Discussion Review: Resident Evil 6

Review written by Matt Litten & Aaron R. Conklin

Resident Evil 6

Matt: 2012 has been a tumultuous year for Resident Evil. Capcom’s top-selling franchise started the year off on a strong note with the universally praised Nintendo 3DS iteration, Revelations, but immediately followed up on that success with the universally slammed (although I liked it!) Operation Raccoon City spin-off. Now the year is reaching its end with what has turned out to be the most polarizing franchise installment yet. That would be Resident Evil 6.

Nabbing a quote from Ada during her unlockable campaign, RE6 is like a Raccoon City reunion of major franchise players mixed in with some fresh new faces, namely Jake, Wesker’s son, who by the end of the game Capcom all but positions to be the central character moving forward. Not to go into any spoilers, RE6 is a story about yet another viral outbreak, but this latest bioterrorist incident threatens the entire world, not merely some remote Midwestern town or fictional African village. Over the course of four full-length campaigns, you will pop around to different locales across the globe, from the USA to Eastern Europe to China, all crawling with zombies and other C-Virus nasties.

I’m sure there will be certain things we’ll conflict on, Aaron, but one thing that shouldn’t be up for debate is the scope and scale of RE6’s content offerings. The four campaigns—one each for Leon, Chris, Jake, and Ada—collectively take no less than 20 hours the first time through, likely closer to 30 hours for most players (my final completion time clocked in over 26 hours). Each campaign has two playable character paths for added replay, plus hidden serpent emblems to hunt for and unlock virtual action figures and other bonus content in the extras menu. Add to that offline and online co-op, the return of The Mercenaries side game, and a new Agent Hunt mode that let’s players pull off Dark Souls-style mutant invasions of other players’ game sessions, and you’re looking at one incredibly robust gameplay package. You can’t hammer Capcom for slashing side content to release as DLC this time.

I’ve heard a lot of uproar from critics wanting to discredit this game as a real Resident Evil, saying it’s a good action game but not a good Resident Evil game. Such statements don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. RE6 remains very much within the familiar core gameplay setting Capcom established with RE4 and then built upon in RE5, only now the controls actually allow you to do things like move and shoot at the same time, use cover, duck and roll out of harm’s way, and even blast away from a prone position. Sometimes these mechanics can feel a little wonky, but hey, that’s Resident Evil.

The main question that seems to pop up when talking about RE6 is whether or not it should still be considered survival horror. Compared to the ancient PlayStation titles, the answer would be not really–although to me the RE series has never really had much horror to it beyond dark, cramped cooridors, zombies and zombie dogs popping out at you from outside the locked camera frames, and the terror of being hunted after or outnumbered with limited ammo supply to work with (all things still present in RE6). Resident Evil has always been more survival and action while a franchise like Silent Hill is what I would consider true horror, so this sudden shock about the game not being horror focused strikes me as a little late to the party.

From my perspective, RE6 fits in with the rest of the series just fine. True, Capcom’s crack team of designers fell overly in love with quick time events, Crash Bandicoot-style run-into-the-screen escape dashes (these are particularly annoying because your first attempt is almost always a failed trial run to figure out the timing and camera changes), and vehicular chase/combat sequences (yes, there are actual flight combat and driving segments), all components that feel completely out of place and momentarily stall the otherwise thrilling pace of events that transpire. But these fleeting moments of game design horror pale in comparison to the tense action and tangled, intersecting web of plot threads that make up the bulk of the game.

Aaron: The get-offa-my-lawn crowd needs to take a few chill pills. Maybe even a couple of boxes of chill pills, chased with a green-and-red herb mixer. As one of the folks who always believed that ResEvil’s clunky controls detracted from, not added to the series’ panicky vibe, I couldn’t be happier to see Leon, Chris and the crew finally embrace the joys of unfettered move and shoot. I’m not sure how you can argue that the level of adrenaline terror that comes staring down a fiery street’s worth of infected is lessened just because you can drop to the ground and begin shooting when the situation calls for it. Please.

So what if RE6 is more action horror than survival? As befits the Halloween season, I’ve been spending more than a few hours blasting undead monsters in several different games, including Doom 3 BFG. Going back through id Software’s PC opus shed light on some interesting parallels with RE6. For years, the Doom series relied on a time-tested FPS formula, emphasizing action and treating storyline the way moviegoers just treated Silent Hill 3D. Doom 3 evolved because the arrival of the game-changing Half-Life forced it to become something more than just a hallway-crawler packed with monster closets. By the same token, Resident Evil 6 could have blindly pursued the same path it’s been trudging up since we all first enjoyed the special hospitality of Raccoon City, but the advent of games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island have forced the series to embrace and incorporate action elements. It’s evolve or die, and for the most part, I think Capcom’s been successful in making that transition here.

Start with the robust melee controls. A well-placed spin-kick and finishing move (or Jake uppercut) can certainly get you out of a one-on-one jam when you’ve spent your last shotgun shell finishing off that screamer in the last building, but I love how balanced it all feels. Leaning too heavily on your fists and feet in a crowd of infected is a fast-track to diminishing returns, fatigue and death. And this makes perfect sense: I expect Darksiders 2’s Death to be able to swing a scythe with tireless abandon through a bazillion beasts. But Chris Redfield’s human, and dude’s going to get tired eventually.

The too-frequent quick-time events are annoying and disruptive, yes, but I don’t mind them nearly as much as the horrifying item-management system Capcom clings to like a survivor clinging to the last 9 mm ammo clip. If you’re going to create a game where infected are routinely popping up inches from my face, I don’t expect to have to watch my character’s face be gnawed off behind a clunky combine-the-item system menu. The other major bummer is the copious amounts of cheap-death moments your agents will suffer. Whether it’s a runaway ambulance that comes out of nowhere and pancakes you because you happened to be standing in the wrong place (LEON!!!) or an unexpected avalanche upside the head, these things aren’t fun. And given that these cheap shots will have an impact on your chapter score and, potentially, the color of the dog tags you’ll earn when you complete it, their inclusion seems especially unfair.

Matt, you’re right to note the absolutely immense amount of content here, and I think it does more than just add to the bottom-line value of the gaming experience. It also adds to the sense of fear and hopelessness weighing the agents down. When Leon and Helena are told that there are more than 70,000 hostiles overrunning the town, you already know you’re going to have to fight your way through most of them to get to the end of the campaign. No wonder everyone looks so harried.

Matt: I couldn’t agree more with your point about evolution; RE6 feels like a completely natural evolution for the franchise. While part of me laments the continued downplay of puzzles and total lack of collecting files and journal entries to fill in story gaps, on the whole I think Capcom’s choices to further modernize Resident Evil were the correct ones. I don’t think they compromised the integrity of the franchise either. While RE6 isn’t at all scary by typical horror standards, it still succeeds at building tension and suspense and striking fear into your heart at what might be lying in wait around the next corner, even if many of the enemies now take cover and shoot bullets back at you rather than mindlessly roam about for you to easily pop their heads off.

I’m a bit iffier about the melee system than you are, though. While I agree that it is balanced pretty well by the fatigue meter and like the depth of choice melee adds to the action when you’re trying to conserve ammo, it just seems weird to me that more often than not punches and stomps to the head are more deadly than a shotgun blast to the midsection or a pistol shot to the ripe, rotting dome.

Similarly, I couldn’t help but grow annoyed by the constant “I’m back from the dead…AGAIN!” boss revivals that stretch out far too long across all of the campaigns. It never really makes sense why the final kill shot puts ‘em down for good when everything else you did couldn’t stop them. Okay, so I just crushed this dude with a falling pillar and pushed it through a spinning helicopter blade that shredded it to bits or dunked it in a pool of molten hot lava, yet it comes back for more until I finally put it down with a mere bullet to the fleshy red weak point. This has always been true of Resident Evil’s bosses, but it goes too far this time when you literally have to battle some of the same monsters five or more times with little variation.

The new inventory system didn’t bother me too much—it’s improved from previous games at least—but I’d be lying if I said it was a shining example of intuitive UI design. I hate that the game doesn’t pause when you’re trying to combine herbs, but you can stock over 10 health pellets in your quick-use slot and the D-pad hotkey system allows you to swap weapons and side items (grenades, remote bombs, first aid sprays, etc.) without much fuss. So, as long as you stay prepared you should rarely get caught in situations where you need to pull up the actual inventory while mutants are crawling after you.

I was also pleased at how Capcom removed the shared co-op inventory. Sheva in RE5 constantly pissed me off by picking up and using valuable supplies and it was a nightmare having to stop to request items from her and micro-manage both characters’ inventories. In general, the partner AI is less of a dead weight as well. I always felt like I had to baby sit Sheva, but in RE6 your teammates do a good job of pulling their weight and staying out of your way. Of course, the tag-team revival mechanic is a drag. I’d honestly rather just die and restart from the last checkpoint (which are saved quite regularly, by the way) than have my character weakly crawl and fire from the floor waiting for a meter to fill or my partner to come to the rescue with a magic insta-heal injection, only to have my newly revived hero ultimately get chopped down for good as soon as he or she has been rescued.

What did you make of the co-op tweaks as well as the new skill system, Aaron?

Aaron: What’s that? Oh, I’m sorry. I was on the phone with Cliff Blezsinski, listening to the finer points of how he’s going to “fix” Resident Evil. I’m back now.

Short answer: I like what they’ve done with the former and the latter left me a little cold, in no small part because it felt like a lot of work for little discernible benefit. Even though it seemed like my characters collected more skill-point/chess piece icons off the floor than a kid collecting the sweet bounty from his own personal piñata, it never seemed like enough when it was time to admire my new dog tag and go skill-shopping. As for the choices hanging in the RE6 skill tree, the bulk of them seem like so much empty window dressing. Given the zombie and lizard-man landslide you know you’re going to have to endure, why would you ever choose to buff anything other than firepower and melee attacks? This is a case where choice equals a freedom that doesn’t help you finish the game.

Co-op’s another story. ResEvil 5 set a pretty high standard—well, except for the whole resource-sharing catastrophe—and RE6 has bumped it further. It might have been enough just to have the triple-option of split-screen, online and system link. But the co-op actually feels strategic here, as opposed to just a question of doubling your firepower. Whether it’s the aforementioned pilot sequence where you’ve got to cover your buddy’s back or the moments where a little allez-oup is required to solve a puzzle or cross a chasm, it all feels well-designed, not tacked on as a multiplayer afterthought. The only false note is the constant co-op door opening the game demands. Halfway through Jake’s campaign, I began to feel like there should have been a “Doorman” achievement congratulating us for busting open our 500th door. Oh, look, here’s another one.

As to your point about journal entries, don’t you sort of feel like we know enough about the story at this point to have moved beyond them? Sure, there’s always a conspiracy behind the conspiracy, but it’s not like we’re discovering Rapture and the reasons why the beautiful people ended up clawing each other’s faces off for the first time here. I put this one down to evolution, too: ResEvil’s creators are clearly looking to become the next Kojima, what with the copious amounts of cutscenes and flashbacks this game contains. Solid Snake has no time for journal entries, and now, neither does Leon S. Kennedy.

Matt: I don’t disagree with your point about the journal entries, but I’m a sucker for reading notes and listening to audio diaries that flesh out little back stories. RE6 moves the story forward from Raccoon City, so certainly there is more behind the scenes that the developers could have elaborated on.

Skills do largely seem pointless, I have to concur. I kept stocking up skill points thinking I was eventually going to unlock some awesome new ability, but I never once saw a need to change out my trio of higher firepower, steadied aim, and increased item/ammo drop rate. It is worth pointing out that skill loadouts do matter more in The Mercenaries side game though.

Personally, I’m not entirely sold on Resident Evil co-op. Like RE5, it adds a fun dynamic when you can find a good partner or have a friend who you can trust, but I’m still not a fan of forced AI co-op in the context of solo play. Waiting for a teammate to catch up so you can open a door is never fun. That’s probably why I enjoyed Ada’s campaign more than the others—she doesn’t have a sidekick holding her back.

Continuing that train of thought, the thing I liked most about RE6 is its campaign structure. Each of the four campaigns puts its own distinct imprint on the experience at large. Leon’s campaign comes the closest to what some might consider the usual survival horror vibe, with enemies consisting mostly of traditional zombies, environments set in a dark graveyard, a haunting cathedral, and an underground tomb area, and puzzles factoring into the proceedings a little more often. Chris’ campaign then shifts into more of a straight up action vibe, where the new cover system comes into play and set pieces and bosses almost approach Gears of War territory. Jake’s quarter of the game goes heavier on melee combat and ventures off into areas you won’t see coming, and then Ada comes along with more of a stealthy acrobatic approach to tie things off.

What makes everything click is the way all four campaigns branch off on their own unique paths, yet eventually intersect with one another at pivotal moments. This way each time through you see certain events from a different angle, leading to many “ah ha, so that’s what happened!” moments as the protagonist shifts. You will only gain a full understanding of the storyline by playing from every perspective. I’m not sure if this was intentional on Capcom’s part, but this intertwining, multi-character setup totally brought back happy memories of Resident Evil 2.

I really have nothing but praise to shower on Resident Evil 6. Yes, it does have its weak points and questionable design choices, and the overbearing use of out of place car chases and die-and-retry escape sequences unnecessarily throws the game off course every now and then. I think we can all agree that Capcom should have dialed back a bit on the Hollywood action fluff. Yet amidst all the bickering from critics and fans trying to tell me how this game is a stain on the Resident Evil name, I was riveted from start to finish and only found that it reinvigorated my interest in the series moving forward. Is it survival? Is it horror? Is it action? I honestly don’t care to play the semantics game. I just know that Resident Evil 6 is a gripping, gorgeous-looking video game that sucked me in the moment I slid the Blu-ray into my PS3, and it never let go.

Matt-BuyIt

Pros:
+ Huge game with many gameplay hours to give
+ Intersecting stories connect all four campaigns in a unique and immersive way
+ Distinct weapon sets and play styles for each scenario
+ Tense action and atmosphere keeps you on the edge of your seat
+ Gorgeous graphics

Cons:
– Do we really need flight combat and car chases in Resident Evil? No, we don’t!
– Far too many scripted trial-and-error escape runs
– Goes a bit overboard with QTEs and Hollywood action moments
– Back-from-the-dead bosses get old fast

Aaron: I actually think you’ve summed it up well for both of us there, Matt. I only have one last thing to say:

Aaron-BuyIt

Pros:
+ Ridiculous amount of gameplay
+ Action, melee elements are a plus, not a minus
+ Interweaving campaigns showcase all angles of the series, story
+ Co-op is sensibly designed (except for all those doors)

Cons:
– Clunky item-management gets in the way
– Purchasable skills are much ado about nothing
– Insta-death moments will always be annoying

Game Info:
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 10/2/2012
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-4 (2-4 online)
Source: Review copies provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!