Resident Evil 6 is a strange thing. We’re talking about a game where an out-of-control helicopter smashes buildings and grinds alongside a train before taking back to the air, where characters spout spry quips after untold horrors unfold on your screen, and where a corporation called Neo-Umbrella – yes, that’s right, a duplicate resurrection of the biomed company that had wreaked havoc with viruses from the series’ inception until the end of Resident Evil 5 – picks up the slack exactly where its predecessor left off to create more zombie baddies with yet another strain of a zombifying virus all around the world.
I felt as though RE4 and RE5’s stories and gameplay had reached their potential without any further evolution by the fourth and fifth games in the series, and when you combine the insane and redundant story elements with some rough-worn gameplay, it’s easy to deduce that Resident Evil 6 is a strained attempt to both grow and stick closely to the groundwork laid by the last two main entries. The friction between these two design philosophies is immense, and I couldn’t help but feel that the game should have fully committed to its new action-heavy avenue instead of spreading itself out so thin between new and old, drastic and safe. Alas, it’s what ended up shipping in the box that counts, and Resident Evil 6 is ultimately a decent video game that maintains the style of its franchise while struggling to find a new direction.
This is a full-on action game through and through, with no traditional survival horror elements to speak of. There are some slight jump scares and some truly distressing creepy crawlies to see, but the bulk of the gameplay here is made up of long combat sequences with a partner who pretty well revives you immediately upon your death, leaving things inherently less scary. There is still a lot of ammo conservation necessary to evoke at least the survival part of the series’ history; you’ll need to pick your targets carefully and make sure your shots count. This balance usually ended up being an enjoyable reflection of the series as a whole, and I liked having to constantly sweat my ammo count in situations that felt dire and isolated from any kind of support. The game does have a sense of tension that falls short of genuine horror but adds favourably to the game overall.
The problem with this early on is that the game usually has you clear a room only to flood it repeatedly with more enemies. I was budgeting my munitions by what I could see and often had no bullets by round two or three, frustratingly circling the environment until I’d eventually just stroll into the hoarde, get eaten, and try again from the last checkpoint. Then it occured to me that Resident Evil 6 really, really wants you to use your melee attacks, and this revelation changed my experience for the better. Suddenly I was forcing myself to sprint up to the weaker enemies and bash them down to save my firepower for the tougher, crystalid enemies that are nigh impossible to kill without some firepower. Sometimes you just have to get the hell out of dodge in RE6 as well, which felt in line with some of the classic games in this series in the best way.
The game didn’t explicitly point these key features out, which is in line with its somewhat mysterious tendency to only explicitly state controls during loading screens. There’s no printed manual of any kind, either, prompting me to stop and work my way through its long line of useful, nearly undocumented commands – from rolls out of danger to automatically assembling healing items from inventory supplies – by my lonesome.
Nevertheless, playing the game with your full arsenal of long-winded but easy to figure commands resonated more closely with the pure action-driven energy this game clearly wants to harness, although for a game with so many shootouts, it was pretty disappointing to see enemies barely acknowledge your hail of bullets. Their skin and muscle get chipped away, which is a neat effect, and sometimes a foe will flinch or get knocked back by a particularly powerful shot. But otherwise, they just exhibit their default behavior until the moment they die.
In spite of these issues, I had a pretty good time working my way through the lengthy campaigns. The way plot points intersect was interesting enough to keep me interested in pushing forward, and the minute-to-minute action was sturdy enough to evoke a healthy amount of satisfaction and intensity. I loved how the game used its ammo and health item restrictions to really force me to try different strategies to push past a challenge with minimum impact on my resources. It felt almost puzzle-like, in the wake of very little puzzle solving required otherwise.
The big-budget action and hammy dialogue that intercuts the gameplay also felt like it was hitting all the right bizarre notes that the series is known for without feeling forced. The wild action sequences can often reduce the gameplay to quick time events or just eliminate it entirely, and it definitely does feel indulgant at times. What has always been great about the Resident Evil games is how their affect was achieved almost entirely through the gameplay. The closing crowds of chanting cultists creeping toward you in Resident Evil 4; the weighty walks through the Spencer Mansion in the original game all the way back on the PS1. The stakes of your plight were palpable by simply playing the game, and the cutscenes were there for some quick exposition when needed. Resident Evil 6 can often feel like the opposite, where the cutscenes go to great lengths to build scale and drama only to drop you into yet another boilerplate firefight.
Other times, diving back into the fisticuffs was a delight. The peaks and valleys of Resident Evil 6 can be huge. An area where you have to track a massive, cloaking snake in a worn-out Shanghai apartment building is an amazing, tense, and exciting stretch…followed by a dock area full of sniper enemies that are hard to see and that knock you down each and every time they connect. Throughout its three seperate single player threads, pieces of the game are juxtaposed to both amazing and flat effect.
Yes, in a throwback to older Resident Evil adventures, there are multiple campaigns, each helmed by a different character who accentuates different aspects of the gameplay. Aside from some presentational elements and slight variations in tone, though, each character plays more or less the same. Leon S. Kennedy’s campaign takes you through a spooky cemetary, an oppresively dark catacombs and other similarly classic horror genre locations, and his more deliberate combat sequences make this feel the most like the classic Resident Evil 4. After a major globe-trotting bender, Chris Redfield sobers up and returns to the BSAA bio-terrorism movement to face the J’avo, a more intelligent strain of the C-Virus capable of taking cover and shooting guns. These enemies are pretty dumb and pop in and out of cover like clockwork, giving this campaign an almost Gears of War by way of Japan feel that feels a bit stiff. The cover system that isn’t as crucial elsewhere in the game is hardly the game’s strongsuit. Jake is a series newcomer whose biological makeup may be key to stopping the outbreak, and his campaign gets the brunt of the elaborate quick time event and sloppy vehicle sequences, making it by far the weakest stretch of RE6. This is especially a bummer when you consider that in the listing of campaigns on the menu, Jake’s is listed last. Each of these three main campaigns supports co-op and lasts a good seven or so hours a piece, and each give you enough of the core gameplay to be entertaining. Considering that one chunk of this solid gameplay lasts longer than I expect of the average action game in full nowadays, a roughly twenty hour campaign is immense.
The least divisive aspect of the game is undoubtedly its attractive presentation, which offers detailed environments and gives its characters smooth animations and emotive faces for when the melodrama hits hard. The sheer volume of artwork is impressive, and when combined with some truly impressive light and shadow effects, the mood is set brilliantly at times. A special mention to the game’s monster design, which really reaches for the most disgusting mutated monsters one could conjure up and knocks it out time and time again. Capcom’s proprietary MT Framework holds up quite well overall despite an unsteady framerate and occasional hideous texture that minorly conspire against the game, especially when there’s a bunch of fire on screen.
The monsters sound disgusting too, with intimidating roars and gross gurgles when you take them down. The aptly named Shriekers stuck with me especially. Their piercing gasp is chilling, and after you kill one its limbs begin to rot and fall away as they scream all the while. Finally, the game’s music does a great job underscoring the big-budget action sequences and overblown dramatics on screen and made the game markedly more entertaining.
I took away a good amount of amusement from the game’s nutty, gloriously over-the-top interludes; the larger than life fight sequences and lively camerawork were very entertaining, engaging me and inspiring me to root for the good guys like the best overblown action films do. And although the gameplay is a fairly unpolished, shooting down some chilling spider-men and stamping their heads in was a gory, cathartic pleasure. This is definitely a game that, should you receive the total sum of its parts, rises above its individual pieces into an uneven fascination.
The universal issue that conspires against the whole of Resident Evil 6 has got to be its pacing, though. Just about every sequence in the game, good or ill, simply lasts too long. Waves upon waves of enemies refill each shooting gallery, even when you’ve been fighting in the same small quarters for several minutes on end. Bosses are even bigger offenders in this regard, who not only rise from the dead time and time again but don’t evolve in the process, leaving you to work the same maneuvers six or seven times over to finish the fight. These constant codas on the end of sequences suck a bit of the fun out of the game’s coolest moments at best, and make frustrating stretches straight up maddening at worst. It’s a disappointingly consistent knock against the core gameplay that, for me, was the single biggest issue in the game.
Resident Evil 6 is a conflicted game that offers a fun but flawed core experience punctuated by some outstanding moments of action and suspense, along with a host of questionable design choices that often hobble what can be (and often is) an otherwise enjoyable game. It’s a flawed game that is certainly not without its obvious downfalls, but it’s also an ambitious and sprawling product, one that offers you a lot to chew on between its awesomely rank monsters, tense mood, ridiculous story and sights to see. While it can’t hope to surpass the series’ various high water marks, it doesn’t come close to plumbing further than its most foul depths, either. Not by a long shot. What’s left is a polarizing, decent action game with a distinct style and flair you can’t get outside of its namesake. It’s long, it’s grandiose, and it’s mostly a good time; Resident Evil 6 is an oddity worth examining for the fans and for the patient.