You might have thought that Capcom would have come away from Resident Evil 5 having taken a few lessons to heart. If you’d looked at reviews, comment threads and forums the message was pretty clear. Fans wanted a less action-oriented game, less co-op, fewer thundering blockbuster cut-scenes. They wanted more exploration, more investigation, more puzzle-solving and, most of all, more horror. Some die-hard gamers wanted a return to the good old days of Resident Evil 2, but most would have been extremely happy with a proper follow-up to Resident Evil 4. After all, that’s where Capcom hit a perfect balance between action, adventure and terror.
With Resident Evil 6 they’ve half got their wish. It’s a game comprised of three long, interconnected single player campaigns, and one of these feels like the RE4 sequel fans have dreamed of. Featuring RE4’s Leon Kennedy and a mysterious female agent, Helena, it’s still too linear and too patchy to match that illustrious prequel, but it does capture something of its atmosphere. There’s a fine opening in a university crawling with zombies, followed by some great sequences in a cathedral, a secret lab and the caves and tunnels beneath. It’s spoilt a little by too many quicktime events and by some really clumsy set-piece battles, but while you’re caught up in Leon’s campaign, you can believe that Resident Evil is back on form. It looks great, the environments and monsters are as creepy and spectacular as ever, and while the close-up animation isn’t always that convincing, it’s a pleasure to see the spirit of RE4 return in glorious HD graphics.
The bad news is that this is only one third of the game. The second campaign follows Chris Redfield and his team on a mission to wipe out a new biohazard menace on the mean streets of a Chinese city. This puts us squarely back in action territory, with you shooting at guys who are shooting back at you, even if the guys in question have a nasty habit of mutating into deadly monsters just when you think you’ve put them down. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem, but the action itself is flawed. There are too many enemies, too few bullets, and the cover system doesn’t really work. Set pieces are handled clumsily, and the whole exercise is predictable, unexciting and horribly linear.
The third campaign introduces a new hero, a mercenary named Jake Muller who just happens to be resistant to the deadly virus taking over the world. The US government wants his blood and a terrorist organisation wants him dead, and it’s all kicking off in some distant Eastern European warzone. Jake’s campaign shows promise. It’s still very action-oriented, but Jake has serious close-combat skills and a nice line in jumping and swinging manoeuvres, which gives his adventures a different feel to Chris’ or Leon’s. There’s a cool Nemesis-style recurring monster, which takes us back to the glory days of Resident Evil 3, and there’s a level of humour and intrigue in the story which contrasts well with Chris and Leon’s doom and gloom plotlines.
In the end, though, all three campaigns share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. On the strengths side, the co-op play mechanics are better handled this time around. All three campaigns have a persistent partner character, either played by another player or by the CPU, and in the latter case your partners are pretty reliable, not dying, not grabbing all the health and ammo and not wasting precious supplies. All three campaigns have some nice moments where you’re separated yet still have to work together to release gates or provide cover, and at key points the campaigns intersect, meaning you could find yourself working with three other players to complete a boss battle or achieve a certain goal. For all that we miss the days when Resident Evil was about one man or woman against hordes of shambling terrors, RE6 picks up the more players you have involved.
RE6 also deals with some long-standing grumbles about the series. Proper twin-stick controls mean you can now move and shoot at the same time, though a slightly slow turning speed and some dodgy camera work mean you still face tough times against fast-moving mutants. A more generous inventory means there’s less need to worry about juggling weapons and equipment, and there are new moves, including some handy dives and evasive manoeuvres. There’s even a handy mechanic where you’re given a quick respite when taken down to fend off your attackers with your current weapon and give your partner time to revive you.
Yet the casualty of such a huge and complex game has been attention to detail. Basically, a whole lot of RE6 doesn’t work that well. Large sections needed tweaking, balancing or removing altogether. Venture on in any of the campaigns and you’ll find set piece battles where the odds are too overwhelming or where there just isn’t enough ammo to survive. You’ll find boss battles where you spend your time wandering around the area looking for ammo caches while CPU-controlled characters do the work. You’ll find sections where you’re supposed to scramble for safety, but you’re partner keeps getting bogged down by respawning zombies and can’t quite make it to the exit point. You’ll find sections of mindless repetition, where you’re forced to resort to the same close-combat moves ad nauseum.
Where RE4 gave you moments of crisis and sheer panic, as you fought waves of crazed mutants from the inside of a house or on the village streets, RE6 can leave you feeling fed-up, frustrated and even bored. Meanwhile, Capcom’s addiction to big cinematic sequences and quick-time events continues, with some painfully extended cut-scenes and sections that are, at best, only semi-interactive.
Maybe there are two ways of looking at this. The glass half full approach is to see RE6 as Leon’s mission with some whopping bonus campaigns bolted on. After all, just the one campaign is longer than some games’ whole single-player effort, and it’s a very good campaign. The glass half empty approach, however, is to see RE6 as one good campaign, one alright one and one dud, with the problem being that you’ve got to push yourself through the bad bits if you want the story in full (and unlock a fourth campaign starring the mysterious Ada Wong). The truth is somewhere between the two. There is some great survival horror buried inside the vast mass of Resident Evil 6, and nobody is forcing you to play anything you don’t want to. All the same, it would have been a better game had it been leaner, tighter and more coherent.
Resident Evil 6 is a game of three thirds. One is a sporadically brilliant sequel, which looks back to RE2 and RE4, but the others are at best solid, and at worst second rate. Most of all, Capcom needs to learn that if it must maintain this action-heavy direction, then the action needs to be as slick and polished as it is in Gears of War and Uncharted. Here, RE6 falls down.
With strong graphics, good co-op play and so much value for fans of the series, we can’t be too harsh on RE6, but this is one of the few games where we’d like to see a director’s cut that trims away at the excess.