Resident Evil 6 – Almost Good

[Originally published August 22, 2015]

Resident Evil 6 is a really mixed bag.

Not to bleed my hand here, but this is – ultimately – not a very good game. In fact, I’d even go so far as to call it bad. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t truly interesting – and, dare I say, innovative – aspects within the overall experience.

Let’s start with the movement. For a series that has so unabashedly restricted player movement while aiming, the mobility Resident Evil 6 affords the player is surprisingly well-executed. It’s possibly the most robust, intuitive movement system I’ve seen in a third person shooter. You can dodge in literally every direction with the mere flick of the wrist – throwing yourself onto the ground, drawing your weapon. You can even scoot around while still prostrate on the ground, theoretically maintaining the flow of combat. This is, unfortunately, a cool but useless feature. It’s clear that there are parts of this game that were designed around the movement, but in an incomplete sense. Enemies – with the exception of a few bosses – are no wider than your dodge radius, meaning that you will always be able to count on your reflexes and your dodge to avoid their charges and melee attacks. As a defensive tool, dodges are a surprisingly effective piece of the game. Unfortunately, the offensive piece is made redundant by a plethora of poor design decisions.

Many enemies are fast enough that the impaired movement of the post-dodge ground game is more of a hindrance than a viable combat approach. This is especially bad when you’re faced with up to dozens of enemies. Additionally, the game’s claustrophobic environments make it that much easier for zombies to get up close to you. If you think that‘s bad, imagine when those dozens of zombies have guns. You may as well walk out of cover and put the controller on the ground. It is infuriating. There’s not even a real incentive to utilize the prostrate gunplay, as combat never actually requires your mobility. There’s no need to jump or slide when you can get the job done faster by just pointing and shooting. The same goes for the cover mechanics, which feel like a poorly-implemented afterthought. It’s a real shame to see such an interesting and unique execution of third-person combat mobility go to waste, and – as you’ll see – “cool idea ignored by the design” becomes a recurring theme of Resident Evil 6.

The inability to utilize movement properly isn’t the only problem with the combat. The combat of modern Resident Evils has always centered around the body. Shoot a guy in the leg, he goes down; shoot a woman in the arm, she’s stunned for a moment; shoot someone in the head, they die. Resident Evil 6 responds to this technique by introducing a new element to complicate the player’s understanding of location-specific damage. When you shoot a person in the arm, it grows into an elongated whip that shifts the flow of combat. Shoot a man’s legs off and he grows cricket legs, or a spider’s abdomen. You get the idea. It actually keeps encounters feeling fairly fresh, even though there are only a few enemy types. It also puts the impetus on the player to choose how they want a particular scenario to play out. Do I want to blow everyone’s legs off – resulting in a dozen spider-like mutations scurrying around the walls and ceilings – or would I prefer to balance the variety of enemies in the playing field? It’s an interesting question, and it’s visually executed quite well. Resident Evil’s style of terror has always been very Cronenberg body-horror, so it’s nice to see so much attention paid to the grotesque nature of the C-virus. Unfortunately, while the implications of bodily transformation are cool, the balance of combat is too fundamentally broken to account for these intricacies.

Perhaps one of the most baffling choices this game makes towards combat is assigning a different max health to each enemy. I swear on my life that this is true.[1] Some enemies – of the exact same type, taking damage to the exact same weak points, and while playing on the exact same difficulty – simply take a different amount of shots to go down. Not only does it ruin the flow of combat, but it also entirely cheapens any sort of skill you might have acquired over the course of your playtime. Sometimes skill doesn’t help when the odds are randomly stacked against you.

The inconsistency with which enemies take damage wouldn’t be as much of a problem if you weren’t constantly running out of ammunition. This is a bizarre decision to carry over from the series’ roots, especially given Resident Evil 6’s focus on setpiece-driven, AAA action. It’s hard to get caught up in the intensity of a firefight when you start it with almost no rounds. I assume that the sparsity of bullets was meant to implement tension, but – more often than not – it just makes combat more frustrating. The few ammo pickups you get are often expended within seconds, due to a combination of poor design decisions. Firstly, the game has this reckless desire to throw as many enemies as possible at you in order to lengthen each encounter. More enemies does not mean better combat encounters. This is a design sensibility that most games in our industry have long outgrown. Second, the actual act of aiming is wildly inconsistent. Not only are the base aiming mechanics on the level of a mid-2000s third-person-shooter, but Resident Evil 6 has also thought that having an absurd amount of weapon sway – as well as recoil – would heighten the difficulty. Ultimately, all this means is that most of your shots miss their mark, leaving you defenseless against a room full of enemies.[2]

As an alternative to using weapons, Capcom places a heavy emphasis on melee combat. Unfortunately – like the gunplay – it’s clunky, and lacks weight. I can hardly tell if my hits are registering, and – for a publisher so widely known for its reverence for “the animation” – every melee interaction is janky. Visually incoherent. Often, it looks as though your hits aren’t even connecting. It’s clear that the melee was a definitive thrust of the game’s presentation, but the actual implementation feels sloppy. Only one attack button, with only a few canned animations? The poor execution stands dissonant to the game’s constant reminders – including an entire character that does higher melee damage, and possesses a unique melee moveset – that melee is just as good as using your guns. Once again, Resident Evil 6 includes an interesting idea, but doesn’t execute it with anywhere near the level of attention it would require.

One final aspect of the combat that I should note is the inclusion of a perk system. Instead of purchasing upgrades for your weapons – á la Resident Evil 4 or 5 – this entry replaces this mode of progression with upgradeable, customizable perks that you can apply to your character. Though I was always a fan of the old style of progression, it’s Capcom’s prerogative to do whatever the hell they want to with their games. That being said, it’s also their responsibility – if they’re fixing something that ain’t broke – to make their replacement systems effective and worthwhile. Unfortunately, many of the problems I’ve mentioned previously – uncontrollable weapon sway, low amounts of ammo, inconsistent enemy health – negate the usefulness of almost every perk – I don’t want to waste a perk slot on something that causes me to do more damage if I miss most of my shots. There was only one perk that I found to be measurably useful in my playthrough, and it increased the item drops from dead enemies. Some perks can be upgraded, but not all. Often, it takes the length an entire campaign to accrue the cost of an upgrade, so don’t expect to have every perk fully decked out by the time you finish every character’s story.

Story. Let’s talk about the way that this game does story. Again, we begin with an interesting concept – take the player through the latest biochemical disaster sweeping the globe via intersecting points of view from a cast of new and returning characters. I actually like this style of storytelling a lot. I think there’s a lot of interesting things you could do with it,[3] but Resident Evil 6 doesn’t really have any of the ambition to match their narrative techniques. Instead of shedding light on other campaigns, each character’s story goes off on its own tangent. It feels like they came up with a story for each pair of characters, and then figured out how to lump them together after the fact. It’s all very forced and awkward. In typical Resident Evil style, character motivations make no sense, the dialogue is hokey, and the voice acting is laughably delivered. This is all fine, and would actually be charming if the game wasn’t so concerned with elongating its narrative. You will kill, and re-kill, and kill-for-a-third-time almost every boss in the game. There will be sections devoid of action or progress, simply in the name of giving the player more hours to play. Most of the character dialogue ends up smothered beneath a wash of military jargon[4]. That fun, B-movie, conspiracy-laden, virulent meat that the Resident Evil story has come to be known for is almost entirely absent. It’s incredibly disappointing, especially for someone who likes the dumb fun of those types of stories.

This game is a commitment. With 4 separate campaigns, there’s about 15 hours of playtime here. Normally, I’d like that in a single-player, story-driven AAA title, but – given the way Resident Evil 6 plays – it ends up being a time sink. If you’re looking for something to shut your brain off to, you could do a lot worse, but I can’t recommend this game to anyone but the most die-hard of Resident Evil fans. In the end, I think your money’s better spent on the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake.

5/10

[1] I’m willing to entertain the possibility that this is false, and that this is just the paranoid theory of a man who’s just played through every campaign of Resident Evil 6, but there are so many bad design decisions in this game that I wouldn’t put it past them.

[2] Note: even playing with a perk – things that you will read about in a moment – that increased the frequency of enemy drops, I was still constantly out of ammo. I don’t even want to think about what playing this game would be like without that perk.

[3] For example: have unreliable narrators give conflicting versions of the same story. I feel like this is something that’s been done in a lot of mediums, but not video games for some reason. I could be wrong though.

[4] Seriously, the amount of times you’ll hear someone “call in HQ” is bananas. The military language in this game is out of control.

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