Resident Evil 6 is a big-budget disaster on the order of the Star Wars prequels, a sprawling production that clearly required so many individual talents to bring it into being, you can't help but wonder how the end result could have turned out so bad. Then again, the game tries to be so many things to so many different people, the image of a many-headed hydra thrashing violently beyond the control of its developers comes readily to mind. There are a few fleeting moments of greatness in Resident Evil 6, but you'll likely spend so much time with your head in your hands that you'll probably just miss them all.
Whatever else could be improved upon in this game is moot, since its fundamentals as a third-person action game are just plain badly implemented. After the great last couple of installments in the core Resident Evil franchise, it's astounding that the basic act of playing RE6 doesn't feel at least as good as it did in those games. On the surface, RE6 is made up of the same third-person shooting, button-prompt-driven melee combat, and inventory management, though it goes further in the direction of similar Western action games that focus on moving and shooting in tandem, largely at the expense of the series' traditionally deliberate style of gameplay. But it doesn't go far enough to produce a satisfying game of singular intent. In trying to have it both ways, clumsily mixing that more active style of shooter with vestigial elements of the series' survival-horror past, and peppering the entire thing with excessive Quick Time events and nearly hands-off action set pieces, RE6 takes a tremendous step backwards in terms of basic playability.
The reasons for this are too numerous for any one review, but here goes. The character movement is awkward, the aiming and shooting are stiff, and your basic interactions with enemies feel unresponsive and grossly unsatisfying. With a laser sight that swims around wildly within the targeting reticle and enemies that sometimes feel like bullets are passing right through them, the shooting makes a lousy first impression. And don't get me started on how clumsy the camera can get when you're trying to move around in tight spaces, or about the game's nasty habit of cutting back from a cinematic sequence with your camera angle pointed not only in a different direction than you left it, but also away from the thing you need to focus your attention on. The trusty old 180-degree turn from previous games sometimes turns only your character while leaving the camera stationary, exposing you to unnecessary risk as you then have to manually swivel the perspective around after you've wasted time expecting a basic game mechanic to work like it's supposed to. Playing RE6 is like suffering the death of a thousand cuts, as one minor annoyance and unavoidable death after another chip away at your enjoyment.
Most of Resident Evil 6 is marred by a glaring lack of that video game critic's old standby, polish. Every time you're killed instantly by an unavoidable scripted event, it feels like a good opportunity to turn the game off and never turn it back on. Seriously, there were multiple times in more than one level where I or someone I was playing co-op with was killed by some timed event--say, a truck hurtling into the area from offscreen--that you just couldn't avoid if you didn't know it was coming, and often don't even see coming if you don't happen to have the camera pointed randomly in the right direction. The game rarely communicates what it wants you to do, leaving you in many of the game's long, multi-phase boss fights to blindly waste ammo as you try to figure out whether you're effectively doing any damage to an enemy that barely reacts visibly to your attacks.
There are other basic design issues that make the game feel like a chore, like the inability to stop time even while you're trying to change your brightness or control scheme. You're never even alerted to the existence of a cover system or dodge mechanics outside of loading-screen tooltips that, at least on the Xbox version I played through, were typically onscreen for less than a second. But the game sure does make a point of driving home how Quick Time events work in its laughable tutorial segment. It never even attempts to explain the quirks of ducking and rolling, which require you to use the same button combo in different ways, but it goes out of its way to make sure you know to push the stick down and hold the A button every time you need to run toward the camera through a barely-interactive scripted chase scene. That's a telling example of the poor attention to detail here where basic playability is concerned.
To be fair, the more you play RE6, the more you'll adapt to the long list of quirks that initially conspire to make the combat in this game a miserable experience. Eventually it becomes less miserable, but it never clicks and feels satisfying and engaging the way the best action games do. Think about the brightest lights in the genre on this generation of consoles. For me, it's games like Infamous and Dead Space that give you immediate, absolute control over your abilities and impart the information for you to make split-second decisions about how to deal with any threat. Those games just feel right. Even at its best, playing RE6 feels like fumbling around blindly in the dark by comparison. The impression is of a game that underwent little to no playtesting, to see how actual human beings would respond to the mechanics and systems that make up the gameplay, and to refine and fix them in the places where they weren't working.
As Resident Evil goes, this game's justification for its own existence is questionable in the first place. Resident Evil 4 went to admirable lengths to upend the series' longstanding fiction by bringing in new antagonists and a new location, and I felt like 5 was already pushing its luck by turning right around and going back to the well with Wesker and the Umbrella Corporation yet again. But at least that game was bold enough to resolve those longstanding story threads with finality, explaining and killing off pretty much everything there was to explain and kill off. Then along comes RE6 with... Neo-Umbrella and the son of Wesker. That's really the most inspired premise they could conceive? I'll grant that this game is awkwardly timed at the end of a console cycle, and it's too soon to go back to the drawing board and completely rebuild Resident Evil from the ground up, but couldn't Capcom have just put together a more modest side story to fill the necessary spot on the release calendar until then? (Actually, I guess they already did that.)
Whether RE6's premise strains plausibility or not, the series has had good luck in the past with multiple concurrent campaigns starring different characters, and here you get a whopping four of them. Dandy-haired Leon Kennedy's vignette feels the most like an old Resident Evil, with the highest concentration of cathedrals and rotting zombies in the game. Square-jawed Chris Redfield's campaign then goes and does a middling Gears of War impression, with an increased emphasis on taking cover and shooting at enemies who shoot back at you. Then son-of-Wesker Jake moves through a campaign with a disjointed mix of shooting, ill-conceived stealth sequences, and an indestructible Big Bad who chases you through every area like a modern-day Nemesis. Once you finish the three storylines, you unlock a hidden fourth campaign so top-secret it's mentioned on the back of the box, one that's meant to give some additional context to everything you've seen over the last 20 hours or so.
The idea of this many criss-crossing storylines is a great one, and you do get little nuggets of info in each campaign that expand on the events in the others. It's hard to get too excited about anything that happens in the game, though, revolving as it does around yet another iteration of the X-virus that's always been at the center of the whole zombie mess. Nothing of major importance to the Resident Evil continuity takes place here, as every character and story thread introduced at the outset has either been blandly resolved or summarily dismissed by the end, resulting in a conclusion that, as far as Chris and Leon are concerned, might as well never have happened. More damningly, as the game wears on, it becomes more and more disappointing how much content is flat-out recycled from previous campaigns. By the time I got to Jake's campaign and especially into that last one, I was replaying sequences and boss fights on a disturbingly regular basis that I'd already played before. Sometimes you at least get to take part from a different angle, but just as often you're literally fighting the exact same boss fight you already did a few hours ago. It's especially glaring that if you play the campaigns in the recommended order, the first last-boss encounter you face is identical to the very last one. That's a pretty anti-climactic way to end such a huge production, and it's emblematic of the many aspects of RE6 that just weren't thought all the way through.
The game at least earns a few points for sheer audacity. Its scope is enormous; the volume of huge, detailed environmental art crammed in here could fill two or three similar games of average length. And many of those areas are framed and lit to great dramatic effect, though others look like they had less attention given to them, and the frame rate is low enough across the board to diminish the effect of actually moving around in them. Many of the monster designs are creepy as hell (a human torso attached to spider legs and wielding an assault rifle seems like something that just should not exist), and the bosses are plenty big and menacing and impressive to watch, though that effect is often lost in the frustrating trial-and-error required to fight them. The production values in the cinematics are top-shelf, and the character performances are quite well done, with Troy Baker further cementing his status as the new Nolan North in a nicely snarky turn as the wisecracking, in-it-for-the-money merc Jake. And as flat as I found the broad story, there were a couple of honestly affecting human moments that got to me a little bit. But once the moment is over, they don't really go anywhere.
By the time I'd slogged through the two-dozen-plus hours of the four main campaigns, I couldn't find it in myself to care much about the return of The Mercenaries, the score-based time attack mode that I used to play obsessively in past games, or Agent Hunt, which lets you match your way into another player's game as a monster so you can give them some trouble. That's a great idea, though most of the monsters you end up with aren't very capable or much fun to control in practice. Mercs is the same as it ever was, which is fine, and by the time I was done with the game, I felt well enough attuned to the combat that I could have given it a pretty effective go, I just had no energy or desire left to do so. It's worth noting you can once again play the whole game in co-op if you like, though your ever-present, indestructible AI buddy is actually pretty effective in combat, except for the rare moment where they refuse to get themselves over to a tandem door you need to open. That doesn't happen often, but always seems to happen at the worst times.
At a glance, Resident Evil 6 is built on the basic blueprint of a good action game, swaddled in what must have been one of the most expensive productions in video game history. You could offer a lot of ifs about how to make this game better: if the fat were trimmed out in service of a shorter, tighter campaign; if the designers had drilled down more intently on one style of gameplay rather than trying to cover all of them; if the player's core interactions with the game were simply as refined as they should have been. But in the real world, we're left with what's in the box. It's hard to fathom how Resident Evil, which almost singlehandedly redefined the action genre just two installments ago, has now become such a strange, mediocre pastiche of the better games this series once inspired. What a bitter irony that is.