October has an official punching bag, and its name is "Resident Evil 6." A bunch of negative reviews greeted the arrival from one of gaming's biggest franchises, and it does have its flaws. But there's a good game beneath the questionable game play choices.
"Resident Evil 6" (Xbox 360, $59.99; also available for PS3 and PC; rated M for Mature) presents three story lines that follow three duos. Classic characters such as Leon and Chris return in separate stories, while newcomer Jake has his own story. Three campaigns mean there's a lot of game to be played; each takes about five to seven hours to complete. Plus, each character has unique facets, opening up the possibility to play the same campaign as the other half of the partnership.
If you've played an "RE" game, the story won't come as much as a surprise: A manufactured virus that changes humans into zombies has infected millions, and you have to stop it.
The dialogue and voice acting is a vast improvement from what we're used to in the "RE" series, but this isn't "Citizen Kane." The overall story matters very little, with relationships between characters grabbing most of the focus. The overarching timeline is the same for each story, so teams can intersect at various times and join forces as a four-character squad.
At this point you shouldn't be expecting a horror game when playing a "Resident Evil" title. Capcom ditched that style with "Resident Evil 4." The developers have worked to reinvigorate the franchise with fresh ideas, but clunky game play has hindered the progress. An experienced player should be able to overcome controls that are rigid or clunky within the first hour, but that's really not acceptable.
The inventory system takes a turn for the weird. You get a limited number of slots for weapons, ammo and health. Like every other "RE" game, health is regenerated with the help of colored herbs; these are transformed into tablets that can be placed in your case and ingested by using the right shoulder button. If this system seems unnecessarily convoluted, that's because it is. Making matters worse, none of this is explained in a tutorial or an intro stage. "RE6" throws you to the wolves (or zombies) and says, "Good luck." I enjoyed the "baptism-by-fire" approach, but I can see how some might find it frustrating.
When you aren't shooting creatures or fumbling over your health management, the game throws a variety of quick-time events in your way, but their presentation in this game makes them mostly a nuisance. The game includes other oddities, such as not saving at checkpoints and not having the ability to pause.
Negatives seem to add up fast, but strengths still manage to save "RE6."
The game is meant to be a fast-paced, action-heavy experience that is best played with a friend. Talking strategy, managing resources and taking out the enemy as a team are all parts of the fun factor. You also can join games as a creature after completing one of the story lines. You'll likely end up as bullet fodder, but it's a nice addition that adds a multiplayer aspect without tacking on a disposable competitive mode.
Gunplay is as satisfying as it is in the best third-person shooters, and the story mixes game play with exploration through dark corridors or action sequences on the back of a humvee or in a fighter jet. You'll see some huge set pieces, which keep it from getting stale.
True to the series, upgrades can be purchased between chapters. It's not quite as satisfying as the upgrade system in "RE4," but it's better than having no RPG elements at all.
There's plenty to gripe about and a lot of it falls under the category, "What were the developers thinking?" But after logging many hours and progressing through a cheesy story of twists and turns, I still genuinely enjoyed my playtime. The good, the bad and the zombies are back.