I really took my sweet time with this one, and I'm glad I did. Sometimes you need to take a game nice and slow to really appreciate and absorb the experience it intended to provide. Resident Evil 6 was a game that was quite heavily panned by critics, but if you go back and read those reviews, they exhibit a lack of proper dedication to the game. These negative reviews barely touched the surface of the title. Now there were very few positive reviews, and they exhibited far more insight and reflection, as these reviewers went through the entire journey. Believe me it was a grand journey, probably the biggest ever in the entire Resident Evil series.
As I was playing it, my feelings towards the game were largely inconsistent. I hated it, and yet I loved it, I enjoyed playing it, and yet there were days where the thought of playing the game would make me cringe. It's very hard to explain, but ultimately as I continued playing, my appreciation for the title grew, and by the end of it all I was very pleased. It is easily one of my most memorable gaming experiences of 2012, and granted the game has its fair share of flaws and stiff design issues, but Resident Evil 6 is the classic case of a diamond in the rough.
I mentioned this in a post long ago, but Resident Evil 6 truly is a celebration of the franchise. It encompasses elements that have defined the series, both from its traditional survival horror beginnings and the more action oriented direction it took with the acclaimed Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 6 comprises the past, present, and the future of this celebrated survival action horror series.
The game offers four separate campaigns, each with their own characters, story, and very distinguishable play style and game design. All these four stories run parallel, where characters from different campaigns even cross paths, and it is by playing all four that you can put all the pieces together. This design philosophy has not been implemented this profoundly in the series since Resident Evil 2.
I think it will be appropriate to speak about each of the four campaigns separately, as they are so distinct that they each could have been a separate Resident Evil game.
Leon Kennedy and Helena Harper
I think everyone, including myself, had the highest expectations for this one. Which makes sense, when you realize that two of the very best games in the series, Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4, featured Leon as the lead protagonist, and it also helps that he was always this very cool character. Unfortunately, at least for me, Leon's campaign is perhaps the weakest of all in Resident Evil 6. I'm pretty sure most people would have jumped straight into it, only to be disappointing and assuming that the other campaigns would probably be a lot worse. Leon's campaign does so many things wrong, both form a gameplay standpoint and otherwise.
In terms of game structure and design, it does attempt to capture the horror elements while mixing it up with the style of Resident Evil 4, but the execution is a mess. The pacing feels off, and the level design is just so very stiff. Instead of offering interesting and compelling challenges, all it really does it frustratingly impose an onslaught of zombies and monsters in very small and tight spaces. If anything, it felt more like apocalypse horror than survival horror, taking a page out of something like Left4Dead. To be fair, it does get better as it gets along but the game design is never really interesting, just very frustrating. It also has the worst quick time events (the rope climbing sequence and the cars you can't even see coming). Above all, it has easily the most tedious and boring boss battles. The first boss encounter is bad, but the final boss is by far the worst, as you fight not one but six incarnations of it. Each incarnation tries something different, but they are too drawn out and become mundane fast.
Now in terms of story and characters, there are even more problems. The Leon in Resident Evil 6 is completely unlike the cool and strong protagonist that you saw spewing one liners in Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4, as what you have now is an overly melodramatic and depressed individual who is far too pessimistic and serious. In past games, Leon, despite the horrific situations, would still remain calm and collected and didn't mind making light of a grave situation with a witty one-liner, not in an cringe-worthy manner mind you, but in a way that provided an interesting contrast and loosened the tension a bit. In Resident Evil 6 however, Leon is always so very sad, and everything he says exhibits misery. Not once does he try to make things cool and interesting. No witty comebacks, he is all angst. Remember how he didn't mind having a bit of fun with the romantic tension he had with Ada Wong in past games? Here he handles it like a lovesick puppy who is hung over his unrequited love for her.
Then there is Helena Harper, Leon's partner in crime. Right from the get go, these two have no chemistry, none at all, and it doesn't help that Helena is about as interesting as a plank of wood. All they really do in the game is explore Helena's past, but not really develop or define her as a memorable character. They attempt to create some tension and chemistry between Leon and Helena, but poorly so.
To sum up, this was my least favorite of all the campaigns in the game. Personally, I think it is not the best indication of the overall game, and unfortunately many people judged the title on the basis of it.
Chris Redfield and Piers Nivans
Perhaps the most un-Resident Evil experience out of all the four, and you really need to approach this one with an open mind. Although the experience is unlike what you'd expect, it's actually very good for what it is. Chris's campaign is a well paced and designed action squad shooter at its core, with some really cool bosses, squad based action, and surprisingly entertaining military vehicular combat. You won't believe this one particular segment in this campaign, I couldn't believe I was doing something of that sort in a Resident Evil game. For what it's worth, it is entertaining and well designed, and is decent enough for an action game that is inspired by squad based military shooters. I remember greatly disliking my experience with the demo version of it, but the complete campaign was actually much better than I had imagined, even better than Leon's campaign for sure.
I quite enjoyed the story in this one, where we see Chris, battle tested and worn out, struggle with his personal demons. At the same time, he serves as an inspiring leader for his squad. His character development was deep, and the story plays out in a very dramatic and emotional fashion. The ending of his campaign was perhaps the most powerful, and seeing him grow and come to grips with his anguish, guilt, and demons was very compelling.
Jake Muller and Sherry Birkin
This was a fun campaign, easily my second favorite out of the four. Jake and Sherry are really cool and like-able characters, and their pairing was executed in a very memorable and playful manner. The chemistry and romantic tension between them was always charming (and cute I suppose...), and it reminded me of the amusing dynamic that Leon had with Ashley in Resident Evil 4. I enjoyed this campaign, it was varied and had plenty of breathtaking action set pieces. It constantly kept things interesting with its varied locations, level design, and objectives.
Another cool thing about it was that throughout the campaign, you constantly had to put up with this behemoth tank of a monster, in much similar vein to the iconic Nemesis from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. It was nice having a little throwback to that gripping and unpredictable game design gimmick, and each time you fought the monster it was always something different. Furthermore, out of all the campaigns, the co-op element in this one was the most entertaining, presenting some unique situations and challenges that really justified the co-op approach that Resident Evil 6 so heavily emphasized.
Jake reminded me a lot of Dante (Devil May Cry) due to his appearance and mannerisms, and the fiercely determined yet lovely Sherry really complemented Jake's arrogant personality style. It was thoroughly entertaining and action packed, ending on a truly epic final boss battle and rocking ending theme song. If all goes well, these two could be the main stars of Resident Evil 7.
Also if you've been reading all the whinging and fan outcry over the second chapter in this campaign, just ignore it, as it is offers some of the most intensely atmospheric moments of Resident Evil 6. I loved every minute of that frantic, uncertain, and heart pounding fight for survival in the middle of a heavy snowstorm.
Save the best for last as the saying goes. The final campaign you unlock after you complete the other three is without a doubt a love letter to long time old school fans of Resident Evil. If anything, Ada's campaign is the most Resident Evil of all.
First and foremost, her campaign is devoid of the forced co-op that you have to accept in the other three, as her journey is her own. Now mind you, the co-op isn't terrible, it's fairly fun when playing with the right people, and even with an A.I partner everything goes perfectly fine and smooth. In most situations it's actually well executed especially in the numerous interesting challenges presented in Jake's campaign. This co-op action really first hit off in Resident Evil 5, and it looks like it's here to stay. That said, what really defined the Resident Evil of old was the feeling of you being on your own, and only occasionally getting a helping hand from others. If anything, Ada Wong's adventure took me back to Resident Evil 2, thus easily making it the highlight of Resident Evil 6, worth going through the three campaigns to unlock. Patience is virtue, and Ada is as sweet a reward you can ask for.
It's all very atmospheric in presentation and beautifully methodological in pacing, you need to be able to conserve your resources and pretty much rely on yourself as there's no partner to back you up this time. It's a great feeling, and really adds to the tension and mood that made Resident Evil famous. It forces you play smart, avoid confrontation, and even allows you to perform stealth kills. There are smart puzzles too, in much similar vein to the classic Resident Evil which featured a very organic game structure. There are thrilling action moments too, such as escape sequences and chase sequences, all requiring you to basically run for survival. I also liked the feeling of being indoors and constantly keeping an eye out of what was waiting for me in the next corner.
The pacing is addictive, and the level design is sound, successfully instilling intense and sweat inducing panic. If anything, it played a lot like the Jill Valentine levels in Resident Evil: Revelations, which was also designed to replicate the true survival horror experience of Resident Evil. There are also two very unique elements in her play style, one being her powerful crossbow weapon and the other being her Batman style grappling hook. They sound simple enough, but they really add a whole different feel and layer to her play style and the level design. Some of the coolest moments and battles in the campaign make really good use of the grappling hook mechanic and the unique features of the crossbow.
Also Ada Wong is a fantastic character, and her popularity as one of gaming's most iconic women is easily evident here. This lady has style and class, none of the cheap and campy fan service you'd come to expect from most female characters in games, instead Ada Wong is presented with impeccable charm and grace. She looks beautiful, has a very cool dress style, and above all she has a ton of personality and intoxicating charm. She is expertly voiced (deliciously seductive) in this game, and her dialogue is very well written, making her one smooth and suave talker. I swear, nothing swoons me more than her wickedly cool smile.
I guess at the end of the day, I had a lot of fun with Resident Evil 6. It is flawed in many respects and takes a while for it to show its brilliance. As a package, it is immense, absorbing, and just keeps on giving. It's hard not to appreciate the sheer variety it offers. It may not be my favorite Resident Evil title this year (that honor belongs to the excellent Resident Evil Revelations), but I'd still call it one of my favorite games in the series.