There are times in Resident Evil 6 when you’re absolutely sure that Capcom is having a laugh. Take the testing facility level, for example – I have no idea what it was thinking. It’s not like fans have kept their peace about the franchise’s direction. “Give us suspense,” we’ve said, time and again. “Cut the lighting. Slow the zombies down.”
There are flashes of all this in the 2012 offering, in fairness – desperate struggles with Romero-brand undead shufflers in the gloom of a college campus. But there’s also a ripped bald guy in pyjamas who gets to run around a lab, roundhousing hitmen in Hannya masks. It's baffling and aggravating but in hindsight, strangely charming.
Some games are so ‘of their era’ it’s impossible to separate criticism from historical analysis. You can’t think of Atari’s E.T. adaptation without pondering the industry crash that misfire precipitated, nor can you mention Wipeout without recalling how the PlayStation made gaming a clubber’s pursuit. I think critics will feel the same way about Resi 6 in decades to come. It’s the definitive case of early ’10s triple-A hubris - a diseased Tyrannosaurus flailing around in a quagmire of exorbitant dev costs and sales expectations.
Its multiple-protagonist campaign aims to marry the original’s creep factor to the sharp shooting of Resi 4, but ends up pitting the two styles against one another in a Pyrrhic struggle for disc space. It is cold hard proof that throwing money and bodies at something won’t make it a success. And yet, I can’t seem to put Resident Evil 6 down.
That’s no big shock, I guess, given that I slapped an 8/10 on the game back in 2012. And in my defence, there’s a lot to love about Resident Evil 6. The absence of a clear focus creates variety, for one thing: the story takes you from crossbow shoot-outs in submarines to a tussle with an invisible anaconda in a Hong Kong apartment block. The combat systems are also unwieldy, but fun: health is broken up into blocks that self-replenish providing they aren’t chipped away completely, allowing for dramatic comebacks if you keep your head down.
But perhaps the game’s greatest redeeming quality is how the zombies evolve depending on where they’re shot, sprouting tentacles and extra teeth like spectacularly grisly stage magicians. Some even transmogrify completely into rocky juggernauts or poison-gobbing lizards. This piles on the pressure when taking aim – a bullet in the wrong place could turn the fight against you – and is pleasantly symbolic. If there’s a neater metaphor for a game that aims, and doesn't quite manage, to be all things to all people, I’ve yet to hear about it.