Forty-six hours. What can you do in 46 hours? Watch 46 episodes of your Law and Order series of choice. Drive most of the way across the US (at a law-abiding 60 mph, of course). Watch Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas three times. For me, 46 hours was how long it took to get through Capcom’s new apocalyptic zombie opus, Resident Evil 6. It was a dark, repetitive, sometimes frustrating journey that I’m unlikely to take again.
Resident Evil 6 tells the separate but similar stories of three pairs of protagonists (plus one fetching but deadly antiheroine) as they fight through a world on the brink of collapse after the release of a virus that turns people into flesh-chomping zombies. Secret agent Leon Kennedy and Secret Service agent Helena Harper start in Washington, where they have to put down the US President after he turns into a zombie in the Oval Office. Soldier Piers Nivens has to recruit retired agent Chris Redfield to help him track down the source of the virus. Meanwhile, agent Sherry Birkin extracts Jake Muller from a war-torn eastern European country. Muller is a mercenary who’s immune to the virus and whose blood could be the key to a cure. All three sets of partners eventually find their way to China, where their stories intersect from time to time, forcing them to fight together to survive. Tying them further together is the shadowy Ada Wong, whose allegiances are never really clear until the end.
One of the big differences between RE6 and the previous games is the vast improvement in the control system. Many players reported not being able to escape the first room in the Resident Evil 5 demo because of the controls, but that’s been successfully changed for the new game. Unfortunately, you have to pay close attention to your screen at all times if you want to survive. There’s no printed manual in the box, and there’s no gamepad control diagram in the options menu, so you have to depend upon the hints that pop up at the bottom of the screen to figure out how to do important things such as sprinting or sliding under obstructions.
After a fairly long prologue, you get to choose one of the three available campaigns (the Ada Wong campaign is locked until you complete all of the others, although an upcoming patch is supposed to make her story available from the start as well). Dead enemies drop either ammunition (which can be in short supply) or skill points, which you can trade in after each chapter for ability and weapon upgrades. This can make for a long slog through that first chapter, since you’re stuck with your opening abilities from the get-go. Fortunately, equipped abilities carry over from campaign to campaign, so your Ada Wong could be a real badass by the time you unlock her storyline. Combat is repetitive but fun, with lots of variety in the beastiary, although melee combat can be an exercise in futility and zombies don’t go down after just one headshot, forcing you to use your quickly dwindling ammo supplies more than necessary.
RE6‘s biggest problem? It’s dark. Not just in narrative tone, but also visually dark. If you use the gamma correction utility in the options menu in the way described, then you’ll most likely be fighting in total darkness throughout the better part of the game, leaving you to depend upon audio cues to find the enemy before they find you (you’d think that highly trained fighters such as these would have flashlights with them). The cover mechanic in combat is clunky (did Capcom not learn anything from Gears of War?); you can’t fire behind cover while crouched, only while standing, and that requires some delicate stick/trigger manipulation. The story is saturated with quick-time events, some of which require pinpoint accuracy and can pop up at almost any time; another reason not to take your eyes off of your TV. Camera problems crop up at the most inopportune times, as in when you’re trying to sprint, slide and QTE your way to the end of a tricky chase scene. Checkpoints are intelligently placed, so you don’t usually have to backtrack too far when you die, but there are still times when you might cry out for a save-anywhere feature. And then there are those overlapping campaigns. It’s an interesting storytelling device that lets the overall plot gradually unravel, but it also means that you’ll be fighting the same miniboss battles multiple times through the four campaigns.
This was my first complete Resident Evil game, so I wasn’t scarred by the reported general awfulness of some of the other entries in the series. Resident Evil 6 is a competent shooter inside an end-of-the-world wrapper, making it right up my dark alley. But the general sameness of the combat, the minimal number of puzzles to break up the bloodletting monotony, the repetition in the set pieces and the overall darkness of the visuals turn a promising shooter into a long, dreary journey to nowhere. Find something else that you love to do and spend 46 hours doing it.
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now