Resident Evil 6 finishes the grisly job started by Resident Evil 5, and completes the series’ protracted mutation into an all-out action game. The tank controls are out, replaced by a dual-analogue setup that’s ornamented with a set of evasive dives and rolls. After the intensely pressurised action of Resident Evil 4 and 5, it’s a change that feels overdue, but diehard advocates of clunkier-feeling Resident Evils can rest assured that playing this iteration still requires some wrestling, if not battling, with the controls.
In theory, you’ve never had such a flexible moveset with which to tackle the mutated hordes unleashed by Umbrella (sorry, ‘Neo-Umbrella’). The new dive move, coupled with the ability to shoot when prone, can add a dash of heroic drama to the most mundane of encounters, as you leap backwards out of the range of a shambling corpse’s swinging axe to then dispatch the revenant from the ground. Meanwhile, evasive rolls and slides make last-minute escapes easier than they’ve ever been. And in typical Resident Evil style, the mob of enemies you’ll face have mutated in order to counter these skills. Resident Evil 6’s zombies can outpace those commonly found in the original game’s Spencer Mansion, and that’s before you consider their propensity for a last-moment leap or lunge. Then there’s the new J’avo, which further develop Resident Evil 4’s ingenious decision to unpredictably reward headshots with a more monstrous head. As well as sprouting a new noggin when decapitated, they can swap amputated limbs for huge sinewy arms and ostrich-like legs that let them easily close distance.
In execution, however, Resident Evil 6 can still feel awkward due to control scheme idiosyncrasies. Some can be put down to poor implementation. Taking cover behind waist-high walls, for instance, requires two button presses (you must first use the shoulder button to aim, then the face button to duck), meaning a very slight but inconvenient pause when you’re running to shelter. The cast’s adherence to the surface you’ve planted them on never feels quite as reliable as Marcus Fenix’s sticky snap-to system, either. Other limits, such as your characters’ temporary vulnerability when they’re clambering to their feet, are necessary to stop you being able to spam the dodge moves. Either way, the result is truer to the series’ legacy than you might expect. You’re nominally nimbler than before, but on occasion you’ll struggle to pull off the showy manoeuvres you know the characters are capable of. The camera’s habit of hovering in a fetishistic close-up of your character’s shoulder, meanwhile, ensures that a significant amount of screen space is still taken up by the player model at all times.
With four campaigns – each designed to offer a distinct play style even as they entwine with one another across the length of the game – there’s some fun to be had in working out which character each new aspect of the control system has been built for. It seems it’s Chris Redfield who’s responsible for the shift towards more typical shooter controls. His chapters move the series closer to a typical squad shooter than we’ve ever seen before – no, we’re not counting dire spin-off Operation Raccoon City. He and his squad of BOW-hunting marines look and sound the part, while the camera’s tendency to wheel around unexpectedly in order to pick out helicopters crashing into skyscrapers adds the requisite scripted bombast.
More importantly, however, the J’avo he faces have automatic weapons, half-decent aim, and know how to use cover, forcing players to do the same. The momentary fear that you’re about to play a Resident Evil-flavoured take on Gears is the scariest thing about the game, frankly, but it’s swiftly assuaged when knife-wielding J’avo start flanking you, or when injured ones mutate and charge. One set of mutants even plays with cover-shooter convention when they sprout spider legs, scuttle along the ceiling and try to flush you out with grenades. Echoes of Resident Evil 4’s high-tension combat ring here – Resident Evil 6 is still about moving, picking your moments, spotting opportunities for ammo-conserving melee kills, and not letting yourself get surrounded – but the overall feeling is a bit less oppressive than before. Chris’s sections in particular can’t seem to decide whether they want you to be shooting from the hip or making each bullet count. Long-range cover-based combat tends to use up ammo reserves more swiftly than close-up headshots, and more than once we found our supplies running dry, leaving us to laboriously punch our way out of a fight.