A Fun Train Wreck of a Game

User Rating: 6.5 | Resident Evil 6 PS3
Man, did this game turn out a whole lot differently than I (and many like me) thought it would. When the first trailers hit earlier this year, the appearance of Leon and the darker tone promised a return to the Resident Evil roots – you know, survival horror and all that? For better or worse, that's not really what we get here at all. Well, there are hints and whiffs of intensity, but most of that is born from frustration with some seriously flawed game design. In any event, the game has managed to grow on me in spite of major disappointment.

I'd rather not bore you with the game's premise. You can look all that up on your own if you're not already versed on the setting(s) of Resident Evil 6 (RE6). You'll play through three main campaigns – Leon and Helena, Chris and Piers, and Jake (Wesker's son) and Sherry (you know, the kid from RE2) – plus (the worst kept secret in gaming history) Ada's campaign, unlocked after completing the other three stories.

There's a lot of game here for sure, though Mercenaries out of the box is pretty paltry, with a mere three maps (without pre-order content) to choose from. I think it took me roughly 25 hours to complete the first three campaigns, and Ada's, though much shorter than the others, is packed with a lot of interesting gameplay devices and sequences.

However, all of the campaigns are a mishmash of good, bad, and seriously ugly gameplay. Leon's campaign starts out feeling a bit like Left 4 Dead and ends up stuck in a Kane & Lynch rut toward the end. Chris and Piers go for a decidedly more Gears of War approach, and though there are some excellent boss moments, it too is rife with technical and design issues. Jake's story, though not exempt from a few poor design decisions, somehow manages to feel like the most cohesive and complete action game of the three.

All three of the campaigns have some wonderful high points, as well as moments that make you want to pull your hair out. Most of the moment-to-moment gameplay is quite satisfying, but the cheap deaths are overdone – way overdone. The quick-time events (QTEs) are a huge source of frustration throughout the entire experience, particularly one that requires you to jiggle the left stick to the point where it feels like it's going to tear off your controller. Other QTEs are actually kind of fun, but the mechanic should have been used more sparingly.

Far too often, these QTEs come at you when you least expect them, or there's simply no indication as to what you're meant do next. Sure, there was a taste of this even back in RE4, but the developers of this game seem to have misinterpreted the intent of these devices.

It's also frustrating, especially in Mercenaries mode, when you're supposedly locked into a coup de grace animation and a zombie/enemy manages to get up and walk away. This happens a lot, and it can make getting high scores in Mercs the wrong kind of challenge, as well as holding onto ammo in the campaigns particularly difficult.

Mainly, it's the schizophrenic pacing and lack of identity that make RE6 such a disappointing experience. There are almost no puzzles in the main game, and the ones that are present are pretty much solved for you by a waypoint indicator that constantly stays onscreen. Ada's second chapter is probably the best we get in terms of not having your hand held the whole time, but even here you're forced to replay a large chunk of game you previously played in Leon's campaign.

In spite of my many complaints – and I do have many other things I could nitpick – the package as a whole is still quite loveable. I love being able to play almost the entire game with another player in a style that isn't as restrictive as it was in RE5 (much of the touch-and-go gameplay feels like Left 4 Dead, focused more on cooperative travel, rather than dramatic sequences). I love that the partner A.I. in this game is actually helpful and doesn't suck your inventory dry. I love the new mechanics and the camera system, even though they felt completely foreign to me at first. And I love how challenging the Mercenaries mode is, since there are so many new things to learn and relearn – many animations can now be broken (purposely) by enemy attacks.

It's a shame, though, Capcom still feel the need to try and gouge us by holding back many of the Mercs maps we already know exist in hopes of selling them to us later down the road as DLC. Had the main game been better, perhaps I wouldn't feel cheated. But three maps in a $60 package that doesn't even include a printed instruction manual (that's right, and there isn't even one in-game – you have to go online and download a PDF if you want complete gameplay instructions) is not cool at all. Capcom have been getting worse and worse about this sort of thing over the last four or five years, and it reeks especially badly in this case because the game itself isn't up to their otherwise high standards.

As a sort of aside, Ada's campaign is perhaps the ideal example of what this game represents. It's all over the place in terms of gameplay and design. One minute you're required to use stealth to make your way through a level, and the next you're stuck in these old-style, fixed-camera scenes that are finicky beyond belief. They threw out storage containers and safe rooms – things that made sense – and kept out-of-date gameplay mechanics most of us can agree have no place in a modern adventure. Yet, Ada's second chapter is perhaps the most enjoyable segment of the entire game. Again, RE6 just flails all over the place when it comes to quality.

Though it may have lost a sense of direction, one thing Resident Evil hasn't lost is its sense of humor. There are some great Easter eggs to experience and lots of fantastic music that stews together with the rest of the game in an oddly endearing way. The dialogue can be cheesy, hammy, and the plot devices spammy, but there are almost as many memorable lines of dialogue here as there ever were in past numbered RE games.

Visually, the game is extremely attractive and runs totally smooth. I can't think of a single moment when I experienced slowdown. There are, of course, going to be lag issues when playing online, but matchmaking does a fairly decent job showing you which players are viable options to hook up with. RE6 has amazing lighting, superb set pieces, and loads of environmental detail.

The audio is powerful and perfectly matched with the gameplay and cutscenes onscreen, though you may never actually stop to think about it all that much. The orchestral scores are subtle and refined, and the sounds of bashing zombie skulls are, oh, so satisfying (yes, there are actual zombies in this particular Resident Evil game).

One other cool but somewhat disappointing feature is RE.net, a website designed specifically to interact with the game. In theory, you link your progress in the game to the website and earn RE points, which can be spent on virtual goods on the site. The selection ranges from new palette swaps for Mercs costumes, to dioramas and wallpapers. There are also regular online events where high-score players (though hackers have already invaded the leaderboards) can earn substantial winnings.

The site, in execution, is less than perfect, though. You constantly have to re-link your console account to your site account, and updates are incredibly slow. It's still a cool addition, though, and something that should pad the longevity of the game if they can iron out the technical issues.

Hopefully, Capcom will iron out the game's issues as well. There are supposed to be free updates that unlock a co-op option for Ada's campaign, but really, what we need right now is new, free Mercs content (Update: today Capcom announced a fix for the camera, which is due out in mid-December). I'll gladly pay for additional story DLC, but for what I paid, RE6 has yet to fully live up to its end of the bargain. I love it for what it is, but it disappoints me for what it isn't. It isn't a fully realized Resident Evil game; it isn't a good value for the money (don't let the length of the game fool you – longer doesn't always equal better); and even as an action game, it isn't quite ready for primetime. RE6 holds on to archaic design whilst scrapping things from the series that actually worked. And in some places, RE6 even feels unfinished.

In this instance, Capcom is like a really busy parent that wanted so badly to please their child but is so out of touch with what that child wants, it gave them something it had almost no interest in. The effort is appreciated, but instead of trying to "buy" our love, why not simply listen to us. I'm far from ready to give up on this franchise, but this isn't a fully baked cake, that's for sure.