Capcom has delivered a pre-Halloween treat for adult gamers with the latest chapter of its third-person, survival horror adventure, Resident Evil 6 (Capcom, rated M for mature — and macabre, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99).
One or two players control veteran agents and warriors as they attempt to stop a viral outbreak spreading from North America to China while surviving against mutated humanoids, zombies and creatures threatening to consume humanity.
Story: It has been 10 years since the Raccoon City incident and the president of the United States has decided to reveal the truth behind what took place, believing it will curb the current resurgence in bioterrorist activity.
Raccoon City survivor Leon S. Kennedy is due to be by the side of the president — who also is his friend. When the venue suffers a bioterrorist attack, Leon is forced to face a president transformed beyond recognition and make his hardest decision ever.
At the same time, Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (B.S.A.A.) member Chris Redfield arrives in China, itself under threat of attack. With no country safe from these attacks and the ensuing outbreaks, the entire world's population is united by a common fear that there is no hope left.
Play the role: Two brave gamers (or the solo player) take part in three intersecting five-chapter campaigns starring both familiar and new heroes of the Resident Evil franchise.
Of the trio available, I first chose to control Leon. Along with his able partner Helena Harper (who is controlled by the computer), he is trapped in the college town of Tall Oaks where the pair fight through, above and below the town and end up pursuing Helena's sister Deborah, eventually ending up in China.
It's a haunted, dark ride that took me more than 12 hours and was themed to evoke the spirit of the early Resident Evil games. That means a bunch of hidden scares, dimly lit locations, menacing shadows, bloody handprints on walls and the undead walking out of the mist.
After completing that campaign, I went back and dove into the adventure starring Division of Security Operations Sherry Birkin and Jake Muller, and the son of deceased bioterrorist Albert Wesker. They find themselves pursued by a nearly unstoppable creature (think the insanity of "Terminator 2") and other beefy freaks in the Eastern European country of Edonia and eventually across the world.
Jake is a mercenary with a flippant attitude and slightly super-powered genetics (thanks to his dad). When he injects himself with the C-Virus, it makes him lethal in hand-to-hand combat situations.
Next, I took control of B.S.A.A. agent Redfield and with help from Piers Nivans and a handful of squadmates went on a dangerous trip to China for some classic third-person shooting. This campaign offers a watered-down, Gears of War-style battle with weapons-heavy combat against incredibly monstrous adversaries.
Additionally, a fourth campaign allows a single player to take control of legendary spy Ada Wong as she pursues the truth behind the evil plans of presidential terrorism adviser Derek C. Simmons.
All told, a player is looking at dozens of hours of thrills that combine full-blown firefights, massive boss battles, cinematic escapes, deadly puzzles, adrenaline-packed pursuits and the occasional explosive vehicle ride delivered with loads of required analog-stick twisting and button-pushing maneuvers sure to keep the hands sweating.
Get to the action: It's always kill or be killed, and our heroes have plenty of chops and firepower (they can move and shoot now) to use against the bizarre threats.
A complete collection of weapons (sniper rifles, rocket launchers, heavy pistols, shotguns and grenades) can be found and easily added to an inventory using the player's directional pad, quickly arming a character.
Simple button pushes also allow characters to kick, swing, dive, climb, slide, leap over and crawl under and around environments. And, as with all Resident Evil games, find colorful herbs that mix to create life-restoring tablets.
Killing enemies and busting up a variety of objects offers ammunition, special items and skill points. Redeem collected skill points to unlock and set up a trio of enhancements with multiple load-ins for the team, such as causing defeated enemies to drop items or the ability to pick up more pipe-bomb arrows.
Be forewarned, ammunition often is scarce and enemies take a ton of damage before falling — multiple, dead-on head shots may be required to take down even the weakest menaces.
What's great news for beginning players is your computer-controlled partner is extremely helpful. Not only does the team member revive you with a shot plunged into the rib cage (it happened about 10 times per chapter for me), but also aggressively fights by your side.
When I was Leon, Helena knocked me out of the way, ran up to a zombie with ax embedded in its chest, pulled out the ax and lopped off his head. Thank you very much.
Memorable moments (in no particular order): A haunting and unforgettable trip (literally) into an open grave filled with water and something evil; a devastating "Jaws"-style moment; one of the most depraved death scenes I have ever watched in a video game (and I had to watch it multiple times because my character kept dying); the panoramic views of Edonia and nearby quaint villages under attack; a battle aboard a crashing plane; a snowmobile escape; and fighting the multi-story-tall Ogroman.
Violent encounters: Resident Evil 6 practically redefines the outrageous level of aggressive attacks and bloody, gooey, spurting, gushing, suffocating, crushing deaths delivered by and to the reanimated corpses and assorted monsters attacking the human heroes.
This game is not for the squeamish, but those unafraid to roll up their tattered sleeves will love fighting off hordes of monsters that reminded me of the best from films such as "Hellraiser," John Carpenter's The Thing," "Aliens," "28 Days Later" and "The Mummy."
The goal is always to get one of these creatures by the noggin and shoot or slam it until it pops, spurting out fluids like a geyser or, more irritatingly, popping out another parasitic beast to destroy.
They all die in ugly ways — such as melting into a puddle of goo, burning into fiery embers or fizzling out like a sparkler.
Just some of the unbelievable threats include:
Zombies — They lumber, often pounce and can wield bats, knives, hand axes, fire extinguishers, assault rifles (although they're not very good shots), golf clubs, bottles, shovels, cleavers, sledgehammers, liquid nitrogen tanks, flaming 2x4s, and dynamite. Shoot for the head or get close and use the object against them.
J'Avo — A modern miracle of biological weapons technology, these multi-eyed freaks might explode at the waist and release a second monstrous form. They even can hang from the ceiling. The bigger the gun, the quicker they fall.
Bloodshots — Skinless animated corpses with sharp teeth and the ability to pounce from a distance. They take lots of damage and a shotgun is usually very helpful.
Lepotitsa — A female creature with large pores that secrete a deadly gas. When inhaled, the gas instantly kills and then reanimates the dead body. Dying at the end of a long tongue of gas is just disgusting.
Overall, the brutality and uncensored gore is so far off the normal meter that it almost was amusing — when I wasn't spooked right out of my wits.
Read all about it: Fans looking for other adventures starring B.S.A.A. agents will enjoy the comic book miniseries Resident Evil ($3.99 each). This six-issue 2009 series from DC Comics' Wildstorm imprint stars agents Holiday Sugarman and Mina Gere fighting against the telepathic G-Virus and its hungry victims to survive in space and the jungles of South America.
Pixel popping scale: 8.0 out of 10. Being able to appreciate some of the finer moments realized by the combination of motion-capture technology and computer-generated animation requires actually being able to see it on a television screen. I'm warning gamers to ignore the initial recommended set-up options. I followed the instructions so the RE6 logo barely showed on my screen and was greeted with a way-too-dark game. Let's lighten up, Capcom.
The beauty of the action is not all about what is lurking in the shadows (which is pretty cool), but viewing some really slick cut scenes, zombie interactions and blockbuster moments that will not disappoint.
Star power: Equally important to the look of the game is the sound for Resident Evil. Pop on some headphones and appreciate this finely tuned aural medley of terror, including moans, growls, screams, creaky boards, dripping water, heavy breathing and a load heartbeat (wait, that's mine). The musical orchestration also will guarantee to cut a few hours off a gamer's life with screeching "Psycho"-style string crescendos leading the way.
Extras and Unlockables: Shoot the Serpent artifacts hidden around environments and stop by an arcade to view unlocked character bios, locations and story points.
Multiplayer: Within cooperative action built for friends to share the violent horror, two players (in the same room through a split screen or online) can drop in and out during the action. At points, each helps the other with tasks such as climbing up structures, tripping or opening doors.
A cool addition also allows online players within the three campaigns to randomly intersect at points with four player-controlled characters working together to further the story and defeat creatures.
A real treat for the pure monster lover in the family arrives in multiplayer action with Agent Hunt. A gamer drops into another player's online campaign to play as a creature; the most twisted eventually available include the steam-spewing Napad or garden-variety zombie.
So looking at the game from the other side of the bloodied coin, it's hard to exist as one of the undead with a chunk of your torso missing, be it lumbering around with a bat, flopping my skeletal remains at Helena and munching on her neck, or puking out a stream of acid shot on an unsuspecting Leon.
Finally, the Mercenaries requires stopping hordes of hostiles and allows multiple players to battle through the challenging levels.
Final thoughts: Resident Evil 6 stressed and emotionally exhausted me in nearly every chapter as fear, adrenaline rushes and dread kept me riveted to the screen while schizophrenic scenarios played out over the hours and hours of brutality. Turn off the lights and soak in this bloated horror show that provides a gruesome starting point to the hit parade of video games this upcoming holiday season.
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