Resident Evil 6 – PS3, PS4, XBox One, XBox 360, Switch, Microsoft Windows

 

RE6 Sherry Jake

They’ve known each other about a week and she’s already giving him the “I’ve got a headache” excuse.

Hello, everyone. I just wanted to pop in to say something unheard of happened in the last two months since my RE5 post. We’re talking alignment-of-the-planets rare, the birth and death of stars rare, something of Big Bang or otherwise astrological frequency; someone started reading me. And not just one person…like, four or five people subscribed to Retrocookie. So you have managed to drag me back here, away from my play script about the secret agent convention. Probably for the best. My writing style was dangerously similar to a torrent stalling out at 93%. I’d make myself promises, come up with deadlines, then sit down and type out two or three lines per week. But hell, with that work ethic, I could be sitting on top of the next Song of Ice and Fire book.

So thank you to those of you who started following me. Sorry that it might take me a while to get myself running at full capacity, but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve; take time off from work, drink a nice cup of high-end tea, and blow in the cartridge a bit (note: don’t actually blow in your cartridges Your connection pins aren’t dusty, and we’ve lost too many classic games to Dorito spittle). Good news is, Anne’s black belt in Demanding Toddler style kung fu has beaten me down enough to buy a PS4. So after writing about a few games I’ve played in the interim, I’ll be right back to finish the series with Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 7.

For now, let me amuse you by interpreting the notes I made over two months ago:

1. Sherry’s jiggles – Yes, this is the little girl from RE2. But she’s all grown up now into a mature, highly-trained BSAA agent, just waiting to be objectified by thousands of lonely teenage boys. Although Capcom gave her a reasonable athletic figure, her small breasts happen to jiggle as though she’s replaced the standard bullet-proof kevlar vest by stuffing her bra with ballistic gel. It’s actually a nice touch that they thought to bring her back, and to make her a playable character, and create a missing son for Wesker so they riff on classic archetypal themes of redeeming themselves for their father’s sins of mutating their genetics until they become aggressive mutants hell-bent on mass murder. Unfortunately, they just didn’t. I guess breast physics were considered a bit more meaningful. And to top it all off, while both Sherry and Wesker’s son, Jake (Grammar nazis, note how I skillfully avoided any Oxford Comma confusion there!) are playable characters, the game just assumes you’ll want to play as the beefy, muscle head that no one has ever heard of instead of the established character with a feminine deficit of testosterone.

RE6 Sherry

This is a designer hospital gown. You know…if your ass hanging out isn’t good enough, this way your tits can come loose in any of a dozen directions. Although looking closely, I think that’s a push-up hospital gown.

2. Off screen deaths – Yeah, sorry, but the T-Virus (or G-Virus or Plagas or Oroburous or whatever Sesame Street villain is sponsoring this game) must have been developed from cat DNA, because if a character dies off-screen, you’re not fooling anyone. He’s coming back. Hell, if a character dies on-screen there’s about a 75% chance they’ll just shake off that drill through the torso or rocket blast to the face with a good nap.

3. China falling apart? – Was I making a note here or commenting on the state of global affairs? Not sure what I wanted to say here.

4. Lava rooms – for definite deaths – Okay, whatever I said earlier, we all know as soon as you step into a room full of lava, that you’re ready for an epic showdown. Sudden, inexplicable rooms full of magma are the Chekhov’s Gun of video games.

5. Not dead–just very badly burned – Okay, sorry…forget what I just said. In addition to liquid hot mag-ma, we also have a character who isn’t dead…just very badly burned. Capcom is now taking inspiration not so much from classic Resident Evil games, but from classic Austin Powers movies. Groovy, baby.

RE6 Leon

Ever fire two guns whilst jumping through the air?

6. Leon, he’s obviously a zombie – Arguably, no character is as bad-ass as Leon Kennedy, now on his third Zom-pocalypse (fourth, if you count Resident Evil Gaiden. I don’t.). So then why does his scenario opened with this seasoned horror veteran trying to reason with a man who obviously has nothing on his brain except other brains?

RE6 Pres

They turned the president into a mindless beast ready to devour those closest to him to satisfy his own monstrous hunger. And Sci-Fi continues to be prophetic.

7. Villain dressed like a plantation owner – Umm…well, he is. I remember that. But why? Is it to make some statement on how zombifying two major world powers is akin to enslavement? Or, more likely, plantation owners are both well-dressed and historically confirmed douchebags.

8. Hours of credits – Seriously, you’re going to give us four different scenarios, and then make us read through your entire marketing and design department staff roster each time?

9. Resident = Whole world – We have now reached the loosest definition of the term “resident” here, as we are no longer confined to a haunted house, castle or city. Our heroes are now cleansing evil from the U.S., China, and parts of Europe as well (convenient, at least, that all three apocalypses have the decency to unfold concurrently). Before I make any assertions that, even if Capcom isn’t playing by the rules anymore, we can still believe that we are all residents of the earth, let me wait to see if they put RE8 on fucking Mars.

RE6 Sherry 2

Who is more mentally ill? Sherry for squeezing into the exact outfit she wore in RE2, or the guys who actually want to see her do that?

In sum, Resident Evil 6 is a game that can appeal to everyone. For those of you who want a traditional apocalypse filled with zombies and confined spaces, you can play through Leon’s scenario (although you will have to put up with a segment where Leon quite literally jumps a shark). For those of you who enjoyed the thrill of running from Nemesis through Racoon City, Sherry’s scenario will keep your heart beating. Meanwhile, for those of you who don’t like Resident Evil at all and would much rather be playing Call of Duty, Chris has a scenario that might be more up your alley. And finally, if stealth, subterfuge, and espionage is more your thing, you can play as Ada wong. This multi-scenario system ensures that the only people who will walk away frustrated and disappointed, are fans of classic Resident Evil games.

RE6 Chris

For those of you who loved Chris’s wits and strength to get out of horrific situations, enjoy him with a team full of army dudes and lots of guns!

Pick a target audience, game developers. If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up with a game that disappoints everyone.

Final Score:

Chris B
Sherry B
Leon A
Ada ?

RE6 Monsters

Resident Evil 5 – PS3, PS4, XBox One XBox360

 

RE5 Chris and Sheva

Sheva displaying her assets in profile.

Hi guys! It’s been a few weeks. I’d like to feed you the old line, “I’ve been focusing on bigger projects lately,” but yesterday the only thing I did was think up funny announcements you might hear at a conference for spies. So here’s the fruit of my labor:  Will the owner of a blue 2020 Aston Martin with the rotating license plates LQE601, 689GMW and XPZ755, please report to the valet? Your headlight machine guns are on.

I’m reaching home base on this project. Well, let me rephrase that. I’ll reach home, providing no one minds that second base is literally nowhere to be found and the distance between 3rd base and home plate is only half its regulation length. I don’t have anything that can play Resident Evil 7 or the RE2 Remake, and the only used game store around here, EB Games, won’t sell anything older than one generation back, making New Zealand the Logan’s Run of the video game world. Technically, I could call it quits after this post, as already wrote about RE6 as one of my first entries, and I don’t really think the Mercenaries needs its own post. But for now, at least, let’s deal with Resident Evil 5.

RE5 is notorious for not only forcing yet another unwanted partner on the player, but for giving that partner an intelligence only slightly higher than a blackface minstrel show held face-down in a toilet for a good seven minutes. My first run of this game, the only one I had done until now, I took all the critics’ warnings and forced Anne to play alongside me. Playing through it solo this time, I’ve come to the conclusion that either A) they’ve patched the partner mechanics in the intervening years or B) Anne has the motor control and reaction time of a sunflower on a frosty morning.

RE5 - Monty Mole

Monty Mole must have been hard up for work after Super Mario Bros 3

Was Sheva perfect? No. But judging by multiple introductions where the camera opens, fixated on her chest as though it might treat us to a good motorboating, the developers weren’t actually aiming to build a skilled warrior. But be it patches that introduce Cover and Attack modes, or just plain old ingenuity, I found that what she lacked in her contributions to combat, she more than made up for as a sturdy pack mule: load her down with empty weapons and ammo for guns she doesn’t have and make sure you get to the herbs before she does or she’ll smoke them faster than those college students who dug up the parsley in Anne’s herb garden.

It’s not exactly doing much to improve on accusations of racism, Capcom, to have your black character a drug-crazed idiot whose best use is physical labor.

Is Resident Evil 5 racist? Well yes, but honestly it’s no less racist than sending a pretty white boy to shoot up an underprivileged hispanic neighborhood. It wasn’t even the white-on-black violence that really pushed it over the edge for me. It was the fact that Chris pillages his way through Africa, appropriating cultural artifacts to sell for his weaponry addiction. If there were any more capitalistic exploitation, he’d have to wear a monocle and carry around two giant sacks with dollar signs printed on them.

RE5 - Chainsaw

This guy can take a gun store to the face and still have the wherewithal to slice your neck cleanly.

Okay, but really…ignoring the kum-ba-yas and social justice warriors…is it a good game? Can it compare with the masterpiece that was Resident Evil 4? Be assured that Capcom noted everything that gave RE4 it’s uncanny-valley sort of charm–the lonely, unnerving atmosphere, the chill of night, the weirdly cockney merchant–and chewed it up and shat it out, in favor of doubling down on quick-time events and babysitting an obnoxious partner. Okay, okay, I’m being a bit unfair to Sheva, who seems to have studied medicine under Dr. Arthur Fonzarelli, and has the power to (usually) come over when you’re dying and give you a good, swift pound in the chest to fix you right up.

They also repeated one of the more annoying story moments in Resident Evil 4. Remember that cut scene of Saddler on the island, telling a new subordinate to prepare to fight Leon, and then they show Krauser in a dramatic reveal, as though we’re supposed to know who he is? They do that again. All of a sudden, the mysterious ninja plague doctor who’s popped in and out of the story pulls down her cowling to reveal a blond woman in a skin-tight blue bodysuit. While I’m reeling from the wonderment of how Samus Aran wound up in 21st century Africa, the game tells me it’s supposed to be Jill.   

I don’t know. It’s okay, I guess. And the Mercenaries mini-game is always worth playing. But I just can’t get around the fact that the story is the least atmospheric of any RE game, being set in broad daylight, or the fact that both Chris and Sheva have a sort of shared tourette’s syndrome and can’t help but shout out the word “partner” at odd intervals. At least Africa was built with plenty of doors that require two people to turn a key simultaneously, otherwise we might not know how useful a partner could be.

RE5 - Gutter

Chris and Sheva…minds in the gutter.

Final Grade…shit, did I miss this?

Resident Evil Revelations – 3DS, PS3, Switch, PS4, XBox 360, XBox One, Wii U

RE - RevelationsThere are some tell-tale signs that a TV series has jumped the shark: they introduce new characters that no one cares about, they send the cast off to a tropical resort or cruise, they start writing convoluted multi-episode arcs that require a synopsis at the beginning of each episode, or they have a character physically jump over a great white shark to heighten an absurd sense of tension.  Coincidentally, this week we’re discussing Resident Evil: Revelations, an RE spinoff game with a slew of boring, nameless playable characters set on a Mediterranean cruise ship and released episodically with a “Previously on…” recap at the beginning of each chapter. (What? You expected me to work in all four scenarios? Don’t you remember Resident Evil 1? By that standard, this series literally jumped the shark in the first installment. Yes, that is the series I have decided to play in its entirety.)

RE - Characters

They team you up with Parker “Jowles” Luciano, apparently a middle aged man given a new lease on life after suffering a heart attack and an unexpected divorce. Or so I assume from his fat face.

Despite taking place between Resident Evil 4 and 5, the game was released in 2012, shortly before Resident Evil 6.  At this point, Capcom had stopped designing realistic monsters and just started putting blobfish in the microwave for a good, stout turn. Among these is a particularly obnoxious monster just called “Rachel,” who appears as a common enemy who, we are supposed to understand, is the same monster in every single encounter, one who will not die in spite of carrying around enough lead in her lungs to build a bomb shelter. Also, they brought back hunters. Of course they did. And to make them piss me off even more, they made them invisible. So in a game in which ammo is scarce, I have two monsters who suck in metal like they’re going to build an SUV out of it, but one of them also has the power of the One Ring.

RE - Monsters

This monster clearly represents how I feel after eating at Burger King.

But actually, in spite of that, there’s not too much to complain about.  There is the constant reminder that each mission was released episodically, and every single one still retains the “Previously on Resident Evil Revelations” like a daytime soap opera where instead of the characters getting cancer, the cancer comes to life, grows to hideous proportions, and tries to saw them in half with a circular saw.  Unfortunately, with the usual convolution of Resident Evil writing, such a recap helped me understand the plot about as well as Chinese subtitles.

Mostly As and Ss

Accuracy 80%    A

Deaths 23        A

Clear Time 6:56’26”

RE - Parker

This picture looks like Parker overcoming some deap-seated childhood trauma that has forever made him fearful of defending those he loved through violent means. Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into his fat face.

Resident Evil – Operation Raccoon City – PS3, XBox 360

RE - USSEnough of these Resident Evil games that force me to play as heroes! It’s high time we had a game that put us in the dark black combat boots of the true underdogs—that’s right! The true victim of this whole Racoon City affair is the little, downtrodden, mom-and-pop multibillion dollar megacorporation so hell-bent on destroying the world for a few bucks that their company slogan is, “We put the ‘harm’ in ‘pharmaceuticals.’” Operation Raccoon City follows Umbrella-hired mercenaries as they root out the true threat behind the Zom-pocalypse, any survivors who might impeach Umbrella’s good name.  What’s that? A game where you hurt innocent people in order to save the reputation of a faceless corporate entity? It makes sense, in a way. I mean, that whole “hero who saves the world” trope does have a sort of inherent liberal bias, so it’s about time they started making Republican games, too.

RE - GameplayAt the beginning of each mission, the player chooses one of six cartoonishly villainous rogues, who all wear masks, presumably to prevent them from obsessively twirling their moustaches in the same way you put your dog in a cone to keep him from biting his stitches. And if the facelessness didn’t clue you in that they were evil enough, one character is literally named after James Bond’s nemesis organization, SPECTRE.  You then have a standing mission of erasing any evidence that Umbrella caused the outbreak in the city, as though in the wake of a zombie epidemic, people aren’t immediately going to turn to the mad scientists in charge of creating biological abominations for the U.S. government. “Mom! Dad’s turned into an undead cannibal!” “Oh Christ! Is this because we didn’t throw out the romaine lettuce?” “I don’t know. We better check his blood pressure pills. GlaxoSmithKline might not have been honest about those side-effects!”

RE - Ada

Your mission: kill a cameo hero that we know will escape unharmed.

Of course, this game does more than simulate rooting through your house looking for that iPod you’re pretty sure you kept.  Most missions have some sort of main-series cameo, the likes of which include William Birkin, Nikolai Zinoviev, Claire Redfield, Ada Wong and Leon Kennedy.  Umbrella tasks you with murdering most…well, all…of them, but since each character has to die in a different game or survive indefinitely, they’ll usually just run away until your team gets distracted by some shiny object and abandons the assassination to look at a statue of a raccoon. There’s even a mission where you have to fix the broken Nemesis, although since it’s an action-shooter game, “fixing” Nemesis somehow involves riddling him with bullets. A case of “every problem looks like a nail,” I guess.

RE - Nemesis

Arrgh! What I wouldn’t give for a good aerrating!

The game is actually pretty fun.  It’s a bit on the easy side, but some games have to be. At the very least, it’s not much of a time commitment, although in the spirit of corporate power, Capcom seems to have locked half the game behind DLC.  Without that, Operation Raccoon City feels a bit anemic, so I wouldn’t expect a feast.

Containment: C

Corruption: B

Lights Out: S

Gone Rogue: A

Expendable: C

Redemption: A

End of the Line: B

Resident Evil: Code Veronica (X) – Game Cube, Dreamcast, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360

RE - Veronica

I’ve made it this far! Game number six of the classic Resident Evil games before the format went the way of the dinosaurs, whalebone corsets and Mega Man. After their crowning achievement that is Code Victoria, the traditional escape-room-with-monsters format went right back into the Capcom vault until, presumably, indie gamers crowdfund a shitty game preying on nostalgia and Capcom watches that Kickstarter counter climbing and showing them exactly how much money their fan base is still willing to give to them.

RE - Tyran

Early in the game, you’ll find BOW Grenade Rounds. If you don’t save them for this guy, you’ll end up living some horrible Groundhog Day life, trapped on this plane for eternity.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica (or Code Veronica X, depending on your console of choice) stars a smattering of Redfields (what is the collective noun for Redfields? Let’s see…a murder of crows, a pod of whales, a flight of dragons…I’m going with a magnum. Does that sound right? A magnum of Redfields?). Chris and Claire, the Redfield siblings, play against the Ashford twins, who are essentially Jamie and Cersei Lannister if they were raised by Norman Bates.

RE - Twins

These two look so inbred, they’re probably their own incestuous parents.

Also, taking cues from Nemesis, which gave Jill a sexy hispanic mercenary boyfriend, Code Veronica gives Claire Steve, an immature, unstable loon who is tempted to violate her personal space while she’s asleep. Eh. I suppose we can’t all strike gold. Fortunately, they finish him off within the story, which is code for, “No more major protagonists! We don’t want to do a Resident Evil Zero for every dipshit who spends three minutes as a playable character!” Still, after a quick tap dancing lesson and strapping a pair of high-quality Dutch clogs to their feet, they throw our protagonists into a situation where a poorly-timed noise means the difference between life and the retirement plan of the typical plate of sushi.

RE - Steve

Really? Capcom gave me this? …Fine. Are we doing this or what?

Reprising his role as Chris’ mentor and would-be murderer, Albert Wesker shows up every so often to do villain things in dark gasses and show us that a virus that turns everyone into mindless undead cannibals can somehow turn one guy into the next incarnation of Neo. Personally, he gives me hope that some day I’ll get a cold that gives me a raging case of pyrokinesis. Wesker appears on the back of the box over the blurb, “Discover key plot clues!” How bad did Capcom think this game was that they thought the most exciting, interactive thing players could do would be to understand the dialogue?

RE - Alexia

No, I won’t kill you. In order to make the point that Chris is the stronger character, we’re just going to pit you against my unstable brother Alfred.

Code Veronica ups the usual stakes of Resident Evil by introducing not one, but two complexes with self-destruct mechanisms. Curiously enough, after a false ending halfway through the game, you actually get to return to the site and witness the aftermath of one of these explosions, which apparently have wrought all the devastation of a garbage truck driving past the building while the driver emits an especially prolific fart. Most of the elevators, equipment, and booby traps still work, and save for the occasional bit of rubble fallen across a door, the place seems pretty much intact.

E

10:28:10

38 saves 48 retries

Yeah, by now it’s probably no use hiding how bad I am at these games.

Skyrim – PS3, XBox 360, PC

Skyrim

One of countless beautiful images that aren’t actually taken from real gameplay.

Writing this about halfway through my hiatus, it’s probably a good idea to look back and see how productive my break has been. Let’s see…I sent out submissions for my novel and got about three form rejections and a bunch of non-answers…I got fifteen pages into a play and ran out of plot ideas…oh! This one is fun—I regularly spent my days having nine-year-old kids swearing at me like they’ve got one night of shore leave and want to get into a brawl before visiting the whorehouse. No, I wasn’t playing Call of Duty online. I was substitute teaching fourth grade. Yeah, take that, my parents’ generation; a lifetime of video games made me a pacifist, and one semester of being a responsible adult shepherding the minds of our nations future gave me fantasies of having the authority to draw and quarter children. So after a few weeks of “break,” I began slipping into an existential despair void of all meaning and purpose to the point where I imagined I might soon have to fight against the heroes of a Final Fantasy game. So I did the most reasonable thing I could think of; I played Skyrim.

Skyrim Bear

Fuck you, bear.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, saying, “I need to devote time to my writing” and then popping in The Elder Scrolls V is a lot like those girls in high school who told me, “I’m not ready for a relationship right now” before diving tits-first into bed with some douchebag who’s favorite brand of cigarettes are “found on the side of the roads.”

skyrim_screenshots__solitude_at_night_by_vincent_is_mine-d5bhc67

Yep. A hundred plus hours of beautiful scenery, which sadly is more than we’ll ever see in the real world.

Skyrim expands on the world of Tamriel, taking players to the far northern province. The country is split into several holdings, each ruled by a jarl, proud, stately noblemen and women dedicated to preserving law and order in a bountiful world with a necromancer for every corpse and a clan of bandits for every shopkeeper, and where 95% of the castles, outposts and other government infrastructure have been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. Personally, it doesn’t seem like having such a large and thriving criminal population would work well in a feudalist, capitalist or communist society, but Skyrim operates on a quest-based economy where everyone has an item they need retrieved, a cavern they need explored, or a foe they need slaughtered. Hey, it’s not my place to ask why all these vindictive spelunkers have misplaced their shit. My biggest concern is whether or not the potions I found in these ancient tombs have passed their shelf-life. You know, considering the completely dysfunctional nature of my idealized fantasy worlds, it’s a wonder I don’t vote Republican. I mean, there are so many thousand-year-old monsters awakening from their slumber to unravel the fabric of existence that you’d think Skyrim was the United States Senate.

skyrim_mammoth_bug_xd_by_truesh0ts-d4kc3c1

Yeah, a flying mammoth looks weird, but I guarantee that at least two or three NPCs have a prophecy about it.

Anyway, you play as the Dragonborn, the legendary warrior with the soul of a dragon who will save the world from a magical apocalypse caused by Alduin, the king of the dragons. At least, that’s what the game told me. Fulfilling my role as the archenemy of dragonkind, I once encountered a drake fighting two bears. I killed both bears to catch its attention, but the dragon immediately took off after a deer like a cat chasing a laser pointer. Not to be ignored, I chased down my ancient enemy, only to find him about five minutes later, a short distance from the deer corpse, completely absorbed in mortal combat with a mudcrab. But honestly, who hasn’t turned aside from their ultimate destiny in favor of a seafood buffet? Still, I have to wonder how many times I get ignored for something that crawled out from under a rock before the “it’s like dating in high school” joke gets old, and I have to ask some serious questions about my life.

skyrim mudcrab

Me versus the true dragonborn.

The game follows Western RPG format, meaning it tries to simulate the experience of tabletop gaming without all the pesky social aspects and no way to interact with the game but for a selection of one to three dialogue options thus robbing you of any creative thought or character personality. But if you’re fine playing a character with a personality as vivid and dynamic as a bucket of rocks, there are plenty of skills to practice. In particular, I played as a mage this time, something I rarely do. I might advise against this in the future. I played through the game once as an archer and remember that around level 30 or so, my arrows could tear through bandits like hollow-point shots from a .50 caliber Desert Eagle punching through 2-ply toilet paper. As a mage, though, you’re given an arsenal of spells that do a pre-determined amount of damage despite your level, which is more like trying to punch through a concrete wall using nothing but your forehead and a jar of aspirin. I’m not saying you can’t get by using only the basic skills, but you don’t see a lot of fourth grade music students learn to play a diseased recorder that’s been inside more kids than the combined clergy of the Catholic Church and end up playing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Skyrim Spider

Wait…this isn’t a Skyrim screenshot. This is a picture of me cleaning out my basement here in Duluth.

I thought playing a mage might solve a few problems for me. Carrying around weapons and armor had always severely limited my inventory—a severe problem in a game full of more junk than an old lady’s attic. But not only did I still end up spending more time on inventory management than when I worked as a clerk at Sam Goody, I ended up repeating simple battles for hours on end because I came armed with what amounted to a taser with a dead battery and armor that wouldn’t protect me from a pan of bacon sizzling in the next room. But somehow, I still managed to work my way up to the Archmage of the College of Winterhold, a sweet package that gave me Indiana-Jones-amounts of time off for the purpose of adventuring, and absolutely no responsibilities to teach, help anyone, or maintain the day-to-day operations of the college (so basically, like a regular college administration job). Meh. It looks better on a resume than “substitute teacher” and “hobbyist video game writer with delusions that he’s funny.”

Shadow of Mordor -PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360, PC

shadow-of-mordor-screenshot-gollum-and-ghost

Shadow of Mordor is, quite simply, an Assassin’s Creed clone. Forgive me for going straight for the punchline like I could only afford five minutes with a prostitute, but the fact that Monolith Productions spent ten minutes alone with the Xerox machine in Ubisoft’s office is actually more of a starting point than a final judgment. See, creating a clone of a well-known game tends to present a problem when that game already has a nasty habit of cloning itself. What exactly can you do when trying to emulate a game known for glitches, repetitive meaningless tasks, combat that ramps up the difficulty so slightly that old men race their wheelchairs across it, and a story that aspires to be the novelization of it’s own movie adaptation? Turns out, you can make a halfway decent game.

I say halfway, though because that’s about as far as they got. Monolith cleaned up a lot of the trash lying around Ubisoft’s apartment, but one can only do so much after the carpet has developed a healthy substrate of mycelium and the mushrooms just keep growing back. The story, for example, reads as eloquently as a Trump tweet and contains about as much Tolkien lore as one can glean from finding a copy of the Silmarillion during an especially problematic bowel movement. It opens on Talion, a ranger of Gondor (a job description about as endemic to Middle Earth as “LGBT Bible Salesman of Kansas”) who suffers the obligatory wife-and-child-murder scenario in the opening scene, thus absolving him of any pesky responsibility that would prevent him from romping through the Mordor countryside murdering orcs (because let’s be honest, the one thing we took from the Star Wars Holiday Special is that Chewie is a deadbeat dad who neglects his family as long as it’s not Life Day). He then gets himself possessed by an elven wraith whose true identity will both momentarily amaze die-hard Tolkien fans and confuse anyone who didn’t feel like reading the Bible of Middle Earth. Together they romp through the Mordor countryside, shoving Talion’s sword into so many Uruk-hai that if his blade doesn’t kill them, they’ll probably contract Uruk-HIV and die of Uruk-aids anyway. Rinse and repeat for thirty hours, then kill Sauron in a climactic boss battle that makes Inglorious Basterds look like an introduction to European History course.

Middle-earth™: Shadow of Mordor™_20140926235526

Just a scratch.

Gameplay closely resembles Assassin’s Creed, except Shadow of Mordor doesn’t need to dig up a steady supply of Borgias to assassinate—instead you declare genocidal war on all things green and smelly and you have no end to the supply of Uruks to break your falls from high places. Literally. There’s no end. Many of the monsters you kill come back to life, which gets frustrating when you’re trying to whittle Sauron’s army down to nothing, but to be fair, you come back when they kill you, so I’ll allow them the handicap. Shadow of Mordor also trashes the combat from Assassin’s Creed, so gone is the feeling of trying to beat your way out of a refrigerator with a tire iron, and instead you get more of a feel for how Batman would get on in Middle Earth—both combat and stealth seems to have been lifted straight out of Arkham Asylum. It skews the stealth unrealistically, to the vein of assuming Sauron’s entire army is recovering from Lasik surgery over the same two-day period. At times, Talion would run full-bent towards them, stab them in the face, and then sneak around behind the orc who just witnessed the death, only to hear that orc say, “What was that? Did something move over there?” Absurdly unrealistic as this may be, I wholeheartedly approve of the change. Assassin’s Creed went the route of realistic, which broke the mechanics—sitting on a bench or pushing your way into a gaggle of whores sounded like a really cool assassin stealth technique, but most guards were still smart enough to figure out that there weren’t too many giant hulking men in huge white cloaks carrying more cutlery than a Ginsu commercial through Renaissance Italy.

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The Force has a strong influence on the weak mind.

When you’re not punching holes in the Uruks like you expect to find a prize inside, you travel around the Mordor countryside picking up trash and cleaning up graffiti. These mini-quests do nothing other than give you minute amounts of experience points and, of course, to clean up the place a bit and make Mordor great again. While it sounds useless, again, it’s an improvement over Assassin’s creed where you chase after boxes of useless cash. At least the XP gives you access to new abilities, and while many games grant you abilities that end up being longer, more complicated ways of accomplishing what is easier gained by punching enemies in the face, I actually found myself using almost all of the skills I unlocked by the end.

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This is lame. Why am I not riding a fucking direwolf?

Mordor apparently isn’t big on diversity, and you only really fight four different monsters throughout the game. But that’s fine, right? After all, Tolkien used excruciating detail—sometimes so excruciating that his readers actually felt right there, suffering Gollum’s torture—but he didn’t invent more than a handful of species of monsters. So it’s okay if we only get to fight orcs and uruks, wargs, spiders, trolls, dragons and balrogs. Except we never fight anything nearly as interesting as a dragon or a balrog…the swarming, skittering monsters are zombie-like ghuls instead of spiders, the giant hulking monsters are called graugs, not trolls, the bipedal wolf-like monsters are carragors, not wargs, and the game doesn’t mention orcs other than to say, “these ain’t them.” But don’t worry…there’s literally no end to the supply of Uruk-hai willing to fight you, and each one of them has a nice little speech to deliver before you get to start the battle.

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Man-swine! Let me go into extended detail on my displeasure with our previous encounter, be it for my demise or your return from yours.

Apparently the version of the game I played is not the one I was supposed to. The PS3 and the Xbox 360 editions are, from what I read online, the PS4 edition after being dragged through a mud puddle and then stored for a week in the rotting carcass of a sperm whale. But what it lacks in aesthetic value, it more than makes up for in loading and saving times, making Shadow of Mordor a great game to play when you have a few dozen small chores around the house, but you’re only willing to use the time going in and out of menus to do them. When you account for menu transitions, listening to each uruk tell you its life story, reloading after it kills you, and watching the WWE of Mordor as the uruks kill each other and level-up during death transitions, a 40-hour game quickly turns into about eight or nine hours of gameplay.

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Tinder profiles in Mordor.

The game touts its Nemesis system, which as far as I can tell is a fancy way of saying “we randomly generate enemies, then assign them a name.” Although this feels to me like Monolith’s main selling point is something I did with Lego guys when I was six, the enemies do feel like they have a little more personality than the goons in other games, and the names sound Tolkien-esque (One notable uruk goes by “Ratbag,” clearly inspired by the orcs from the book, Shagrat and Gorbag), even if I have to ride whatever the hell a caragor is in order to kill them. Supposedly, the PS3 version’s Nemesis system functions about as well as a cassette tape in an MRI machine, but I suspect the nearly three-hour update required when I first booted the game fixed some of that. Just add that to the game’s non-play-time counter.