I sat down to play the Resident Evil 6 demo the other day — I’d totally forgotten that my copy of Dragon’s Dogma afforded me early access. The last and only Resident Evil I played was Resident Evil 5, unanimously considered by fans to be one of the worst titles in the series. For that reason alone my expectations were low.
I will arrange my review based on the sections I played. There were three in total: Chris, Jake, and Leon — in that order.
I started with Chris because I expected to hate it. The scenario opened on an ambiguous city rooftop. Chris needed to move his squad from point A to point B, but infected individuals known as J’avo began to appear around them in greater and greater numbers.
I think this may be old news, but it’s still worth mentioning: Resident Evil 6′s interpretation of zombies is that they can talk, are well organized, and wield assault rifles. I can only assume that their reason for this was to create an enemy that would be a better match for a group of highly trained special ops dudes with biceps that could choke out rhinos. In actuality, they succeeded in creating an enemy so close to humans that there was no real unpredictability and thus no fear. They do occasionally transform into winged monstrosities, but that just wasn’t enough considering the sheer amount of firepower Chris and his platoon had at their disposal.
For the most part I ran through corridors, climbed the occasional ladder, mowed down a bunch of J’avo, and finally cleared a quicktime event (QTE). It was as if I was running through some masochist’s checklist for the perfect mediocre game. Let’s move on.
I chose Jake’s scenario next because I’d never heard of him mentioned in Resident Evil lore — I believe he’s a new character. Once I saw there was a well-dressed female alternative (Sherry), I chose her instead. After a brief cutscene the duo were instantly running from a gargantuan enemy called an Ustanak. I had a difficult time being able to distinguish when I was supposed to input commands and when I was simply watching a cinematic — there was no clear prompt. After a few game overs I figured it out. It wasn’t difficult, just unclear.
Sherry and Jake arrived at a warehouse. Blindly advancing through a certain door triggered the Ustanak’s arrival who made short work of me armed with only a pistol (which I could change between one and three round bursts) and a stun rod. It dawned on me that Chris’s scenario was for showing off how the game handles mobs, and this scenario was for showing off boss battles.
After a few deaths I learned that beating the boss required interacting with my environment. On a second level, for instance, I could kick down several ladders allowing easier escape while being chased. I was also able to find a number of hidden weapons such as a high caliber pistol dubbed, “elephant killer” and some remotely triggered explosives. Combining all my discoveries with some conveniently placed oil barrels (and one more QTE for good measure) was enough to best the boss.
To be honest, this portion of the game was rewarding. I had to use my brain to solve a problem, not just point and shoot. I had to ration items carefully — each round of elephant killer ammo was precious as it stunned the Ustanak for a valuable moment. Yeah, I’ll be honest: it was fun.
Leon’s scenario began in a banquest-esque building. My partner, Helena Harper, insisted we head for Tall Oaks Cathedral. An irritating marker appeared on the screen for me to follow and we were off. Taking in my environment made it clear that there had recently been some kind of gala event here — food, balloons, lavish decorations — the whole nine. Despite the decor there was not a single person in sight and the power had clearly been cut. This lack of light combined with the occasional lightning flash from outside created some dramatic lighting effects, adding to the foreboding atmosphere. It was clear that this scenario was trying to prove that the Resident Evil series is still capable of inducing survival-horror tension. In that regard I would say it succeeded, though without really shaking up the formula in any way.
What proceeded was a number of equally formulaic moments you’d expect in any zombie game. Moments that characters from previous games in the series, such as Leon, should have seen coming miles away. Like, hey, maybe we shouldn’t get into an elevator with a stranger who periodically convulses. Maybe that’s a bad idea. While there was an obvious lack of creativity, I’d say the atmosphere and direction brought it all to life. I particularly liked the moment the elevator doors open to a parking parage, blinding headlights, and of course: a group of infected individuals clambering towards our shocked heroes.
All in all, Resident Evil 6 exhibits a broad spectrum of difficulty, creativity, and effective atmospheres. There were moments in the demo when it seemed like everything was in alignment to create some tense and memorable moments. But those moments were in the minority. Far too often the events of the demo were formulaic, with more of a focus on style than the substance that brought the series to the forefront of the survival-horror genre.
*Note: The review embargo for Resident Evil 6 ended today so reviews are dropping and they are harsh. I haven’t played the retail version of the game, so I can’t speak to multiplayer and story to a great degree. If you want more information about the game I’d suggest combing the reviews or simply making your own decision!
The fact that the Anthology version of the game inclues digital downloads of Resident Evils 1-5 makes it a pretty amazing deal no matter how you look at it. (Thanks to Joel for pointing this out!)