Resident Evil 6 – PS3, XBox 360, PC

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So technically I guess Resident Evil 6 isn’t retro, but by the time I get any readers, people will either have moved on cluttering up my facebook feed at the push of a button with the PS4, or living with the X-Box One sitting around like a roommate with boundary issues, not quite sure that his website of pictures of you sleeping on the couch might make us all feel just a little uncomfortable.

These gimmicks and features don’t really enhance the games at all, they just aim to make games more social.   I don’t know when anyone decided that video games needed to or even could be a social experience. You want to socialize?  Don’t play a video game!  With the possible exception of Journey, which requires natural intelligence to figure out gameplay aspects with minimal communication, I’ve never played a game and thought, “Yep! This is just as good as human contact!”  I always looked at games as something to do when you couldn’t find anyone to do anything else with (which in my life, has been all too often).

Thankfully, Capcom seems to have heard the voices of all of us angry peasants who hated being forcibly paired up with Sheva in RE5.  For those of us living the hermit lifestyle, this presented the player with the dire decision of playing through the game solo and relying on the inept AI, or finding a second player and dealing with something even worse. The latter option forced people to scrounge up little sisters, mothers, or hobos from the bus station in attempt to avoid the terrible decisions made by the AI (or as we referred to it in the day, “The Computer”).

While you have the option of joining another player online, the AI Partner mechanics give you a player who will always drop everything they’re doing to try to save you, and who won’t die themselves, so any self-respecting player will shut-off the network connection immediately as to prevent the game from turning into a babysitting mission. (I’m looking at you, Ashley.) It’s highly possible that when you’re on the verge of death, enemies can reach you before your partner, so it keeps an element of challenge, but you can still play through the game with the feeling that you can do what you want to do, instead of walking through a crowd of zombies with one hand on a gun and the other holding a baby monitor to your ear with the other.

Although the AI mechanics show promise for continuation of the series, whether or not RE6 lives up to expectations depends entirely on what you might expect from a Resident Evil game. That question becomes muddled when you take into account the fact that the series made a dramatic shift from Survival Horror to Action between Nemesis and RE4. Still, we can tally off some common aspects we enjoyed from previous games, right?

One: It’s not a first person shooter or a rail shooter. It’s not like anyone would think that’s a good idea anyway, right?

Two: More than one playable character, likely in response to the criticism that RE5 didn’t last long enough. The game stars Leon and Chris. And Ada. And a grown-up Sherry Birkin. And the son of Albert Wesker, some random army guy, and a woman who follows Leon around for some reason I’m sure they explained at some point. While having multiple characters with intersecting scenarios has long defined the replay value of Resident Evil games, the story does feel like a Racoon Class of ‘98 Reunion.  Fortunately, since they’re paired up, the story doesn’t become extraneously convoluted, and we know, as always, that only the characters from the first two games matter.  Unfortunately, working through a survival horror game in pairs takes away one of the most frightening aspects of the genre: being completely and utterly ALONE!

There does seem to be a level of predictability in the stars. I even remember thinking back in 2008, “You know what would be neat? An RE Game starring the grown-up Sherry Birkin.” Ten-to-one odds they bring back Claire (and probably Jill) in the next game.

Three: Monsters. As with the massive split on characters, it feels like they’re trying to draw back to anything anyone may have ever liked about the game. Leon’s scenario involves handling a zombie outbreak, a la RE2 and RE3, while Sherry and Chris deal with J’avo, who are much like the Ganados from RE4 and the Majini from RE5.

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Four: Uh…guns? Puzzles? Poorly written story line? A convoluted element that puts the “Resident” in Resident Evil?

Honestly, I can’t think of a whole lot more that the games have going for them. I played through this game slightly miffed and disappointed at the poorly-written scenarios until I remembered that  Capcom always manufactured their RE plots from beat up sci-fi cliches they found rotting in a dumpster outside a 1950s drive-in movie theatre. So what if we don’t fully understand what’s going on, or what makes the characters move forward, or why Leon stops and tries to reason with a zombie? That isn’t the point.

But that does lead to the major problem with the game. RE4 drew so many new fans to the series that every game since has tried to re-create that success, and as is so common in game development, they’ve done that without the slightest inkling of why people enjoyed it so much.

See, even after the genre switch, players loved the games because Resident Evil built atmosphere so well.  Right from the beginning, they rely on environmental sounds, dissonant tones in place of music, and sudden starts to scare the wits out of players. Enemies didn’t respawn. Ammo ran out. As a result, some zombies had to be ignored, the player running past them every time they backtrack through an area. Other areas could be cleared out, traveled through a dozen times, and then suddenly a new monster would dive through the window to snatch you up like a donut in those plexiglass cases at the grocery store. People mock the older games because it sounds like Leon Kennedy frequents cobbler shops, but the echoing footsteps play a vital role as well; different floors have different textures, and the crunching of glass underfoot sounds exactly like a feasting zombie. I can’t tell you how many times I froze solid only to realize I was standing alone in a room covered with junk on the floor.

This series–including RE4–relies on silences and downtime for effect. There must be the possibility of being alone along with the chance of being attacked. Scares in the horror genre never come from monsters; they come from the stress of suspense. RE6 abandons this idea completely. Gameplay is unrelenting. Monsters respawn as though someone were in the back running them off on a Xerox, and the player rarely has any downtime. To add to this, the macho-military theme for Chris Redfield’s scenario feels like it belongs in a Call of Duty game rather than Resident Evil.

Despite the lack of atmosphere, I did enjoy playing. The Mercenaries mini-game probably captures the feel of what’s fun about RE6 better than anything–running a gauntlet of monsters for a high score. Some of the other features gave me a laugh as well; you have the option of hopping on the network to play as a monster in someone else’s game. Although this makes for great novelty, the mechanics have to be worked out since the human characters can pulp you into cottage cheese within moments, and spawning points are distant and take time to load.

Although I’m not likely to be quoted on the packaging if I say, “It’s okay, considering,” the game is okay, considering it drops the key defining feature of survival horror. As always, the squish of a zombie’s exploding head satisfies me to no end.

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