“This is just like Raccoon City all over again,” someone says in Resident Evil 6. I’m not sure who it was. Chris? Leon? Doug? Kevin? But when someone invoked Raccoon City, the place where the series was bogged down for so long before breaking out into Spain, Africa, and decent gameplay, I couldn’t have agreed more. Yes, this is just like Raccoon City all over again: stilted, awkward, ridiculous, embarrassing, tedious. Except for the parts where it’s like Call of Duty, which are equally stilted, awkward, ridiculous, embarrassing, and tedious, but with more NPC soldiers milling about. Resident Evil 6 is thoroughly oblivious to so many of the things that make a good game these days.
After the jump, slow boat to China
One of Resident Evil 6’s greatest sins is that it lacks Resident Evil 5’s sense of place. As awkward as Capcom was in presenting the simple fact that most people in Africa are black, they managed to transplant their unique brand of silly horror into the broad daylight of a very different latitude. They introduced their Africa with a simple scene of men beating a writhing sack. What was in the sack? Why were they beating it? Who were the men? The lack of answers to those questions was far more effective than all the inevitable Umbrella Corporation exposition, and it was key to establishing Resident Evil 5’s unique tone. No sacks are beaten in Resident Evil 6.
Instead, Resident Evil 6 opens with the usual zombie mob. That can be effective. In this case, it’s not. But it can be. Here it does nothing to create tension, mystery, or a sense of place. Resident Evil 6 eventually nestles into “China”, which means the usual alleys have Chinese lettering on the signs and some of the scaffolding is bamboo. To get there, it takes its sweet time dithering in Easternish Europe and a generic Americatown. By the time it gets to its various obligatory secret underground/underwater laboratories, you might as well be on Mars. Except that a Mars Resident Evil would be pretty cool.
The generic Americatown sequence shows flashes of personality as it quickly unfurls and then sweeps away its guest starring zombie apocalypse survivors. “Hey Japanese dude,” yells the crotchety gun shop owner, “get the shutters!” You’re playing one of Resident Evil 6’s awkward group scenes, in this case a brief siege in a gun shop. Don’t blink or you’ll miss what happens with these guys. It’s far more interesting than anything that happens with the main characters.
Resident Evil 6 is split across four interwoven campaigns, which means you get to play some bits over again, in addition to the times you play them over again because you have to reload frequently. Don’t expect much from the whole “what if the President was a zombie?” angle that introduces the first campaign, because Resident Evil 6 has other things on its mind. Such as sewers, key card hunts, and on-rails vehicle sequences. The second campaign is a plodding Call of Duty episode, in which you take out the AA guns, play boss battles against tanks and helicopters and bosses, and try to shoot quickly while your AI squad scuds in and out of your line of fire. This campaign stars a guilt-ridden Chris Redfield, who wears his angst loud, proud, and in charge. It also introduces a rookie named Piers Niven, because Anthony Larry just sounds way too ridiculous. The third campaign introduces Jake, a cross between Han Solo, the Prince of Persia, Nolan North, and that douchebag jedi apprentice guy from the last Star Wars game. Token women sometimes tag along. Avenging sisters and whatnot. Ada Wong flits through the first three campaigns being inscrutable and eventually playable in a fourth campaign. There’s no sign of anyone half as interesting as Sheva.
Except for the solo-only Ada Wong campaign, Resident Evil 6 is built for co-op, with even more Cookies and Cream interdependent split paths than the previous game. The AI partners are far more effective than the average human player, because they have unlimited health and ammo. But feel free to make the game more challenging by playing with a friend. The new Agent Hunt feature allows random online people to show up as monsters. Their arrival is announced by a customized dogtag with their name and choice of logo, emblem, and template, just like the dogtags in Call of Duty, but with fewer marijuana references. If you’ve wanted to play a shambling zombie shuffling slowly up to your victim to try to get in a lucky melee hit — hopefully your target will stand still for a long time — only to get shot well before you’re in arm’s reach, at which point you can spawn again and slowly shuffle your way back before being shot again, Resident Evil 6 is the game for you! There are more options to unsuccessfully attack with the later special creatures, if you’re lucky enough to metamorphasize or spawn appropriately. At which point, good luck figuring out how your creature works. It’s a bit like a poorly thought out version of the beast mode in Gears of War 3, or a poor man’s Left 4 Dead, or Mindjack, which you never played and probably have never heard of. You can also play three (3) mercenaries maps, which play exactly like the mercenaries maps in the other Resident Evil games, none of which had only three maps. Apparently real multiplayer options will be along later, priced to download.
The level design is uniformly awful, with almost no wiggle room and the usual contrivances to keep you on the straight and narrow. Don’t even think of trying to get over a chest high stack of cardboard boxes, or around a stack of chairs, or through police tape. What do you think this is, an open-world game? You occasionally have to fight in a minor maze, maybe chasing down some silly spider people or running from some indestructible (?) blobs of flesh. Although some levels take place in fairly open areas, this is clearly an engine whose time has come and gone. Long since gone. It does busy and crowded and not much else. It also does driving sequences that you have to see to believe. Any Need for Speed on the Playstation 2 would be proud.
The gunplay is mostly familiar and sometimes satisfying when the third personness of it all isn’t getting in the way. The exact wrong way to play through crowded and busy levels is in third person, but what else are you going to do in a game about setting up cinematic melee combos to save ammo? The interface is more terrible and poorly documented than ever. The new inventory system is based on paging through a list, which makes it that much harder to get to the weapon or grenade you need when you most need it. I miss my custom d-pad shortcuts. Although you have unlimited room to carry guns, you still have to contend with a harsh limit on everything else. At least the healing is partly offloaded into a Tic Tac dispenser. The new health system is a traditional hit point bar divided into six regenerating blocks, but you recover blocks by popping medicinal Tic Tacs from your tiny dispenser. Hold on, I need to take some breath mints to heal up. The animation is especially hilarious when you’re helping a downed partner. Shake out a Tic Tac for him, as if you were treating halitosis instead of hemorrhaging! Thanks, partner! Resident Evil 7 should totally have Menthos.
Resident Evil is still very much in love with its quick-time events, more awful than ever. At rare points, you get an out-of-nowhere rhythm based gimmick, except that its randomized each time you fail, so there’s no actual rhythm involved. After hours of frantically smacking a button or wiggling a stick to evade zombies, suddenly you’ve got to suss out some weird pattern to get a crane to rotate or to set off explosives. It’s even timed during one of the sequences. Oh, Capcom. I supposed if Dragon’s Dogma had done something that weird, it might have been charming. But there’s far too much tedium in Resident Evil 6 already. For instance, how about a whole mess of those fixed camera “run away!” sequences that are supposedly so cinematic? Thanks, Uncharted! Since when does “cinematic” mean watching for what button to press instead of appreciating the cutscene? Since when does “cinematic” mean having to play through the same sequence over and over? Since when does “cinematic” mean waiting for a cutscene to load? Videogames have come a long way towards learning how to match the pacing, thrill, and characterization of a good action movie. Resident Evil is as clueless as ever.
(One of Resident Evil 6’s most cinematic moments is borrowed wholesale from the 2001 Japanese horror movie Kairo, translated — and remade — as Pulse. In that movie, there’s a shot from the ground of a big cargo plane flying low over a city and then crashing. The movie predated 9/11 by several months, at which point the scene was even more chilling. For Kairo’s inevitable American remake, the cargo plane was crassly replaced with a passenger jet. Resident Evil 6 borrows this scene four times: three times from the ground, and once from inside the plane. And because Resident Evil 6 is so oblivious, and so far from anything resembling actual horror, it plays out more like the climax of Con Air than anything in Kairo.)
Also very old-school Resident Evil are some of the worst boss battles I’ve seen in a long time. Dump your precious ammo into tedious fights against nonsense monsters — It’s a spider crossed with a fly! It’s an inside-out T. Rex! It’s a jellyfish skeleton! — with terrible feedback about what you’re supposed to do or whether it’s even working. Now drag some of them out over a half dozen stages. I am not exaggerating. If I never again have to defeated mutated Derek, that’s fine by me.
Resident Evil 5 also had a sense of place for how the long game played out. Your progression was based on collecting treasure and then spending it to improve your guns of choice. So in addition to getting better guns as the game progressed, your favorite guns got even better in the specific ways you wanted. Did you want a pistol that hit harder? Did you want a shotgun that you had to reload less often? Did you want an assault rifle that could punch through shields? Furthermore, you had to manage your ammo across levels. I have fond memories of playing through levels just to get precious jewels, ammunition, and grenades. I was stocking up, getting ready, marshaling resources, setting up my kit for the next mission. Resident Evil 5 felt like a place with an economy. So when I went back to that zombie village again, the one where I had to run away because I had only a pistol and eight bullets, I could give those zombies the what-for this time around.
Resident Evil 6 throws all that away in favor of a rote skill system. You pick up skill point cylinders — really, Capcom? — and then spend the points unlocking, upgrading, and slotting skills. Very expensive skills, many of which are borderline useless. At any given time, you can have three active skills, which renders the borderline useless skills flat-out useless. You’re supposed to set up groups that you swap out as you play. You do this by paging through the same menu screen where you adjust the brightness or quit out of the game. So now I get to come back into these same hallways of zombies with a slightly faster loading animation? With a recoil reduction? With greater resistance to being grabbed? That’s no way to give zombies the what-for. It’s a sad state of affairs when Resident Evil: Mercenaries for the Nintendo DS has a better upgrade system than Resident Evil 6.
In fact, it’s a sad state of affairs overall. The Resident Evil series has been on a roll, from 3 to 4 to 5 to Mercenaries to Revelations. Even the uneven Operation Raccoon City had a lot to love. But Resident Evil 6 is noisy, sloppy, busy, bloated, tedious, and ultimately too familiar to even appreciate for the usual ridiculousness. Where’s my copy of Resident Evil 5?