Resident Evil 6 Review
Explosive and fun, but lacking in tension; definitely not your grandpa’s survival horror.
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It's possible that there has never been a more divisive main entry in the Resident Evil series than the most recent installment. Resident Evil 6 is an action-packed thrill ride that looks gorgeous and has a slew of modes on display for both single and multiplayer gaming. However, there are two elements that are noticeably lacking which may ring a death knell for the classic tone of the series, at least with as far as long-term fans may be concerned: there's almost no element of survival horror, and the puzzles that got gamers thinking have been reduced to the point of nearly being cut entirely.
Let's be perfectly clear: Resident Evil 6 is definitely a good game, it's just not a great game, nor is it necessarily what gamers have come to expect from the series. It has an absolutely mind-blowing amount of content (when you factor in what Capcom has promised for the near future), enough that many gamers in both the action and survival horror camps should be satisfied. However, you should make sure you're not going in with any real hope for a nostalgic experience; this game takes some rather large strides away from survival horror and more towards summer blockbuster action. Where the fourth and—to a somewhat lesser extent—fifth main entries managed to straddle the line between classic Resident Evil game play and a less-frightening run-and-gun experience, the sixth just goes guns blazing, even in the darker moments. It's fun, exciting, and absolutely worth playing, especially for fans of co-op...but it's not necessarily the Resident Evil that long term devotees have come to love.
This review was conducted using the XBox 360 version. Time was spent playing alone, with split screen, and using online co-op. Some impressions may be slightly tailored to the multiplayer experience fostered by the Xbox 360 console, though the majority of the review applies to the PC and PS3 versions of the game as well.
At this point in the Resident Evil timeline, many of the main characters have grown up, received military training, and/or direct experience with an undead threat. The gameplay, for better or worse, reflects that: ammo is more prominent than in past entries, melee combat is now a very viable solution to taking down even medium-sized groups of enemies, and the AI is intelligent enough that it can press on and tackle main objectives on its own. What the games lacks are the horror and puzzle elements that the series has been known for in the past, and so certain gamers going in with specific sets of expectations may be disappointed. If you go in with as fresh a slate as you can, however, be prepared to experience an in-depth, action-packed excitement that will take you across the globe and along multiple story lines.
Resident Evil 6 is definitely more combat-oriented than earlier games in the series, and as such, there's a heavier emphasis on taking down your opponents as opposed to sneaking by them and conserving ammunition. Bullets are more plentiful and new guns appear more frequently; in fact, shooting enemies is less about precision aiming or head shots and more about spraying bullets. For instance, a quick fire function that lets you shoot from the hip without aiming, a nifty trick useful for crowd control. There is a definite downside to this overall approach: bosses feel sloppier in the sense that the strategy required to take them down is less...well, strategic. It definitely makes your character feel more empowered, though, especially when playing as Chris; with a squad of BSAA commandos at your back, his campaign almost comes across as Call of Duty with zombies. Oh, wait...
With the greater emphasis on action as opposed to horror and tension, melee combat has received a massive upgrade. Using a designated button on the controller, players can wade into the fray punching, kicking, and suplexing to their hearts content. "Sneaking up" on enemies (which basically consists of running up behind a foe that's alone and facing away from you) allows for a one-hit kill; Jake, in fact, can use hand-to-hand combat as his designated ammo-saving weapon in lieu of a combat knife. Perhaps less useful on the highest difficulties, it's nevertheless a great approach on Normal for taking out even mid-sized groups of four or five basic enemies. There is one catch, though: a stamina meter determines how long you can flail before your hits lose power. Standing still or lying down is the fastest way to recharge, but the meter fills regardless as long as you're not sprinting or attacking.
Leon's campaign is the only one that contains traditional zombies in the classic vein. That’s not to say your overpowered protagonist is going up against helpless, shambling brain eaters. These zombies have enough cognitive ability left that they can wield shovels and knives; some even wear body armor and riot helmets (even the police had some casualties, it seems). There are a few specialty opponents as well, many of which take their cue from the unique iterations in Left 4 Dead: you have the massive Whopper that will knock you down, the Spitter who shoots some sort of acid projectile, and the Screamer whose shrill cry can paralyze you while simultaneously calling in reinforcements. Two of the deadliest foes, however, are the Bloodshot, which has a protective exoskeleton, and the Lepotitsa, who emits a noxious gas when struck that turns nearby humans into other troublesome monstrosities.
Chris’s campaign plays host to the J’avo, mutated humans that have been injected with the C virus. They hearken back to RE 5's Majini and RE 4's Los Ganados, and oppose the BSAA with machetes, machine guns, and a particularly unnerving quirk. If you shoot off certain body parts (including heads), there’s a chance that the J’avo will sprout a mutation in its place. These include a shield-like appendage that replaces an arm, wings that carry your foe should you remove their legs, and other equally challenging varieties. It’s a clever move that encourages an adaptive style of combat. Also, Chris’s campaign, being the most action-packed, hosts several large BOWs including the massive Ogroman, an intimidating giant will undoubtedly remind players of RE 4's El Gigante.
Jake and Sherry also face the J’avo, but they have a particularly unnerving opponent that tracks them throughout their campaign. It is called the Ustanak, and while it’s not nearly as frightening as Nemesis despite its devastating mechanical arm, faster speed, and larger size, it is clearly inspired by the iconic predecessor. This monstrosity hounds our players throughout their journey, causing lots of massive damage along the way. The Ustanak’s destructive capabilities result in some of the more absurd set pieces, such as one involving multiple helicopters and twin Gatling guns. We'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Inventory Management and Health Items
Each of the three campaigns use structurally similar inventories, albeit with superficial variations such as the color scheme. It’s somewhat convoluted, using an odd version of a weapon wheel whose direction can be changed in order to access different items (ammo, guns and herbs are on one axis, first aid sprays and grenades on the other). It felt unnecessarily complicated, and made us yearn for the iconic suitcases of the past. You cannot pause the game in Resident Evil 6 to sort through health items or ammunition; everything is done on the fly, a design choice that makes sense given the game’s emphasis on shooting over survival. There is a finite number of items you can hold, but in this game, if you drop something to make room, it’s gone forever. This isn’t as terrible a thing as it might have been in past games, since the abundance of ammo and healing items compared to the slim pickings that long-term fans have come to expect negates any major loss on the player’s part.
The health system, on the other hand, is actually quite well done. The game uses herbs, both red and green, but they’re combined in a new and streamlined way. If you have two green herbs, you combine them to create four health pellets; add a third one to the mix to make six. A red and green herb can be combined to get six right away. These pellets are then stored in your “pack”, at which point they can be eaten on the fly to restore you health. One pellet equals one health bar, and you can store up to 17 at a time. (Why 17? We have no idea.) There is also a button you can press when not in your inventory that will automatically combine herbs, for situations where you need health but lack the necessary safe atmosphere to deal with inventory navigation. It’s a clever system that streamlined the whole healing process, and is one of the few alterations to the system that we wholeheartedly approved of.
Sadly, it may very well be possible that the number of puzzles found throughout the entirety of Resident Evil 6 can be counted on two hands…maybe even one. (They are so few and they’re so far apart that we simply couldn’t keep count.) The few puzzles that exist involve mainstay items such as figures and cranks, but they’re painfully easy and go by very quickly. While we appreciated the inclusion of puzzles at all, it would have been nice to have just a slightly more balanced game play experience.
Collectibles and Skills
There aren’t very many collectibles in this game. Blue Serpent symbols, much like the medallions of the past two games, have been scattered throughout the chapters; shooting them unlocks an informational snippet, such as character bio or general back story, that can be accessed through the game’s main menu. The snippets are arranged in a grid format, and if you complete a row or column, you unlock a little figuring. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but the fact that there’s so little to actually explore and nothing new compared to even the recent games in the series makes it feel somewhat shallow and tacked on. There are no journals to collect, and the lack of puzzles in the game means there aren't any optional extras to explore or investigate.
Speaking of weapons, it’s worth mentioning that the much-acclaimed shop keeper of Resident Evil 4 still fails to make a comeback. In fact, there’s no store of any kind. Guns cannot be upgraded, you cannot purchase ammunition…there’s nothing! In its place is a skill menu. Killing enemies, breaking crates, or finding hidden chests can grant you skill points; these can be used to unlock perks such as increased defense, reduced recoil, or extra damage against certain types of enemies. There’s a lot to unlock, but basic things such as improved fire power seem so obviously helpful that there’s little reason to experiment with different combinations. You can have up to three perks selected at a time. This constitutes a set; completing a single campaign allows you to create eight different sets that can be changed out mid-game to suit the situation at hand. It’s definitely inferior in terms of gameplay customization compared to weapon upgrades, but at least it’s something. While points are shared across modes, it’s worth mentioning that Agent Hunt and Mercenaries offer their own unique set of skills to choose from.
Inventory juggling aside, the control scheme is very well-implemented. This is the first Resident Evil game that allows you to move and shoot simultaneously, something that fans of games such as Halo and Gears of War will appreciate. Like the heavier emphasis on gun play and melee combat, this approach contributes to making the gamer feel more empowered; you can charge into the fray, guns blazing, fists swinging, and be quite confident that you’ll make it out alive. Certain actions, such as herb blending, can be triggered at the press of a single button, offering a very smooth experience. It’s easy to pick up, but discovering all the different physical attacks that the characters are capable of will take some experimentation. On the whole, we found the learning curve to be quite low, but there’s still a lot of depth for gamers willing to put in the time and effort to learn all the tricks this game has to offer.
Capcom has done an excellent job of giving gamers plenty of reasons to return to their game once the campaigns have been completed. Want more story? Finishing the three main campaigns unlocks a fourth starring everyone's favorite ambiguous femme fatale, Ada Wong. The notoriously challenging ranking system, three difficulty settings, and an almost absurd number of unlockable medals offer personal challenges for the ambitious gamer. The excellent co-op system means you'll be able to share in-game experiences with new friends both in the comfort of your own home and online, and the Mercenaries multiplayer option is as engaging as it has ever been. If you get sick of playing as a human, you can also turn to Agent Hunt mode and take control of the zombies or J'avo. And that's not all...
There's already been a slew of updates from Capcom indicating patches and more downloadable content, making this one of the most varied and supported Resident Evil games to date. A patch has been announced for December which will not only improve camera controls, but will also include yet another and higher level of difficulty. Not only that, it will make Ada's campaign available from the start and update it to accommodate co-op. Ada's campaign was a solo venture, though, so whether or not that effects the game play or story remains to be seen.
To top it off, three additional arenas for the Mercenaries mode have already been released. If that's not enough for you multiplayer fanatics, three entirely unique multiplayer modes have been announced for the not-too-distant future. The catch? As of this writing, it's being released exclusively on the 360; PS3 owners will have to wait and see if the content will come their way. All three are team-based—though there are settings for folks who prefer to play as a lone wolf—so co-op and competitive players alike will have something to look forward to.
Predator mode has a team of humans pitted against a lone player who is given control over the menacing Ustanak, with both sides setting out to destroy the other. Siege mode tasks one team with protecting an NPC, while the opposing force has to take that same NPC out of commission. Lastly, Survivor mode is essentially a "last man standing" scenario that can be played on your own or in teams. If you're killed as a human, you respawn as a zombie; at that point, if you can kill two other humans, you'll be transformed back. All it takes to win is to be the last player alive. With a ton of content like this set to come out within a few months of the games initial release, it's likely that we can expect to hear even more from Capcom down the line.
Pacing & Flow
Unfortunately, pacing is one this game's weak points. The sheer multitude of cutscenes makes the game feel jumpy at times, a distracting feature in any genre. It took us out of the moment more often than we would have liked, and ruins both the pacing of the game and the narrative flow. Additionally, the insane amount of action in this game offers very little breathing room. Some more balanced chapters would have been appreciated, if for no other reason than that any story that incorporates climactic set piece after climactic set piece just begins to lose steam after a while. On the other end of the spectrum, chapters last a long time and the checkpoint system isn't the most forgiving we've seen. If you don't have at least a few hours to devote to playing through a long chunk, it may just be better to wait.
Solo players who may have found their computer companion in Resident Evil 5 more frustrating than helpful have nothing to fear in this game. AI characters, both in situations where it's just you and a partner as well as squad based moments such as those found in Chris's campaign, are very capable and can handle themselves in a crisis. There's a section involving the destruction of some anti-aircraft guns that incorporates both Chris and Jake's campaigns. When we played the chapter as Chris, we cleared paths, took out enemies and completed the mission; Jake and Sherry stuck to the back and provided cover support. As Jake, we took more time to explore the area, loot crates, and look for Serpent emblems. By the time we had gotten back to the objective, most of the opposition had been taken out by an AI-controlled Chris and his team, leaving us the job of collecting the left over ammunition and skill points. Admittedly, this was on the Normal difficulty level, but it was nevertheless a pleasant surprise to learn that the computer does in fact have the means to provide effective support for gamers that prefer to play on their own.
This series has been known for its cheesiness; it was one of the original game's hallmarks, after all. Even if the early plot lines didn't necessarily make sense, they managed to nail at least one of two things—they were either undeniably fun, or instilled a high level of tension in the gamer. Unfortunately, Resident Evil 6 doesn't quite manage to do either of those. It's a familiar story: a new virus (this time branded "C") has been seized by a terrorist organization called Neo-Umbrella who happens to have some high-placed officials in the American government. It sounds exciting, but the lack of a strong villain—the three antagonists are fine, but Albert Wesker left a big void that will take some time to fill—gives the story a nebulous, disjointed quality that prevents it from ever really coming into focus.
There are three main campaigns to choose from (four if you include Ada's), all of which follow the point of view of a specific pair of protagonists. The three branching paths are massive, involving different time periods, geographical locations, and ultimate goal. It adds to the length of the game, but the split points of view seem to lessen the impact of the entire arc, despite the clever use of overlapping set pieces; it doesn't have the emotional weight that you would get playing through a game with just one character from start to finish.
If we never hear a character avoid a question or refuse to give a straight answer again, that would be fine with us. The writing in this game was at best tolerable, and at its worst, downright painful. Dialogue was evasive, noncommittal, bland, and uninspired. The lack of a truly compelling story (as we discussed in the section above) means that the exposition wasn't really that informative—the "sinister plot" really wasn't that deep, and didn't seem terribly well thought-out by the villains—and while there were a few strong emotional moments, the writing was never the thing that made it work. The interweaving of the different story lines was very well done, but other than running into characters who were playable just a few chapters ago, we weren't impressed.
The voice actors do a fantastic job rising above the mediocre material that they were given. The only actor that was just satisfactory was the main villain, who wasn't quite up to the caliber we came to expect from the force of nature that was Albert Wesker. All the protagonists and the other supporting players were absolutely spot on; any lack of emotional engagement from the player (at least, based on our experience) is a result of dialogue itself, not its delivery.
The cinematics in this game are gorgeous, often lacking in any real content (as is the case with the summer blockbusters that this game seems to be taken its cue from), and almost absurdly frequent. From snippets that last ten seconds, to five minute mini-movies, it feels like the cutscenes take up almost as much time as the actual game play. They can consist of a small jump scare, a large piece of exposition, or a giant explosion, and each one is done impeccably well. However, the sheer number of scenes eventually proved to be more distracting than interesting.
Graphics & Atmosphere Overview
The developers on Resident Evil 6 absolutely nailed the visual quality of this video game. It's a beautiful feast for the eyes, despite some (occasionally glaring) flaws. Regardless of how you feel about the game play or story, it's undeniable that this game offers some of the best presentation found on this generation of consoles.
Resident Evil 6 takes an unusual approach to the story in that it incorporates several different locations, with the small town of Tall Oaks and the sprawling city of Lanshiang, China providing the two primary settings. With graveyards beset by ravens and thunder, abandoned alleyways with bright neon signs looming overhead, and the requisite underground scientific laboratories full of half-grown biological weapons floating in pulsating green tanks, the varied environments are all fully realized and very distinct. It's quite easy to lose yourself in the dark atmospheres established both in and out of cutscenes thanks to the thorough and stunning design implemented in the game.
Graphics are also superb, though perhaps harder to praise with such enthusiasm as the overall art design. The main characters look about as lifelike as any video game character we've seen to date, including what we found in the uncannily human Heavy Rain. Supporting characters don't always look quite as good, but come very close. Generally, the only issues we had were with hair and certain fabrics; sometimes they looked just a little too stiff to be completely realistic, but things like mouth and eye movement was always very sharp and in line with the emotions or intentions being felt by the characters at the time. Enemies—zombie and J'avo alike—move smoothly and respond to in-game physics with far more realism than what we've experienced in earlier Resident Evil games, with large enemies such as the Ustanak radiating appropriate levels of menace and decay as they harass our heroes.
The music of Resident Evil 6 is a very mixed bag. Out of context, it sounds awesome. With pounding synths, hair-raising strings, and percussive punctuation, the recording is as good as any symphonic album. Occasionally, though, it can sound just a little out of place with what's going on in the game. We were particularly annoyed by the almost techno-like accompaniment to our foray into Mercenaries mode. Something a bit more in line with the few shreds of horror that still cling to the atmosphere would have gone a long way for us.
Fleshy squishing, clanging gates, the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire...it all sounds perfect. Once in a while, some of the new guns wouldn't have the auditory oomph that we might have liked, but generally speaking, every sound effect is spot on. The moans of shambling zombies, the intelligent shouting of the J'avo...we can't praise it highly enough.
Resident Evil 6's multiplayer options involve some familiar modes, as well as a few with some exciting twists. The original release of the game offers quality over quantity—it just has Mercenaries and Agent Hunt—but Capcom is rectifying that with some soon-to-be-released downloadable content.
As of this writing, there is only one form of competitive multiplayer available for Resident Evil 6: the Agent Hunt mode. When starting, the game will search for a campaign in progress that has enabled Agent Hunt mode; upon finding one, the player is then thrust into the middle of another person's game as a zombie or J'avo. It is the player's job to kill the protagonist in order to "win." Playing as a regular zombie is a bit anticlimactic—they're killed fairly easily, after all—but playing as a special zombie or a machine-gun-toting J'avo is a different thing entirely. As long as there's any enemy left in the level, players continue to respawn until the heroes either make it to their goal or are killed. While one could argue that's a slightly clunkier version of playing as the horde in Left 4 Dead, it can still be devilishly exciting.
It may not be much, but there's more on the way. Read about the different competitive multiplayer options on our Gameplay page, where we discuss all the additional content that is set to release in the near future.
Like Resident Evil 5, this game is a co-op gamer's dream come true. All three of the main campaigns (Leon's, Chris's, and Jake's) feature co-op, and new players can drop in or out at any time if that particular feature is enabled when you start your gaming session. Perhaps the most exciting twist occurs when the campaigns overlap and four protagonists exist in the same playing space. At these times, if you have the proper filter settings enabled, the game will pause during the loading screen to search for another player or pair of players who are at the same point. If the search successful, you can engage in some large-scale set piece moments with up to three other players. It's a surprisingly effective and fairly seamless way to pull co-op into the overlapping stories.
Outside of the campaigns, Capcom has included the popular Mercenaries mode. Here you have to kill as many enemies as possible to rack up points before you're evacuated from the level. There is only one arena to choose from initially, with two more that can be unlocked by playing. More levels are being provided as purchasable extra content.
In a nod to gamers who may not have the best internet connections around, Capcom has included both online multiplayer, as well as split screen. The split screens are quite small, so if you're going to be playing on the same TV as your friend...make sure it's a big TV. There's a lot of detail that you'll need to take in when playing in any mode, and small screens can make it very difficult to see what's going on.
Mercenaries offers standard match options, from jumping into a quick match to customizing one of your own. What's really impressive are the levels of filtration on campaign co-op. Gamers have the option to enable Agent Hunt mode, turn on infinite ammo (if the skills happen to be unlocked), list what sort of game you're playing (casual, hard core, story-driven, etc), and set several other filters to customize how they want to play. It's a system that seems to be designed in order to pair gamers with their ideal match, and one that's easy enough to use that it shouldn't deter gamers of any level.
Launched simultaneously with the game's release last month, ResidentEvil.net is an online service that will offer a wide variety of support for gamers playing with an internet connection. It's free to sign up, and allows gamers to post high scores, track the progress of their friends, and compete in challenges that will earn players "RE points." The challenges are less like the updated goals in Halo: Reach and more long-term single events...at least for now. The first challenge, for instance, tasked players with the simple job of killing as many enemies as possible. Whoever had the most at the end of the challenge's duration would win the largest RE point prize. These points can be used to purchase in-game extras like figurines and Mercenaries costumes. There's not a ton of things available right now, but that's to be expected given its short lifespan. With time, ResidentEvil.net could be the tool needed to keep gamers coming back for more and to form a community that will be able to create a Resident Evil experience unlike any other.
Incredible co-op gameplay, tons of action-packed excitement, and plenty of incentives to keep playing: these are just a few reasons you should be investing in Resident Evil 6. It's a stunning game that will satisfy a Resident Evil itch that gamers have been yearning to scratch since the last main entry in the series. The only catch is...it's probably not the itch you thought you'd be scratching. Sure, it's great to see some of your favorite characters working together in sprawling, gorgeous environments to kill a new biological threat. However, the survival horror and puzzle elements that made the earlier games iconic and unique are almost completely thrown to the side. This game is proceeding down the path that Capcom's developers started on in Resident Evil 4 and continued into the fifth game. Whether that will prove to be the correct direction remains to be seen; we personally miss the horror and puzzle aspects. In short, Resident Evil 6 is a terrible game if the only thing you want is old-fashioned survival horror. If you're looking for an attractive, exciting, blockbuster of a game, though—this is definitely the game for you.