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Hindsight : Resident Evil 6

Cart: Resident Evil 6
Cab: Xbox 360 / PS3
Coin: Capcom

Parents are quite adept, when the mood takes them, at undermining the very fabric of our being.

From the painfully archetypal ‘dancing-dad’ to the effortlessly timeless ‘flirting-with-your-mates-mum’, the deeply worrying reality is that our parents have secretly mastered a whole raft of techniques by which their offspring are left with little option but to recoil in a resigned mixture of horror and shame.

But to each yin is a yang – and if there’s one thing that’s as guaranteed as embarrassing parents doing embarrassing things, it’s cool parents doing infinitely cooler things. But did you ever stop to question why these parents seem to walk on water whilst yours sink to the seabed like decommissioned nuclear waste? Did you ever reflect upon whether or not this shame is a harsh reality or just a sadistic, self-inflicted illusion? I’m not quite sure what the truth is to be honest, but what I am quite clear about is the precise nature of parent 2.0: they’re flexible. And I’m not talking about flexibility on the dancefloor, although that’s often the case, but flexibility of thought, of structure of argument, of taste in music and, most importantly, of sense of awareness of and respect for contemporary culture.

It’s the fact that they didn’t stop at embracing and embodying the very best of their own generation; they had the good grace to not stop appreciating what came after it.

Rather like Resident Evil 6.

As the undisputed yolk-sack of zombie video games, the Resident Evil franchise oozes gravitas. Sure, it’s had some dead-leg stumbles along the way, but it’s kept its rotting head held high nonetheless. And in doing so it’s not only set the tone, largely unchallenged for many years, but has plain set the bar on more than one occasion and in more than one generation.

Res6 1

In. Tense.

I have to be honest with you: the first Resident Evil left me as a cold as rotting flesh. As much as I was addicted to the PlayStation, R1 simply never captured my imagination. The static backgrounds, clunky controls, off-screen enemies and general sluggishness of the game compared rather unfavourably to the pure immersion and visceral thrill of Wipeout, Destruction Derby and Doom.  Given this, I steered well-clear of any further entries and spin-offs in the franchise (a point hammered home by my utter loathing of rail-shooters) until I could ignore its pull no further as a shiny new GameCube sat proudly underneath my TV and the accolades rolled in for the 2005 masterpiece, Resident Evil 4.

Right from the very first skirmish – where you found yourself pushing furniture up against the doors, carefully picking headshots to preserve ammo and dodging out of the way as the horde came crashing through the windows – you knew that you were in for a special ride. R4’s immense genius lay not only in this passionate embrace of the moment but in its strong heritage borne out in 90’s sound effects, laboured pick-up and equipment mechanics, convoluted plot twists and semi-hobbled aim and view controls.

It was both retro and modern in the same heartbeat. It was stunning.

So having gone from enemy-of-the-state to faithful devotee in one fell swoop, I found myself, for the first time, actually looking forward to a new release in the franchise. But despite finishing Resident Evil 5 several times, I’m still not quite sure what I think of it. Given such a monumental shift in opinion after R4, perhaps nothing could have sated my thirst. All I know is that R5 didn’t. Yes, it plugged a gap and, yes, it offered the tantalising prospect of co-op, but to be perfectly honest my romance with its predecessor was built on the foundations of a solitary affair. Suddenly asking me to share it with someone else felt rather disjointed – and seeing as little else in the game was new, aside from the somewhat questionable setting and racial overtones, I was left feeling more than a little numb about the whole experience.

So Resident Evil 6 wasn’t necessarily on my radar but neither was it something that I was predisposed to ignore, with the seemingly dreadful Operation Raccoon City doing little to tip me onto the right side of the fence. But I’m a sucker for an action game. Pretty much any action game for that matter, so out of nothing more than a dutiful sense of nostalgic respect for R4, I weakened.

And I’m rather glad that I did.

Only the most disingenuous critic would argue that R6 wasn’t a determined effort to move the franchise onwards and upwards. Aside from the insane amount of content spreading four campaigns and seven playable characters, this forefather of the zombie-game phenomenon clearly reflected upon its legacy, absorbed the strengths of its offspring and yet retained its own distinctive flavour.

In terms of new dance moves, R6 made several significant strides forwards, with the headline change being that we can now move and aim for the first time. Whilst many would argue that this has broken a sacrosanct rule, the truth is that it was the next logical move for a franchise in need of a fresh coat of paint. The worry was that it would perhaps liberate players too much and that the sense of dread may be diluted. Thankfully the developers skilfully re-balanced scenarios to suit and most skirmishes still retain their hallmark claustrophobic feel – particularly in Leon’s strong campaign.

Res6 2

Leon and RE go hand-in-hand.

Menu interfaces are now dealt with in real-time with no actual way to pause the game at any point. This is arguably a more extreme measure for the developers to have taken as pausing in the heat of combat to re-arrange and re-equip items was a key mechanic in previous entries. I’m not quite as convinced about the success of this change as I am the camera, but it’s a bold move if nothing else.

Traditional elements remain, such as the rather absurd healing herbs and health sprays, but such nods to the past help R6 retain its distinctly retro feel and old-school sound effects help to wrap you in this warm, nostalgic blanket. Equally bizarre is the plot and hyper-real characters that are still quintessentially Japanese in origin. Whilst many will still find this a difficult pill to swallow, the truth of the matter is that this has always juxtaposed brilliantly against the brutality of the subject matter. Many have tried to emulate this effect but the Resident Evil franchise can always hold that torch just a little bit higher, particularly in comparison to westernised attempts such as Left For Dead.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of R6 is the sheer size of it. The game’s four lengthy chapters could feasibly be packaged as separate games in their own right and each has a distinctly different play style ranging from traditional slow-paced survival horror to outright run-and-gun relentless carnage. The downside of this phenomenally generous approach is that many will find styles that are not to their taste and will bemoan the distance from which some elements place themselves from the franchise’s origins. Action heads such as myself will simply be giddy with excitement at the sheer breadth and depth of content available. Not since the Orange Box have we seen such generosity and scope from a developer and whilst R6 may not have quite the same level of consistency as Valve’s offering, in terms of sheer quantity, it beats it in spades.

Possibly the single most striking memory I will take away from the game is early into Leon’s campaign. You emerge from a subway station into a city that’s literally ripping itself apart. A clear homage to R1, you watch in horror as the undead maul cars, smash through windows, drag the living from their homes and chase them through the streets. It’s a brutal depiction of the sheer terror and carnage that such an apocalyptic event would create. It’s quite chilling and more so, perhaps, than any other virtual attempt at re-creating this cliché has ever been.

If for nothing else, I admire R6 for hitting this nail that its predecessors planted so squarely on the head.

Whilst R6 may not have been a critics’ dream, as a game it just plain works so very many levels. To criticise it for not being more than that  is to fall out of love with those precious individuals that you wish you’d been born to just because they’re not busting out quite so many moves as before.

This article was originally published here on VoxelAracde as a Review in 2012

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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.

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