Resident Evil 6 is a Wonderful Nightmare
Sometimes a messed-up game ages better than you’d expect
Celebrating its seventh anniversary, and just in time for Halloween, Capcom’s divisive “flagship horror game” Resident Evil 6 launched this week on the Nintendo Switch.
This new version is content-complete, just like the recent PS4 and Xbox One re-releases, and although it doesn’t include the silky smooth performance found on those more powerful consoles, it’s still an impressive conversion that I’m having fun with.
When the game first released on the previous generation of hardware, it divided both critics and gamers. It was still living in the shadow of Resident Evil 4, and its internal design mandate was to shake everything up.
But that shake up ended up turning off a lot of long-time fans.
Developed by a massive team of over 600 people at Capcom, Resident Evil 6 is a huge, sprawling action horror game, set across four discrete mostly-linear campaigns.
At the time, I found the scope of the game’s content baffling, and even in today’s era of live services and open world everything, its 30 hour+ run time is still impressive.
The game just keeps throwing new things at you, over and over and over. It takes the “varied environments” concept from Resident Evil 4 and kicks it up by several notches. It must have been incredibly irritating to make this game work within the limited storage and RAM of the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Indeed, the game’s performance struggled on those older consoles, and that’s its most obvious flaw.
As you make your way through the game’s many large locations, controlling a cast of seven unique characters, you’ll have to grapple with its newly-enhanced and complex combat system. The frame rate in the original release did that combat system zero favors.
Resident Evil 6 leaned into being an action game, throwing out the last notions of slow survival horror from the series’ past. And what an action game it is! The shooting and melee combat have a vibe and flow seemingly inspired by the Souls franchise, which had itself just exploded onto the scene.
It’s heavy, meaty, dynamic, and still one of the most enjoyable action gameplay experiences I’ve ever had.
Guns handle far more realistically than in past games, the reticle lifting and bouncing with the kick back of every shot. Bullets tear through enemies and environments. Bits fly everywhere, and simulated physics enhance realistic hit reaction animations.
As a result, the shooting combat is far more visceral than in nearly any other RE game save for perhaps this year’s RE2 remake. But that’s just the start of it.
The players’ core move set is far more involved. You can perform a whole new library of melee attacks with detailed animations, and they’re governed by a Souls-style stamina meter you’ll have carefully manage. The melee attacks hit hard, and when you perfectly land one it’s satisfying every time.
Mobility has never been more fun or dynamic in a Resident Evil game. You can sprint, take cover, dive over objects, dive onto the ground and shoot from your back, and generally look like an action movie hero at every single moment.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really explain any of this, leaving you to experiment in the heat of battle. It tells you how to shoot the gun, and it tells you how to throw out melee attacks without explaining the context-sensitive nature of the animations…then just sets you loose and hopes for the best.
If you’re used to today’s Souls games, and other hard modern action games, you’ll probably be fine. But in 2012 this was still a big no-no.
The combat system is more fun to control the faster the game is running, a problem for the initial release Capcom later solved by re-releasing it on better hardware. But that’s a bummer for those who played at launch, and I think it’s a big part of why the game didn’t review that well.
You’ll get the best experience on a PC, PS4, or Xbox One. The new Switch version holds up okay, retaining all of the graphical effects, but still has numerous bouts of lag when lots of enemies are on screen.
Regardless of what current release you choose, it still feels like the game finally found the generation it was meant to launch on.
This was always a game graphically ahead of its time. Released at the tail end of the 360/PS3 lifespan, it still looks modern now thanks to its forward-thinking rendering features. The visuals have always astounded me in spite of clearly being too much for my poor old Xbox 360 to handle.
Luscious volumetric lighting bathes every inch of the game, revealing soft dynamic shadows and enhancing every surface with a realistic creepiness. Each scene in the game is carefully composed, and texture detail broke new ground for the time.
Character animations, while occasionally awkward in transition, are still wonderful today. Facial animation, action movement, and weapon handling all look just as convincing as you’d expect from a newer video game. And the models still look great, with realistic clothing, animated hair, and detailed skin.
Sound design didn’t get shafted in this quest for visuals. The guns are punchy and visceral. Every surface has a different footsteps sound effect, and the ambient environment effects will keep you on edge during quiet moments. Voice acting is exceptional, even when actors are forced to say nonsense.
Resident Evil 6 is a game that clearly outgrew its ambitions for visuals, scale, and complex action…and then Capcom somehow cobbled it all together and shipped all of it anyway, a month earlier than its original projected release of November 2012.
My biggest personal frustration with the game, outside of the frame rate, is the story.
The narrative is a big clunky mess, full of wacky dialogue and over-the-top action moments. Sure, it features a who’s who of favorite Resident Evil characters like Chris Redfield, Leon Kennedy, and Ada Wong, but it also features a bunch of new characters who are awkwardly tied into the plot.
Rather than use these new characters to expand the universe of the game, many of them are directly related to the existing characters in ham-fisted ways.
Unlike Resident Evil 4 and 5, which both clearly establish the stakes in their opening cutscenes and then take you on thrilling adventures with plenty of twists and turns, Resident Evil 6 allows you to play its four stories in any order.
As a result, the game can’t count on you knowing anything, and its narrative is more like a series of big thrilling moments and shocking revelations that just happen one after another.
None of it truly comes together until you’ve seen all the stories through.
That type of disjointed storytelling is not as satisfying as a clear linear through line. Although there is a chronological timeline to the four storylines, they aren’t listed in that order on the campaign selection screen, further adding to the confusion.
Chris Redfield’s campaign has been chastised for years, and with good reason. It’s a weird left turn into “Zombie Military Shooter,” and feels like it came flying in from another game that was trying to mimic other popular action franchises. The tone veers closer to camp and goofy writing abounds.
I guess that shouldn’t have been too surprising since Resident Evil 5 ended with Chris punching a boulder to death.
The game forces you to play through a Prelude at the beginning that you’d think would set up the main stakes, but instead it just features two of the main characters, Leon and Helena, running through a series of explosions and quick time button reaction events. It’s really amazing to look at even seven years later, but unless you already know who Leon is from earlier games, you’ll be thinking “What is this video game about?”
I guess in that sense, the Prelude gives you an honest look at how the rest of the story will go.
Resident Evil 6 is the sort of game that results when the producers say an emphatic YES to every idea. It has no sense of focus, no sense of direction, and way too many things.
But its visuals, combat, and sheer scale are still a triumph of brute force design all these years later, and I still love playing it.
Regrettably, this combat system never got another chance to shine. Resident Evil Revelations 2 retained some of its features, but had a much lower production budget and lackluster visuals designed to run at a more reasonable frame rate.
Resident Evil 7 rebooted the gameplay entirely, casting it in a first-person perspective.
This year’s Resident Evil 2 Remake was a return to the over-the-shoulder camera first made iconic in Resident Evil 4, and is the closest thing to RE6’s gameplay if you’d like to see a more modern take on its detailed combat.
It’s a true shame that Resident Evil 6’s audacious scope destroyed the coherence of its narrative and its frame rate. But it’s wonderful that the game is now available on modern machines that can run it well, for a reasonable price.
Even if you choose the Switch version, you’ll get a slightly better experience than on the original consoles, and you’ll likely be impressed that visuals this atmospheric and well-animated can come out of a portable machine.
Resident Evil 6 is my secret favorite in the iconic series, in spite of many aspects being messy.
It makes me feel like I’m in an action horror movie, and makes me wonder about an alternate universe where this level of over-production and scope is the standard for linear third person action shooter titles.
Instead, the genre has faded from its high point in the previous generation, and although we still occasionally see a standout release, none of them are as over-the-top in the same way as RE6.