Resident Evil: Communities, Companies and 6

Aaaaaaand… We’re back! Holy crap, it’s nice to have Sherlock back where it belongs. So, we can get back down to the business of writing about and reviewing games! Being without a computer or a phone has been an interesting experience. It was a weird deconstruction of the article I wrote a while back about the emergence of the Singularity over time in our culture. It was a sort of… “Whoa! Hold on! We’re not at full saturation, yet. You’re missing the gaps in your narrative!” In a way, though, it kind of reinforced the experience of my dependence on it for this work. I felt my connection (or lack thereof) palpably. For better or worse, Sherlock is a part of me now. I just shivered a bit writing that. Excuse me while I fan-boy for a second…. k. BUT, now I can get down to the business of reviewing Resident Evil 6! And, just in the nick of time! It goes on sale on Steam today. So, let’s take a look at whether it’s going to be a delicious confection wrapped in a soft, warm shell, or if the franchise has been run through a digestive process already and ended up a bit more… Steam-y.

First, though, we’re doing our spotlights! I like to focus on blogs here, because writing is the medium of expression on WordPress, but I want to bring some more attention to this video. I love Beetlejuice, Minecraft and passion, so it’s not hard to figure out why I’m so enamoured. The next one is a blog post about the top ten depictions of Satan. To me, Satan has always been a really interesting character. He’s so many things to so many people. My favorite literary interpretation comes from William Blake. If you get a chance, then pick up some Blake. Spend some time with him and you won’t be disappointed. Counter-Attack! one of the first blogs I subscribed to on WordPress, is giving away a copy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown this week! Go check them out and maybe you’ll win a copy of the most innovative, integrated, qualitative…sorry… games of this year. Dooo it! Lastly, I’d like to link you to my video review of Painkiller: Hell and Damnation. I hope there aren’t too many ads; the companies that own the rights to the two songs in it filed against me, so I don’t have any control over that. The video is part of my on-going critique of the horror genre and it’s the last one in the planned series that isn’t actually a horror game. Enjoy!

…Speaking of contests! I’m going to be doing a BioShock: Infinite letsplay the minute I get my hands on a fully-downloaded copy of the game. As luck would have it, I pre-ordered a copy, and it came with a few extras. One of them is a copy of the original masterpiece that started it all. I already own this awesome game, naturally, but if you don’t, then just follow the link I’ll be posting on here to my video, Like/Comment and send me a message on YouTube with your name, e-mail or Steam account. Then, I’ll put all the names in my hollow plastic skull and pick one. The winner gets a copy of the game and the knowledge that they umm… watched a couple of my letsplays. Only the first two videos in the BS:I series will be eligible and you can only enter once per video, but, if response is low enough, your odds will be fantastic! I’ll be holding the draw a week from the release date (March 26, 2013), so you’ve got some time to enter.

#Realtalk: Next, because I didn’t get to do a full post last week, I want to quickly address another issue that has been niggling at me: defining gamer. If you’re part of any gaming Facebook groups or frequent any meme sites, I’m sure you’ve seen the odd picture depicting a straw-man gamer with a quote-witty-unquote response along the lines of, “You’re not a real gamer. WTF casual newb. (Or…) Ger merk serndwich, slurt!” I find this incredibly discouraging. Gaming as a medium is growing up, and we can’t keep this to ourselves. People argue that the “casuals” are flooding the market and accepting more sludge as a result. I have a couple problems with this idea… The more people there are in the market, the more capital they will introduce. The more capital they introduce, the larger the market will grow. The more it grows, the more concentrations and niches we’ll begin to see. The market will diversify. You will find people to serve your niche if you know where to look. Right now, I’m cozying up to project Greenlight on Steam, but there are a thousand more developers making games that you just have to look to find. Before you argue about the quantity of titles being produced, you need to look for them. Second, I’ve been gaming for a long time. I remember the stuff that was being produced for the Super Nintendo. Believe me, it’s not the flood of “casual” gamers that’s causing the games industry to spew out simplified-sludge; it’s a time-honored industry practice. Whenever a movie came out, or an artist found a cool picture or a piece of clay fell and resembled a cat, they made a platformer about it. A lot of the passion and innovation we remember came from smaller, cottage projects or as a result of years of work from the industry at large. Silent Hill 2 wasn’t programmed in a day. For every good game, there was always a bunch of knock-offs or so-so titles out there to frame it. So, don’t think this is a new thing.

Last, I’d like to say that we shouldn’t be worried about defining “gamer.” It’s a subjective thing and it’s a term that’s going to evolve and, someday, hopefully, become meaningless. Vestigial. “Oh, you’re a gamer? Cool, I think most people are to some extent.” Games are spreading and we shouldn’t be rejecting people. We should be welcoming them into the fold and guiding their exploration. Shepherding and critiquing. Recommending and welcoming. If we’ve been gaming for a long time, then we’ve got a wealth of available knowledge and experience to help people discover new experiences. What we shouldn’t be doing is telling people they can’t be one of us, or that they don’t qualify. If you gamed as much as I did in high school, you might have experienced a bit of ostracization. That’s the common nerd-narrative, isn’t it? The truth is, despite playing Magic cards, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon in the hallways, I don’t remember ever caring. I had my world and the things I thought were cool. Occasionally, I got to share that appreciation with someone new. That was always a rewarding experience. However, if we are, indeed, the care-takers and key-masters of this World of Games, then shouldn’t we honor the narrative of the “geek-community” and learn from the sting of the rejection we’re supposed to have felt? Or, are we going to make the same mistakes as the guys from “Revenge of the Nerds” and end up with sand on our faces? Gaming is growing up. So, we, its community, need to, as well. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I needed to get that off my chest. And, hey, if other parts of the community want to be xenophobic, then the reasonable parts of it can go and do our own thing and help newer gamers decide what we want “gamer” to mean to us. Besides, if people want to go about bandying relative meanings for “gamer,” then what does it mean that I started learning how to play cards and chess around the time I was five? I’m not going to hold that, or any lack of experience with gambling debts, against anyone. Honestly, though, I can write all I want, but I –think – –Extra– –Credits– –said– –it– –better-.

Alright… let’s get to it!

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Ostensibly, this review is for people who might be thinking of buying the game on Steam, so I’m not going to spoil the plot, but, suffice to say, it has Resident Evil and Capcom written all over it. So, it’s not what you’d call… deep. However, it does explore some issues that the other games left hanging. Issues like: actual combat-organizations using bio-terror weapons in conjunction with organized armies, the nature of fighting a weapon that is alive and the difficulty of extinguishing an enemy that isn’t an entity, but a process. An idea. An idea of us. THE TRUE MONSTER IS MAAAAN!! Sorry, I love saying that.

The characters are a little more complex, but still deliver their dialogue like they got caught off-guard by the microphone. Some of the dialogue is hilarious in and out of context and the complexities of character-motivation are, as always, both mysteriously obtuse and face-meltingly obvious at the same time. They do, however, take their time and really try to get into their character’s heads in a way that they haven’t before, especially Chris. Leon hangs out and does Leon-stuff, so that’s always a plus. Hunnigan makes a come-back and actually gets some screen time, and, for a RE game, has some decently legitimate chemistry with the characters she interacts with. I’m not going to spoil the rest, because it’s convoluted and ridiculous enough to be enjoyable. There’s also something to be said for the web-motif and the relation of the plot-points, and I think I saw what they did there. Feel like playing an arachnid simulation? Hmm?

You can pick to start the campaign from any of three points, but I think most people are going to start with Leon, since it’s at the top of the list, so we’ll focus on that for now. The intro-sequence is pretty well done and shows a commitment to pacing and interactive quality. There’s a set-piece in the subway that actually shows a legitimate consideration of horror-elements. Shadows on the wall in the distance, ravenous sounds in the distance… it’s almost like something out of 28 Days Later.  However, when I started the next (Chris’ campaign) section, it took me 13 minutes from the time I pressed start to get to the point when I actually knew I was playing the game.

This is, in part, because of Resident Evil 6’s approach to game-play. Sure, there’s a mechanic where you aim a red dot at things and you shoot the thing and then the thing might die, but large portions of the game take place in the language of contextual button-presses and rely on a sense of Kinaesthetic Projection to feed into your actions and the actions of the character on the screen. In many ways, it’s pretty intuitive. You’re in a car, you’re looking for the keys, so you press the right control-stick to look around for them. It sounds straight-forward, but it’s not you moving the character, it’s you deciding in which direction the character is going to move itself. So, the KP is sort of ruined. To be fair, the actions all make sense, and there’s nothing that’s really going to throw you; the quick-time events are nicely cued and give you more than enough time to figure them out before punishing you. It gives the game a more cinematic feel, but I think that honestly works against it at times. I just don’t feel immersed enough to experience the events as a player, but I also don’t feel detached enough to project myself like a viewer. It’s an awkward middle ground, but I see what they were trying to do in terms of interactive story-telling and I have to respect that. I don’t, however, have to respect being locked in a vehicle for five minutes with nothing to do but look around. It’s a cool sequence, but it felt forced. Hollow. Sweet. The game-play flows into the cinematics so well that it’s hard to tell the two apart at times. That isn’t praise, though. This is, after all, a game, not a movie.

The parts of the game-play that are there are pretty good, though. The aiming system they’ve been using since RE4 makes a return, but brings a beefed-up melee system with it. It’s limited by a stamina bar and includes contextual attack-moves depending on your proximity to enemies. When it works, it looks awesome. You’ll pull a knife out of a zombie’s chest and force it to make friends with its brain. When it doesn’t, though, you’ll back-hand a wall while a zombie eats your face. The HUD is nicely designed and changes aesthetically based on your campaign. Leon, for instance, uses a touch-screen phone to keep track of his objectives, health, stamina, ammo and herbs. I’d really like to know where he got those apps from. Probably a secret-service thing.

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Herbs are kept in your bag when they’re waiting to be used, but, once you’re ready to “spend” one, it gets broken down into chunks based on its strength (a max of 6 for a red + green combo) and deposited into a pool on your HUD. This pool can then be accessed on the fly like a supply of tic-tacs and used to replenish one minty-fresh breath’s worth of health. If you run out of health, then you collapse on the ground and have to either wait out a timer or wait for your partner to revive you. Then, you either take a herb-tac, or you die the next time you go down. (There’s an upgrade that makes your partner feed you a herb when they revive you on single-player that has the function of making you almost immortal. Oops. Although, honestly, a pat on the chest would probably serve just as well)

When a zombie gets on you, your health will slowly drain, even if it’s not actively damaging you with teeth. This lead to a couple unusual scenes where I had waited out my death-timer and gotten up just in time to be ballroom tackled by another zombie and, while turning in place, my health ran out. This was followed by my partner’s hilarious dramatic cry, “LEON!!” that follows every death. Only, this time, there were under-tones of jealousy, as if she was saying, “How dare you dance with him! See if I stitch your face back on again!”

The end of each level, each kill and pick-ups in the midst of it all allow you to collect “skill points” that let you unlock upgrades for your characters (Although, I’d hate to see what Capcom considers skill, given what it rewards them for). Each of these upgrades can dramatically change the game itself. I mentioned the partner-herb-revival one earlier, but there are a bunch. One increases the drop rate of items from downed enemies. take this upgrade with caution, because it virtually ensures that you won’t run out of ammo for most of the game. I mean, you can try to spray your name on the wall in bullets, and, yeah, that’ll probably bleed you dry, but regular combat won’t be impeded by ammo consumption. The weapons are nicely varied. but it’s all pretty standard fare. If you’ve played a shooter in the last six years, then don’t hold out for anything new. It’s all pretty much the same stuff that was in RE4, but why fix what isn’t broken?

The enemies themselves are a little more varied than most Resident Evil games, if only because you’re actually fighting deployed biological weapons. They make nice additions to the set-pieces and mesh well enough to really bring the world to life. I think you might really enjoy some of the outdoor sequences of the city tearing itself apart, tooth and nail. Even the graveyard scene uses its monsters to create a vague Poltergeist homage. Of course, while the enemy types are a little more varied, the individual enemies get copy-pasted a lot. A few times, I found myself fighting three of the same guy, and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of existential crisis they’d be having if their brains hadn’t turned to goo and their stomachs hadn’t rotted their appetite out the bottom of them.

The improved enemy variation brings predictable, but welcome, mechanics with it. However, the boss fights really profit from the growth in variation, even if they absolutely refuse to stay down when you kill them (Remember: the most powerful weapons in the Resident Evil universe are angry punches). One of them was almost a puzzle in itself. I won’t ruin it, but you’ll know it when you get to it. Overall, the puzzles are actually pretty well implemented and, I think you’ll clever your way through them before you even realize you’re utilizing lateral thinking skills and pattern recognition. Of course, they’re not particularly difficult, but their smooth integration into the story and game-play is thoroughly appreciated. This isn’t just a pile of books in a book store with a poem, now is it, Heather?

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Sorry. Umm… speaking of characters! Capcom seems to have decided that they give up on programming AI that can deal with differential inventory management and have just sealed your partner’s goodie-bag off. As a result, you won’t get any moments where your partner will whip out a health spray for a boo-boo or waste all your shotgun rounds on a giant crab while it’s functionally invincible. The AI just seems smarter in general. It’s pretty decent at reviving you and it never once managed to grenade me or a hostage to death. It follows you pretty closely, but that leads to some ridiculous moments when you’ll be running down a hallway and (after hours of hand-to-hand combat and unbelievably nimble escapes) unavoidably trip over a body that’s sprawled, like an obvious troll, on the ground. Then, your partner, ostensibly a sophisticated, composed, graceful agent of death, will notice your mistake and follow suit.

The continuity in the game is pretty messed up, as well. At one point, you fall into an hour-long flashback about your time in ‘Nam, and, when you emerge blinking into the real world, you’ll be carrying the items you had in the memory. Whoa. That’s some mind-bending epistemological shit, right there. And, because of Leon’s magical TARDIS hair-cut, you’ll end up revisiting the intro-sequence again, but the entire experience is very, very different. One might say, entirely so. That part is pretty much glossed-over, too. Overall, though, it holds together pretty functionally, and the narrative is decently organized, delivered in nice bite-sized chunks. It’s the usual string of ridiculous coincidences, but, what were you expecting?

The differences between the campaign settings are pretty pronounced and I like how it provides a sense of transition without removing you from the game entirely. Each one focuses on a different sort of engagement based on the enemies and settings it utilizes. I said earlier that the monsters bring the set-pieces to life, and it really shows between settings. Leon’s campaign is a little more zombie-survival-horror oriented, while Chris follows a tank around and blows enemies away with a machine gun. It’s actual bio-weapon combat, which I really like. So often, we see Umbrella-tech being deployed accidentally, and it was refreshing to see it being utilized as weapon’s tech. I thought it was a nice touch. I won’t describe the other campaigns, so you’ll have something to discover, but I think it highlights how a small change in engagement and enemy-focus can alter an entire game-play experience. It feels like a few games in one, despite the fact that the control scheme remains constant.

Overall, it’s ridiculous, over-the-top, cinematic (is that good?), campy-gritty-serious and fun on a certain level. The pre-baked action sequences, cinematics, and death and knock-down mechanics can get in the way of things occasionally, but they aren’t deal-breakers. The aesthetic changes between campaign settings serve to provide a nice level of demarcation, while also reinforcing an experiential progression narrative. However, they never go so far as to render it entirely different. The HUD is clever and the AI partner is a huge step up from the usual Capcom dross. The combat is nicely visceral, but the QTEs can leave you feeling a little disconnected. They’re still a bit jolting. When the cinematic-game fusion quality works well, it’s seamless and wonderful, but, when it breaks down, and it often does, it ends up being hilarious. Bosses are appropriately climactic and the story-line is grade-A Resident Evil material. The characters are enjoyable, and the settings and set-pieces are varied enough to keep things interesting. The monsters are occasionally imaginative, but usually derivative, and, oh yes, there are enough zombie skulls to smash to keep you playing for hours.

There’s a multi-player option that you can en/disable that allows people to hop into your game as a monster or a partner, but I avoided it. Didn’t seem like much fun, honestly. Why would I give up my AI partner now that they’ve finally made it decent? Besides, it lets me faff around more when I’m not following someone that’s just plowing trough the levels. The atmosphere and glitches are some of the best parts of the game, as well as the hilarious situations (HOW MANY SECRET LABS ARE THERE? HUH? WHERE IS THERE NOT A LAB?!?), so you might want to take your time through them. Still, it could be fun to hop in a game and take over a zombie. After all, they have been sped up enough to compensate for the increased speed and abilities of the player, relative to the original Resident Evil games. Why not take advantage of it to work out those repressed feelings of anger towards the hairdresser that cut your hair too short for the first time by chewing someone’s scalp clean off?

For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the experience more than I hated it, despite, or perhaps because of, the cheesy dialogue. I give it 3 oily saxophone players of radically different heights out of a fifth of vodka chased with custard.  If you’re in to this series, then I’d recommend it.

Although, Gamer Cat questions your credentials. Are you nerd enough for Leon’s new hair? I guess we’ll see. Yes, what is with all the cute animals lately? I don’t know. Take care until next time. I’ll see you on the other side!

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Something after the animal this week? OH! I got the results from the letsplay requests back. Now, it’s time to vote on the next one!

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