Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Xbox 360 review: Resident Evil 6
Spread out over the course of about six months, the events of Resident Evil 6 call veterans Leon S. Kennedy and Chris Redfield back into action to stop a zombie outbreak that threatens multiple fronts. Also caught up in the mess made by Neo-Umbrella is Jake Muller, a mercenary with incredible physical prowess who has only recently discovered his role as son of the late Albert Wesker. The game is divided into three major campaigns, as well as one shorter story revolving around Ada Wong that is unlocked after the others have been completed, much like the side stories of Assignment Ada and Separate Ways in Resident Evil 4. With a return to the familiar viral outbreak scenario instead of Las Plagas or Uruboros, there is a certain familiarity about Resident Evil 6.
While the core gameplay builds upon the more recent action-oriented entries into the series, each campaign plays with a distinctly different style in mind. Chris controls fast and furious as he did in Resident Evil 5, and totes quite a full arsenal. While he faces hordes of the tactical J'avo (who are infinitely more intelligent than the standard zombie), Chris' campaign is - interestingly enough - arguably the scariest of the batch. The enemies he goes up against are considerably stronger than those the other protagonists face, and some prove highly adaptable - like the Rasklapanje, who can continue fighting even when their torso has been separated from the legs, or tear off their own arms to throw them at Chris' face to block his field of vision. The environment can play just as important a role, when enemies are difficult to see or when trapped in tight quarters with many powerful foes. All of it makes for a very tense experience that does well to balance the action and horror elements.
Piers, Chris' second-in-command, is easily the weakest of the three partner characters. He constantly forgets his place and questions Chris' orders time and time again. Conversely, the chunk of Resident Evil 6 centered around Chris presents him in a more genuinely human light than RE5 did during its entire run. When his team was mutated by the C-Virus in eastern Europe, Chris blamed himself for their deaths and his inability to keep a promise to rookie Finn. He represses all memory of the incident and wanders the country in a drunken stupor until Piers recovers him. As Chris regains his memories, he begins to travel down a dark path of vengeance, and a whole new side of him is presented. It's an interesting look at the concept of man being the darkest beast of them all that the series hasn't really touched on outside the boundaries of evil mastermind villains of yesteryear.
While the President of the United States is visiting Ivy University, he is infected by a C-Virus outbreak. Faced with no other option, Leon shoots him and is informed by one Helena Harper that she may have some valuable information for him regarding the cause of the local outbreak. Leon has a handful of nicely varied weapons that he collects over the course of his campaign, and the college town surrounding Ivy University is an obvious throwback to the events of Raccoon City. For the first time in the series history, the chaos erupts before your very eyes as cars spin out of control, motorcycles crash, and people abandon their loved ones as zombies spread out in every direction. Presenting all of this as scripted in-game events as opposed to cutscenes makes the experience all the more immersive.
The enemies Leon and Helena face are primarily standard zombies, though there are a number of specialized (and subsequently more-challenging-to-kill) zombies, such as the screamer, the highly-agile and feral bloodshot, the whopper, and the spore-carrying Lepotitsa. Leon's campaign also features a wide variety of boss fights, many of which last for a good portion of a chapter. As a whole, Resident Evil 6 features what is probably the most varied array of enemies the series has ever seen, which will keep you on your toes as you explore the crypt beneath Tall Oaks, an abandoned market in Lanshiang, China, the plane that Leon and Helena board to travel from the former to the latter, and so on. The occasional puzzle element will work its way in, though these are far more prominent in Ada's bonus campaign. In terms of its gameplay, Leon's campaign controls the most like RE4, though the story elements and classic gothic horror motif evoke memories of RE2 and Resident Evil Zero.
As the new kid on the block, Jake is paired with Sherry Birkin, and the two share a unique relationship as children of two of the series' most prominent villains. Jake initially comes across as brash and selfish, informing Sherry that he will go along with her plan to bring him back to the U.S. government to research the C-Virus antibodies in his blood so long as he gets paid a hefty sum of money. While this is an easy arrangement for Sherry to make with her superiors, she tries to convince him that there is more potential than just using his skills as a soldier of fortune. There is a solid progression and development of them individually as well as partners of circumstance.
Jake's hand-to-hand combat works well enough, and his advantage in strength allows him to pull of faster (and often more brutal) finishing combos on enemy J'avo. The rest of his arsenal is relatively light, but he controls about equal with Chris and Leon. The environments Jake and Sherry must traverse are a bit less impressive than those that make up the other campaigns. One has the duo searching for key items in the middle of a snowstorm, and the visibility becomes so poor so frequently that reliance on the mini-radar is essential. Another requires them to sneak past the pursuing Ustanak (a nod to RE3's Nemesis) without setting off detectors that take on the form of giant insects, which is not crafted in a particularly intelligent manner. Quick-time events have been molded into more of interactive cutscenes that seamlessly transition from actual gameplay to the cinematics. With regards to their implementation in Jake's campaign, however, they often begin when he and Sherry are confined to a very small area with awkward camera angles and limited mobility, which makes them frustrating interruptions to an otherwise natural flow.
Jake does spout off a few cheesy one-liners fitting to his bad boy image. But the writing in Resident Evil 6 is a significant step up from most other entries in the series with regards to dialogue. Though Piers isn't exactly the most likeable, Helena and Sherry play off their respective leads well. The characters that really leave the most to be desired are the major villains. Without spoiling who they are or what their goals are, it is safe to say that the means do not even come close to justifying the end, and that they cannot compare to the evil geniuses of Albert Wesker, William Birkin, James Marcus, etc. At the same time, the web of conspiracy that strings the main characters brings an element of mystery and intrigue to the table. The plot explores the results of the C-Virus as it affects individuals on a more personal level, as well as widespread global panic, with bioterrorism now so frequent an occurrence.
Each of the campaigns will intersect with the others at key points, and if you are playing online, there is the potential for four human players to be cooperating in a boss battle or other major plot point. Though there is no real pause option, the game allows you to huddle in a safe location and bring up the options menu on your character's cell phone. The item menu is still accessed in real-time, but has many more slots than in RE5 and is much easier to manage thanks to quick-button commands. Herbs multiply when combined, and heal one block of the health bar a piece. Each character also has a stamina bar, which will be depleted and need to recharge if they perform too many kicks and punches. It isn't a perfect system, but it is an improvement over what Sheva and Chris had to rely on in RE5.
Mercenaries mode makes a return, albeit in a limited fashion. Unless you preordered from one of the major retailers offering extra stages as bonus content, your time spent in Mercenaries mode will be limited to three stages. These stages are all inspired by different areas in the three major campaigns, and present solid variation in size and layout. There are also eight playable characters that have their own set of weapons and items, with costume variants that offer even greater freedom in taking on a great number of the infected as the time limit draws closer to zero. Time bonuses and multipliers are spread evenly across any given stage, with the largest of the three - Steel Beast - requiring players to balance moving toward the next bonus with chaining kills. With the ultimate goal of 150 kills in a single round, running into a standstill on an empty stage like in RE5 is highly unlikely. That said, the RE6 version of Mercenaries behaves largely the same as in the past two numbered entries, though enemies are smarter and characters motions are more fluid.
Also available post-game is Agent Hunt mode, where players can take on the role of an enemy in another player's game in hopes of hindering their progress. Serpent emblems lay hidden in each campaign, and shooting/collecting these will unlock files relevant to the overarching story or figures of some of the game's major enemies. Also, there are individual skill stores for the different gameplay modes, where players can exchange in-game points for special upgrades. These range from better melee damage to less damage taken from enemies, higher drop rate of ammunition to more time from chaining bonuses in Mercenaries mode, and so on. Ada's bonus campaign is brief, with each individual chapter lasting around a half-hour to forty-five minutes, compared the hour average of the other campaign chapters. Hers is a story meant to tie up some of the loose ends, and the execution is handled well enough. There is a significant emphasis on stealth and puzzle elements early on, with the former being much more direct and less frustrating than Jake and Sherry's run-and-hide from Ustanak routine.
The soundtrack is an interesting blend of haunting choir tunes and tense techno battle themes. The lighting effects go a long way in creating the game's many diverse environments, though there are many textures that appear highly dated when viewed up close. Character models look good, and weather elements lend themselves to creating a much richer and fully-realized set of environments like snowfall over the streets of a partially-destroyed European city and a rainstorm picking up as Leon and Helena seek refuge in a cemetery church not far outside of Tall Oaks.
There is a lot to do in Resident Evil 6. The three campaigns make for one of the longest Resident Evil stories woven yet, and the bonus game modes provide plenty of replayability. There are moments where the game stumbles over its experimental nature, but it is largely a successful blend of action and horror, making for a more fast-paced and fluid experience than in RE4 and a more consistent classic horror style than the few jump scares presented in RE5. It may not be exactly what fans were expecting, but there are elements meant to appeal to Resident Evil fans of all kinds, and appears to be Capcom's way of returning to the basic and most successful elements that propelled the series over the years, while simultaneously taking it in a new direction now that the major plotline surrounding Albert Wesker has concluded.
My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)