Resident Evil 6 is a much better game than it’s generally given credit for. I only know this by chance. Before it came out in 2012, I downloaded a very lackluster demo on the 360 which put me off. I didn’t buy it, influenced also by a critical consensus which panned the game. By that point, I was pretty certain it sucked and wasn’t shy about telling people that. Then last year, the game was on sale for PC and I bought it for a fiver, with the intention of playing it co-op with my girlfriend. That didn’t happen (its not playable on her Mac!) but I played through it anyway.
And I really, really enjoyed it. If you get a chance to play it on PC, you should. Resident Evil 6 is an innovative and challenging game with great gunplay, some very atmospheric environments, and a long and satisfying campaign. It features varied and imaginative monster design. It also has some absolutely stunning set-pieces, the campaign punctuated by high-octane chase scenes and all sorts of vehicular and architectural destruction. This aspect of the game has been widely derided with a ‘Michael Bay’ label. Don’t get me wrong, I loathe Michael Bay movies. But the one thing his films do get right is their sense of spectacle; and is capturing a majestic sense of spectacle something for which RE 6 should be ridiculed? I don’t think so.
Of course, this game is far from perfect. The writing and dialogue are terribly corny, as you’d expect in this series; the difficulty is uneven and some of the action sections can be frustrating, just as parts of the game can be repetitive and uninteresting. But this can be forgiven in a 30-hour campaign, particularly one with an unusually ambitious narrative structure. Eschewing the traditional series formula where the story follows one or two protagonists in one or two environments, RE 6 features four main protagonists alongside four secondary protagonists, many of whom are brand-new characters with their own story arcs; and the events of the game take place over pretty much the entire globe. The whole thing can be played in co-op. Considering the scope and ambition of the game, I thought the experience was artistically coherent and certainly impressive and rewarding. And despite the absurdity of the story, the writing maintains a basic humanity and sincerity which sets it apart from a series like MGS.
Ambition seems to be the most distinctive characteristic of RE 6. Capcom made a serious effort to expand and develop the franchise; the days of PSX survival horror are long-gone, and today’s technology allows for much deeper and richer action-oriented experiences. That said, parts of the game did play like traditional survival horror; and surely in a 30-hour campaign there’s scope for more than one type of gameplay. I thought RE 6 was a much better and more effective game than 5, its predecessor, and while flawed it felt like a true sequel to Resident Evil 4. (It’s also infinitely better than a modern ‘survival horror’ like Alien: Isolation.)
You can’t get away from RE 4. It’s legacy is unavoidable. It was a seminal game not just for this series but for the entire genre of horror and third-person action games. It single-handedly changed what gamers expect, not just from a Resident Evil game but from all triple-A games. It’s like when Brad Pitt took off his shirt in Fight Club and male actors everywhere groaned; the bar was raised for everyone. For me, whenever I play a game like Dead Space or The Last of Us now, I always compare it to RE 4. For better or worse, RE 4 transcended the survival horror genre, and it’s just not possible to put the genie back in that bottle.
With that in mind, I find the prevailing narrative about how the series has ‘moved away’ from its roots to be increasingly irritating. This is a major gaming franchise that has been going on for 20 years, and which arguably did more than any other series to revolutionize the action genre. Capcom have demonstrated a willingness to service the traditional fanbase, with a series of high-quality remakes of the early games as well as with a number of spin-off games. But the franchise has to develop if it’s to grow and stay relevant, and particularly in today’s video game market it simply has to appeal to more people than survival horror obsessives. Moreover, I suspect that many of the people who go on about this are not, in fact, people who grew up playing RE games in the ’90s, but are just regurgitating what they’ve read on websites and so on.
Capcom haven’t said much yet about Resident Evil 7. Considering the criticism of the last game, who can blame them? They must be tearing their hair out deciding what to do with it. It’s probably too late at this point, but I hope that if enough people start to appreciate what the developers tried to do with RE 6, their job will be made a little bit easier next time, and the final product will be a little bit better for it. If they’re punished for showing some honest ambition it doesn’t do anyone any favours.