Resident Evil 6 – First Thoughts

So it’s out there and the reception is as muddled as it could hope to be. But what of me, a long-time horror fan and someone who has been with the series since its first incarnation? What do I think about this divisive installment of the Resident Evil saga? Well, here goes nothing I suppose… *deep breath*

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I like Resident Evil 6.

That’s not a strange argument to make; it’s an enjoyable game. If you try not to look too deep between the lines and just take the game at face value, Resident Evil 6 is a bombastic collection of tales surrounding a new viral outbreak. Capcom even manage to nod to the series past as they push onwards into things – yes, we remember the old games too, and here’s the proof – that would be their argument, and it is one that can’t be shaken. They do indeed know the series past and manage to hint towards a future as well.

But despite the nods to the past, Resident Evil 6 has lots of problems.

The main problem with Resident Evil 6 is not the game itself, but the variety of different playstyles on offer throughout each episode being thrown at you. Diversity is something we all want and even appreciate in some part, but there’s a problem with the Kitchen Sink approach and that is the main killer of Resident Evil 6 – it’s too much of everything and not enough of anything in particular. It swaps from slow-paced survival horror to frenetic fast-paced shooter to adventure exploration with the kind of reckless abandon that is admirable, but ultimately rings a little hollow. It’s confusing, because it’s the kind of evidence that many will snatch onto to claim that Capcom may not know where Resident Evil should be headed. I may not disagree with that line of discussion either – the term “Jack of all trades, Master of none” is the best summation of Resident Evil 6. It does everything and does everything competently, but there’s no real shining star in it. Everything is all right. Okay. Pretty good. There’s nothing in the game that delivers shock and awe, nothing that suggest and hints towards a deeper and more meaningful discussion on the nature of survival and the human species. There’s not even that much of the trademark Resident Evil wit and charm, even Ada Wong herself feels too serious and bogged down in everything.

Whereas Revelations earlier this year did the episodic thing, it kept a fairly coherent line running through everything. Everything wasn’t just interconnected but interwoven, a complex tapestry of threads that when you stood back showed a glorious, rich picture for you to admire. Resident Evil 6 tries very hard to follow the same kind of ideal, but without any of the masterful storytelling or intelligence. The end result from a distance is, indeed, a tapestry that looks like a mess. It’s like that little painting of Jesus that the cleaning lady did her best to ‘restore’. There’s a case to be made here that the people trying to revive and restore the pride in the series perhaps aren’t really the best for the task at hand – they’ve restored it, and sure they followed the basic principles. They even know what it is and why it was important. But they just didn’t have the talent, vision or expertise in bringing everything together in the end and the result is slightly ridiculous in a bad way.

It’s better than Resident Evil 5 however – that much is a given, and an important detail to note. Resident Evil 5 was a big seller but won very few fans. It was hard to pin down exactly why Resident Evil 5 was such a turn-off, harder than it is to pin down the issues that plague #6, but for me the problem with Resident Evil 5 was that the sparkle, the wit, the warmth was robbed from the series at that moment. It became very serious and American. This meant it became another third-person shooter game, and that for me was the killer. Resident Evil needs warmth and wit. It needs the light to illuminate and indeed, create the shadows. Every installment up to the recent attempts had this kind of attention to detail, and the series has lost that spark that kept it from feeling too stale and turgid.

Resident Evil 6 at least attempts to try and rectify this. It also rummages around in the drawers for some other hints and nods to the past – welcome back Sherry Birkin, the little girl from Resident Evil 2. She’s a great character, but feels so undervalued in it. There are all these little nods and references but ultimately the real issue at hand in this is that there’s really no reason for them to be there. Sherry, sadly, could be replaced with Kathy Griffin and you probably wouldn’t notice much of a dip in the narrative. Sherry is there much in the same vein as Leon constantly remarking on the Raccoon City incident – they are there to distract us a little and go “Oooh, like from back then?” The problem is, it doesn’t work for very long before the effect wears off and you realise that they’re really not going anywhere fast with it (although I have yet to finish, I’ll do a proper “On Resident Evil 6” when I’ve played deeper).

I like Resident Evil 6 because it does feel well put together, well-made and solid. It feels complete, and weighty, and full of stuff to enjoy. Right now it DOES feel like Quantity over Quality, but it will take the summation of each storyline before I can look over it and pass judgement as to whether it all ties together in a neat bow. So far there are suggestions of a future, but it’s a future that I’m sure fans of the series would probably rather not see. We’re not against another Resident Evil. But this doesn’t exactly deliver a knock-out punch in the first round. Does it build slow? Does it build at all?

I’ll say the same thing about Resident Evil 6 as I did about Dead Space 2. It’s a game that screams “HUGE FREAKING BUDGET WOOOOOO!”, and then proceeds to blow the entire wad of cash on blinging everything to within an inch of its life. But it’s forgotten that midst the budget, all the slick graphics and the admirably huge game there needs to be a sense of coherence, of unity, of purpose. Dead Space 2 was so vain it was unbelievable, the sort of game that spent four hours in front of a mirror dressing for your dinner date and ends up actually turning up when the restaurant has closed and you’ve gone home feeling it stood you up. Resident Evil 6, on the other hand, is hyperactive. It’s got everything it could ever hope to have and still jumps about on the sofa proclaiming its love for… oh wait, that’s a Tom Cruise joke. BING! Reverse. Beep…. beep… beep…

This is a problem though. Dead Space 2 was vain. Silent Hill: Downpour was dull. And Resident Evil 6 is just manic. The horror world in games is admittedly stuck right now in a bit of a quandary, especially when you consider that Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly was re-released on the Wii this year and is a far, far, FAR superior horror game. For within its budget it made a pretty game, with interesting characters, in an interesting setting and with a well-told storyline that builds and builds to a heart-rending conclusion. It tells a story, it tells it well, and the fact the game is fascinating and full of clever touches and sub-stories is just gravy. And it is, dare I say it, SCARY! Dead Space 2 wasn’t scary. Silent Hill: Downpour wasn’t scary. Resident Evil 6, for all its attempt, isn’t scary. It just isn’t.

That’s kind of the nub of it all. Resident Evil is, at heart, a horror game. And therefore does need moments of scares, even the light-hearted Resident Evil 4 delivered some proper scares. A horror game without any real horror in it is kind of a pointless object. When looked at as a game, Resident Evil 6 is nice. And certainly better than lots give it credit for.

As a horror game? It’s an absolute shambles, and that’s the only opinion that people will cling to. Capcom have no-one to blame but themselves.

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