Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D – 3DS

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Well…as it appears that Anne has hijacked my 3DS to play Pokemon, so having not touched Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D in the better part of a month, I suppose that means I’ve finished it and ought to write about it. You’ll forgive me if, for once, I don’t have a snappy introduction, but it’s rather hard to find meaningful anecdotes to relate about a game designed entirely around the satisfying squish noise that happens every time you kill a monster. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that I didn’t experience the epitome of bliss playing through main series games written by a team almost talented enough to devise a plot for a dog food commercial, or attain true inner-peace after playing hour after hour of briefcase feng-shui so I could pick up that chicken egg I found. It’s just that after a certain point, my “press X to not die” skills plateau and I start to feel like there are more enjoyable things I could be wasting my time on. Like shoveling goat shit out of a barn.

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Should we include popular protagonists like Leon and Ada? Nah. Let’s use the are-you-my-mummy guy!

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D strips away all the unnecessary fluff from RE games except for the title. As they still insist on reading the entire title out to you every time you start the game, this gives you plenty of time to go make a sandwich while the drunken frat boy they got tries to read it in his scariest surfer voice. But past that, the only game play they give you is running around various RE4 and RE5 areas on an ammunition easter egg hunt—providing you occasionally have to stomp on someone’s head to get to the egg. Well, I take that back. They do force you to play through an insufferable number of tutorial levels with each of the eight playable characters, and then again with their alternate costumes, as though each one were recovering from a shattered spine and had to attend regular physical therapy sessions…with murderous monsters eying up their neck like a lumberjack ogles a sequoia.

If you’ve played the mini-games of the same name included in RE4, RE5 or RE6, you essentially know what you’re getting into. I say “essentially” because even though The Mercenaries was perfect as a mini-game, Capcom apparently felt the need to stuff it like a swollen, bloated turducken until it “felt” like a full game, apparently forgetting that Donkey Kong and Space Invaders were both full games—but like a cat in heat, I’ll wait and touch on that later. Each level starts you off with a unique set of weapons, two minutes on the clock, and a rag-tag band of scrappy fighters who just happen to be infected with a parasite that makes them want to trade recipes with Hannibal Lecter. You can pick up time extensions to encourage you to move around the map, and you get small bonuses for style if you wrassle your enemies like a gator and kill them with your bare hands.

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As far as I can tell, you get a double-S rating just for killing this guy.

At the height of popularity for arcades, games were much like life, relationships, bureaucracy and work—you couldn’t win, they just got harder and harder until you died. The Mercenaries employs this philosophy. Providing the enemies don’t tenderize you like a fillet mignon or coat you in a heavy layer of pre-digestive juices, the best you can hope for is to extend your time as long as possible. You get graded based on your score, which is primarily affected by the number of monster kills you can chain together, but also seems partly influenced by the amount of times you had to pound your own heart back into working order. (Once again proving that Resident Evil has about as fluent a medical knowledge as an Alabaman redneck with an iPhone. Took one too many bullets to the spine? Rub an herb on it! You’ll be fine! Smashed with a hammer the size of an SUV? Just give yourself CPR and you’ll be good to go until the next monster grabs you by the shoulders and spits on you!) Higher scores unlock more stages, characters and costumes. Rinse and repeat.

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Ultimate matrix-y super villain Wesker–now with all the strength of a maxi-pad.

The game has a sort of simplistic beauty in that way, like a graceful ballerina performing an elegant, well-choreographed dance on the back of a monster truck belching out smoke like a forest fire. See, in their attempt to release the Mercenaries as a stand-alone title, Capcom stuffed a little too much into it. Capcom is the guy who goes to Old Country Buffet and insists on getting their money’s worth, so they stack up the food on their tray like devil’s tower, goes back for more twelve times, and spends the rest of the evening in the ER with a tube down their throat. The perfection of the Mercenaries as a mini-game was that there were only four levels and five characters. The point wasn’t to race through as fast as possible to complete everything you can like you had a bag of cocaine, a life of regrets and a week left to live. Instead, you practiced, learned each level, and tried to best your own scores. Human psychology awards us a much higher level of satisfaction when competing against ourselves than it does for competing against a computer program or even another human. That’s why the mini-game and a lot of those old arcade games worked so well. If we worked hard to best our past skills, the feeling of self-worth we get completely negates the realization that we could have written a novel or mastered the French horn in the time it took us to reach level 4 of Donkey Kong. Meanwhile, when the focus is on completion and moving on to the next level, we tend to get frustrated when we’ve mastered a level for fifteen minutes and then die instantly because we were playing with the sound off and didn’t notice the one-hit-kill boss sneak up behind us with a chainsaw and cut off our heads for the forty-seventh time that day. But on the plus side, I started kicking out enough BTUs in anger that my heating bill dropped by about five bucks that month.

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Most likely the last thing you’ll see. He’s like a ninja.

Not only do they have so many stages and characters that you might mistake The Mercenaries for a real estate firm, but the primary focus has shifted off of chaining monster kills and onto defeating bosses. Except for most of the tutorial levels, each stage has at least one boss enemy. That isn’t new. Each stage in the mini-game had them too. Except there, they were thrown in every now and then as a check on your power. They provided a hiccup in the difficulty to make sure you didn’t keep mowing down monsters like a field full of daisies. In the Mercenaries: 3D, the bosses take center stage, wresting it away from everything else and demanding all your attention like a narcissistic drag queen. The difference is that in the 3D game, the bosses constantly leer over you, breathing down your neck like the guy on the bus who smells like pee. You never get a moment to rest and go back to what you love—squishing monster heads. It seems like each level has either a never-ending parade of bosses to fight, or they give the bosses so much health that even the Republican party wants to take them down.

As I mentioned before, Anne had to take the game away from me. Whether I was playing it because I enjoyed it or because I felt obligated to unlock all the costumes…let’s say it’s about 50/50. The game definitely appeals to me as a fan of the mini-game, but it does so in the way that frozen yogurt appeals to me as a fan of ice cream—it fills the need, but you walk away feeling like something was wrong with it. Now if only Anne will get done with Pokemon, I’ve got a flaming meat tenderizer guy I need to kill…

Resident Evil: Deadly Silence – NDS

You should take solace in the fact that the spiders still qualify both as "big" and "hairy."

You should take solace in the fact that the spiders still qualify both as “big” and “hairy.”

I might compare art to beautiful prostitutes; lovely, inspiring, everyone has seen them, and people everywhere feel an instinctual need to do them both, but no one wants to get caught giving them money.  Sadly, despite all our magnanimous feelings toward art, if it doesn’t turn a profit at the end of the day, it doesn’t happen, and as the $400 average price for a current generation system will attest, video games, while creative and artistic endeavors, still need to turn tricks to keep afloat. If you’ve read my recent entries, you’ve heard me rant about Nintendo’s efforts to package the portability of Game Boy games over any actual quality of games. Their breakthrough efforts with the DS gave us an onslaught of games, and statistically speaking we could expect many good ones in the pile of broken coding. However, that didn’t stop them from porting the 1996 classic, Resident Evil to yet another system to make a quick buck on making it portable.

...these guys. Still hate 'em.

…these guys. Still hate ’em.

To Capcom’s credit, they try to make this game more interesting every time they expect us to shell out more cash for their new edition. The major feature of Deadly Silence builds off the DS (I see what you did there!) hardware.  Although cheap and gimmicky in places, I can’t really lament REDS the way I would other game ports.  The game practically invented modern survival horror, and as such it works because it embraces horror elements such as fear and surprise. While essentially the same as the original PS1 version, I have to begrudgingly admit that they’ve altered it enough so as to keep it fresh and startling.  Since the game actually features two modes–classic and rebirth–and since they didn’t really do anything but a straight-up port for classic, I’ll concentrate on rebirth mode here.

Immediately I noticed they fixed the knife mechanics. I really enjoyed the knife in RE4, and found it quite satisfying to take down monsters by a quick jab to the knee caps and repeatedly plunging the blade into their parasite-ridden flesh like Dexter, reveling in the squishy noises until that last groan tells me to to look for a new victim. Unfortunately, the knives in earlier games don’t provide such a cathartic experience, and serve only to sacrifice the number of useful items you can carry in exchange for the ability to play “here comes the airplane” with zombies, thrusting what can only look like a juicy piece of meat directly into their all-too-willing jaws. Instead of offering yourself up as bait, the knife remains equipped like it does in RE4, under control of the left shoulder button, and it actually damages the zombies enough to make it a worthwhile weapon. And I know that people say it’s always worked against the spider, but do you know what works better? A fricken flame thrower.

...because he should really see a doctor if his blood has the color and consistency of the green ketchup.

…because he should really see a doctor if his blood has the color and consistency of the green ketchup.

As another nice feature, which completes my list of any actual differences between the original and the remake/port, the top screen of the DS displays both a map of the mansion and the player’s current health status. While the flashing colors to display injuries doesn’t make it less cryptic, still leading to the inevitable question of whether or not it hurts enough to only take a few aspirin or to inject that case full of morphine directly into your brain, it at least removes the need to open a menu and give the character time to reflect on the nature of wounds and come to grips with their inevitable mortality.

Jill learned this in 'Nam.

Jill learned this in ‘Nam.

Some of the puzzles have different mechanisms for solving: use the microphone to blow out a candle, use the stylus to draw in wires or jiggle a sword out of a door. These really add nothing to the game other than the altered layout of items forces you to take a new route, which causes you to backtrack through areas that may or may not have new challenges. Keepin’ it fresh, eh, Capcom? The real addition involves a mini-game sequence activated semi-randomly as you enter a room. The player shifts to a first-person perspective and requires use of the stylus to hack and slash a rush of monsters. Specific attacks can stun monsters, otherwise they plow through to your tasty brains, oblivious to the holes opening up in their torsos. I enjoyed this, more or less, but during the more frustrating onslaughts I couldn’t help but ask, “If Jill had a fully loaded shotgun as she walked through that door, why did she feel the need to combat this 15-meter, venomous snake like a boyscout whittling a marshmallow-roasting stick?”

Yes. We get it. Jill Sandwich. Sounds funny. Now shut up and edit the script.

Yes. We get it. Now shut up and edit the script.

Beating the game once unlocks a more developed version of this, called “Master of Knifing,” which also suggests that Capcom decided to embrace, rather than repair, acting so bad that the actors refuse to list their full names on IMDB. Yes, we all know about the “Master of Unlocking” and the “Jill Sandwich” lines, but seriously, the actors read every line like a mommy reading to an infant that doesn’t speak English yet. And the mommy has never heard anyone speak English or use inflections or tone of voice. They had the decency to rethink the puzzles and the layout and to fix the knife and all that; did it never occur to them to wander over to the nearest high school, pull a handful of the extras out of an Our Town rehearsal and spend ten minutes with them to get a performance far superior to the original cast?  Did that take bit of energy cross the line, or did they just really enjoy a performance stitched together from the discarded audio of 1980s cleaning supply infomercials?  Just because the game sold well and people had a good laugh at the lousy actors doesn’t mean it should stay that way.  Resident Evil built its fame on setting tone and using creepy sounds to scare the shit out of both ends of the player; the acting not only breaks that tone, but reverses its effect.  Humor relieves stress, and in a game designed for tension, they can’t really relent on stress.  Just pack up the original recording as an unlockable feature if you love it so much.

For those times when using a shotgun just wouldn't give you the same rush. Thinking of these two as adrenaline junkies really changes the tone of the game.

For those times when using a shotgun just wouldn’t give you the same rush. Thinking of these two as adrenaline junkies really changes the tone of the game.

Mostly though, I can’t complain.  The puzzle redesign puts certain items in places where the unaltered story may not send you–but hey, I’ll tell you right now that you find the wolf medal in the guard house, but be prepared to knife the giant snake for it.  Otherwise, well, the game won’t surprise you too much.  Same thing, but different. But mostly the same.

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Even though I thought I’d disappear for a while, I’ve managed to update weekly. This week should challenge me, though, as right now I have about 30% of Assassin’s Creed II and maybe 40% of Final Fantasy VII done.  I generally don’t like playing two games at once, but Anne’s never seen FFVII, and I need something to do when she goes to work. So look for reviews of those two games in the near future. Maybe I’ll throw in an Atari, arcade, or NES game just to have something quick to play and easy to write about.

As usual, thanks for reading!

Resident Evil 6 – PS3, XBox 360, PC

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So technically I guess Resident Evil 6 isn’t retro, but by the time I get any readers, people will either have moved on cluttering up my facebook feed at the push of a button with the PS4, or living with the X-Box One sitting around like a roommate with boundary issues, not quite sure that his website of pictures of you sleeping on the couch might make us all feel just a little uncomfortable.

These gimmicks and features don’t really enhance the games at all, they just aim to make games more social.   I don’t know when anyone decided that video games needed to or even could be a social experience. You want to socialize?  Don’t play a video game!  With the possible exception of Journey, which requires natural intelligence to figure out gameplay aspects with minimal communication, I’ve never played a game and thought, “Yep! This is just as good as human contact!”  I always looked at games as something to do when you couldn’t find anyone to do anything else with (which in my life, has been all too often).

Thankfully, Capcom seems to have heard the voices of all of us angry peasants who hated being forcibly paired up with Sheva in RE5.  For those of us living the hermit lifestyle, this presented the player with the dire decision of playing through the game solo and relying on the inept AI, or finding a second player and dealing with something even worse. The latter option forced people to scrounge up little sisters, mothers, or hobos from the bus station in attempt to avoid the terrible decisions made by the AI (or as we referred to it in the day, “The Computer”).

While you have the option of joining another player online, the AI Partner mechanics give you a player who will always drop everything they’re doing to try to save you, and who won’t die themselves, so any self-respecting player will shut-off the network connection immediately as to prevent the game from turning into a babysitting mission. (I’m looking at you, Ashley.) It’s highly possible that when you’re on the verge of death, enemies can reach you before your partner, so it keeps an element of challenge, but you can still play through the game with the feeling that you can do what you want to do, instead of walking through a crowd of zombies with one hand on a gun and the other holding a baby monitor to your ear with the other.

Although the AI mechanics show promise for continuation of the series, whether or not RE6 lives up to expectations depends entirely on what you might expect from a Resident Evil game. That question becomes muddled when you take into account the fact that the series made a dramatic shift from Survival Horror to Action between Nemesis and RE4. Still, we can tally off some common aspects we enjoyed from previous games, right?

One: It’s not a first person shooter or a rail shooter. It’s not like anyone would think that’s a good idea anyway, right?

Two: More than one playable character, likely in response to the criticism that RE5 didn’t last long enough. The game stars Leon and Chris. And Ada. And a grown-up Sherry Birkin. And the son of Albert Wesker, some random army guy, and a woman who follows Leon around for some reason I’m sure they explained at some point. While having multiple characters with intersecting scenarios has long defined the replay value of Resident Evil games, the story does feel like a Racoon Class of ‘98 Reunion.  Fortunately, since they’re paired up, the story doesn’t become extraneously convoluted, and we know, as always, that only the characters from the first two games matter.  Unfortunately, working through a survival horror game in pairs takes away one of the most frightening aspects of the genre: being completely and utterly ALONE!

There does seem to be a level of predictability in the stars. I even remember thinking back in 2008, “You know what would be neat? An RE Game starring the grown-up Sherry Birkin.” Ten-to-one odds they bring back Claire (and probably Jill) in the next game.

Three: Monsters. As with the massive split on characters, it feels like they’re trying to draw back to anything anyone may have ever liked about the game. Leon’s scenario involves handling a zombie outbreak, a la RE2 and RE3, while Sherry and Chris deal with J’avo, who are much like the Ganados from RE4 and the Majini from RE5.

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Four: Uh…guns? Puzzles? Poorly written story line? A convoluted element that puts the “Resident” in Resident Evil?

Honestly, I can’t think of a whole lot more that the games have going for them. I played through this game slightly miffed and disappointed at the poorly-written scenarios until I remembered that  Capcom always manufactured their RE plots from beat up sci-fi cliches they found rotting in a dumpster outside a 1950s drive-in movie theatre. So what if we don’t fully understand what’s going on, or what makes the characters move forward, or why Leon stops and tries to reason with a zombie? That isn’t the point.

But that does lead to the major problem with the game. RE4 drew so many new fans to the series that every game since has tried to re-create that success, and as is so common in game development, they’ve done that without the slightest inkling of why people enjoyed it so much.

See, even after the genre switch, players loved the games because Resident Evil built atmosphere so well.  Right from the beginning, they rely on environmental sounds, dissonant tones in place of music, and sudden starts to scare the wits out of players. Enemies didn’t respawn. Ammo ran out. As a result, some zombies had to be ignored, the player running past them every time they backtrack through an area. Other areas could be cleared out, traveled through a dozen times, and then suddenly a new monster would dive through the window to snatch you up like a donut in those plexiglass cases at the grocery store. People mock the older games because it sounds like Leon Kennedy frequents cobbler shops, but the echoing footsteps play a vital role as well; different floors have different textures, and the crunching of glass underfoot sounds exactly like a feasting zombie. I can’t tell you how many times I froze solid only to realize I was standing alone in a room covered with junk on the floor.

This series–including RE4–relies on silences and downtime for effect. There must be the possibility of being alone along with the chance of being attacked. Scares in the horror genre never come from monsters; they come from the stress of suspense. RE6 abandons this idea completely. Gameplay is unrelenting. Monsters respawn as though someone were in the back running them off on a Xerox, and the player rarely has any downtime. To add to this, the macho-military theme for Chris Redfield’s scenario feels like it belongs in a Call of Duty game rather than Resident Evil.

Despite the lack of atmosphere, I did enjoy playing. The Mercenaries mini-game probably captures the feel of what’s fun about RE6 better than anything–running a gauntlet of monsters for a high score. Some of the other features gave me a laugh as well; you have the option of hopping on the network to play as a monster in someone else’s game. Although this makes for great novelty, the mechanics have to be worked out since the human characters can pulp you into cottage cheese within moments, and spawning points are distant and take time to load.

Although I’m not likely to be quoted on the packaging if I say, “It’s okay, considering,” the game is okay, considering it drops the key defining feature of survival horror. As always, the squish of a zombie’s exploding head satisfies me to no end.

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