There’s a distinct old school reunion feel to Resident Evil 6. Many of the faces who shaped your past brought back together in the hope of rekindling happy memories. Look, there’s Leon S. Kennedy still trying his luck with ice queen Ada Wong, and oh my, isn’t cute little Sherry Birkin all grown up now she’s shed her polygonal puppy fat. Chris Redfield’s around somewhere (probably at the bar) and here’s Jake Muller representing his late father. It all starts so well, but before you know it, you’re embroiled in a drunken fight in the car park behind Nandos over who exactly killed whose super-villain dad by rocket-launchering him into an active volcano. C’mon, it’s happened to us all at least once.
The problem with such memorial gatherings is that inviting the past to bleed so freely into the present can be an uncomfortable experience. And Resident Evil is clearly a series struggling to reconcile its history with its future. RE rose to huge popularity in a genre – survival horror – still beloved, but now apparently seen by creators Capcom as too archaic to sustain blockbuster status in the action game era. As a result, Resident Evil 6 is the direct product of a franchise desperately trying to satisfy everyone and stay relevant all at the same time.
That said, a lack of ambition certainly isn’t one of Resident Evil 6’s shortcomings. Its prodigious size is a clear statement of Capcom’s determination to make the game every inch the epic it feels the franchise deserves. Three independent but intersecting campaigns, each action-based but differentiated by their central protagonists and allegiances to alternative chapters of the Resident Evil back catalogue. Two playable characters per story for co-op support. There’s even the chance to cleverly join with other players at confluence points in the over-arching narrative and skill points to collect and use to upgrade you characters.
On top of all this, there’s the new Agent Hunt mode that allows you to drop into someone else’s game and play as a monster and the old Mercenaries survival mode. And if that’s still not enough biohazard for your buck, there’s an entire fourth campaign that’s revealed when you complete the original trio. If you like what Capcom are selling, they certainly aren’t short changing you.
Like the intertwining strands on an infected double helix, the three stories mutate off in different directions before converging again for key plot moments. Nothing, apparently, brings people back together like biochemical weapons and RE6 relishes providing fresh perspectives on its mercilessly calculated pandemic of viral attacks that threaten to bring humanity to its knees.
It’s Rashomon Evil, but unlike that seminal cinematic masterpiece, here the complex criss-cross construct of the story is of much more interest than its content. Aside from their ‘fancy meeting you here’ moments, the individual tales themselves are straightforward vignettes stretched beyond their narrative means by overly convoluted multi-stage boss battles. Like members of a bioterrorist boy-band, the three leads pout and pose their way through the action, lip-syncing to lines of impressively delivered dialogue and never under threat of being upstaged by their companions who all seem born to play second fiddle.
Of the three initial campaigns, Leon S. Kennedy’s is the most appealing, but also the most disappointing. Beginning in the deserted and darkened halls of an Ivy League college after a political speech has gone bad – Mitt Romney bad – it frequently threatens to become a modern day Resident Evil 4, but remains a shortened and second rate facsimile of its predecessor.
By contrast, Chris Redfield’s redemptive mission to China immerses itself in the shallow, third-person shooter waters RE5 tentatively dipped a couple of toes into back in 2009, and is depressingly generic fare. It even has a slow-mo save-the-hostage moment and is only saved by some of its more faithful Resident Evil elements.
The pursuit of Jake Muller, the much prised mercenary son of Albert Wesker, across Eastern Europe by the seemingly undefeatable giant B.O.W., Ustanak, borrows the dramatic chase mechanic from RE3, but beyond it lacks a defined personality. And it’s left to the fourth campaign, starting the enigmatic Ada Wong, to be the pick of the bunch. Better paced with more traditional RE puzzles it’s a suitable but rather bittersweet reward for those who have survived the others.
What RE6 wants to trade in is that perfect combination of new and nostalgia, a little reminiscence with all the comfort of modern technology. Attempting a game with such scale and aspirations though was always going to be as risky as chowing down on a C-virus ciabatta. There are bits of a great modern-day survival horror game strewn throughout the clutter here, locations are often impressively detailed and beautifully lit and there are some inspired special enemy types. They’re just all engulfed in a mass of action game mediocrity.
Although the new controls make characters, while still not nimble, at least more athletic, their implementation is unnecessarily unwieldy. The camera is regularly stubborn and disorienting, focusing on what it wants and resisting your selfish attempts to rip back control as you try and stay alive. The flow to play is also constantly broken by cut-scenes, loading screens, quick time events and the need to retread the same section in different stories. But at least if you’re playing alone Capcom has the decency to give your AI companion unlimited health and ammo, illuminating further avoidable discomfort
Most critically of all though, RE6 just isn’t anywhere near scary enough. Any feelings of tension and exploration have been reduced to mere footnotes, while in their standard form, the new J’avo enemies are frighteningly bland. Even with their new über villain, Capcom can only muster an Albert Wesker understudy who doesn’t come close to displacing his charismatic mentor from the front cover of Evil Aryans monthly. And, despite being an interesting idea, Agent Hunt is an unbalanced and insubstantial affair that adds little.
Like some sort of Machiavellian science experiment there was the potential for a delicious volatility to Resident Evil 6; a fractious coalition of elements combining to create something truly original. Instead, what’s emerged is a Frankenstein’s monster of a game hewn together out of old parts Capcom are desperately trying to breathe new life into. Please Capcom, although ‘modernise’ and ‘westernise’ are often used interchangeably, they aren’t synonymous terms, and a truly great contemporary Japanese survival horror game is achievable. As it is, RE6 teeters somewhere between total mess and magnum opus. A B movie game with a triple-A budget and C grade execution.
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