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Resident Evil 6 thrives on its silliness but stumbles when things get serious (review)

It would suck to live in the world of Resident Evil. After 16 years of constant bio-terrorist threats, zombies, megalomaniacs, and viruses with names slowly using up the entire alphabet, it’s surprising to see any real survivors left. But rather than give us hope for humankind’s triumphant victory, developer Capcom is content to keep chipping away at its numbers with Resident Evil 6 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC (due out on Tuesday, Oct. 2).

The current and familiar protagonist crew of Leon Kennedy, Chris Redfield, Sherry Birkin, and Ada Wong team up with newcomers Helena Harper, Piers Nivans, and Jake Muller for the largest ensemble cast in this zombie-shootin’ franchise to date. You follow their adventures across the globe as the threat of the new Chrysalid virus spreads.

They’re kind of like The Avengers, except with fewer superpowers and better hairstyles.

WHAT YOU’LL LIKE

Unpredictable foes
Half the fun of playing a Resident Evil game is seeing how many more viruses and grotesque monsters Capcom can come up with. In Resident Evil 6, the new bio-organic creatures on the block are the C-virus-powered J’avo, a formidable threat thanks to the multiple ways they can instantly mutate and evolve. They can sprout large, bony arms to shield themselves or long legs to jump great distances. Your tactics in battle constantly change to counter their attacks.

The enemy transformations look fantastic, too. Entrails pour out of the J’avo like goodies from a blood-soaked piñata as their limbs twist and break at bone-crunching angles. Others spontaneously combust into flames, and their melted skin forms a golden cocoon that quickly gives birth to even larger creatures. And some of the more gargantuan bosses look like they belong in the next Godzilla flick than a survival-horror game.

With these zombies, who come in their own shapes and sizes (my favorite being the “whopper,” a large rotund creature who looks like he’s about to pop), Resident Evil 6 is challenging, even by series’ standards. I even found myself struggling with limited ammo and healing herbs while playing on normal.

Resident Evil 6 Agent Hunt

A ton of content
With 20 chapters to play through in the campaign, either solo or in cooperative mode, Resident Evil 6 is a really long experience. On average, each chapter took 60 minutes or more to complete, with my total run time being 23 hours. If you want to see absolutely everything and hunt for hidden items, you can tack on another couple of hours to that total. The tally also includes exploring alternative routes in each level since characters often separate and take different paths to help each other out. Unless you’re playing co-op with a friend, the only way to see it all is to replay certain sequences.

All of that’s not even counting the “extra content” section of the title. This is where you’ll find The Mercenaries, a recurring minigame (since Resident Evil 3: Nemesis) where you blast enemies to earn a high score. It’s a fun little diversion if you need to get your Resident Evil fix in small bursts. You can also check out Agent Hunt, an online co-op option that allows you to invade other players’ campaigns by controlling specific types of zombies and J’avo, but it only works if they set their Agent Hunt setting to allow anyone to jump in. Unfortunately, even though I unlocked this mode, I was unable to play it during my review period.

“Crossover” scenarios allow for more co-op moments where four characters team up during key sections of the narrative to fight a boss. As with Agent Hunt, this only happens if everyone has their online settings open, and, if so, you’re automatically matched with others who are playing within the same eligible chapters. Since I played the campaign offline, I wasn’t able to experience these portions either, but it seems like a neat way to work multiplayer action into the game without being too intrusive.

In spite of this, however, I still got a lot of mileage out of Resident Evil 6. For those who like to measure the value of their entertainment in terms of dollars per hour, the game doesn’t disappoint.

Campy vibe
A certain level of cringe-worthy dialogue and events have been in every major iteration of the franchise, but with Resident Evil 6, Capcom kicks it up to a whole new level. You’ll realize this once you see that almost every character is really a professional wrestler: Helena has a devastating elbow drop, Leon jumps from behind to grab zombies into a skull-crushing headlock, and Jake loves to suplex the J’avo into submission. These context-sensitive melee attacks are just the beginning.

In addition to a generous helping of slow-motion cutscenes, timed button prompts are back in full force for dramatic face-to-face encounters with your enemies. Quick shots, dodge rolls, and stylish butt-sliding are all part of your new arsenal of acrobatics, and they work rather well here as zombies and J’avo alike will remind you to keep moving (a huge change from the series’ stop-and-shoot mechanics). As the action ramps up, so do the verbal wisecracks coming from the protagonists that only fans of previous games will understand.

RE6 pays homage to traditional survival-horror elements with Leon’s and Jake’s chapters, but Capcom is finally embracing the action-heavy direction it hinted at in Resident Evil 4 and took a half step toward in Resident Evil 5.

Resident Evil 6 Ustanak battle

Subtle visual changes
While Resident Evil 6 is a great-looking game, the graphics and visual effects aren’t what make it so impressive. I loved the little details like the way Sherry’s winter coat flapped in the wind or the mud that slowly accumulated on Leon during a rain-soaked adventure in a graveyard.

Another neat touch is the revamped inventory and health system, as shown on the bottom right or left of the screen. The system’s look changes depending on which character you play as. Chris’ has a green-tinged glow, as if emanating from a laptop. Leon’s has a clinical feel with its white octagonal compartments. Ada’s consists of blue cubes with an aquatic theme, and you can actually see bubbles rise to the top of the screen as you look through your items and weapons. These visual motifs extend to the settings menu as well where large but simple icons take the place of the usual text descriptors.

These aesthetic choices are interesting, and they don’t affect the gameplay at all. But they help reinforce the idea that you’re playing with characters who have distinct personalities and motives.

Partner A.I.
Your computer-controlled partners are actually competent … perhaps even a little too good. They can’t die, at least on normal difficulty, and you don’t have to worry about them spending any of your ammo like Sheva Alomar did in Resident Evil 5. They’ll have no trouble killing groups of zombies or J’avo on their own, and they’ll do their best to revive you when you’re down. So if you don’t have a friend to play with, don’t worry. You can play the game perfectly fine without the A.I. getting in the way.

WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE

Identity crisis
For some bizarre reason, Capcom tries to offset the over-the-top action and humor of Resident Evil 6 with serious and dramatic moments in the narrative. This results in jarring tonal shifts like when Jake goes from being a badass mercenary without a care in the world in one chapter to a tortured soul with daddy issues the next. I understand the need for illustrating character growth, but this is Resident Evil, a series that prides itself on its ridiculousness. If people want a character-driven zombie drama (as weird as that sounds in writing), they turn to The Walking Dead, which has a story that actually makes sense.

After playing through all the chapters in RE6, I still wasn’t sure what happened. And you know what? I don’t care. Nor do I really care about its convoluted backstory. All I really need is a reason to shoot new zombies in the head with characters I’m familiar with. That’s it. For Capcom to pretend that this series is about anything else is silly.

Resident Evil 6 train tracks

Repetition
In dividing the game across four major story arcs, segments were bound to repeat as characters crossed each other’s paths. Though this construction is useful for providing a new perspective on something you’ve seen before, sometimes it ends up causing the same battle to come up again (though they have different goals or weapons).

The most egregious offenders are the boss fights. In true Resident Evil tradition, these encounters have creatures with multiple transformations, which, while cool-looking, are not very fun to play. Instead of eliciting shock or surprise, the only thing I could think of was, “Great, this is going to go on for another 20 minutes.” It doesn’t help that every story arc ends exactly with these kinds of fights. After a while, it all starts to feel too familiar. Out of the 23 hours I played, at least a third of the time involved replaying these encounters with different characters.

Capcom tried something ambitious here, and I didn’t expect the developers to create completely original content for each set of personalities. But I didn’t expect them to stretch the same old tropes for 20 chapters, either. I’ll gladly take a smaller cast with a more original adventure.

Lack of precision
Part of the repetition lies with some wonky game mechanics. In one timed escape sequence, I failed many times because I couldn’t climb a ladder. Yes, you read that correctly. My character would only run next to the ladder or behind it no matter how many times I tried to line her up. Unless I was in the exact, pixel-perfect spot underneath it, the button prompt wouldn’t flash onscreen.

A few of these quick-time events suffer from the same problem, especially when they involve a scripted part of the story. Several of these button prompts appear so fast that you don’t have time to recognize what they were before they disappear. By themselves, they’re not a big problem, but they quickly accumulate into some of the more annoying design decisions in the game.

Resident Evil 6 Ada helping Helena

Is Capcom trolling us?
“A 5th grader could’ve bust out of here,” quips an impatient Leon while commenting on a number-punching puzzle. I know these quotes are tongue-in-cheek, but rather than smirk and go on with my day, I found myself agreeing with him more and more. It’s not just Leon either. In fights against the multistage bosses, characters complain about how they have to kill them over and over. I’m not sure if this is a part of Resident Evil 6’s charm — perhaps it exists to make sure you can relate to the characters — but I found it amusing that they were actually talking about some of the title’s major flaws.

During another puzzle, set inside a church filled with cryptic messages, Leon’s partner, Helena, utters another gem, “We don’t have time for this!” Neither do I, Helena. Neither do I.

CONCLUSION

Everything in Resident Evil 6 is bigger, louder, and prettier than its predecessors, but that does not necessarily make it a better game. While it finally embraces the adrenaline-fueled action the series has slowly moved toward for so long, the rest is a schizophrenic mess. Capcom can’t seem to decide whether Resident Evil is a campy blockbuster film (undoubtedly its greatest strength) or a serious reflection on the human condition. For all of our sakes, let’s hope it chooses the former for future editions.

Score: 70/100

Resident Evil 6 will be out on October 2, 2012 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with a PC version coming at a later date. The publisher provided GamesBeat with an Xbox 360 copy of the game for the purpose of this review. 

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