When “Resident Evil 2" arrived on the PlayStation back in 1998, the ambitious game astonished me. Protagonists Leon and Claire each had two full scenarios that filled in story gaps in the other, “Pulp Fiction"-style, resulting in four unique, complementary playthroughs. Fast-forward to 2012 and “Resident Evil 6" offers three full-length, intersecting, two-player cooperative campaigns along with a slew of bonus modes. The sheer wealth of satisfying gameplay and insane set pieces has me hooked like “RE 2" did back then.
Story took the backseat for most of “Resident Evil 4" and “5," but this title attempts to refocus. Unfortunately, it's tough to follow for anyone who hasn't been keeping up with the drama since the Mansion Incident. Wesker's son Jake is the Poochie of the “Resident Evil" universe; his one-liners and edgy attitude will make you grind your teeth.
The story may be a mess, but I had a lot of fun with the ridiculous way it stitches together adventures through undead catacombs, infected Chinese streets and war-torn European cities. Capcom left stiff controls behind for “Resident Evil 6," and the resulting gameplay feels great. Gamers have been moving and shooting simultaneously for a long time, so the change was long overdue. New enhancements like dodging, sliding and firing while prone take getting used to, but are indispensable once mastered. You can switch between gunplay and fisticuffs in a snap, allowing you to settle into a rhythm on the battlefield. Jake can uppercut zombies, knee thrust mutant lizards and deliver charging palm strikes to packs of foes, resulting in the series' most satisfying melee to date.
While Capcom expanded hand-to-hand combat, it also woefully streamlined managing your arsenal. Instead of upgrading weapons, you invest in a collection of perks like enhanced melee damage or reduced recoil. It's a cool concept, but a set of overpowered skills trivializes any experimentation.
“Resident Evil 6" provides some of the best two-player co-op this generation has to offer. You can team up via online, split-screen or system link to mow down a staggering variety of enemies and survive unbelievable disasters. The new J'avo enemy undergoes random mutations in real time, keeping battles fresh and unpredictable.
One standout moment involves flying a jet while watching Piers' back with machine gun fire as he plants bombs on a huge ship. The game shines brightest during two-player co-op, but single-player is much improved from “Resident Evil 5." In the last game, you had to constantly babysit an AI partner that would leech your resources. Now item drops are independent for each character in both single-player and co-op, and your AI partners are invincible. Having a companion that isn't a complete buffoon is a relief.
Capcom has loaded an unprecedented amount of content on one disc, but I ran into a few issues during my playthroughs. Most annoyances involve struggling with the zoomed-in camera in a couple cramped corridors, or getting hopelessly lost in a blinding snowstorm.
The most frustrating bug I encountered makes a boss unbeatable during Leon's co-op campaign (it's fine in single-player), marring the otherwise excellent climactic battles. Capcom promises to fix some of these issues with a day-one patch, but we reviewed the game on the disc.
Over the years, the tone of the “Resident Evil" series has morphed from a George Romero horror flick to a Michael Bay summer blockbuster. That metamorphosis into insane action is front and center in “Resident Evil 6," and bringing a buddy along for the chaos is great fun. The game's minor flaws don't hold back the decadent experience from being an unhinged, flaming rollercoaster ride.