Developer: Capcom / Publisher: Capcom / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes]
When the original Resident Evil came out sixteen years ago, it not only popularized zombies as one of gaming’s greatest bad guys but also helped define the survival horror genre. Since hitting a high-water mark with 2005’s Resident Evil 4, however, the series has faltered, sometimes rather badly. But while this newest installment is an engaging third-person shooter, its lack of real frights and its odd puzzles keep it from truly being a classic Resident Evil game.
For the latest chapter of this increasingly convoluted saga, we’re presented with a zombie outbreak on not one, not two, but three fronts. Playing as Leon S. Kennedy (from Evils 2 and 4), Chris Redfield (the original Evil and Code Veronica), and a new guy named Jake Muller (the son of the late and not-at-all-great Albert Wesker), you have to survive undead outbreaks in China, at an American college, and in the fictional Eastern Europe country of Edonia, all while trying to figure out who launched these biological attacks, and why.
Of course, as we’re accustomed to in Resident Evil games, the story isn’t Shakespeare. It’s not even George Romero. But it’s also not that important, since it does set up some interesting scenarios for the characters to fight through.
While Resident Evil 6 is a third-person shooter, each of the three outbreaks play out in slightly different ways. Leon’s levels focus on the frights with exploration and a cinematic approach to encounters. Chris’ is more of a straight shooter, closer to Army of Two, while Jake’s falls somewhere in between but decidedly closer to Chris’ by being more action oriented with a layer of exploration.
Similarly, the enemies you face also vary depending on the storyline. Again, Leon’s pits you against zombies and their little dogs, too; except you also battle fast zombies, as well as the more traditional lumbering variants. What’s odd, and doesn’t fit the fiction, is that you fight zombies who aren’t completely brain dead. On occasion, you run into an undead cop or soldier who’s still holding his gun and sort of remembers how to use it. Even stranger, there’s one zombie who remembers how to turn a crank.
As for Chris and Jake, their gunfights are with infected humans like those from Resident Evil 4 and 5. Some have guns, some wield machetes, but more importantly, some mutate when injured, sprouting hideous appendages they use to smack you around.
But in all of the campaigns, you fight some giant creatures that would make the troll-like guys in the last couple games feel woefully inadequate. What’s worse, to take them out, you have to get up real close and personal.
While Leon’s campaign comes closest to replicating the classic Resident Evil approach, it sadly doesn’t go far enough. For starters, he has less ammo than Chris and Jake, as per the earlier games. But he doesn’t have to conserve to the extent he did in Resident Evil 2 because destroyed zombies now drop bullets like they’re on loan from Borderlands. More egregiously, the puzzle bits that made the Evil series unique up until RE5 are few and far between and, more annoyingly, insultingly easy. Granted, it never made any sense why someone would build a house where you have to find three piece of a statue and then balance it on a scale just to open the bathroom door, but it did keep the environments interesting.
What’s also interesting is that you can play any of the three storylines in any order you, like, jumping from Chris’ story to Jake’s to Leon’s at any time. You do have to play each character’s story in chapter order, but once completed, you can replay any unlocked chapter in any order you like.
The three stories overlap chronologically and even intersect at times, though this just makes it obvious that Capcom also should’ve included an option that would let you play all of the characters and chapters in one continuous narrative (though I’m sure there will be plenty of people online who figure out you should play Leon’s chapter three and then Jake’s chapter two and then Chris’ chapter five…).
In fact, when you do beat all three sections you unlock a fourth storyline that stars Ada Wong. In it, she also runs ’n’ guns it — or runs ’n’ crossbows it, as the case may be — though displays nimble skills and uses more stealth than the guns-blazing guys. She can not only sneak up behind zombies much easier than the boys, but she also wields a crossbow that’s silent and deadly. Unfortunately, when Ada does trip an alarm, it seems to bring out far more bad guys than you’d reasonably expect to be nearby, though they oddly seem to forget all about her when she makes it to another part of the level.
It probably won’t be a surprise that the save and checkpoint system could have been more player-friendly, and that’s just an example of a few mechanics that hobble an otherwise entertaining zombie adventure.
For the most part, Resident Evil 6 has the best controls of any regular Evil game, as it tries to ape those in such similar third-person shooters such as Gears of War. But the camera is particularly irritating, as it sometimes fixates on nearby items of interest whether you care or not, and feels like it’s constantly trying to center itself.
Even more annoying is that while you can now duck for cover, doing so is unnecessarily complicated and thus largely ineffective. To hide behind something waist high, for instance, you have to aim your gun to switch the action button from “jump over” to “duck behind,” and keep holding it to stay in cover. You also can’t blind fire from behind cover, though it probably wouldn’t help since enemies just a few feet away become blurry when you duck for safety. It makes taking cover more trouble than it’s worth, since while it does keep you from getting shot, it can be really hard to shoot things yourself. The game works slightly better when you want to lean against a wall or doorway, since you just have to hit the left trigger to move into position, but even then, shooting is still a hassle.
What’s odd about the clunky and counter-intuitive cover mechanic is that other controls that were awkward in previous games are now, in this new edition, easier to use. By hitting both triggers at the same time, for instance, you execute a Quick Shot that packs an extra punch. Using a health boost now requires just a tap of a bumper, while the other bumper brings up a floating arrow that directs you where to go.
But the best new addition is that if you pull the right trigger without first aiming with the left trigger, you melee smack or kick the nearest bad guy. You even–like Nathan Drake in Uncharted 3–contextually take advantage of your surroundings, slamming a zombie’s head against a railing or nearby wall with satisfying results.
As we mentioned, the game has three main campaigns. And they ain’t short, either; this isn’t Skyrim long, but each chapter lasts an hour or two, and all four characters cover five chapters each. But Leon, Chris, and Jake don’t perform them alone; they all bring partners. That means you can also play these story missions co-op with a friend, but also, more importantly, as their companions as well. In fact, while their partners have all the same skills, they often take different pathways and perform specific tasks within the story. You can even change some of the rules when playing with a friend, and allow for friendly fire or give everyone on your team unlimited ammo.
How about letting other players online jump into your game as a zombie? That’s an option in Agent Hunt mode, and you can do the same to them. Well, supposedly. Due to technical difficulties beyond our control, we were never able to get the Agent Hunt mode to work (though one of our fellow reviewers from IGN did once jump into our game). But since Agent Hunt only works for specific parts of specific levels — the first stage of Jake’s second chapter, for instance — it’s more of a curiosity than a full-fledged mode.
As if playing the campaign multiple times wasn’t enough, RE6 also includes another round of “The Mercenaries,” an arcade-style mode where you or you and a pal have a limited amount of time to kill as many enemies as you can. It’s fun, for a little while, but since it suffers from the same control issues as the rest of the game, and is pretty simplistic, it never becomes anything more than a fun distraction.
Keeping with the game’s cinematic approach, especially during Leon’s levels, Resident Evil 6 employs an evocative and sweeping movie-like orchestral score. More importantly, though, it knows that to create scares and tension, it has to back off from that score at certain times. This approach does sometimes go out the window, especially in the Ada sections, where the music is often overbearing, but it’s mostly used to great effect.
As for the voice acting, while it’s decidedly better here than in past games, it’s still a bit muenster-ish (sorry). That said, Leon’s partner Helena Harper is effortlessly voiced by Laura Bailey (the voice of Chun-Li in numerous Street Fighter installments), while the equally experienced Eden Riegel, who does Sherry Birkin here just as she did in previous Evil outings Operation Raccoon City and Outbreak File #2, sounds expertly natural.
Even with all its flaws, and it has many, Resident Evil 6 is still an exhilarating action game. It’s just not the return to form we were hoping for. It still has control issues, and isn’t as scary or as puzzling as the series’ high water marks Resident Evil 2 or 4. Still, if you’re looking to shoot zombies and other creepy crawlies in third-person, Resident Evil 6 will keep you engaged… and for a long time.
7.5 / 10