In the year's to come, 2012 may well be regarded as a turning point for Resident Evil. In March, Operation Raccoon City was greeted by a largely indifferent response from the critics, and anticipation for this, the series' sixth canonical release, falls some way short of the hype around Resident Evil 5. Indeed, this unfavourable trajectory arguably began with Resident Evil 4, which felt so inspired that it created and obliterated the way forward with a single stroke.
Resident Evil 6 is an attempt to resolve an identity crisis. Rather than drill down into the approach of one of its previous games, Capcom opted to stitch them all together side-by-side: four intersecting campaigns led by Leon Kennedy, Chris Redfield, Jake Muller and Ada Wong respectively, three of which have a playable co-op character. There are highly-polished chunks of every Resident Evil game scattered across its many, many hours, and a few more gunfights than seasoned fans might expect.
"You might not fault the attempt to be an action game for all, but there's no choice but to speak up when the overall result feels unpolished and scatterbrained"
For IGN.com's Richard George, the "erratic" Resident Evil 6 works best when these disparate elements are drawn together. "Questions aren't necessarily answered until the entire plot emerges through different perspectives," he writes, awarding the game an impressive 7.9 out of 10, "and the realisation that the game's designers deliberately held something back to unleash it during a later campaign makes the effort of pushing through four individual campaigns worth it."
The "remarkable experience" of seeing the various narrative pieces fall into place isn't everything, though. Note George's telling phrase, "makes the effort of pushing through four individual campaigns worth it" - hardly an enthusiastic recommendation, and a nod towards Resident Evil 6's almost glutinous approach to game design. IGN's score is numerically higher than that awarded by many other critics, but the review is just as ready to point out the game's flaws.
Does the refusal to decide still constitute a choice? Joystiq's Ludwig Kietzmann doesn't think so, awarding Resident Evil 6 2.5 stars for never transcending the the numerous games it emulates. Leon's campaign largely succeeds with the "pressure-cooked action" of Resident Evil 4, while Chris Redfield's "militaristic" campaign charges head-first into "aggressive and imprecise" third-person action. But Jake Muller, the game's only new lead character, is saddled with a focus on melee combat that ultimately destroys his "truly dreadful" campaign.
"His truly dreadful campaign is where all the other ideas go to die: slow-controlling snowmobiles, motorcycles and boats; tedious stealth sections; mind-numbing key hunts; and the most obnoxious case of QTE thumb-stick wiggling - ever. Jake's all over the place. Ironically, that makes him emblematic of Resident Evil 6 as a whole.
"It wants the creeping pace and the hectic shootouts, and the blockbuster set pieces, the vehicle chases, the resource management, the hand-to-hand combat, the online co-op, the drama, and the extravagant boss fights. You might not fault Resident Evil 6 for its attempt to be an action game for all, but there's no choice but to speak up when the overall result feels unpolished and scatterbrained. It's chaos."
Polygon's Phillip Kollar is in full agreement, giving Resident Evil 6 a lowly 4 out of 10. The problem isn't that Capcom decided to do everything instead of something - though that doesn't necessarily help, either - it's that the general standard of execution is so uneven. The pervasive gun combat is undermined by a lack of the precise physical feedback that made the action in Resident Evil 4 and 5 work. This is even more telling in the boss fights, which become confusing and frustrating.
"Resident Evil 6 is an unwieldy tribute to the series' past, an uneven expression of its present and an unwelcome indication of its future"
"Did I do enough damage on this giant snake creature to trigger the next cut-scene? Did I just survive long enough? I couldn't tell you, and I suspect the answer is different for each fight. This robs actions of any feeling of consequence. Resident Evil 6 is the worst kind of cinematic video game - one where the player's part in the process is an afterthought at best.
"It's so much of an afterthought, in fact, that an alarming number of player actions are relegated to button-mashing quick time events. Resident Evil games have fallen back on waggling the analog stick or quickly tapping a button to escape instant death for a long time, but Resident Evil 6 takes that bad habit to depressing extremes. I lost count of how often a quick time event popped up out of nowhere with split-second timing required, guaranteeing that I failed and died the first time.
"Even worse, some of those already-awful boss fights end with increasingly difficult demands to tap a button over and over. Just when you think you might be finished with a particularly annoying segment, you'll run into and fail a quick time event and find yourself forced to replay the last five minutes."
Eurogamer's Simon Parkin paints Resident Evil 6 as an encapsulation of the industry's excesses: every idea and every character from the series' past re-explored with sky-high production values by a team that reached around 600 people. "This is Resident Evil on a seemingly infinite budget," he writes in his 6 out of 10 review. "No idea too expensive, no whim beyond scope.
"It's a giant, cumbersome beast - possibly the largest and longest action game in history - and its heft dares you to talk about anything other than the sheer effort that went into its construction. It's an Egyptian pyramid of a game (no doubt with the tired spirits of its builders buried inside)."
But when the "exquisite detail and set-dressing" are taken away, the similarities between Resident Evil 6 and the series' highlights look less convincing. Despite Capcom's effort to make an game for every taste, on a fundamental level the whole experience is a long walk up a narrow corridor, with very little space to the right or the left to poke around and explore. The next checkpoint is never more than a short sprint (while firing) away.
"The game represents a tremendous amount of effort and investment and, for those impressed by such things, Resident Evil 6 may delight," Parkin continues. "But all the effort in the world won't make up for a lack of vision. This game is blind to imagination and focus. Capcom's uncertainty about the series' identity post-Mikami...is hardcoded into its structure: four campaigns offering different, flawed expressions of that potential.
"And the inevitable price for this wavering is a lack of coherence. Resident Evil 6 is an unwieldy tribute to the series' past, an uneven expression of its present and an unwelcome indication of its future."