There’s a new Resident Evil game. It’s hard to ignore that, unless your name is Mega Man, six is kind of a lot. Sure, there were detours into Zeros, Codes: Veronica and those light gun games nobody plays, but time has marched on and those numbers after “Resident Evil” continue to rise. The slow forward march of the series’ narrative has officially taken its toll, and the stakes have never seemed lower. There are zombies, so we will play the latest Resident Evil game and eliminate the zombies, knowing that there will soon be zombies again. Characters from earlier installments will appear and do things that don’t make sense even if you’ve played the earlier games. Forever and ever, amen.
Resident Evil 6, both formally and functionally, takes a strange kind of glee in admitting that everyone—players and in-game characters alike—is getting awfully tired of all this Resident Evil. Leon Kennedy becomes increasingly exasperated as his Throwaway Resident Evil Female Companion keeps refusing to tell him the latest Zombie Truth. Chris Redfield, after witnessing who-knows-how-many horrifying dismemberments, becomes a PTSD-addled alcoholic until his Throwaway Resident Evil Male Companion asks him to knock it off and participate in Resident Evil 6. The player is subject to a series of increasingly ridiculous set pieces until the game becomes a montage of near-identical boss fights and Quick Time Events.
Which reminds me: Is there a cheaper way to ratchet up tension than the Quick Time Event? It is possibly the only control scheme that could make Resident Evil 6’s high-concept action movie situations (Explosions! Monsters of all kinds! Zombie presidents!) parse as boring. The game puts in a lot of work setting up these situations, and just as your interest is piqued it insists on resolving them by making you press “A” really quickly or wriggling the joystick around with your palm. The multi-QTE knife fight in Resident Evil 4 felt earned and intense; Resident Evil 6, by comparison, asks for multiple QTE’s every single time a zombie gets his mitts on Leon’s succulent back. There is nothing satisfying about completing your fiftieth Quick Time Event. I would guess that I completed over a hundred during my time playing Resident Evil 6.
Normal combat, when it occurs, is the third-person fare that’s become the series’ new standard. It’s as serviceable as ever, although a new cover-shooting mechanic (there is a popular videogame series called Gears of War) serves mostly to trip up the unlucky player who accidentally gets too close to a wall during a gunfight. There’s still a certain innate joy in scoring a headshot or giving a zombie the Honky Tonk Man’s deadly swinging neckbreaker, and there are moments when the combat reaches a certain rhythm and the game’s full potential can be glimpsed. Mercifully, the series’ imperative to “kill everything until you die” has made it into Resident Evil 6 more or less intact, and it continues to signify the direction the series could have gone in if the developers hadn’t insisting on cramming every half-baked idea they had into the actual game. (You know what the Resident Evil series needed? Driving and stealth segments.)
One of the more appealing aspects of Resident Evil during its golden years was the amount of trust it placed in the player to think and shoot his own way out of strange, difficult situations. In Resident Evil 6, a small onscreen arrow is constantly pointing at your next destination, which leads to a lot of running and jumping around without giving anything much thought. Most of Resident Evil 6’s areas are so linear that the arrow isn’t even necessary, but there it is, pointing towards the nearest door that inexplicably requires two people to open. (If you’re playing without a second player, press “B” to summon your computer-controlled ally. This makes maybe 25% of the game’s doors take between ten and thirty seconds to open.)
Resident Evil 6 feels legislated into oblivion, having removed any left-of-center charm that remained in the series (RIP creepy, permanently killable “What are ya buyin’?” guy) and replaced it with bland, underdeveloped action-game fare. When Chris Redfield is tasked with capturing a bridge and destroying an oncoming tank, it’s clear that the Resident Evil series has moved far away from making a dog jumping through a window one of the most memorable moments in gaming history. While the series’ scope and ambition have increased, its attention to detail and dedication to memorable atmosphere hasn’t risen to the occasion.
Joe Bernardi is a writer and web developer living in Brooklyn. His words have appeared in Dusted Magazine, The Boston Phoenix, and Tiny Mix Tapes, among other places. He’s got a Twitter and a blog.