Survival-horror shambles back in style

Forget about shambling zombies or the undead legions—survival-horror fans might actually be the most horrifying thing about the genre these days! Silent Hill producer Tomm Hulett has received death threats for that franchise’s botched HD collection earlier this year (among many other perceived wrongs that fanbase has felt in the post-Team Silent era), while Resident Evil aficionados have fretted over the continued disappearance of “survival” from the series that birthed “survival-horror” in the first place. Resident Evil 5 was a low point for many players, particularly with its poor AI partner and less-than-frightening locales and enemies.

For these fans, it’s not a simple matter of a game being “good” or “bad.” Instead, these entries must live up to some nebulous “spirit” and “intentions” of the original creators, even though the folks behind these games have long since left their respective franchises.

And Resident Evil 6 is in one of the most unenviable positions imaginable: living up to the seminal Resident Evil 4, which featured one harrowing, spectacular sequence after another—from beginning to end. I distinctly remember using every last herb and every last clip of ammo during the opening village sequence…and then, I felt a distinct sense of terror and panic as I realized that this was just the first area. These were some of the most intense experiences in my gaming life, and I now expect subsequent Resident Evil entries to match their pulse-pounding energy.

From the beginning, Resident Evil 6 knows it’s got a lot of work to do in order to win over fans, giving players three campaigns and some serious star power: Leon Kennedy, Chris Redfield, and a third protagonist with a famous bloodline: Jake Muller, son of persistent series antagonist Albert Wesker. Each campaign unfolds separately, and each character gets an AI partner (who can be controlled with a second player in co-op).

When Resident Evil 6 hits those RE4-like notes—as it does several times throughout Leon’s and Jake’s campaigns—it’s as exhilarating as the series has ever felt. After all, “survival-horror” doesn’t necessarily mean creeping through a dark mansion, stumbling upon a colleague who’s been pecked to death by crows, or tolerating Barry Burton’s hammy one-liners. It’s all about the psychological horror.

Resident Evil 6 isn’t just a scare here or there, though; it’s absolutely relentless. Just when you think you’re in the clear, another bogeyman jumps out of the closet—and, for the most part, Leon’s and Jake’s campaigns strike an excellent balance between building up tension and all-out action.

That’s why it’s so frustrating that Chris’ campaign doesn’t come close to living up to the promise of the others. First of all, in the original game, Chris Redfield was not a “bro.” I’m not sure when he morphed into Marcus Fenix sans bandana, but his campaign structure and objectives clearly yearn for the Call of Duty player to give the game a spin—and his all-male crew feels like they’re engaging in modern warfare in the Middle East, not going up against an undead menace. These sequences aren’t scary, but worse than that, they aren’t even interesting. I will say, though, that RE6 surprisingly manages to make you care about Chris and his crew in spite of their overly dudebro-style adventures.

And while Jake Muller and his partner, Sherry Birkin, have great chemistry—and it’s nice to see a grown-up Sherry after the events of Resident Evil 2—Leon’s partner, Helena Harper, is a wet-blanket killjoy, and as for Chris’ partner, Piers… Well, I’ll just say that he’s a more welcome presence than Piers Morgan, but that’s about it.

But I don’t want to focus on what the game does wrong, because so much of the experience is a rewarding return to form for the franchise—and the AI partners even complement the action this time instead of detracting from it, as they make the right move more often than not. If any Resident Evil devotee leaves this experience disappointed…well, I’d question whether they were even fans in the first place.

SUMMARY: Leon and Jake’s respective campaigns mark a return to greatness for this franchise, but Chris’s bro-fest campaign comes up a little short.

  • THE GOOD: A return to classic Resident Evil psychological horror in just about every way
  • THE BAD: Chris Redfield’s campaign is a pox on the game
  • THE UGLY: Getting shoved in the garbage disposal by a zombie

SCORE: 8.5

Resident Evil 6 is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS3.