Resident Evil is a popular series, and whilst it’s been argued that it didn’t invent the survival horror genre, it certainly made it popular, and became a flagship franchise in horror games and for Capcom.
Over the years since the first game came out the series has gone through some changes, both graphically and in storytelling, both getting increasingly better as people began to actually take pride in the series. One of the biggest changes came with Resident Evil 4, where the game took on a more action quality; something that would increase in the fifth game. And whilst the games became more focused on guns and explosive set pieces, they still at least tried to be horror games. Unfortunately, when Resident Evil 6 came around that all changed for the worse.
Work on Resident Evil 6 began in 2009, shortly after the release of Resident Evil 5, and development consisted of more than 600 people, becoming the biggest production in Capcom’s history. One of the things that the team decided during production, however, was that the survival horror market was too small for Resident Evil, and in 2012, a few months before the game released, they issued a press statement announcing that the game would be focused more around the action genre.
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Whilst this made some fans of the series a little worried, most were still looking forward to the game; after all, the last two main series entries had a bigger focus on action, and both were extremely well received and were some of the more poplar entries in the franchise. When the game was released it looked like perhaps Capcom were overselling the action focus, as the first few levels of the Leon campaign took things slowly, put you in dark, deserted environments, and threw some classic zombies at you. It captured the feel of Resident Evil 2 with some extra action beats and fancy new controls thrown in. But it soon became clear that these levels were an outlier, and the rest of the game was drastically different.
Split across four separate stories that interweave together, Resident Evil 6 was less a survival horror game and more like a modern shooter action affair with a few monsters thrown into the mix. Instead of fighting through creepy locations you’d be running around giant cities, inside aircraft carriers, and in ancient ruins (somehow there are giant tombs and underground cathedrals underneath the US that are hundreds of years old?). Instead of fighting zombies and the occasional special infected you’d be in gunfights with terrorists who might sometimes grow a weird limb or two, would have huge car chases, and jump motorcycles over attack helicopters. And Leon would proceed to spend the game moving from explosion to explosion as he crashed a car, a bus, a train, an aeroplane, and basically anything with wheels near him would explode.
Not only did the game try to make the action bigger, but it tried to make the story bigger too. Instead of creating one or two scenarios like with the classic games, giving you the choice of which story to play, the game presented you with four stories, all of which had to be played to get the entire thing, and all of which weave in and out of each other. The result is a game that feels incredibly bloated, and overly long (it ended up being twice as long as Resident Evil 5, the longest game in the series before this point). The different scenarios came with multiple protagonists, and in order to complete the entire story and see everything you would have to play through far too many hours. The length was a big factor in the less than stellar reception the game received upon release, with many complaining that levels and story would quickly begin to overstay its welcome.
Whilst the game sold well – more than ten million copies – it was very much poorly received, with the best reviews only giving it a middle of the road welcome. It was criticised for the varying quality between the different story campaigns, with large tonal and style shifts between some of them, and some even called the game a step back for the series. Hiroyuki Kobayashi, the game’s producer, clashed with some of the fans and critics after the release, and would go on to respond to those criticising the shift into a pure action game by stating that he would not be beholden to the fans.
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Whilst it’s commendable that Hiroyuki Kobayashi stuck to his guns that way, it is worth noting that the next game released in the series, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 dropped many of the new elements in the game, and embraced a more traditional horror feel, even though it was released episodically. The next mainline game in the series, Resident Evil 7 went even further to distance itself from Resident Evil 6, taking on a first person perspective, and trying to make itself the most frightening horror experience in the series to date. With the remakes for the second and third games, and the eight main-line games, all going back to horror as the main genre with a bit of action thrown in, it does seem like Resident Evil 6 was something of a failure for the studio, and that its attempts to transform it into an action series over horror resulted in Resident Evil having to focus even more on horror in order to appease fans.
Thanks to its shift away from what made the series notable, an overly long, complex, and boring story, and some flat characters, Resident Evil 6 is perhaps one of the biggest failures in the series, despite the amount of sales it made. However, the resultant shift back to horror, and the creation of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that would go on to become Critical Role by several members of the cast and production team, are perhaps some of the best things to come out of a game that’s otherwise best skipped.