'Resident Evil 6' review: A once-great franchise hits an all-time low

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The typical monster in a Resident Evil game is a giant shambling mess of unnecessary limbs and exposed biceps, dripping brain juice through various rows of ambient teeth. It looks like roadkill pumped full of steroids. Which is also a pretty apt description of Resident Evil 6, which arrives in stores today. RE6 is gilded with all the affectations of this gaming moment. It’s got co-op gameplay and multiple campaigns and nonstop banter and RPG-inflected skill trees (“Use skill points to purchase skills!” proclaims a pop-up instruction.) It’s a military action game and a rooftop-hopping adventure game and a shadow-clouded horror game: Basically, it’s Gears of War and Uncharted and even a little bit Resident Evil, why not?

It’s also one of the most repetitive, listless, and utterly incoherent experiences ever produced by a major videogame series. And I mean incoherent in every level: The story, the gameplay, the setting, and even the hyperkinetic tone of the game feels cobbled together from a million different bad ideas. You like quick-time events? RE6 has them by the boatload: The game is filled with so many “press A to survive!” moments that it almost feels like one of those old laserdisc cartoon-game “interactive movies”: Thirty years later, here’s an uglier version of Dragon’s Lair. And it features some of the worst videogame dialogue ever. Early in the game, Leon Kennedy — the badass supercop with the floppy-banged blonde haircut, which used to look cool and now makes him look like the angriest member of One Direction — unloads on his new partner with all the rhetorical flourish of a minor character in an Ed Wood movie: “We’re going to this cathedral of yours, but if you really did have a hand in this, you can kiss your freedom goodbye.” Cathedral of yours. Kiss your freedom goodbye. What phraseology! A few minutes later, he asks the same partner? “What’s the matter? Not a fan of sewers?” Question from the audience: WHO THE F— IS A “FAN” OF SEWERS?!!?!?!

In earlier Resident Evil games, the creaky dialogue and byzantine plot was paired with addictive gameplay, and the result felt like a hallucinatory nightmare: Before the release of Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and its sequel had already cemented the notion that a videogame story could be a nightmare unfolding in realtime, a movie that haunted your real life until you finally stayed up late to finish it off. Resident Evil II is one of the defining masterworks of the PS1 era, and it is created with a silliness that feels like genuine insanity: The police station that feels like a haunted Victorian train station, the Chief of Police with the taxidermy fixation. The first two Resident Evil games were also difficult as hell: Negligible ammo, fixed cameras, a typewriter-based saving mechanism.

Resident Evil 4 took the horror franchise into a more action-heavy direction. That evolution continued with RE5. I don’t enjoy those games as much as some people, but Resident Evil 4 is often considered one of the defining games of the decade. By sandpapering off its rough edges, the franchise also lost a lot of what made it unique. But both games exuded the same old undeniable hallucinatory pull. That’s especially true of 5, which had massive problems, but was filled with images that felt pulled out of the NyQuil nightmares of a pop-addled teenager: African villages, teleporting madmen, a tentacle-bedazzled sea monster, a final battle in an active volcano.

So. Resident Evil 6 arrives three years after 5, and has been pitched very explicitly as the ultimate Resident Evil game. It features characters from basically every corner of the franchise, which is something that would matter if “character” had ever actually been important to this franchise. When you start the game, you can choose between three campaigns. Theoretically, these campaigns are intended to serve three different gameplaying constituencies: One is more survival-horror, one is more action-heavy, one features more adventure.

Maybe those differences will matter to you. For me, all three campaigns felt pretty similar. You run into an unimaginative environment with a lovingly rendered background (So many burning buildings! So many snowy mountains!) Fire various weapons at various undifferentiated monsters. Walk up to the door at the end of the level and wait for your partner to show up, because every door in the world can only be opened by two people. (Aside: I’ve seen some reports online that the best part of RE6 is the hidden fourth campaign. I’m sure this part is better than the other campaigns, mainly because this is the only part of the game that isn’t co-op. You can play through the rest of the game if you want to get to that part, or you can just go right on living your life. End of Aside.)

At this point, the third-person shooter gameplay that felt so fresh and invigorating in Resident Evil 4 just feels archaic. So if the gameplay is boring, what are you left with? The game’s world has been beautifully composed but feels stale — there are always lots of helicopters flying around, but your path tends to be so proscribed that this might as well be a rail shooter. The inventory system has been simplified — a legitimate improvement from RE5 — but really, “Simplify!” feels like the entire mission statement of the game. (The governing aesthetic appears to be Videogames for Dummies.) Listless, repetitive, incoherent on every level, Resident Evil 6 is a great bleeding mess of a videogame. Play it and weep.

Grade: D

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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