Where’s the Horror?

The Resident Evil games have been changing for the last few installments. The earlier games were concerned about resource management and puzzle solving as their primary focus. Beginning with RE4, the games started to become more like action games. There were still puzzles, but they were fewer. This also coincided with a general improvement to the games controls which made action segments more reasonable. Resident Evil 6 brings us to the completion of the transition: a survival horror game in name only.

It’s true, of course, that Resident Evil 5 had started the actiony trend, but RE6 seems to be going even further. Rather than claustrophobic spaces, the game lavishes on huge set pieces. It almost feels like the creators were trying to emulate the Uncharted games. There’s a problem with this though–the writing of RE6 isn’t tight enough to make me suspend disbelief for the crazy action sequences. Sure, fleeing from an avalanche over collapsing glaciers may sounds awesome and fun on paper, but when the former lacks anything like a cause and the latter was never mentioned even in passing, the whole thing feels like a writer ticking off a check box which reads “spend no more than 20 minutes between action segments”. In fact, much of the game feels like inexplicable locales strung together by the need to have something, anything going on constantly.

The plot of RE6 is rather standard fair: zombies threaten the world and only our intrepid heroes can save the day. That’s not really a surprise and it was what I expected going in. The story itself is divided up into four interweaving campaigns–each of which involves two characters: one is a returning character (Chris for RE1, Leon from RE2, Sherry from RE2, Ada from RE2) and the other is a completely new sidekick, here to fill the roll of co-op buddy. This interlocking campaigns may be the most interesting point of the whole game.

Each individual campaign can be played solo or co-op. Like in RE5, the companion is always there, unlike in RE5, it is relatively easy to allow anyone to drop into the co-op slot when you’re playing. Sometimes this can be annoying–such as the companion with the infinite ammo grenade launcher continuously knocking you down–more often though, it is nice to have a truly useful partner. While that isn’t interesting in-and-of itself, what is interesting is when two of the campaigns have an overlap. At that point, the game searches for another set of players who are also about to play the overlapping section and has them join as well for a real 4 player experience. It isn’t quite perfect–some campaigns don’t have the greatest timing–but it is an interesting idea.

And therein, I think, lies the problem: even its most interesting idea is imperfect and lacks polish. I’m not sure if the plot itself can be blamed on a lack of polish–the problems feel deeper–but I do know one thing that can: too many screens. Just going from the PS3 dashboard to in-game play requires almost a dozen button presses: “Loaded data, press X to continue”, “Press Start”, “Play game”, “Select campaign”, “Choose character”, “Choose settings”, “Configure game mode”, etc. Just getting through the menu system should give you an achievement. There are so many things here that should have just been hidden or auto-completed. The fact that you have to go through a substantial subset of these things every time you want to play makes them all the worse.

Once you actually get into the game, most of it is pretty solid: the controls are mostly suitable and the movement is smooth. There are, however, two glaring flaws in the game. The first is the lack of a legitimate dodge move. Action games, especially games where taking any damage is a bad idea, need a spammable dodge move. While RE6 has a dodge, it is mostly single use only and is more likely to get you killed than to help you. Secondly, there just isn’t enough feedback on when you’re hurting enemies. I tend to like knowing if the giant monster is taking any damage at all from my constant barrage of fire, but without any flinching or health bars, its impossible to tell. This problem is compounded  twofold by the fact that some creatures seem to have weak bits but actually take damage anywhere and that pretty much everything at all boss-like has far too many hit points.

So there you have it. Resident Evil 6: inexplicable plot, lousy enemy design, terrible menus. How did you fall so far, Capcom?

Resident Evil 6: 0

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