REVIEW: No Hope Left?
Well where to start? It's been a hell of a year for Resident Evil. Starting off at the beginning of the year with an announcement for Resident Evil 6, followed by the release of the impressive 3DS Resident Evil Revelations, then the rather poor Operation Raccoon City. Finally to more recent months with the release of two movies and now the release of Resident Evil 6.
This has been a difficult journey to writing this review as it's arguably the most torn I've felt on a core title of the series since Resident Evil Zero. Don't misunderstand me, for the most point the game is a lot of fun, offers a lot of value and often variable gameplay. Whether all that gameplay is top quality is where the problem lies.
Promising to be the most epic and featuring the largest cast of characters seen in a core game yet. Resident Evil 6 takes place three years or so after Resident Evil 5. The world is still being beset with Bio-Terrorism attacks, and we join the game after the President has been infected, and a huge attack takes place in China. Littering the streets with monsters. Resident Evil 6 was to offer players a more classic style of gameplay featuring the fan favourite zombies from the Resident Evil's of old as Leon S. Kennedy and new partner Helena Harper. Action gameplay more suited to those that enjoyed Resident Evil 5 as Chris Redfield and new buddy Piers Nivens, and a third campaign featuring newcomer Jake Muller and returning Sherry Birkin while they are chased by a monster similar to Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. The three campaigns converge and across the way will be reunions, lots of explosions, and a couple of twists and turns.
The ideas on paper were sound, and this should have been the game to meet every series critic head on and offer something for everyone. In truth aside from one or two cosmetic details and style of enemy you fight, there are seldom any differences between the campaigns. All are very action based, peppered with QTE's and the occasional vehicle section. As a result the pacing is frankly all over the place and action fatigue can never set in due to how the game is pieced together. It's incredibly fragmented, although you can begin the game with either of the initial campaigns, and at any point you can change to another. (I for example, tried to play through could in chronological order, alternating campaigns as the characters arrived at the locations. All it serves to do is prove how disjointed the game is. The pacing isn't so much all over the place as non-existent). Initially, however the game does attempt to show the variation in gameplay it promises. Leon's starts off slow and although it's heavily scripted it does capture the atmosphere it attempts to convey fairly well yet Chris' in straight contrast starts off in a gunfight and ramps up continually. Sadly, despite some slower moments where the game honestly shines, it descends too often into the typical co-op action shooter, and three so called different scenarios lose their identity and aren't really different from each other after all. Upon completion of the three campaigns, a final campaign is unlocked featuring the mysterious Ada. This scenario features a single player experience and shows events from her perspectives. Ada's campaign has a bit of everything in it, though there is an attempt to provide some puzzle driven gameplay, the puzzles are incredibly basic fetch quests and a couple of rooms which wont tax anyone.
Mercifully though, the game controls very well. It's an overhauled control system that actually suits the game well. Moving and shooting together is again possible and now looks like it's here to stay. There's a greater focus on melee moves and context sensitive finishes on enemies (generally when a shot has stunned or staggered them) and in a bizarre turn, the game has a huge emphasis on a new sliding and dodging mechanic that is jarring at first, but becomes intuitive and crazy amounts of fun when it works. The cover system is a bit underused but simple enough to get working, and many of co-op features work as well as they did with Resident Evil 5. The differing enemies across the campaigns are fun, with zombies being a lot more dangerous than you'll remember them, and the new J'avo enemies (that mainly populate Chris and Jakes campaigns) regenerate and mutate as you blast chunks out of them, and mix up the game play really well. The bosses are lengthy and often outstay their welcome far far too long, but there are couple of very memorable ones, including Chris' encounter with an semi-invisible snake in one of the games better sections. It's a huge melting pot of monsters and ideas, and whilst some don't quite work as well as they should, on the whole the variation in the critters is welcoming.
Outside of a couple of nifty features, the game is very much a run of the mill third person shooter, balancing some nice ideas crossed with some truly terrible ones. Kicking off, let's get the worst out of the way first, the biggest and most insulting thing this game inflicts on its victims is the absolutely god-awful vehicle sections. You cannot stress enough how absolutely painfully dire these sequences are, and if there's any aspect of the game that will claim the most lives of all the players it's these sections. They are simply, not good. Visually not very arresting, and they play even worse. The checkpoints are hopeless, and the controls not much better either. Thankfully they are sporadically placed through the game, but they do upset the flow, and you will utterly detest them when they arrive, again and again. Upon replaying, it's the accursed snow mobile section you will undoubtedly hate the most.
Another area the game wholly fails is within the new health system. Attempting to blend a regenerating system with healing items, it simply doesn't work as intended. The health bar is divided into six sections, and will only regen to section it's currently within. Once the bar is empty you collapse to the floor until you can be aided by you partner, or until after a duration. At any point during this transition you can be killed in a single hit, and if you are aided, you are still in a danger status and be killed with a single hit. Being as the game is very tight with healing items, the chances of you being killed immediately after a revive are so high it's honestly just easier to get yourself killed as quickly as possible, and revert to the nearest checkpoint (you'll restart irrespective of how much health you had on entering the checkpoint). There is an unlockable feature that allows your partner to heal you on revive to circumvent this, and despite the fact that dying will affect your grade at the end of a level, it's still easier to just get yourself killed, conserve any healing you have and carry on.
Being that the game supports so much multiplayer, it does feature a marvelous and certainly not-celebrated-enough feature that has players crossing paths as they travel through the game. A section of the game featuring Jake and Sherry will have them running into Chris and Piers, which will allow players controlling Chris and Piers to play their role through the level. The way it works is simple, leave the game on a open multiplayer setting, and on arrival at a multiplayer section, you are given a 60 second timer and if the game can find another compatible player it will graciously throw you together. It's a little cumbersome, but when it works, it's really special and not nearly enough games are trying to do this kind of thing at the minute.
Moving on then, the biggest area that series fans will take issue is the story. Resident Evil is a series that despite any issues a game may have had, the story can always lift the game for any fan. Now Resident Evil 6 doesn't have a bad story, on the contrary, there's a lot of detail, and lots of characters in a large multi-structured storyline. Unfortunately, the bulk of the story is hidden away in locked files that you have to painstakingly find through the stages. Could this be one of the first games with the actual plot as a unlockable feature?
The rest of the remaining story is told through cut scenes which involve character arcs that ultimately go nowhere. Chris Redfield for example, a character who has been around since the first game, is finally given his strongest opening ever seen in this series, which is then continued superbly until the last moment and then.... well you'll see, but it's safe to say it goes no-where. Returning character Sherry Birkin, demanded by fans for years and a really likable character to boot, ultimately has no real reason to be in the game, and her role within the story could have been easily filled with anyone else and still work. And that is ultimately the real sore point of the game, the story is disappointingly pointless. Every twist unnecessary, villains reduced to monsters and overall the consequences of events that happen within this story have very little impact on the overall canon, and characters end the game similar or the same as the entered it.
New villain Derek Simmons, is also sadly hugely underused, and although early on in the game he is deliciously evil, the direction Capcom decided to go with him is maddening, as all the promise of him being the new antagonist for the series to fight is resolved in the most disappointing of ways as you'll discover.
That said, with the characters ultimately have little or no development, there are, mercifully, still a couple of redeeming factors which mainly stem from individual character moments occasionally dotted throughout the campaign, Sherry reminiscing moments from Resident Evil 2, briefly reuniting with Leon. Or Ada offering us a brief glimpse into the person she truly is are easily the best things about the game, and it's in those sections the game does shine and show off its heritage well.
The game visually has taken a step back from Resident Evil 5, although is probably due to the much greater scale of which the game offers. It's a bit of a mixed bag, with the lighting being pretty superb, and the game having a reasonably good atmosphere in its visuals. The aforementioned vehicles sections look truly horrendous though, and the textures across the whole game are a real mix and match. The characters do look amazing in the cut scenes however, and they, like Resident Evil 5 before are acted well, both from the voice actors and mo-cap performances. Audibly, the game sounds pretty good, with the previously mentioned voice acting being of generally high quality (just a shame that some of the established series actors haven't reprised their roles for this game). An area of a little disappointment however is with the music, and although the game has often effective and fitting music, it lacks some really strong memorable themes that the series is well known for. On the whole, we will wait to see how the much touted PC version will shape up when it debuts next year, as we wonder, yet again how much the consoles are holding games back this generation now.
So despite all the issues the game has, let's summarize. The story is disappointing, but not awful, even having flashes of brilliance, the game itself is not bad to play, but passable, despite it being a whole lot of fun, the whole package is spoilt with a clear lack of direction. The apathy that surrounds this game is saddening, but at the same time I'm pleased we now have this game, and that Capcom have finally unleashed it to us.
You see, this is the game Capcom have been threatening since the later stages of Resident Evil 4, and the crazy cover shooter sections of Resident Evil 5. This game is so far removed from skulking around in original mansion of the original game it has lost its identity somewhat. I'm all for embracing change and a series reinventing itself, but this perhaps a little too far in a direction arguably people didn't want in the first place.
But it is good fun when it gels, the controls do become intuitive and the story and issues don't disappoint on repeated playthroughs as they do that initial first time.
I genuinely believe with that this marks the end of the current wave of Resident Evil games that started with Resident Evil 4. The action crescendo has reached it's peak and hopefully Capcom will take the criticism on board and bring us a Resident Evil game truly worthy of the name.