It’s time. I’ve played enough of this game now to know some very important things about Resident Evil 6, and what I feel about it. I’ve been playing this series since the original game on the Playstation, so this is entirely the perspective of a long-standing fan of the franchise.
Resident Evil 6 is not great. But it’s not terrible.
That’s an important thing to get out there. Despite the levels of bile and hate being thrown at Resident Evil 6, there is still an enjoyable and entertaining game within its admittedly strained confines. There are moments of absolute clarity midst the moments of clueless ambiguity. Resident Evil 6, you see, is too much of everything and not enough of anything in particular. It’s a game that straddles the lines and defies genre-definition, but in doing so never really finds a home in any definable area. Resident Evil 6 feels like a bombastic experiment in just absolute entertainment, but being a prominent and successful series that has sat in the Action Horror genre for the best part of almost two decades it has drifted somewhat too far from its roots. It’s the wrong kind of series to be flouting the genre boundaries, to be everything to all people.
The game itself is a torrid storm in a teacup; the calm waters of familiarity and stable gameplay that accompany the likes of the original Jake and Sherry introduction then make way for a boss battle that is to all intents and purposes a clever and intelligent lesson in exploiting ones environment. From there, we are treated to a setpiece with Chris Redfield, fighting two gigantic mutant monstrosities in a crumbling town square before being airlifted out and forced to fight our original pursuing mutant in the tight confines of an aircraft. It’s the most glorious introduction to the game, and it feels quite rightly like Resident Evil is moving in the correct direction.
But it doesn’t last. From there, the second chapter is full of questionably poor design choices – the gathering section is too vague, too tacky and with the idea of being knocked down forcing you to the bottom of an ice slide, an exercise in futility when the controls aren’t quite up to the task. It leads into another segment familiar to fans of Resident Evil 4, almost making up for the previous mistake, by defending a rickety shelter in the middle of a blizzard. It is then followed by an escape section on motorised sleds, which controls a little like a drunk man on an ice rink. It’s the single worst indulgence in the game, one that is terrible by any measure, followed by a tricky stealth section avoiding the attention of your mutant stalker by silently taking out his means of sniffing you out.
This is what I mean when I say it defies genre definition; the game, and the gameplay, change regularly and demand different disciplines and approaches. This isn’t the most awful concept but the problem when you try to do this is every single piece needs to be executed flawlessly; every piece needs to flow and blend into the other. The most ready example of this done successfully is Beyond Good and Evil, a game which itself defied genre definition but everything felt correctly placed and effortlessly executed. It flowed naturally from waterbound shooting of aliens to tricky right boss encounter to chase sequence to stealth sequence, all the time engaging and intriguing and entertaining. This is a game that is almost a decade old; and its lessons have not been learned by Capcom, as each segment changes with an almost audible “THUNK!”, destroying the flow and reminding you that this is Capcom trying to show off.
And it IS Capcom trying to show off. Resident Evil 6 is a game with a near-limitless budget, and they’ve tried pretty much everything they can think of. Any slight flight of fancy a designer or developer had has been woven into the fabric of the game, and it looks like a rag-tag collection of good ideas amalgamated to the bad ones. The enemies, notably in the Jake/Sherry area, look almost crude. Compared to the zombies of the Leon/Helena section, the almost comical googly-eyes of the Ju’avo in the Jake/Sherry section mean you can’t really take it all that seriously. When so much good design work has been done, the inability to really make these mutations look somewhat more serious detracts from the feel of the game. It’s a joke, but it is one the game is not in on – it’s taking itself so seriously that it doesn’t seem to realise why you are giggling like a naughty schoolchild at these very crudely-built faces.
Notably absent is the wit. Resident Evil 5 suffered tremendously from removing the warm, intelligent humour from the series and by and large #6 follows suit. There are moments of fun and some great in-jokes, but these feel few and far between and don’t really lend an air of lightness that the series had once been known for. Humour was and is a great way to lend light to the shadow, further casting the shadow of serious moments but leaving you knowing you are still in a game that is designed to entertain. Even Revelations earlier this year managed to do this very well; sure, it played it straight. But then it sort of breaks the fourth wall and you realise that it was totally in on the silliness of it all. Resident Evil 6 is an auteur project that takes itself far too seriously; a collection of artworks in a gallery costing £30 and whilst some of them are worth admiring, having to spend time looking at a dirty toilet seat does cheapen the experience. Sometimes modern art really isn’t wise; for some, a dirty toilet seat may denote the state of the economy, which we all sit upon, now being filthy and beyond hygenic. To others, it is simply a dirty toilet seat and holds no apparent significance.
The problem with Resident Evil 6 is that it’s kind of never really sure where it is going. Neither in narrative terms or gameplay terms, it twists and turns with reckless abandon and unaware that it’s really just making most people feel a little nauseous. Which is a shame, because many parts of the game are fantastic, brilliant clear moments of gameplay genius. But it is almost invariably followed by something that just feels tacky, complex or just downright dumb. There’s no actual coherence to it all; Resident Evil 6 is a culmination of threads but the end result is a tangled, jumbled up mess of threads with far too many knots in to really find any solid, smooth thread to enjoy. It looks great, is well acted and extremely solidly made, but there are too many moments where the gameplay switches to something tricky or difficult to handle to really revel in it all.
But it IS better than Resident Evil 5. The problem with Resident Evil 5 was that it really ignored everything that had come before, and was a lesser game because of it. Resident Evil 6 at least knows and acknowledges who it is and where it has come from, but never really takes that anywhere in the end. Sherry Birkin is a great character to have back, truly inspired, but there is a sense that she is back only to tie up a loose end or two. She has the kind of potential that few characters enjoy; and here, they squander it, having her being too placid. She could be replaced with anyone else with the same super-power she has and it wouldn’t make much difference. She’s just there to add a sense of completeness.
And that is the thing; Resident Evil 6 DOES feel like the end. It lays seeds down for the future, but it feels like an ending rather than a springboard. It’s a great experience, but far too choppy and inconsistent. It’s at times a lot of fun and at times incredibly frustrating. It’s a game that just never quite settles down; it is Chaos theory in practice, unpredictable and unprecedented, but lacking any anchor or foundation to prevent it falling over at the first gust of wind.
It’s lots of good ideas and lots of bad ideas rolled into one incredibly contentious game. As such, you’ll never find two people who agree on this game. It’s divisive – and needlessly divisive to boot. Which is a real shame because it could have been so much more if they had controlled their creative schizophrenia a little and channeled it in a much more focused area. It takes ideas, and doesn’t meld them in right. The wobbly aim thing must stop. It’s not forgivable anymore. The health herb change is totally unnecessary; needlessly overcomplicated. The UI is pretty poor.
It’s just a hodge-podge of everything that Capcom wanted to do. A bit of everything. But by trying to do everything, it feels like nothing much at all. That’s something Capcom must be ashamed about. Resident Evil 6 isn’t the worst game of the year – but it’s not exactly winning new fans, or pleasing the old ones. So what was Resident Evil 6 for?
My guess – it’s an auteur project. The people who made it will be really happy, but where it counts, with the players – I think Capcom are rightly in for a spanking.
It’s sad. But unavoidable – this is what we have. And I can’t see any way of Capcom rectifying all of the bad points in a patch. So try to enjoy it for what it is – or not, as the case may be. Because this is a game where there are no right answers. Just a confused mess of players trying to make sense out of the most nonsensical, complicated, schizophrenic game in many years.