I firmly believe the best game companies aren't afraid to try new things with old franchises. In the case of stale series such as Halo and Call of Duty, I will argue that point until your ears bleed.
So, with an alarming feeling of hypocrisy, I present my review of Resident Evil 6. My biggest complaint? It is too different from its predecessors.
Hear me out.
Resident Evil 6 is no longer part of the "survival-horror" genre it pioneered, and it is not forging a new "dramatic-horror" genre, despite what developer Capcom says. It is a third-person shooter that puts more focus on combat than tension or scares.
Granted, it's an excellent third-person shooter. The production values are sky-high, the story is interesting, and head-shooting zombies is incredibly satisfying. But by homogenizing Resident Evil into the same genre as Gears of War, Ghost Recon and a host of wannabes, it ceases to be special and becomes just more of the same.
Frankly, Resident Evil was fresher before Capcom messed with it. Few big-budget game series focus on atmosphere over action, and Resident Evil was one of the last bastions of creative game design.
The latest game in the long-running series follows the intertwined story paths of several protagonists. Longtime fans will recognize Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield, stars of past Resident Evil games. A new character, Jake Muller, stars in a third story line.
Each character's story arc acts as a separate campaign, and each campaign takes about 10 to 15 hours to complete. That is Resident Evil 6's greatest strength. In an age when most shooters can be beaten in less than 10 hours, Resident Evil 6 packs unprecedented single-player value.
The game also gets props for bringing back zombies, which have been all but missing in the past two games.
Sadly, the enemies in Chris and Jake's stories are not zombies; they are "Bio-Organic Weapons" called J'avo, multieyed human soldiers who have been genetically altered to heal from fatal wounds and change into powerful monsters upon death.
Unlike zombies, the J'avo are smart. They wield guns accurately and can communicate with one another, barking out orders constantly. Because of that, Chris and Jake's levels seem like just another military shooter.
The game shines when you control Leon because his story goes back to basics, placing the player in a zombie-infested city at the start of a major outbreak. (Defending a gun store from an encroaching wave of the undead? Fighting a zombie shark? Those are ideas I can get behind.)
The thing is, even Leon's campaign lacks the scare quality of older titles. There are a few exceptions, such as when he traverses a graveyard at night, during a storm, with zombies rising from graves all around.
However, even when the game is scary, it isn't really scary. There are several reasons, but the biggest is that Resident Evil 6's controls make it a cinch to get out of almost any situation. Dying is no longer a threat; it's an inconvenience.
The older games' clunky melee controls and lack of ammo made you constantly aware you could die at any moment. When you were being charged by an undead monster in earlier Resident Evil titles, you had an important choice to make: Do I shoot this enemy, knowing I will go into my next fight with less ammo? Or do I fight hand to hand, knowing I probably will lose a few bars of health in the scuffle?
Capcom crafted such an effective combat system in Resident Evil 6 it no longer matters if you're out of ammo. With a few taps of a button, you can kick, punch and wrestle to deadly effect against zombies and J'avo alike. It's undeniably fun to crush a zombie's head with an elbow-drop, but having such reliable melee attacks takes a lot of the tension out of fighting.
Also, it's hard to be scared when you're never alone. Each character has a partner that can be controlled by another player via PlayStation Network or Xbox Live. If you play offline, your partner is controlled by the game's AI.
Hilariously, computer-controlled partners cannot die. Whenever I found myself surrounded by a zombie horde, I just hung back and let my partner take all the damage. Having a smart human player or a dumb immortal AI watching your back at all times takes the challenge out of lower difficulties.
Resident Evil 6 is a great shooter, and it gets points for being better than most shooters that inspired it. (I'm talking about you, Gears of War.)
However, I'm inclined to agree with folks who think the series needs a reboot. Gamers have plenty of shooters to choose from; a franchise with the pedigree of Resident Evil deserves to be something better.
Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.