Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Oops, I Did it Again: The Problem with Chris' Storyline in 'Resident Evil 6'

This is not going to be a post about how awful the gameplay in Resident Evil 6 is or how it completely turns its back on the elements that made the earlier games in the series so successful. For the record, I don't completely agree with those criticisms and I think any legitimate reviewer scoring this title a 3 or 4 out of 10 is behaving like an entitled child throwing a tantrum for not getting exactly what they wanted. Capcom has definitely made some curious decisions with this entry, but they've made some pretty inspired ones as well.

Chris' campaign is not one of them.

Before my wife and I sat down to play the game, I'd heard repeatedly that Leon's campaign was the best and that Chris' was the worst. So we chose to start with Chris' and just get it out of the way. Most people's complaints with this section of Resident Evil 6 seem to center around the emphasis on action & spectacle over suspense & scares. A lot of fans are pointing out that with this campaign, the series has shifted into full blown third-person shooter mode. It seems to be chasing the Gears of War fan base, but without that series' fluid and satisfying control scheme.

To be honest, I don't have a huge problem with the change in tone. It's certainly not what I'd hope for when picking up a Resident Evil game, but neither was the previous sequel and I was still able to enjoy it for what it was (especially as a couch co-op experience). No, my real issue with this campaign is the profoundly stupid storyline.

When we catch up with Chris Redfield, he's a broken mess - a soldier haunted by memories of the men who died under his watch during a mission in Edonia. It's not particularly original, but it is straightforward - and in a series that has pretty much collapsed under the weight of its own convoluted plot, that's a good place to start. In my opinion, this sort of vulnerability marks the first time they've attempted to give the character any sort of real dimension.

Chris is lured back into the fight against bio-terrorism by a young operative named Piers. As the campaign progresses, the body count rises and there's a really interesting moment where it seems clear that Chris is making terrible decisions based on revenge rather than acting in his team's best interest. It's Edonia all over again with another group of soldiers dying left and right. Again, this type of thematic territory has been explored endlessly - but it feels new for Chris. As this story approaches its climax, there are some hints that Chris might be passing the torch to Piers. The young protege has already proven to be the more competent and level-headed of the pair. I started to wonder if the Resident Evil series might have regrown its balls. I thought the developers might actually zig when we all expected them to zag.

Alas, it didn't take long for this hope to get squashed. SPOILERS AHEAD so stop reading if you don't want to know how this section of the game ends...

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During the final boss fight, Piers loses an arm and injects himself with the C-Virus in order to save Chris. He grows a mutated appendage and the rest of him begins to slowly transform as well. The boss is defeated and Chris is racing the clock as he tries to find a way out of the underwater facility and save Piers before his transformation is complete. As Chris prepares an escape pod, Piers pushes him inside, locks the door, and ejects him. All the while Chris is screaming and begging him not to do it. The pod rises to the surface and even though Chris is safe, he's once again responsible for the deaths of his entire squad.

Let me explain everything that's wrong with this ending by describing two other ways it could have been wrapped up...

Ending #1 - Chris, not Piers, loses an arm during the final battle. He's the one who's forced to inject himself with the virus and transform into the very thing they've been hunting. He's the one who sends Piers off to safety and sacrifices himself to complete the mission. This selfless act wouldn't just be Chris saving the last member of his team - it would also be atonement for Edonia and the way he handled the current mission up until this point. He knew this was going to be his last go-around. He had already said that when he asked Piers to take his place. We saw that there was a part of him that was ready to die when Jake put a gun to his head. One way or another, this was going to be Chris' final mission.

This probably won't be a popular opinion, but Chris absolutely should have died. It would have been the perfect type of ending - surprising, but inevitable. We would have realized that's what the entire campaign had been building to.The game desperately needed a "Holy shit!" moment and this could have been it. Would anyone really miss him? Let's be honest - the guy's as interesting as wallpaper. He's a gorilla with a machine gun.

Ending #2 - Okay, so let's just assume that killing off a major character was out of the question for the folks at Capcom. They still could have ended this campaign in a more logical and satisfying way. I think it's pretty obvious. The final battle plays out the same way it does in the actual game - only Chris DOES save Piers at the last second. Against impossible odds, Chris rescues the last member of his team. He does what he was unable to do in Edonia and what he's been unable to do for most of Resident Evil 6. Piers' life becomes symbolic for every other life that was previously lost. The world and Chris' psyche are at peace. He retires, Piers takes his place, and we all get some closure. I don't think it's nearly as powerful as Chris sacrificing himself, but at least it's something resembling a character arc.

As it stands, Chris has a complete repeat of Edonia. Instead of breaking him completely and really sending him off the rails (as it should), these events somehow make him even more eager to sign up for another tour of duty with another group of fresh-faced operatives. What the fuck?! It makes Chris seem like a bastard, the events of the campaign meaningless, and the entire ordeal a giant waste of our time.

They're treating this mythology with more reverence than it probably deserves and as a result, I think they've shackled themselves creatively. It's no longer about going on an adventure with real stakes or consequences. It's about taking a brief break from the status quo and then quickly restoring it - even when their own characters (and common sense) are battling against it. That's what's so frustrating about Resident Evil 6. It's not the long list of little nitpicks - it's the really simple decisions that could have made this a completely different experience.


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