Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Resident Evil 6 - Jake Campaign (Capcom, 2012)

Resident Evil 6 - Jake

Newcomer Jake Muller's campaign in Resident Evil 6 is, at least in the marketing, distinguished by two gimmicks: 1) a persistent antagonist that pursues players throughout the game, and 2) Jake's penchant for hand-to-hand combat, powered by his superhuman abilities. In practice, neither of these ideas is very well-realized, but Jake's mode still manages to be the most interesting and varied experience in Resident Evil 6.

Much as the Leon campaign was meant to evoke the classic survival horror gameplay of the original Resident Evil, Jake's campaign frequently channels Resident Evil 3: Nemesis in its inclusion of a recurring and seemingly unstoppable enemy that hunts the players relentlessly. And, much as the Leon campaign actually felt almost nothing like the game it was meant to evoke, the chase segments throughout Jake's campaign never really resemble the experience of running from Nemesis in Resident Evil 3. What made Nemesis so effective a feature in Resident Evil 3 was very much tied into the core survival horror design of the early games, where, instead of progressing mission-to-mission in a one-way linear fashion, you would explore a single maze-like environment for the entire story, with only limited direction on what path to take. The emphasis was more on adventure than on action, but the added twist in Resident Evil 3 was that, as you made your own way through the environment, there was a chance that the fearsome Nemesis might arrive in pursuit without warning, instilling panic to interrupt the normally mild pace of your exploration, perhaps even at locations you had already passed by previously without incident, subverting old assumptions about when an area could be designated clear and safe.

In Resident Evil 6, the action, no matter the campaign, always abides by mission-based shooter conventions. You always know once a room is clear and you are safe, and you'll usually have a pretty good idea when the next action sequence will commence—most likely, it will be triggered by opening a door or stepping forward into a space that appears conspicuously staged for something to go down. The scripted chase sequences in the Jake campaign are no different. The triggers are the same as for any other action sequence, so you always know when one might be coming. It's never startling or unexpected, as crossing paths with Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 could be. And, when it happens in Resident Evil 6, the arrival of the "Ustanak" (sort of a "Nemesis 2.0") is always further punctuated by some attention-grabbing cut scene, allowing you ample time to brace yourself for what you know you'll have to do next, which is run like hell. Furthermore, in the context of a mission-based campaign, the chase sequences in Resident Evil 6 can't change how you approach the entire game in the way the inclusion of Nemesis did in Resident Evil 3. Sure, running from Ustanak is a different experience from exchanging fire with a squad of grunts in the Chris campaign, but the game also includes vehicular stages and other on-rails segments. Like those other novelty stages, the finite chase sequences, rather than being transformative like the ever-present Nemesis, just offer the occasional change of pace between stretches of more conventional action gameplay. It's also stupid that, during the chase sequences, the characters will insist that they must not be caught by the Ustanak (and, indeed, failure to outrun it results in an instant death and game over), but then there will be other times when the characters will decide to stand and fight the Ustanak, and, during these boss battles, it will be far less deadly, no longer able to perform one-hit kills. No explanation is ever given for why it might be holding back at times; it's just the game arbitrarily deciding that Ustanak will be sometimes invincible and other times merely tough.

The other signature feature of the Jake campaign is Jake's superhuman prowess in hand-to-hand combat. Cut scenes show him taking out groups of enemies with just punches and kicks, but, once into gameplay, Resident Evil 6 remains very far from being a competent brawler. Jake possesses more and better melee moves than the characters in the other campaigns (Jake's partner, Sherry Birkin, meanwhile, wields a stun rod, which is functionally equivalent to, albeit more limited than, his advanced hand-to-hand), but the experience is no more sophisticated than the melee combat in the Chris and Leon campaigns. There is little finesse involved; you just mash away and rely on the crude auto-targeting to clear crowds. Against most of the same enemy types as faced in the Chris campaign, I did find myself going hand-to-hand far more frequently in the Jake campaign, but I don't know that that was exactly a wise choice on my part, as I also died a lot more while playing as Jake.

Despite its failures, I still found the Jake campaign the most interesting in Resident Evil 6. Not as tedious as the Leon campaign, and not as monotonous as the Chris, Jake's game features the most variety. The largest portion of the action resembles the shooter gameplay of the Chris campaign, but there are also the aforementioned chase sequences, some vehicular stages, and a lengthy stage where Jake is unarmed but for his fists. There's even a pretty great stealth stage, where you must sneak around and hide in dumpsters to avoid being found by the Ustanak. Scrambling toward that dumpster after tripping an alarm, then peeking out through the crack beneath the lid, to watch as the Ustanak hovers seemingly interminably about your hiding place, before finally it moves on, evidently unaware of your location—for me, that ranks among the tensest moments in the series.

But, above all else, what makes the Jake campaign more engaging than Chris and Leon's is, surprisingly, the characters. In the other modes, Piers and Helena come across as underdeveloped sidekicks to Chris and Leon. Helena has some sob story involving her sister, and then afterward becomes this uncomfortable third wheel, while Leon chases after/flirts with Ada Wong. Piers is just some generic white guy soldier, about whom we never really learn anything. Sherry Birkin, however, is Jake's legitimate equal and co-protagonist. Their relationship is the driving force in the story, and the two of them, perhaps because they are much younger than Chris and Leon, seem more vital, more invested, more conflicted, and overall more multi-dimensional. They're not classic characters, by any means, and the story is still incomprehensible nonsense. But at least these characters give you something more to latch on to than just Chris's muscles or Leon's hair.

Having already played through two full-length campaigns of Resident Evil 6, I wasn't sure, going into Jake's story, whether I'd be able to stomach any more. Surprisingly, this third trip was the most enjoyable for me. Part of it may be that, 10+ hours with the Resident Evil 6 mechanics later, something just finally clicked. There was more recycled content this time around. Whereas Chris and Leon's campaigns only briefly intersect at one point, Jake crosses paths with both of them. Yet even those sections I found more enjoyable this time, at least partly because I knew better what I was doing. I still feel the action is on the sloppy and shallow side, and the game is unequivocally the worst of the modern (post-Resident Evil 4) installments in the series. But, on the strength of the Jake campaign, I'm happy to upgrade Resident Evil 6 from a game I might before have actively advised against playing to one that I would now rate as "pretty decent."

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