Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 had the unenviable task of existing in the same universe as Resident Evil 4.
Leon Kennedy’s battle to save the President of the United States’ daughter from the plague-ridden Ganado has deservedly ascended to GOAT status in the decade-and-a-half since its initial release. It’s one of the best survival horror games ever made, one of the best games ever made, period, and has influenced every third-person shooter that followed in its wake.
In short, it’s really great. But, after its wild success, Capcom’s survival horror series increasingly morphed into an action series where the waves of enemies you head-shotted just so happened to be hordes of the undead.
Resident Evil 5 and 6 are those action games. Neither game reaches the heights of 4. But, each is pretty fun in its own right (especially 6). And, last week, both received stellar ports to the Nintendo Switch.
Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way up top. Both games look great and run well. I split my time pretty evenly between docked and handheld and both games looked good in both iterations. There’s a decent number of loading screens, but none of them were ever longer than a few seconds. This is a great way to play these games, and nothing is lost as a result of the Switch’s versatility.
Now, the games: Resident Evil 5 stars Chris Redfield, the meathead co-protagonist of the original game. This time around, Redfield, joined by fellow B.S.A.A. agent, Sheva Alomar, has traveled to Kijuju, a fictional region of Africa, where an infection — that seems an awful lot like the bio-engineered plague that ravaged the Ganado — has transformed masses of people into (what functionally amounts to) zombies.
It’s clear almost as soon as you arrive on the scene that Resident Evil 5 isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. It maintains the awkward “you can’t move and shoot at the same time” approach to combat that worked so well in Resident Evil 4, but places the player in frantic situations where moving and shooting at the same time really would be much better, surrounding you with armed enemies and frantically quick zombo dogs. The Ganado were slow-moving and not, importantly, packing heat, a factor that made 4’s stop-turn-shoot combat loop more manageable. 5 isn’t substantially more difficult, but it never quite feels right.
The game maintains some great stuff from Resident Evil 4 — like, for example, the blessed, extremely overpowered rocket launcher that lets you one-hit-kill nearly every enemy, including most bosses, and some engaging one-off action sequences. But, it trims a lot of the personality away in the pursuit of a more streamlined game. The hilariously omnipresent merchant from Resident Evil 4 has been replaced with a menu screen between levels. The demanding inventory management that made Leon’s attache case feel like a chessboard has been simplified. The puzzles and key collection are now fetch quests that emphasize combat at the expense of the cerebral. Resident Evil 5 ditches a lot of the series’ trademarks, but doesn’t offer much to fill the gaps. It adopts the pacing of an action game, but never feels good enough to warrant it.
There are some brilliant moments — an open-ended section with a speedboat on a foggy lake is especially good — but Resident Evil 5 feels too much like a product of its time. It’s hampered by some incredibly frustrating design choices, the worst of which is its propensity to dole out one-hit kills; sometimes for the most minor offenses. It’s annoying enough to get one-shotted by a zombie with a chainsaw. It’s much more annoying to get one-shotted by accidentally bumping into a laser beam that you need to manipulate to solve a puzzle. This sucks and I’m glad this kind of design has mostly died off in the decade since its release.
Okay, but Resident Evil 6. Let me tell you about Resident Evil 6.
Resident Evil 6 is the Avengers of Resident Evil games, uniting characters from the series’ sprawling universe in one game with four intersecting campaigns. It — like one of the bulbous zombies that prompts Leon to dad jokily quip, “Hey, somebody order the extra large?” — is bloated. While Resident Evil 4 took Leon to Spain and Resident Evil 5 tasked Chris and Sheva with saving Kijuju, in Resident Evil 6, the fate of the world is at stake. And, because there are four campaigns, there are way too many giant monsters to fight and way too many glowing red tumors to shoot. Plus, there are sections that are repeated across multiple campaigns with little changed, which, after three campaigns, causes the game to begin to drag.
But, Resident Evil 6 does an awful lot right. While Resident Evil 5 was a half-step in the direction of making a full-on action game, Resident Evil 6 fully commits to the bit, redesigning combat to feel fast and punchy. In Resident Evil 6 you CAN move and shoot at the same time. You can run and slide into enemies. You can punch zombies in the head for satisfying goosh noises.
It also is, to my utter surprise, one of the best-written entries in the series? I called Chris Redfield a meathead up top, and in Resident Evil 5 he certainly is. That game never met an action movie cliche it didn’t love and as a result, it often feels like Chris and Sheva are talking past each other, saying the things that action heroes say; moving the plot dutifully along. But, in Resident Evil 6, Chris becomes a character, and the game’s Vantage Point-like structure allows for those layers to be revealed over time, across multiple campaigns. There is a surprising amount of heartbreak lurking in Chris’ story that the three other stories cleverly obscure. The “Jake” campaign is another narrative standout, and Ada’s — the only single-player only campaign — delivers some fantastic puzzles and rocket-paced traversal.
Of course, Resident Evil 6 didn’t leave much room to grow. It was too big, too spectacular, and despite an interesting script, barely held together. Resident Evil 7’s embrace of pared-down vulnerability and terror was the right choice for the series. But, Resident Evil 6 is a unique game, almost unrecognizable as a Resident Evil if not for its “the gang’s all here” ethos. I don’t want Capcom to take the series in this direction again. But, I’m happy we got this one weird game at one moment in time.
Resident Evil 5 score
Resident Evil 6 score
Resident Evil 5 and 6 review codes provided by the publisher.
Resident Evil 5 and 6 are available now on Nintendo Switch.