Capcom’s Resident Evil series used to make you afraid of things that went bump in the night. Now, it exhausts you with so many explosions that those bumps seem like a welcome reprieve. Over the last few entries, Resident Evil has been taking gradual steps from survival-horror into pure action territory. Now, Capcom has made a giant leap with Resident Evil 6. Yes, zombies are back, the monsters are grotesque, and the story draws upon all eras of the series’ lore, but the transition between genres is now complete. Does Resident Evil 6 make the shift while still holding on to the series’ identity? The answer: kind of.
Resident Evil 6 sticks with the third-person, behind-the-shoulder aiming that was invented in Resident Evil 4 (and subsequently used in every third-person shooter since then). This time around, however, the gameplay has been sped up quite a bit - players can now run without having to hold down a button, with its use now replaced with a “sprint” function. You can also dive and roll in any direction, and then shoot from the ground while on your back. Though this technique may seem unnecessary at first, its added mobility becomes incredibly useful as enemies in the game start to overwhelm you. It will be hard going back to Resident Evil 4 without this skill in hand. Most importantly, for the first time in the franchise, you can now shoot and move at the same time, bringing the series in line with the vast amounts of shooters it inspired.
Not only does Resident Evil 6 overhaul the series’ gameplay, but its narrative as well. While the quality of writing is still strictly in B-movie territory, the narrative provided is the most ambitious in the franchise yet. Resident Evil 6 offers three single-player campaigns, one each for series mainstays Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield, and one for newcomer Jake Muller. Set three years after the events of Resident Evil 5, each campaign goes through the same general story, but in entirely different ways. They won’t go it alone, however. Like its predecessor, Resident Evil 6 offers cooperative play throughout most of the story, both online and off. Leon teams up with newcomer Helena Harper, Chris is paired with fellow BSAA soldier Piers Nivans (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Justin Bieber), and Jake joins forces with Sherry Birkin, who makes her first appearance in the series since Resident Evil 2. At certain points in the story, you will meet these other duos, resulting and in teaming up with them, and providing one of the most dynamic four-player co-op experiences I’ve ever played.
Leon’s campaign makes the most attempt at providing a classic Resident Evil experience. Make no mistake, Leon’s campaign still contains the third-person action the series is now known for, but the game features, for the first time in over a decade, classic, slow-moving zombies. However, while Capcom tries to stylistically rekindle fond memories of Resident Evil 2, most of Leon’s campaign is spent trying to evoke nostalgia for Resident Evil 4, going as far as to rip scenarios straight from the series' peak: A gothic church! Zombie dogs in a graveyard! Water monster boss fight! Mine kart ride! Leon even loses his badass leather jacket partway through his campaign, just like he does in Resident Evil 4. Remember how awesome Resident Evil 4 was, guys? Guys? Still, despite this blatant pandering (or perhaps because of it), Leon’s campaign is ultimately the most successful, due to a conscious return to the horror-infused atmosphere of the previous games.
While Leon’s campaign harkens back to Resident Evil of old, Chris’ campaign paves new ground by ditching it altogether, committing itself to pure, unadulterated action. Sure, Resident Evil 5 was mostly action focused, but it still tried to present itself as a horror title to some extent. Chris’ campaign in Resident Evil 6 ditches this pretense entirely. Chris takes most of his combat tips from Marcus Fenix, spending his time in cover and taking pot-shots at machine gun-wielding enemies. Though it contains every cliche in the book, Chris’ campaign plays just as well as any other third-person shooter on the market; it’s just a shame to see the original protagonist of the franchise become the face of its transition to blockbuster action.
Ironically, while Chris’ campaign is the most bombastic of the bunch, it also offers the most personal story. Chris has been with the series since day one, and there’s quite an emotional payoff for the man who has been through so much. Sure, in a year that has included The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line, the narrative doesn’t accomplish much, but for Resident Evil, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
If Chris’ campaign is an obvious attempt to mimic Gears of War, then newcomer Jake Muller’s campaign is Capcom’s take on the Uncharted franchise. Not only does Jake talk and dress similarly to Naughty Dog’s ragtag hero, but his campaign is defined by scripted, set-piece moments meant to “wow” through sheer spectacle. Running from a tank, motorcycle chases, and quick-time events are the norm for Jake. Capcom has tried to “Resident Evil”-ify it with the addition of the Ustanak, an invincible foe that pursues Jake and Sherry throughout the story, that is meant to be reminiscent of Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. Ustanak is certainly an intimidating foe, but unlike Nemesis, all of his encounters are scripted, resulting in lots of running and half-hearted stealth sections.
While many of the other characters get unique weapon choices, Jake takes after his father in his proficiency for martial arts. You’ll be thankful, too, as most of Jake’s campaign is spent hunting for enough ammo (when fans said they wanted a return to Resident Evil’s roots, they didn’t mean like this, Capcom). However, Jake’s overall play style provides for an interesting aside from Leon’s and Chris’ non-stop shooting. If you want a more traditional experience in Jake’s campaign, you can play as Sherry, who gets an electric baton she can use to stun enemies.
These three campaigns weave in and out of each other, offering new perspectives on familiar scenes, much in the vein of films such as Pulp Fiction. Upon completion of the three main campaigns, you get to tackle the whole thing from Ada Wong’s perspective, in a single-player only campaign (though Capcom will be bringing free co-op DLC to her campaign later this year). Chronological purists may try to juggle campaigns in a desire to experience the plot in a “proper” order, but I found it much more satisfying to play through each story one at a time, gaining new insights and revelations by seeing familiar events through different eyes. Unfortunately, though repetition works for this style of narrative, it is not so kind on gameplay. You'll often have to replay the same scenarios - unchanged - across all of the campaigns in order to progress the story.
In Resident Evil 5, playing co-op was a necessity due to atrocious partner AI. Thankfully, Capcom has remedied these issues, making Resident Evil 6 a satisfying single-player experience through and through. Much like Resident Evil 5, though, this experience is enhanced with a friend. While most of the game is spent alongside your partner, the game will often separate you, tasking you with protecting your partner or solving a puzzle. Its implementation is much more clever than in Resident Evil 5, and playing through all of the campaigns as each character provides for a slightly different experience.
Much like its predecessors, Resident Evil 6 boasts a high level of re-playability. Skill points replace gun customization, allowing you to buy perks that grant you new abilities, such as more firepower, better accuracy, or higher critical hit chances. There are tons of abilities to choose from, and unlocking all of them requires multiple playthroughs. “The Mercenaries” mode once again returns, and “Agent Hunt” mode is available after beating any of the campaigns, allowing you to invade other players’ games online - a la Dark Souls - as one of the game’s many monsters to bring them down.
Resident Evil 6 is an exercise in juxtaposition, simultaneously celebrating the series’ history and abandoning everything that defined it in the first place. Yet, while fans may bemoan the evolution of the series from survival-horror into pure action, it results in a weird, but somehow effective mish-mash of genres that is wholly unique. Am I sad to see Resident Evil all but abandon its roots? Certainly. Am I satisfied with the direction it is heading? In a way, yes. Capcom may be intent on forcing Resident Evil 6 into the overcrowded shooter market, but it does so in a way that still distinguishes itself, and results in an experience worth playing. Resident Evil is dead. Long live Resident Evil.
This review is based on a PlayStation 3 copy of Resident Evil 6.