But that "classic" Resident Evil style, survival horror that interspersed as much slow-burn tension and puzzle work as gunfire and deft footwork into b-movie zombie horror stories with modern genetic twists, has been staring down the barrel of a gun labelled "action horror" for some time now.
In fact, Capcom pulled the trigger a long time ago.
And by the blistering pace and emphasis on fast trigger finger seen in this sixth entry, the developer isn't planning on a resurgence of the old ways any time soon.
If you can make your peace with that, you'll be in for an uneven epic, the biggest and boldest (in scope) Resident Evil yet. Four interwoven and meaty campaigns, varied enemies, great characterisation, but also uneven missions, odd pacing, confusing storyline, and new mechanics that take a while to adjust to.
If that balance seems evenly weighed, it's not. RE6 hits more than it misses, and it's the bruises that'll you'll remember.
Sure, the series is suffering from a latter-day 24-style burnout as it strives to invent new and bigger ways to spin the story of biological outbreaks. So we have the President of the United States being shot in the opening minutes of the game, Chris Redfield's bizarre amnesia sub-plot, deaths faked so heroes-turned-fugitives can escape, and three pairs of characters in multiple coincidental encounters across different continents and time frames.
Justification and believability need to be tossed out the window. The trio (soon foursome) of campaigns is an escalation of the A and B scenarios that have been a franchise staple since Resident Evil 2. RE6 stays true to the different viewpoints gradually fleshing out the story, but mutates the idea by offering four different play styles - four different takes on the franchise template.
Mechanics are the same across all, but with crucially-altered parameters. Chris Redfield's scenario, fighting through war-torn cities offers a fairly even balance of enemy types and ammo pickups: it's an adrenaline-pumping action shooter more Die Hard than Resident Evil as he's played as a veteran soldier of B.O.W. war.
Leon Kennedy's escape through Tall Oaks drops the ammo count slightly and raises the enemy count significantly, echoing the character's panic-fuelled trek through Raccoon City. Newcomer Jake Muller takes a Mercenaries tangent, focusing on fists and takedown combos over conventional weaponry.
In fact RE6's combat system seems a backwash from The Mercenaries mini-game (now back as a full-blooded mode in the game's menu). Emphasis is fully on quick takedowns - precision shots on body parts to spin or daze attackers, followed swiftly by charges into melee distance for bone-crunching finishers. There's even a counter system in play, and physical attacks get their own energy bar alongside the normal health indicator.
Built onto this are new control mechanics. Dodge moves letting you roll out of harm's way, and soon every enemy type will have a charge move requiring fast finger work, and keeping button held down will keep you in the prone position for cinematic gunshots. Add in slides to duck under environmental dangers, down enemies or flow into the new cover system, and even the rigidity of the classic tank controls (still there in a fashion) feel more fluid.
It's not perfect. The cover system gets a proper airing on only the few occasions (most of them involving Redfield's missions) Capcom break out larger arena areas, and the inability to perform cover-to-cover transfers seems an oversight rather than a need to keep us playing RE as Capcom intended.
The new item system has its problems as well. Tapping Y will let you cycle through herbs, combining strands and magically turning them into tablet form to pop: it's a modern take on the herbal remedies but not a streamlined one, and as the game remains unpaused as you tinker, it's more fiddly than it needs to be.
That the menu doesn't remain locked during QTEs is an issue - we knocked it open accidentally while hammering the sticks or buttons, leading to our demise. That it's a loading screen, rather than a tutorial, that inform us of a shortcut method that skips the menu process entirely, is an oversight.
There's multiple indicators that Capcom has built the game to last long past completion of the campaigns (Game+, multiplayer modes, difficulty settings, scoreboards), but the main one is the Skill Sets.
Character upgrades bought through XP collected during the game, they're designed ultimately to work alongside your soon well-trained takedowns to make you a virus-destroying powerhouse. One set is open at the start, with a further seven unlocked on first campaign completion. With three abilities per set, you can exchange between the active one during play to suit your situation (though it's an inelegant procedure, requiring you to duck into a menu to play switcheroo). If there's an endgame to RE6, it's likely this: using these correctly to shave off Chapter times and maximise point potential in downing foes.
There's even a Skill ability that stops NPC partners from saving you if you're downed (avoid a follow up attack within a set time and you'll be back on your feet) for those that the idea of co-op in Resident Evil is still an abomination.
The cooperative campaigns (and partners) are still here. The NPCs do a good job in being easily ignorable on solo runs, and prove life-savers when downed. For those that want to bring a buddy into battle, you can cater your campaign to be open for friends or strangers, with a set of selectable key phrases making sure you get the right partner for your preferred tactics (playing for medals, score, just for fun, for story).
An option, and one we didn't see in action during our review time, is how two online pairs can be coupled together as a foursome during certain story crossover sections (mainly boss fights). Though the thought is that the timing of two co-current games would have to be miraculous. The early worry, that retreading the same bosses in different campaigns would be unwanted repetition, proves hollow as the developer brings different takes to even the same boss fights.
Along with the returning Mercenaries mode, there's also Agent Hunt, as you or other players invade each other campaigns as mutations - though the decision to bury this in a sub-menu rather than having it front and centre with the campaign option on the main menu seems odd. A ResidentEvil net website (to launch with the game's release) will track your kills and weapon use for comparison with other players.
If you've been scanning for the word "puzzles" in this review, here's your one paragraph. You'll likely sneer at what form they've taken in Resident Evil 6: they're so light it's hard to call them as such. The relentless pace of the campaigns has trampled them underfoot: aside from a cracker in a cathedral in Leon's campaign (and it's of the time-based action flavour) and a poor example in Jake's scenario (dodging bugs that'll alert a nearby Tyrant-type), there's really nothing left of the classic take that broke up the action of before.
What's stellar (motion-detecting bugs aside) is the creature design. It's a diverse range that pulls types from previous games and tosses in new mutations, the title's top tier visuals paying off with the detailing on these human hunters. From the returning zombie to superb bosses, all are brilliantly realised. It's been an age since we've been uncomfortable and unnerved by enemies in the series: there's a sickening amount of both here.
Audio as well grows on you. Initially awkwardly discordant and lost in the mix, it soon emerges as one of the strongest the series has produced, both matching the epic nature of a story that swallows the world whole, and underscoring key character moments with simple chords.
And it's to the characters that Capcom's done greatest service. Though the main story's weak due to the fragmented storytelling (a consequence of a globe-trotting adventure that takes in multiple viewpoints, places and times), the character arcs are strong.
With the presence of the franchise's first and best antagonist Wesker now only a shadow, Resident Evil 6 wisely doesn't try and fill his ex-S.T.A.R.S boots. Villains there are, but instead the game swings its cutscene gaze to the interplay between the pairings that make up the trio of initial campaigns: Leon and Helena, Chris and Piers, Jake and Sherry.
For a series known for clunky dialogue and unnecessary exposition, RE6 puts a lot of humanity into its cast, drawing some genuine character moments from its six leads with great voice and facial work that makes them shine. From Helena's silent horror at an incoming threat, to the finality of another character's line before the big showdown, Capcom manage to put the human into these superhuman s when it matters.
There are numerous nods to previous games for those looking out for them (and other franchises as well) and if there's a whiff of cheese spread across near-burnt disbelief, it's not wholly unwelcome, and another reason to embrace the stupidity of the whole enterprise. There are moments that are just bat-shit crazy and outdo Michael Bay - but despite our leads ability to survive anything the world throws at them, the sense of peril, of danger, remains.
Pacing is wildly erratic: each campaign takes a while to settle comfortably into its respective groove. Leon's begins at a snail's pace, Redfield's charge through tight corridors of Chinese housing doesn't fit with the ferocity of the gunplay expected of his play style. Jake's hammers into Chris's story so early with a boss fight crossover you groan.
But after everything - the game, the pacing, you - works through the kinks and aligns, everything comes together nicely. Arguably the best moments come during the middle acts of everybody's campaigns - and with it an eagerness to see not only what horror is round the next corner, but where the story's going next.
Kennedy's lengthy escape through Tall Oaks and the suburbs, and as the mystery behind Helena is slowly unravelled, echoes the second and third games. Chris Redfield finally gets a battlefield big enough to fit him, and a boss fight so suspenseful you wonder why Capcom's not done it before, while Jake gets a snowstorm and a tank (It'll make sense when you see).
If the game looses steam towards the third act, then that's an issue that's dogged the entirety of the Resident Evil series, as a switch of location signifies the home stretch and familiarity as to what's to come. But that's after upwards of thirty hours of multiple moments, encounters and dialogue (no, really) that stand out for the best reasons.
So no, it's not perfect. And those seeking a return to form by the series will be poorly serviced here. But this is big, bold, blockbuster entertainment, overriding the weaknesses, and stays true to the characters we've stuck with for seventeen years now, if not the mechanics. If Resident Evil has altered with the times (and it has) then we have the choice to abandon ship or stay onboard. If you choose the former, then you're missing one hell of a view, and one hell of a journey.
P.S: Paul W.S Anderson? This is how you do the world ending.
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