Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: Resident Evil 6 is so content to be so mediocre.

I’m convinced that video games are an art form. There are some developers out there, many, I’m sure, who love what they do, who take pride in their work, and who try their best to deliver an artistic vision to the screen. I get that it isn’t always easy, especially in an age of rising development costs and increased pressure to deliver that “blockbuster game of epic proportions,” but I have to believe that it still can be done.

Resident Evil 4 came along a few years back and truly revolutionized both the survival horror and action genres, creating a compelling and brand new experience that, yes, was more accessible to a larger demographic, but one that still retained much of what made the series what it was and brought it into the modern era. With the departure of series creator Shinji Mikami, the Resident Evil series has since switched gears in a major way, sacrificing almost all of its horror and exploration elements in favor of what I can only call straightforward action.

Resident Evil 5, though I wasn’t happy with the direction it had taken, was still built with the strong gameplay foundation introduced in its predecessor, managing to stand out from other action games as a suspenseful, not to mention well-made, installment that brought the long-running story arc started with the first game to an epic close. But this is where my support ends, because while Resident Evil 5 won me over despite my misgivings, Resident Evil 6 starts out as a trainwreck and gets only marginally better. It’s a game that was clearly developed with the goal of selling as many copies as humanly possible, one that borrows so much from the Call of Duty template but does it all so poorly that the result’s rarely more than a chore to play.

In Resident Evil 6 you pick from three separate campaigns (a fourth is unlocked upon completion of the three) all featuring different styles of gameplay. There’s Leon Kennedy, whose campaign is theoretically the most reminiscent of the series’ survival horror past. Chris Redfield returns to shoot one enemy after another while fighting the worst cover system known to man, and newcomer Jake Muller has some stealth segments and a couple of action scenes so jaw-dropping in their stupidity that even the biggest Michael Bay fans will be left shaking their heads. I won’t spoil who the fourth playable character is since the game keeps it a secret, though most fans will probably assume it from the start.

Capcom’s approach seems to have been to please everybody by featuring four different styles of “Resident Evil” gameplay and cramming it all into one, but none of it feels even vaguely reminiscent of the series’ past. Leon’s adventure may see the return of zombies and dark environments but like with all the campaigns in Resident Evil 6, a waypoint is always on screen to let you know where to go and how far you have to go to get there. The game is so scripted that at times it even dictates whether you can use the “run” button or not. Exploration is virtually non-existent, with no chance to venture further than 3 feet off the designated path before hitting a dead end, and backtracking is in all cases impossible. If this isn’t enough guidance for you, a mission objective constantly appears to let you know what you need to do, and by holding the left bumper your character will physically turn and face the appropriate direction as an arrow appears on screen to tell you exactly where to walk. It’s a game that’s afraid to even for a second let its gameplay prevent you from continuing your journey to the next waypoint, where even more mind-numbing action scenes and endless QTEs await.

It goes without saying that a game so obsessed with playing itself for you wouldn’t be too well thought out, and Resident Evil 6 can’t even be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure because of its frustrating mechanics in all campaigns. Leon’s actually happens to be the worst, with environments so dark and dreary-looking (thanks to an ineffective brightness adjust menu) that it’s hard to see much at all, let alone a train barreling towards you in a subway tunnel as you rack up what feels like your hundredth sudden death due to poor lighting and an even worse camera.

The other characters fare better but not by much, presenting a handful of fun moments to experience but still handicapped by the core mechanics. The stop-and-shoot aiming system from the previous two games is now gone, replaced by a run-and-gun style that would work far better if aiming wasn’t so difficult and ammo wasn’t such an issue. The reticule jumps around, the laser targeting system is not easy to see, and far too often clip upon clip of ammo flies right past your targets. And though it feels like you collect plenty of ammunition as you venture through each stage, hardly a minute goes by without enemies ganging up on you, and you’ll hear the “click” of an empty gun at the worst possible times.

As if to make up for this, Capcom has placed a heavy emphasis on melee attacking; though it gets the job done, it’s far from a fluid combat system, and I felt pangs of frustration every time an enemy grabbed hold of me, forcing to mash buttons in a QTE to shake him loose. Resident Evil 6 also gives you the ability to cover, though it’s essentially unusable. You can take cover behind “select objects” but the game doesn’t seem to want to let you actually shoot from this cover, making me wonder, more than once, why they even bothered with it. This is especially annoying when zombies with guns….sorry, when the J’avo, begin firing at you the second you step into a room, giving you no choice but to run around chaotically as you attempt to punch and kick them into oblivion while digging into your collection of green herbs.

The inventory system, which you access in real time (ooh, scary) is too small for a game that places so much focus on shooting; you can’t have it both ways, Capcom. In a survival horror game your limited inventory’s a challenge that has to be overcome. In an action game it’s a frustration and little else, and that’s where Resident Evil 6 stands. The developers pummel us with action as if afraid our attention spans can’t handle even a second of downtime, but then they don’t give us the ammunition in great enough amounts to make gunning down the zombies enjoyable. Enemies don’t react satisfyingly to your damage and bosses have no HP meters, so it can be tough to know whether your bullets are hitting your foes at all, let alone damaging them.

There isn’t even a sense of skill advancement to keep things interesting. Resident Evils 4 and 5 both featured a leveling up system that gave you the chance for character growth. Resident Evil 6 features one as well, as barrel after barrel that you break open and enemy after enemy that you take out all drop Skill Points (instead of ammo) that you can use to level your character up. Problem is, the cost to upgrade your stats is so steep that it almost never happens; I leveled up no more than five times across all four campaigns, and actually, I think that’s a generous estimate.

But it’s all in the service of the story, I suppose, as a cutscene happens nearly every two minutes. The story has ambition and the way the four campaigns intersect can be cool. But the characters are so overpowered that they feel like superheroes, and that they’re facing down an entity known as the C-virus and a villain named “Simmons” with completely straight faces makes it difficult to take any of it even remotely seriously. In Resident Evil 5 I remember being impressed by the quality of the cutscenes but here they’re simply a blur of kinetic action. Surrounded as they are by the exhausting nature of Resident Evil 6’s gameplay, I became numb to it all incredibly quickly. We’re also in very familiar territory at this point. Resident Evil 5 wrapped things up so nicely, but here everyone’s back to repeat themselves yet again, with another virus outbreak and the once-mysterious Ada Wong coming to the rescue so often that it actually becomes annoying.

The four character structure also means that you have to watch the same cutscenes and even fight the same bosses more than once, sometimes in the same exact ways that you fought them previously. Even the game’s final boss is nothing more than the same boss you fought as another character hours ago, and it wasn’t a fight that I was particularly eager to re-live, either.

Is it any surprise that Resident Evil 6 is devoid of scares? Any attempts made to establish atmosphere are crushed by an overbearing musical score that even from the start menu feels like “too much”. This is the least scary and least suspenseful numbered Resident Evil we’ve seen yet, and again, this would be disappointing but not a game-breaker had the central gameplay been any good, but sadly, nothing Resident Evil 6 attempts to do it does well. The QTEs aren’t fun, the shooting isn’t fun, the combat’s clunky, the cover system’s garbage, the storyline’s been done better, the leveling up’s been done better, the inventory’s been done better, the interface has been done better…it’s all been done better, not only by the same series, but by almost any action game that you can pick up off the shelf.

Verdict: Clocking in at 25 hours, Resident Evil 6 really might be the biggest Resident Evil to date, but it’s also the dumbest and most mind-numbing. A mildly interesting (at best) storyline is placed front and center amidst weak gameplay and action that kicks off from minute one and doesn’t let go. What Capcom doesn’t seem to understand is that there’s a point when endless action stops being exciting and instead becomes a drag, and that point was reached for me far before I finished my first campaign. And then I had 3 to go. Resident Evil 6 just isn’t much fun to play; indeed it’s a game so eager to play itself for you that you’re barely in control at all. Instead you’re left to do little but tag along for the ride, allowing yourself to be hit over the head by action scenes so dumb and senseless that they have no basis in any sort of reality, not even in Resident Evil’s reality. In trying their best to make a Resident Evil game for the masses, Capcom has instead created a Resident Evil game for nobody. It does nothing to set itself apart, making no attempt to forge its own way or do anything original with its formula. It’s eager to imitate Call of Duty, to grab your attention and to sell copies, but it does nothing to deserve the big sales it will likely receive.

Presentation: A story that can be interesting one moment and stupid the next, with a plot twist that should be outlawed at this point and with action that never ends. Minimal HUD appears to be an attempt to immerse you further in the game, but then the waypoint that’s on screen for 100% of your playtime kind of defeats this purpose. Some glitches.

Graphics: A few gorgeous areas along with some ugly ones and NPC characters who look like leftovers from House of the Dead: Overkill. A mixed bag that doesn’t feel nearly as impressive as Resident Evil 5 felt a few years ago.

Gameplay: Tries to do so many things but fails to do any of them well. Game’s little more than an exercise in following the arrow while taking out endless swarms of enemies with mediocre mechanics as QTEs constantly crash the party. Vehicular scenes are sloppy, the few puzzles included are lazy and feel out of place. No exploration at all, and little opportunity to have a say in anything happening around your character. Game insults your intelligence at every turn; at one point a mission objective appears at the top of the screen to tell you to (in these exact words) “figure out the puzzle”…just in case you were confused about what you’re supposed to do when you reach a puzzle in a video game.

Sound: The voice acting’s pretty good despite some bad dialogue. Music, though, is so loud and over the top that even the game’s rare attempts to establish genuine atmosphere are crushed by an orchestra on steroids. Occasionally a familiar Resident Evil sound effect will make an appearance, though that feels almost like salt in the wound at this point.

Replay Value: Co-op play, Mercenaries mode, multiple difficulties on multiple characters to play through, emblems to find, skills to unlock…lots to do, though after the final credits ended I had no desire to do any of it.

Overall: 5.0/10

Play Resident Evil: Revelations instead.

(Note: My reviews go on a .5 scale. This is a review of the Xbox 360 version.)