Rating: 3 (out of 10)
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
“This is a nightmare,” says Helena, one of the protagonists of Resident Evil 6.
She’s referring to a zombie attack in a subway tunnel, but she may as well be talking about the game itself. Nightmare, indeed.
Resident Evil 6 is one of those rare, almost unplayable games, with a control system that makes you want to beat your head against the wall. That’s actually what you’re supposed to do to the zombies, but good luck figuring out how.
In the game’s opening scene, Helena and her partner Leon are attacked by a swarm of the monsters amid a cluster of abandoned cars. The camera shifts wildly and uncontrollably as you try to figure out how to aim and shoot – no instructions are given. As the chaos builds, it quickly becomes apparent that the only thing to do is give up on your guns and kick blindly. The attackers inevitably take you down, at which point you can only hope that your partner resuscitates you. Either that, or you have to start the craziness over.
Later on in the subway tunnels, a group of zombies shambles toward you. With a fair bit of distance between you, and having had some more time getting to know the controls, it should be simple to dispatch them, right? Nope. Aiming and moving at the same time just don’t seem to mix in this game.
While it’s relatively easy to draw a bead on one attacker, moving with the other thumbstick throws that aim off completely, so it’s best to stand stock still. Of course, that makes it easy for Mr. Zombie’s friends to close in and start munching on your brains.
Difficult controls were part of the original Resident Evil game, back in 1996. That game made it hard for players to turn and run, and if they wanted to shoot at the approaching zombies it was also best to stand still. The scheme worked because it added to the feeling of vulnerability, the horror survival genre’s stock in trade. It also worked because the enemies were relatively few and far between – the thrill of the game came from not knowing exactly when or where they’d pop up.
More than 15 years later, the controls are still wooden, yet Resident Evil is not the same game. Over the past few instalments, the series has shifted away from its survival horror roots and more toward a third-person shooter sensibility. Controls that seem to fight you at every turn are now a liability in a world that shovels hordes of bad guys at you. It’s one thing to easily move and shoot at one zombie coming at you; it’s quite another when there are dozens.
In short: Resident Evil 6 is chaos, followed by frequent, frustrating death.
The mess isn’t confined to the controls, it also follows over thematically. Earlier games in the series did a good job of dishing out the scares, but that’s gone. Now, it’s best to expect zombies and other enemies everywhere, because, well, they’re everywhere.
With horror out the window, this Resident Evil is more about the big, Michael Bay-like set-piece moments that include attacking an aircraft carrier with a jet or jumping over helicopters on a motorcycle. Huh? Jets, helicopters and motorcycles? Oh yes.
The game is divided into four separate campaigns that feature seven different protagonists. The opening campaign, which sees Helena and Leon battle through a zombie-infested city, is the closest to the core horror roots of the series. The other three take things in new and strange directions, even more so than Resident Evil 5 did. Much of the action feels alien to the franchise, seemingly shoe-horned in to appeal to the larger, Call of Duty audience that likes big explosions and holy-crap moments. It’s too bad the developers forgot to include the fluid controls of such shooters.
There’s a military-themed storyline – including said aircraft carrier – as well as one that involves a lot of running toward the camera and yet another that includes some puzzle-solving. All the campaigns are larded with cut scenes, followed by an inordinate amount of quick-time events that have you mashing on a button or wiggling a thumbstick. It adds up to a betrayal of what the series was initially about – total, frightening immersion. There are significant portions where an hour of Resident Evil 6 may net only a few minutes of actual gameplay.
There are good parts (though they don’t come close to outweighing the problems). If you were watching someone else play Resident Evil 6 you’d agree it looks and sounds great, with solid production values and believable voice acting. The storylines also eventually connect nicely into a larger whole. I also got a kick out of giving enemies flying elbow drops and German suplexes, but bolting pro wrestling moves onto a “survival-horror-shooter” is another example of how thematically confused this game is.
Perhaps the game’s best feature is the ability to play through three of the four storylines with a partner, either split-screen or online, but only the most ardent Resident Evil fans are likely to want to stick with the game to its conclusion. Fighting actual zombies in the real world might be a less frightening experience.