Resident Evil 6 Review – PS3
You can’t be all things to all people. We don’t know who said that phrase. We even spent at least ten seconds looking it up on the internet and if the internet doesn’t know, then it means no-one in the world knows. All we can say is that it definitely isn’t someone who has seen the insides of Capcom’s hallowed halls, which instead resonates with famous quotes like “can we put Ryu in it?” and “we can sell it as DLC!”.
But lo! Capcom is taking on mission impossible and decided that Resident Evil 6 can be all things to all people. Love Resident Evil 4? We’ve got your back! Obsessed with testosterone-soaked cover shooters? We’ll hook you up! Quietly a fan of Operation Raccoon City? Well, quite. Best keep that quiet. You’re just weird.
The point is that Capcom has carved Resident Evil 6 up into four huge slices, each with its own distinct flavour of action and quirks, each designed to appeal to a different audience. Leon and Helena, Jake and Sherry, Chris and Piers and Ada Wong. Four separate sections, four ways of playing through Resident Evil, one cute marketing bulletpoint. There’s obvious crossover here as ultimately, it’s still a game where you point you gun at zombies and pull the trigger – it’s not like Leon and Helena have the tennis mini-game while Ada Wong has the karting bit. Even so, there are enough distinct differences that you can enjoy them as fully separate campaigns, each with their own identity.
It also helps that sections are kept entirely separate, so much so that they’re actually offered up as separate menu options before you start playing. There’s no starting off as Leon, now you’re Jake, now you’re Chris, now you’re… yes, back to Leon! Instead, these are walled-off campaigns, with only the storyline and cutscenes linking the three together.
Leon and Helena are up first in the tutorial-disguised-as-a-prologue, as you’re whisked through how the combat and inventory system works. The former is easy enough – aim gun, shoot gun, melee if they get close – but it’s the latter that shows the first real signs of progress for the series. You scroll through your weapons on the D-pad, while tapping Triangle brings up your items. You can combine green and red herbs in traditional Resi-style, before slapping your herbal concoction in a pillbox, ready to heal you with a quick tap of R2.
It’s a slick, sparse and minimal system that sees the series finally have the confidence to sever ties with its cumbersome inventory system of old. Anyone who played Resident Evil 5 will know that selecting the right item under pressure demanded inventory dexterity that demanded painful gymnastics from your thumb, as you ended up selecting a proximity mine rather than a first-aid spray, threw it on the floor in blind panic and then blew yourself up. Online co-op means no real way to ‘pause’ the action to sort through your pockets and it’s an area Capcom never quite solved. With Resident Evil 6, everything is quickly accessible with a few D-pad taps. There’s nothing about “they got the inventory system right!” that will make you punch the air shoulder-popping excitement but it’s an obvious plus that Capcom has managed to solve one of modern Resident Evil’s biggest weaknesses.
When the tutorial ends, it’s likely you’ll want to continue with Leon and Helena once you’ve given the choice of who you want to begin your real Resident Evil 6 adventure. Following a dramatic intro introducing us to the pair’s storyline, the duo quietly plod and pick their way through the spookily empty Ivy University, questioning where all the students have gone, as thunder throws quick flashes of light across the mahogany halls and abandoned dining tables. It’s a masterclass in building tension. Capcom is in no hurry to get to the action and the setting is so dense with detail and atmosphere, neither is the player. That you’ve clearly been dropped in the middle of something only adds to the mystery of the situation, giving your brain time to play amateur detective piecing together the clues in the environment around you as you steeling yourself for the inevitable moment that zombies smash through the quiet.
Eventually, the inevitable happens, as Leon and Helena meet zombies in the most dramatic of ways. It’s here that the difference between Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 is most apparent. While the former suffered an identity crisis and tried to reach for big, ballsy action yet refusing to abandon its stiff, survival horror roots, Resident Evil 6 has the slick controls that allows Capcom to really crank up the pace. Zombie ambushes, tumbling buses, dogs snapping at you from behind gravestones, dodging trains… it’s the sort of action that never would have been possible with the old Resident Evil framework, seeing as that had to be designed around the stilted movement that the series grew up with. Leon and Helena can turn, shoot, fight, attack as well as in any third-person action game, with only the slightly awkward turning while running mechanic that sees you hitting walls more often than you like a giveaway of the series’ past.
Sometimes you’ll catch yourself groaning (like a zombie HA) at the cheap tricks inserted to trip you up. Lifeless zombies are scattered around Ivy University but even though you know they’re going to try the old oooh-we’ve-come-to-life-we’re-trying-to-grab-you-oooh routine, headshots don’t work until you’ve walked close enough to trigger them. Sometimes it’s all too easy to spot a jump scare lying behind a slowly opening door, which saps those sections of surprise.
What’s lost in cheap tricks is made up for with different types of enemies. The zombies progress from the hoodies-and-hats attire of the campus students to the skinless freaks prowling the catacombs that Leon and Helena land in, while special zombies also show up and force a change of tactics. One type can only be killed with a direct shot to its heart, the rest of its body impenetrable muscle and bone. Another distorts your view with screams, lungs flapping around outside of its chest. When crossing rope bridges linking underground tombs you’ll be stopped by a fat zombie jumping up and down to throw you off balance, knocking you out of your aiming animation and demanding shots to the leg to cripple it. It’s nothing revolutionary but it allows Capcom to keep things fresh and mix up the tactics demanded of you.
Jake and Sherry are next and their time in the spotlight is host to Capcom’s more ambitious ideas. Jake is a mercenary and the son of Wesker while Sherry Birkin, who first appeared in Resident Evil 2 as a 12-year-old, is now an agent for the DSO. Without spoiling things, their storyline and interaction is actually the most interesting of the three and the scenarios they end up in are a reflection on that. Jake can flip himself around on monkey bars while Sherry can’t, which means Jake and Sherry’s levels sometimes suffer from the-conveniently-placed-bar-to-split-up-the-duo yet Capcom has other ideas that stretch beyond that. One section sees Jake protecting an unarmed Sherry Birkin using a remote gun camera, with a clever puzzle solution for Jake if he pays attention to what his partner is doing.
Jake also has a melee style, selected in the same way he’d choose a gun. Holding down L1 puts him in a melee stance and holding R1 allows him to charge down a palm strike, and when released he runs at his opponent to smash them in the face. There are further combinations he can do using his melee strikes, including elbows and flip-kicks, and it’s more practical than it sounds – it serves as an interesting way to save on the scarce ammo in their scenario and provides a refreshing change of pace. Sometimes the ideas work out (Jake’s melee style) and sometimes they don’t (a an ill-fitting motorbike section). What’s consistent is the moment-to-moment gameplay in their sections constantly change, a refreshing showcase of Capcom’s ambition rather than going through the same old Resident Evil mentions.
Which, oddly, is what threatens to puncture the package when Chris Redfield and new boy Piers show up to take their turn in the spotlight. The duo have come to represent the series shift from horror to action, the cynical attempt to appeal to those gamers raised on a diet of Western cover shooters. The first few hours in the company of Chris and Piers does little to discourage that thought, as they rattle through inane dialogue and meaningless shooting gallery set-pieces with gusto. The funnelneck design leaves little room for exploration or tactics or anything besides racing forward towards the next encounter, where it’s often the speed of your trigger finger that separates success and failure. There’s not much variation in what’s demanded of you while co-op interaction is rarely more than the two partners meeting up at metal doors. It’s not awful, thanks to the satisfying feedback of the guns themselves, but it’s more Time Crisis than Resident Evil. The atmosphere is oddly flat and while the pace is high, it’s at the expense of substance. It’s a move designed to keep the pace high but leaves their sections feeling hollow, as you’re either shooting down a corridor or you’re wheeling around a room firing at everything that moves.
Then Capcom suddenly remembers this is their biggest game since forever and they pull their finger out, unleashing a barrage of set-pieces ranging from boss fights against giant snakes to outrunning helicopter gunfire across rickety boats in China to on-rails shooting sections that actually feels engaging. Gasp! Their chapters become a brutal survival challenge, with the two placed under extreme duress and forced to rely on their muscle and firepower to get out of trouble. It’s not horror but it’s strong, confident co-op action powered by some of the best looking visuals on PS3.
Finally, there’s Ada Wong. Unlocked after completing the campaign, Ada is there to add extra context around the story and fill out the sections where she swoops in (sometimes literally) on the other characters as they play through their levels. She’s the most confident of all the cast and her crossbow means the gameplay feels different to everything that’s come before it, the fire-then-reload mechanic forcing you to approach enemies with an air of caution rather than the out-and-out chaos of the other sections.
Capcom even toys with the idea of stealth but it doesn’t work too well, given the nature of the cover controls. In Uncharted, you take cover by pressing a button. In Resident Evil 6, you have to aim, then push into the wall by aiming, then move to the edge of the wall to see around the corner but you have to stop immediately otherwise Ada spins around, crossbow poised, with “LOOK I’M HERE!” written on her forehead in bright, neon letters. It’s not the most successful of stealth mechanics and mercifully, it’s neither a forced game over for any alerts nor is it an idea that’s too persistent.
Ada Wong is alone too. With no co-op partner in tow, it’s surprising how much of an impact this has. There’s the obvious difference, such as how the tension and drama is cranked up simply because you can no longer fall back on the luxury of an extra pair of hands backing you up. No partner to split up the enemy’s attention, no second gun to double your firepower, no helping hand when you tumble to the floor.
It’s also the impact on level design, as Capcom no longer needs to cater for two players. Ada’s chapters are tightened up and maze-like labyrinths, swimming sections, all sorts are thrown in. Given Capcom has recently been slicing up its games into bitesize DLC ribbons – Street Fighter x Tekken deserves its own section on PSN Store for the continuous vomit of DLC spraying from its general direction – Ada Wong’s campaign is a surprisingly generous addition. When you consider that each section already weighs in at six to eight hours long, there’s a lot of meat on Resident Evil 6’s bone. This is before we even take the collectibles, Mercenaries and Agent Hunt into consideration, stretching the life of Resident Evil 6 even further.
The inevitable question – is Resident Evil 6 a return to horror roots of the series? You know the answer already. You knew it when you saw the trailers, heard the interviews, saw the screenshots and we can confirm it now, this isn’t a game that will have you cowering behind the sofa in fear. It’s an action game with a horror theme. There are some effective jump scares. There are tense moments. However, there isn’t anything that really makes you dread what lies ahead. It’s a game that has now slipped away from horror territory and into action territory. Your biggest fear is running out of bullets, not running into disfigured creatures.
Yet this is balanced to some degree by the difficulty. It’s not scary but it is surprisingly tough, thanks to a scarcity of bullets and abundance of enemies who can soak them up. One saving grace is how strong melee moves are and you can plough through small crowds of weaker zombies with fist and foot alone, something that wasn’t an option in previous Resident Evils when you were rooted to the spot, swiping the air with a knife like you were swatting flies. Yet you’re always aware of how many bullets you have left and the need to think about what you’re doing.
What all the sections share in common is the same theme that runs through Resident Evil 6 – this is a brilliant action game, marred only by rough patches where Capcom attempts ideas that don’t quite work. It’s not the best Resident Evil game but what game could be after Resident Evil 4? Instead, this is arguably the best co-op game available on PlayStation 3 alongside Borderlands 2 and while long-term Resident Evil fans might still be disappointed by nod towards action over horror, Capcom finally has the confidence and know how to pull it off. It’s big, it’s brutal, it’s ballsy and most of all, it’s back.
Odd rough patch or misfire aside, Resident Evil 6 is bursting with innovation, content and confidence that shows Capcom knows exactly what it’s doing with it’s series. Now fully tooled up for co-op, this feels like Resident Evil worthy of modern times.