The Contradictions of Resident Evil 6

“It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And the light dwells with Him.

Daniel 2:22

I’m not sure what motivates me to play certain video games, but I think a clear picture presents itself in the case of Resident Evil 6.

For years, survival horror fans lament the increased “mainstream” appeal of their beloved franchise. Many of the genre’s stalwarts either disappeared (more than I could label or name), “abandoned their roots” (Resident Evil, duh), or somehow got cancelled (Silent Hills). This led to a shrill outcry anytime a new Resident Evil game comes out for pretty much anything. Stay close to the nebulous spirit of my nostalgia, I say! We, the fans, demand that you make this HD-resolution game just like the first one! Well, I’m certainly not for stagnation in the game market; what I want when I pop the disc into the console, or press the Download button on the Steam page, is something novel and interesting. Resident Evil 6, for what it’s worth, is novel and interesting.

Also, for what it’s worth, I haven’t played a game in the series prior to Resident Evil 4. I say this so that, if you wish, you can completely discount my opinion as coming from an outsider, not a “true fan”.

re1 ps1

This was so scary in 1995!

I figured as much, just from a cursory glance at the Metacritic score. While the latest numbered entry in Capcom’s zombie-fueled franchise strikes a pretty normal 70 rating overall, describing the vitriol of the lowest scores seems impossible. Never does one see a major franchise receive dismally low scores (and not just from Tom Chick), and also receive stratospherically high scores from unexpected places. At first appearance, then, Resident Evil 6 truly seemed like a “love it or hate it” game, mostly burdened with fantastic prior entries and genre expectations. Clearly, something that weird needs to be played, not read about!

So, what do I think of Resident Evil 6? I like it, a lot. At best, the game plays as if a bunch of people in a board room through a bunch of darts at a wall, trying to figure out how much crazy stuff they could get away with putting in an action/horror game. Another analogy: what if Michael Bay made a horror movie? Also, how can we make the longest cinematic action game in existence (hint: it involves re-using assets)? How can we grab that Call of Duty audience that loves killing foreigners from other countries? How many Quick Timer Events can we shove into the game, given enough time and effort? How can we make sure the player won’t respond to them fast enough? Confusing choices, all. Resident Evil lacks focus, even in Leon’s campaign, supposedly the one sticking to the core tenets of the franchise: zombies, dark places, and resource management.

From my perspective, though, these seem like narrow surface elements. When the fat zombie emerges out of nowhere, you know the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. You shoot the President about a minute into the game, and everyone just shrugs it off like nothing while pouting with tons of melodrama. The plot is dumb, and I’m sure Resident Evil fans familiar with the chronology would say otherwise, but the weird disconnect between drama and stylish cool action/combat sequences fits more in the vein of old school video games than cinematic AAA experiences. In a sense, Capcom keeps Resident Evil 6 decidedly old school, ditching a helpful tutorial or clear directions (no, seriously, the tutorial is awful) in favor of dense mechanics and excellent level design. Yes, I just said “Resident Evil 6” and “excellent level design in the same sentence”; as a combat focused game, it continues to escalate the situations and the dangers by layering new monsters and mechanics into the mix constantly. It simply works by keeping you off your toes. Resident Evil 6 highlights the absolute absurdity of the franchise’s premises, and just cranks everything up to a fever pitch.

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Melodrama included.

The combat, because of this, turns up much improved even from Resident Evil 5; the variety on display, and the number of moves you can perform, simply boggles the mind. Quick shotting becomes your best friend to avoid surprise attacks and stun zombies for a melee knockdown (possibly a German suplex, depends!). Dashing into a zombie’s legs, then giving him a curb stomp actually looks cool and functions as a useless tactic! The game often involves evasive maneuvering combined with deft use of limited resources; you can only take so many hits, do so many melee attacks, and shoot so many bullets before you run out of stuff. Each level gives you random resources for the most part, so the game (even in co-operative settings) forces a careful balancing act. From my experience, the game doesn’t refill your health to full upon dying, so you can’t just waltz through difficult sequences – a welcome respite from save/reload foolishness that diminishes a game’s challenge.

That said, the desire to turn Resident Evil into a competent combat system with real consequences basically eliminates the “survival horror” component of the series in its entirety. Zombies do pop out of dark corners every now and then, frustrating you with seemingly unavoidable assaults, but slow walking and observation (along with the quick shot, so awesome) make sure you’ll never get caught off guard if you actually know how to play. The environments in Leon’s campaign try for “dark and spooky”, but Chris’ campaign totally abandons that for dudebro hijinks. Then there’s…snowmobiles in the wilderness? And submarines with explosive crossbows? This game doesn’t do consistency well, but it more than makes up for it in one word: fun. Lots of fun.

re6 chris

Yep, even this thing. THINGS ARE EXPLODING

The problem, really, is that Resident Evil 6 really wants to have it all, have the cake, eat it too, bake another cake, eat that one too, and then repeat twice. Why bother, when we can spend enough money to combine Resident Evil with Call of Duty, Uncharted, and literally every other Western AAA game franchise? Unfortunately, that sort of sprawl and stuffed-to-the-gills approach to game design rarely results in consistency of any kind. That said, I sorta love that Resident Evil 6 takes so many bizarre risks and tries to capture so many audiences. It’s pretty creative and repetitive at the same time. What a weird combination!

Still, I enjoy Resident Evil 6 entirely. In a way, it seems like a secret delight that, from reading reviews, I could never discern at all. It’s a game that, in some ways, appeals to all the things I think makes video games great. I can’t know that, however, without actually playing the game. A cursory glance might tell me I would enjoy it, but it won’t represent all that the game has to offer. In the same way, we might imagine God as a similar personal representation of that in our own lives. He alone reveals the hidden and secret things; only by engaging with Him can we understand Him. From the outside, it looks strange, weird, contradictory even, to describe interaction with a incorporeal creator made of three people as a relationships…and yet, so many Christians still believe in that hope He provides.

Heck, if Resident Evil 6 can sell 5-6 million copies and be so fundamentally weird and alienating, I see no reason to think why Christianity can’t have over one billion adherents, right? Real life is a strange thing!

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.