In the sixteen years that Resident Evil has been terrorizing gamers, it's gone through several evolutions. The original PS1 trilogy featured pre-rendered backdrops, terribly-acted voiceovers, limited inventories and tank controls. It all sounds bad on paper, but these games are still fondly-remembered. With the Dreamcast's Code Veronica and the GameCube remake of the original Resident Evil, it was like an upgrade to the original vision, with smoother controls and better mechanics. Resident Evil 4 completely reworked the series with tight, action-focused controls, relying on oppressive atmosphere to maintain gamers' fear. Resident Evil 5 followed suit, adding co-op to the already-solid RE4 formula to mixed receptions.
With the release of Resident Evil 6, there has been some understandable concern over making the series more action-heavy and reliant on co-op. While some parts of RE6 are over-the-top action scenes, there are long sections of the game that maintain the feel of the classic titles, even with updated controls. Instead of upgrading guns, defeating enemies earns you Skill Points that you can use to upgrade individual character traits, like greater Melee or Firearm damage, increased item drop rates, or even a Skill that gives you more leeway during QTEs.
In addition to the long-awaited return of the series' trademark zombies, the fierce new J'avo enemies are like RE4 and 5's Ganados and Majini on steroids, constantly mutating and forcing you to change tactics. In addition to the now-industry-standard "left stick moves, right stick looks" controls, game is split between three (technically four) campaigns, each one with a different feel. This makes the main feature of the game--Story Mode--feel very uneven, so I'll take a look at Resident Evil 6 as three (technically four) separate games.
Jake Muller and Sherry Birkin
Jake--son of longtime series villain Albert Wesker--is an acrobatic brawler, accompanied by the now-all-grown-up Sherry Birkin (from Resident Evil 2) and her electrified stun rod. Co-op feels almost unnecessary--in single-player, Jake practically babysits Sherry (or vice-versa if you're playing as Sherry), and when playing with an actual person you're both just running down the same path killing enemies until you open up the next area.
Chris Redfield and Piers Nivans
Old-school and meaty, Chris (who's been laying off the creatine) and Piers' attacks lack style but feel powerful. It helps that this campaign is the most action-packed, forcing you to fight from room to room against J'avo and other, bigger enemies. Chris' campaign has better-implemented co-op, with one player (often Chris' new partner Piers) having to provide covering fire while the other accomplishes an objective like unlocking a door.
The only real problem is that Chris' campaign feels exceedingly linear--there's almost no need to explore, and the tag-team's powerful melee and knife attacks ensure that you'll never run out of ammo unless you're really trigger-happy. The game's uncomfortable cover mechanics can throw you for a loop, as you'll have to get into several extremely close-range gun battles and one very frustrating boss fight against a helicopter.
Piers' anti-materiel rifle is one of the most fun weapons you'll ever get to use in Resident Evil
While there aren't as many QTEs as Jake or Leon's campaigns, be prepared for some lengthy, QTE-heavy chase sequences. This is also one of the least visually-interesting campaigns--Chris and Piers are typically-dressed military men shooting at samey guys with guns, and even in the bright neon night of a Chinese city it feels kind of bland and takes a while to really get you hooked. Between chasing down a Ferrari with a military jeep, fighting an entire aircraft carrier in a VTOL jet, and taking on the largest enemy ever in the franchise's history, Chris and Piers' campaign feels the least like Resident Evil, but is still a surprisingly fun experience.
Leon Kennedy and Helena Harper
With a combination of spooky atmosphere, overwhelming hordes of zombies, powerful boss enemies, long sections of puzzle-solving and rather limited ammo, Leon's campaign feels the most like classic Resident Evil in a shiny new package.
Check it out, I've got Angry Birds on here and everything
Leon and Helena have to escape a zombie-overrun college campus, midwestern suburb, and a rainy graveyard, leading to a subterranean maze teeming with undead. You always feel overwhelmed and out of your depth in Leon and Helena's campaign--at least until the halfway point, when it suddenly gets progressively easier and you spend more time fighting bosses than zombies--except for the neighborhood filled with Regenerators, that was nerve-wracking. Co-op can go either way--some puzzles need a second person, but in many of them, one person can take a break while the other does all the legwork.
Jake's campaign felt like a chore almost the entire way through, and Chris' campaign took a while to gain any momentum, but Leon's campaign keeps things fresh in each chapter. By spacing out the action, you're left in situations where you have to decide if it's worth it to fight, or better to run away. you're constantly hoarding ammunition and sticking to melee attacks just in case there's something horrible right around the corner. If the whole game had the same weight and tension as Leon's campaign, it would have made a much better overall impression on me.
Multiplayer and Extras
Beat all three campaigns and you're given access to Ada's campaign (at least until the update comes out). Ada's campaign clears up plot holes and inconsistencies throughout the other three stories, and features stealth segments that require the same outside-the-box thinking as the puzzles in the Leon/Helena campaign. Aside from some unique weapons, there's not much in Ada's campaign aside from the emphasis on stealth to really set it apart.
Along with two-player campaign co-op, there are intersecting segments that allow up to four players to work together, but they're only boss fights or long stretches of action. Having a four-player puzzle or stealth segment would have made things more interesting and feel more like Resident Evil, instead of a bog-standard shooter.
Agent Hunt allows you to join other players' campaigns as a monster, starting you off as a standard "mook"-type monster and eventually letting you power up to more lethal enemy types. Unfortunately, this mode lacks the structure of dedicated versus titles like Left 4 Dead, making playing as the zombies or J'avo feel samey and uninspired.
Resident Evil 6 is not a bad game. In fact, it's pretty well-made, but feels very poorly designed. In Jake's campaign, you're given a sniper rifle in a place where you're actively discouraged from using it--a stealth segment where failure can mean instant death--and then you don't need to use it for several chapters afterward, while the sniper rifle and its tons of ammo clutter up your inventory screen. While the game makes use of constant checkpoints and autosaves, they're spaced poorly--why does the game save after I enter a new area, but only posts a checkpoint after I defeat a frustrating boss or get past a lengthy sequence of QTEs? What rocket scientist decided that not even the host can pause the game when co-op multiplayer is turned on, even if Agent Hunt is off?
This extends to the actual mechanics of the game itself: the camera is way too close to the player character, making navigation a chore. The game is especially bad at conveyance--explaining if you are dealing or taking damage--and your HUD changes from campaign to campaign. Controls are streamlined in terms of movement, but can get clunky when you're trying to do things that are simple in other games, like taking cover or dodging enemy attacks. One of the cooler things about Resident Evil has been its attention to detail with weapons, but instead of memorable tools of the trade like the eloquently-named Broken Butterfly, you're given a stock arsenal with weapons like "Assault Rifle for Special Tactics." On a less-important note, mixing herbs and using them as healing items has never been more ridiculous--it's like everybody's popping Altoids or Mentos when they're low on health.
FRESH GOES BETTER, MENTOS FRESHNESS, FRESH GOES BETTER WITH MENTOS, FRESH AND FUUUULL OF LIIIIIFE
A lot of why I enjoyed Resident Evil 5 was that I had friends to play it with, and it was consistent the entire way through. It was Chris and Sheva blasting monsters and working through the occasional puzzle or fetch quest, with some QTEs thrown in for variety's sake. But Resident Evil 6 (even with its better AI for all you friendless misanthropes out there) just feels like a mess. One and a half solid campaigns are overshadowed by mediocrity and trying too hard to be like everybody else. This is one of those franchises where its imperfections bring charm and lasting memories--hopefully Capcom decides to devolve Resident Evil for its next go-around. For now, it looks like the most faithful new Resident Evil is still Resident Evil: Revelations.
+ The Leon/Helena campaign stands tall, giving old-school Resident Evil atmosphere with new-school control
+ Streamlined controls and inventory management allow you to handle items quickly in the middle of battle
+ QTEs now have a progress bar showing how long you have to spin an analog stick/mash a button
+/- The Chris/Piers campaign provides rollicking action... that feels nothing like Resident Evil
+/- While not as heart-on-its-sleeve goofy as early titles, the story does feel like it's trying too hard to be cool
- Basic controls are good, but advanced controls are a mess
- HUD and basic camera setup are uncomfortable and take getting used to; constant forced camera changes are disorienting
- No sense of actual progression or design--new weapons and enemies are seemingly introduced at random
- New 4-player co-op and Agent Hunt versus multiplayer are good ideas, but uninspired choices make them nothing more than missed opportunities
- Jake is such a gigantic douchebag that I hope one of his alternate outfits is a popped-collar polo shirt