Resident Evil 6 delivers quantity, the kind of raw value that savvy consumers dream about when weighing up how best to spend their hard-earned cash. Bang per buck has become increasingly important for 21st century gamers, and Capcom realised that the latest sequel could effectively kill two zombies with one bullet. By presenting players with four distinct campaigns that feature unique gameplay styles (not to mention a robust Mercenary gametype and numerous multiplayer modes), Resident Evil 6 intended provide a credit crunch friendly amount of content... and cater for fans of both the traditional tense action of the original games and the hectic intensity of Resi 5. In effect, it attempts to literally please everyone.
But it won't. Resident Evil 6 also heralds a change in focus, a decision that has attracted a fair amount of backlash in the run up to release. Exploration, backtracking and creeping horror have been replaced by an intense cooperative experience that railroads two players through a linear selection of arenas, corridors, cinematic QTEs and boss battles. It's a tight and gleefully energetic cooperative shooter, not a survival horror game. A rollicking roller coaster, not a haunted house.
Personally, I feel that developers are well within their rights to expand and iterate on their franchises. You won't find any nostalgic whingeing here, nor misty-eyed recollections of what came before. What we're concerned about, ultimately, is whether Resident Evil 6 can match its quantity with genuine quality.
The three (four, including an extra unlockable jaunt) campaigns present a single cohesive story from different perspectives, overlapping at several key points in the narrative and introducing a fan-favourite cavalcade of characters new and old. Shameless fan service permeates the storyline, which takes the form of a slightly obvious and inelegant 'whodunnit' focusing on yet another virus outbreak and a shadowy conspiracy.
Though the plot is as flat-out idiotic and plot hole-ridden as you'd expect from the series - and delivered through some hilariously dopey dialogue ("it's going to be a hard road," and "I hope you have friends in hell, because no-one is going to miss you here" are two of my favourite terrible lines, which you'll encounter within the first few hours of gameplay) - surprisingly strong voice acting reveals some true pathos lurking behind the posturing.
Leon's campaign acts as an introduction to the storyline, taking him from an American university campus to a hellish infected Chinese city in an attempt to discover the truth behind the virus outbreak that forced him to kill the president of the United States. Things start out slow and tense, actively referencing the earlier games, but puzzles and exploration soon gives way to cinematic sections and visceral gunplay. Any attempts at subtlety and tension dissipate in the latter half of the adventure, but you'll discover a pleasing amount of gameplay variety nonetheless. Limited ammo and inventory space adds a touch of traditional 'survival,' if not the 'horror' bit.
What little subtlety there is gets kicked screaming off of a tenement balcony by Chris Redfield's campaign, which resembles a much more traditional third person shooter. Teaming up with improbably-named BSAA agent Piers Nivens, you'll engage in some frantic gun battles against hordes of menacing J'avo: new infected enemies who can attack with machetes or guns and dynamically evolve mid-battle. Though some of the arenas effectively split both players up and encourage some welcome cooperation, the relatively cramped environments and clunky cover system stop it from particularly distinguishing itself from the pack. Sadly, it also never matches the adrenaline-soaked thrills of Resident Evil 4 and 5 despite some gloriously satisfying melee attacks.
Thankfully, Jake Muller's campaign has allowed Capcom to develop outside the box. Running from the menacing Ustanak, an homage to Resident Evil 3's Nemesis, players will enjoy some innovative combat encounters, pulse-pounding escapes and what can only be described as a truly flamboyant fighting style. Once complete, you'll also be able to tie up a few (still nonsensical) plot points with Ada Wong's adventure, which provides some unique bow & arrow gameplay alongside a pleasingly generous content offering. All told, you'll probably spend between 20-28 hours on a single playthrough.
Regardless of which campaign you choose, you'll realise that Capcom's action-oriented focus comes at the cost of freeform exploration. You're continually launched from set piece to set piece, yanked along by an ever-present objective marker and invisible walls galore; rarely free to roam beyond the beaten track and punished for failure with instant death. Series fans will rail at the lack of freedom, but it's impossible to not get swept up by the sheer bombastic energy of the narrative, which frequently feels like playing through a well-directed action blockbuster. Some of the cinematic QTEs are jaw-droppingly visceral, while the gameplay throws new combat encounters your way every once in a while.
Fending off a sizeable number of varied and aggressive opponents, many of whom will behave and even evolve unpredictably during battle, requires some slick and responsive controls. The series isn't exactly famed for being 'slick' or responsive in the control department, but I'm thrilled to report that Resident Evil 6 finally decides to enter the 21st century. Well-worked conventional third person gunplay mechanics are underpinned by some unique little twists, such as the ability to throw yourself backwards, parry enemy attacks with a well-timed trigger press or slide at the end of a run. The gunplay is taught and weighty, centred around targeting weak points, but often rewards lateral thinking in the process. Shoot a zombie in the leg, for example, and he'll stumble - potentially tripping up the horde behind him. Movement speed is aggressively fast, while a range of melee kicks and context-sensitive attacks are utterly satisfying to pull off. Combat thusly feels consistently visceral and engaging, which is paramount for what is unquestionably an action game rather than a horror title.
Competing shooters such as Uncharted, Gears Of War, Mass Effect 3 and even Dead Space definitely feel tighter and reward you with greater feedback, but it's a revelation compared to what we're used to from Capcom's horror series. Personally, I feel that the new controls are fit for task, and deserve to be praised as the best the franchise has to offer since Resident Evil 4 on the Wii. I'm sorry, but the traditional 'tank' controls were, and will always be, awful.
My only major mechanical gripe comes in the form of an awkward camera that's positioned incredibly close to the character model. At best, it's a successful way of limiting a player's peripheral vision that leads to the occasional jump scare, but it's hopeless in tight corridors and makes framing the action (especially some of the boss battles) much more difficult than it ought to be. Coupled with the aggressively fast run speed, navigating tight quarters can be a headache.
You'll therefore need to rely on your partner to let you know when a ravening Crimson Head wannabe is poised to remove your grey matter, and you'll soon discover that Resident Evil 6 is built for co-op. Though you can rely on a generally helpful AI in singleplayer, the real meat of the game is to be found when another player gets involved. Instead of starting a game, you'll create a lobby - free to allow friends or randomers to jump in at any point and able to equip some modifiers such as unlimited ammo (no, I don't know why either). Most levels are constructed around this two-player conceit, featuring a handful of divergent paths and opportunities to cover your partner from a higher vantage point, encouraging you to communicate and work together to survive. During story crossover points, you'll even be automatically matchmade with two other human players for the duration of the event, illustrating some impressive netcode. With a friend or three at your back, the already-bombastic experience becomes one of the most exciting cooperative games of recent years.
Since you can play as either character in the three main campaigns, you'll have good reason to return to the action, and will be encouraged to repeatedly replay the core game by the new skill system. Collecting skill points from the environment allows you to persistently upgrade all of your characters with persistent passive perks or more esoteric abilities, vastly increasing replayability. On top of that, you can delve into the raucous Mercenaries gametype or even appear as a deadly unique enemy in another player's campaign via the Agent Hunt mode. Topped off by plenty of unlockables to discover, Resident Evil 6 really does offer a generous serving of content that will last you dozens of hours.
However, Resident Evil 6's strict linearity and reliance on insta-death Quick Time Events isn't a great fit for a cooperative game. Most of the encounters don't grant players much scope to flank or unless the game actively wants them to, meaning that levels can play out much the same way each time (and experienced players can ruin the surprise over their headsets for new players even with the best of intentions - beware). What's more, there's nothing more aggravating than having to restart a section because your partner failed to press X and A at the right time and ended up under the wheels of a train or in the jaws of a giant fish. On the whole, many of the cinematic QTEs have been implemented quite poorly, often taking far too long to resolve or featuring button prompts that don't reflect what's happening on screen. Pressing A to walk backwards isn't appropriate, surely? Why can't we just push forward to swing along a wire rather than hammering X? In fact, why can't I just fight this massive zombie shark rather than waiting for my partner to mash some buttons?!
Though varied, Resident Evil 6's compartmentalised series of engagements are wildly inconsistent in terms of quality. For every enjoyable skirmish that grants you gameplay freedom or surprising new twists, there's an obnoxiously-designed and limited counterpart waiting in the wings. Perhaps a tiny room full of inexplicable exploding robotic drones, a limp Left 4 Dead-inspired survival section or a frankly rubbish 'puzzle' involving some painfully obvious traps. Most of the challenges and set pieces consistently fail to match the intensity of the cutscenes, often falling back on some highly generic arenas against small numbers of foes. Brainpower is rarely required, in fact, you'll sometimes have to disengage your brain entirely to successfully suspend an enormous amount of disbelief.
Gallingly, bosses prove to be a serious low point, seeing as they're essentially bullet sponges. Once you've worked out how to avoid their limited selection of attacks (simply keeping away from them works about 90% of the time), these encounters quickly become an overlong chore, with you unloading round after round into their weak points until a seemingly arbitrary amount of time or damage has been reached. Some of the bigger adversaries look absolutely terrifying, but their menacing designs are rarely matched by a sense of genuine threat. When a game somehow manages to make its climactic boss battles the weakest part of the package, you have to wonder what its 600+ developers were actually doing.
When played cooperatively with a like-minded partner, Resident Evil 6 shrugs off most of its weaknesses on merit of it being seriously, properly, brilliantly good fun. It's not the Resident Evil that many of us wanted, but it's the one we've got - and I personally enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately for Capcom, the third person shooter market is already chock-full of games that do Resident Evil 6's job with more flair and panache.
- Brilliantly bombastic cooperative fun
- Tight and effective combat; breathlessly energetic narrative
- Sensational raw value
- Several clumsy and ineffective encounters - from botched puzzle sections to shockingly tedious bosses
- Camera too close for comfort
- Forced linearity and QTEs can feel incredibly restrictive
- Gameplay rarely matches the cutscenes' intensity level
The Short Version: Resident Evil 6 is a smart cooperative shooter with an extraordinary amount of raw content. Though environmental exploration and fear factor have been replaced by breathless intensity, the four campaigns, multiple modes and superbly fun multiplayer options grant it a huge amount of longevity.
However, some poorly-designed encounters, inappropriate QTEs and roller coaster linearity stops Capcom's sequel from stacking up with the best shooters already on the market. Great fun with friends, but you'll need to get your horror fix elsewhere.