Review: Resident Evil 6

Chris Redfield stands poised ahead of his men, an elite cadre of muscly GIs tasked with punching bioterrorism until it bleeds, buckles or boo-hoos back to mummy. With practised bravado he reels off a soliloquy torn from the diary of Captain America: “No one gets left behind,” he intones. “Not on my watch.” The music swells. Chris’ chiselled features move with resolve. A marine is reduced to quiet, patriotic sobs.

The chit-chat comes to a head and Redfield and co. join the ruckus raging through the streets of this chilly European hamlet. Chris spearheads the assault, tear-assing up the battlefield like a rhinoceros shot from the barrel of God Almighty’s gun. He thumps one B.O.W so hard his head just goes away. High above, jet fighters tear through an ivory sky, dropping ninety-pounds of fuck-you onto a cluster of enemies in the next province.

Ahead, a couple of lemmings take refuge behind a pockmarked wall. This isn’t what they signed up for. They’re ill-equipped to deal with the tsunami of machismo thundering their way. The B.O.Ws think about a do-or-die retreat. Too late. Redfield’s left-eye of Sauron tags them for sentencing. With quick bursts spat forth from the business end of an assault rifle the purveyor of pain brings their nightmare to a close. I imagine they perish relieved to be staring into the steely eyes of Satan and not Chris Redfield.

This, friends, is Resident Evil 6.

Listen, there are some things we ought to get out of the way. Most pertinently, the demo is representative of the final product – make of that what you will.

You’ll spend the best part of the four campaigns imparting the .50 calibre kiss of death to the J’avo, Resident Evil 6’s newfangled enemies. The J’avo are intelligent; they upend tables to use as makeshift cover, hunker down behind walls and arrive to the battlefield via helicopter. They’re terrorists with enthusiastically explosive heads, at least until they transmute into familiar beastie form.

Resident Evil 5’s leaning towards all things co-op was as revered as it was reviled but it’s undergone some surgery for round two. Again, it’s better played with a real-life partner, but played alone rapacious co-op buddies are no longer a problem and friendly AI has been polished. By which I mean AI partners are invincible, have bottomless reserves of ammunition and are swift to administer the almighty healing chest thump. It’s certainly a better game played alone than 5 ever was.

That game’s weapon upgrading? Gone. Collectibles? Gone too, for the most part. Deputising are the new skill points – looted from the corpses of fallen enemies – which allow you to better attributes like damage dealt and accuracy between levels. Elsewhere ammo is usually plentiful, but herbs are rare. Moderate husbanding of resources is still necessary but you can punch your way through most levels. There are persistent on-screen waypoints, hundreds of QTEs and a bit where you shoot hostage takers in slow-motion.

Still with me? Good.

Resident Evil 6 is a considerable game comprising four campaigns that each last upward of eight hours and are, in theory, each tailored to a unique subset of Resident Evil fans. In truth, they all end up wild festivals of pew, but as Capcom have bestowed upon us such a plenitude of content it would be unjust not to appraise each chunk of this monolithic game.

Leon Kennedy’s campaign endeavours to evoke the glories of bygone Resident Evil and as such it’s the campaign long-term fans will likely begin with. There’s a plot of sorts, but it’s not much more than an excuse to send the bipedal fringe on a tour of Planet Earth’s spookiest venues: graveyards, catacombs and shadowy caves all high on the list.

Leon and cohort Helena are on the hunt for evil scientist Simmons. Simmons has plunged the world into accustomed anarchy and though he packs none of the hammy punch of Albert Wesker, he assumes the role of chief Resident Evil no-good well enough. By which I mean his machinations are as nonsensical as they are comfortably thwarted.

If there was any doubt before, it’s clear from Leon’s campaign that Capcom have either forgotten or disregarded what made the early games sing. Having enjoyed Resident Evil 5, I don’t think this is something we should necessarily mourn, but Capcom have had a stab at doing the scary schtick again and the result is a vanilla third-person shooter set in the dark – one that subscribes to the Doom 3 notion that anything that happens with the lights down low must surely be terrifying. It fails to take into account, though, that nothing is terrifying when you’re armed with a triple barrel shotgun, a fistful of hand grenades and an assault rifle with a foot-long bayonet fused to its svelte underbelly.

More troubling than that, though, shooting isn’t much fun in the dark. The aiming reticule bobs and sways like you’re aiming off the side of a fishing ship while riding a pogo stick, and although you can spend skill points to improve your ability to shoot straight, not being able to in the first place adds nothing in the way of tension. It’s just irritating.

Our heroes have at last learned to walk and shoot at once, though. They can sprint, swivel with urgency and dive backwards like Max Payne. This is logical in terms of where the franchise is headed, but it’s unlikely to appease anyone hoping the last vestiges of traditional Resident Evil are loitering in the shadowed hallways of Leon’s campaign. That Helena could dropkick the tits off Mike Tyson is likely to prove just as heartbreaking.

The enemies, at least, are a throwback: plodding undead husks that offer no threat until they’re within petting distance. Naturally this creates a prickly rift between useless enemies and incredibly not-useless weaponry. Capcom’s answer is to flood the screen with the undead and have you wrestle them in slender gloomy corridors. The opening levels are like Batman Begins viewed through the eyes of a child playing pin the tail on the donkey, with the camera at ends with the claustrophobic level design.

A campaign channelling the delights of old Resident Evil would surely find the time to conjure up the familiar thick air of dread – the exhausting suspicion that you’re forever inches away from another mauling. But it’s all too predictable for tension. I know when I enter a large annular room I’m in for a boss fight; I know when I stomp over a corpse it’s probably going to wake up angry-like. It’s become a code by which horror titles are hamstrung with few offering a decent alternative to the same old clutch of clichés.

Eventually Capcom capitulate and Leon’s campaign slots into the same mould as Chris’, albeit with the lights turned off. It’s a prosaic third-person romp but the game benefits when Capcom embrace that. The levels open up and the battered streets of Taichi make for an enthralling setting, shot through with Racoon City’s demoralising sense of oppressiveness.

Dare I say, during the closing chapters it threatens with the faintest whispers of intimidation.

There are too many instances of horde mode butchering the rhythm of the most action-heavy of the four campaigns, but oddly Chris’ is perhaps the best of the bunch. The new control scheme has, after all, been designed with frantic third person shooting in mind.

Chris’ campaign is Resident Evil 5 by dint of Gears of War and the overriding ridiculousness works in its favour with set pieces aplenty and the levels at their most interesting. Shooting things is more fun free from Leon’s confined, dingy levels and it’s here that the last vestiges of Resident Evil proper are lingering, too.

With Chris and partner Piers wielding such mighty weaponry (the latter flaunts an anti-matter sniper rifle), the focus shifts away from the failed horror and instead to the J’avo and their ability to mutate into oversized, grotesque beasties. Indeed, some of the mutating enemies are the best we’ve seen since Resident Evil 4’s Regenerators. Guarded beneath thick layers of armour with grizzly parts moving independently and insect bits sprouting from where human limbs once were, these comically macabre nasties stomp around initially impervious to even the most thumping weaponry.

That said the J’avo boast none of the synergy that makes the relationship between Dead Space 2’s sniper rifle and its space Velociraptor such a memorable one. Enemies in Resident Evil 6 are to be shot until they’ve lost the will to live; the paradigmatic glowing orange weak spot about as near to tactics as it gets.

As is the case with all four campaigns, dispensable cutscenes interrupt the game routinely and most come riddled with QTEs. The last word in any large-scale confrontation is a QTE, which robs the many boss fights of any hard-won satisfaction. The best bosses are, of course, belligerent puzzles but when you’re murdering one by hammering the A button you can’t help but feel we’re in a sad old place right now.

The chances of you playing all three campaigns are remote and Capcom perhaps anticipate that, but the idea they’re all attuned to a different type of fan is an exaggeration. The third campaign is a mishmash of Resident Evil 3 and 5. Wisecracking mercenary Jake Muller accompanies Sherry Birkin as the two endeavour to make it from the alpines of eastern Europe back to America all the while evading Ustanak the Invincible. Ustanak is Nemesis by way of Hannibal Lecter, infused with the spirit of one of the shit Transformers. But he’s a vaguely intimidating fella – which is plenty more than you can say for the other bosses.

An accurate appraisal would be Jake’s campaign is an extension of Chris’ with a few tenuous games of hide and seek thrown in. Those sections aside, it’s another eight hours spent punching mutants and tackling huge set pieces. And if you were concerned the melee combat was too fruitful elsewhere, get a load of Jake’s moves. His dedicated melee weapon is his fists (Chris and Leon both have to settle for knives) and he punches like Batman in an audition to play the Hulk.

Like Chris’ campaign, Jake’s benefits from the more open levels and inventive creature design. He also has a freehold on all my favourite weapons. There’s the Elephant Killer – a magnum found within twenty minutes of beginning – and, possibly Resident Evil 6’s biggest achievement, The Bear Commander. Just take that in for a second. The Bear Commander. It’s an assault rifle capable of slinging explosive rounds. It’s also called THE BEAR COMMANDER.

The retort between Jake and Sherry also manages to capture all of the classic Resident Evil cheese. They can’t quite work out if they’re into each other, while Jake’s full of sardonic one liners: “Man look at this circus! Got any popcorn?”

It’s also worth noting that while the levels do finally open up to the point where on a number of occasions you’re given a minimap, it’s only so you can spend half an hour collecting the keys to open a door. Incidentally, until the fourth campaign this is about as close to puzzles as the game gets.

Still, it beats watching Leon’s mop of hair performing all its favourite wrestling moves on zombies in an underground cave system, and Jake’s campaign is more consistently rewarding than the others. It’s another third-person shooting romp, sure, but Capcom are evidently more comfortable making games like that now.

Complete all three campaigns and you unlock another starring Ada Wong. Criminally, Ada’s campaign stays faithful to the same brand of corridor shooting that characterise the others yet it’s the only one free from the shackles of cooperative play; thus the one campaign that could have satisfied those looking for classic Resident Evil.

Look, I’ll champion Resident Evil 5 to the end. As a survival horror game it couldn’t pass muster, but if the series was going to jump the shark I’d rather it landed somewhere worthwhile. And it did. 5 was a splendid co-op score attack game bolstered by short levels, natty level design and an inkling of terror. Most people missed that, but I spent weeks clinching all those S ranks. Resident Evil 6 embraces 5’s infatuation with the action side of things, but fails to capture any of its real glories. And as for the old games, forget it. Without its clunky idiosyncrasies Resident Evil 6 is just another vanilla-flavoured third-person shooter, albeit a very thorough one. And is there anything more depressing than that?

5/10

This review was published on BeefJack.

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