Resident Evil 6
It’s almost become an irony of localisation that the Japanese game Biohazard was re-named Resident Evil in western territories. Whilst that moniker was perfectly befitting of the survival horror style and tone of Shinji Mikami’s original titles – there was an evil, horrific, creeping sense of malice, brought about through creaky controls, awkward camera angles and shuffling zombies – the progression of the series has seen the evil somewhat wrung out of it as action game elements take precedence.
That’s not to say that diversification is an inherently dirty word when it comes to sequels; if anything a developer’s attempt to take inspiration from around the industry in order to freshen up its formula is a well-worn and often successful practice. But when a developer reaches for every possible source of popular inspiration, sucks them dry and dilutes what gave its game any sense of personality in the first place, well, then you have Resident Evil 6, an action game still about a biological hazard, but no longer about an evil residency.
The bloat of Capcom’s liberal pilfering is instantly apparent when you consider that Resident Evil 6 is split into four narratively intertwined campaigns, and that each of these is a meaty, unrefined 6 hour experience, broken down into five 60+ minute chapters. Former series protagonists Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield are joined by newcomer Jake Muller and a secret character, as the central protagonists in Capcom’s convoluted tale.
Each character shares a common control system, outfitted with the same basic movement, Resident Evil 4 style over-the-shoulder aiming, and newly acrobatic jumping and diving abilities, but their campaign’s have a slightly different gameplay flavour, built around specific elements that have defined the franchise’s past. Leon’s concentrates on small scale ammo-limited tension, the opening infected college campus scenario being reminiscent of Resident Evil 1 & 2’s localised disasters. Chris’s channels Gears of War influenced cover shooting with Uncharted style scripted set pieces. Jake’s has stealth sections and a rampaging undefeatable hulk aimed squarely at fans of Nemesis. And s/he who shall not be named explores more of the puzzle elements that have slowly faded from the forefront of the franchise over time.
Despite their individual stylings, there’s a lack of commitment to specific gameplay styles, meaning it’s not long before each campaign blends into one homogeneous mess of interchangeable QTE’s, shallow set-pieces and bland vehicle sections, none of which are particularly well executed or integrated. The use of a cover system requires the cumbersome manipulation of both the aim and run buttons depending upon the situation and its utilisation is rarely even tactically beneficial throughout.
Quick Time Events, awkwardly employed for everything from climbing to dodging vehicles, are more likely to bemuse than enthrall due to their terrible implementation. Too often you are given minuscule amounts of time to respond to instant death scenarios, and more than once I was placed in a situation where I was thrown into a QTE with an unloaded gun, requiring me to swap it out which left an impossible millisecond to aim. And the less said about the 90’s style clunky arcade vehicle sections, the better.
Even the implementation of co-operative gameplay elements, a hangover retained from its predecessor, feels poorly employed and underdeveloped. Granted, Capcom have addressed some of the well-documented AI issues of Resident Evil 5 – No longer will your partner unduly consume your healing sprays like a child with the keys to a sweet shop – but its implementation still feels contrived, confined to the inexplicably stiff 2-man-required-to-open doors and leg-ups to slightly higher ground. There’s simply no application of co-op that feels necessary within the confines of Resident Evil’s design. It’s just another underdeveloped gameplay element thrown into the mix, left vying for development and attention.
There’s even a weakly implemented upgrade system, wherein players can spend ‘Skill Points’ earned through collectible treasures on ability improving attributes ranging from gunshot power to more frequent ammo pickups. It lacks depth, only offering 3 upgrade slots per character, and the glacial pace at which improvements are realised, coupled with their indiscernible effect upon gameplay makes them feel redundant.
This all adds up to an uneven, terribly paced experience; an experimentation of too many play styles, without the commitment to expanding and exploring a single one to any interesting degree. And yet despite all of these design issues, by far the most irritating gripe I have is with a technical one. For the most part the game doesn’t allow you to pause, which is clearly a design choice made to ratchet up the sense of terror as you scramble through your inventory whilst being pursued. But when your controller disconnects and the monsters progress regardless, it’s simply an inexcusable flaw.
Still, changing batteries during a Resident Evil cut-scene would possibly lend more entertainment to proceedings than the narrative happening on-screen. The series has always been the master of obvious expositional dialogue coloured with contrived clichés, but Resident Evil 6 takes it to a newly irritating level, banding around Pulitzer Prize winning phrases like “This place looks like hell in a hand basket”, or “Looks like things just went from bad to worse”. Neither does it help that the narratives of each campaign are vague and confusing in isolation, only making sense when considered together.
Such a laundry list of complaints is a shame, because, despite being composed of borrowed ideas and nostalgic pandering, Resident Evil 6 is not a broken or completely unoriginal title. Each campaign is highlighted by telling flashes of excitement and creativity, moments indicative of what the experience could have turned out like had it been constrained to a clear directorial vision. Leon’s retreat from some beautifully rendered infectious blue gas in a zombie infested city is truly panic inducing flash of original gameplay, and sneaking Jake around the hulking mass of the menacing Ustanak boss is tense and nerve-wracking.
There’s even a fresh sprinkling of novel online multiplayer elements, including a take on the Left 4 Dead style agent hunt mode that allows you to invade and wreak havoc within other players’ campaigns as one of the undead. It’s a refreshing distraction, but there’s no depth to sustain it as a standalone mode.
Likewise, an automatic pairing system that seamlessly brings human co-operative partners into your game is well integrated. So well integrated in-fact, that I rarely even noticed I was playing with another human, until my companion began purposefully messing around, halting my progress.
Resident Evil 6 is also a marvelously composed visual treat, with lighting and texture work that defy the technical capabilities of the current console generation. Inevitably muddy textures do occasionally give the game away, but the visual spectacle of set-pieces and gargantuan boss-battles are often the most impressive aspect of the game.
It’s hard to remain entertained, however, by the occasional glimmer of hope, when so many of Resident Evil 6’s design elements let it down so consistently. The boss battles may be pretty, but they’re massively prolonged affairs, lacking in variety, as most are old recycled models that have been done better before. And in what are perhaps the game’s most laborious moments, you simply have to wait for events that are happening in real-time off-screen to occur before you progress, simply because of Capcom’s tenuous attempts to weave campaign events between co-operative pairs together.
It’s clear that Capcom have poured a mountain of money into Resident Evil 6‘s surface level thrills, but the predominance of explosions, vehicle sections and suplexed zombies fail to thrill as its more focused, early predecessors did. The sheer scope and grand ambition of this city hoping, multi-faceted, narratively interwoven adventure is an impressive feat, but by taking the franchise down the evolutionary path of a chameleon, Capcom have lost sight of why it resonated with audiences so strongly in the first place. Under the guidance of Mikami and Hideki the franchise used to have a singular focus throughout every element of its design. It was the pinnacle of tense survival horror gameplay. Now it’s just an incongruous mess of disparate elements, a pale imitation of old Resident Evil games and today’s popular action titles, sloppily glued together in pursuit of appealing to every possible consumer base.
As such the franchise has begun to resemble one of its bloated, mutated, flesh-seamed monsters. It’s expanded beyond any plausible scientific explanation, with what is left being a cumbersome, grotesque mish-mash of disparate elements, barely strung together and about as subtle as a hammer to the thumb. And just as when you shoot one of the game’s infected J’avo in face, shooting at the core of the clockwork machinations behind Resident Evil 6’s design reveals the true nature of Capcom’s beastly franchise – it’s still the impressive spectacle it always was, but it’s become a bit of an incoherent mess.