Like its rogue’s gallery of shambling horrors, Resident Evil 6’s single-player campaign alternates between roaring charge and lurching stagger.
You can’t fault the game for a lack of ambition or content. RE6’s single-player is something around thirty hours long, featuring four interweaving campaigns that try to offer something for everyone. Want more classic Resident Evil atmosphere? Leon’s campaign is yours. Want globe-trotting B-movie? Jake will suit you fine. Hankering for house-to-house shootouts against twisted abominations? Try Chris.
The problem is, any one of them really doesn’t make that much sense on its own – even by RE’s…generous standards of plotting and pacing. So much of RE6 refuses to explain itself, narratively or mechanically, and in such a huge title it’s much harder to keep up to snuff the whole time. There is a genuinely solid game there, but it’ll force you to work for it.
Thirteen years after the Raccoon City outbreak in the RE-verse, bioterrorism has gone, well, viral. Monsters, mutants and zombies are now familiar battlefield sights, and the anti-viral BSAA has militarized to counter the latest terrorist cells of “Neo-Umbrella” in a conflict in eastern Europe. When the President of the United States prepares to reveal the full extent of the US’ involvement in the by-now-infamous Raccoon City disaster, he – and the entire town hosting him – are infected by the latest virus du jour, the “C-Virus”. Cue a hideous zombie outbreak – and before the world is finished reeling, a second one in a major Chinese city. Amidst the chaos, our heroes – older, stronger, and undoubtedly very jaded when it comes to monster movies – careen through a typically insane RE odyssey of intrigue, megalomania, and melodrama.
RE6 is a very good-looking game, with generally high production values and a wide variety of bombastic set pieces. The monsters have rarely looked more repulsive, the combat more violent, nor slaughter more horrifying – Capcom clearly relished portraying the hell of a full-scale zombie outbreak in high-definition graphics. This makes RE6 a distinctly darker game than many of its predecessors, both literally and emotionally. Expect a very high body count.
Another major plus is the game’s revamped controls system and streamlined design. No Resident Evil game has a more fluid range of motion; our heroes can slide, dash, leap backwards, counter enemy attacks with lethal finesse, and smash their foes with a formidable array of close-combat abilities. Punching a not-zombie’s head clean off as Jake is ludicrously charming and not having to constantly juggle a limited inventory means you’ll be spending more time doing it.
Purists might decry these new acrobatics as a betrayal of the genre. But larger-than-life action setpieces have always been part of the franchise’s B-movie cocktail. Its heroes have always spouted cheesy one-liners and practiced the wisdom of an 80s action movie, but now they are no longer confined to the mysterious Cutscene Dimension. Having our heroes still threatened by any more than a horde of mundane zombies would feel even more artificial.
The controls and combat engine are quite flexible and robust – but good luck figuring them out. RE6’s US copy has no physical instruction manual and only the most rudimentary tutorial. Rather than being introduced to concepts naturally during the game, players have to puzzle so many things out – such as that the game is actually fairly melee-intensive, the weak spots of enemies, the whole skill system that’s replaced the RE4/5 upgrade system, the co-op system and the interesting ways campaigns sometimes intersect…
The truly frustrating thing is that so many of these changes are actually welcome additions. But when the game doesn’t actually explain how to take advantage of them, it’s hard to appreciate them. The tutorial is so laughable that I went through almost half the game before realizing the true depth of my character’s agility or the many wonderful ways it could be used to turn a fight around. Critical functions like the new quick-shot (a rapid attack that stuns a foe and sets up a melee combo) or the melee combat system itself have to be puzzled out on the fly, and it’s all too easy to play RE6 too much like a scaled-down, gimmicky its predecessors.
Resident Evil 6 is a real monsters’ ball, but its variety is deceptive. Though all our heroes end up battling “bio-organic weapons” – Resident Evil‘s redundant term for “deliberate monster” – the foot-soldier variety is segregated neatly by campaign. Leon’s campaign features a glorious return of our favorite shambling zombies, who have been artificially buffed to pose a serious threat. Chris and Jake will end up battling J’avo, crafty mutants more in line with the Ganados and Majini of RE4 and RE5, who wield weapons and sometimes drive vehicles.
Both have their pluses and minuses, but the J’avo are far more inventive foes than the undead. In addition to using modern firearms and blades, they have a nasty habit of mutating in the field – shoot a J’avo in the arm and he might replace it with a tentacle or organic shield, blast him in the lower body and he’ll sprout monstrous grasshopper legs or a spidery lower body. And if all else fails, he might be engulfed in a disgusting waxy cocoon and birth a hideous reptilian monstrosity. These varied approaches make combat an unsettling affair, and fighting them feels quite different from zombies or many prior Resident Evil foes.
Above all, for a glorified Michael Bay movie, RE6 is remarkably bad at narrative economy. Expect plenty of in media res; every campaign starts in the thick of the action, and context, characterization, and background are more frequently delivered via hidden files accessible only outside the campaign. It’s not that the plot is really the important thing with Resident Evil, but knowing where you’re going and what pus-dripping affronts to God will be in the way is usually helpful, and since you’re going to be invested in it for thirty-some odd hours you may as well get to know these people.
The game implies that you should begin with Leon’s campaign, and it’s arguably the most familiar experience for RE fanatics. But if you do that, expect to have no idea what’s going on or why it matters. Leon’s campaign literally doesn’t even show the initial outbreak you’re escaping from, making the entire experience somewhat hollow. Jake’s campaign – the one that actually comes first, chronologically – has many strong moments, but is filled with exotic mechanics and jumps abruptly six months and across the world midway through. And both end abruptly – it’s not until the final fourth campaign that everything is brought together.
It’s clear from style and marketing material that these two – particularly their setpieces – were probably designed first, and by contrast, much of Chris’ campaign is unmistakably filler.
Chris’ campaign’s inadequacies are especially damning because it feels the least original, the least inspired – frankly, the least Resident Evil of the lot. Accusing it of being a Gears of War clone is unfair, but too many setpieces feel lackluster and disconnected – the J’avo are the stars of the show, but they’re in Jake’s campaign, too. The cast is minute, and their motivations unclear and one-note – we’re given a vague arc about Chris suffering PTSD after the deaths of his squad, but since only two of his soldiers even actually get faces or more than a couple lines of dialogue, it’s difficult to empathize with him. And the production values take a nosedive, with tinny music, context-free slogs through run-down Chinese tenements and the inevitable Evil Laboratory in pursuit of a climax that, while actually quite solid, has nearly no relationship to anything else taking place in the entire game. Most damningly of all, nothing Chris does is so relevant to the other campaigns that we needed to play him, and in a game that’s already a bit on the lengthy side it cries out to have been cut.
Ultimately, while Resident Evil 6 is a solid title, its sprawling ambitions are as much vice as virtue. It’s a game that tries to be too many things, and unfortunately its moments of carelessness are packed densely enough together they overshadow even the inspired moments. A classic example of a good game in dire need of pruning, it’s worth a look – but maybe a preliminary rental first.