Much like the zombies and creatures you’re trying to blow away, the Resident Evil series has mutated in recent years and is now an altogether different beast from the 1996 original. Diehard fans are already bemoaning the changes and stomping their feet after playing the latest edition… Saying that though, Capcom has shipped 4.5 million copies of Resident Evil 6 since its launch a few days ago – and I must admit I think its detractors are being a little hasty.
Resident Evil, its remake, prequel, sequels and all the others that have borne the name have been known for their expansive environments, varied cast of characters and wild plots. While this edition is no different in that respect, it has polarized opinion.
Gone are the days of tension and horror that permeated the early titles, something which producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi admits was a conscious decision this time round.
With Resident Evil 6, the gameplay has very much switched from survival horror to a more action-oriented affair. Personally, I didn’t mind it so much – the tempo far more to my tastes – but naysayers are understandably disgruntled by the new direction.
To satiate our hunger for all things zombie, Capcom has crammed the disc with content and made this the biggest game in the series yet. Spanning four separate campaigns and giving you the option to control seven characters, the campaigns will probably keep you occupied for around 30 hours. Each level is huge – albeit linear – and spans numerous environments. The time-based challenge of Mercenaries mode also makes a welcome return and adds even more play time. Not only that but there’s also the introduction of Agent Hunt, which puts you in the rotting shoes of a zombie and plunges you into someone else’s game.
Back to the campaign and you can play as Leon S Kennedy, Chris Redfield. Helena Harper, BSAA member Piers Nivans and Sherry Birkin. Then there’s the introduction of new boy Jake Muller – son of Albert Wesker – and even Ada Wong makes an appearance. At certain points the paths of some of these characters cross and the story unfolds further. It’s a pretty impressive mechanic and shows how the various campaigns are interlinked.
Apart from Ada’s solo campaign, the others are tackled with either an AI partner or another player – either online or split screen. Thankfully, this time round your partner isn’t plain stupid; those memories of Sheva running about in Resident Evil 5 and swiping all the ammo and health can be put to bed. Now, your colleague’s AI is up to the task and they do come to your aid. The downside of all this co-op action is that having an ally along for the ride removes some of the fear factor that you had when you had to do everything solo – you never really feel isolated or outnumbered.
Even the fear of running low on ammo isn’t really there as there’s loads to pick up and more often than not you can just use the fairly effective melee combo attack if you run low on shells. Add the fact that you rarely find yourself in really confined spaces and you can simply jog past a horde of ravenous zombies makes them feel a little less threatening.
Still, it’s nice having a wide array of enemies. There are plenty of the well-drawn creatures spread through these campaigns. Most of the undead are a little trickier this time round, and not so profoundly stupid as before – some shuffle, some sprint, some wield weapons, while others crawl and leap. There’s a nice variety of beasts determined to make your playthrough trickier – although a well-placed shot to the cranium still instantly puts them out of action and turns their rotting corpse to a nice collectible bonus or ammo clip. Perhaps most notable are the J’avo – human at first sight but able to regenerate health when injured and mutate into weird and wonderful creatures, with limbs multiplying in size and becoming dangerous weapons themselves. These are intelligent and trickier to fight than your typical infected.
The prologue is big and brash, with flames, frantic gunfire and plenty of those infernal QTEs – setting the stall for the rest of the game. Accompanied by haunting score, and lots of fire and explosions, the opening section introduces you to the redesigned controls. Melee combos can put the boot in nearby zombies, you can take cover, dive over obstacles, and you can even move and shoot at the same time!
Then it’s up to you to select your campaign, controllable character, opt for solo or split screen and whether you’re happy for other players to jump in and out of your game to help/hinder your adventure. You can even stipulate if you’re playing entirely for fun, a serious player seeking medals, or you’re in it for the story – just so you don’t get mismatched with an inappropriate co-op partner.
By far the most enjoyable missions belong to Leon Kennedy and his trusty sidekick Helena Harper who start their adventure roaming the gloomy halls of Ivy University. Graphically, it all looks sharp and detailed – with the shadows and lighting really adding to the atmosphere. It feels very old school – like Spencer Mansion from the original game… even zombie dogs make an appearance. Then there are other impressively eerie settings such as the underground stations with their runaway instant-death trains or the Cathedral with its imposing gothic belltowers and hidden underground lair. This is a real nod to the days of old when Resident Evil was about zombies, managing ammo and solving a few rudimentary puzzles.
Alternatively you can follow the escapades of Chris Redfield, destined for the Orient with his compadre Piers Nivans. Their adventures see them taking on the infected J’avo in China in missions which are more shooter-based and make use of a fairly shaky cover system. This is perhaps the weakest of the campaigns.
As if two completely different styles of gameplay weren’t enough, the third shifts the action to the war-torn Eastern European state of Edonia and sees Jake Muller – himself a potential antedote to the virus - and Sherry Berkin trying to escape the relentless pursuit of the deadly bio-organic weapon, the Ustanak. Their tale eventually sees them run into some of our other heroes in China.
Ada Wong even makes an appearance and stars in her very own solo campaign, unlocked once you’ve completed the other three. She’s more stealthy than the others and partakes in a fair bit of puzzle solving.
Among the cadavers that litter the screen after a skirmish, you’ll find rewards in the form of skill points that allow you to upgrade your character. Initially you’re only able to afford basic upgrades and apply only a few of them. As you progress, however, more slots become available and as more points are accrued you can customise and improve your protagonist to your heart’s content. These perks include extra health, faster reloads, and improved combat skills.
The abundance of QTE does start to grate after a while; there’s only so many times stick wiggling, a well-timed press of the trigger or mashing the A button can be remotely enjoyable. Some of the set pieces are also a little cringeworthy – for example, early in Leon’s opening chapter when he dives into a car and you have to drive forward and back through prompts onscreen. It’s kind of pointless and breaks the flow of the gameplay.
Besides the rather irksome QTE, there are plenty of unskippable cutscenes – which look lovely and go some way to explaining the story – but do slow things somewhat. Then there are those infernal doors - loads of them. Besides the short animation that accompanies the opening of every single one, some require help from your colleague. Problem is, I often found my AI partner took their time to catch up and there was plenty of waiting around – leaving me a sitting target for any stray flesheaters.
Deaths on the higher difficulties can come fairly frequently but the checkpoints are generous. One annoyance, however, is occasionally being in the wrong place at the wrong time or not being quick enough to avoid your untimely demise when an action sequence kicks in. All too often I was smooshed by an ambulance, whacked by a car, thwacked by a train or blown up by an exploding barrel, only to restart in much the same position and see it happen all over again.
Finally, something has to be said about the over the shoulder camera, which does prove to be a little frustrating – the positioning of the character taking up nearly half the screen and often affecting your vision quite badly. The camera also has a nasty habit of adjusting itself, which can prove disorientating during a fight.
It’s not really a surprise that Resident Evil 6 has divided opinion. There really is something for everyone in this game – which ultimately means there will be plenty not everyone likes. Bear in mind, however, that there is a lot of content here - four lengthy campaigns and loads of other things to get your teeth into as well – and much of it is enjoyable. There are flaws but it does have some great ideas too.
Reviewed on Xbox 360
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