Haphazardly evil.

I got a free flashlight with my standard copy of Resident Evil 6… it actually works pretty well. The game that came with it, however, has unfortunately left a loyal fan of this franchise with a serious case of bitter bewilderment at the always ambiguous Capcom, flailing their zombified arms in a desperate move to appease everyone, releasing a Resident seeking to be both retro and realist. The result is a mess of mechanics that are so collectively backwards that, coupled with an uninspired narrative, stink of submission instead of staying true to survival-horror form.

Resident Evil was one of the first truly cinematic games, not just in an aesthetic sense, but in the way it made us play out the conventions of the horror film. Its frustrating camera angles are repeatedly harassed, but most overlook the fact that it was those moments of disoriented control that tightened the tension of an otherwise cliché ‘haunted house’ mishap. Awkwardness was the key to its horror.

Of its follow-ups, the fourth was just as revolutionary and made huge strides for video games. The third-person shooter owes its now customary over-the-shoulder viewpoint to Resident Evil 4, which balanced the fear of fumbling in Resident’s awkward design with a more mainstream mode of action. This was the series’ crown jewel because it found a line between survival and slaying, between trying to stay alive and having fun tearing through zombies… er, Ganados, whatever.

But now, Resident Evil 6 has scrapped the series’ survival signature completely. Three individual campaigns take you through another bio-hazard plot as Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, and Jake Muller. Each character is saddled with a sidekick, as in RE5 with Sheva, and each play differently to a degree, yet all are plagued with the same issues.

Zombie hunting: lesson 1. Always shoot at the zombie that’s coming towards you, Leon. Look left!

Three’s A Crowd

Leon’s attempts to be a throwback of survival-horror as he fights his way through hordes of good ol’ fashioned zombies; Chris’ is all about action as he uses his muscles – thankfully, his physique has eased off the steroids – to battle the humanoid J’avo; and Jake’s mainly deals with running from a tireless foe.

All the hindrances of the past that made Resident Evil a tense affair have been removed.

These three narratives intersect a number of times over the course of 25-30 total play hours. Running into the same bosses or experiencing the same event from a different point of view can be cool – brings to mind Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, the temporal encounters of Cortez in Timesplitters: Future Perfect, or the beginning stages of Gears of War 3 – but it can also be frustrating as you’re stuck seeing the same sequences and fighting the same bosses over again.

All the hindrances of the past that made Resident Evil a tense affair have been removed. You can pick up ammo without the game requesting a confirmation, switch between weapons without escaping to the safe haven of an inventory screen, and you are much more mobile – even Leon is equipped with a sprint feature, making even his storyline more action-driven than in the past. While you could just as easily defend removing such traditional elements in the respect that they were annoying as hell, again I say that they defined a clumsiness that got your heart pumping in dangerous situations.

Press X… TO DIE!

Quick-time events are the bane of gaming, and they run rampant in the sixth Resident.

In the first five minutes, the game throws you in the back-seat and refuses to relent the wheel. You’re told to move with the control stick (as if you couldn’t figure that one out), and yet you can’t even move anywhere but forward. Even by holding back on the control stick, your character still moves forward. Essentially, you’re watching a cinematic and the ‘game’ has the impudence to imply that you’re even playing a ‘game’.

“Wait? You want to see my licence and bite my arm? Surely that’s police brutality?”

As you come to a door, a mini-game in which you must hit a context button in a well-timed manner in order to open it has you filling your bedroom with verbal obscenities. Why must I only vaguely participate in a movie to perform as simple an action as opening a door?! Either play a cut-scene, or let me play the damn game and open the door!! The illusion of choice the QTE gives you is the most brutal of bitch-slaps that has somehow been interpreted by the designer as a means of heightening participation and immersion. It does not. All it does is ruin the pacing and leave you with next-to-nil control. Let’s put an end to this cheap mechanic, please.

Despite the reliance on context-events and consequent linear progression, shooting zombies is still solid fun – when is it not? – but, again, it suffers in the absence of any panic. Enemies are varied and sport different methods of attack that challenge your combat sensibilities in a healthy variety. But typically, aim for the head to kill.

When you’re out of ammo, you can use your knife to swing at your attackers, though it’s still limited to one tedious horizontal swipe. Why Capcom couldn’t add more moves with the knife, opposed instead to a surplus of superficial cinematic sequences, is beyond me.

At least you can still curb stomp the undead in grand gratuity. Roundhouse kicking the competition is as easy as pulling the trigger (controller trigger, not the in-game variety), and if a zombie hasn’t spotted you yet, closing in for a melee will enable a special takedown. It’s flashy, but it’s not empowering. Resident Evil 6 feels like a sub-par third-person shooter because of its deviation from its characteristic formula.

Unintentional Scares 

The graphics are sloppy. An entire three years ago (almost four), Resident Evil 5 boasted some of the greatest visuals on any platform with a perfect frame-rate making its experience incredibly smooth. Here we are in 2012, and RE6 is ruined by choppiness. Character models jerk gracelessly as they move, and the frame-rate dips when the scene becomes frenzied. Context indicators – I know, I’m getting tired of addressing these damn things too – take up way too much of the screen and are seriously distracting.

The checkpoint system here is garbage, as if the game’s pacing wasn’t already placated by its consistent cut-scenes and QTE’s. A checkpoint in RE6 is not synonymous with saving, so don’t make the mistake of assuming that arriving at one is insurance to shut off your console. I unfortunately made that error, and had the unpleasant task of playing through a whole half hour of brain-eating carcasses I had just solved with a bullet storm.

Resident Evil 6 features more playable characters than ever. And that’s not a good thing.

Yes, there are some nice touches here and there. It’s refreshing to kill a zombie and not witness its body dissipate into an immediate pool of bubbling acid, as the Ganados and Majinis did in the previous installments. A battle leaves evidence, and killed zombies visibly remain as trophies of your slaughter. Also, I like how Leon jumps over bodies in his way. But I thought it hilarious how Capcom would make such an effort at illustrating some measure of realism, while many other parts of the game are still steeped in the arcade gameplay the publisher has always been known for. Just another indicator of the game’s serious lack of identity.

Non-Stop (We Mean It) Action

How’s this for a stupid nitpick that should not ever be voiced: there’s no pause button! At least, not unless you ensure that you’ve set your session to Offline from the main menu. As I hit the START button to go relieve myself during a typical playthrough, I was shocked to hear my character bearing the blows of C-virus infected. I rushed back to somehow correct this blunder, but all I could do was hit the BACK button to bring up what appeared to be a pause menu… only problem was that the game still wasn’t paused. The pause button is the ultimate of intuitive features in a game. It’s unforgivable that a player is unequipped with the ability to recess from his recreation, and is such a perfect sum-up of the lack of control RE6 gives you as a gamer.

Resident Evil 6 is disappointing on so many levels. I’m a long-time fan of this series, but I’m not so hardcore as to rule out any changes to the core mechanics, as long as they improve that core in a cautious manner without reshaping it into a rehabilitated rot. Just as I noted in my review earlier this year of Operation Raccoon City, survival-horror has, like it or not, always been the mainstay of Resident Evil. To deny that heritage is foolhardy for both the fans and the franchise as a unique brand in today’s overabundance of blockbusters, third-person shooters, and quick-time actions.

Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video review here

Resident Evil 6 was reviewed on Xbox 360.

Badly Biten 

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