Resident Evil 6 is an extremely large game comprised of multiple play styles, game modes and a large cast list. It tries to be true to the series’ roots, in terms of the mythology that’s been built over time and by way of the actual action unfolding on screen - Leon S. Kennedy’s segment of the game brings memories of the mansion and Raccoon City flooding back - even though this is not consistent throughout. It’s perhaps best to think of it as the largest scale genetic experiment ever, the Umbrella experiments being applied to the game in some kind of post-modern expression by the developers. Resident Evil 6 is inspired by all previous Resident Evil titles plus pretty much anything and everything which is held head and shoulders with the very best in the world of gaming today. There’s some Uncharted there, Gears of War here, and it shows that some six-hundred heads contributed to the behemoth in front of us. Pick any game and somewhere you’ll see a trick from it, or a tip of the hat to it inside this sixth canon Resident Evil. Whilst there’s plenty to do then - perhaps more than in any comparative game available today (the wealth of content is practically RPG-like) - lots to enjoy and even more to learn on the biggest scale you’ve yet seen in the world Umbrella created, it lacks the cohesion, the excellence in execution and innovation of titles past.
What you do get with this latest and supposedly most explosive Resident Evil title is an exceedingly large variety and length of content. The main campaign is thirty to forty hours of gameplay when not rushing (less time) or searching for every collectible (add on plenty of hours), and it’s split into multiple strands to mix things up and give the player the choice of what to do. As you progress you will find more game falls into your lap too, some of it adding very directly to the main game and other add-ons like Mercenaries (from previous games) and Agent Hunt mode (you can enter other player’s games and be the zombies). It’s all setup for replayability too, with the option to play a story segment as the partner of the main character in order to get a slightly different view, or the chance to play cooperatively both locally and online. The quantity available then is fantastic and compared to pretty much any other action, adventure, shooter or similar triple-A title is second to none. The problem comes in the execution of the game.
We’ve already mentioned the multiple strands of story, and this spreads out into many types of gameplay, too. You have the classical Resident Evil tense horror surrounded by incorrigible puzzles when controlling Leon; modern third-person shooter with significant cover when tasked as Chris Redfield and a more melee mash-up when pretending to be the spawn of Albert Wesker. This is very good on the surface, and the idea is commendable but it seems the team have taken on more than they can chew. The idea is fabulous but to succeed you need to be able to scale the heights of possible quality and look to match Nathan Drake’s adventures, destroy more than Gears of War’s horde and tax your brain at least on a par with Professor Layton. What we’ve got here is a failure to deliver excellence in any one area, and an end result where what we have is a mix of seventieth percentile average gaming.
Take Leon’s section of the game, given it’s the most traditional Resident Evil type gameplay. The tank - like maneuvering of yore - and even the slightly awkward but powerful (in terms of generating scares) feeling of the past two games have given way to a much more nimble and responsive avatar. When the game doesn’t want to manufacture something. At times, when hordes of the undead are ambling towards you - at a decent pace it has to be said - you might miss one coming up alongside you, so it grabs you, sending you into a quicktime event whereby you cannot do anything but respond to this one attack despite everything else going on around you. You might need to solve a puzzle by twiddling the left thumbstick to unspool a hinge mechanism, whilst everything else continues. You might recall that only the penitent man will pass, so you duck and roll to get past a horrible gate but the recovery is so much slower than you’d imagine such that it can grate a little. Nothing is more hideously artificial than the lack of pause when you open up your inventories or even fiddle with the in-game options. Obviously Dead Space is the inspiration here but whereas Isaac’s inventory and absolute control was part of his spacesuit and therefore truly in-game and horrifying thanks to the fear it generated, here it’s just a menu or two. No integration to any communicative device or special equipment. It’s just irritating.
The plot, the character roster and the variety of gameplay on offer is all very enjoyable. The story itself is an overblown affair centered around the C-Virus breaking out across the world with all familiar defenders called to arms on a journey which ultimately brings them to the same place for a spectacular culmination of each individual strand. Everything has been done to pander to fans who’ve lived and breathed the lore for sixteen years, and this is the way it should be. It manages to not push away newcomers though as it’s all very over the top, B-movie like narrative as you’d probably expect. It doesn’t wow you like the first Resident Evil did, nor does it take you on an intense and fantastic ride like the fourth iteration. It’s much bigger than that, much less taut and comes across like the summer blockbuster as opposed to the winter’s Oscar contender. It occurs to us at The Digital Fix after a few discussions on the topic that once the world of Resident Evil was taken outside of the constrained confines of the Umbrella corporation - in terms of the virus’ creation and history - it immediately became that much harder to construct a fantastic and well-controlled plotline. That’s probably true, but here they haven’t tried to do that anyway. Everything has been thrown into this game in the hope that it’s all enjoyable and certain bits stick to the memory forever more.
Whilst there are bits which are memorable, a lot of the set pieces and aspects of gameplay are slightly less good versions of what’s gone before in this and other franchises, supporting the feeling the whole game reaches for the stars but only just hits the ceiling. Perhaps we as gamers have been spoilt this generation but the big explosions here don’t reverberate, the puzzles don’t catalyse brain activity and the boss battles - whilst fine in and of themselves - don’t lend the shock and awe we might have expected. What does work very well this time is the co-operative elements of the game. Each character has a partner in their story strand and the player can choose to be either, so if you want to forego Leon with his floppy hair you can be Helena, a new character who seems to know an awful lot about what’s going down here. Playing as the alternative to the main partner lends itself a certain replayability as the tasks you’ll need to do are somewhat varied even though the levels themselves are linear. Equally, throughout each story path the pairs of teams will interact and this is fun to see from each angle - as well as to understand how the others got to the same place you did at that particular time (not to mention the limited four player co-op which is supported). The actual co-op can be played online or offline and in fact you can set up before playing how you want this to be handled - do you want to allow folks to drop-in whilst you’re playing alone, or would you rather they weren't allowed? Having the choice is great because you’ll want to be online to ensure your stats are monitored by Capcom’s ResidentEvil.net service which collates your’s and other’s statistics for comparison, ensuring there’s some attempt at social gaming in response to innovations like Criterion’s Autolog.
Most importantly for a game where co-op is a big part of it but not something you’ll always be wanting to do, the AI of your partner when controlled by the computer is light years ahead of that seen in Resident Evil 5. There’s no need to manage their inventory and they don’t run out of guns and just stand around flapping all the time. They do kill beasts and they do pull the levers set for them to pull. Sometimes their response can be a little slower than you might fancy but playing with the computer is a pleasant experience.
Resident Evil 6 is a confusing game. You have a wealth of content and multiple narrative strands which means the initiated fan will slather in anticipation. The game throws up variety of gameplay but does so in such a way as to come across as a jack of all trades and master of none. The game doesn’t scare you anymore which is probably the biggest shame. It’s moved so far away from the survival horror, past the action horror, into full on action and adventure territory, despite Leon’s experiences here setting a scene in such a way as to bring back memories of the first two games. If Resident Evil is going to do this, it needs to ace it. The choice has to be validated by the execution. Here, what we have is a title which seems to have lacked the cohesive vision that Shinji Mikami was able to bring to Resident Evil 4. It’s apparent that Capcom and the development team have scoured the current art, cherry-picked the best bits and then attempted to recreate that in the world of the C-Virus. In so doing they’ve missed the zeitgeist and delivered content and variety over quality and focus.