Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Resident Evil 6 - Leon Campaign (Capcom, 2012)

Resident Evil 6 - Leon

Resident Evil 6 is, if nothing else, gargantuan by action game standards, comprising three full-length campaigns (plus an unlockable fourth) with very little overlap in content, and each distinguished by some unique gameplay mechanics and design philosophies.

I started with Leon's campaign, which is clearly intended to be evocative of the classic PS1-era survival horror games, although it's not ultimately very much like them at all. The early proceedings do present the illusion of a more deliberately paced adventure. Starting out indoors in a mansion-esque environment, you're trudging through the building, searching for the way forward or for anything useful to pick up. It's actually quite a long stretch before there's any action, and you're more just exploring the area. It is all an illusion, however, because, whereas the classic mansions were fully realized environments that allowed you some leeway in your exploration, only nudging you (via locked doors limiting your possible paths) in certain directions, RE6 always progresses along effectively a straight line, with only the occasional side room along the way toward triggering the next event or objective. You can scavenge around for items, but there aren't any documents to pick up. If you just want to get to the next cut scene, you can even call up arrows (on top of the already busier-than-ever on-screen display) to point you in the right direction.

When the action does commence, Leon's campaign again tries to channel the classics by bringing back zombies as the primary enemy type. They're more mindless than the infested of the last two numbered installments—not as organized or dexterous at handling weapons, they just lurch toward you—but, honestly, it's not that pronounced a departure from the recent games. Combat is similar but, in my opinion, inferior to RE4 and 5. You can move while shooting now, there's finally analog walk/run control, and melee attacks can be performed at will, but it all feels very imprecise, not nearly as methodical and strategic as previous games. The old RE4 mechanics, though sluggish compared to modern shooters, were very thoughtfully engineered, involving care and consideration on the player's part, every time you took aim at a particular body part on a target, either to line up the head shot or to set them up for a contextual melee attack. With RE6, on the other hand, it feels like the designers just looked at what shooters were popular on the market and then responded by putting out a generically average one. The action is faster and the enemies more reckless, so you end up spraying fire or, at least early on, spamming the obscenely juiced new melee attacks.

It's rather ridiculous that the heroes' kicks and pro wrestling maneuvers can crush zombies far more efficiently than bullets can put them down, but what's even more ridiculous perhaps is the arbitrary stamina meter, which regulates how much you can use your melee attacks. Spam that melee button, and watch as your character tears through a crowd of zombies as though a god of war . . . until your stamina runs out, at which point your melee transforms into a pained and pathetic limp slap. The meter will automatically refill after a bit of time, and I suppose this is meant to encourage strategic management of your resources—not just bullets anymore but also your stamina—but it just feels so unusually contrived to have this arbitrary limit to the number of kicks you can perform.

Elsewhere on the gameplay front, the menu system has been overhauled, and there are new dodge/roll maneuvers. The problem with all this is that the controls, while theoretically simpler and faster than the dated and clunky systems of RE5, are still not exactly intuitive, and if, like me, you only play games once a week at most, there's a good chance you won't remember each time how to quickly use these systems to your advantage—assuming you even remember that they exist!

The camera was also an issue for me. It was positioned way too close in on the player character, leaving me with huge blind spots that led to me constantly getting ambushed by unseen enemies. I understand that Capcom actually patched the game specifically to add options for adjusting the camera angle, which is commendable, although I haven't yet tried out the post-patch camera to see if the options actually fix the issues.

As for the experience of Leon's campaign specifically, after those first twenty-or-so minutes of pretending to be classic Resident Evil, the game settles into frantic action, big set pieces, and over-the-top cut scenes. The first chapter ends in spectacular fashion with a sequence echoing the barricade cabin from RE4. The cabin, the first time I played it, was probably one of my top 5 experiences in gaming, and this sequence, wherein the player characters and a few AI allies in a gun shop try to hold the fort against a zombie siege, comes as close to replicating that "Battle of the Alamo" experience as anything I've played. It's not as well-paced, and it doesn't have that cool bit of pushing the shelves in front of the windows, but, on the other hand, you can play it co-op this time, and it ends in much more satisfying fashion, with your party actually having to make a desperate escape, instead of the enemies just relenting after you kill enough of them.

Alas, there are four more chapters after that, and it's all downhill from there. It's a lot of stumbling through generic and dimly lit caverns, the only other notable sequence being a chase through a Chinese street market, where you're pursued by a uniquely freaky enemy that can split itself into multiple parts and is determined to literally cram itself down your throat to burst you from the inside-out.

The story crosses over at points with the other campaigns, but the long-awaited in-game meeting between Leon and Chris Redfield is only a non-playable cut scene. Also, the way Capcom has chosen to present the story results in each campaign basically spoiling what happens in the others, even when they don't seem to have a lot to do with one another. For example, sometimes a thread will move from one campaign to another, but you won't be able to follow along, and when it eventually rejoins your campaign, they'll explain what happened but, in the process, rob you of the chance to actually experience the events firsthand without foreknowledge of their outcome. I wish they had opted more for a Suikoden III-style system, whereby you could switch between characters' perspectives after each chapter, instead of having to play through each entire campaign one at a time. Oh well. The story's pretty terrible anyway, and, once I play the other campaigns, maybe I'll find I didn't miss out on much at all.


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