that equipping anything else feels idiotic. This trivializes skill set experimentation. Despite a lack of worthwhile customization, blasting bad guys is as fun as it’s been since Resident Evil 4. A well-placed shotgun blast will send an enemy careening across the stage, and precise sniper rounds turn zombie heads into jelly. Shooting an enemy in the foot doesn’t make them instantly stumble like it used to, but I like how zombies can get tripped up on one another. The meat of the past three main Resident Evil games has been in its visceral gunplay, and Resident Evil 6 delivers.
Resident Evil 5 is one of the greatest two-player co-op games of this generation, and Resident Evil 6 belongs on that list as well. Two players can team up via online, split-screen, or system link. Teamwork goes beyond doubling your firepower. Cooperation is necessary to cross chasms, solve puzzles, or shake monsters off your pal. One standout moment involves flying a jet while watching your partner’s back with machine gun fire while they plants bombs. If you plan on trucking through the game entirely co-op., keep in mind that the game’s tutorial prologue and unlockable Ada campaign are only single-player, meaning not every moment of the game is designed with two players in mind. The game shines brightest during two-player co-op, but single-player is much improved from Resident Evil 5. In the last game, you had to constantly babysit an AI partner that would leech your previous resources. Now item drops are independent for each character in both single-player and co-op, and your AI partners are invincible. Having an AI partner that isn’t a complete buffoon is a relief.
Capcom has loaded an unprecedented amount of content on one disc. Unfortunately, that drive to do it all has created some quality gaps. The game occasionally pulls the camera away from the action to show off a new goal or destination, leaving you open to blind cheap shots. The most annoying bug I encountered makes a boss unbeatable during Leon’s co-op campaign, marring the otherwise excellent climactic battles. Capcom promises some of these issues will be fixed with a day one patch, but we reviewed the game on the disc.
Over the years, the tone of the Resident Evil series has morphed from a George Romero horror flick to Michael Bay summer blockbuster. That metamorphosis into insane action is front and center in Resident Evil 6, and bringing a buddy along for the chaos is great fun. The game’s minor flaws don’t hold back the decadent experience from being an unhinged, flaming rollercoaster ride.
[Note: Players can be randomly matched up with others online for brief four-player co-op sections, or opt to allow strangers to infect their campaign as monsters. We reviewed the game before everyone else started playing online, so we couldn't thoroughly test these peripheral modes. We'll be posting hands-on impressions of these modes soon, and if they change our opinion we'll update our review. If not, consider this the definitive critique.]
The sheer wealth of satisfying gameplay and insane set pieces has me hooked.