When one initially thinks of what a “Resident Evil” game should entail, most fans immediately recognize that survival-horror is a key design aspect that the team over at Capcom should utilize during development. Make no mistake, I do not disagree with this philosophy. However, there have been moments throughout the series’ existence where the formula ran a bit dry for some. With Resident Evil’s 1, 2, and 3, Capcom established a clear format for the franchise, and for a lot of hardcore fans that was enough. The mainstream, on the other hand, became less invested in the franchise over time, with releases such as Code: Veronica leaving many (myself not included) tired of the “same old zombie game”. This stagnation of the player base left Capcom unsure as to where the once innovative survival-horror series should go next, if anywhere. Luckily, though, after a stint in development hell and multiple incarnations, Resident Evil 4 was released to the GameCube in 2004, and after that: everything changed. Although still adopting the classic tank-controls for player movement, RE4 catapulted the franchise into a new sub-genre; action-survival horror. This time around, Leon Kennedy could deliver roundhouse kicks to his enemies, engage in QTE knife fights, fight a gigantic lake monster, and do flips on a Jet ski while rescuing the President’s daughter from an exploding island; to name just a few plunges into over the top Hollywood action. Additionally, RE4 simply changed the gaming industry forever. Third-person shooters started to become very similar after 2004, imitating RE4’s over the shoulder perspective and evolving the genre as a whole, leading to massive successes such as the Gears of War series (and many, many to follow). This revolutionary shake-up emboldened the developers of RE to delve further down the napalm-infused rabbit hole of Hollywood action, and after five years in 2009, Resident Evil 5 was released worldwide. Capcom, to put it bluntly, struck gold. Maintaining the title of their best selling game until the release of Monster Hunter World in 2017, RE5 has sold 11.9 million units across a wide array of platforms as of December 2019. RE5 was a major financial victory for multiple reasons: the entirety of the game could be played in co-op, it offered a lot of replay-ability across numerous modes, Wesker was back, and it heavily escalated RE4’s more “explosive” tendencies. What do I mean by that? It went down to the bottom of the action rabbit-hole and exited out the other side into high octane Wonderland. Capcom now had a clear vision of where to embark unto next, wanting to construct the following iteration of RE into the “ultimate horror entertainment”. Following this mantra, Resident Evil 6 was born, and eventually released to eager players in 2012. Unfortunately for Capcom, as most know, die-hard fans resented RE6. It failed to deliver on one necessary element, one key component that earned the franchise its entire reputation: horror.
Before I start my defense in favor of the “Island of Misfit Toys” of RE games, I need to address why I had to establish a basic outline of the series’ history. There are some who would argue that RE6 and the absurdity that came along with it simply appeared out of nowhere with no justification in sight, but that is not the case whatsoever. Capcom was fearful before the release of RE4, being pinned into the back of a corner so small that they had to reinvent the core gameplay of their beloved horror IP in order for it to survive. What they saw after that and post RE5 lead them to the assumption that more action was necessary to stay out of that corner; i.e. increased sales from RE4 to RE5. Unfortunately and unintentionally, Capcom jumped the shark for most if not all long-time RE fans as a result of this endeavor. Negative opinions of the game flourished, the following of which I concur with. To start plainly, horror itself was absent for the overwhelming majority of the experience. The gameplay had been neutered in terms of difficulty, even by RE4 standards, leaving any tension prevalent in previous titles to the wayside. Co-op play made a return to the stage, but this time heavily influencing the game design and its mechanics as a whole. The action on display surpassed Michael Bay levels of insanity, with set pieces running amok in all four campaigns. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, there’s four campaigns: all with different play-styles. Some might view the distinct campaigns as a positive, but I can’t help but view it as a crippling hindrance. The multiple play-styles leaves an all around disjointed feeling when viewing the campaigns as a singular story or playing them back to back, featuring stark contrasts among them and an all around inconsistent experience. Majority of fans ripped RE6 into mangled shreds for those reasons, and in terms of what a Resident Evil game should be, justifiably so (in my opinion). However, when taken out of the context of what a mainline Resident Evil release should look and play like, is Resident Evil 6 a bad game? My answer is a resounding no.
First off, I would like to readdress the complaint I mentioned about the co-op integration. In terms of a Resident Evil release, as previously stated, yes co-op helps mold the game into something that it shouldn’t technically be. However, when viewed outside of that lens, co-op in RE6 with a friend as your counterpart instead of the partner AI is honestly a hysterical good time. I’ve played through all four campaigns three times each, and every single one of those playthroughs I did with a good friend, if for nothing but to laugh at the chaotic nature of what we were playing. But with the great and expansive movement/dodge system, the co-op QTE’s where we had to trust in and rely on one another to survive, and the high-octane boss battles; the co-op play on offer is some of the best you can achieve in a third-person shooter. Even during lackluster campaign’s such as Chris’ and Ada’s, there is always fun to be had with a brother in arms at your side. It’s undeniable that this is the intended way for RE6 to be played, and although that holds true, there is still enjoyment to be found in the content offered even while in single player. Set pieces such as boss fights with the Ustanak in Jake’s campaign are so ludicrously insane and out of the realm of reality that no other word but “hardcore” can define it . In particular, the final hand to hand brawl with the Nemesis copy-cat is incredibly cinematic. You confront the menace on an unstable low-hanging beam above scorching lava, disarmed and outmatched, with only your bare hands as a means of defense. The demented-face ghoul looks at you, overcome with an intense and destructive rage that he’s been saving for release unto one person and one person only: the player. He charges at you with inhuman fury and determination, knowing that this is the end, the last time you two ever face each other. I won’t spoil won’t comes next in case anyone reading has yet to play RE6, but rest assured that the fight that ensues is from the realms of blockbusters such as Mission Impossible and Clash of the Titans, which makes it so entertaining. If you have accepted what the game is at this point, have acknowledged that it is not true Resident Evil, and have viewed it as it’s own game and not an innovative continuation of it’s franchise, then the set pieces such as the one I have just described will be as rewarding for you as they were for me. Granted, not all have as much payoff as Jake’s final boss fight, but they do make you feel as if you are truly an over the top action hero and part of one of the most explosive Hollywood blockbusters to date. Is RE6, namesake aside, a Resident Evil game? No, but I don’t believe RE5 to be either, and in full transparency RE4 comes close to veering far from its series’ foundations as well. But does that necessarily have to mean they are subpar, inadequate games in their own right? Absolutely, definitively not. Whatever you may think of RE6 and my opinions on it, it is certainly the case that it was one of the best things to happen to the Resident Evil IP as a whole. In order to prove this claim, I ask you to recall the corner Capcom put themselves into with the original mainline RE games. Well, history often repeats itself when the lessons of the past are forgotten, and that philosophy does not exclude business or the videogame industry. After immense burnout and disinterest was expressed by the fandom post RE6, the team at Capcom had to once again reinvent their beloved “horror” IP. This second dire quest for innovation, in my opinion, and therefore RE6 by association, was the catalyst that launched Resident Evil into a new era: the most terrifying and greatest it has ever been.
In the search of transformation and reconciliation, Capcom fell back on something they’d forgotten, yet still something solid: their roots. After the disastrous effect that RE6 had on the community, the developers needed to go back to what Resident Evil was at its core; survival-horror. Not only did they deliver, but they exceeded all expectations of the disenfranchised fandom. In January of 2017, Resident Evil 7 was released to universal critical and commercial praise. My personal favorite of the series, this new iteration went back to a mansion setting (originally popularized by RE1), and delved deeper into survival-horror than ever before. The atmosphere wasn’t just creepy, the enemies weren’t just scary, and the bosses weren’t just intimidating. The Baker family introduced a level of sadism to RE that was never present before, and as a horror fanatic in and outside of gaming, I was thrilled. Whether it be the grotesque torture that Ethan endures and perseveres through, the mysterious and malevolent villain in Eveline, or the all new up close and personal first person perspective; Resident Evil 7 fired on all cylinders to deliver a near flawless masterpiece of horror, regardless of medium or art form. This wasn’t Capcom’s only accomplishment, though, with RE7’s success not only revitalizing RE itself, but ushering in a new age for the franchise. Survival-horror was the name of the game again, with following releases such as RE2 Remake and RE3 Remake adopting the same general play style, apart from the first person perspective (although this is not the definitive case with mods) and more sadistic nature of RE7. With Resident Evil 8’s announcement supposedly looming and a RE4 Remake hinted to be in development, Capcom has finally returned to its sweet home.
Resident Evil 6 set out to accomplish many things, and to it’s credit achieved many of them. Although it did technically deliver on the “ultimate horror entertainment” sentiment, the horror element was certainly the most absent variable of that equation. Even with as entertaining as it was, it sacrificed its identity to achieve the level of action the team at Capcom wanted to reach. As a result, one of the best, most ridiculously fun, arcade co-op third-person shooters was made. Unfortunately, it was at the cost of the hardcore fans who stuck with the franchise since day one. However, I do believe that most would agree that the long term pay off of RE6’s existence, in hindsight, outweighs the betrayal fans felt at release. Due to it’s monumental failure, Resident Evil’s core philosophies were forced to go underground and reflect, coming out more twisted, horrific, and better than it ever was before. None of this would have occurred if Resident Evil 6 hadn’t released and bombed, making one wonder what the franchise would look like today if it wasn’t for that historic debacle. One thing is for sure, though; without RE6, Resident Evil wouldn’t be in the position it maintains in the horror genre today, which was the same it held back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s: number one. Plus, we got an entertaining, high-octane fueled thrill ride of a game to experience alongside a local S.T.A.R.S officer near you (or maybe just a friend over the mic instead).