In 1979 Francis Ford Coppola said,“We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.” He was describing how his $2 million art house movie became the $31 million lumbering monster that is Apocalypse Now. Years from now, this is likely how director Eichiro Sasaki will describe the creation of Resident Evil 6, a game that has much in common with Apocalypse.
It too is a story of man’s inhumanity to man, albeit with an evil NSA chief that can turn into a zombie Tyrannosaurus Rex rather than Marlon Brando. It’s also a production that clearly spun out of control as Capcom’s ambition to “deliver the most impressive Resident Evil title ever both in terms of scope and production values” led it to hire an army of developers. Resident Evil 6 is a monster made by a staff of 600 people around the world, with 150 working from within Capcom’s Japanese office alone, over the course of 3 years. The credits list 16 separate game designers. It is undeniably a game of vision; but that vision is a chimera every bit as unwieldy, impossible, and grotesque as the game’s enemies.
No Idea Too Small
Where to start? The driving ethos behind Resident Evil 6 seems to be quality through quantity. It doubles down on everything the series has done to date. Resident Evil 2 had two interlocking, but largely similar campaigns? 6 has three full interlocking campaigns and a fourth unlockable. You want a shooting gallery multiplayer game and a tense suspense story? They’re both in there. Leon and Helena will fight the mindless undead while Chris and Piers will fight weaponized soldiers whose butts turn into giant moths. You want ridiculous narrative and melodrama? The story doesn’t delve quite as deeply into canonical ephemera as Resident Evil 5 did, but what it gives up in history, it replaces with reprised characters in new ridiculous situations.
A terrorist group that fancies itself a resurrected version of the corporation that made all the zombies in the first place is locked in combat with a conspiracy within the US government to control the C-virus. After finishing one of the campaigns, a ten-hour task, you’ll wonder if there was a single idea pitched by the game’s staff that wasn’t ultimately included in the game.
Coherence then is Resident Evil 6’s biggest problem, on both the macro and the micro scale. The behemoth of the set up and premise is reflected in the way it actually plays. All of the game’s playable characters control exactly the same way. Leon and the rest move faster than previous Resident Evil leads, trotting through the game’s corridors or sprinting when you hold the proper button. A greater emphasis on actual fisticuffs, evolved from the finishers in 4 and 5, has you pull the right trigger or hit R2 to kick and punch. Button combinations open up even more new combat maneuvers. Saddle up to a wall and hold the left trigger/L2 to take cover, but start sprinting and then pull the left trigger or hit L2 to slide for example.
Since the campaigns pit you against very different enemies—encroaching undead, gun-toting monsters, etc.—naturally the controls need to accommodate different scenarios. They come close to being up to the task, but more often than not the game feels loose and unwieldy as a result. A zombie stands up, but when you try to kick it back down, your foot goes right through it.
Then there are the non-stop quick time events. Resident Evil 6 is constantly placing you in dramatic moments where you have to time specific button presses to proceed. These worked in Resident Evil 4, but they were scarce and logical. Tap a button quickly to outrun a boulder or slash at a rope around your ankle. Why are there timed button presses for flicking switches on an airplane? It doesn’t increase drama, it’s just bloat.
Non Stop Action/Confusion
Enhancing the lack of clarity is Resident Evil 6’s pacing. Resident Evil was a series originally based on inhabiting mysterious spaces: A mansion, a police station, a military base, or the Spanish countryside. All of them were revealed slowly through puzzles and exploration. Resident Evil 6’s three campaigns are a ceaseless corridor, propelling you forward with no breaks. It doesn’t provide any context for the proceedings either. One second Leon and Helena are murdering a zombified president on a college campus, the next they’re in an underground lab, then on a crashing airplane. Why was the president there in the fist place? Why is there a massive underground cave system beneath the secret lab in Tall Oaks? Why were the airplane pilots wearing sunglasses at night?!?
Resident Evil has always traded in absurd spectacle, but at least previous entries were tonally consistent. Patience made the shift from village, to castle, to secret lab work in Resident Evil 4. Instead 6 shunts you between set pieces ceaselessly. Every five minutes, it’s a new place, a new helicopter crash; no one told Sasaki and his team of hundreds that when everything is loud, nothing is.
Boss fights that stretch on through five set pieces across an hour, cheap deaths caused by an unwieldy camera, a never-ending stream of explosions, yelling, and dead bodies tripping you as you walk over them; who cares that you can play it with other people?
Resident Evil 6 shouldn’t work at all. Yet it does, in rare moments. There are passages in this game when a glimmer of the series’ signature atmosphere shines through, and its attempt to become all games to all people almost works. The dark ballroom of the Tall Oaks campus doesn’t have a single encounter with enemies when you first enter it, but the dark opulence of the scene makes you seethe with anxiety. The story, strange and silly as it is, is as beguiling as it was in the entries from fifteen years ago. Just the look of the game, pushing Capcom’s MT Framework engine to its absolute limit, is something to behold. It’s hard not to be swept away by the game’s tide, but it never lingers long enough to let you absorb anything. There’s magic buried in Resident Evil 6, it’s just buried beneath the everything-and-five-kitchen-sinks mentality that birthed it.
There are fans that lament Resident Evil’s turn away from horror in favor of blockbuster spectacle. The truth is, that that fight was lost long, long ago. Resident Evil 2 was explicitly built by Capcom to be more “Hollywood-like” so it would sell 2 million copies. “In the original Resident Evil, I wanted to create ‘THE FEAR’ inside the game. Resident Evil 2 is different, it concentrates more on showy,” said series creator Shinji Mikami back in 1998.
Resident Evil 6 is the true realization of that ambition, a hydra whose three heads are weighed down by a lack of focus. It had too much money, too much equipment, and the insanity of Resident Evil 6 is the result. Eichiro Sasaki and his 599 followers have made one of the most memorable failures in video game history, and while Capcom shouldn’t be rewarded for their wastefulness, Sasaki’s team should be applauded for making something so terribly grand.
Score: 6 out of 10
(This game was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy provided by Capcom)