Two weeks ago, Conan O'Brien featured Resident Evil 6 on his "clueless gamer" segment, in which O'Brien, not a game enthusiast, plays through new games with the fresh eyes of an intelligent person who is not well-versed in the existing tropes of games.
This winds up being not only an excellent critique of Resident Evil 6, but also of many of the things we take for granted in triple-A games as a whole.
The first thing Conan does in the game, playing through the campaign that stars RE4 protagonist Leon Kennedy, is run up to his female AI companion and say, "I'm gonna get really close to her and see what she does." Naturally, she does nothing. "At this point in real life, a woman would say something," the comedian quips. "'Get away from me. That's not funny Conan. I already have a boyfriend.'"
This is clearly done for the sake of humor, but also quickly cuts through to one of the major struggles of modern games. The more realistic our games and environments look, the more realistic we expect them to be socially, and in terms of the interactions they enable.
To that point, in a subsequent scene, O'Brien knows where he needs to go in the game, and tries to take the most direct path - but he's blocked by some scattered chairs on the ground. "Cool guy with gun blocked by small folding chairs," he jokes -- but how many game reviewers have discussed this same problem? How often have we been confounded by invisible walls? In my own playthrough of the RE6 demo, in the Chris Redfield campaign, our muscled hero with regenerative health and infinite stamina for kicking zombies can't seem to climb a mild slope.
The unclimbable slope
Back to O'Brien, he has a bit of fun with the "praise" function, which allows you to give your AI or human partner a compliment, along with a gesture of appreciation -- in Leon's case, this is a bizarrely jerky thumbs-up. O'Brien repeats the canned, puppet-like animation a dozen-or-so times in a row, for comedic effect, as Leon says "thanks," and "'preciate it" over and over, spasming his thumbs-up-holding arm in the air as though it were pulled by an unseen string.
Again, we have a realistic looking environment, and a scenario the developers wanted to be intense, shattered by behavior that is inconsistent with the generally tough and capable characters with which we're presented. This animation would be better suited to the film A Weekend At Bernie's than a serious action game -- and yet there's a button dedicated to it.
O'Brien didn't play through the whole game in his 8 minute video, of course, so here are a few of my own additions. From the demo alone, there is a laundry list of things that kick you out of the narrative:
- zombies can hop through windows, but you can't (unless specifically allowed).
- cutscenes get rid of all pickups that may have been around before you triggered it.
- shoot a prone enemy as many times as you want, but you can't hurt them til they're "awake" and coming after you.
- stomp on a zombie's leg til its head explodes (amusing, but unfortunate)
- steal an axe from a zombie to do a special move with, then throw the axe away. "This perfectly good axe is way better than my survival knife, I'd better toss it."
- when killing enemies with guns, dropped guns are fully ignored, which feels odd when you're out of ammo.
The problem is that when a game gets so large (the game has four five-hour campaigns), it becomes sprawling and scattered. As Simon Parkin says in his Eurogamer review, "This is Resident Evil on a seemingly infinite budget, no idea too expensive, no whim beyond scope. The swollen statistics even spill out of the game and into its creation, which called upon over 600 internal and external staff to deliver it ahead of schedule."
Missing the A in "detail"
When you have such a large project, it's easy to -- inverting a metaphor -- miss the trees for the forest. Reviewers have been critical of the game's at times plodding campaign, its personality-free enemies, and its rather inane story. But even at the basic level, the level of intelligent interaction with the world, the game falls short.
The usual argument here is about suspension of disbelief - "this game takes place in a fantasy world, of course it's not realistic." Sure, there are zombies, and sure you have regenerating health - but the universe should be cohesive, and adhere to its own rules. I'm meant to believe that in a world where those things are possible, I can't climb a hill? That's actually worse than if it were a normal, completely reality-based world. Games like Uncharted 3 exemplify this handily as well - the main conflict surrounds one theoretically evil person trying to do something protagonist Nathan Drake doesn't want her to do. He has many chances to kill her, and never does - in spite of the fact he's already killed literally hundreds of people in the campaign. It's hard to suspend your disbelief that far.
When it comes to triple-A games, at least one of those As should come from believability. And that's where games like Resident Evil 6 are running off the rails, before they even get to their bloated campaigns or convoluted stories. Reviewers notice these details, and they inform the entire experience for players within the first five minutes of play. You've got to notice the trees and the forest both.
To end with another quote from master game reviewer O'Brien; "It's Resident Evil 6 - I hope this helped."
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