With the utterly brilliant and genuinely terrifying The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury published yesterday, it’s officially Zombie Month here at Tor UK. To mark it (besides stumbling around the office dead-eyed and moaning, which is pretty standard), we have a new columnist kicking off a new feature: reviewing the latest games.
The long-standing Resident Evil series returns with its most divisive episode yet, and there’s truth in both the negative and positive press. But stripped of the public infamy, does Resident Evil 6 stand up as a game in its own right?
[Minor spoilers ahead. If you want a completely virgin RE6 experience, look away. LOOK AWAY!]
Let’s get one thing out straight away: contrary to early opinion, this is a Resident Evil game. Bonkers plot, bad writing, exciting set-pieces and boss battles, atmospheric locations and remarkably poor hair-dos - it’s all here. It’s just been turned up to 11 and shifted to a different playing field: now no longer survival-horror, but action-horror. Some reviewers have decried this as a kind of personal slight by Capcom but, quite honestly, this shift has been happening since Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, where the entire plot was basically one big boss battle and the focus was on terror rather than fear. RE6 has just taken that to its apex.
It’s 2013 and the world is still under threat from the sinister Umbrella organisation (who have yet to get their house in order – what’s the point of testing out deadly bio-weapons on a populace you’re trying to control?). Chris Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy and Jake Muller are investigating various outbreaks of the new, even more potent C-Virus with the help of their partners, and in the process uncovering a conspiracy that goes [dramatic music] all the way to the top. Meanwhile, the mysterious Ada Wong has been implicated as the cause of the outbreaks – but is she a lone wolf or a pivotal part of a larger plan? That’s about as much of the plot I could decipher before going to Wikipedia, which is indicative of RE6’s frenetic pacing and three story arc. But it’s irrelevant. What most people are here for, and what RE6 delivers in spades, is non-stop, balls-to-the-wall action.
And what action! Gigantic Rancor-esque beasties tear-up Eastern European villages; a hideously mutated Umbrella employee smashes apart a Hong Kong train like a brat with a Hornby set; there’s a vertical gunfight up the side of a skyscraper culminating in an epic battle with an LSD version of Baxter Stockman, and even a welcome return of that hoary old mine cart chase from Resident Evil 4. Capcom have clearly nicked the best ideas from a number of different games and films – most noticeably the Gears of War series – and mashed them up to create a hybrid monster that overwhelms and entertains in roughly equal measure.
But with a casserole this big and chunky, you’ll inevitably get some cauliflower where you were hoping for a bit of beef and it’s often where the developers have sought to pay homage to the earlier games that it stumbles. Puzzles in particular are a drag (when were they not?), with fetch quests and some bizarre trap rooms slowing the action down. And while it’s great fun to see so many characters from the series together and interacting (albeit woodenly, as you’d expect), you can't help but feel some of it is fanboy wish-fulfilment rather than for any serious reasons of plotting. In fact, it’s a bit like The Expendables II, but with a more realistic-looking cast.
If you’re a Resident Evil fan or into action games in general, there’s a lot to love in this new instalment. The pacing and stylistic variations are both exemplary, and while the story doesn't make a jot of sense, it all moves at such a lick that you barely notice. For anyone wondering which review camp is right, the truth is: they both are. Sixteen years of backstory have had an enormous effect on the decision of what to include and what to cut, but if you can get over the sheer volume of things going on, there's a solid and hugely enjoyable action-adventure romp at the rotten, pulsating heart of it.
For more zombie-based puffery, check out our stable of Walking Dead articles.