I'm having a hard time separating Resident Evil 6 from the controversy that surrounds it. Ever since March, when one of the game's producers went on record as saying that they'd like to break off a chunk of the Call of Duty audience, the online discussion of RE6 has taken a turn for the relentlessly hyperbolic. A lot of fans would prefer that the series return to the clunky-yet-atmospheric survival-horror from the first few games, and the idea that Capcom might actually want to make money from its products has driven them into a blind rage. Capcom fed that fire by announcing a bunch of day-one DLC and releasing an underwhelming demo that felt like it was put together in 10 minutes by somebody who wanted the game to fail and destroy every career it touched — up to and including people who work in restaurants near the development studio.
When I got my copy of the game, I braced myself for one of those big-ticket, marketing-driven games that check a lot of boxes and try to appeal to everyone and wind up appealing to no one. I expected that every opportunity for innovation or creativity was deliberately stifled and every possible risk was carefully avoided.
Thankfully, that isn't what I got.
Each of RE6's initially available campaigns is about six to nine hours long, enough that they could almost be games in their own right, and each one is aimed like a laser at a different part of the enormous and fractious Resident Evil audience. Leon Kennedy's campaign is for the old-school, survival-horror fans, and it comes complete with zombies, strange traps and odd puzzles; Chris Redfield's begins as a standard, third-person cover shooter, and it's set in an urban area under siege; and Jake Muller's is a character-driven adventure game that reminds me of something like Uncharted. The three scenarios intersect at various points, as the player sees the same incident from different perspectives, but each maintains its own theme and mood. Once you clear all three of those, you unlock a fourth campaign starring Ada Wong.
As I write this, a number of smaller stores worldwide have broken the street date, and the fan reaction to RE6 — from those who've actually played it, as opposed to those who're shouting at clouds over a game they've never touched — is pretty much what I expected. Most people seem to immediately gravitate toward one of the three scenarios as their favorite and can take or leave the other two. It's an interesting strategy on Capcom's part and one that I think a lot of triple-A developers could learn from: Don't water down your product to appeal to a wider audience, but instead, just make more products.
This isn't to say that it doesn't have its share of problems, though. RE6, when it was announced, was supposed to come out toward the end of November, but after this year's E3, its release date was hurriedly moved up by seven weeks. The final game is certainly playable, but it could've used that extra development time to add some polish and iron out some bugs. The graphics have a habit of flickering and glitching out, and the AI has moments of startling stupidity, particularly in certain parts of Leon's game if you're playing as his partner Helena. There are a number of cheap deaths scattered throughout the game where your objective isn't immediately obvious or the controls go haywire so you fail a quick time event (QTE). They're the sort of things that would've been caught and fixed if they'd had the extra couple of months, but all we can do is wait for a patch.
The controls have been dramatically changed from RE5, which took a lot of getting used to. The context-sensitive commands are still there, but you can now sprint; reload while running; attack enemies in melee; dodge; throw yourself prone; or fire off quick, auto-targeted shots at the closest opponent. There's a big learning curve, particularly if you're like me and spent most of August going for 100% completion on Resident Evil 5, but once you overcome that, it's actually a big improvement. The characters feel much more fluid and responsive, and that goes a long way toward making them seem like the highly trained badasses they're supposed to be.
There's also a new cover system, and you now have the ability to move with your gun readied, but neither of those features is quite fully realized. I could never get the cover to work quite right, to the point where it was more a hindrance than a help, and the movement controls are awkward to the point where I think they might have been designed for an octopus. Before too long, I abandoned them completely and started playing the game like RE5, and I immediately started having a lot more fun. Thankfully, they aren't exactly required — gunfire in this game is like someone's shooting an angry beehive at you, so it's more obnoxious than dangerous — and they both come off more like they're in the game to satisfy somebody's marketing bullet point than to actually provide additional gameplay options.
Of the four scenarios, I'd have to give the nod to Leon and Ada's as my favorites, as they've got a lot of the old Resident Evil feel to them, especially if you're playing co-op. Every bullet counts, your survival is very much in question, it's packed full of shout-outs and continuity nods, and even though you're capable of handing out elbow drops and facebusters to anything that looks at you funny, you never feel like you're fully on top of things. The presence of your partner doesn't kill the atmosphere because the two of you are usually barely scraping by, sharing scarce resources and limping from encounter to encounter. Ada's game has a high focus on stealth, since her primary weapons are initially weaker than the other characters', and the end of her campaign features, without exaggeration, one of the creepiest levels in the entire series to date.
Jake Muller's game is likely to be a bit more controversial. The second chapter can be tense, but it's a high-octane adventure game full of vehicle sections and explosions, and it features the weakest plot. It's mostly an excuse to listen to Jake get into a snark-off with his partner, returning RE2 supporting character Sherry Birkin. While it's fun, there are big parts of it that feel like they snuck into RE6 from another series entirely, and it's easily the most disposable scenario. It's likely to be the most popular with casual fans.
By comparison, Chris Redfield's campaign is arguably the weak point of the game. The first three chapters are straight out of an unexciting military shooter, and aside from the presence of the occasional giant monster, have a very generic feel to them. It eventually comes into its own in the last part of the game, but it's a slog to get that far, particularly as Chris spends most of the intervening period of time smoldering with generic rage.
The plot's probably one of the best written in the series to date, although even as a fan of RE, I have to admit that's not saying a hell of a lot. It's a complex story about conspiracies and terrorist attacks, and no single character gets every piece he or she needs to make sense of the entire thing. Ada comes the closest, and even she's not privy to everything. What's crazy, though, is that a good number of plot details — and not just small but interesting background details, but some actual, major plot beats — are hidden behind the game's collectibles. You have to unlock them by finding hidden emblems in each stage, so there are major plot beats that you might never see because you didn't look behind a crate somewhere. It's a really bizarre decision.
As far as I could tell, the most frequently voiced concern about Resident Evil 6 was that the game was going to be robbed of what made it remarkable or unique in the name of turning it into a mass-market shooter/money-printing machine for Capcom. Instead, it feels like they sort of started to go in that direction with the half-assed cover system and the start of Chris's game and immediately auto-corrected.
In its worst moments, Resident Evil 6 feels generic and misaimed, the development equivalent of an actor who's been poorly cast for his role. There are a lot of features and levels that have been awkwardly bolted on, as if some marketer mandated their inclusion, and they don't do the game any favors. The vehicle sections and cover shooting are the major offenders, and they simply can't be over with quickly enough.
Conversely, the rest of Resident Evil 6 is very strong and provides a very real idea that the series is evolving and capable of providing both a high level of atmosphere and engaging combat at the same time. There's a lot here that fans can be cautiously optimistic about, but I'd really hope that in the future, Capcom makes more games like Leon's campaign and less like Chris's. The market has enough square-jawed, muscle-bound white guys who can't express emotions that aren't paternalistic duty or aggressive rage, sitting behind crates and walls and spraying return fire at featureless terrorists. We don't need another one.
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