It has been a long road for the Resident Evil series. Since its debut in 1996, nearly 20 titles have been released within its universe. They have varied survival horror, to on-rails shooters, to all-out action. As of late the franchise making that transition to being an action game first and foremost; this isn’t just about making you uneasy with a creepy atmosphere and traditional “scares” anymore. The experience is now focused on delivering an edge of your seat thrill ride that is as action-packed as it is frightening.
The last console entry in the series, Resident Evil 5
, painted a bold vision for the franchise. The controls were shaken up a bit and a heavy focus was placed on including a partner in the adventure, whether controlled by a friend or the computer. The idea of a multiplayer themed (cooperative) Resident Evil had fans salivating and excited for what was to come with Capcom’s new vision. That was just the start though;as Capcom was not just looking in that new direction with Resident Evil 6, but headed that way at full speed. Resident Evil 6 is bigger, bolder, and more refined than its predecessor in every way. The small steps that Capcom took last time were baby steps compared to where this game goes, and the series is much better for it. If this is what Capcom has in mind from here on out, count me in for the ride.
The crux of the experience is still heavily focused on the narrative established by the campaigns. While I have always found the previous campaigns enjoyable, I never found them to promote multiple playthroughs; things are different with RE6. Instead of one massive, lengthy campaign, the game includes three distinct campaigns. We are talking about three self-contained, separate stories of five chapters each. Each one plays and feels different than the others. The Leon/Helena campaign feels the closest to a traditional RE experience, consisting of a good balance between action and puzzles. That isn’t to say, however, that the Leon/Helena campaign doesn’t have its share of action injected into it, in line with Capcom’s new vision of the series.
The other two, focusing on Jake/Sherry and Chris/Piers, are heavier on the gunplay. Whereas Leon is on a fact-finding mission, akin to classic RE campaigns, the other two put you into the action as members of military/mercenary forces equipped for battle. When you take it all into consideration, the entire experience does a good job delivering what's expected by both sides of the series’ fanbase: those looking for an action game, and those looking for a classic, survival horror adventure. The three campaigns, although their own self-contained stories, all cross paths at some point and reference one another frequently.
The presentation style in each campaign also brings a new level of refinement to the series. Capcom has done a good job integrating the actual gameplay portions with the frequent cut scenes and cinematic events while eliminating a lot of load times (or at least masking them). Many of these are linked together using quick-time events (QTEs). You run into these when you are opening a reinforced door or are perhaps being overtaken by attacking zombies. While the game uses QTEs frequently, you never feel like it is dependent on them like other action games have been. QTEs are sprinkled in along the way to keep you involved in the action, even when you don’t have total control. Some people may be turned off by the frequency at which the game switches between actual gameplay sessions and instances of engine-driven cut scenes, but I found them to hold together the overall experience well. It all feels like more of an interactive story in the manner that it has been pieced together and it made things more enjoyable in the long run.
There are some drastic changes that have been made to the gameplay that have helped the game evolve to better fit into the action genre. As I said previously, the experience has moved beyond being all about slow-moving and atmospheric gameplay. While there is still a heavy horror element to the world this is officially an action game at heart. This is evident in many places but most notably in the interface and weapon controls.
RE6 gives you more control over your character than any of the previous games. You no longer feel like a slow-moving tank; while you still lack total control like a third-person adventure game, you no longer have to find a safe place to stop and search through your inventory or draw your weapon and take aim at enemies. Now you can do all of this on the fly; aiming and firing your weapon while moving is something that the game has needed desperately from the start. Just because it is here, however, doesn’t mean that it is perfect. Moving with your weapon drawn is still incredibly slow, and you can’t draw and shoot during a full sprint. However, it does feel worlds ahead of the vintage controls that RE has used for over a decade.
Thankfully, the evasive options have improved immensely. You can now dive and roll out of trouble, and even into shooting position when times call for it. If you turn around and see an ax flying at your head, a simple press of a button triggers a forward dive-roll, landing in a prone position, your weapon drawn and ready to engage. This really makes you feel like you have a lot more control than ever before.
Inventory management has been tweaked and feels more streamlined and accessible. Most of the usable items that you collect, such as first aid spray or auxiliary weapons like grenades or bombs, can be equipped in the middle of action using the directional pad. It's easy to switch your arsenal on the run, eliminating any need to find a safe haven and bring the action to a complete halt before doing so. It is also worth noting that the ability to convert herbs into tablets and assign them to the right bumper for quick consumption helps speed things up as well. They tried to do some of this in the last game but it didn’t feel as well done. It feels so good, in fact, I wonder why it took them so long to implement them because it could have drastically improved the last couple of games.
While the last couple of games had you collect money to upgrade weapons and equipment, RE6 implements a skill point system. Defeating certain enemies leave small tokens that correspond to the enemy difficulty; the more difficult the bad guy, the more skill points they are worth. Following the completion of each chapter, these points are spent on skills that can be placed into a variety of slots on your character. These skills range from increasing defense or the amount of ammunition you can hold, to giving you health boosts and increasing the number of items dropped by enemies. There are a bunch of options here, and keen players will tailor their characters more to their preferred play styles. It is a nice new feature that gives the game a bit of an RPG feel..
Once you have finished with the various campaigns, there is still more to do this time around. Capcom packed in two separate online modes to breathe new life into the game after the main storylines have been completed. As fans have come to expect with the last couple of games, the Mercenaries mode returns which challenges players to rack up the best score possible in timed runs through different scenarios. There are stages and characters to be unlocked and online leaderboards to keep you in competition with your friends. A new mode called Agent Hunt Mode adds an interesting twist to the RE franchise; unlocked after completing the main game(s), you can actually take control of the bad guys in another player’s campaign. It is an interesting concept that can (thankfully) be turned off prior to booting up your personal campaign.
While the game plays great, it looks and sounds even better. On the sound side of things, I highly recommend using a true surround sound system. There are a ton of details in the game’s audio that greatly enhance the experience. Capcom has done an excellent job using sound to enrich the environment just as much as the visuals do; be it the creeping footsteps of a zombie, or J’avo hiding around a corner, or that bottle falling off a shelf that scares you while you are investigating a laboratory. Things like this are not noticeable when playing the game using standard stereo signals. I played through using a Triton Warhead headset; there was only one time that I tried it without them, using my television’s standard audio, and the audible experience was night and day. You miss out on so many details that it should be considered a crime to play the game without full surround.
The game looks awesome, too, but some of the same visual issues that have haunted the series for years still rear their ugly heads this time around. As detailed and vivid as the environments are, it is still clear that your character exists on top of the world rather than a part of it. Great steps have been taken to make the world around you more interactive, such as your ability to leap over almost every desk and rail, but things as simple as moving along still appear awkward. This is perhaps most notable when climbing or descending stairs; it still looks as if the character models are moonwalking, sliding from place to place. It is a shame, too, because other details are present such as the ability to trip on bodies or objects lying around. When that happens it looks great, but when you walk across an empty room or go down a set of stairs it looks like you are walking on air. This is a nitpick but something that has always bothered me about the series.
At the end of the day, Resident Evil 6 ends up being a stellar package. There is a lot to do with or without your friends. The smaller, multiple campaigns make it more prone to being replayed numerous times; the lack of replayability was an issue that I always had with the game in the past. Capcom has done a great job integrating the gameplay and story into a more complete package, almost akin to what was done with Asura’s Wrath
. The online integration that comes with RE6 seamlessly integrated into the experience; allowing or having someone join your game while you are playing happens without halting your game, which is nice. It is also just as easy to join up with someone else online. There are a couple of issues that still haunt the series, including the lack of full movement control and that characters still seem to float over the backgrounds (visually, particularly on stairs). Great progress has been made to balance the levels of action and horror, making this one of the most enjoyable RE experiences to date.