Retrospective: Left Behind II – Tribulation Force (2002)

Welcome back to the Left Behind retrospective! In this entry we’ll be going over the second film in the franchise, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force. To everyone’s shock and surprise, I didn’t think that the original Left Behind was all that bad – sure, it was extremely cheap, and the source material is garbage, but the movie itself managed to mine the drama and excitement of its apocalyptic premise well enough. Could they keep this (relative) quality up going into the sequel? Read on to find out…

Okay, I had some nice things to say about the original movie’s poster, but this one’s just bad. Random, distant shot of Kirk Cameron looking moody? Really indistinct picture of Nicolae framed against flames? This poster communicates basically nothing about the movie and looks like a high school media arts project at best.

Production

In spite of the poor theatrical run of Left Behind: The Movie, DVD sales were healthy, with over three million copies sold. This reception was strong enough for Cloud Ten to greenlight a sequel, in spite of potential issues which could arise due to their ongoing legal battle with Tim LaHaye. Cloud Ten insisted that the sequel would continue regardless, to which LaHaye stated: “Whether the second movie will happen or not will be settled by the court.”

Well, turns out that Cloud Ten and Namesake pictures got the last laugh, because the courts dismissed LaHaye’s case. He would go on to appeal, but we’ll cover the results of that in later entries… For now, Tribulation Force was a go.

The second Left Behind film would be based on the second book, Tribulation Force, which continues to follow the characters from the previous book in the aftermath of the Rapture, leading into the beginning of the Tribulation. Perhaps due to budget, the movie would not include the most exciting (and expensive) part of the book – World War III, where Nicolae goes to war with all the nations that haven’t submitted entirely to him. Instead, Tribulation Force would cover the time period leading up to those events and the next movie would be dedicated entirely to WWIII.

This brings us to a character who, despite playing a very small part in the making of the film, influenced it in a way that can be felt strongly: pastor and evangelist Ray Comfort, a man so easy to make fun of that even Wikipedia pulled off a Fatality on him. You know those fake $100 bills you come across which end up having a Bible tract on the back? This guy is the sonofabitch responsible for those things. He also really hates evolution, having written a book called You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think and an abridged (and suspiciously-edited) version of “On the Origin of Species”. During my research into this movie I found that he had written a book about the making of the film, which I attempted to track down. If you followed my Twitter account in the last few weeks, you would know that this did not go well. I did eventually get the book though and read through it…

According to Miracle in the Making, Kirk Cameron had met Ray Comfort in the 90s, and instantly found his teachings to be captivating. The pair would become close friends and collaborators, and would eventually go into ministry together. During the production of Tribulation Force, Kirk confided to Ray that he and Chelsea were considering dropping out of the movie. Two weeks out from the start of shooting, the script had not been finalized, contracts had not been signed, and they didn’t even know who else was going to be in the movie at that point. However, Ray convinced him to stay on in order to champion the film’s message. Together, he and Kirk rewrote the script to include a stronger evangelistic message and, after pitching the changes to Cloud Ten, the producers agreed to incorporate them.

…that’s about all we learn from Ray Comfort about the making of the movie. Forgive me for going on a tangent away from Tribulation Force, but I need to indulge for a bit: Miracle in the Making is 100 pages long, about maybe 15 pages of which have anything to do with Tribulation Force. The rest is a meandering gaggle of Ray preaching about his doctrine (basically, keeping the Ten Commandments is the most important element of salvation), telling parables about two guys wearing parachutes on an airplane, telling stories about getting told to fuck off by Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, debating atheists, hanging out with celebrities, and harassing restaurant-goers (and others besides) with Bible tracts. It’s also got some jaw-dropping moments, like Ray Comfort and Tim LaHaye joking about their chances of being accused of sexual harassment. He also tells a story about how he was on notice for jury duty on a case where a truck driver had been carrying unsecured boxes, which came off the truck and caused an accident with back and neck injuries. Ray bragged that he got off jury duty because he declared that he found the idea of making someone pay for an accident abhorrent and that he “wouldn’t give the guy a bean”… DUDE, assuming that the injury is indeed legitimate (which is the job of the trial to determine in any case), that guy is gonna be dealing with medical bills for life, which he’s not going to be able to afford with America’s shitty healthcare system, and this “accident” is directly due to the driver’s negligence. This is a textbook case of why suing people is so common in the States and why the system even exists in the first place.

Maybe the biggest shock though was how Ray Comfort describes how Kirk Cameron first became enamored with his preaching. Cameron describes how “I believe I was robbed of the deep pain of seeing the depth of my sinfulness, of experiencing the exceeding joy and gratitude that comes from the cross, because I was convinced of God’s love before I was convinced of my sin. […] I had never opened up the Ten Commandments and looked deep into the well of my sinful heart. I never imagined that God was actually angry with me at a certain point because of my sin.” THAT is emblematic of Comfort’s doctrine – Jesus may love you, but God hates your sin more and if you don’t do something about that then you were never “really” a Christian to begin with. Take his argument against the idea that the church is full of self-righteous hypocrites: “There are no hypocrites in the Church. Hypocrites are pretenders, masquerading as genuine Christians. God sees the pretenders and He sees the genuine, and warns that they will be sorted out on Judgement Day”. Keep all this in mind as we go into the film whose script he helped influence…

Is… is Ray Comfort responsible for making Kirk Cameron into Kirk Cameron, the guy we all know and hate now…?

Anyway, back to Tribulation Force… As I stated earlier, Kirk Cameron and Chelsea Noble both returned to reprise their roles, as did many of the cast from the original film – not just the main cast either, like Brad Johnson, Clarence Gilyard Jr, Janaya Stephens and Gordon Currie, but also smaller roles like David Macniven (who played Rayford’s co-pilot, Chris), Krista Bridges (who played Buck’s assistant, Ivy Gold), and Christie MacFadyen (who played Rayford’s Raptured wife). It’s honestly extremely impressive that they were able to get everyone together, especially considering that most of the cast wasn’t secured until the last minute.

Directing duties would go to Bill Corcoran, a long-time, workman Canadian filmmaker. Like the original, filming occurred in and around Toronto, including the scenes in Israel (I didn’t see any camels this time though, sadly). Normally I wouldn’t mention anything about the editing, but I got extremely excited when I saw that Michael Doherty edited this movie. The Michael Doherty of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus fame!? I was excited about this for days, but literally as I am writing this I realized that Michael Doherty is (sadly) not Michael Dougherty. Dude still edited the latter-date Romero zombie movies and several episodes of Hannibal, so that’s cool, but significantly less exciting than I had thought…

The budget of this film is estimated to have been around $3.8 million, significantly less than the original’s reported $17.4 million, although if the estimated budget for Left Behind of $4 million was accurate, then this actually wasn’t that much of a drop. Unlike the first film, Tribulation Force skipped a theatrical release entirely, only going straight-to-DVD, with some churches choosing to screen it privately.

Plot Synopsis

Tribulation Force opens with Nicolae working on establishing the UN as a one-world government, as he consolidates the major currencies into a single global currency and begins taking steps towards founding a one-world religion. He is impressed by Buck’s reporting and requests a meeting with the reporter, who is uneasy about doing so after having just witnessed him murder Stonagal and Todd-Cothran in the previous film. Buck, Rayford, Chloe, and Bruce debate about what they should do now that they know that Nicolae is the Antichrist. They hear rumours about three men burning to death at the Wailing Wall in Israel and Bruce believes that this is the doing of the “two witnesses” who are prophesied to lead thousands to Christ during the end times. However, the area has been placed off-limits and their message is being suppressed. After much deliberation, Rayford and Buck decide to get closer to Nicolae to leverage their positions to fight back against him – Buck will attempt to get the message of the witnesses out, while Rayford will become Nicolae’s pilot in order to spy on him.

During their meeting, Nicolae agrees to give Buck full UN security clearance in exchange for becoming his personal voice in the media. Meanwhile, Rayford leverages his connections with Hattie in order to get the job as Nicolae’s personal pilot. While all this is happening, Chloe grows increasingly concerned about the safety of her father and Buck, while also getting jealous and throwing a fit for a while because she mistakenly believes that Buck is cheating on her. This is because his assistant, Ivy Gold, is staying at his apartment, since she has nowhere else to stay due to the post-Rapture chaos (women, amiright?). The couple manage to make amends before Buck and Rayford travel to Israel for a press conference, where a leading religious scholar, Tsion Ben-Judah, is due to make an announcement about the identity of the Jewish Messiah.

During the flight over, Rayford discovers that Ben-Judah’s announcement will be that Nicolae is the Messiah. They decide to intercept him and try to get him to speak with the witnesses, who will be able to convince him through God’s word that Jesus is the real Messiah. Buck manages to convince Ben-Judah to confront the witnesses with the ruse of performing an interview to discredit them. Ben-Judah accepts and the pair confront the witnesses on the temple mount. The witnesses say some Bible verses, and then they shoot flames out of their mouths to burn a couple soldiers to death. Buck is distressed to discover that the UN cut off his broadcast before the witnesses could say anything, but he hopes that Ben-Judah heard enough to change his coming speech.

The next day, Ben-Judah makes his proclamation on international broadcast that the Messiah could only have been Jesus. Nicolae is enraged and tries to stop the broadcast, but Rayford sabotages his ability to do so, and the proclamation goes off unhindered. The film ends with the Tribulation Force gathering to celebrate this victory against the Antichrist as Nicolae swears vengeance against God…

Review

When I originally saw Left Behind: The Movie as a kid, I recall that I thought it wasn’t bad. I was surprised to find that I agreed with this watching it again 20+ years later. As a kid, I thought that Left Behind II: Tribulation Force SUCKED, and I am completely unsurprised to find that this has also held true. This isn’t a shock at all – the book, Tribulation Force, also sucked. Even as a kid, I found it incredibly dull, to the point where I got fed up, and skipped over like fifty pages of it just to get to the World War III section… which isn’t even in this movie, so that should give you an idea of how much this film is scraping the barrel for anything of interest. While I understand that cutting out a massive war was probably done for budget reasons, it’s kind of insane – each Left Behind book almost entirely revolves around some massive disaster or dramatic event that defines that entry: Nicolae is the earthquake book, Apollyon is the demon locust book, Assassins is the insane Nicolae murder conspiracy book, etc. The decision to excise the novel’s climax has massive repercussions on the movie, because everything that remains is so FUCKING DULL.

I’ll get the nice stuff out of the way first. The cast were easily one of the best parts of the first movie and it’s nice to see them get to reprise their roles. They still do a decent job, especially Brad Johnson (who portrays Ray as putting up a manly-man façade, but is clearly still traumatized over losing his wife and son) and Gordon Currie (who’s hamming it up more than ever), although they are really let down by the much weaker script. That said, putting aside the issues caused by removing the big climax from the book, Tribulation Force actually improves on its source material in some areas. In the book, Tsion Ben-Judah comes to the conclusion that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah on his own and, for some reason, the world is interested enough that this announcement becomes international, live broadcast news. However, the movie changes this so that the whole announcement and broadcast is orchestrated propaganda – it’s heavily implied that Ben-Judah has been intercepted by Nicolae and brainwashed into believing that he is the Messiah, all as part of Nicolae’s plan to establish his one-world religion. Thus, it becomes up to our heroes to save the day and spread the truth. This ends up being orders of magnitude more tense and interesting than what was put to page.

I also appreciate that this film seems to have more compassion for its characters than the source material. In the first book, Chris (Rayford’s co-pilot) commits suicide off-screen immediately after discovering that his entire family were Raptured. In Tribulation Force, there is an extended sequence dedicated to saving Chris – not just from suicide, but converting him so he can be with his family again someday. On the one hand, his fate in the books really underscores the devastating magnitude of the Rapture and the effects it can (and would) have on those left behind. However, step back a bit, and this is basically Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye conceptualizing a character and then condemning him to an eternity of torment while his family who love him are separated from him forever… and all this is justified because, according to their doctrine, he deserves it. Just thinking about it reminds me why, if God is truly all-loving, then universal reconciliation surely must be true doctrine, because the alternative reflects very poorly on Him and makes salvation an existential horror. Meanwhile, giving Chris the opportunity to be saved is far more in keeping with the sort of fate a Christian should want for a character and I’m kind of glad that he gets his little redemption arc in this adaptation.

Wait a minute… there’s no shadows being cast by the witnesses from the flamethrower attack.

And… uh… that’s about all the good I have to say about this movie. Everything that was a problem in the previous movie is still here: poor lighting, cheap sets, unconvincing special effects, etc. However, everything feels so much worse. If Left Behind: The Movie was, as Tim LaHaye put it, a glorified church basement movie, Tribulation Force is very much a church basement movie. The first movie at least had a pretty ambitious opening scene with lots of practical explosions and a real car bombing later, this movie has… a very brief fire stunt and that’s it. You’ve got alleyway sets where they’ve thrown trash all over the place to represent the post-Rapture lawlessness. We’ve got UN soldiers and Israeli army in what are clearly WWII-era army surplus uniforms. The Israel restaurant set looks like it was a reused Arabic bazaar. Nicolae’s plane changes models three different times depending on what location or stock footage the scene is using. Tribulation Force is operating on a much smaller scale than the previous film and when it tries to widen that scope beyond “American house/church” you can reeeeally feel how small this film’s budget was.

The direction of the film is also notably worse. This is perhaps best demonstrated recalling the scene of Nicolae murdering Stonagal and Todd-Cothran in the first movie, and then comparing it to the scene of Buck meeting Nicolae in Tribulation Force. The first movie nailed the execution of that scene, creating a very tense sequence which effectively demonstrates the character and otherworldly menace of Nicolae, visually demonstrates that Buck is immune to his charms, and communicates that he’s terrified that Nicolae might realize this. Conceptually, the rooftop meeting could manage to be comparable: Buck is voluntarily putting himself within reach of his sworn enemy, who may or may not know his secret. Plus, visually, the scene is evocative of the temptation of Christ, which seems relevant since Buck is literally making a deal with the Devil. However, in execution, this scene really fails. There’s nothing sinister about the meeting, no tension at all in the way that it’s filmed. Any tension to be had is wrought out of the dialogue, but it is utterly neutered by unimaginative direction. The fact that the meeting is occurring on a rooftop even seems to be completely irrelevant – they might as well be meeting in the street, or a café for all it’s worth. Not even a camera movement to suggest “Oh my God, is he going to throw me off the roof?” Hell, you could have an awesome character moment for Buck if he just thinks “I could push the Antichrist off this roof right now”… and all it would take is someone deciding to shoot anything other than two angles of medium close ups.

However, all of this pales in comparison to the actual problem with this movie, and that is unquestionably the script. As I’ve already said several times, cutting out the novel’s climax has huge repercussions on the movie. The entire climax has been excised and they have to compensate by spinning a lot of wheels in order to get Tribulation Force barely over a 90 minute runtime. This results in some excruciating scenes as the film grinds its pacing to a halt and wastes as much time as humanly possible. Nearly the first ten minutes of the film are just people watching TV: Nicolae watching Buck reporting the news. Bruce watching Nicolae at the UN. Buck watching the same broadcast, but from an entirely different location. Barely any of this serves anything but to dump some exposition about the state of the world and to establish why Nicolae wants to turn Buck into an ally (although given their relationship in the previous film, this probably wouldn’t even be necessary). It’s also really awkward to have the scenes constantly get inter-cut with footage of Bruce, who doesn’t react or say a damn thing the entire time, and won’t even get a line for about another five minutes. It’s like they need to remind us that he exists because he barely got to do anything in the last movie.

The absolute worst part though is the awful, awful, AWFUL attempt at romantic drama which dominates a putrid, nearly fifteen minute chunk of this film. Chloe and Buck have become an item between the end of the last film and the start of this one and Chloe wants to make things more serious with him. However, through a set of extremely contrived circumstances, she goes to his apartment and finds Ivy Gold staying there, who flashes her engagement ring and tells her to piss off. Chloe then gets pissed off at Buck, refuses to talk to him, and acts like a child, all while Ray tells her that she’s acting like an idiot. When it’s finally revealed that she’s misunderstood the whole situation, it comes across like the film’s just dropped a bucket of shit on her, because she obviously should have trusted Buck all along. How awful it is that she would not assume he was innocent! This whole storyline adds nothing to the overarching plot, is nothing but absolute bottom-barrel romantic comedy tropes, and serves nothing but to pad out the runtime.

Really, the film is just constantly shitting on Chloe during the first half – when Rayford takes down photos of his wife and son, Chloe comes across like she’s whining when she makes some very reasonable points. When Rayford and Buck decide to put themselves in harm’s way for the cause, she whines and sulks about it. She’s just such a wet blanket that it nearly gave me whiplash when, in the second half, they turn around and let her be competent at serving in the church’s makeshift hospital and she even becomes friends with Ivy Gold. Adding it all up, it just clearly shows where Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ opinions on women in the church lie: while the men are off doing big, “important things” throughout the movie, Chloe (when she’s not being an emotional burden on them) is stuck comforting the dying and getting over jealousy. She’s clearly side-lined and “lesser”, and it’s an issue which sticks with her through the entire book series (well, until her untimely demise, anyway).

On top of all this, the writing also just happens to be really stupid at times. Like, the film opens with Nicolae seeing Buck on TV and going “Wow, he’s so cool, I want him on my team!” Buck has literally just been providing a basic overview of what has happened in society since the Rapture happened. There’s nothing notable or exceptional about it or Buck’s reporting, but it gets treated like he’s an eloquent, hard-truth-speaking genius. Or how about how Rayford refuses to become Nicolae’s private pilot because it would be dangerous and then Bruce berates him for being selfish, but literally one scene later Buck says he’s going to get access to the two witnesses to spread their gospel and Bruce says “I dunno Buck, that’s dangerous, you sure?” You could miss the inconsistency entirely if they weren’t literally back-to-back scenes, but as is, it makes it seem like Bruce just really hates Ray and wants him to go get himself killed. Or how about when Nicolae is told to arrest the witnesses, he says “I do not want to put them in jail, this is not a dictatorship.” DUDE! They lit three people on fire, arrest them all you want, no one is going to complain! Or how about how Tsion Ben-Judah becomes convinced that Jesus is the real Messiah because the two witnesses literally just quote some Bible verses to him. I need to explain why this is so insane: Tsion Ben-Judah is apparently the world’s greatest religious scholar. Are you telling me he hasn’t even read the Bible or spoken with Christians before in his studies? He doesn’t even argue with the witnesses, the thing he is supposed to be meeting with them to do in the first place! Man, I sure am glad that they axed the WWIII climax in favour of this one!

In regards to the writing, one way that Tribulation Force really differentiates itself from its predecessor is by being an exponentially-preachier film. If you weren’t a Christian already, you could probably get through Left Behind: The Movie without feeling like you were being outright preached to the whole time – it feels like a narrative moreso than a sermon. In comparison, Tribulation Force spends far more time unabashedly focused on preaching to its audience. Your taste for this change will vary significantly – I’ve always been of the opinion that these movies are almost entirely made by evangelicals, for evangelicals, and so any preaching is literally being done to the choir. It’s less about changing hearts and minds, and more about pandering and reinforcing the audience’s existing beliefs. I would not say that this is necessarily a bad thing in itself; rather, that the execution is poor…

What is this, some kind of Tribulation Force?

…which, finally, brings us to good ol’ Ray Comfort’s contributions to the film. He and Kirk Cameron wanted to make this film more “evangelistic”, and boy did they take a sledge-hammer to the script (despite Ray Comfort literally saying in his book that movies that preach to the audience suck). The most blatant example of this is when Rayford is trying to convince Chris to submit to Jesus. The arguments that Rayford uses to convince Chris that Jesus is real are straight out of Ray Comfort’s mouth… and they kinda suck. Rayford has two big points he pushes to try to convince Chris not to kill himself:

  1. You’re not a good person, because if you ever committed a single sin in your life, then you’re tainted in God’s eyes. Also, the parameters of potential slip-ups are way broader than you would think, so God’s extra unfair to you (eg, if you covet then you’re a thief in God’s eyes, if you get angry then you’re a murderer, if you look lustfully then you’re having pre-marital sex, etc). Therefore you need to submit to God, or you’re gonna roast in Hell.
  2. Gun to head, all else has failed, what can Ray possibly say to convince Chris not to do it? “Hey, maybe there’s a God, or maybe there isn’t! If there isn’t, then we both end up the same. If there is, then you go to heaven if you listen to me, or hell if you don’t! Which would you prefer?” I need to iterate that THIS IS THE ARGUMENT THAT CONVINCES HIM TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN!!!

Having spent a couple years in university associated with Campus4Christ, I can attest that these sorts of crap evangelism tactics don’t really hold up to any sort of scrutiny. Like, “if you get angry, you’re a murderer in God’s eyes”. Umm, no, that’s kind of an insane difference, God. Where is the justice in the idea that God is just waiting for us to slip up even a tiny bit, just so He can punish us to the full extent? All that Ray has really done is use the movie to push his own, very narrow view of faith, and weigh down the script with poorly considered arguments that aren’t convincing to anyone outside of the target audience. Honestly, a bit of reframing could do wonders – “Umm, ackshully, the rules say that you’re a thief, murderer, and an adulterer!” is extremely unconvincing, but change that to “You may not be as bad as a full-on murderer, but in comparison to the perfection of God, you are just as much of a sinner”. There’s an actual argument here, one that actually meets them where they are and doesn’t hinge on them accepting that God views them as the most extreme kinds of sinner.

Overall, there really isn’t a whole lot to say about Tribulation Force (I say, approximately 4000+ words deep in this retrospective). It’s a movie whose greatest struggle is simply in finding ways to waste time until anything of importance has to happen. The result, predictably, is a dull and slow slog with no satisfying payoff. There is precious little plot here and it is surrounded by long stretches of wheel spinning. The movie is barely 90 minutes long and you can feel how they padded the runtime significantly to get it to “proper” movie length. Considering that approximately ten of those minutes are directly dedicated to the infuriating “romantic misunderstanding” storyline, I can pretty much guarantee that an arbitrary runtime was the entire reason the pacing is so bad in this movie. With some more judicious editing, this could easily have been a far better film at 70 minutes (or even 60)… but then they’d have to find some other way to end this story. A shame, if only there was some other ending that they could have used instead…

2.5/10

Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in this series, Left Behind III: World at War!

Retrospective: Left Behind – The Movie (2000)

It’s been quite a while since my last retrospectives series (more than 3 years now), but that’s largely because of the sheer amount of work that goes into these things. Not only do I have to make time between work, family, and other hobbies to be able to watch 3+ movies, I also have to do research into the the production history of the franchise, and actually write out the reviews for each movie… I’m not complaining, I really enjoy doing this stuff, but I also get paid jack shit for it so it takes a lot for me to get the motivation to put one of these out (it’s also why I’ve largely pivoted to the less labour intensive Love/Hate format for most media franchise overviews these days).

Anyway, all that said, I want to make it clear that I’m fucking excited for this look at the Left Behind franchise. Growing up evangelical, I was really into the book series… because fuckloads of people die in it. I’m not even kidding, that was the entire appeal for little edgelord me at 10 years old (the massive disasters and demons running rampant were also super cool). It simultaneously managed to get me into end-times theology, and also eventually made me realize that the whole industry that built up around it was a grift. Despite having a massive grudge against this franchise and the poison it has been for Christianity as a whole, I’m going to give each film a fair shake and recount the batshit insanity that went on behind the scenes with each new film. So let’s start at the beginning, with Left Behind: The Movie, which I actually thought was pretty decent when I was a kid. Does it hold up still, now that I’m a jaded, crusty old bastard? Read on to find out…

Boy… that sure is a late 90s-era evangelical movie poster. Definitely not good, but could be worse. I also kinda like that whoever designed it at least understood colour theory and made sure to make this poster orange and blue, it gives it some visual unity and appeal, even though the poster is entirely made up of random images. Oh, and it probably doesn’t bear mentioning, but they REALLY upped the brightness on ol’ Kirk here and it doesn’t look very good.

Production

If there is one man most responsible for Left Behind, it is Tim LaHaye (take of that statement what you will). LaHaye was a pastor in the mid-1950s before becoming an instrumental force in the conservative evangelical movement in America in the 70s and 80s. He, along with Jerry Falwell, were instrumental in establishing and directing the Moral Majority, the movement which caused Ronald Reagan to be elected to office and, among other things, created the cultural environment that would allow the Satanic Panic to occur.

Basically, this motherfucker is the reason why America is so fucked up today.

Anyway, LaHaye was on a flight in 1994 and witnessed the pilot (who, apparently, was married) flirting with a flight attendant, which caused him to begin imagining how he would react if The Rapture occurred at that very moment. He quickly teamed up with Christian writer, Jerry B. Jenkins, and the pair conceptualized Left Behind, which would follow a large cast of characters trying to survive and save as many people as possible during the final seven years of Earth in the evangelical Christian apocalypse. The pair drew heavy inspiration from A Thief in the Night, a series of apocalyptic thriller films released in the 70s and 80s, which also portray a post-Rapture world. By all accounts, LaHaye provided his ideas and theology for the structure of the story, while Jenkins did all the actual writing. Notably, LaHaye’s influence can also be felt in some of the more… interesting decisions in the book. Notably, a lot of the first book’s plot is driven by shadowy “international bankers” influencing the UN, which has way more power than it does in real life… then you realize that Tim LaHaye is obsessed with the Illuminati, and this just reflects what he thinks is actually going on in the world. Similarly, LaHaye believes that Catholics are a bunch of heretics, so most Catholics are not Raptured. Oh, and as an extra “fuck you” to Catholics, the Pope gets Raptured… because he dropped his Catholic beliefs and adopted evangelical doctrine. And then, later in the series, the new pope abolishes Catholicism for a new one-world religion and, when he dies, his memorial is cancelled because no one gives a fuck about him, ouch.

Left Behind was released in 1995, and would be a run-away success, with selling millions of copies, and reigniting an evangelical obsession with eschatology as the new millennium drew nearer. A new book would follow every year (some years, 2 new books!), for a grand total of 16 main series entries by 2007, plus countless spin-offs and merchandise, not to mention a cottage industry of prophecy-based media which polluted Christian bookstores for decades.

As early as 1997, Jenkins and LaHaye began shopping the series around to movie studios interested in adapting the books to the screen. Namesake Entertainment optioned the rights from LaHaye and Jenkins, promising that they would be able to make it into a big-budget blockbuster series. Namesake seemed like a good fit for LaHaye and Jenkins, because they specialized in adapting Christian thrillers for screen. With Ralph Winter on-board to produce (known for X-Men, Fantastic Four, and… that Planet of the Apes movie), things were looking promising for Left Behind (even if its script was being written by Alan B. McElroy, the guy who wrote Halloween 4, Spawn, and the goddamn Tekken movie). Unfortunately for all involved, Namesake were unable to find a studio interested in financing the movie, so they licensed the rights to Peter & Paul Lalonde at Cloud Ten Pictures, a Canadian production studio making end-times films for the evangelical market. At this time, they had already made a micro-budget trilogy called Apocalypse (whose entries feature goddamn Mr. T, Gary Busey, Jeff Fahey, Margot Kidder, and Howie Mandell, what the actual fuck!?), so apparently they were the best people for the job. Despite being prominently credited on the film (and its sequel), Ralph Winter and McElroy didn’t have any actual role in the production, and it’s believed that their names were included because it granted the film more legitimacy.

Y’know who didn’t want their names on the film? Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. They had sold the movie rights on the promise of getting a $40 million Hollywood blockbuster that could compete with the secular market. Instead, they got a film directly marketed to the Christian community with a reported budget of $17.4 million (which, according to the producers, made the film the most ambitious Christian movie of all time), although LaHaye stated on-record that “representations about the size of the budget were not true”. It seems that this was especially contentious for LaHaye and Jenkins because they had, for whatever reason, sold the exclusive film rights to their entire franchise to Namesake in their original deal – not just the books which had been written at that point, but also future novels, and the Left Behind: The Kids young adult series, which they seemed particularly keen to reclaim the rights to. LaHaye and Jenkins had planned on making their own adaptation of Left Behind: The Kids, which was unable to proceed due to the rights agreement.

In July of 1999, before the movie even came out, LaHaye sued Cloud Ten for breach of contract, claiming $10 million in damages. He offered to drop the suit if Cloud Ten and Namesake relinquished their rights to Left Behind: The Kids and gave up their rights to any further Left Behind books. This was not going to happen though because Namesake were developing their own television series based on Left Behind: The Kids (which never came to fruition, probably due to this lawsuit) and, despite offering revenue sharing to the authours, LaHaye would not budge. This lawsuit would drag on for several more years (and movies), which we’ll cover further in their own entries…

Meanwhile, development of Left Behind: The Movie proceeded in spite of all the drama surrounding it. Vic Sarin, a Canadian, long-time, workman director and cinematographer was brought on to direct the film. Of the principle cast, the highest-profile cast member was Kirk Cameron, who was known for being on Growing Pains and then converting to evangelical Christianity and going off the deep end. He, along with wife Chelsea Noble, were very much true-believers, and actively sought to become involved in the films after reading the books. Cameron was cast as co-lead Buck Williams, a high-profile journalist, while Noble was cast as The Whore of Babylon. The other co-lead role went to manly-man Brad Johnson, who played Rayford Steele. The role of Nicolae Carpathia went to Gordon Currie, who had a small role in Jason Takes Manhattan (he’s the poor son of a bitch who gets chucked off the mast and gets impaled on the radio antenna). Rounding out the main cast were Janaya Stephens as Rayford’s daughter, Chloe Steele, and Clarence Gilyard Jr as Bruce Barnes. Fun fact, the role of Chloe Steele was originally going to go to Hallmark movie queen, Lacey Chabert, in what would have been one of her first film roles, but she ended up dropping out due to scheduling conflicts.

Filming took place in and around Toronto in May of 2000 and lasted for 31 days. For the opening sequence of the film, which takes place in Israel, the production used a quarry and made some camels walk around in the background to make it look like the Middle East. I mainly mention this because literally my first note when I was watching the movie was that the camels were extremely conspicuous and that “Israel” looked like a quarry, so it was hilarious when I found out that these observations were indeed correct.

Left Behind: The Movie would take an unconventional release strategy. It originally was released straight to DVD in 2000, with a theatrical release following in February of 2001. Its theatrical run was not particularly great, grossing only $4,224,065.

Plot Synopsis

The film opens in Israel, where GNN television reporter Buck Williams is interviewing scientist Chaim Rosenzweig, who has developed “Eden”, a formula which can allow food to grow in desert environments. This formula has poised Israel to become a global leader as they hold the key to solving a growing food scarcity crisis. However, the interview is cut short as Arab and Russian jets launch a surprise attack on Israel. The pair flee into a bunker and watch the unfolding attack. However, the attacking forces begin spontaneously exploding before Israel can scramble a response, which causes Buck to run outside to document and report on the miraculous happenings. Within moments, the entire raid is thwarted and Israel is saved by mysterious forces.

We then follow airline pilot Rayford Steele, who bails on his son’s birthday party in order to take over a flight from New York City to London, much to the distaste of his daughter, Chloe. Aboard this flight is Buck, who is looking into the attack on Israel after being tipped off by a contact of his, and Hattie Durham, a flight attendant who Rayford is having an affair with. However, she reveals to Ray that this is her last flight, she will be taking a job with the UN, in part because she feels like he has just been leading her on.

While over the Atlantic, passengers begin to realize that several people aboard have disappeared, including all of the children. Bruce, Hattie, and Buck struggle to maintain order aboard, while Rayford diverts the flight back to New York. They soon discover that these disappearances are a global phenomenon and that hundreds of millions of people have vanished without warning, causing several deaths due to vehicles having their operators disappear, amongst other things. The flight ends up diverting to Chicago. Rayford is thankful for Buck’s help during the flight and Buck convinces Rayford to link him up with a private pilot who can get him to New York City. He stays at Rayford’s home for the night.

Rayford returns home to discover that his wife and son are gone. He realizes that his wife, who he had resented for converting to Christianity, was right all along. Meanwhile, Chloe returns home, having had her vehicle stolen while trying to head to college for her exams, before being unable to continue due to all the wrecked vehicles littering the roads. Chloe takes Buck to the airport, where he links up with Ray’s contact, pilot Ken Ritz, who agrees to take him to New York. When he arrives there, he finds that his contact, Dirk Burton, has been killed for knowing too much. Buck gets his confidential files and then flees when a sniper tries to kill him as well. He discovers a plan orchestrated by international bankers, Jonathan Stonagal and Joshua Todd-Cothran, who intend to use their protégé, UN Secretary General Nicolae Carpathia, to entice Chaim Rosenzweig to hand over the Eden formula to the UN in exchange for plans to reconstruct the Jewish temple. They will then bankrupt the UN and control the world’s food supply, netting themselves untold billions in the process.

Rayford travels to new Hope Village Church and discovers that its pastor, Bruce Barnes, has been left behind. He had preached for years, but never really believed until now. The pair set about preparing for the coming tribulations.

Meanwhile, Buck returns to Chicago and meets with CIA agent Alan Thompkins to try to get information about Stonagal and Todd-Cothran’s plans. However, Thompkins is killed in a car bombing and Buck flees to Rayford’s home once again. They take Buck to New Hope Village Church in order to utilize the medical services running out of the building. Rayford and Bruce show Buck a tape that the former lead pastor had made, which predicted the disappearances, the rebuilding of the temple and the rise of the Antichrist. Buck doesn’t believe them, and leaves to go to the UN to warn Chaim about Stonagal and Todd-Cothran’s plans.

When he arrives, he soon finds that every prediction that he had been told by Rayford and Bruce were true and converts to Christianity in order to protect himself against the Antichrist’s machinations. Nicolae calls a private meeting, where he reveals his plans to consolidate power and then executes Stonagal and Todd-Cothran, before using mind-control to cause everyone (except Buck) to believe that they committed murder-suicide. Buck returns back to his new friends and they all agree to band together to fight the coming evils…

Review

So, this might be a hot take, but here goes: Left Behind: The Movie isn’t all that bad. No, I’m not kidding. I remembered thinking the movie was decent when I saw it more than 20 years ago, but my opinions on eschatology and movies have changed since then, so I was expecting to like it a whole lot less. While I definitely have my issues with it, my estimation of it hasn’t dropped that far compared to where it was. It also probably helps that I’ve made a hobby out of seeking out and writing my thoughts on shit movies, so in comparison Left Behind: The Movie doesn’t even come close.

Now, a caveat to this – if you have no interest in religion, then Left Behind will probably not do anything for you. Similarly, if you can’t set aside a distaste for the creators’ theology, then it’ll also sour your experience. If you can lay that aside though and just go with it, Left Behind: The Movie is an alright thriller, buoyed significantly by its strong premise.

I’ll keep the positives going with probably the strongest aspect of Left Behind: The Movie – its cast. Christian movies, especially in this era, were known for having amateur-level acting, but Left Behind‘s cast are fairly solid across the board (even Kirk Cameron, although he and Chelsea Noble put in the weakest performances of the main cast, in my opinion). Easily the two standouts are Brad Johnson as Rayford Steele and Gordon Currie as Nicolae Carpathia. Johnson is a consummate professional, effortlessly taking Rayford from seething and resentful of his wife, to controlling and in-charge as a pilot, to desperate and downtrodden when he discovers his family has disappeared, to truly convicted in his beliefs when he converts. The only problem is that his arc ends too early and he spends the last forty minutes of the film with nothing to do but preach at the audience (I found a contemporary review by a Christian who saw the movie who agreed that Rayford was the best character, but opined “he comes off as a Bible-thumping turnoff after he’s saved, and delivers the usual ‘there’s something bigger than all of this’ kind of talk”).

Meanwhile, Gordon Currie gets to chew the scenery as Nicolae Carpathia, going from seemingly-good natured, to slimy and sinister on a dime. The reveal that he’s the Antichrist is extremely obvious from the moment he appears in the film, but when they do reveal it, it’s really effective scene where Currie absolutely commands the room. Hearing him say “Don’t worry, this will be completely painless. After all, I’m not a monster” and then chuckling to himself is downright chilling. This might be another hot-take, but I feel like Currie’s Nicolae is, low-key, an all-timer villain. That might sound crazy considering that I’m talking about a series of micro-budget Christian films, but these novels and movies have a hold in the imaginations of the evangelical market. There are millions of people whose conception of an Antichrist figure is exactly what Currie portrays: a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a leader who preaches peace, but who has sinister intentions. This portrayal is so ingrained in their thoughts that, when a figure who arguably fits the theology of who an anti-Christ figure is better, they enthusiastically vote for that guy three times.

The other main strength of Left Behind: The Movie is its overall premise and plot. It also has to be said that the movie is a whole lot better than the novel it’s based on. Where the novel can be meandering and poorly written, the movie tightens everything up into a (mostly) well-paced thriller. While the Rapture itself is a compelling enough event to mine a lot of drama, it’s over fairly quickly and the film needs more events to keep you watching. Think about it a bit: if this movie was just about The Rapture, then the natural progression for acts 2 and 3 would be a massive amount of preaching to the audience. The main reason the film is able to sustain interest after the Rapture is its B-plot, which features Buck Williams uncovering the conspiracy to take control of the world’s food supply, which eventually results in the rise of the Antichrist. While nothing particularly special or unique goes on in this B-plot that you haven’t seen in any other conspiracy narrative, this storyline stays interesting with a cavalcade of assassinations, clues, and near-misses, keeping it constantly moving forward and engaging (dare I even say “exciting”?). It all culminates in probably the best scene of the movie, where Nicolae is revealed to be The Antichrist and Buck realizes he’s trapped in the same room as him. It’s a really tense scene, with Nicolae dispatching Stonagal and Todd-Cothran in cold blood and then using his mind control super powers to tell everyone assembled what he’d like them to believe (except, Buck, who is protected by the power of God). It effectively hypes up the real danger Nicolae presents going forward and gets you properly interested to see how the characters will deal with him in future… until you read the books and find out he’s constantly getting clowned on, because they can’t just let their symbol of ultimate evil ever win.

That said, there’s one glaring issue with this film’s narrative structure and pacing, and that’s how Rayford’s arc is handled. If Buck’s journey is the B-plot, Rayford’s storyline is very much the A-plot for most of the film as he deals with the fallout of the Rapture and then tries to cope with the disappearance of his wife and son. However, after about an hour he realizes they were right, converts to Christianity, and then becomes a die-hard believer from that point onward… with about 40 minutes left to go in the movie. Like, the movie cuts back to him every once in a while, but there isn’t much for him to do, other than preach at Buck, Chloe, and the audience. I can’t help but feel that the movie would have been stronger overall if Rayford spent more time struggling, or maybe went through a period of anger at God for taking his family away. Then, maybe he could have learned about the Antichrist from Bruce Barnes at the same time as Buck.

And with that, we can dovetail into the things that Left Behind does not do so well. It really pains me to say this, but Tim LaHaye was right about something – this movie is cheap as fuck. Like, I know that people will say all sorts of things in a legal battle to try to sway the narrative, but I actually believe Tim LaHaye when he says that the film’s widely-reported $17.4 million budget is an exaggeration (and, adjusting for inflation, that would apparently be closer to $30 million today, which makes this even more insane to me). I’ve seen estimates that put the budget around $4 million, and I find that far more realistic considering what we got on-screen. Tim LaHaye has also gone on record saying that Cloud Ten’s productions look like “glorified church basement movies” and, oh my God, it’s a pretty apt description. Most of the film takes place in very simple sets – Ray’s home, a warehouse, a plane set, some office buildings, a UN set. They’re functional, but considering that we only get a very small handful of outdoor sequences, and they’re pitched as the “big” money-shot sequences (eg, air terminal chaos, Chloe coming across the car wreck, the car bombing), it underscores this film’s low production values. It also doesn’t help that the lighting in the film is absolute ass for most of the runtime, which is probably the largest contributing factor to why this movie feels so amateurish.

The absolute worst offender though is the aforementioned opening scene in “Israel”. As I said in the Production section, the second I saw that camel in the background I thought “Oh man, they clearly are NOT filming this on location, it looks like a quarry”. Then there’s the CGI of the planes and tanks during this sequence, which was poor even by year 2000 standards. I’ll give them some credit – there are some pretty good practical explosions during this sequence, almost enough to make you not realize that Buck and Chaim go into some random goat herder’s house, and suddenly are in a state-of-the-art military bunker. It’s pretty clear that most of the budget and ambition went into this opening scene, because it is miles beyond anything else in the film… but would it have taken up a good chunk of $17.4 million in the year 2000? I strongly doubt it.

Then again, I wonder how much they had to pay to borrow camels from the Toronto zoo for a day.

Left Behind is better than the book it’s based on, but there are fundamental issues which can’t really be excised in adaptation. Even as a child reading these books, one of my greatest frustrations was a deep-rooted lack of imagination on the part of the authours and the people inhabiting their world. Let’s look at an example to illustrate what I’m referring to here: as the attack on Israel gets underway, the skies suddenly darken, going from the middle of the day to black as night. In any other movie this could be construed as “passage of time”, or (potentially intentional) “continuity error”, but here it’s clearly intended to convey the intervention of God. However… no one comments on it. It’s supposed to be the middle of the day, but for whatever reason in Israel it suddenly became night time, defying meteorological explanation. And then all the planes begin exploding and everyone is just dumbfounded… and I do mean “just”, because there’s no explanation or speculation presented. Buck’s driving force for a good chunk of the movie is “Wow, I sure do wonder what happened there in Israel?”, but he seems to be the only one who cares, and the the whole question gets quietly dropped pretty soon in the movie. It’s not even like the world didn’t see this happen, it was literally being televised, but there’s zero impact beyond this scene. Like… are you telling me that there wasn’t a sizeable contingent of people going “That sure looks like it was divine intervention”?

Of course, the response to the Rapture falls into the same issue. “Huh, every non-Catholic Christian and child under thirteen in the world disappeared in a manner like the mythical rapture some evangelicals believed in. Wonder what happened, radiation maybe?” That last part isn’t even a joke either, radiation becomes the “official” explanation for what caused the disappearances, even though any moron could look at the demographics of the people who disappeared and find correlation showing that it was not random. One character believes that aliens were behind the disappearances (which, honestly, would probably be the second most obvious answer), while laughing about the idea of it being the Rapture, but that just underscores the issue – if they have information about the Rapture, it kind of defies explanation that they wouldn’t see that this miraculous event was anything other than that and instead handwave vaguely to “radiation” without any evidence. To me, this reveals a few potential insights into the authours’ opinions on the average non-Christian:

  1. Charitably, they might believe that God is “hardening their hearts” like the Pharaoh in Exodus, so that they cannot accept the obvious truth. If so, it’s kind of fucked up that God would then put them into this “final chance for redemption” and then take away their chance to see truth.
  2. They believe that the signs of God really are as obvious as they are portrayed in this movie and non-believers are just oblivious idiots. Hate to break it to them, but if we lived in a world God blew up an entire army and then caused hundreds of millions of children and Christians to disappear, there’d be a lot more converts, because then there would be some actual, concrete evidence for the supernatural.
  3. They believe that non-believers are actively looking for any excuse to defy God. Considering that “there are no real atheists” is a common belief amongst fundamentalists, this wouldn’t surprise me too much.

While I think that any (potentially even all) of these options are true, there’s also a much simpler explanation which could also be true: Jerry B. Jenkins is a hack writer who ignores any potential impact to the world because it interferes with the story he’s trying to tell… despite that story being one where the entire world’s population is undergoing countless disasters, the massive consequences of which should be being felt and responded to. There is so much impossible shit that happens in these books: in this first movie alone, completely ignoring full-on supernatural intervention, we have Israel magically developing technology to make the deserts fertile in order to become a global superpower. Kind of a weird plot point, until you realize they only did this because they believe it to have been prophesized. Our prophecies say that there will be a one-world currency? Guess we’re gonna make Korea join the EU now. Maybe this felt more realistic in the late 90s when the European Union was just taking form, but 20 years later in the wake of Brexit, this idea is laughably optimistic. And don’t even get me started on Israel rebuilding their temple, which even the movie acknowledges is impossible without the aforementioned magic and some handwaving to reveal that the temple can actually be built somewhere else… again, because their prophecy says that it has to happen, so by God they will force it to, then yada yada through the details and have everyone accept it. Oh, and this is also in a world where the UN basically rules the world already, which starts to make sense when you realize that Tim LaHaye believes in the Illuminati…

Underscoring all of this, I’ve always found it ironic that the existence of Left Behind makes the entire scenario even more impossible. Like, the premise of the books kind of works if the Rapture remains this weird thing that some evangelicals believe in, so you can see why some people wouldn’t immediately go “oh shit, the Rapture just happened!” if everyone suddenly disappeared. However, Left Behind was such a cultural juggernaut and has become so ingrained within the evangelical zeitgeist, that the idea of a Rapture occurring and not causing most people to immediately logically conclude that is laughable, let alone the idea that hundreds of millions of people would willingly go and tattoo themselves with 666 in light of all this.

Also, this scene is driving me nuts. 142,380,000 confirmed vanished? That’s got to be an interim and highly under-estimated total. There were 6 billion people in the year 2000 – we know that every child under the age of 13 was Raptured, in addition to a high number of Christians. Assuming even 10% of the world’s population was raptured (which seems like a very low estimate considering that world population demographics tends to skew young), that’s still over 600 million people.

Rounding things out here, it wouldn’t be an IC2S review if I didn’t at least mention the ladies… and they are really poorly served here. Hattie Durham is set up to be important, but she doesn’t really do anything – she ends her affair with Rayford and then goes off to the UN to work with Carpathia. Real riveting stuff… I have no idea why Chelsea Noble was so keen to play her. Then there’s Chloe Steele, whose entire character in this movie is “mad at dad” until the end when she decides that he’s right, they should convert to Christianity. As I recall from reading the books, Chloe does basically nothing important for the entire series and only really exists to be a love interest for Buck. I expect that this probably stems from LaHaye’s regressive views on women (his wife Beverly founded an anti-feminist womens’ organization, Concerned Women for America, which, among other things, advocates for the subservience of women…). As a result, Chloe isn’t allowed to do anything cool, so she just kind of exists on the sidelines.

When it comes down to it, the overarching message of Left Behind doesn’t come across as “You don’t want this to happen to you!” Rather, when Rayford came home and saw his wife’s clothes and her Bible beside the bed, the message became clear to me: “I told you so”. Perhaps it is a consequence of Cloud Ten making this film directly for the Christian market, but Left Behind feels like it’s jerking off its audience, reassuring them that their beliefs are true and, boy, those sinners sure are going to regret not listening to you when this happens to them! It’s not as nakedly spiteful as, say, the God is Not Dead movies, or is it as smugly hateful as Atlas Shrugged, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an effort made into changing hearts and minds as it is saying “Your beliefs will be vindicated, just wait”.

That is all pretty harsh, and like I said, this movie isn’t all that bad. That said, it’s also not exactly great – it is, after all, an adaptation of Left Behind, so it’s always going to be screwed to some degree. As you can see, other than the really poor production values, most of my issues with the film are related to the shitty books and theology it rests upon, which cannot be entirely ignored, but they also aren’t really issues with the film itself. However, it’s not so intrusive in this film that you can’t mostly ignore it, and I think that there is some enjoyment that can be had here with this premise if you’re able to put up with all the bullshit.

5/10 (A very generous rating, if I do say so.)

Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in this series, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force!

15 Best Movie Posters of 2023

I may not be writing as much as I used to, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before I miss my mostly-annual year-end countdowns! In case you’re unfamiliar with how this works, I spend the year trolling through impawards and collecting all the really cool, interesting and striking poster designs for 2023 movies and then narrow them down into a shortlist. As always, any poster released during the year is eligible to make the list, but special consideration is given to posters which are intended for mass distribution rather than posters which are intended to be limited-release, alternative, “artistic” posters. As usual, you can see the full-sized poster in all its glory if you click on the images.

Anyway, with those considerations out of the way, let’s get onto the list, starting with some honourable and dishonourable mentions:

The Drew Struzan style is over-done and tired at this point, a lazy trope to make a poster look nostalgic and exciting without having to put in any actual effort to design something original. On top of that, I couldn’t care less about a new Indiana Jones movie in 2023. However… I’d be lying if it wasn’t nice to see the iconic Struzan style brought back for one last hurrah where it absolutely is warranted, for the franchise which is perhaps most intrinsically tied to this style. It wasn’t enough to make the list proper, but I felt it worth highlighting.

Oh, and speaking of the Struzan style, here we have the poster for a new Left Behind movie. I’ll be honest, the poster itself is incredibly dull, but I mainly put it here to shit on this series and Kevin Sorbo. Also, Neal McDonough, you poor man, what the hell happened to you to make you have to slum this hard? I haven’t had the spark to do a new Retrospective series, considering all the time and effort that has to go into writing them, but dammit the idea of looking at all the Left Behind movies fills me with a sinister excitement… Maybe stay tuned in 2024 if I can muster the motivation.

Okay, this one deserves some mention for how effective these posters are for a “ridiculous slasher villain” movie. These would all be slightly-above-average posters for a regular slasher film, but add in the decent tagline and how seriously they’re taking the ridiculous premise, I can’t help but chuckle.

And with that said, let’s get into our top 15 proper:

15) Saw X

Saw X starts the list with a couple posters that I found fairly clever in their simplicity. First off is the “eye poster”, which instantly evokes a sense of primal terror before you even notice the saw shape at the edge of the iris, revealing what the victim is so scared of. The “I Heart Saw” isn’t quite as striking, but I do appreciate how it cheekily calls back to the series’ legacy of posters featuring severed body parts, hinting that this is a sequel aiming to go back to the franchise’s roots.

14) Nimona

Back when I was in university, one of the most important lessons I learned came from an American literature prof who had a blunt, but effective motto when we were writing essays: “Why should I care?” I think about that whenever I’m writing, and it’s a lesson that can be applied in most walks in life. For a poster designer, the job is (usually) to sell a movie, so “Why should I care?” presents a challenge with results that can be intriguing, if you check out this countdown annually.

I mention this because these posters for Nimona represent a twist on the usual approaches to “Why should I care” from graphic designers. Honestly, these posters have sold me on Nimona, and they aren’t doing anything particularly special in their own right. They just demonstrate that if you are working with a strong, charming art style, then that can be enough to sell a movie on its own, without any special flair being required on top of that. The designers of these posters are clearly putting in some work in order to be able to highlight the art so stylishly, so credit where it’s due, but this is one of those cases where character and tone are expressed so strongly in the character designs that you don’t really need anything else. These lists aren’t just about elaborate artistry or unique twists, sometimes it’s just working with the pieces you have and realizing that they can speak for themselves. I just thought that that was neat.

13) Super Mario Bros.: The Movie

I’m not a massive Mario fan – I enjoy the 8- and 16-bit classics, but never have played much of the games beyond that point. However, looking at this poster, I can’t help but get hyped. This is a perfect distillation of what a Mario fan would want to see in a movie, full of colourful, iconic imagery and easter eggs, similar to the Detective Pikachu poster a few years ago. It’s also worth noting that this establishes that the art style will be familiar to fans, which you wouldn’t think would be that notable, but considering that the last attempt at a Mario movie ended up being a surreal, dystopian, live-action fever dream, it’s warranted.

12) The Boogeyman

Look, if a movie’s posters are pulling off imagery which would be The Moneyshot in your average horror film, you know someone’s doing something right. The fact that these posters are actually rather scary in their own right, while still keeping its titular villain shrouded in mystery, is a bonus as well. I have no idea if this movie is any good, but if the marketing is this strong, it certainly suggests that you’d be in for a good time.

11) Expend4bles

Full disclosure: I’ve always loved this poster design which has been used across the entire Expendables franchise, to the point that it was the basis for my custom logo back when I spend hundreds of hours playing Battlefield 4. The skull + wings (or, in this case, hair) made of various weapons is a flawless bit of symbology for a deeply flawed franchise, promising all the action you could ever want from its star-studded cast. It still works here for me, and it’s good enough that I’ll even forgive that idiotic tagline.

10) The Deepest Breath

I call this the “Free Solo poster design philosophy” – a poster for a documentary which is just a simple picture of someone doing something batshit insane. While The Deepest Breath can’t quite match the same level of sheer intensity as Free Solo (to be fair, few could), it still promises an ass-clenching thriller of a documentary that will thriller your thalassophobia to record levels.

9) Cocaine Bear

THE BEAR. IS MADE. OF COCAINE.

8) How to Blow Up a Pipeline

This one gets a spot for how its title is worked into the image. It’s simple on its face, but very stark, evocative, even transgressive. I can’t help but be impressed by how the title makes it work – on many posters, the title is just there to let you know what the movie’s called. Some posters use a tagline to try to tell you what it’s about, and use characters and imagery to try to sell it. This just has a simple barrel and some inflammatory language, and it instantly gives you an idea of the sort of journey you’re in for with this movie. Kind of like Nimona, this is a lesson in using what you have, to an even more extreme degree, since they’re almost exclusively using the title to sell the film. While maybe this makes for a poster that’s less striking than some of the others on first glance, it’s a fascinating case when you think about the decisions put into it.

7) Barbie

I could not be further from the target audience for a Barbie movie, but goddamn do these posters nail the titular character’s pop cultural footprint. First of all, the “larger than life” poster is what made this rank so highly – it succinctly and artfully evokes how Barbie is an icon, a monolith which girls have looked up to for decades (literally, in this case). Meanwhile, the second poster deserves some mention because it shows that not only is Margot Robbie the perfect casting for Barbie, but assures the audience that the film understands Barbie as a character and is going to deliver on those expectations.

6) Swallowed

Do I really need to explain this one? This one just looks BLOODY PAINFUL, and assures you that you are in for an extremely uncomfortable time if you watch this movie. For a certain class of horror fan, what more could you ask for?

5) Candy Land

I really love this poster. It’s so evocative – it’s appropriately sleazy and erotic, hinting at nudity while barely obscuring it, and the faux-vintage design and blood splatters only serve to heighten all of that. Obscuring the subject’s face also serves to depersonalize her, lending the whole design a forbidden, voyeuristic quality which is nearly as uncomfortable as the more overt imagery Swallowed uses.

4) John Wick: Chapter 4

A John Wick movie came out this year, so you know they went hog wild on amazing posters. As usual, the artists really need to be commended here, because they’ve put together enough stylish designs that I could have made an entire list just of the best John Wick posters. They’re all just goddamn cool, but not quite enough to put them at the top of the list this year.

3) Oppenheimer

This is one of those posters where the title kind of brings it all together. First you see the extremely harshly-lit picture and wonder what the hell is happening. Then your eye is drawn to the title and it becomes chilling as you realize the apocalyptic awe of what is unfolding. It’s a poster that basically tells the story of Oppenheimer in one image and makes you want to see that unprecedented power unleashed for yourself. Pretty impressive I’d say for a poster which is so harshly lit that it obscures most of what you can actually see in it.

2) Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse

Every frame of this movie os fucking art and these posters prove it. The “Gwen and Miles” poster is just a random frame from the movie, but it is so stylish and well-composed that it is enough to completely sell me on the movie by itself. Just looking at it, you can tell that they’re having a good time just sitting and chatting, and that Gwen is absolutely simmering for Miles. It’s wild – this is a bombastic Spider-man movie, but what is selling me is wanting to hang out with these characters and see how their relationship blossoms. Again, that’s the power of a strong art style, it can make the marketing easy if you know what you’re doing.

Then there’s the standard character poster. You’ll notice that I haven’t even included any other “character posters” in this list, despite them making up like 70% of all movie posters released in a year. Usually these are bloody dull affairs, meant to do nothing more than introduce and familiarize an audience to the characters of the movie, but more often just turn into boring window-dressing made more out of obligation than inspiration. This poster of Gwen breaks that tradition, being colourful and eye-catching on its own, but it also utilizes the movie’s strong art style to hint that Gwen is going to be on a conflicted journey in Across the Spider-verse. It’s not just an excuse to show a name and have them look cool, the same thought that’s gone into every frame of the movie is on display here in its marketing. It would be enough to take my #1 spot, if not for…

1) Evil Dead Rise

These posters got me for the sheer sadistic creativity on display. They might be confusing at first as your eye is naturally going to be drawn to the rather mundane household objects, but if you’ve ever seen an Evil Dead film (especially the 2013 remake), then when your eye is eventually drawn to the title, these objects are twisted into PAINFUL promises. “Oh God, I can just imagine the brutality of the cheese grater and scissors, but what the fuck are they going to do with the wine glass!?” It’s a less-is-more approach as you think of all the gory possibilities and this nasty bit of imagination born from such a simple bit of imagery is exactly why Evil Dead Rise‘s posters get my #1 rank this year.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil – Operation Raccoon City

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’re looking at Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, an intriguing spinoff for a number of reasons. For one thing, it was released in the spring of 2012, the same year as Resident Evil 6, and featured squad-based third person shooter gameplay developed by Slant Six Games, who had worked on some latter-day SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals games. Considering the somewhat awkward co-op shooter gameplay the mainline entries were engaging in at the time, the developer’s pedigree suggested that this could have some of the strongest Resident Evil gunplay in the franchise. Perhaps the biggest selling point though was that its story was a non-canon “what if?” scenario where you play as Umbrella special forces going into zombie-overrun Raccoon City to cover up Umbrella’s involvement in the outbreak. The idea of exploring the iconic location on HD consoles was too much for some to pass up, but how did the concept play out in execution? Read on to find out…

Oh, and before we get further, I just want to note that I played this game on the Veteran setting, just in case that difficulty setting added some elements to the game which coloured my perception of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, apparently in this mode enemies receive 25% less damage, inflict 25% greater damage, and drop items with less frequency.

Love

  • The Wolfpack – Operation Raccoon City was overtly edgy even when it was released, but playing in 2022 I can’t help but find the way that it leans into “dark, badass evil guys” for its characters endearing. They clearly just looked at HUNK, used him as a baseline and then created a bunch of similarly mysterious, black-clad, mask-wearing special-ops. Their designs are all unified but distinct enough that you can pick them out in the chaos of combat (which, honestly, is pretty impressive considering they’re all dudes in black). They also all have their own special abilities and perks which make playing each member of the team distinct (which, obviously, is important for a squad-based shooter like this). I also enjoy the little touches, like how each character has their own little bio you can read and how cutscenes and dialogue change depending on which characters you’d brought with you on each mission.
  • Weapon and Ability Upgrade System – Perhaps unsurprisingly, Operation Raccoon City features a system to upgrade your weapons and abilities using XP you earn in each mission. It’s in the squad lobby screen and isn’t really signposted so you might miss this (I certainly did for the first couple missions), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that each character has dozens of weapons options and multiple perks to choose from, and perks all have multiple ranks you can purchase to increase their effectiveness. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it works and it helps make you feel like you’re growing more powerful as you go.
  • It’s Only Like 7 Hours Long – Your mileage is definitely going to vary on this one, but I for one was glad that Operation Raccoon City is a finite, focused experience. You can just play through a shooter story campaign and then be done with it if you want to, or go back to unlock more perks, find secrets, etc.

Mixed

  • Snap-to Cover System – As a rule I don’t really like automatic, snap-to cover systems; I prefer to be able to manually enter cover with the press of a button. However, if you’re going to implement a snap-to system then it had better work well. Compared to Resident Evil 5 and 6, Operation Raccoon City‘s implementation is better, although it still has some hiccups that make it more annoying than I’d like. Half the time I’ll get put into cover without wanting to be there, but then when I do want to get into cover it will work seamlessly 99% of the time. However, occasionally you get those stupid situations where you’re in cover and can clearly see an enemy but the game decides you’re not allowed to shoot from the specific spot you’re standing in, so you end up either wiggling until the game decides you can shoot now or just leave cover to get control back, which is always infuriating. Again, I give the cover system some credit for working most of the time, but it has too much in-built annoyance for me to give it any serious praise.

Hate

  • Weak, Inaccurate Guns – Operation Raccoon City is a shooter, so you’d hope that they’d make sure that they get the shooting right at the very least, right? Well, unfortunately one of the worst parts about this game is that the guns feel like shooting a fucking peashooter. With your starting assault rifle you can expect to use nearly an entire clip to down a single enemy at medium range. Seriously, as soon as I started the game I noticed that it was taking me around 20 rounds to kill basic enemies; even if you’re a headshot god it takes 2-3 headshots just to down a basic special ops soldier. Playing on Veteran difficulty exacerbated this (enemies get 25% more HP), but requiring 16 rounds on a lower difficulty instead of 20 isn’t a great look either. It also doesn’t help that most of Operation Raccoon City‘s weapons are really ineffective outside of medium range, seemingly gaining massive amounts of random bullet deviation away from where you’re actually aiming and adding substantial damage drop-off. It wasn’t until I unlocked the strongest assault rifle, the Hammer, that it felt like I was doing an appropriate amount of damage. Even this was a double-edged sword though, because the Hammer has a paltry amount of ammo, to the point where I was constantly having to scavenge for ammo boxes to stay alive. That’s the trade-off Operation Raccoon City gives you – lots of ammo but no damage, or good damage but no ammo. Also not helping matters? The guns sounds are also weak, they feel like stock assets and don’t make the shooting feel any better.
  • Weird and Unintuitive Controls – Shooters were more-or-less figured out by 2012, which makes it so weird that Slant Six really tried to break the mold with Operation Raccoon City in some truly baffling ways. Why are my active abilities tied to the same button as the melee execution? I don’t know how many times I went to execute an enemy and accidentally activated my temporary invulnerability (thereby putting it on a cooldown when I might need it in the meantime). Why is X the interact button but also the button to perform a slide if you’re moving at the same time? The absolute weirdest decision though is your side-arm. If you tap L2 then it’ll switch to your pistol. That’s weird enough on its own, but if you hold L2 it will let you draw your pistol and the game will auto-target enemies and let you shoot at them for as long as you hold the button down. Naturally, there were lots of moments where I meant to tap or hold L2 and it registered the opposite command, leaving me vulnerable, but the real issue here is how weird the camera controls are when you hold L2. On the one hand, the auto aim is more accurate and reliable than manually aiming. On the other hand, the camera doesn’t follow where you’re aiming at all in this mode, so you’ll be pointing your pistol around and often won’t even be able to see the enemy when you shoot at them. I have no idea what they were thinking when they implemented this control scheme, it’s one of the most baffling core design decisions I’ve ever seen in a AAA game.
  • Infuriating, Unfun Enemies – Aside from the zombies (which are actually pretty enjoyable to fight and dismember), every enemy in this game is a chore to fight. Special Ops soldiers? Bullet sponges who always just have a limb or two poking out of cover so you can stagger them out and then shoot them, over and over and over again. NE-α parasites who’ll power up zombies and then detach to infect another one if you don’t shoot them first. Stun-locking lickers who always show up in the dozens. Tyrants who literally take hundreds of rounds to down. Worst of all though are the Hunters who dominate the last couple levels of the game. Fuck. Them. They are bullet sponges who take 3-4 full clips from a Hammer to down, they’ll close the distance to you in an instant, stun-lock you and then rip off massive chunks of HP with each swing, AND they enter the arena in drop pods that trigger when you walk beside their landing zone, meaning that you instantly lose half your HP before the fight has even begun, what the absolute fuck is this bullshit? Seriously, their implementation in this game has got to be one of the most infuriatingly unfun enemies in the entire franchise. Like, I get why the game’s like this – you’ve got to balance it for four people to feel challenged and not just steamroll their way through everything with concentrated fire, but it is really unenjoyable in execution.
  • Terrible AI – This entry breaks down into two subsections of note:
    • On the bad-but-not-gamebreaking level is that enemies and allies are just plain dumb. You’ll see enemies and allies standing in place all the time, oblivious to the firefight going on around them. You’ll see zombies running in circles, you’ll see zombies right in front of allies and no one is opening fire (in fact, with friendly fire and the random bullet deviation, if you shoot the zombie yourself then you are probably going to do more damage to your allies than the zombie), you’ll see special ops getting swarmed by zombies but decide to shoot you instead… You’ve also got AI so bad at pathfinding that the game will literally teleport NPCs in front of you when needed and hope you don’t notice (I did). It’s pretty much par for the course to expect bad AI in a shooter during this era, but it’s certainly immersion-breaking.
    • On the unacceptable end of things though is the sense that this game is out to fuck you over if you dare play the game with AI companions. Seriously, it got so malicious that it began to feel like a cruel joke that the developers were playing on me. We’re talking AI not being able to detect huge, glaringly-obvious trip wire mines and setting them all off, half the map being on fire and the AI just walking into it because they have no pathfinding ability, and an environmental hazard on an elevator where you have to move side to side to avoid flames and of course the AI just stands still the entire time and get barbequed. These hazards would all be so trivial with co-op partners that the devs needn’t bother to include them at all, but with AI partners it feels like an intentionally-cruel, spiteful joke that the devs have included to give you the middle finger for not making three of your friends buy a copy of the game to play with you.
  • Noticeably Bad, Poorly-Considered Design – Operation Raccoon City has got to be the most scripted video game I’ve ever played. It feels like such a weird complaint to say, but I can’t think of another game where you could feel the developers’ hands everywhere, where you could feel all the scripted moments triggering when you perform a certain action in a very transparent, ham-fisted fashion. Like, I get that this is how all video games work, but in most games you don’t notice it. In Operation Raccoon City, it’s jarring how obvious it is.
    • Most firefights with spec-ops boil down to a handful of enemies rushing into the room and taking cover. The second you kill the last one, three more guys come in from just off-screen and take cover, starting the cycle again. The second the last of this wave dies, the final wave comes in and does the exact same thing. This pattern happens in nearly every spec-ops fight; I was literally calling it before it happened it got so predictable.
    • The other really obvious example of this is that like half of the closed doors in the game are zombie jump-scare machines. Walk by a closed door and there’s a good chance that this will trigger the door to open and for a bunch of zombies to suddenly attack you. This will happen whether you’re in the middle of a gun fight (which can be pretty intense), or after you’ve killed everyone and are just exploring the area (in which case it’s just annoying). Humorously, you can also just avoid these doors entirely and they’ll never trigger. Again, this just becomes predictable. It doesn’t really make the combat any more enjoyable, it’s just something that the developers threw in hoping that it would make the game feel tense.
    • I also want to mention how the guns and cover system seem to be at odds with each other in this game’s design. As I’ve already said, shooting does less damage and is more inaccurate the further you are from enemies, and the game doesn’t give you enough ammo to win a firefight at range. That suggests that you need to move forward to close in on enemies, but enemies are accurate and points of cover are often far enough away that you’re always going to get shot once when you move forward. Furthermore, health doesn’t regenerate, so you’re almost always going to be low on HP if you play the game the way it incentivizes you. Maybe Slant Six want you to feel like you’re barely hanging on at any given time, but it makes the basic gameplay of Operation Raccoon City frustrating.
  • Mindless Gameplay – If Operation Raccoon City had fun shooter gameplay then pretty much all of the other complaints I had here could be ignored, but unfortunately the game gets real dull real fast. The gameplay is truly mindless – unless you’ve completely cleared an area, there’s very little downtime or breathing room; as soon as you reach the next area you’ll be swarmed by zombies or spec-ops all over again. Combat doesn’t have much variety either: zombies make up the majority of the enemy combatants and they just need to be mowed down with impunity, whereas the special ops all follow the same “stagger them out of cover and then pump them full of bullets” gameplay from start to finish. Other than using an active ability to stay alive or conserving some of your ammo because the game is too stingy, there’s barely any thought you have to put into it at all – just shoot, shoot, shoot.
  • Ugly Graphics – The PS3/Xbox 360 era were notorious for dreary, dull colour palettes and Operation Raccoon City has to be one of the most soulless games to be released of that generation. It’s so bad that even the blood in this game is so desaturated that it is straight-up black. 10 years on from its release, this game’s graphics are also noticeably aged, with most of the enemy designs looking really bad (William Birkin looks so plasticky, Crimson Heads look like they dyed the standard zombies red, T-108s appear to be made of chrome, a lot of people think that this is the worst-looking version of Nemesis, etc). Considering how many issues this game has, the graphics are the least of its worries, but they’re still bad enough to be worth mentioning.
  • Poor Performance – Piggybacking off the last point, Operation Raccoon City‘s performance chugs at times, especially in large, open areas like at city hall or the cemetery. I’m talking like 15FPS for considerable lengths of time, sometimes through entire levels.
  • Infection Mechanic is Annoying – Operation Raccoon City has an infection mechanic where if you get attacked by a zombie you can randomly get infected with the T-virus and then have a limited amount of time to dose yourself with the anti-virus or become infected and start attacking your teammates (or just get a game over if you are playing solo). On the fun side of things, your enemies can also become infected and start attacking their allies when they succumb. This did happen once or twice in my playthrough and, honestly, seeing a spec-ops soldier turn and go off on his allies was really cool. However, for the most part it’s just annoying. Anti-viral sprays are the only way to stave off an infection and if you don’t have one on you then your only option is to sprint around to find one (bonus: they also happen to be pretty rare, maybe 2 or 3 per level), hope an ally will save you (bonus: AI companions won’t do jack shit for you) or just die. This means that infection is either little more than a nuisance, or it’s a game over that takes way longer to complete than normal. Even infected enemy soldiers aren’t that common either as you’ll usually just gun them down before they can be turned.
  • Several Awful Gameplay Segments – Even with everything I’ve mentioned above, for a while I was thinking “well, at least this game’s only about 7 hours long, I’d probably prefer this game over Resident Evil 6‘s bloated 20 hour campaign…”. However, the further I went, the more infuriating moments cropped up that were literally causing me to reevaluate my distaste for Resident Evil 6, which is always a sign that someone has made a major mistake.
    • On the more minor end of things, the first level ends with a QTE boss fight with William Birkin and you barely have any time to react to the prompts, which usually means you’ll die in a hit or two. It was bad enough that I died on this several times, and then you have to try to run away from him while figuring out which direction to go in, dodging obstacles and trying to avoid getting stun-locked. It was a really annoying way to cap off the start of the experience.
    • The first real taste of how bad this game gets though is the Power Generator station. Sometimes this game just becomes pure, unfiltered chaos. It’s a pretty simple objective – raise three generators and plant an EMP on each. The complication is that you’ve got spec-ops spawning all around you whenever you interact with a console, zombies appearing from nowhere throughout the entire fight and Nicholai from Resident Evil 3‘s up on a catwalk during the entire fight sniping at you and there are very few safe places you can hide from him. It makes for an incredibly difficult and frustrating battle as you’re rarely able to find a safe place to hide from Nicholai and the spec-ops’ gunfire, let alone find an opening to activate the generators and EMPs. You’re always going to take some damage, meaning that you then have to find health pickups to stay in the fight (oh and for a fun bonus, one of the health pickups in the area is glitched to make it hard to pickup unless you approach from a very specific angle). Oh, and to make matters worse, if you die at any point here, you have to redo the entire fight (eg, it doesn’t checkpoint after each generator is destroyed). I imagine it’s significantly easier with co-op partners, but that doesn’t make it any better designed, it’s just throwing unending waves of shit at you in place of actual difficulty.
    • Next is the Nemesis fight, which should be a highlight of the game, but instead is just mindless. Here you pump Nemesis with a seemingly endless number of bullets (which absolutely no feedback from him to show that you’re doing anything), while hordes of zombies swarm into the room and then special ops soldiers show up halfway through to make it even more chaotic (and tank the performance even more). Given how weak this game’s guns are, it should be no surprise that I went through all my ammunition and grenades several times just trying to put a dent in this giant, annoying sponge of an encounter.
    • The Umbrella lab level is also so poorly thought out. You’ve got barely any ammo pickups, bullet-spongey Hunters and Crimson Heads are everywhere and barely any health pickups, meaning that you’re just dying over and over again. It got bad enough that I just said fuck it and started running for the exit instead of actually playing the game, which was the only reason I managed to get through to the end of this level at all.
    • The crown shit has to go to the final level though. My God was it awful. Once again, no ammo pickups for your weapons, swarms of zombies and Crimson Heads are everywhere which will infect you in seconds before you’ve gotten a chance to find an antiviral spray, snipers picking you off from so far away that your weapons won’t be able to hurt them (and for a bonus I had a sniper glitch to be able to shoot me through the wall of a crate, hooray)… and this is literally just the first area. In the next area you’ve got a literal endless swarm of Crimson Heads spawn in and run at you. If you try to play smart, take cover and whittle them down, then the devs clearly think you’re a fucking idiot because you will be overwhelmed. To make matters worse, I actually managed to have two people join my game at this point (in 2022 no less!) and we were still being overrun, forced into an endless retreat and were each downed several times. If not for being able to be revived I would have undoubtedly died here many times, but after my fifth or sixth death I decided to run and dodge past the zombies until I reached a ladder to end this part of the level. You then have to choose to fight or defend Leon (I chose to fight him, obviously), which results in yet another bullet sponge boss battle as you pump dozens of sniper rifle rounds into the rookie cop, while fighting everyone else who chose to defend him. It is a truly shitty fight and the ending is just embarrassing as Claire gets executed off-screen and the game immediately cuts to credits, no epilogue, fanfare or anything. What a shitshow of a level, literally not a moment of fun to be had in it.

Operation Raccoon City has the spark of a good idea buried in it, but the execution is so fatally flawed that it somehow manages to be even worse than the bloated and much-maligned Resident Evil 6. One kind of wishes that Capcom would have tried to iron out the issues with this game for a sequel but… well, they gave us Umbrella Corps instead.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil Gaiden

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’re looking at the truly bizarre and unique Resident Evil Gaiden, the oft-overlooked, non-canon Game Boy Color spin-off that started Resident Evil‘s obsession with cruise ships. Having sprung out of Capcom’s desire to port Dino Crisis and the original Resident Evil to handheld, developer M4 felt that a direct port wasn’t feasible and so a new game was developed to make the most of the handheld’s more limited capabilities. How did this stripped down concept play out though? Read on to find out…

Oh, and before we get further, I do want to note that I played this game on my Retroid Pocket 2+, not original hardware (and there were no ports either). I will address what I feel was the game experience “as intended”, but I do also want to acknowledge that the vast majority of people playing the game now are going to be doing so via emulation and therefore will have access to save states, rewind, cheats, etc. I did use the rewind and save state functions pretty frequently which made the game easier for me, without a doubt.

Love

  • Impressive Use of the Hardware – Considering that Resident Evil Gaiden is running on 8-bit hardware (which was already archaic when the game came out in 2002) and only has four buttons and a d-pad to work with, it is insane just how well they managed to translate the Resident Evil formula to Game Boy Color. While the graphics and combat aren’t great on their own, they’re incredible by the standards of the hardware and it’s clear that developers M4 were very skilled at their work. Combat, easily the most contentious aspect of the game, works really well within the hardware constraints and the way it has zombies attack you in first person mode is jaw-droppingly impressive. In fact, I’d be willing to say that this is probably the most technically-impressive 8-bit game I’ve ever played.
  • Core Gameplay is Solid – Resident Evil Gaiden really nails the fundamentals, in particular the exploration of the early Resident Evil games. You’ll spend the majority of the game wandering around the Starlight, finding keys items which will allow you to unlock rooms to gather more key items, weapons and supplies to survive. Helpfully, all the key items give you hints about where they need to go, so you get into an enjoyable loop of “get a new item, head to place where the item is used, find use the item, find another item, repeat”. Gaiden also retains the ability to “feint” zombies to get around them and avoid combat, which is great for conserving health and ammo.
  • Non-linear Progression – Resident Evil Gaiden will show you where your next destination is on its map, but you can actually collect items and unlock areas in a non-linear fashion (a fact which I discovered after forgetting that the map tells you where to go next…). It’s kind of cool that you can choose to unlock areas and get items to help progress sooner than expecting, cutting down on a lot of potential backtracking later on (seriously, I just blitzed through the latter part of the game because I already had all the key items I needed at that point).

Mixed

  • Combat – When you boil it down, combat in this game is just a reticle moving left and right with a limited window in which you can press a button to do damage. Like I have said, the presentation of this game’s combat is technically impressive and with the hardware limitations it was probably their best option. However, your feelings about this system are probably going to make-or-break your enjoyment of the game. It takes the very simple “ready and shoot” combat of the early Resident Evil games and instead replaces it with a system that demands twitch reflexes to not only succeed, but survive. That reticle moves pretty quickly and every shot you miss is a punishing mistake because ammo is a finite resource that you can’t afford to waste and the knife only works in close range. You can also wait for enemies to get close to make aiming easier, but this is also a problem because they will instantly attack you up close and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. You also can’t just run away because attempting to do this will cause enemies to instantly start attacking you, which will always result in at least one hit. It’s a functional system all-in-all, but I dislike how it turns Resident Evil‘s combat into a game of precise reactions when you can’t afford to miss a single shot.
  • Game Tells You Which Enemies Have Loot – Okay, so you don’t want to get into combat because it drains your resources. Well, Gaiden has a stop-gap solution where certain enemies can drop supplies when you kill them. The game will actually pop up an “!” in the corner to let you know when an enemy will drop items on death, which is handy but I feel like it isn’t a very elegant solution to item scarcity. I’d prefer if the game was less stingy with items in the first place, or make item drops more dynamic depending on the player’s inventory rather than just saying “Hey, shoot this zombie in particular!” since this system also lets you know when you don’t want to fight an enemy because it will be nothing but a resource drain.
  • Multiple Characters Doesn’t Add Much – Resident Evil Gaiden allows you to switch between three characters on the fly (one of whom is Barry goddamn Burton!), which sounds cool but in practice all this adds is the ability to equip a weapon to a characters and then hot-swap to it in combat without having to dig through the inventory. Different characters don’t bring any unique skills or abilities, which is a bit of a missed opportunity.

Hate

  • Slow Movement Speed – The Starlight is a pretty big place and navigating through it can take quite a while, which isn’t helped by the game’s leisurely movement speed. This gets especially annoying when, for example, the game will have you go from the fourth floor east side of the ship down to the first floor west side.
    • Making this worse, I noticed that Resident Evil Gaiden had a lot of slowdown during gameplay, especially when several sprites were on-screen at once. This makes getting around take even longer and if you try to shoot at an enemy it can cause your ability to react take even longer. It’s possible that this was an emulation issue, but given how well my Retroid Pocket 2+ runs Game Boy games, let alone more demanding hardware, I have a hard time believing that.
  • Artificial Restrictions on Non-linearity – As much as I love this game’s non-linear structure, there are some really annoying restrictions on it. The most egregious would be that you can get into rooms ahead of the “proper” time to do so, but key items won’t do anything and weapons will be unavailable until after a particular game state is reached. This is so annoying because it feels arbitrary, you know you’re in the right place for your item but the game just won’t let you use it. In regards to weapons as well, if you don’t follow the “proper” order then you’re probably going to miss some of the most powerful weapons because you won’t need to go back to those rooms later and there’s no indication that these weapons are going to become available there later (see: the shotgun in the original Resident Evil and Resident Evil 7, those games will tease you something you can get later rather than just hiding it away).
  • Save System Isn’t Great – Rather than letting you save when you want, Gaiden has a checkpoint-based save system where you get to save after completing a certain story milestone. If you’re playing the “proper” way then this should give you a save after every 15-20 minutes of gameplay. Unfortunately, if you do as I did, you might spend an hour or more between save points (which could make a death devastating) and make it so that latter saves are coming up every 5-10 minutes. Now, as I’ve said in the intro, most players are going to be playing this in 2022 by emulator so this issue is significantly lessened, but it is worth mentioning considering how the game was originally experienced.
  • Weapon Switching in Combat – Simply put, it sucks. If you’re in combat and you don’t have another character, or you forgot to give them a weapon, pray you don’t run out of ammo. Combat still goes on in real-time as you fumble through your inventory to try to find a weapon, often resulting in taking at least one hit, if not more. It’s an extremely clunky system and it can be especially devastating in boss fights.
  • Menu Diving to Use Keys – Likely due to hardware restrictions, you can’t use a key to open a door without first diving into your menu and then trying to manually use it. The fact that most keys will tell you where they need to go lessens the guessing game, but there are times where multiple locked doors are in an area and you’re stuck trying them on all the doors. There are also times where a key item will be automatically used when the game lets it be used, but you don’t know this so you walk up to every computer and try to “use” the Data Disk to try to activate the computer, only for it to not work…
  • Final Gauntlet is Brutal – I did pretty well at conserving ammo throughout Gaiden. I avoided combat whenever possible, I missed very few shots and made sure to make notes whenever I found powerful ammo that I wasn’t able to pickup yet. In fact, the only weapon I missed was the gas launcher… which was a crippling mistake because I dare say that the final gauntlet is damn-near impossible to complete without it. The final gauntlet sees you fighting a beefy parasite B.O.W. three times, and it takes at least ten shots to take down every time. Use all your rockets and grenades the first time you see it? Sucks to be you, you’re gonna die now. Oh and if you beat it and don’t immediately run it will fight you again and you’ll waste even MORE ammo. On top of that, there are swarms of bullet-sponge zombies between you and the exit and avoiding them all is simply impossible, meaning that you are going to waste tons of ammo just to escape… unless you get the gas launcher, which one-shots entire rooms of zombies and saves you that ammo that you need in order to survive the final battles. I got to the point where I was at the final battle but I just didn’t have the supplies I needed to beat the game… so I just put it down and Youtube’d the final cutscene.

Given its reputation I had assumed that Resident Evil Gaiden was going to be a shoddy experience akin to Survivor. I was shocked by just how much I enjoyed this game; don’t let the amount of “Hates” dissuade you, my “Loves” far outweighed them. It reminded me a lot of the MSX Metal Gear games and it plays like a perfect demake of the classic Resident Evil gameplay style. It’s also fairly short, taking me only four hours total, so I’d definitely recommend giving it a look.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil Village

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’re looking at Resident Evil Village, the most recent entry in the franchise thus far. After the successful resurrection of the franchise with Resident Evil 7 and then the blockbuster hits that were the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, everyone was excited to see what direction Capcom were going to go next. Their answer was Resident Evil Village, a game which (thankfully) looked to push the bounds of the franchise with vampires, werewolves and a gothic aesthetic that looked more than a little inspired by Resident Evil 4. Could Capcom keep the series’ revival going? Read on to find out…

Also, just before we get into the meat of this article, I played this game on a base PS4. The game still looks and runs fantastically on old hardware, I didn’t really notice any issues in my playthrough. I’m sure it looks absolutely stunning on current-gen systems, but don’t feel like you have to wait to get the full experience.

Love

  • Great Characters – Most Resident Evil games have one or two really compelling leads and maybe a good villain, but Resident Evil Village has one of the most compelling casts in the whole franchise. There’s at least three top-tier villains, two solid heroes, a top-tier side-character and nearly every other major player has a ton of personality that makes them memorable. The four lords in particular are all fantastic, having more in common with a Metal Gear rogues gallery than they do Resident Evil, which works in their favour. Alcina Dimitrescu makes for a very compelling, haughty antagonist as she stalks you through her castle with her daughters and toys with you, believing you to be below her attention. Donna Beneviento is just creepy, the way she messes with your mind during her level tells you more about her than any exposition could. Salvatore Moreau is a pathetic momma’s boy, you feel a lot of pity for him as you put him out of his misery. Karl Heisenberg is really interesting, a truly chaotic force within the plot whose performance nails the “Nicholas Cage” energy it was going for. Mother Miranda has less personality than any of the four lords, but the game builds up an appropriately intimidating atmosphere around her character which keeps her from falling flat. As for the leads, Ethan Winters has so much more personality here than he did in Resident Evil 7, reacting appropriately as he tears his way through the village to save his daughter. As for Chris Redfield, this was honestly the first time a Resident Evil game has made me interested in him. His heel-turn is definitely contrived, but the portrayal of Chris here is one who is supremely confident and weathered, actually feeling like a proper soldier for once. Perhaps the biggest surprise has to be The Duke though. I was expecting him to be a second-rate Merchant, but he manages to be interesting, mysterious and strange all at once, allowing him to stand on his own merits.
  • Variety – Going into Resident Evil Village I expected this game to just be a ripoff of Resident Evil 4. While it is clearly drawing some inspiration from Resident Evil 4, Village is very much its own game. Perhaps the most interesting way that Village differentiates itself is in how wildly it shifts tones and gameplay in each section. The village is reminiscent of the early hours of Resident Evil 4, then Castle Dimitrescu feels like the original Resident Evil with a gothic coat of paint, House Beneviento goes full-on P.T. with its psychological horror/escape room vibe, Moreau Reservoir has lots of puzzle/environmental hazard gameplay in a Lovecraftian fishing village, the factory plays like a slow-paced Doom game and then the last stretch of the game goes from tank-battle, to full-bore shooter and then to an almost Souls-like final boss. It’s a lot of different styles and tones across a 8-12 hour playthrough and while some work more than others, there should be some levels that catch your interest.
  • Some Great Level Design – Compared to Resident Evil 7, Village is a more linear and expansive game. However, it still does work in some looping areas as it goes along. The most obvious example of this is the main village area, which you can nearly fully-explore in your initial visit, but as the game progresses you will be able to return to areas you couldn’t open at the time, and after nearly every major event some new enemy type or secret area will open up, encouraging you to explore the world as much as you can. Castle Dimitrescu also feels like classic Resident Evil level design as you trek out from the one safe room to find keys, solve puzzles and dodge the pursuer enemies looking to drain your blood. House Beneviento, as I’ve stated, feels like the fulfilled promise of P.T., utilizing frequent backtracking and escape room-like gameplay to mess with the player and build tension until unleashing it all in truly terrifying fashion.
  • Secrets Everywhere! – While I’m mildly disappointed that Village doesn’t have deviously well-hidden items like Resident Evil 7 did, it makes up for it with all the hidden secrets it backs into its levels. Whether its the hidden areas full of rewarding gear, tough bosses off the beaten path, or the iron balls you can use to unlock the rewarding (and fun) labyrinth puzzles, there’s always something new to do in the village after you complete each level. In fact, I know for a fact I missed a few of these secrets in my playthrough and it almost makes me want to go back to find them again.

Mixed

  • Story Goes Off the Rails in the Last Hour – Surprise, surprise, another Resident Evil game has a narrative I can’t fully get on board with. In some ways, Village may just have the deepest narrative in the franchise, if only because it actually has a theme that it weaves throughout the entire narrative. Specifically, the story is very much about parenthood, the lengths that parents and children will go to for each other. Many of the game’s strongest and most horrific moments revolve around this very theme. However, the story really falls off the rails in the last hour. Much of this has to do with the game’s opening, where Chris kills Ethan’s wife, Mia, and kidnaps their daughter, Rose, who then gets intercepted by Mother Miranda and brought to the titular village. While this makes for a really intriguing narrative hook, the game undermines it in the last hour when it reveals that “Mia” was actually Miranda in disguise and that Chris was actually trying to save Rose… but didn’t bother to tell Ethan for absolutely no reason. It’s stupid, transparently so, and is the one thing that makes me second-guess whether this is the best Chris Redfield portrayal or not. It also doesn’t help that after all the hyping up, Mother Miranda doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to shine and live up to the hype. She very much suffers from a “tell, not show” approach. If she had some more opportunity to get fleshed out she could have been one of the most memorable Resident Evil villains.
  • Hints of What’s to Come – The closing minutes of Village are perhaps some of the most interesting to talk about. It is revealed that the BSAA, the heroic anti-bio-terror organization which has been a fixture in the series since Resident Evil 5, have become corrupt and are now deploying B.O.W.s to combat bio-terror. Obviously, this is hinting at a future where we may have to take down the BSAA, which sounds interesting to say the least. The other big reveal is that Rose grows up infected with the mold, which has given her powers that the government are monitoring closely (kind of like Sherry Birkin in Resident Evil 6). On the one hand, my gut tells me that these plot threads are going to lead us back down an action-heavy direction for the series like Resident Evil 5 and 6 did. If followed to their natural conclusion, you’d need either a soldier-type like Chris or Jill leading the fight against the BSAA and all their B.O.W. soldiers, or you’d need a super-powered Rose Winters leading the fight. Either way, it’s far away from the intimate, tense, horror-focused gameplay of the best Resident Evil games and I’d hate to see the series leave that behind again right after finding its footing. That said, I really don’t want Resident Evil to have yet another major plot hook meet a dead-end. Jake Muller (who was poised to take over the franchise) hasn’t been seen in 10 years, nothing has been done about Alex Wesker’s personality taking control of Natalia and we still know basically nothing about Blue Umbrella or what Mia was up to in Resident Evil 7. Oh, speaking of which…

Hate

  • Mia Gets Totally Shafted – If there’s one character who truly gets done dirty in this game, it’s Mia Winters. In a rather shocking twist, Resident Evil 7 reveals that Mia is secretly a part of a freaking bio-terror organization, a fact which comes to light over the course of the game. It was kind of expected that this would be explored more in Village, maybe even be why Chris shoots her in the opening sequence… but no, it is never brought up at all. In fact, Mia is relegated to the role of damsel and crying wife. She’s literally just locked up in a cage throughout the entire events of the game, gets rescued by Chris about 30 minutes before the game ends and then cries and freaks out asking where Ethan is. It’s borderline insulting that Mia gets treated this way, she was (and is) a far more compelling character than Ethan is and could have made for a great hero (or antagonist!) in this game if they’d just stuck with the narrative threads they’d established for her. Honestly, I want her to come back for Resident Evil 9. I think the villainous route could work really well for her. Maybe she had Rose with Ethan in order to continue her research, it is implied she knew Miranda and maybe she was working with her as well. This could lead to a F.E.A.R.-like situation if Mia turns Rose evil, which could be an interesting direction that could keep the games from getting too action-heavy.
  • Two Back-to-Back Awful Levels – The second half of this game really soured the experience for me. I know some people don’t like either Moreau’s Reservoir or they don’t like the factory, but I had the unpleasant experience of hating both.
    • Moreau’s area was unfocused and mediocre enough in the mines, but when you have to make your way to drain the sunken village it became an incredibly frustrating game of trial and error. Basically, you have to maneuver across planks before they go in the water, but if you fail, or if you happen to try at a moment when Moreau jumps past you, then you fall in the water and instantly get killed. I must have died here more times than in the rest of the game combined, and nearly every death was total bullshit. You can tell that there were some major cuts made here, a fact which was only recently confirmed. The original concept for the area sounds way more intriguing than what we got and I’m sad that the developers didn’t get more time to make it work.
    • Meanwhile, Heisenberg’s factory is just a slog. You have a fight tons of cyborg-zombies which become stronger and more well-armoured as the level progresses to keep things interesting. While I appreciate the attempts to keep the fights from getting too routine and I like some of the level design, the factory just goes on way too goddamn long and outstays its welcome. The game is also a lot more action-heavy during this time and every enemy feels like it takes too many shots to down them… everything is just “too much” and really should have been scaled back. Cut 20-30 minutes off this level and the game itself would be vastly improved.
  • Exploration Just Suddenly Ends Without Warning – As I headed off to Heisenberg’s factory, I had no idea that, once I went through those doors, the freeform exploration that the game had allowed up to that point was done. I had some puzzles and areas to explore still, but I figured I’d get a chance to clean all that up after the factory and before moving on to whatever area Miranda was in… haha, nope. As soon as the factory’s done the end-game gauntlet begins and goes on for nearly an hour. There’s also no merchant or weapon upgrades during this time either, so I sure hope you made use of The Duke’s services before you fought Heisenberg. Honestly, this is kind of baffling to me, I can’t help but wonder if they had to rush the ending or cut out some more areas, but it really annoyed me that you couldn’t get one last chance to explore the village before the final showdown.

Resident Evil Village was a big of a mixed bag for me. The first half was fantastic all-round, but by the time I hit the mid-point the game really nose-dived in quality and it left me feeling disappointed at how things went. I appreciate Capcom’s willingness to experiment with the franchise, but I definitely preferred the more focused and small-scale stakes of Resident Evil 7 and hope that the series will try to emulate that experience going forward.

Love/Hate: Umbrella Corps

Yeah that’s right, this one doesn’t even have the Resident Evil moniker, Capcom literally just called it Umbrella Corps. I’m not even going to mince words, this game fucking sucks. It is far and away the worst Resident Evil game I’ve played and I have a hard time imagining how a AAA studio could make a game shittier than this in future. How they managed to make a worse shooter than Resident Evil: Survivor in an era when shooters had been long figured out is beyond me. Oh and as for why I’m covering this game now instead of later with the Resident Evil spin-off titles? Despite being a multiplayer shooter, it is somehow, inexplicably canon.

Love

  • No Microtransactions – I shouldn’t even have to give a game any sort of kudos for not being predatory, but Umbrella Corps seems so ripe for microtransactions that it is shocking to see them absent. Especially for a hollow game like this, you’d expect it to be nothing but a vector to shove microtransactions at gamers, but no, somehow Capcom had some pride in this game. Hooray?
  • Fan Service – Okay, I’ve got to admit that seeing the Resident Evil 4 village in full HD is pretty damn cool. The game even adopts some of the movement mechanics of that game into the map design, encouraging more verticality. Similarly, the Kijuju village map features much more aggressive enemies, similar to how Resident Evil 5 plays, making the game almost feel like a bite-sized remake at times.

Mixed

  • Customization – Like I mentioned on Resident Evil 6, I love when a game lets you customize trivial things to your liking. Wanna pick the colour of your uniform, your helmet emblems, your gun sights and reticule? Umbrella Corps has you covered. However, you get the sense that they may have put the horse before the cart because you’re telling me that you only start out with two shotguns, two SMGs and 2 pistols? Seriously? I mean, you could theoretically unlock more, but… well…
  • Movement Speed – Holy crap you move FAST in this game, which feels at odds with the tiny maps you’re running around in. Even with just your base movement speed you can cross a room in a couple seconds at most, which I can only imagine was to copy the blistering mobility of games of the time like Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I don’t really like the speed of the game, it feels “wrong” to me, but that’s more of a subjective annoyance rather than an actual flaw so your mileage may vary.

Hate

  • An Online Shooter With No Online – The big issue with online-focused games is that they are inevitably going to be worthless and most of the content inaccessible once the online part of the game comes to an end. It’s one thing to hold that against a game like MAG or Warhawk where they provided years of online play to people who were buying the game. However, I have absolutely no reservations about Umbrella Corps, because it was dead on arrival. Within a month it was basically unplayable, with less than 50 people playing at any one time. In its release year it spent more time in an unplayable state than it did playable, which mean that this is the game’s content as far as I’m concerned. And Capcom’s still selling the “Deluxe Edition” for $33.50 on PSN! For a completely dead game!!!
  • The Experiment – Full-stop, the single player content in this game is miserable. This would be bad enough if it was just a bonus mode you could ignore, but this especially hurts because it’s the only part of the game that’s actually playable. It plays like Black Ops Declassified, the bargain-basement PS Vita Call of Duty game Activision shit out. You do spec ops missions with such engaging objectives as “kill a bunch of enemies” and “hold some points for 10 seconds”, bored to tears the whole time, stuck with the default weapon loadouts and each mission may take like 2 minutes at most to complete. To compensate for this, the game makes all enemies kill you in 1 or 2 hits, so if you make any kind of mistake then you’re punished severely. If you want to make the game even more boring you can cheese this by standing in front of the meat piles that zombies spawn from and just shoot them before they can even react, but… like, the game is boring enough as is. I’m not ashamed to admit that I quit about halfway through The Experiment, it was that joyless. The game had me doing a tedious “kill 20 enemies” mission and then round 2 was “hold point 10 seconds 5 times”. I died in the 2nd round and had to replay the entire first round again. I wanted to see Raccoon City, but fuck this, I’m not playing this game ever again.
  • Basic Design Decisions Are Flawed – Umbrella Corps just feels “off” when you’re playing it. The aforementioned movement speed doesn’t help too much but on it’s own it’s not an insurmountable problem. The problems arise from how awkward the basic shooting gameplay is. The game’s in a third person perspective, but suddenly switches to first person when you aim down sights. This is disorienting enough, but for a bonus it doesn’t do this if you’re in cover, in that context it just zooms the third person camera when you ADS. It got to the point where I was just hip-firing at all times rather than deal with the camera zooming in and out all the time.
  • Repeated Voice Lines – Get ready to tear your ears off if you hop into The Experiment. Every time you pick up a DNA sample you’re going to hear “This one’s mine!” and “There is is!” over and over and over and over and over and over and over. I swear to God that no one in charge tested this game, no one would greenlight a game this annoying and “yeah, that’s acceptable”.
  • Information Overload – Umbrella Corps‘ UI is buck-wild. In addition to standard shooter UI, the game shows you exactly where you can climb, take cover and the exact range of your melee weapons… which, combined with the small maps means that at any one time your view is going to be filled with obtrusive, over-animated bullshit, whether you wanted to or not.

Umbrella Corps is fucking garbage. I spent $6.50 on this game and I kind of knew what I was getting into, but even that felt like I was getting ripped off. I really want to know how Capcom fucked this up so badly, because there are Steam Greenlight games with better all-round design than this piece of shit.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil – Revelations 2

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’re looking at Resident Evil: Revelations 2, a game which, in hindsight, feels like Capcom testing the waters between Resident Evil 6 and 7. Like its predecessor, Revelations 2 experiments with the franchise’s usual formula in plenty of interesting ways. Does it work out for the better? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Horror Is Back, Baby! – The first Resident Evil: Revelations was clearly trying to harken back to the survival horror gameplay of the franchise’s classic entries, but Revelations 2 decides to lean full-tilt into being a horror game. It wears its influences on its sleeves – the Claire/Moira sections are very intense, like Saw II mashed with a creature feature (there’s even a chapter with its own Saw traps!), whereas Barry/Natalia’s sections are much slower-paced and have a post-apocalyptic feel, like The Last of Us. It’s a much more small-scale and intimate return to form for the franchise, which had been going off the rails for years by this point.
  • Lots of Great Characters – Revelations 2 scales down the cast compared to its predecessor, but in doing so it crafts a far more focused and impactful journey for most of them. By far the best of the bunch are Barry Burton and his daughter Moira. It’s really nice to see Barry again after so long and the fact that we like him so much makes us want to find his missing daughter all the more. Speaking of which, Moira has a great debut here. Like most modern-day Resident Evil heroines, she has a serious potty mouth, which goes along with her off-the-charts sass, but it makes her endearing. Learning what caused the rift between her and Barry and helping her overcome her fears makes for a surprisingly poignant journey. Natalia is also a surprisingly decent character, I was worried that a little girl character could get annoyingly precocious or just be used as a vector for limp scares, but she manages to hold her own. I also found the game’s villain to be very creepy, I wish that they had gotten a bit more to do but they really made an impact here.
  • Some Interesting New Enemies – Most of Revelations 2‘s enemies are the usual variety of fast/slow zombies, heavy weapon zombies, etc, but Barry’s campaign has a couple of really interesting new enemy types.
    • First of all are the glasps, which are basically big, invisible bugs. As they close in on you, the camera begins to lose focus in their direction, giving you a hint about where they are. In addition, Natalia can see them, so you can either switch to her to see where they are, or aim and listen to her call-outs to know where to shoot. They’re usually not much of a threat, but they are spooky, so they fit the game’s horror ambitions well.
    • My favourite enemy though are the Revenants, big, creepy zombies with armour all over their bodies which move erratically as you blow the plates off. The really interesting part though is that every Revenant has a randomized parasite in one of its extremities, kind of like the Regeneradors from Resident Evil 4. If you know where their weak points are, you can kill them in as little as two shots, but if you don’t you can waste a lot of ammo guessing. This incentivizes strategic play any time you encounter a Revenant. Natalia can see the parasites, so you can switch to her to know where to shoot, or you can use stealth to get close and one-shot them with a knife takedown. All-in-all, they’re a nice shake-up from the usual sorts of enemies we encounter in these games and the fact that they require some strategizing to kill effectively is appreciated.
  • Partner Switching Returns! – Thirteen years after being introduced in Resident Evil 0, seamless character switching makes its triumphant return in Revelations 2! With a press of a button you can instantly switch characters. While there aren’t quite as many puzzles requiring your characters to separate, in some ways this feature felt more necessary in Revelations 2, because your characters are far more specialized. Claire/Barry are the only characters who can shoot guns at enemies, meaning they’re going to be doing most of the combat, whereas Moira and Natalia can be used to stun enemies and find hidden items in the environment. Because of this, I got into a rhythm of playing as the item-finding characters 60% of the time and then switching to my fighter when combat gets triggered. Of course, if you don’t want to partner switch, then you could always use…
  • Split-screen Co-op! – I was legitimately surprised when I found out that Revelations 2 had a split-screen mode. Considering that Resident Evil 5 and 6 both had split-screen, I probably shouldn’t have been, but it’s a welcome surprise. It may not be as fun of an experience as those games since one player is going to be severely underpowered at all times, but having to adapt to being a support character could make Revelations 2 a unique co-op experience.
  • An Actual Dodge Button – Capcom must have heard my complaints about the dodge in the original Revelations, because the dodge here solves every single problem I had with that game’s system. All you have to do is press a button and it will play an animation, oh my God! Honestly, this probably shouldn’t even warrant an entry on the list, but the fact that I loathed the original game’s dodge so much made this such a joyous addition.

Mixed

  • Nerfed Weapon Upgrade System – Considering how much I loved the weapon upgrade system in the original Revelations, I was really excited to see it back in Revelations 2. However, the devs have made some tweaks to this system which make it so much less satisfying. First of all, the upgrade screen now shows you far less information – you can’t even see what effect applying an upgrade will have to your stats until you have applied it… why would they do this? Secondly, parts kits are significantly rarer than they were in the first game. You could reliably find 1-2 parts kits every time you passed a weapons bench in the first game, but here it’s not unusual for me to go a whole chapter and only find a couple upgrades the whole time. The devs seem to have made the decision to have parts kits be hidden much better in the environment, meaning that you really have to go looking to find them now. You can argue that it’s more rewarding, but I just find it leaves your weapons feeling far less personalized over the course of the playthrough.
  • Oh Hey, Skills Are Back… – Skills return from Resident Evil 6… and they’re about as useless as ever. As you play through the game you can find gems which will earn you BP which you can use at the end of a chapter to purchase skills, but most of these skills are very underwhelming. I can increase my fire rate when I crouch by 10%? Wow. I can heal my partner from a downed state faster (a state that I had my partner get into once in the entire game)? What a steal… But hey, at least BP is pretty easy to come by and they combined Skills with an actual weapon upgrade system, so it’s at best unobtrusive. It is, however, pretty underwhelming considering that they included a medal system to try to incentivize getting lots of bonus BP.

Hate

  • Linear Level Design – Probably the biggest change in Revelations 2 is that it drops the looping level design in favour of a far more linear progression, which feels pretty disappointing in comparison. Some of this could be chalked up to the game’s episodic release structure, which could make it difficult to design the game with hub areas, looping levels and gradual exploration of a larger area. Making matters worse, Barry’s segments recycle areas from Claire’s campaign. In fact, Barry doesn’t get any substantial new areas until Chapter 3 (of 4, for the record), meaning that nearly a quarter of the game feels like an asset flip. Thankfully, like I’ve said, the tone and pacing in Barry’s version of these areas is completely different so it doesn’t feel too egregious.
  • Claire Gets Shafted – Going into this game I thought that Claire Redfield was the main character, but holy shit does she ever feel like an afterthought. She basically adds nothing to the plot. Like, the ingredients for her to actually matter are there – Moira needs to overcome her fears in order to save the day, why can’t we make it clear that Claire is the one to inspire her? Hell, the game’s T-virus strain is triggered by fear and the villain wants Natalia specifically because she’s fearless… yet she casts aside Claire without a second thought. You’re telling me that Natalia’s more fearless than Claire is at this point? Hell, even at the end when Claire comes back to finish the fight, Barry’s just like “fuck off, this is my fight”. Sure, Claire gets the final hit in, but again it all feels like an afterthought… And oh my God don’t even get me started on her “relationship” with Neil that comes out of nowhere. It’s so badly done that it undermines and sort of emotional heft that could have been mined from it. All-in-all, this is the Burtons’ game and Claire is one again relegated to supporting character which is very disappointing.
    • On a related note, Kaya Scodelario who plays Claire in Welcome to Raccoon City got dragged by Resident Evil fans for saying that Claire gets screwed over after Resident Evil 2… but, like, she undeniably did. After 2 she gets Code: Veronica, which puts her in the back seat for Chris halfway through, and then… this. Claire got shafted hardcore by Capcom and anyone who argued otherwise needs to take a step back and look at just how under-represented Claire is.
  • Bleed/Healing System – One of Revelations 2‘s experiments with the series’ survival horror formula involves adding a bleed status and I’ve got to say that I’m not a fan of this system at all. If you get hit by a strong attack from an enemy, this will cause the edges of the screen to turn a sharp red and your health will drain over time. The only way to stop this is for you or your partner to either apply a tourniquet or use a green herb. It’s fine in concept, but in execution it doesn’t work. First of all, there’s no hotkey to use a tourniquet, so you have to dive into your menu to do it… but if you got hit by an enemy then you’re still in combat and you won’t have time to do that (opening the inventory doesn’t pause the game in Revelations 2). Secondly, you never know if your partner is going to use a tourniquet on you or not, it’s a crapshoot really. Thirdly, I don’t like the way this game indicates damage – you can’t really tell how damaged you are, and even a couple small hits turn a third of your screen red so for all I know I was healing all game while still over half health. Oh and the game also has ANOTHER system where your vision can be obscured by gunk so you can apply disinfectant to clear your screen, but again… why? With no hotkey I’m not digging through my inventory for this.
  • HOLD ONTO THE FUCKING BRICK, NATALIA – Holy fucking shit this annoyed the hell out of me. Natalia’s only offensive option is to pick up bricks in the environment and throw them at enemies or bash them up close. You’d think she could just carry them around easily, but no, if you do anything she will drop it automatically. Went up a ladder? Brick’s gone? Slide down a hill? Bye-bye brick. Open a door? No bricks allowed. It’s so stupid, it makes it so that you can’t even reliably plan to have a brick for any upcoming combats and I honestly can’t wrap my head around why the devs would program the game like this.
  • Doesn’t Take Advantage of A/B Scenario – Revelations 2 makes some attempts for actions taken in Claire’s scenario to affect Barry’s scenario, but these feel token at best. There are a handful of enemies in each chapter with glowing heads whose survival or death affects Barry’s campaign, plus interacting with a couple objects may open up different paths, but that’s it. It could have been cool if there was more ways to “leave a mark” on Barry’s campaign, but unfortunately the execution here is so limited that it is effectively non-existent.
  • Bugs – There are bugs everywhere in this game, and not just of the invisible-variety. Animation bugs are by far the most common and egregious – you will see objects and characters clip through the environment all the time. Even the mandatory sliding animations to load into new areas will blatantly show Barry and Natalia halfway up to their knees in the environment which is really immersion-breaking.
  • The Story Crumbles By the End – By the end of the first half, Revelations 2 had one of the best stories in any Resident Evil game going. The character drama is strong and Chapter 2 ends with a hell of a cliff-hanger, but after this point the plot quickly starts to fall apart. Chapter 3 really puts Claire’s “relationship” with Neil center stage and it goes off like a wet fart, whereas Barry’s Chapter 3 is basically just busywork, feeling like padding. However, by the time you reach the story revelations in Chapter 4 the plot crumbles with any level of scrutiny (spoilers ahead). For example, if Neil was secretly supporting bioterrorism, why did he kidnap his own employees as test subjects? And, for that matter, why kidnap Claire goddamn Redfield!? All that said, Revelations 2 ends on a cliffhanger that must be addressed in a future Resident Evil game, it’s far too big to just leave it as a loose end forever.

I enjoyed Resident Evil: Revelations 2 quite a bit, but it is a far different game than its predecessor. I like some things they did here more than the original, but for every improvement there’s a step back which hinders the experience somewhat. If they had ironed out a handful of the annoyances (eg, drop the bleed system, keep weapon upgrades how they were in the original, tighten the story, etc) then it’d probably be a clear head and shoulders above the first Revelations, but as-is I appreciate both for their unique takes on survival horror.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil – Revelations

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’re going to start arguably the most prominent and popular spin-off series in the franchise, Resident Evil: Revelations. Conceived as an interquel set between Resident Evil 4 and 5 and initially designed as a handheld experience, Revelations has since made its way to TV screen and computer monitors. This game also came out at a time when Resident Evil was at its most troubled – the horror elements of the franchise had been forgotten and Resident Evil 6 and Operation Racoon City were just on the horizon to make things even worse. With all this in mind, how does Revelations hold up today compared to its full-fledged console brethren? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Really Impressive For a 3DS Game – While it’s not quite on the same level as Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Revelations makes the jump from handheld to console surprisingly well. You can definitely tell that the game was designed for less-powerful hardware – the graphics range from near PS3-quality for some of the character models to sub-PS1 for parts of the environment, the animations (especially for enemies) can be very stiff and limited and the whole experience feels like Resident Evil 5-lite. However, this ultimately makes the game all the more impressive because throughout the entire playthrough I found myself saying holy shit this was running on a 3DS?!
  • Great Pacing – Resident Evil games, especially after 4, had a bad habit of trying to stretch out their levels as much as possible, making each one take around an hour to get through. Revelations, on the other hand, is designed for handhelds and so most levels top out between 30-45 minutes, which are often divided up between 5-30 minute chunks of gameplay, and each chapter ends with some sort of cliffhanger which makes you want to find out what will happen next. Honestly, I enjoyed this “TV drama” approach more than I expected to.
  • Some Great New Characters – Resident Evil can struggle at times to introduce interesting new characters (or, hell, can be adverse to introducing any), but Revelations has a bunch of fun, delightful additions that I really want to see come back to the franchise someday. The most notable is Parker, a super charming guy who is as memorable as fan-favourite Barry Burton. BSAA director O’Brian is also a solid character, literally a Colonel Campbell type (they even got Paul Eiding for the English dub to play him). Despite being one-note, I also found Jessica to be quite endearing, especially because she plays off of Chris and Parker well. I would be sad if none of these characters ever return to the series – don’t make me sad, Capcom!
  • Return to Classic Level Design – Resident Evil 4 moved the franchise towards a more linear level design, but a good chunk of Revelations harkens back to a more classic-style in line with the original Resident Evil. Over the course of the game, Jill will explore every area of the Queen Zenobia at least twice over, coming back to get to previously-inaccessible rooms and items as you go, which keeps the environments from feeling overly-repetitive. Like I’ve said, it’s pretty stripped-down compared to the classic Resident Evil games, so don’t expect to find an item and then have to trek to the other side of the ship to use it, the game is pretty good at funneling you where you need to go (which is good because the in-game map is not very helpful and the Queen Zenobia isn’t anywhere near as memorable as the Spencer Mansion or Raccoon Police Department).
  • Genesis – I was initially annoyed by the introduction of the Genesis scanning system; it felt like an unnecessary barrier to item discovery, when you should be able to just pick items up in the environment. However, soon enough I found it to be a fun, optional bonus you could use. Low on ammo? Pop out the Genesis and you’re sure to find some. It’s also very handy that when you walk into a room the scanner will tell you if there’s an item there, so you don’t have to waste time searching every corner of every room. It also has the bonus function of producing green herbs when you scan enough enemies… but it’s most effective when they’re still alive (some enemies can’t even be scanned when they die because their bodies dissolve immediately), so you have a strategic decision to make when using it. I’m not sure I’d like this to be added to any other Resident Evil game, but it works surprisingly well here.
  • Weapon Upgrades System – Revelations may have my favourite weapon upgrade system in the entire franchise. Hell, Revelations may have my favourite kind of weapon upgrade system in any game. Put simply, you’ll find parts kits in the environment as you play, the most valuable of which are in hard-to-reach places and/or hidden with the Genesis. If you’re actually looking for them, you should find one or two kits every time you set off to complete an objective. These kits allow you to equip perks onto your guns at workbenches. Each gun comes with a certain number of perk slots, perks can be swapped in and out at will and some perks are exclusive to each weapon. Furthermore, each perk has multiple levels of effectiveness which dramatically improve their quality (eg, Damage 1 boosts your gun by 10%… whereas Damage 5 boosts it 50%). All-in-all, it’s a great system that gives you a ton of flexibility and customization, encourages exploration to get the most out of your weapons and are doled out at a good pace to feel rewarding.

Mixed

  • The Shooting Gameplay – Revelations plays a lot like Resident Evil 5, which I was pretty meh on. Thankfully, the enemies in this game aren’t quite as bullet-spongey, but some of the endless shooting galleries (especially any time Hunters are on-screen) get to the point of being tedious and mind-numbing. Unlike, say, the Resident Evil 2 remake where you are encouraged to avoid/ignore enemies when you can, Revelations seems to expect you to kill everyone you come across, which clashes somewhat with the more classic survival horror elements of the game. It can be especially problematic during the handful of sequences where you get absolutely swarmed by enemies, where your success or failure will likely come down to whether you happen to have enough ammo stockpiled.

Hate

  • …And Some Awful New Characters – As much as I like the new cast in Revelations, there were some utter stinkers added to the roster which I would be remiss to ignore. Worst of all has to be Quint, an annoying dork who refuses to just shut the hell up for five seconds. He’s joined by his comedy side-kick, Grinder, who isn’t anywhere near as bad but ever time Quint said his nickname (which is all the time) all I can hear is “Grindr”… Anyway, this game is also saddled with Raymond, an even bigger dork with an awful, out-of-place anime character design, complete with huge red haircut and gigantic chad chin. Raymond himself isn’t that bad, but his design is so off-putting that I hated every moment he was on-screen and it definitely undermined the “cool guy” energy they were clearly aiming for.
  • Dodging – Okay, I will acknowledge that there is a good chance that this may be 100% on me, but holy fuck I could not dodge to save my life. There’s a whole dodging tutorial section in the early parts of the game where it tells you “move your analog stick and press X to dodge” and if you do it at the right time your character will dodge. Simple enough, but Jesus Christ it doesn’t work. First of all, there is no associated animation for a failed dodge, so you either do it perfectly or don’t do anything, making it difficult to know if I’m even performing it right. Secondly, I would constantly perform dodges at random in this game without even intending to and I can tell you for a fact that all I was doing at the time was moving the stick, I was definitely not pressing X too. Worst of all, dodging is crucial for your survival, because several enemies and attacks are clearly designed to be dodged and your health reserves will barely get you through on Normal if you can’t. Anyway, suffice to say I got extremely frustrated during the dodge “tutorial”.
  • Story Goes Off the Rails – I’ll be honest, for the first half of this game I was enjoying the story here way more than most Resident Evil games. The TV drama format means you’re getting new twists and turns every 30 minutes or so, but at a certain point it just collapses in on itself. Probably the dumbest moment in the whole game is when you play as Chris and Jessica fighting your way through a ship to rescue Jill and Parker… only to get to the end of the level and discover “oh no, the princess is in another cruise ship!” Seriously, someone decided that it was a good idea to have two identical cruise ships with monsters in them and the only reason I can think for that is to pad the runtime and reuse some areas for a dumb twist. As if that wasn’t dumb enough though, it turns out that there’s also a third ship after all this. Oh, and the whole plot is a false flag operation orchestrated by O’Brian to prove that his boss is a terrorist-sympathizer… which he does by unleashing a deadly virus on two (retired) cruise ships and then throws his best agents into them because he can’t risk having the truth leak out! Throw in a couple non-sensical betrayals and it’s pretty clear that twists took precedence over a coherent and satisfying narrative.
  • Enemy Design – The design of the T-Abyss monsters really doesn’t do it for me in this game. On the one hand, blob-like enemies hadn’t been done in the franchise at this point, I can appreciate their deep-sea creature inspirations and they’re differentiated well enough that you can always know exactly what variant you’re fighting. However, blob monsters seem so uninspired to me. Their jerky motions remind me of the necromorphs in Dead Space, but their design as a bunch of flesh blobs make them far less interesting and disturbing as far as I’m concerned. On the other side of the coin, the Hunters and infected wolves clearly got the short end of the stick here, as each are clearly given far less attention with their animations and attacks, preferring to just swarm you and hope you don’t notice.
  • Partner AI – I’m not even sure why Revelations has a partner with you at all times, because they are basically useless. I can only assume that “everyone liked it in Resident Evil 5” so it’s an expectation that it will be there? Anyway, your partner will never do anything useful in combat, can’t hold items for you, can’t heal you and will rarely draw any sort of aggro for you… Honestly, the only good part about having an AI partner with you for the whole game is that at least it helps flesh out their character, which is a big reason why I liked Parker and Jessica so much.
  • Jill’s Redesign – This is a pretty minor issue all-told, but I couldn’t get it out of my head throughout the entire game. Capcom changed Jill’s face model for this game and it just feels… wrong. The new model isn’t that far off from the one they had been using from Resident Evil remake through to 5, but (weirdly enough) that just makes it feel worse, like they subtly screwed up how she’s supposed to look.
  • Horny Devs – Resident Evil 6 was in development at the same time as Revelations and you can definitely see that both games had the same level of horniness in the dev teams (for better or worse). First of all, Jill has a dump truck ass in this game and is always showing some cleavage. This is super minor and I wouldn’t have minded at all if that was the end of it, but there are two particularly egregious offenders. First of all is Jessica, whose special ops wetsuit design apparently doesn’t need to cover an entire leg or ass-cheek. It’s just so transparently horny that even the guy who designed her thinks it looks stupid. The worst offender is, without a doubt, Rachel Foley, an agent who goes into combat on the Queen Zenoba with her two gigantic knockers exposed. You come across her getting fucking murdered right in front of you and you’re probably going to come away from all that thinking “man she had big tits”. Oh, but then she gets infected with T-Abyss and takes it to a whole other level as she suddenly becomes the only ooze monster to retain enough of a human shape to be constantly thrusting her bulbous boobies at you. I’ve heard justifications that they were trying to mix horror and eroticism together in this design, but it just looks like some weirdo’s fetish unleashed. Naturally, Rachel has become one of the most popular Revelations characters, fancy that.

While it may look like my opinions on Revelations are polarized, I honestly feel like most of the “Hates” are relatively minor. Overall, I really enjoyed this game, the mixture of classic Resident Evil level design and Resident Evil 4 and 5‘s gameplay works really well and its characters and unique eccentricities really grew on me the more I played. It just goes to show what you can do with a strong design team, even on an underpowered system like the 3DS.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 0

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’re going to be looking at Resident Evil 0, the oft-overlooked Game Cube prequel to the original game. Having come out at a time when classic survival horror fatigue was at an all-time high, does this game hold up 20 years later? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Partner Switch Mechanic – By far the most notable addition in Resident Evil 0 is the ability to switch characters with the press of a button. Not because it opens up new gameplay possibilities (which it does, but it’s arguably under-utilized), but because the technology of it is so cool. Seriously, in a game series where opening every door results in a loading screen, the ability to press a button and then a second later be on an entirely different part of the map with another character is mind-blowing. Seriously, this is the kind of thing that modern games struggled with until the most recent generation where SSDs became standardized, but seeing it on a Game Cube game is wild.
  • Graphics – Resident Evil 0 was easily the best-looking Resident Evil game until the series made the jump to PS4. The pre-rendered backgrounds look great and, uncharacteristically, Capcom managed to not lose their hi-res masters so the HD remaster actually looks fantastic in action (although, like the Resident Evil remake, the cinematics are still in stretched 480p). I feel like the art direction in Resident Evil remake is a bit more distinctive overall, but Resident Evil 0 is definitely the prettiest of the “classic” era of the franchise.
  • Train Opening – Resident Evil 0 makes a big impression in its opening hour, which sees you having to deal with zombies on a train. It’s easily the most memorable and unique area in the game and… well, honestly, it was pretty frustrating to play this section but the art direction and level design are so distinctive that it left a positive impression on me overall. It’s too bad that the rest of the game feels like it’s recycling series tropes with its locations, but at least the train at the start of the game gives 0 its own legitimately iconic identity.
  • Billy and Rebecca – Like Sherry and Jake in Resident Evil 6, Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen make for a great odd-couple pairing (albeit without the romantic tension). At the game’s outset, Billy is straight-up a convicted murderer whereas Rebecca is the straight-laced soldier, which makes their forced cooperation and eventual warming up to one another great to see play out. The voice acting is also better-than-average for a Resident Evil game, especially from Billy’s actor, James Kee, who gives his character a confident, menacing, sarcastic edge.
  • Innovations – It’s not unusual for a prequel to be used as an excuse to repeat familiar beats one more time, but Resident Evil 0 actually makes the brave decision to shake up the gameplay of the franchise. For better or for worse this gives the game its own unique identity. First of all, as I’ve mentioned, it introduces an AI partner for the first time in the franchise who you can switch to control on the fly. The game also allows you to drop items and they will stay on the map later, alleviating some stress about item management. Both of these changes fundamentally switch up the way you play the game and make Resident Evil 0 an interesting entry even now, whether you like the changes or not.
  • HD Remaster Costumes – Okay, I’ve gotta say that the plethora of costumes available in the HD remaster right off the bat is a great touch. Most Resident Evil games will have unlockable costume sets that only become available for subsequent playthroughs, but I don’t tend to replay games all that regularly so I never really get to use them. However, right from the outset you get a bunch of choices to customize Rebecca and Billy and can swap them on the fly. It’s a small touch but I personally loved the option!
  • Wesker Mode – THIS is how you convince someone to replay a game that they just beat. The HD remaster of Resident Evil 0 adds the ability to have Billy swapped out for Albert freaking Wesker, complete with his own unique moveset and abilities which fundamentally shakes up the gameplay. It’s such a cool idea and I don’t understand why more games don’t have cool bonus modes like this to reward players for completion.

Mixed

  • Partner AI – Your partner’s AI can be reeeeeeally stupid at times, often being more of a liability than an asset. You get a few toggles you can set to make them passive or aggressive, or to stay put or follow you, but even if you put them on attack mode they will often stand around doing nothing half the time. Worse, they will usually have to be micro-managed to avoid taking any damage and in certain areas of the game you’re best off leaving your partner behind so you can weave through enemies alone so your partner won’t waste your resources, which you’re only going to know through either pre-existing knowledge or trial-and-error.

Hate

  • The Load Times – Here’s a caveat: I played this game on Switch so maybe this is just down to the platform I played on, but oh my God the load times kill me in this game. Every time you go through a door it can easily take ten seconds or more before you get back in control, which adds up big time over the course of a playthrough. Hell, it’s not unusual for me to spend more time waiting for an area to load than actually playing in an area before getting to the next loading screen. This is especially baffling when the player switch is so seamless and quick, despite you potentially being on the other side of the game world at the time… is it not loading in the same resources either way? Why does that take only a second whereas entering some rooms takes upwards of fifteen seconds…? Hell, the Resident Evil remake didn’t take nearly this long either and its definitely comparable technology. In any case, this is a major frustration which makes Resident Evil 0 a slog to playthrough in the moment-to-moment gameplay.
  • No Item Box – While being able to drop items where ever you want is handy, the way it is implemented turns it into more of an exercise in frustration than the Godsend that it sounds like. This is mainly because the game decides to show off this feature by doing away with the traditional item box, which leads to two big issues:
    • First of all, while it sounds more realistic and immersive, managing your big stockpile of items is not intuitive when they’re in a big pile on the floor. There are a couple rooms in the game which were clearly designed as your “item drop” areas and you’ll find yourself annoyed as you try to maneuver just right to be able to pick up the one item you want to get, and not the item beside it. Remember, this is a fixed-camera game and you’re trying to reach the exact point you want to get to in 3D space, it’s not as easy as it sounds and I often found myself grabbing the wrong items. Making matters worse, all areas have a cap on the number of items you can drop there and you will eventually run out of space, forcing you to find another safe area to be your backup item drop room, meaning you now have to remember where you put which items.
    • The second, bigger issue is that eventually you are going to have to move all those items. There are three points in this game where you are going to have to move all your shit around, which is a long, annoying process of dropping all your items, heading back to get more, dropping those off and then backtracking again to get whatever stuff you weren’t able to bring the first time. It’s not fun and all that they would have needed to do to solve it is give you an item box that you can put your stuff into in addition to being able to drop stuff on the floor if needed.
  • The Worst Enemies in the Franchise – Resident Evil 0 has some of the most frustrating enemies in the whole series to have to face, to the point where it makes the thought of replaying the game less enticing. The leech zombies are everywhere in this game and I hate them. They are vulnerable to fire, but if you don’t have a couple molotov cocktails or a grenade launcher then you will literally waste all your pistol and shotgun ammo trying to kill them if you don’t just take the damage and run past. Again, like I said earlier, if you already know how to deal with them or learn through trial-and-error then you can mitigate the frustration, but if you go in blind then it’s just straight-up unfair. The leech zombies aren’t even the worst enemies, that would probably be the Eliminator monkeys since you can’t just run past them. These little bastards can stunlock you, deal huge amounts of damage, attack in groups and take several shotgun rounds to take down. Oh, and I’d be remiss to not mention the Lurkers, which can show up if you cross one particular bridge. If you happened to not bring your partner with you at the time, you die instantly and without warning… how fun!
  • The Leech Controller is Super Lame – So, the main villain of Resident Evil 0 looks like… this. I don’t find myself hating him because of his actions or for being threatening, I want him dead because he’s such a stupid looking villain. That’s it, I just hate this character. When I get through the series I want to do a character tier list and this loser is going to be in the bottom tier, no question.
  • Just a Really Frustrating Experience – I would argue that Resident Evil 0 is probably the hardest game in the franchise. Even playing on normal mode, the game is designed to keep you on the absolute bare minimum of health and ammo, while also throwing you into situations where you have to fight, have to take damage, or get put up against enemies like the leech zombies which you can’t possibly deal with without losing all your resources. Sure, maybe you’ll figure out a way to deal with these problems through trial and error, but you’re going to want to throw your controller across the room because of it. I died maybe a couple times playing through Resident Evil remake on normal and was able to stockpile a lot of resources, whereas I must have died more than a dozen times in Resident Evil 0, and each death just pissed me off. Resident Evil remake feels like it’s more interested in being fun than difficult, but Resident Evil 0 is definitely trying to be difficult.
    • The first half of the game especially is so frustratingly designed, putting you in very narrow corridors where dodging enemies is not a realistic expectation, while also not giving you nearly enough ammunition to kill all the enemies the game throws at you. Even then, it’s not unusual for the game to respawn enemies in areas where you’ve already cleared them out (the train is especially bad for this). This can lead to unwinnable situations where you’ve already used all your ammo or health and can’t deal with one of the big enemies that show up in the early game.
    • You can also get screwed over out of the blue when the game decides to throw a boss fight at you, as these are mostly one-character-only battles. What’s that, you were using Billy as Rebecca’s inventory monkey and all he has is a pistol? Too bad, he’s gotta fight this giant centipede now, good luck!
    • Special mention has to go towards one of the big “fuck you’s” the developers put in this game. See, these bastards knew that their no item box system meant that you were going to have to drop items and backtrack to get more, so they spawn a group of fucking Eliminators in this path after you’ve dropped all your items to free up inventory space. Thankfully I happened to have a shotgun with me, but holy shit that is a clear as day example of the developers knowing their shitty design decisions and then just trying to fuck over the player. It’s either pre-existing knowledge, pure luck, or frustration.
    • Speaking of backtracking, there are chemicals that you have to find and add to Rebecca’s mixing set throughout the game. I just added these by habit during the game, but you need specific chemicals for two or three puzzles at various points in the game, so it was pure dumb luck that I happened to have the right ones when needed. If I didn’t I wouldn’t even begin to know where to go for what chemical, or even know that I needed a specific one. Again… pre-existing knowledge, pure luck, or frustration.
  • The Story – Oh hey, another Resident Evil game, another underwhelming story. Resident Evil 0 has some unique issues though that make it particularly frustrating. First of all, its status as a prequel creates issues, the most glaring being that Rebecca’s characterization in this game and in Resident Evil remake is completely off. Here she’s a capable badass, but in Resident Evil, which occurs literally a day later, she’s a scared little girl who can’t do anything without Chris’ help. The presence of Albert Wesker and William Birkin also irks me, since they don’t really do anything and it spoils their roles in Resident Evil 1 and 2, meaning that new players shouldn’t experience the games in chronological order. It also just isn’t a very good prequel. The idea of finding out what happened to S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team sounds cool, but the premise is almost immediately dropped as the team splits up in the woods and gets lost on their own side quests. We encounter Enrico about three quarters of the way through and then, after blowing up another Umbrella lab, Rebecca decides to wander into the mansion at the end of the game, but that’s not really a great connective story now is it? Honestly, Resident Evil 0 would have been better without trying to tie it directly into the original game.

Overall, I did enjoy Resident Evil 0 and I appreciate its attempts to shake-up the series’ formula which was growing stale at the time. However, there are so many intentionally-frustrating design decisions that the idea of replaying it anytime soon is totally soured for me. I’d recommend checking it out, but unless you’re a masochist then glancing at a walkthrough to know what to expect would probably be wise if you want to avoid some rage-inducing moments.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil Survivor

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! Previously we went through the series from the remake of the original to Resident Evil 7. At the time I said I’d pickup the franchise’s several spin-offs and other media at a later date, and that time has finally come. We’re going to start with Resident Evil Survivor, the franchise’s first spin-off video game. While oft-forgotten and overlooked, it is still a canonical entry thanks to the shoutout it gets at the start of Resident Evil 0. At a time when Resident Evil games used pre-rendered backgrounds, fixed camera angles and auto-aiming, Survivor differentiated itself by being a first-person shooter with fully 3D environments. How does it hold-up playing it today? Read on to find out…

Love

  • The Writing and Voice Acting – Early Resident Evil games are known for having bad voice acting, but Survivor‘s bad voice acting combined with its atrocious writing come together to make every bit of dialogue and every file you come across into an unintentional comedy sketch. The main character is often reacting incredulously to the things going on around him but their voice actor sounds like he’s holding back his performance, as if he’s recording his lines while hiding in an attic as the police are searching the house for him. The writing makes it all worse though – the writers want you to know that, get this, VINCENT IS A MURDERER, so every file and line about him hammers home what an over-the-top monster he is, how everyone hates him and is afraid of him, and they’ve got to write all this down to record it because people need to know how much of a murderer Vincent is. There’s even a part where the main character comes across a recording of Vincent’s mother calling to tell him to stop being a murderer, it’s fucking hilarious. Every line feels so unnatural and inhuman, even innocuous stuff like when a character says “At the request of my friend, Leon S. Kennedy, I came here to investigate!”… because we wouldn’t know which Leon they were referring to without throwing in their middle initial. It’s so bad, I legitimately adored this part of the game.
  • Branching Pathways – So the one legitimately good thing that Survivor does is that at a few points in the game you will get a one-use only key item which can be used to open a couple different side-routes of your choice. For a game that is expecting replays this helps keep the game from feeling the same every thing time and there can be some extra rewards for going through some of the more off-the-beaten-path routes.
  • It’s Short – After spending like 20+ hours of my life on Resident Evil 6, I appreciate that Survivor only wasted a couple of my evenings. That said, the fact that it’s short also gives you some excuse to check it out – it’s not going to waste a ton of your life so if you’re curious then maybe give it a shot.

Mixed

  • It’s Still Survival Horror, For Better or Worse – Survivor plays very much like a first-person version of the classic Resident Evil games, including tank controls, item management and even much of the button layout. One big difference though is that pistol ammunition is unlimited, so you’ll always have at least one gun available for any situation. However, ammo for other weapons and healing items are very limited, which is nice for keeping the game from getting too easy. That said, the game gets real stingy about doling out healing items in the latter section of the game… which is the part where you are actually going to need your healing and special ammo the most. Seriously, health was pretty abundant early on but I don’t even think the game gave me more than one herb during the entire last area of the game, not even before boss fights, which is a major problem because I reached the final boss with literally 1 HP left and low on special ammo types, so I had to either git gud or replay the whole game knowing that you’re not actually supposed to use the resources the game gives you because it will stop giving you them later. I went with option three and just Youtubed the final cutscene.

Hate

  • Bad Controls – Resident Evil Survivor is in the unfortunate position of being a console FPS before the control schemes for these kinds of games were figured out and standardized. As a result, Survivor literally lifts its controls from the main Resident Evil games, including tank controls, having to hold R1 to draw your weapon and then press X to actually fire it. Classic Resident Evil manages to get by on this control scheme, but for a first person shooter it does not make for a good time. Probably the worst part of this is that there is no way to move the camera vertically, which is a major problem for two reasons. First of all, you have to just walk over some items and hope you bump into them because you have to get too close to see them in order to pick them up. Secondly, dogs and lickers will get under your line of sight and be untargetable as a result, which is a major issue in a game where 99% of the enemies are trying to melee you. The game’s solution is to lock the camera onto enemies when you shoot them, but this can cause the whole camera to flail wildly as it tracks their erratic movements. Oh, and this also makes follow-up shots ridiculously easy to chain, which leads into the next problem…
  • Bad Game Design – Survivor has a litany of badly designed elements which can make playing it feel dull. One of the worst elements compared to mainline Resident Evil games is its brain-dead use of key items. Classic games in the franchise will have you collecting multiple key items and carrying them all over the map to find their use. In Survivor once you pick up a key item you’re rarely more than one or two rooms away from the place where it’s needed, meaning that you’re barely going to be holding them for more than thirty seconds. Also not helping matters is what I call this game’s “dummy button”, L1. Tapping L1 will lock-on to the closest door, item or enemy, which turns into a crutch to make you have to think even less while playing this game. Also, having played the game like a shooter and fighting all the enemies as I went, in retrospect this game is unintentionally encouraging you to not fight unless you’re going to take damage otherwise. Any area rarely has more than 2-4 enemies in it, there’s plenty of room to maneuver (even when you’re up against tougher foes like Lickers or Tyrants), and ammo for your stronger weapons is too rare to waste on every Tyrant and Hunter you come across because the game does not reward you for fighting them. Running through every room to avoid combat isn’t going to do this already short game any favours. Which leads into the next issue…
  • Bad Checkpointing – What do you do to make your two hour game feel longer? Why, make it so when the player dies they have to replay like a half hour of content to get back to where they were! Brilliant! Seriously, I died on the final boss and the game plopped me back in somewhere before the ruined mansion area, which was easily 30+ minutes of gameplay (and unskippable cutscenes!). Thankfully I was on an emulator so I could just reload a save state, but to make matters even more infuriating, there are no save rooms in Survivor. Anyone who bought this game for PS1 was expected to complete it in one sitting and only got three lives before they just straight-up lose. If I was playing this game back in the day, I would fling my disc across the room if that happened.
  • Bad UX – Item management is a real pain in Survivor. Any time you need to heal or switch weapons, the process is laborious. First, you have to pause, open the inventory, scroll through all your items to find the one you want, select it, press equip/use and then unpause the game. Oh and button inputs are delayed so everything just feels like it takes longer than it needs to, on top of the whole process taking several more steps than it needs to.
  • Bad QA – So, Resident Evil Survivor is so slapdash that it may not have even had a quality assurance team involved in its creation. I can’t verify the veracity of this claim, but it really wouldn’t surprise me because I came across a few bugs in my short playtime. Perhaps the most annoying one was that I had to go into the sewers in order to progress, which involved picking up a manhole opener and then walking over the manhole. I did so, but it wouldn’t trigger, making me think that I had to manually press “Use” on the item. This did not work. It wasn’t until I walked in a straight line from the place where I got the manhole opener to the manhole itself that it finally triggered, which is just ridiculous. How could they not anticipate players maybe approaching the manhole from a slightly different angle…? Perhaps the most common bugs though will be with the enemy AI. I’ve had spiders run headlong at me but not be able to do any damage, enemies getting caught helplessly on scenery and each other, and enemies just running around in circles while you shoot them.
  • Bad Sound Effects – How bad does your game have to be when I’m even ragging on the sound effects??? The pool of sound effects in this game are incredibly limited, meaning that every time you shoot your gun you’re getting assaulted with the exact same gunshot over and over again, and enemies just keep making the same stock sound effects every time they’re hit and die. The worst offenders for this are the Undertakers, bio-weapon soldiers who make this bizarre, ungodly screech like a jungle cat when they die (I guarantee that you have heard the awful sound effect they use for this before).
  • Bad Story – Look, the writing in Survivor is at least ironically funny, but the actual story here is even worse than I was expecting. Like, to set the stage for you, the whole plot revolves around amnesia and a bunch of ridiculously contrived misunderstandings and blatant lying from the writers to make you believe that you are Vincent (who is a MURDERER). It’s bad enough that any sort of story they could have told about what Umbrella was up to on Sheena Island gets lost in the shuffle.

My God Resident Evil Survivor was bad, easily the worst Resident Evil game I’d played up to this point and probably up there amongst the worst games I’ve played through, period. That said, at least it’s short so if you want to check it out you’re not going to suffer for long. And with all that said, Umbrella Corps can’t be worse than this though… right? Right?

15 Best Movie Posters of 2021

Welcome back to the mostly-annual year-end countdown of the best movie posters of the year! Obviously since we basically got no movies in 2020 I had to take the last year off, but we’re back for 2021 with a very solid selection of eye-catching posters that I had a seriously difficult time narrowing down into just a top 15. As before, I’m using impawards as the source for 2021 posters. Any poster released during the year is eligible, but special consideration is given to posters which are intended for mass distribution rather than posters which are intended to be limited-release, alternative, “artistic” posters. As usual, you can see the full-sized poster in all its glory if you click on the images. Anyway, with those considerations out of the way, let’s get onto the list!

Dishonourable Mention: Cosmic Sin

Okay, the idea of Bruce Willis and Frank Grillo as a couple of space marines sounds fucking awesome, but the cheap, obvious, awful headswap Photoshop job on this poster makes this whole movie seem cheap and laughable. Not that Cosmic Sin needs much help, this movie is apparently so bad and forgettable that no one has even fixed the numerous grammatical errors in its Wikipedia page as of October 21, 2021. Ouch.

15) The French Dispatch

This one mostly makes the list because you take one look at it and go “Oh hey, it’s a Wes Anderson movie in poster form”. It’s quirky, detailed and has tons of stuff to look at, each cell is practically a miniature character poster of its own and the Fibonacci sequence-like layout directs your eyes in an unusual and interesting way. The pulpy, 30s/40s serial art style also helps this standout amongst the other posters of 2021 and no-doubt reflects Anderson’s distinct visual style and aesthetics. All-in-all, a unique and fun poster which undoubtedly reflects the film’s aesthetic as well.

14) Spencer

This poster is very striking. Between the massive, elaborate outfit, the contrast between the dark and the light of the dress and Kristen Stewart’s flawless transformation into Princess Diana, there’s plenty to draw you in. What helps make this more than just a visually-appealing piece is that the design also belies the story’s darker elements, with Diana seemingly stifled, like she’s trapped in the opulence. It’s a true art piece in its own right and I’m curious if Spencer can live up to it.

13) Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry

I’m not really a fan of pop music (shocker), so unsurprisingly I don’t give a shit about Billie Eilish and could care even less for an Apple TV exclusive documentary about her. However, it’s hard to deny that she doesn’t have her own distinct style, best highlighted in these posters for The World’s a Little Blurry. I like the first one mostly, it has a moody tone to it, Eilish’s signature green hair gives it a strong hue and it (obviously) lives up to the “blurry” part of the title. It reminds me of the Joker poster from 2019 that I liked so much. Like most good posters, the use of colour is very intentional, bringing its own tone, mood, style and even symbology to these posters which I can’t help but appreciate.

12) Prisoners of the Ghostland

While I find this poster very visually-arresting, promising me the trippiest samurai movie you’ve ever seen, there’s one small element that really makes me love this poster. I love how this poster draws your eyeline downward – first you see a samurai badass with his back to you, then the spooky mask, then the title and then “This wildest movie I’ve ever made”. Wow, who’s saying that? Nicholas goddamn Cage and for him that is a freaking declaration. The poster itself is cool but that strategically-placed quote gets my imagination racing, just going to show that every aspect of poster design can be crucial to its success. For that, Prisoners of the Ghostland deserves special commendation!

11) A Classic Horror Story

This one succeeds for a couple reasons. First of all, it’s called A Classic Horror Story and the poster design makes this look like… a classic 70s horror story. Secondly, if I saw that horned devil lady in my doorway, I’d be legitimately unsettled. The fact that it seems to be happening in full daylight just makes the whole thing even more unsettling to me, while the red and black colours give the whole thing a sinister vibe. Like I said, colour is very important in good poster design (a trend which you will likely notice going forward) and the use of it here helps contribute to the horrifying atmosphere that A Classic Horror Story is giving off.

10) Honeydew

There are several horror posters this year that get by with their disturbing and unnerving imagery, including choices that just missed the list such as Malignant and We Need to Do Something. However, this poster for Honeydew is the most unsettling for me. I’m not entirely sure what is happening here, but it sure looks uncomfortable and you can see the fear in this guy’s eyes at whatever’s going on. It conjures images in my mind of some Saw-like trap and all the nastiness associated with that. The sickly, yellow hue over the entire poster just makes it feel even more disconcerting.

9) Old

This one is pretty simple but effective. While other posters for Old get across the idea that it takes place on a beach more, this one is far more interesting. In my opinion, it captures the concept of the inevitable, uncontrollable and even frightening passage of time and death very well, all wrapped up in a minimalist, black and white style that makes it striking to view.

8) The Sleeping Negro

Oh and speaking of minimalist styles, while the poster for Old mostly just looks cool, this poster for The Sleeping Negro uses it to get across some pretty clever racial imagery. This poster deftly gets across the theme of alienation and isolation in this film in a very simple manner that makes it even more effective than if they had gone for something more complicated or less stylized. Hell, they could honestly go even more minimalist if they wanted to, cutting out the title completely, and the message would still be conveyed just as strongly, as even the black character’s afro highlights that he’s singled out because of his race. When you can afford to strip down your poster even more then you know the designers hit on something right.

7) Bulletproof

This is another one of those posters where the imagery captures the ideas of the film in a really striking manner. Bulletproof is about the American response to school shootings and seeing children pointing finger guns at each other here is an eerie encapsulation of the topics this film will be exploring. Once again, the eyeline works perfectly – you see the finger guns, then you’re drawn down to the title and know what this movie is saying in chilling fashion.

6) The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad has a huge cast of extremely colourful and varied characters and this first poster captures that aspect of the film and its off-kilter tone in glorious fashion. It also doesn’t give any of the characters more prominence than the others, which makes the characters’ fates in the film even more ambiguous (which is pretty important for a movie where, like, 80% of these characters get annihilated in gory fashion). The second poster captures the feel of a pulpy, 60s-era action movie, which isn’t nearly as interesting but it it’s worth highlighting and contrasting it to the first poster. These are very different styles but they both work to capture the fun of this very enjoyable romp of a film.

5) The Green Knight

I love the use of bright red and gold and the subjects facing away from the camera across The Green Knight‘s posters, it gives them all a unifying, sombre tone. While the main theatrical poster would have made this list regardless due to its strong aesthetic, what really pushed this into the top five for me was the presence of that brilliantly huggable foxy boi. When I first saw that poster I squealed with glee. For the record, graphic designers, throw a fox on your poster and you’re pretty much guaranteed to make my top 15 if your poster is any good.

4) Godzilla vs. Kong

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Monsterverse consistently have some of the best posters of all Hollywood blockbusters. We get posters like Spiral which are pretty and posters like Bring Your Own Brigade and The River Runner which give you massive scale, but Godzilla vs. Kong gives you pretty colours and massive scale! The fact that they have so many cool posters and so many of these were actually used in the general marketing of the film make this even more impressive to me. Even if Godzilla vs. Kong was kinda disappointing, there’s no denying that the marketing was, once again, on point.

3) Army of the Dead

I didn’t really care for Army of the Dead – I thought it was bloated, poorly written and squandered what should have been an over-the-top action romp. While the film itself fell short, the marketing department for Army of the Dead clearly understood what this movie should have been. We get gorgeous poster after gorgeous poster of colourful, macabre excess, all of which make the film look way cooler than it actually is. This is just a handful of the great posters Army of the Dead got this year, so even if the quality wasn’t there (which it is) then due to pure variety this would have ranked highly. For my own part, I especially like the neon-hued skull in a river of paint and the pile of corpses in the shape of a skull. Man, seeing these posters is making me think about how I wish the movie lived up to them all over again…

2) The Night House

We’ve had a slew of spooky and disturbing horror movie posters in 2021, but for my money The Night House has the best of them. What makes it more impressive is that there isn’t much horror imagery to speak of – there’s a blood-red moon, a scared expression from Rebecca Hall and, in one poster, a ghostly hand cutout, representing a spectral figure or perhaps someone who’s been lost? Then there’s the strong use of red and black to give everything an eerie atmosphere. In any case, it works, I really want to see this movie and figure out what sort of thrills The Night House has in store for me, which makes it more than worthy of this spot. However, there can only be one #1 pick…

1) Jackass Forever

There’s something about this poster where I looked at it and said “this is perfect” and instantly put it as a frontrunner for the year’s posters. Like, just look at it, it’s the perfect encapsulation of what Jackass is. You’ve got the rainbow hang glider and obese man to draw your attention and then the eyeline goes down to the cactus plants and then down to the film’s title. Just by looking at it, it creates a story in your head that is equal parts funny, painful and so incredibly stupid that I can’t help but applaud it. It’s so simple, but so striking that I still can’t quite believe that it’s this good, especially because the other Jackass Forever posters don’t hit me the same way at all. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise though, this right here: this is art.

POST-SCRIPT: Well, shit. I usually have a rule here – only posters for movies released in the year in question are considered and here I have completely flubbed as Jackass Forever is going to be released in 2022 instead. To be fair, when I started this list it actually would have been a 2021 film, but it was delayed and I missed that in the time it took to make selections, write and release the list. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this issue due to unexpected delays, but it should probably go without saying that I’ll not take Jackass Forever into account for 2022’s list (because it would probably win again).

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

After the bloated and unpolished Resident Evil 6, excitement for a new mainline Resident Evil game was at an all-time low. Capcom were certainly aware of this and actually took their criticisms to heart. Resident Evil 6 wasn’t anywhere near as successful as they had hoped it would be, so they decided to take the opposite approach – gone were the bombastic setpieces, action-heavy gameplay and globe-trotting story, instead we were going to get a back-to-basics, claustrophobic, true horror experience. Resident Evil 7 feels, in many ways, like a complete reboot of the franchise, but is it quite as much of a dramatic departure as it seems? Read on to find out…

Love

  • The Baker Estate – As much as I loved the intricate level design of Resident Evil 4 (and even 5 to a lesser extent), coming back to a confined environment with locked doors, puzzles to solve and monsters to dodge makes Resident Evil 7 feel like a true return to form.
    • First of all, the environments really feel like a lived-in location. The main house is covered with details that are just there to hint at the Bakers’ family life, hobbies and backstory before they turned into a bunch of psychos. Meanwhile, the old house is dilapidated and literally crumbling apart, making for a very eerie environment to explore. This makes the arrival of the Molded all the more frightening as you suddenly enter environments which are completely unnatural compared to the spaces you’ve been travelling through to this point.
    • While the Baker Estate is quite large, covering three separate complexes with several floors each, it’s so well-designed that you get very familiar with each location and can navigate with ease quickly enough. Undoubtedly you will enter an area and find something you can’t access right then, but file it away in your brain to come back later when you get the key or lockpick you needed for it.
    • I also have to say that the actual design of the environment really makes Resident Evil 7 a satisfying game to play. For example, early on in the game you’ll find a shotgun on pedestal. If you pick it up, the door behind you closes. So you put it back, but now you know you need to find something to put there in order for you to get that shotgun. Eventually you’ll see a broken shotgun on the other side of a locked door, so now you’re trying to find out how to open that door so you can get that. Eventually you find the way in and get the broken shotgun and trade it to get yourself a fancy new gun. However, later still you can find a wooden shotgun and, if you’re reasonably clever, you may realize “oh shit I can repair the broken one now!” and swap it with the wooden one. If you find one of the super-rare repair kits then you’ll net yourself an optional, more powerful secondary shotgun! It’s stuff like this where the devs make use of your environmental knowledge that makes Resident Evil 7 such a great experience.
  • Return to Survival Horror – One of the biggest changes in Resident Evil 7‘s design philosophy is that this game is a horror experience at its core. It takes inspiration from popular horror games of the era, such as Alien: Isolation, Outlast and Amnesia and applies the classic Resident Evil formula of combat, exploration and light puzzle-solving to make for a very compelling experience. The game also loves to build the tension, allowing you to explore and hinting at danger, but knowing when to hold back and when to finally unleash a pursuer enemy at you. I’d argue that this is as scary as Resident Evil has ever gotten, at the very least since the original game on PS1 as the game oozes an eerie atmosphere and builds tension effectively, while forcing you to make tough choices and conserve your resources in order to survive the horrors coming for you.
  • First Person Perspective – The shift to first-person was one of the most contentious changes in Resident Evil 7, but this isn’t simply trend-chasing or a further slide into Call of Duty-like gameplay, it’s a very calculated and (dare I say) brave decision to increase this game’s immersion and make the horror more effective. The third person perspective of previous games in the franchise is because the series started out trying to be a cinematic horror experience and carried that on even after the camera shifted to over-the-shoulder. This game’s first person perspective makes for a more intimate, focused and immersive experience which this game has clearly been built around. There’s a reason why it’s the default for most horror and survival games of the era.
  • Spectacular Boss Fights – Resident Evil bosses are almost always “shoot big monster in its glowing weak point until it stops moving”, which can get really frustrating because there’s usually little indication of just how much damage you’re actually doing to the boss. While Resident Evil 7‘s bosses don’t deviate from this too much, they do stand out as some of the best bosses in the entire franchise because of all the clever twists and environmental interaction that the developers have brought to the table. The first fight with Jack Baker has you searching around an enclosed garage for the keys to a car to fight him with and then the fight plays out in one of two ways. If you’re quick enough, you get in the car and can drive around, running him over until a scripted event happens that will end the fight. If you’re too slow, Jack will throw you out of the car and try to run you over instead. It makes this into two wildly different boss fights and it’s a big surprise seeing the different ways this can play out. Similarly, the second fight with Jack has him getting into a freaking chainsaw duel with him!!! I died several times in this battle but didn’t care because it was so much fun learning the mechanics and using the environment to my advantage to the point where I was feeling some of that Dark Souls-like satisfaction for overcoming the challenge. Meanwhile, spider-Marguerite is classic “shoot the weak spot” Resident Evil, but mixing it up by having her stalk you in a darkened, dilapidated house where she can emerge from literally any direction may be the creepiest showdown in the entire game. The showdown with mutated Jack is also a highlight, taking the classic Resident Evil boss formula and allowing you to strategically maneuver across two storeys to get different angles on his weak points. All-in-all, Resident Evil 7‘s bosses are consistently some of the most creative, fun and well-designed in the entire franchise.
  • Rewards Exploration – Unlike Resident Evil 6, 7 really wants you to look carefully around your environment. To this end, there are some diabolically well-hidden items in this game. Chief among these are the collectable Antique Coins, which you can use to unlock useful upgrades, including increased health, faster reloads or the freaking magnum. However, that magnum’s ammo is extremely limited and you only find 1 to 2 rounds at a time and they’re all hidden very well in the environment so you could theoretically go the whole game and never even see a magnum round if you don’t look carefully. To help with this, the game has a psychostimulant item which briefly highlights items around the environment, making these tricky hidden collectables more attainable and further incentivizing you to look everywhere for secrets.
  • Influences – While previous Resident Evil games paid homage to other horror media (most notably, George A. Romero films), Resident Evil 7 seems to wear these influences on its sleeve most proudly. As a horror fan it’s really fun to see all the nods to films that influenced this game’s design. Probably most obvious is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is most evident in this game’s iconic nod to the dinner scene. Taking that idea and tone and then transplanting it to Louisiana was an inspired move that helps it to feel like more than just a simple ripoff. Other big influences include The Evil Dead (Mia’s possession scenes and chainsaw duel), The Blair Witch Project (found footage and Andre facing the wall) and [REC] (Mia found footage sequence). Hell, there’s even a random Planet of the Apes reference for good measure! All these different influences also help shake up the Resident Evil formula, expanding the scope of what this franchise is capable of in the process.

Mixed

  • Found Footage – One of the obvious influences on Resident Evil 7 is the found footage trend that had been popularized in the horror film genre in the years prior to its release. At several points in the game you can find video tapes which, if you bring them to a VHS player, will allow you to play through the footage. On the one hand, these can provide clever ways to learn new details about the environment in an organic way, preview an area you haven’t gotten to yet or simply shakeup the gameplay a bit. The VHS tape filter also makes the environment just creepier – at a certain point, everything becomes blurry and out of focus. However, I have a couple issues with these tapes. First of all, the fact that you can die in them just doesn’t make sense. More importantly though, whenever I find a tape I get annoyed because I know I’m going to have to set aside what I’m actually doing in the game to go deal with some diversion for the next 15 minutes or so. Tapes can be a pace-killer and feel like they’re just there to pad time, or give you an excuse to breeze your way through an upcoming area. Finally, as the game goes on these “found footage tapes” lose a lot of their narrative justification. The first one you find was literally left by a camera crew, but by the time you find Mia’s tape in the last hour and a half the camera gimmick has been dropped entirely in that footage and it seems like it’s just… a memory maybe?
  • The Story – At a certain point I had to sit and ask myself “What is driving me forward? The narrative or the gameplay?” and concluded that it was overwhelmingly the gameplay. The story in Resident Evil 7 is far more personal and low-stakes compared to a globe-trotting, world-ending affair like Resident Evil 6, which works in this game’s favour. However, the specifics of what exactly is going on in this game are left ambiguous for a long time in the game, meaning that most of your time spent playing is going to involve you getting more confused and frustrated as narrative events play out around you. This all comes to a head towards the last third of the game where you’re given a choice between helping Mia (who’s the whole reason you’re in this place) or helping Zoe (some rando you’ve been talking to on the phone off-screen a few times), but by this point I still really didn’t understand what was going on. The ending of the game is tied to the choice you make here and while the “right” choice seems kinda obvious, if you’re going to implement a major choice like this then maybe inform the player better beforehand so they can actually understand what they’re doing. The final third of the game (and most of the DLCs for that matter) has many revelations which make things a bit better in retrospect, but personally I would have liked to have a bit more insight into what was happening earlier.
  • Molded – I’m pretty torn on the Molded enemies which permeate the latter-half of the game. On the one hand, I love their unceremonious introduction: at one point in the game you just enter a room and suddenly this freaking blob of oily flesh sprouts from the wall and starts chasing you out of nowhere, it sets a great impression for them. They’re quite intimidating when they first appear, taking at least two headshots to take down with your starting pistol, and if you find yourself facing off against multiple Molded then you’re probably going to die. However, as the game progresses you’ll become more adept at killing them and the game throws more and more of them at you. At this point, the Molded become more of a nuisance than anything substantial. The first half of the game works so well because you’re being stalked by one powerful enemy in each area, regularly getting into combat with handfuls of Molded is less interesting in comparison.

Hate

  • Sluggish Movement – I swear to God, Ethan Winters is the slowest motherfucker in videogames. Oh sure, there is a sprint button in this game, but it barely makes a difference and if you’re being chased, it’s not going to be enough to get you away from that enemy. The game’s sluggish movement is not not helped by the difficulty of avoiding damage from enemies. If an enemy gets right in front of you, you basically have to either shoot it and hope to kill/stagger, block and reduce the damage you take, or quick-turn and hope you can run away (thereby completely losing sight of the enemy). Strafing and backing up are pretty much unviable with this movement speed. Most encounters in this game are designed to be very close-quarters (there’s no easy sniping in this game) so this is a more frequent headache than you may expect. You can compensate for it a bit as the game progresses, especially if the developers throw a big obstacle in the room that you can use to generate distance, but there are times where you’ll be in a completely open hallway and your only real option is to run, or you’ll see an attack coming but have no way to actually avoid it.
  • Load Times – I don’t usually worry that much about loading screens, but good God the load times in Resident Evil 7 are brutal. For me at least, going from the main menu into the game takes around 45 seconds to a minute to complete. And those found footage tapes I mentioned? Well, having to sit and wait for a load screen whenever you start and finish one is just more reason why those segments annoyed me and brought the pacing to a halt.
  • The Final Third of the Game – The gameplay loop of the first two thirds of this game is top-notch survival horror, exploring areas, avoiding enemies, gathering and managing resources, etc. However, shortly after you finish with Marguerite’s section in the Old House, the game becomes far more linear and never really gets back to the same level of quality. It’s a bit of a mixed bag – on the one hand, we get more story context and Mia goes from a damsel in distress to a straight-up badass, but the game also suddenly strips you of all your items not once, but twice which is a bit of a momentum-killer and the shift into more linear, action-heavy gameplay takes away a lot of what made the game fun to this point.

Resident Evil 7 was a great return to form for the franchise when it desperately needed it. By going back to its horror roots and not feeling like it had to fit the same mold as previous games in the franchise, it revitalized the series and finally got people excited to see where the series would go again. After slogging my way through 5 and 6, it was refreshing to play a well-paced, focused experience that didn’t overstay its welcome.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 3 (Remake)

While the remake of Resident Evil 2 was widely acclaimed, the follow-up remake of Resident Evil 3 has been one of the most divisive games in the entire franchise. Some people hate it, some people were left thoroughly disappointed and some loved it. With a reputation like that, you’d best believe that I have thoughts…

Love

  • Action Horror Spectacle – REmake 3 may look a lot like REmake 2, but this is a wildly different game. REmake 2 was more in the vein of the first REmake and RE7, emphasizing exploration, survival gameplay and inventory management. REmake 3 is more akin to RE4, 5 and 6, emphasizing action, set piece moments and narrative. I think this deviation disappointed some people, but what we got instead was a game that is completely focused on giving you fun spectacle and it totally delivers in that regard. Whether it’s fleeing Nemesis up a building that’s catching fire all around you, getting swarmed by a horde of zombies, or luring Nemesis away from a train full of civilians, there’s plenty here to get your blood pumping. That’s not to imply that there’s no horror here either, rather that it’s less “tense” and more “intense” and in-your-face. Between Nemesis chasing you at mach speed, the throat-fucking Drain Deimos hunting you in the power substation, getting stalked by two different varieties of Hunter and trying to deal with the Pale Heads, there’s still plenty in here to make you jump.
    • I need to give particular shout-outs to the first twenty minutes or so of this game in particular as it encapsulates this game’s strengths so well. After a quiet intro, Nemesis bursts through the wall and shows that he is basically indestructible. It’s all scripted so well and makes for one of the most badass and terrifying villain introductions that I’ve ever seen in a game. From there, Jill escapes into Raccoon City and finds that it is in total chaos as zombies roam the streets and quickly off her only ally, Brad. Then she has to flee to the roof of a parking garage, but Nemesis intercepts her, so Jill rams him off the roof of the garage with a car… but he keeps coming until Carlos shows up with a rocket launcher and takes him down, temporarily. It’s an incredible opening and I honestly don’t know how you couldn’t love it.
  • The Story and Characters – Here’s a hot take for you: REmake 3 has the strongest story in the franchise (well, that I’ve played so far anyway). It’s exciting, well-told, well-performed, the characters we meet along the way are all great and it feels like the gameplay is driven by the story. The game’s narrative is also bolstered by the fact that, due to the circumstances, Jill finds herself working alongside Umbrella. She isn’t forced to either, she makes an active choice to do so because she thinks it is the best option, which reveals insight into her character, while also ultimately humanizing the grunts at Umbrella who have been completely absent in the series to this point. The game also makes a point of showing Jill’s psychological damage from the Mansion Incident in the opening sequence. It’s very efficient decision because it never really comes up again, but you can tell that Nemesis becomes an embodiment of her trauma. This makes him more satisfying to take down since, thematically, he’s not just a big monster here, he’s all of Jill’s fears made flesh.
  • Jill and Carlos – Okay, I know I mentioned the characters in the last point, but I really need to hit home that Jill Valentine is a fucking badass in this game. She does so much cool shit, takes on an indestructible monster without letting the fear get to her and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She (justifiably) isn’t on very good terms with Carlos at the start of the game, but their relationship improves over time in an organic fashion. Speaking of which, Carlos is also a pretty cool character. He’s confident, capable and tries to do the right thing, which becomes more complicated when he realizes that his employers are responsible for everything that is happening. All-in-all, they make for a good duo, are given a ton of personality and the story wouldn’t be nearly as good without them.
  • Nemesis – Naturally, Nemesis’ shadow looms large over REmake 3. Every time he shows up, something crazy is about to go down. When he’s chasing you through the streets of Raccoon City, he’s utterly terrifying, making Mr. X look like a walk in the park. In fact, he may possibly too overpowered: he can sprint after you, snatch you with a tentacle and drag you back to him, dodge shots if you’re facing him head-on, launch a combo of punches at you, and turn regular zombies into dangerous NE-α zombies. Sure, a lot of his encounters are scripted, but damn if he isn’t one of the most intimidating antagonists in the whole franchise.
  • Dodge – Like the original RE3, REmake 3 includes a dodge mechanic. The game doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the timing for this, but I wanted a dodge so badly in RE7 and REmake 2. In those games, you get caught up close with enemies and have no real way to avoid damage at that point, so I’m happy that REmake 3 gives us this option. Once you come to grips with the dodge, it is a total life-saver, especially during fights with Nemesis.
  • Enemy Variety – There are quite a few different enemy types in this game, from regular zombies, to Cerberus, Drain Deimos, NE-α zombies, Hunter β and γ varieties, Lickers and Pale Heads, not to mention all the varied Nemesis encounters. The pacing for new enemy types is perfect as well, just when you’re getting used to an enemy the game will introduce a new one to spice up the gameplay. In fact it’s impressive enough that it made me realize how sparsely varied REmake 2 was in comparison.

Mixed

  • YMMV – I struggled to decide where to put this section, or if I should even include it at all. I really enjoy REmake 3, but I get that others are much more critical of it and that their complaints deserve to be addressed in some fashion. As this is a Love/Hate article based on my opinions on the game, it could easily give the wrong impression about the game to someone for whom those complaints could be a big deal. Ultimately I decided to address some of the complaints about this game here.
    • Cut Content/More Reimagining Than Remake – Fans of the original game were disappointed to find that areas from the original game were removed, most notably the clocktower sequence. Having not completed the original game, I don’t really have much nostalgia for it, nor am I expecting REmake 3 to play the same way, so ultimately this doesn’t impact my feelings about the game I actually got.
    • Short Playtime/Not Enough Replayability – REmake 3 is a 6-8 hour game on a first playthrough and can be completed in about a quarter of the time if you really rush through it, prompting some people to say it’s not worth the money if it’s that short. The game doesn’t include any alternate campaigns or bonus game modes like REmake 2 did. These complaints doesn’t hold any water for me, not only because I didn’t buy it at full price, but because I’m old and love games that deliver a great, focused experience in a reasonable amount of playtime. The way that the game is scripted to deliver fun in well-paced bursts makes it more than worthy of a replay in my opinion.
    • No Emphasis on Exploration/Too Linear – REmake 3 is a far more linear game than REmake 2, featuring much less exploration in its areas. You’ll basically just need one or two key items to backtrack through an area and completely explore it, which can take maybe half an hour of playtime or less. As I’ve stated, REmake 3 plays very differently than REmake 2 so if you were expecting or wanting the same gameplay then I can see how this would be disappointing. Personally I like a well-told, linear game so this doesn’t bother me much.
    • Nemesis Doesn’t Pursue You – After getting a load of Mr. X in REmake 2, a lot of people were expecting this game to have Nemesis pursuing you constantly in an unscripted manner. When they found that most Nemesis encounters were scripted events, they were disappointed by the result. I’ll be honest, Nemesis is at his most annoying in the unscripted sequences, being able to take away a lot of your ability to flee from him safely. For that matter, Mr. X worked well because he’s not following you through the whole game, I can see him being really irritating if you just want to get something done and you can’t because X gon’ give it to ya. Ultimately, while it might have been interesting to have a couple more unscripted Nemesis encounters, I am still pleased with what we got.

Hate

  • Nemesis De-evolution – About halfway through the game, Nemesis’ power limiter is destroyed and he starts to mutate. In the original, this just caused him to sprout some tentacles, although he retained his shape until he really devolved in his final form. However, in REmake 3, Nemesis goes from an intelligent pursuer to a large, dumb, beast-like form. It’s a big let-down, becoming a far less interesting foe than he was before. Sure, it’s still intimidating to get hunted by this relentless animal, but when he was still humanoid he felt far more cunning and dangerous.
  • Technically Rougher Than REmake 2REmake 2 was a very well-polished game but REmake 3 feels rougher in comparison. For one thing, the zombies in this game lack the dismemberment and gore system which was so satisfying in the previous game. Shoot a zombie in the arm and, instead of detaching, the arm will just explode and disappear. Similarly, distant zombies appear to render at a lower FPS, which is very noticeable at certain points in the game. I don’t know if these were all issues caused by the greater number of enemies on-screen, more detailed environments or maybe just a development issue, but it’s hard not to be at least a little disappointed that REmake 3‘s presentation is rougher.
  • Too Many Item Boxes and Typewriters – I feel like this is a weird complaint, but honestly there are way too many of these things in the game. The game’s areas aren’t all that big, but it feels like there’s always a safe room close-by when there really doesn’t need to be. It’s bad enough that there are multiple instances where you’ll be fleeing Nemesis and you’ll come across two safe rooms in the process, which not only breaks up the pace of the escape because he can’t follow you inside, but also trivializes the encounter since you can just save at each step. This also contributes to the game’s more linear feel, because if you throw save rooms around all over the place then the map doesn’t have to loop back to them. I just think it was an unnecessary and inelegant move. Like, if you’re gonna do that then you might want to rethink having an item box or typewriters to begin with and just do some other system. It feels like forcing survival horror elements into a more linear, action-focused adventure simply because it’s expected, not because it’s the best move for the game.
  • Siege Section – The hospital section of the game culminates with a big siege where Carlos has to battle a horde of zombies… and man, does this one part of the game suck. This is the game leaning too hard into the action side of action horror and it just feels like a chore, like the lamest version of Call of Duty‘s zombie mode. The worst part is that if you die, you have to redo the whole damn thing, which happened to me the first time I tried it.

I really don’t get the hate that REmake 3 gets. I can understand arguments about not being faithful enough to the original game, having a different feel than the acclaimed REmake 2, and being “too short”, but none of these hold any weight for me. The way I see it, REmake 3 is a game laser-focused on giving you a fun and totally badass romp through Raccoon City, and in that regard it succeeds with flying colours. During this most recent playthrough there were so many moments where I just had to stop and say to myself “How can you not love this?” Honestly, I enjoyed Resident Evil 3 remake more than Resident Evil 2‘s remake. Maybe that just speaks to my taste in games more than anything else, but if you write off REmake 3 then I just don’t understand you at all.