Review: Resident Evil 6 fails to live to up series' standards

I recently had the opportunity to talk with some of my fellow game journalists at a press event, all of us nursing cocktails and arguing over the current state of our beloved medium. After offering a few controversial opinions of my own, someone interrupted to ask what my favorite video game was.

"Resident Evil 4" I replied simply. The man looked slightly shocked.

"Really?" He confirmed, chuckling. "And here I had you pegged for a game snob."

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Such sweet memories...

I found this exchange interesting, not just because of what it says about people's perception of my admitted game pretentiousness (Power Stone is still better than Smash Bros), but because of what it says about Resident Evil 4, a game which marks a serious turning point for the granddaddy of survival-horror. Though many fans were upset to see RE4 cutting back on some elements which had previously defined the series, the reinvented action shooter was truly the best of both worlds, its frantic combat system more than making up for the smaller environments and simplistic puzzles. In short, Resident Evil 4 was the kind of game that gaming snobs and average Joes alike could embrace, and I honestly looked forward to seeing how the series would continue to evolve.

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Resident Evil 6 is a big, fat mess.

Unfortunately that evolution has led us to Resident Evil 6, a game which in its shameless attempt to copy the popular titles of this console generation, has managed to abandon everything that once made the series unique (save for healing herbs and Leon's bitchin' haircut). If Resident Evil 4 can be compared to a good action movie, Resident Evil 6 can be compared to an overproduced piece of Michael Bay-directed shlock, attempting to cover up the lack of any real substance with a constant stream of explosion-filled cutscenes and thrill-less quick time events. It's not that the game isn't fun, it's just nothing we haven't seen before, this strange bid to appeal to Western sensibilities rarely coming close to the material it attempts to emulate. So though the game can't be chalked up as a complete failure, it definitely fails to live up to the hype, seeming to mark a low point for the series overall.

Many of Resident Evil 6's failings can be traced to the game's most touted feature: co-op. RE6 offers three distinct co-op campaigns (with an unlockable fourth), letting players hook up with friends online (or offline with split-screen) to blast zombies. As good as this sounds, the game has been forced to drastically strip away almost all of the traditional Resident Evil elements to accommodate this new co-op. As large environments would make it easy to lose your partner, the game's action has been forced almost entirely onto rails, leaving absolutely no room for the thrilling exploration of past Resident Evil games. Occasionally the path will diverge, players splitting up to tackle their own unique sequences or provide cover for a teammate, though largely you'll find yourself battling through hallways, blindly following the onscreen arrow towards your next target. Similarly, Resident Evil's famous puzzles don't lend themselves well to a two-player experience, and as a result have been almost completely removed from the game, save for some incredibly simple "put the statue on the pedestal" distractions.

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Push that crate sexy man!

The real problem is that the co-op never really justifies its inclusion. Not only does the horror aspect of the game fall flat now that you've got a buddy to constantly save your ass, the bulk of the game is still a generic action shooter, and having another guy firing bullets alongside you really isn't much of a novelty. At points the game does include some co-op specific actions, players propelling their partner across a gap or giving them a boost up onto a ledge, while some simple action sequences provide minor thrills by letting one player drive a humvee/motorcycle/fighter jet while the other takes charge of shooting down the bad guys. However this supposedly core feature truly never lives up to its potential, and is hardly a good reason for making such immense sacrifices to the gameplay.

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Just in case you wanted to relive Modern Warfare 2's snowmobile chase.

The closest the game comes to making the co-op work is when different campaigns intersect, letting two teams join up for massive four-player boss encounters and other events. Unfortunately, there are a lot of questions about how many players will actually get to experience these sequences, as the game can only link up teams fortunate enough to be at the exact same point in the storyline. Perhaps in the early stages of RE6's lifespan there will be enough players to ensure the chance for a 4-player bro-up, but down the line it seems unlikely many will be able to experience this intriguing feature.

As mentioned, the game features three different storylines, two led by longtime protagonists Leon and Chris, with Albert Wesker's son Jake making his appearance as the series' new bad boy. Though it's clear the game is attempting to craft a rather epic saga, again, the co-op gameplay results in some rather bizarre narrative choices in an effort to force the aforementioned 4-player scenarios. The worst of these involved Leon's team crashing a plane into China, miraculously emerging from the wreckage just as Jake's team arrived on the scene, this impossible coincidence cueing up the big boss battle.

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Fancy meeting you here!

The plot occasionally hits some high notes, and I personally found myself reacting rather strongly to Chris's emotional struggle with the loss of his squadmates. Unfortunately, moments like these are quickly overshadowed by the game's insistence on ripping off the worst of mindless Hollywood action sequences. I saw at least three cutscenes involving exploding tanker trucks, and couldn't help but roll my eyes every time I was again forced to do battle with a rogue helicopter.

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If you hate helicopters, you'll love Resident Evil 6.

Truthfully though, all of the co-op sins could be forgiven if not for the game's two biggest problems. For starters the combat is simply adequate, ditching the fantastic combat mechanics of RE4 and 5 for an awkward cover system no one asked for. Whereas previous games allowed you to target different body parts, RE6's shaky aiming and heavy gun recoil make it a serious challenge to pinpoint a target. Especially disappointing is how little your targets react to being shot. In RE4 and RE5, it was great to see enemies stumbling backwards with each hit, though many of RE6's baddies seem barely aware they're being shot at, something which definitely ruins any intensity the combat could've had.

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Enemies often fail to react to getting shot, making it unclear if your attack is effective.

Worst of all, RE6 does a terrible job of keeping the player supplied with ammo, which combined with the number of stray shots you'll be firing thanks to the awkward targeting, ensures you'll find yourself stupidly rushing into a hail of bullets with your fists up. Capcom's only solution is to offer unlimited ammo as one of the game options, though this seems like a serious cop out. How hard would it have been to scatter some ammo crates around before and after major encounters? All I know is I had to redo one boss battle multiple times before finding a way to complete it with my scarce collection of ammo, and I can only wonder how the players who forgot to bring some bullets possibly completed this section.

The second of RE6's major sins is the over-reliance on quick time events (QTE), a familiar game mechanic where timed button presses and joystick waggling replace the chance for genuine interaction with the events onscreen. My one requirement for QTE is that it should somehow correspond to what's actually happening, so I'm actually quite okay with frantically jiggling the analog stick to escape a zombie, or rotating the joystick clockwise to open a valve. However, mindlessly jamming on the X button to steer a helicopter, or pressing L1 to drive a car, is something so disconnected from the actual action being performed that the player's relationship to the experience greatly suffers.

In these bad QTE moments, the player is reminded that they are not a hot shit action hero, but rather some anonymous cretin pressing buttons in a living room, something which becomes more and more obvious the 8th time you're forced to wiggle the joystick like a moron to push the boss against a wall.

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This "boss battle" is two minutes of joystick waggles and button jamming.

There's a host of other frustrations still left to be mentioned: the lazy skill equip system of character customization, the cheap deaths which can only be avoided through trial and error (you'd think my partner could yell out "train!" more than three seconds before it splatters my carcass around the tunnel), or the fact that the supposed cover shooter is constantly spawning enemies behind you, making it so the best strategy is often to ignore the cover entirely. Thing is, it has to again be mentioned that Resident Evil 6 isn't a complete failure. Though I had a rather mundane time going through the game on my lonesome, I can't help but think that the game would likely be a rather good time with a trusted friend to back me up, letting me experience the three campaigns from the POV of the secondary character. I can't claim that RE6 is the definitive co-op experience, but it does seem like a fine way to waste an afternoon, much like how one can enjoy select Michael Bay movies if they're willing to dial back their expectations a bit.

In short, Resident Evil 6 is an unremarkable 3rd person shooter best enjoyed with a buddy.

Unfortunately, it just isn't Resident Evil anymore.  

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[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]

- Vito Gesualdi's second favorite Resident Evil game is Dead Space 2. Follow him on Twitter at @vitogesualdi

Above Average

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Vito Gesualdi GameZone.com Senior Editor, DraftMagic.com Editor-in-Chief, NoNoComedy.com Contributor, and the hardest working man in show business. King of video walkthroughs for new games. Follow me on the twitters @VitoGesualdi.
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