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 6

Resident Evil 6 is often considered the point where the franchise jumped the shark, leading to Capcom’s total rehaul of the series with Resident Evil 7 and REmake 2. I also never played it and didn’t know a whole lot about it, other than that there were three wildly-different main campaigns and they all had a co-op component, so I was going in largely blind. Is it nearly as bad as its reputation would have you believe? Read on to find out…

Oh and one thing I want to note before going further is that I played this game on Veteran on my first playthrough. This is in contrast to the other games on this list which I usually would play on Normal first time since I was unfamiliar with their gameplay. However, by the time I got to Resident Evil 6 I was like 5 Resident Evil games deep and figured I’d be down for a challenge (I usually prefer to play games on Hard if I’m familiar with their gameplay). I don’t think this affected my experience with Resident Evil 6 disproportionately compared to other games in the franchise, but I wanted to note this just in case the higher difficulty did affect my enjoyment and I’m unaware of it.

Love

  • Free Movement – After Resident Evil 5 took a half-measure of modernizing the series’ movement controls, Resident Evil 6 goes all the way, ditching the last vestiges of tank controls in favour of Uncharted-style, fluid movement. It makes the game play far more intuitively for modern audiences without any kind of learning curve involved. In addition to this, Resident Evil 6 finally also allows players to move and aim at the same time, adds a sprint to your already-fast movement speed and even throws in options for slides, dodges and even shooting while lying on your back. These may not be the best option in most circumstances, but at least it’s an option that you can utilize if you choose to (especially in boss fights). All-in-all, it gives Resident Evil 6 probably the most developed movement system in the whole franchise.
  • Gameplay and UI Customization – I’ll be honest, I may have squealed a bit when I went into the menus in this game and saw all the customization options available. In addition to the standard options, there are several control customizations (including if you want to manually or automatically reload when you run out of ammo), you can choose whether you want a reticule or laser sight for aiming, and you even get to choose the colour of your laser sight! Given how I kept losing sight of the red laser in Resident Evil 5, I immediately went with green and never regretted it. It’s a little thing, but holy crap do I love when developers go to the effort to include these kinds of optional quality of life improvements for players.
  • Improved AI Partner – Capcom must have taken some complaints about Resident Evil 5 to heart because your AI companion in Resident Evil 6 is (usually) great. In addition to just being straight-up smarter in the minute-to-minute gameplay, you never have to micro-manage their inventory, health, weapons, pathing, etc and they’re even more helpful in combat. This makes the single-player experience a hell of a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting. Unlike Resident Evil 5, I didn’t play any of this game in co-op so I have nothing to compare my experience to, but I can’t say that I felt like I was getting a lesser experience, because my AI companion was mostly unobtrusive throughout. Sure, a human partner would have been more useful but an AI that stays out of the way, draws aggro and doesn’t die is all I could ask for. That said, there’s one big caveat to this and that’s when your AI companion has to do something that’s outside the scope of their normal tasks (eg, manning a gun camera, staying away from an enemy, etc). At these points their AI is completely useless and makes for some of the most frustrating sequences in the whole game. Still, compared to Resident Evil 5‘s pain in the ass AI companion? It’s an undeniable improvement.
  • Unique Character Builds – I really like how Capcom have differentiated the characters in Resident Evil 6. Whereas Chris and Sheva played identically, every character in Resident Evil 6 brings something unique to the table, from their starting weapons to unique abilities. For example, if you play as Leon you start with a pistol and knife and can dual-wield with another pistol for crowd control, whereas Helena starts with a stronger pistol and a shotgun she can rapid-fire, but she has to deal with more reloading due to her smaller clip-sizes. The most unique pair have to be Jake Muller and Sherry Birkin. Jake gets powerful melee abilities, whereas Sherry gets a burst-fire pistol and stun rod, both of which bring entirely new options to the table when going through their campaign. These different loadouts encourage unique playstyles and it’s enough to tempt you to replay each campaign just to see how it differs with the other character. That said, characters get a bit more homogenized as the game goes along – soon you’ll find a shotgun, a sniper rifle and an assault rifle, but these are almost always some sort of unique variant for each character.
  • Melee System – I’m kind of torn on whether Resident Evil should even have a melee system to deal with enemies, but that said I really enjoyed it in this game. When you’re not aiming a weapon, the attack button allows you to unleash a melee strike at a foe, which can be comboed to unleash a flurry of blows in quick succession. In Leon and Jake’s campaigns, I actually prefer melee to shooting because most enemies will die to 2-3 hits (especially if you can get an environmental kill or kill them with their own melee weapon), or will get knocked prone so I can go for a one-hit-kill curb stomp if you position yourself near their head. Melee works on a stamina bar, so you can’t spam it too much either, which encourages a healthy balance of shooting and melee for the best effect.
  • Some Attention to Detail Can Make Combat More Interesting – Imagine my surprise when I started shooting at a zombie and all of a sudden the flashlight mounted on the zombie’s body got damaged and went out. Similarly, shooting a J’avo in the chest causes their shirts to get torn off from the bullet impacts. It was a bit of extra effort which didn’t really do anything but was cool to see and made the world a bit more immersive. That said, Resident Evil 6 does give these bits of extra detail some actual gameplay importance later on when there are enemies carrying dynamite (either in-hand or on their body), oil lamps or grenades and if you shoot them it makes for an easy instant-kill on all surrounding enemies. Perhaps the most impressive example of this comes in the first fight against the Ustanak – the arena is full of cover, but Ustanak bursts right through it all to get to you, which is terrifying in its own right and further illustrates how relentless this foe is in an organic manner. This level of extra attention is the sort of thing I really didn’t expect from this game but it was really cool to see.
  • Ustanak – Despite being a blatant Nemesis ripoff and having a design which screams “late 2000s edgelord”, Ustanak makes for a fantastic antagonist in Jake and Sherry’s campaign. Every time he shows up, shit gets real and the game gets a whole lot funner. In fact, he disappears for a good chunk of Jake’s campaign and is definitely missed. There are also several boss fights with Ustanak and they’re all by far the best and most impressive showdowns in the whole game. I particularly enjoyed the first and last Ustanak fights. In the first fight against him, the level of destructibility in the environment is shocking for a PS3 game and it does a great job of conveying just how dangerous Ustanak is (akin of what God of War would do to introduce Baldur years later). Meanwhile, the last fight is just badass, culminating with Jake literally fist-fighting Ustanak over a pit of lava and the whole fight makes great use of this game’s dodge mechanics. I went in assuming Ustanak would be a discount Nemesis, but I was pleasantly surprised that he holds his own despite his obvious and far more iconic influence.

Mixed

  • Inventory Management is… Different – Inventory management has seen another drastic overhaul in Resident Evil 6. You open the menu which brings up a menu similar to the XMB UI on the PS3 – your horizontal cross houses weapons, items (like herbs) and ammunition, whereas the vertical bar holds grenades, explosives and first aid sprays. Oh and this is done in real-time like in Resident Evil 5, so enemies can attack you if you’re not careful. It’s pretty meh on its own, but what makes this better than Resident Evil 5‘s clunky system is that weapons and items are automatically mapped to the d-pad, making hotswapping far more easy. However, it also comes with the caveat that ALL weapons and items are mapped to this system, meaning that you’ll likely have to cycle through several things you don’t want before you reach the item you do want. In addition, if you use a grenade the game automatically swaps back to your weapon, so if you wanted to use another grenade you have to hotswap all the way back to find the grenade you wanted. It’s still cumbersome but it works a bit better on the fly, especially if you memorize how many times you have to cycle through to get to the weapon you want.
  • The Graphics – I’m really mixed on the graphics in this game. The character models for main characters? They’re quite good, I played this on PS4 and I wouldn’t have noticed that this was a PS3-era game if I was shown the main character models. Pretty much everything else though? Hoo boy. The environments especially can look like ass, with textures so bad at times that they’re literally PS2-era quality. NPC character models are also noticeably worse than the main characters; if some rando comes along and starts talking to the main characters, there’s a stark difference in quality. This is actually a legitimate problem, because this happens several times in the campaigns and you can always tell that the poor bastard is about to be used as cannon fodder by the devs.
  • Improved Cover System – Compared to Resident Evil 5‘s half-assed system, the cover system in Resident Evil 6 works much better, although it is rougher than its contemporaries. Sometimes you want to free aim near cover, but it will automatically snap you into cover and mess up your shot. Or, let’s look at the sequence of buttons you have to press to actually use cover and shoot an enemy, shall we? To take cover you have to hold L2, then press X, then move to a corner with the left analog stick and then poke out and shoot enemies… all while continuing to hold L2, because if you let go you will immediately exit cover. Could they not just make it a single button press? Press X to take cover, press X + left analog stick to vault. Simple, why do I need to press half the buttons on the controller for such a simple action? In addition, sometimes the system itself is just frustrating – I can’t count the number of times it looked like I should be able to pop out of cover to shoot an enemy but the game just wouldn’t let me, because it wasn’t registered as a location where you’re allowed to do that. It’s functional enough, and you damn-well need to use cover to survive some of these campaigns, but it definitely could have been better.
  • No Weapon or Loadout Customization – While I appreciate that Capcom differentiated each character, that comes with the caveat that each characters’ weapons are locked to them and unlocked at the same time in every playthrough. No saving up money to get a rocket launcher early or beelining through a dangerous area to get your favourite weapon, when Resident Evil 6 says you get a weapon is when it happens (hell, even if you miss picking up a weapon it will force it into your inventory by the time the next chapter starts). Again, I appreciate that this contributes to differentiating and specializing the characters, but it’s somewhat disappointing compared to Resident Evil 4 and 5‘s system.
  • J’avo – After two games focusing on parasite-infected enemies, Resident Evil 6 brings us a new variety of cannon fodder in the J’avo. I was expecting to get another round of Plagas-esque parasites from these guys, but was pleasantly surprised to see something completely unique. J’avo initially are just psychotic humans with masks and extra sets of eyes, but they have the ability to rapidly mutate in response to your actions. Miss your headshot and hit the J’avo in the arm? It’s suddenly going to sprout a massive arm that it will then attempt to beat you down with. Blow a J’avo’s legs off? It might just grow a pair of wings and fly around to harrass you. You also run into various special J’avo, such as ones that skitter around like spiders, ones with grasshopper-like legs for long jumps, one with a Rhinoceros beetle head to instantly down you if you’re caught and others with gigantic centipede-like heads which they use to hide their weak spot. They’re a cool enemy type whose dynamic transformations make for really interesting combat… which makes it a shame that their actual implementation often spoils the promise they have. Most J’avo either run at you with a machete or spray bullets at you the second they see you, which isn’t helped by their braindead AI. Seriously, you see these guys walking past you obliviously in a gunfight all the time. In Chris’ campaign they can also be difficult to differentiate from your allies so you can find yourself getting attacked unexpectedly by a J’avo who wandered past you that you didn’t even notice. Their transformations are still cool enough that I have to give them some credit but the actual execution is lacking polish. It’s too bad, J’avo could be top-tier Resident Evil foes in a better game.
  • Jake and Sherry’s Campaign – Of all the campaigns in this game, I was actually surprised to find that I enjoyed Jake and Sherry’s the most. All of Resident Evil 6‘s campaigns are blatantly aping other game franchises which were popular at the time, but Jake’s campaign is the most successful in this regard. It mixes the gameplay and character of Uncharted (seriously, about halfway through the campaign Jake and Sherry literally put on two of Drake’s outfits) and the villain of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis to mostly-good results. There are all sorts of setpieces which are fun and just ridiculous enough to feel tongue-in-cheek (Ustanak chasing you through a convoy of helicopters and the avalanche snowmobile race being particular highlights), the gunplay is eased back enough that fights feel fun rather than a slog and it’s the only campaign that has an ending that’s at all satisfying. In fact, I would have put this under love if not for one major caveat – in nearly every chapter there will be one stretch of gameplay which ranks amongst the absolute worst in the entire game. I’m not exaggerating either, I really liked this campaign but these are inexcusable gameplay segments:
    • Chapter one ends with the awful giant J’avo fight which is just as bad as it was when I first played it in Chris’ campaign.
    • Chapter two has a sequence which is damn-near unplayable in single player where Ustanak is breaking through a series of sealed doors and your success or failure hinges entirely on whether you can rotate the analog sticks extremely fast. With a co-op partner there may be more margin for error, but with an AI? That crazy bastard will walk right up to Ustanak and get instantly one-shotted unless you rotate those stick stupid fast. I only managed to get through this because there’s a bug (?) where you can rotate the left and right analog sticks at the same time and this counts as rotating faster as a result, but I was absolutely infuriated dying here over and over again for no good goddamn reason.
    • Chapter three starts with an abysmal stealth sequence where enemies can spot you unpredictably and, if they do, you get swarmed until you die. Making it worse, enemy damage has been nerfed, but you have no real way of surviving, meaning that you die and restart the sequence slower. Again, this is designed with a co-op partner in mind, but the AI is not built to handle this kind of gameplay.
    • Chapter four has a sequence where you’re supposed to help Chris and Piers deal with a helicopter, but all this really results in is you sitting around waiting for a helicopter to show up from off-screen so that you can miss your shot and have to wait another thirty seconds for it to come back.

Hate

  • The Story – My initial impression when starting Resident Evil 6 is that this game puts an emphasis on telling a cinematic story far more than any previous game in the franchise. I thought that perhaps the hate this game gets was due to this change in direction, but as I progressed further I soon came to realize that this game’s story is not good. To be fair, Resident Evil games tend to have B-movie quality stories at best, but they either lean into the campiness (Resident Evil 4) or are unimportant compared to the survival gameplay (REmake 2). However, Resident Evil 6‘s story fails for several reasons:
    • Resident Evil 6 continues the po-faced, self-serious tone that 5 started. This could potentially work, but Resident Evil 6 also wants to be a bombastic action game like Uncharted, so one minute you’ll have gruff characters having a serious conversation and then the next an entire highway will be exploding as you run away from flying cars, or you’ll be jumping from one helicopter to another and then start shooting down your own convoy to stop an approaching enemy, all without a hint of irony. These spectacular setpieces could be incredible if the game leaned into the comedy of them, but they’re so few and far between that I can’t help but think that they were intended to be completely serious (at least in Leon and Chris’ campaigns, in Jake and Sherry’s they come often enough that it feels more intentionally campy).
    • The plot is also so poorly paced. For example, in Leon’s campaign you spend an hour and a half in a zombie-filled campus before you get into a car and escape. I shit you not, you barely even get onto the road before the damn vehicle crashes and explodes. At another point, you fight through a swarm of zombies and then the second you get free from them suddenly a giant shark appears, not even giving you enough time to breathe and build the tension back up. Entire sub-chapters feel like they were done by separate teams and then mashed together in the end haphazardly. For another example, in chapter 2 of Chris’ campaign you go from gunfights with enemies in the streets of a city, to fighting across a random bridge in the middle of a gorge, to suddenly being back in the city and then fighting at city hall with little-to-no story or context linking these gameplay segments together. On a wider-level, entire campaigns just feel “off”. Again, Leon’s campaign feels sluggish for the first three chapters, then suddenly in the fourth chapter they get to China and immediately get in a plane crash set piece, then there’s two boss battles back-to-back and massive setpiece battles. It just feels like this plodding campaign goes off the rails out of nowhere. Similarly, in Jake’s campaign he and Sherry get captured and spend all of chapter 3 trying to escape… only for them to get captured again at the end of chapter 4. It feels like a cheap excuse to get the characters from place to place but it is so deflating to the momentum of the story.
    • One of the major issues with Resident Evil 6‘s story is that it is fundamentally over-ambitious and bites off far more than it can chew. I addressed this in a previous article about Resident Evil 6, but to summarize the way that the developers have put four overlapping campaigns together makes it so that none of them can tell a satisfying story. Each one feels incomplete and incomprehensible on its own and even when you bring them all together it doesn’t make for a better experience than one, focused, well-told story: it’s just four half-baked stories. Ada’s campaign especially gets shafted. I went in expecting her story to be the most important and revelatory, but instead we get one chapter of unique setup and then the other four chapters are 90% recycled content, anything from recycled boss fights to reused environments and enemy encounters, and Ada’s role in the story becomes more about providing backup to the other characters rather than actually doing anything substantial on her own. Sure, we get a handful of revelations which explain what’s going on, but the campaign itself feels like an afterthought.
    • Just… bad writing in general. I’ve already said that the campaign crossovers make it so that there’s no satisfying payoffs in this game, but that’s just the start of this story’s problems. Take Chris’ storyline, where for some inexplicable reason the writers decided to give him amnesia. This begs the question of why the BSAA would knowingly force a PTSD-ridden, revenge-fueled amnesiac to lead a squad into battle. It’s so stupid and then Chris spends the whole campaign trying to get revenge on Ada Wong, until suddenly he runs into Leon and decides that he doesn’t need to get revenge anymore. I’ve said it before, but it is literally that sudden. Oh and there’s the constant shifting of the stakes – the J’avo attack in Eastern Europe and the catastrophic C-virus outbreak in Tall Oaks that take up entire chapters of gameplay? Just a distraction! The C-virus missiles being launched in Lanshiang are the real plan! Oh wait, these were also a distraction, the actual plan was… to have a single, giant BOW called HAOS escape and spread the C-virus through the Earth? WTF? (Also, given that all it takes to stop HAOS is the destruction of its containment facility, I’m pretty sure most governments could kill it before it becomes a problem, honestly missiles full of C-virus are way deadlier.) Worst of all though is the fact that this entire game’s plot revolves around… Jesus Christ, it’s so stupid, are you ready for this? The entire plot revolves around US National Security Advisor Derek Simmons being a simp for Ada Wong. When she rejects him he creates a virus to clone her, forcing a female scientist to become an Ada Wong doppelganger. The clone is so mad about this that she decides to destroy the world. Like… holy fucking shit, I have no words.
  • Unrewarding Level Design – One of the obvious ways that Resident Evil 6 takes inspiration from other AAA franchises of its era is that the level design has gotten far more linear, akin to Call of Duty. Resident Evil 4 and 5 may have ditched the maze-like exploration of Resident Evil-past, but at least those games had lots of hidden secrets and rewards waiting for those willing to go looking. Resident Evil 6, on the other hand, is distinctly underwhelming for those who bother going off the beaten path. You may find a crate that you can smash to get a little bit of ammo or a miniscule amount of Skill Points, but that’s about it. Basically, nearly every level in Resident Evil 6 is functional window-dressing, funneling you along to the next gun fight and isn’t meant to be appreciated on any deeper level than that.
  • Skills – Resident Evil 6 ditches the merchant/upgrade system from Resident Evil 4 and 5 in favour of the new skills system, which operates similar to Call of Duty‘s perks system. Honestly, this would be great if it was done as its own, separate mechanic, but as a replacement to the upgrade system it is infinitely inferior. Instead of improving the stats of my favourite weapons as the game goes on, I just get three flat upgrades to my character, which are far less consequential. Oh, and Resident Evil 6 doesn’t put in interludes between sub-chapters, meaning that you only get to upgrade your skills at the end of a chapter or from the main menu, meaning you get far less use out of the system… not that you will get much use out of it anyway because holy shit any useful skill is stupidly expensive. Seriously, I’ve gone through entire campaigns and still haven’t been able to afford an upgrade by the end, making this system feel even more unrewarding. This also means that your weapons never really get better – your weak-ass starting pistol is still your weak-ass starting pistol in the endgame unless you use one of your extremely limited skill slots on it and several chapters worth of skill points to improve it, but ultimately it’s just not worth it.
  • Zombies – What’s that, franchise purists, you miss zombies? Well, they’re back in Leon’s campaign in Resident Evil 6, for some reason (actually, the reason is literally because fans whined about it)! While I was initially rather impressed with the zombies in this game, they outstay their welcome quickly. On the one hand, they’re suitably squishy and they can even be a bit scary at times when they swarm and suddenly pounce at you from afar. They also show up in urban locations, bringing us our first real glimpse of a Resident Evil zombie outbreak on modern hardware. That said, they can take a lot of shots to put down, which can be annoying for a game like this where you’re expected to kill every enemy you come across and it gets really annoying when they’re constantly pouncing on you and grabbing you, interrupting the action as you deal with their lengthy animations. What really annoys me though is the super-zombies which, by the time you reach the second chapter, the game will throw at you endlessly. They feel like a bunch of bargain-bin, Left 4 Dead knock-offs – screechers, berserk zombies and fatties… that’s about it. They aren’t particularly fun to fight and the worst part has to be their uninspired designs. This is a franchise where zombies stand side-by-side with iconic enemies like Lickers, Tyrants and Hunters and feel like they are an integral part of the experience, the “special” zombies in Leon’s campaign are completely forgettable. Compared to J’avo, this game’s zombies are underwhelming foes.
  • Respawning Enemies – You know what’s annoying? Having enemies spawn from behind you, out of nowhere, all the time. Congrats, you now know what Resident Evil 6‘s combat encounters feel like. Seriously, you can completely clear out an area, move on to the next one and get into a gun fight when suddenly you’re attacked by multiple enemies who showed up from behind you. While I have seen enemies spawn literally out of nowhere in this game, the main culprit seems to be Left 4 Dead and Vermintide-style “nests” where enemies can spawn at will and then enter the area. Unlike those two games, Resident Evil 6‘s system isn’t nearly as dynamic or interesting. Hell, it even gets predictable and exploitable at times, because apparently the developers of Resident Evil 6 are terrified of the idea of having an area completely cleared of enemies. At one point in Chris’ campaign I noticed enemies kept spawning from two directions, one at a time, during an encounter with a giant monster where I took cover in a place where the monster couldn’t reach me. The enemies are obviously meant to keep pressure on you but they were so dumb and predictable that I could just cycle over to them every 15 seconds or so and then get back to the fight. This is a best-case scenario for the respawning enemies, usually they’re just a frustrating pain in the ass.
  • Over-animation – Resident Evil 6 has a bad habit of over-animating actions to the detriment of the gameplay. Like, whenever a dead body is placed into the environment, your character will trip over them, causing you to lose control of them for a couple seconds as they stagger forward. This is especially prominent in Leon’s campaign, but it is always incredibly annoying when it happens. You also get knocked down A LOT in combat. As I understand it, every time you lose a square of health you will be knocked down onto your back. With some enemies, this will happen every time they hit you. As you can probably imagine, this gets infuriating as you get up and then are immediately knocked down over and over again. In addition, there’s also a baffling bit of animation in chapter 4 of Chris’ campaign where the ship just… bobs and there’s an animation as you steady yourself. It’s completely random, very infrequent and I just had to ask why they even bothered to make this happen. (Pretty sure that this is representing Ada fighting her doppelganger during this part of the game… but still, why bother making a whole animation for this?)
  • Very Rough and Unpolished – For a game that had over 600 developers working on it, Resident Evil 6‘s quality is wildly inconsistent. On the one hand, you have those cool (but useless) details I mentioned earlier like being able to shoot out the lights on zombies. On the other hand, you’ve got things like terrible lip synching, sniper laser sights that clip through cover and a game engine that can’t handle sprinting if you do it on stairs. Everywhere you look there’s something that makes this game feel rushed, like the devs needed more time to actually go over everything and give it a consistent level of quality. There are far too many examples to go over them all, but one of the most egregious is that the NPC squadmates in Chris’ campaign are completely braindead, unable to provide any sort of support in a fight and are more likely to stare at a wall than they are to actually shoot at an enemy. It’s so bad that the game will actually spawn more allies ahead of you hoping you won’t notice and will assume your allies are actually doing something. On the gameplay side of things, there’s also moments that feel like they were barely tested to ensure they were actually fun. For example, in the underground in Leon’s campaign trains will pass through the area. When one is coming, you literally have a second to figure out where a train is coming from (behind you, it’s always behind you) and you get insta-splatted if you happen to be on the wrong side of the tracks at the time. Similarly, later on in the campaign you end up in Tall Oaks at a gas station where, late in a siege, an ambulance will come careening through the area out of nowhere. If you just happen to be standing in its path when this happens, you die and have to redo the entire fight. The first time I did this, my AI partner happened to be in its path and died. Suffice to say, I was livid, there was nothing I could do to avoid that cheap game over.
  • The Treatment of Female Characters – Resident Evil 6 feels like the peak of the PS3-era, pre-Gamergate, corporate-fueled pandering to teenage boys in gaming. Resident Evil games up to this point have always had female co-leads which were just as important (if not more) than their male leads (with Resident Evil 4 being the one exception, but that game also had a much different structure than past games and even this got rectified in the Separate Ways expansion that came out not even a year after the original game).
    • For a game that’s so obsessed with reliving its past glories, great female leads like Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield are conspicuously absent. However, Sheva might be the most conspicuous omission of all. Chris’ campaign continues exploring the heroics of the BSAA, but instead of bringing back Sheva or even Jill to act as Chris’ partner, they’re instead replaced with Piers Nevan, a boring, oorah soldier-boy type who feels like he was made specifically to pander to the male, teenage, Call of Duty-loving crowd. Given that this campaign was designed to be the most action-heavy, it wouldn’t surprise me if the decision to have two male leads in this section was 100% deliberately intended to pander to teenage boys.
    • Helena Harper, Sherry Birkin and Ada Wong are cool characters in their own right, but it’s all soured by all the design decisions in this game that make me roll my eyes. For one thing, we’ve got deep cleavage for Helena, Hunnigan, both Ada Wongs and Helena’s sister (who, for bonus points, get transformed into a big titty naked mutant). Even Sherry at one point in the game gets captured and stuck in a medical gown that, for some reason, has a deep v-neck. In addition, Helena’s storyline revolves around the idea that she’s “too emotional” for her job as a Secret Service agent (the unlockable records literally state this), which results in her being used to assassinate the US president and causes an outbreak which requires an entire city to be nuked to prevent it from spreading. Oh, and the trophy for completing Leon’s campaign? Literally “The Trouble With Women”… Like, none of the characters are stuck in bikini armour or anything like that, but seriously? Literally every female character in this game is showing prominent cleavage?
    • I also get annoyed by the way this game positions its characters and campaigns. In the records section, it’s not Leon and Helena’s campaign, it’s “Leon’s campaign”. It’s not Chris and Piers’ campaign, it’s “Chris'”. It’s not Jake and Sherry’s campaign, it’s “Jake’s”. It straight-up acknowledges that the male characters are what’s important here not the women (and that Piers loser). This isn’t a super big deal by any means, but when you add it on top of all the other decisions it’s just another thing that annoys me about how this game places its female characters.
    • Here’s a baffling bonus: during Leon’s campaign there’s a segment where you have to fight a boss inside a cathedral full of civilians. These civilians will almost certainly all be killed and/or turned into zombies during the fight – you can try to save them but it’s almost inevitable that they will all die unless you go out of your way to save them. Well, turns out that there’s a trophy for that… except to get the trophy you specifically have to save at least two female survivors for some reason. Oh, and the name of that trophy? “I Prefer Them Alive”. Is… is that a necrophilia joke? Just… why, Capcom?

Resident Evil 6 is an over-ambitious mess of a game. It went the route that all AAA games of the PS3/Xbox 360-era were going and tried to be a bombastic, serious, cinematic action game and lost a lot of the series’ identity in the process while not being anywhere near as good as the Uncharted, Gears of War or Call of Duty games it so wants to emulate. Hell, it’s not even worthy to stand next to its closest contemporary, Dead Space. It’s peak early-2010s Capcom, in trying to be something for everyone the devs bit off way more than they could chew, leaving us with a game that is lesser overall than if they had made a more focused experience. Thankfully, at least it seems that they took these lessons to heart because the series would make a dramatic shift going forward…

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5 was actually the first Resident Evil game I got far into. I had a friend in high school who was a big fan of the series and when this game came out we played through two thirds of the game in co-op and had a good time. Since then, Resident Evil 5‘s reputation has taken a bit of a hit as it took the franchise into a more action-oriented direction. How did it hold up for me? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Improved Controls – When you start up Resident Evil 5, one of the first things you’ll notice is how much smoother the game plays compared to Resident Evil 4. Aiming is much quicker, you can strafe (when you aren’t aiming), the knife animation plays much faster and overall the game is easier to play today compared to its predecessor.
  • Graphics Still Look Good – Certain parts of Resident Evil 5 look dated but the game has a distinctive look which make it stand out even today. This largely comes down to the game’s very bright, washed out tones which (like many PS3-era games) was clearly inspired by Black Hawk Down. The lack of colour can be dreary, especially since every other game of this era was just as washed-out, but at least Resident Evil 5‘s early chapters do it in a way which is distinct for this game.
  • Albert Wesker – Resident Evil 5 gets noticeably better as soon as Albert Wesker enters the picture. He’s such a perfect camp villain with his delusional, smug attitude, silly sunglasses and grand monologues. He makes for a far more memorable and enjoyable antagonist than Saddler was and, honestly, this portrayal of him may just be the best villain in the whole franchise (only truly rivaled by Nemesis).
  • Voice Acting is Pretty Good – Resident Evil games have always been known for their dodgy voice acting, but Resident Evil 5 definitely has the strongest voice acting in the series up to that point. This is especially highlighted by Roger Craig Smith and D.C. Douglas’ performances as Chris Redfield and Albert Wesker, respectively. Even if I couldn’t give a shit about what’s happening in the game, they are clearly giving it 100% and their performances elevate the material considerably.
  • Game Picks Up in the Latter Half – Resident Evil 5 reminded me of Dark Souls in that it gets significantly funner when you’ve finally built up your arsenal and aren’t starved for resources anymore. While this flies in the face of Resident Evil‘s survival horror roots, I’ll at least say that the game they’ve built here isn’t firing on all cylinders until it stops pretending to be anything other than an action game around the start of Chapter 5. There are still plenty of bone-headed decisions made in this part of the game (which I’ll get to), but at least it’s a funner time… plus that’s when Wesker shows up and Wesker makes everything better.
  • A Few Really Fun Bosses – While a bunch of the bosses are bullet-sponges, rinse-and-repeat snorefests and/or puzzle bosses that aren’t well-suited to this game’s controls, there are a few really clever and fun bosses in this game.
    • In particular, I found the second battle with an Uroburos-infected enemy really fun. It’s standard Resident Evil-fare where you exploit the weakness to expose the weak spots and then blast ’em away, but the game gives you lots of environmental methods to defeat the boss if you didn’t pack specific weapons to make the fight easier… that said, they make it glaringly obvious going in that the boss is weak to fire, giving you a bunch of incendiary grenades and flame rounds before the fight, so on my second try I beat the boss in less than 30 seconds which was a bit much…
    • The final battle with Albert Wesker is also a total blast. It’s fun, cinematic and gives both players something to do while Wesker closes in on them before the final showdown which uses the tried-and-tested Resident Evil formula of blasting the weak spot to win the fight. It makes for a really great and memorable finale to the game.

Mixed

  • Co-op – Mandatory co-op was the big feature of this game, for better or worse. On the one hand, playing with a friend is enjoyable and the game is best experienced this way. However, even then, the co-op aspect brings some baggage with it. Most notable is that the menu-based inventory management of Resident Evil 4 has been ditched entirely. Now you get a mere nine inventory slots per character and it all has to be managed in real-time – no pausing when an enemy is bearing down on you or to get the item you need in a boss fight. It’s a far more clunky and inconvenient system, especially because you can only map four items to d-pad shortcuts. It also doesn’t help that the game only lets you upgrade and buy items between chapters or after you die… I’d get it if it was just between chapters but the fact that they let you do it after you die makes it just feel like this was bolted on as a solution to the problems created by forcing co-op in.
  • Brings Back the Main Plot of Resident Evil – Some people feel like Resident Evil 4 diverged too far from the main plot of the series, but honestly it felt like the main storyline was reaching its limits by the end of Resident Evil 3 and the destruction of Raccoon City. With Umbrella gone, they were going to have to go to new places and Resident Evil 4 figured out a way to do that while reinventing the franchise. Resident Evil 5 feels like it’s pandering to the fans at times, it tries to make the parasites linked to Umbrella and brings back some fan-favourite monsters (with diminishing returns). Let’s be honest, Resident Evil‘s plot tangles of viruses and corporations isn’t all that interesting anyway, I’m more interested in seeing the characters survive than anything else. I will give Resident Evil 5 some credit though, it loops back to the series’ main plot while also creating a scenario with the BSAA where Resident Evil games can continue indefinitely.
  • The Serious Tone – After the delicious camp of Resident Evil 4, pivoting to a very self-serious, grim tone for Resident Evil 5 was… interesting. It is perhaps unsurprising for a modern military shooter of the PS3/Xbox 360 era to go this way, but the game’s opening especially is a mess of military and counter-terrorism jargon that is delivered in a very self-serious manner. Of course, this all gets dropped by the final third of the game where it basically turns into a freaking anime with acrobatics and superpowers, not to mention that the “serious” story was still a tropey, D-grade effort. It’s interesting to see the attempt at a serious story, but I can’t say that it was successful.

Hate

  • Bullet Sponge Enemies – There are few things that will turn me off of a shooter more than bullet sponge enemies. I’ve written off games like Borderlands, Destiny, The Division… basically the entire looter-shooter genre because every single enemy soaks up entire magazines of ammunition. You can imagine my frustration in the opening hours of Resident Evil 5 as it takes entire clips of my starting pistol to down even basic enemies and even a single point-blank shotgun round is usually not enough to down them either. Look at the tweet I made above when I started this game – in what world is it reasonable for an enemy that can one-shot you to take that much damage to die? At least in a traditional Resident Evil game, which also have bullet sponge enemies and much more limited resources, you’re intended to avoid combat unless it’s a necessity. In Resident Evil 5, you’re intended to kill every single enemy you come across (other than a few optional mini-bosses, but these reward you for your efforts so it’s always worth trying). I will admit that, as I said previously, this becomes less of an issue in the final third of the game when your weapons are fully upgraded and you’ve given your pistol the max crit chance so you can headshot most enemies to death in a couple shots, but even here the game likes to tip the balance. The last fight in the game is against a mob of enemies who are supported by two giant Majini with mini-guns who take several high-powered shots to down, and God help you if you don’t have any explosives, rifles or a magnum when they show up.
    • On a similar note, several of the big setpieces and boss battles turn into mindless exercises where you unload literally hundreds of shots into an enemy for 5-10 minutes until it falls over and dies. One of the worst examples of this is the first Gigante fight, where you and your partner fire miniguns at the boss constantly, with the only sort of “strategy” involved being that you have to avoid overheating your gun. It isn’t fun and it feels like it goes on forever. Too many of the bosses also last for far too long and are far too repetitive as you pump hundreds of rounds into their weak point. I felt like Irving and the spider boss in Chapter 5 are especially egregious examples of this as each of their boss fights take 10 minutes or more of the same repetitive actions.
  • The AI is Dumb – In this most recent playthrough, I had to play solo and experience Sheva’s AI for the first time. I will admit that she’s not quite as bad as I had feared or heard, but there were some situations where she was incredibly frustrating. There’s an early encounter where you have to lure an enemy into a furnace to kill them. This would be simple and fun with a co-op partner but with the AI Sheva kept walking into the furnace and getting trapped inside, burning to death over and over again. Towards the latter end of the game I also needed Sheva to shoot a button to raise a crate, then she had to go over to the other side so I could do the same for her. Simple enough with a partner but when I did it Sheva would then jump off the crate and refuse to come forward unless I did the task the way she wanted me to. It was very frustrating. Beyond that, she’s at least reasonably okay in a firefight, I don’t feel like she ever wasted resources and she was constantly keeping me from dying, but I was doing all the heavy lifting in this game. If Sheva wasn’t there at all I certainly wouldn’t have minded.
  • Co-op Ruins the Single Player Experience – As you may have gleaned by now, the decision to add co-op to this game results in a lot of compromises to the Resident Evil formula. That’s all well and good if you’re playing with a friend as intended, but try to play the game solo? It just makes for an inferior game all-round. The bullet sponge enemies are only that way because they were balanced for two players gunning them down, when you have one player doing all the work it becomes a chore. Don’t want to deal with an AI companion? Too bad, you’re stuck with them (at least Dead Space 3 had the good grace to keep co-op entirely optional). You can’t even pause to change your items, even though the whole reason this is even a thing is because you can’t pause during online co-op. All-in-all, the single player experience has clearly been shoved to the wayside and it makes those of us who don’t have someone to play with have a clearly-compromised experience.
  • Zombies With Fucking Guns – You read that right, in Chapter 5-2 zombies with guns suddenly show up as regular enemies and then you’re stuck with them for the rest of the game. It’s not like these are like the single-shot archers or dynamite enemies you deal with in Resident Evil 4 and 5 either, these are full-on automatic weapons that they’re spraying at you. Unsurprisingly, facing off with these enemies sucks because it suddenly forces the gameplay into an extremely stiff cover shooter (gotta ape Uncharted and Gears of War after all), which the game clearly isn’t designed for. This turns into a boring game of “shoot the bad guy when he reloads” and “take cover when they shoot or you’ll get filled with bullets”. Every time these enemies show up it’s a pain in the ass.
  • Quicktime Events – QTEs sucked in Resident Evil 4, so of course they brought them back here too. In one egregious example near the end of the game, I didn’t enter the button prompt within a second of when it flashed on screen, so I had to go through a lengthy cutscene all over again and all the button prompts therein. Mercifully you can skip ahead to each button prompt, but fail and you have to do it all over again. I’m so glad that these fucking things are a relic of a bygone age now.
  • Lickers – I could have put this under the bullet sponge entry earlier, but lickers get wasted so badly in this game that I feel like they deserve their own special mention. Lickers are, in my opinion, the most horrifying and iconic enemy type in the entire franchise, in part due to their sound-based hunting method which requires the player to confront them differently. However, in Resident Evil 5 they are a shadow of their former selves. For one thing, their design is butt ugly. For another, they have been turned into hordes of bullet sponges which crawl towards you and are more annoying than horrifying. Sure, you can technically sneak around them when encountered, but sooner or later they’re going to get automatically triggered and then you’ll have to deal with huge hordes of them all at once.
  • The Knife – Holy shit how the mighty have fallen, the knife is pathetic in this game. The range on it is ridiculously short, I’m talking like less than an arm’s length, somehow. On top of that, unless you’re at the exact perfect angle, the sweep will only hit one thing in front of you. This means that if you’re standing right in front of two crates that are literally side-by-side, the knife will only break one of them, even if a second swing without moving or readjusting your aim will break the other box. Just… why? The only positive is that the animation speed has been considerably improved, otherwise this thing is nothing more than a last resort. (POSTSCRIPT: Turns out that this may actually be a bug associated with the port to PS4/Xbox One. That doesn’t really change the fact that this is an issue, but it gives it greater context that’s worth mentioning.)
  • The Aiming Reticle – Maybe it’s just me, but I’m constantly losing track of where exactly my character is aiming at any time. This is due to the game’s laser sight aiming, I’ll often try to line up a shot but it goes beyond the enemy, or I’ll start shooting and it will recoil off the enemy without me realizing. I’m not sure if it’s the brightness, the more zoomed-out FOV compared to Resident Evil 4, or the fact that the dot disappears entirely if you’re not on an enemy, but this was a problem for me from start to finish. I can’t say that I ever had that issue with Resident Evil 4 or even in other third person shooters of the same era, whether their aiming reticule was diegetic (Dead Space) or non-diegetic (Uncharted).
  • So… Uh… About That Racism… – I remember there being some discourse about Resident Evil 5 being racist due to the way it depicts black people and at the time I brushed it off. After all, they portrayed Spanish people the same way in the last game! Well, let me tell you, playing this game 12 years later in 2021, this game feels fucking racist. Sure, it is indeed the same sort of scenario that the Spanish were put in in Resident Evil 4, but the way that the Majini are depicted feels different. They’re all treated as these ravenous, angry, mindless beasts, which hits differently with the history of colonialism and racist propaganda against Africans. It’s almost certainly unintentional but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable.

Look, all-in-all, Resident Evil 5 is fine. I hated it at the start but by the end I was moderately enjoying myself. It’s a huge step down from Resident Evil 4, but it’s still reasonably enjoyable even if you aren’t playing it in co-op as intended.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 is often considered once of the greatest games of all time, having reinvented the Resident Evil franchise and whose influence changed the way action and horror games were made to this day. I was late to the party on this game – after the PS3 came out, I got a copy of the PS2 port, but could never muster the interest to make it past the first village segment. Well, after devouring Resident Evil 2 and 3‘s remakes, I finally had an itch to knuckle-down and give the game a serious try for once. With rumours of a remake on the horizon, how does Resident Evil 4 hold up in 2021? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Insanely Ambitious and Influential – You can’t really talk about Resident Evil 4 without bringing up how big of a deal it was when it came out. 2005 was a big year for the 6th generation of consoles with huge games like Devil May Cry 3, God of War, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Shadow of the Colossus coming out, but Resident Evil 4 still manages to stand out as the biggest game of the year, if not the entire generation, and has definitely been the most influential too. For example, the Dead Space franchise owes its existence to Resident Evil 4, as its entire gameplay is ripped-off wholesale from the Regenerators, which are just a single enemy in one chapter of the game.
  • Adapts the Franchise Well to a New Design – Resident Evil 4 makes me realize that tank controls aren’t really the barrier to entry that makes me struggle with old-school Resident Evil games; rather, it’s the fixed camera angles. Resident Evil 4 is basically still using classic tank controls, but with a freed camera. It takes a bit of getting used to by modern standards, but I found it far more easy to get used to compared to REmake despite being effectively the same control scheme. It’s also worth noting that the game has third person shooting mechanics instead of auto-aim, which actually opens up entirely new gameplay opportunities. For example, having to shoot the parasites hidden inside the Regenerators’ bodies just wouldn’t work without manual aiming and having to shoot hidden items means that environmental exploration goes to entirely new heights.
  • Great Level Design – Resident Evil 4‘s levels are packed to the brim with secrets, be they hidden treasures, optional ways to get an advantage on enemies, or full-fledged mini-games you could sink hours into on their own. The game’s levels are also quite distinct from chapter-to-chapter, which keeps it all fresh. The first two chapters take place in the village and grow more horrifying as it progresses. Chapter 3 then takes things in an entirely different direction, taking place entirely within a spooky castle. People love to hate on this part of the game but honestly, it’s nowhere near as bad as they say it is, I enjoyed it. Chapter 4 then takes you into an underground cavern while Chapter 5 goes to an island military base for the action-packed finale.
  • Quality of Life Improvements – In addition to the new shooting mechanics and free camera, Resident Evil 4 also brings some quality of life changes to the Resident Evil formula. The biggest one would have to be that ink ribbons are gone entirely, meaning you can save as many times as you want to now. The game also has a checkpoint system, meaning that if you die you’re not punished for not saving regularly. These both help to alleviate a lot of frustration.
  • Leans Into the Camp – Part of the reason Resident Evil 4 is so fun is because it is so unabashedly silly and relishes in it. You’ve got the memorably-weird Merchant, Leon (and Ashley!) performing pro wrestling moves on enemies, one of the main villains is a tiny, shrill, monologuing weirdo, you can kill enemies by throwing rotten eggs at them, etc. It’s yet another reason why some series purists hate this game, but this just reminds me of the people who hate Jason X, despite it being the single funnest Friday the 13th movie. Resident Evil isn’t high art, give me more silliness of this variety because it’s really enjoyable.
    • On a related note, Resident Evil 4 is basically the original Metal Gear Solid 4. Capcom were clearly inspired heavily by Kojima’s franchise, as the game’s structure closely mirror’s one of Snake’s adventures – you’ve got the world-ending terrorist plot, over-the-top baddies, a similar sense of humour, literal codec calls, and there’s even a post-credits scene.
  • Inventory Management – I usually hate inventory management and consider it a total chore (oh hi Nioh and The Witcher 3!), so it is truly remarkable that I enjoyed this aspect of Resident Evil 4 so much. How many games are there where inventory management is a freaking highlight!? Resident Evil 4 gives you an attaché case and each item you pick up takes up a certain number of blocks of space. As a result, you’re arranging and rearranging your items to fit together and, over time, you start organizing everything in a convenient and satisfying manner. I know I was keeping all my grenades in one area, all the healing in another, ammo was all stacked together, etc.
  • Introduces All-New, Iconic Enemies – Gone are the zombies, Tyrants and Hunters of the old games, Resident Evil 4 completely shakes up the franchise with an entirely-new stable of enemies (another fact which pissed off purists). Many of these enemies are now iconic in their own right, such as Dr. Salvador (aka, the chainsaw man), the plagas parasites, the Garradors (aka, the claw man) and, obviously, the Regenerators.
  • Fleshed-out Optional Side Content – The amount of work put into Resident Evil 4 is insane. You’ve got treasures and emblems hidden all over the game world just waiting to be found. You’ve got silly little mechanics like the chickens who lay a variety of egg types you can find throughout the villages. You’ve got a freaking trick system for the jet ski that you ride for only a couple minute escape sequence at the end of the game! There’s also a shooting gallery mini-game you can find that’s so extensive that it has its own series of reward items and challenge levels. The level of detail is just ridiculous to consider.
  • Cool Boss Fights – Nearly every boss fight in this game is enjoyable, if not for their mechanics then because they all bring something unique to shake-up the gameplay. For example, the first boss Del Lago gives you a spectacular battle on a lake where you have to balance throwing javelins and avoid getting gobbled up when you inevitably fall in the water. Later you get to fight Mendez, whose transformation into a horrifying monster shakes up the cultist shootouts you’ve been having to that point. Then there’s the relentless hunters Verdugo and U-3, which can be almost Nemesis-like in their relentlessness. Krauser is a fan-favourite for the spectacle of the fight and the final showdown with Saddler is a good excuse to unload all your magnum rounds on the guy. Really, the only fight that’s more annoying than fun is against that little shit, Salazar, but it isn’t so bad that it detracts from the game.

Mixed

  • Ashley – People like to hate on Ashely, but honestly she was completely fine in this game. For an AI companion who can be kidnapped or killed, and who is susceptible to friendly fire, she only got captured once and walked in front of my gun once in the entire playthrough. Honestly though, if anything Ashley may be under-utilized as a game mechanic. I only really had to hide her from a horde of enemies once and she’s separated from you for large chunks of the game, so she’s not that much of a factor most of the time. That said, she could definitely get annoying if she became more of a burden so it may be for the best that she’s mostly a non-factor.

Hate

  • Controls Take Getting Used To – Resident Evil 4 feels very sluggish and archaic by modern standards, so there’s definitely a frustrating learning curve in the opening hour or two. It doesn’t help that the first encounter of the whole game is the tense siege segment where you’re getting swarmed with Ganados and a Dr. Salvador, so you’re probably going to die several times just due to being unfamiliar with the game’s tank controls and the stiff aiming at this point. However, things definitely get easier quickly and soon it all becomes second-nature. I also suspect that the starting pistol is part of the reason why this opening is so painful is because the starting pistol seems to be intentionally sluggish to aim compared to the weapons you get later. As soon as I got the Punisher the game suddenly became significantly easier from there onward.
  • The Water Ski Segment – Oh my God the water ski escape at the end of the game was by far the most frustrating moment for me in the entire game, to the point where I died there more than any other part of the game. Hell, I died there more than I did in entire chapters of the game. Why’s that? Well, because you have to maneuver around pillars while a tidal wave is chasing you and if you aren’t going fast enough, or if you hit an invisible, ambiguous kill-point, you die. Seriously, I swear I was avoiding the pillars but it wasn’t good enough for the game and it pissed me off so much. Worst of all, it’s literally the last bit of gameplay in the whole game, so you’re stuck doing this new mini-game in order to finish the game you’ve basically already beaten.
  • No Hotswapping – One unfortunate design that Resident Evil 4 carries over from its predecessors is that you have to dive into a menu in order to change your weapon. It really hurts the pacing and tension when you’re constantly pausing the action in order to switch to another weapon or grenade. This feels particularly egregious to me for two reasons. First, the game isn’t using the d-pad – it’s used here to literally just double the function of the left analog stick, which in itself is a legacy control scheme left over from when Resident Evil games didn’t even have analog sticks to utilize. Secondly, the game is already drawing inspiration from Metal Gear Solid, it couldn’t use that game’s item and weapon menus to make things a bit more convenient?
  • Quick Time Events – Resident Evil 4 introduces QTEs to the franchise and they’re a blight on the game. You never know when one is going to happen and when they do you’ve got about a second to pull it off or you get punished for it. Worse, some of them will even one-shot you if you fail.

Resident Evil 4 is still a fantastic game. While Resident Evil purists love to vocally hate it to this day, I had an absolute blast playing it from start to finish. Given how readily available the game is and how minor its issues are, I’m adamant that the game is not in need of a remake at all. Hell, REmake is more in need of a remake at this point than this is.

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.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 2 (Remake)

It took nearly twenty years, but fans finally got the Resident Evil 2 remake they had been begging Capcom for. While I had played several Resident Evil games over the years, this was actually the first game in the franchise that I played from start to finish, so it’s ultimately the reason I started this whole Love/Hate series. I gave it another replay before writing this article to make sure my impressions were fresh. How does it hold up after playing through the rest of the series? Read on to find out…

Love

  • RPD Design – The Racoon City Police Department makes for a great setting for this game, it has so much character and personality. The decision for it to have been converted from a museum was inspired, granting it a history that you can see and makes it far more visually interesting than if it was just a standard police precinct. I like the Spencer Mansion just a bit more, but RPD would easily be my second favourite area in the whole series.
  • Open-Ended, Interconnected World – Carrying on from the last point, the game’s world is initially maze-like, but over time you’ll get keys and unlock doors to allow yourself to travel back to areas you’ve previously explored. Even when you’re done with any story moments involving the RPD, you can find passages leading back to it so you can pick up items you missed or just to show how connected the various locales in the game are.
  • Graphics – Resident Evil 7 looked good, but REmake 2 looks incredible. The team at Capcom have clearly come to grips with the RE Engine and are pulling out all the stops in this game. These visuals aren’t just to look pretty either, there’s a clear attempt here to make the game feel grounded and realistic and the at-times borderline photorealistic visuals really pull their weight.
  • The Gore – Resident Evil games have traditionally had a warning at the start that they’re full of explicit violence, but very rarely do they live up to that. Well, REmake 2 is living up to its zombie movie inspirations because it is not fucking around. In explicit detail you’ll get to see got faces torn open, a dude getting ripped in half from the waste down, chests exploding… and that’s just the stuff in cutscenes. The zombies show wounds as you hit them, so subsequent headshots will quickly leave their faces as nothing more than a fleshy mess. That’s not all though – zombies have a dismemberment system, so if you shoot them in the arm, then it may slowly detach and fall off over time. Hitting them with acid is probably the most gruesome example of this though, because it causes their skin to slough off in real-time as it literally consumes their flesh. Also, as someone who has seen what a shotgun does to a human face, I’ve gotta say that the critical headshot animation in this game is disturbingly realistic.
  • The Map – All my complaints about the map in REmake are addressed in REmake 2, it is an incredible quality of life addition which keeps all exploration-based frustration at bay. It clearly marks locations explored/unexplored, locked/unlocked doors, what key you need for each door, the locations of items you’ve found but haven’t picked up yet, points of interest and where your safe rooms are. Seriously, every game with a map needs to take a lesson from REmake 2, this is how you do it.
  • The Zombies – It’s a minor miracle that the basic zombies in this game are so goddamn terrifying. They move very erratic and unnaturally, which makes them unsettling and makes it very easy to miss a shot. This is particularly problematic because zombies take a ton of ammunition to put down, it can easily take 5+ headshots to down one and even then they will get back up again if you don’t double-tap them while they’re down. The resource-intensive nature of zombie combat means that, especially in the early game, non-confrontation is paramount for survival. While your resources are limited, you’re generally going to avoid zombies or only shoot them enough to get past them safely.
  • Mr. X – X gon’ give it to ya! Making Mr. X hunt and pursue you around RPD may just be the most inspired design decision in REmake 2. Jack Baker could be a localized nuisance, but Mr. X will hunt you around the entire police department (minus a few safe rooms, which is a bit immersion-breaking but it’s a welcome compromise). The best part is that even if you know what’s going to happen in the game, Mr. X will inevitably surprise you sooner or later. He’s always good for a couple jump scares, especially if you left any lickers or zombies alive in the RPD when he starts pursuing you. Hell, even listening to him stomping nearby and opening doors to find you is frightening as you can’t be entirely certain if it’s safe for you to head out or not.
  • A/B Scenarios Encourage Replayability – While Leon and Claire’s campaigns go through most of the same beats, each character has access to exclusive areas, story content and bosses which really encourages players to go through the game again with the other character. In addition to this, there are lots of optional game modes and scenarios for players looking to get more out of the game’s ~8 hour runtime.

Mixed

  • Post-RPD – REmake 2 loses some lustre after you leave RPD, as the subsequent levels are less well-designed and more linear in scope. While I don’t hate the sewers like some people do, it really can be hard to find your way around from place to place. It also doesn’t help that the map doesn’t clearly layout where the various staircases in the level lead you to, so you can wander trying to find a specific room if you forget how to get there.
  • The Story – I like how Resident Evil 2‘s campaigns play out for the most part. Leon and Claire are very likeable and charismatic leads, the mishaps they get into in their campaigns are enough to keep pushing you forward and the greater “lore” is compelling. However, the actual narrative itself can’t help but feel a little hollow to me. Leon and Claire don’t really change much over the course of their adventure and the antagonists have no real reason to be after either of them. The plot itself basically boils down to “the characters try to escape Raccoon City” and that’s it. Again, this works but it made me less engaged with the actual story than I would have liked.

Hate

  • Story Does Not Make Sense With A/B Scenario – The intent for this game is that your A and B scenarios are playing out at the same time, but because they overlap so much this doesn’t make any sense. You’re telling me Leon and Claire just happen to fight William Birkin in the same place, one after the other, multiple times in a row? Most egregiously, if we’re to make sense of the A/B Scenarios, then Annette Birkin pretends to die for one character and then comes back for the other one only to die for real that time. On top of that, the original games made certain items and characters disappear in the B Scenario depending on your actions in the A Scenario, but this game doesn’t do that. All-in-all, this contributes to the somewhat hollow feel that the game’s story leaves me. It’s top-notch survival horror but without a stronger plot it doesn’t resonate with me as much as I would like it to.
  • Sherry’s Stealth Section – Oh hey, a stealth segment in a non-stealth game is annoying you say? How surprising. In Claire’s campaign you get to play as Sherry Birkin briefly and her scenario has a stealth sequence where Chief Irons is looking for her. It’s basically just trial and error. If you know where you’re supposed to go then it’s fine, but you have a moment to figure it out or you’ll get caught and instantly lose if you fail.

Resident Evil 2 is a fantastic melding of classic survival horror game design and modern, single-player, AAA polish. Even if you haven’t played any Resident Evil games before I’d heartily recommend it, it’s a phenomenal experience that’s a joy to play through. It’s also on sale cheap all the time so you really have no excuse not to give it a shot if it interests you.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil (Remake)

Welcome back to another Love/Hate series! You may be surprised to hear that, despite having a whole Retrospectives series about the Resident Evil movies, until just over a year ago I hadn’t played through a Resident Evil game from start to finish. Sure, I had owned and played several Resident Evil games over the years, but it never really resonated with me much til recently. I’ve since been on a journey exploring this franchise and I’m now ready to put out my thoughts on most of the mainline entries. To start, we’re going to look at the Game Cube remake of Resident Evil (aka REmake), often touted as the definitive way to play the game. Does it still hold up almost 20 years later? Read on to find out…

Love

  • The Spencer Mansion – There are several iconic and well-designed locales in the Resident Evil franchise, but the Spencer Mansion is probably my favourite of the bunch. Its layout is maze-like and filled with locked doors but you’ll become very familiar with it over time, which is helped by the way the developers encourage you to traverse the map in a figure eight pattern. Its design also reminds me of the best parts of Dark Souls, where opening up new shortcuts makes the whole thing more interconnected.
  • Compelling Gameplay Loop – The basic gameplay in Resident Evil revolves around “find items to open new areas” and “manage your items and plan your routes to best survive”. While simple, it’s very compelling to play through. Every time you figure out where a key item needs to go it feels satisfying and every single item you take with you has to be strategically calculated because you’ll never have enough for all the weapons, ammo and healing you may need. Moreso than any other game in the franchise, Resident Evil is a game that emphasizes exploration over combat. The game’s basic, slow and infrequent combat works well because it keeps the tension going and makes the exploration feel dangerous.
  • Encourages Replayability – REmake has a frankly ridiculous amount of replayability. First off, the character you pick at the start of the game isn’t just a cosmetic choice – they can have a huge impact on game progression, cutting off entire boss strategies, providing unique weapons, items and skills (eg, Jill knows how to play piano whereas Chris cannot which makes solving a particular puzzle different), and opening up opportunities to get items early (eg, Jill can get a shotgun early if she performs actions in a specific order). In addition to this, while the game plays out largely the same, the story itself changes pretty significantly as Chris and Jill interact with different cast members who are absent from the other run and the ending you get changes depending on how many characters you keep alive. This makes a “B Scenario” run a very different experience. In addition, the game is more satisfying and can be completed in about half as much time as a first playthrough when you already know what needs to be done.
  • Atmosphere – One thing REmake does really well is nail the spooky, gothic atmosphere of the Spencer Mansion. The art direction for this game is spectacular, giving the Spencer Mansion a very antique, lived-in feel that comes across as believable. In addition, the game’s fix camera perspective allows the developers to direct players’ attentions in very deliberate ways, hiding enemies just off-screen to get a very cinematic scare or showing the action in a very voyeuristic manner to put you on edge. It gives the whole affair a very cinematic feel.
  • Meaningfully Adds to the Original – REmake takes the skeleton of the original game and remixes and polishes it to make for a much smoother and expanded way to experience this story. Additions like defense weapons make the minute-to-minute gameplay less punishing and overall this feels less like a graphical overhaul and more like a second chance to let us experience Resident Evil as it was always intended.
  • Option For More Traditional Controls – While REmake originally released with classic tank controls, the HD remaster added in the option to play the game with an altered control scheme. This altered scheme essentially allows you to move with traditional analog controls and removes the need to hold the sprint button. Basically, point the analog stick in the direction you want to go and the character will move that way. The controls are essentially reset every time the camera moves, but if you were already heading in a direction the game will continue to move you that way until the stick is shifted, at which point it will update. It still takes some getting used to, but for someone who didn’t grow up on tank controls it was easier to get into and actually made tank controls easier to wrap my head around.
  • Crimson Heads – Crimson Heads were a brilliant addition in REmake. In case you’re unaware, every time you kill a zombie in this game, their body will stay behind and a timer will begin to countdown. You have about an hour to either blow their head off or light them on fire or the body will resurrect as a fast, hard-hitting zombie the next time you pass by. This works so well on numerous levels. First of all, it provides a huge, unexpected shock for a first time player or veteran of the original game. The best part though is that even if you know about them ahead of time, it transforms the dynamic of every zombie encounter. There isn’t enough kerosene to burn every zombie, so you find yourself avoiding zombies for as long as possible, burning them only at the most high-traffic areas and remembering where you’ve left bodies that you’ll have to deal with later. It’s so weird to me that Capcom hasn’t brought them back since (unlike, say, Regenerators) because they’re top-tier Resident Evil enemies and brilliant game design.

Mixed

  • The Map Feels Half-Baked – REmake‘s map is handy and will be a constant companion as you learn the layout of the mansion. Beyond showing the building’s layout, it will also show you what doors are locked and unlocked, where you have found typewriters and item boxes and whether a room is unexplored, has items still in it or has been completely explored. That said, while it’s nice that it’s more than a bare-bones map, it could have gone so much further to make for an indispensable resource. For example, knowing which key you need to unlock which doors, what items are still in each room, what other points of interest there may be, etc. There is a lot of shit to keep track of in this game, especially in the mansion at the start of the game, so having it laid out on-screen would have been nice. It feels like it’s just pushing you to buy the guidebook to get all the item locations in one place… which, now that I mention it, is probably why the map is the way it is.
  • The Story – I’m pretty mixed on the story in Resident Evil. On the one hand, it’s very simple and functional, which serves the gameplay well, so that’s a major point in its favour. However, for the story we do get, we’re missing some major context to understand it. We get thrown right into the game with no real idea who is in S.T.A.R.S. Alpha or Bravo team, so whenever we run across a comrade in this story I have no idea if this is one of the survivors I’m supposed to be finding or someone who came with me and got lost. The story is also baffling at times, like when the player finds Enrico and then he GETS SHOT by someone behind you… and then Chris or Jill decides to focus all their attention on Enrico instead of, y’know, the murderous gunman who is just behind them. That said, we’ve also got stuff like the story of Lisa Trevor, which is conveyed well over the game’s runtime through text files and environmental storytelling.
  • HD Edition Graphics – The HD remaster of REmake is the most accessible version of the game out there, but its presentation is compromised compared to the Game Cube original. Apparently Capcom either lost the assets or source code for this game and had to Frankenstein the HD remaster together with what they had available. The pre-rendered backgrounds have had to be up-rezzed and stretched into widescreen and the results are mixed. I’ve played this game in 1080p on PS4 and you can definitely notice the low resolution there, whereas in 720p on Switch in handheld mode it holds up much better. Worst of all are the pre-rendered cutscenes which are in incredibly muddy 480p stretched to HD widescreen. Imagine if someone threw a bad Youtube rip into a game and you can imagine how it looks. Thankfully the character models are pretty decent, although I can’t help but feel that Jill and Barry got a lot more effort put into them than Chris and Rebecca. Chris’ dead-eye stare is more unnerving than most of the game’s zombies… The graphics issues don’t really tarnish the game overall, but they do hold back the presentation because, when everything falls into place, this game looks incredible.

Hate

  • Old-School Design Takes Getting Used To – As I have alluded to, if you didn’t grow up on old-school Resident Evil then REmake is going to take time just to get used to the simple act of moving around. I had tried to play this game 2 or 3 times before I finally knuckled down and did a full playthrough for this series. That said, the experience and knowledge of the Mansion I got in my previous attempt certainly helped make this playthrough much easier to slide into. It’s just too bad that there’s such a potentially steep learning curve to overcome before you can enjoy the game.
  • Inventory Management Can Get Frustrating – While inventory management is a fundamental aspect of Resident Evil, it can be frustrating, especially in a first playthrough. The item box is never far away, but you don’t know what enemies to expect or what you’re going to find, so you pack your best weapons and head out. Within a few minutes, you’re loaded up on key items, so in order to advance you’re going to have to go back and dump them in the item box. Then you set back out and, lo-and-behind, you find where those (or a different) key item needs to go, so now you have to turn around again and get them, then head back to use them, etc. Resident Evil‘s game design encourages conservative play, especially with its punishing save system, but the drawback is that it will bore you if you play conservatively. Again, this is why repeat playthroughs will be a bit more enjoyable since you should know when and where you need key items, but prior knowledge shouldn’t be a crutch for game design. There has to be a middle-ground where you maintain the game’s strategic inventory management while making it less frustrating, such as having less inventory slots overall but you can carry all key items, or maybe you could get an attaché case pickup that can store key items only.
  • A Lot of Uninspired Enemy Designs – For a series with such iconic, mutated monsters as Lickers, Hunters and the Regenerators, it’s surprising to go back to this first game and find that most of the enemies are just big animals. Seriously, four of the main bosses in this game are a big snake (who you fight twice!), a big spider, a big plant and a big shark. They don’t even look mutated or disfigured either, they’re literally just big creatures.
  • Voice Acting – Look, I get that the dialogue and voice acting in this game are a HUGE improvement over the original game, but if you think the voice acting in the game is good then you have a serious case of nostalgia. Most of the line-readings in this game are stilted and awkward. It’s an early Game Cube game from a Japanese studio and the voice acting is what you would expect of that era (eg, Final Fantasy X). In Jill’s campaign this wasn’t too big a deal for me – Barry and Wesker give the best performances in the game so that helps offset things, and Jill’s line deliveries give the game an unintentional B-movie horror tone. But, oh my God, the voice acting and writing is so bad in Chris’ campaign. I beg you to check out that link; between Chris’ dead expression, the awful dialogue and bad line deliveries, I cannot take the story seriously at all.

While it did take me a long time to come to grips with this game, I’m really glad that I finally gave REmake a fair shot. It’s still a really fun time and its emphasis on exploration above all else still gives it a unique feel which no other game in the series can really boast. Plus it takes what worked with the original game and expands it, polishing it to a mirror sheen and establishing itself as the definitive way to experience this story. If you have any interest in the series, I’d definitely recommend checking this game out.

Resident Evil 6 Has a Chapter That’s So Bad That It’s Amazing

I played Resident Evil 2 Remake back in October and since then I’ve been making my way through this franchise for a future Love/Hate series. I’m on Resident Evil 6 at this point and was dreading and looking forward to it in equal measure. I went in well aware of the reputation that this game has, but was more than willing to give it a shot. While I think the game is a mess (which I will go into with plenty of detail when that Love/Hate series comes out), there was one chapter in particular that went so far off the rails that it went from being awful to a transcendental masterpiece.

A big caveat here before we begin: I took edibles before playing this chapter and they kicked in about halfway through, making this experience even more baffling and surreal for me as I struggled to make sense of any of this nonsense. It was so baffling that I rewatched this whole chapter on a Youtube let’s play just to make sure it was as incomprehensible as my drug-addled mind believed. I was not disappointed and neither will you if you check it out.

The chapter in question is Chapter 4 in Chris’ campaign. Context is everything in this story, so let me set the stage for you so you understand what has happened in this game up to this point. Chris’ campaign opens with him as a drunk amnesiac who gets pulled back into duty by his second in command, Piers Nevan. They investigate a bioterrorism incident in Lanshiang involving mutant soldiers known as J’avo. This chapter ends with the building getting bombed and Chris and his men barely making it out alive. Chapter 2 then flashes back to an earlier bioterror incident in Eastern Europe where J’avo had turned a city into a warzone. Chris leads his men through the city til they encounter someone calling themselves Ada Wong. However, she betrays them and infects all of Chris’ men with a virus that mutates them into monsters. Chris and Piers barely escape, but Chris couldn’t handle the loss of his men and so became the drunken, amnesiac, PTSD-ridden soldier we met at the start of the game. The story then returns to the present, where Chris discovers that Ada Wong has been spotted in Lanshiang and he goes on a revenge quest to kill her, which once again results in the death of all of his men (except Piers). When he finally catches up to her, Chris discovers he’s not the only one after Ada Wong, because Leon Kennedy shows up and stops him from killing her. After a brief pep talk, Chris decides he doesn’t want revenge anymore… it’s seriously that sudden. Anyway, Ada escapes and Leon and Chris split up, with Chris and Piers pursuing Ada. There’s a ridiculous car chase before Ada escapes to an aircraft carrier, where you and Piers pursue her.

So, with that all said, Chapter 4 opens in about the most boring way possible. Chris’ campaign has clearly been trying to ape the gameplay and tone of Call of Duty and Chapter 4 opens with the most generic, low-quality Call of Duty map you could ask for. You’re in the hangar of an aircraft carrier and have to fight your way from one side of the hangar to the other, using shipping containers as cover against the snipers raining fire down on you and the J’avo (who suddenly look like Metal Gear Solid 2 tengu soldiers) swarming you relentlessly. It’s a particularly tedious and annoying fight, especially because the J’avo weren’t dropping much ammo for me. This is also a very large, wide-open area and I completely missed picking up a sniper rifle hidden away in a random room at the start of this mission which would have helped a lot. As a result, I was constantly struggling to actually deal with all the enemies that were getting thrown at me and eventually I had to just rush for the objective. There was a bulkhead on the far side of the hangar that we had to break through and when we get to it I discovered that I had to head up some stairs onto a gangplank over the hangar and then turn around back to where I started and launch a missile that was hanging over the starting area. Then you get the privilege of fighting through the shipping containers all over again, oh joy! So you move up the hangar again and then find that a set of stairs was retracted, so when you get to the far end you have to go through a side-door and reactivate the stairs… which places you back at the starting area and you have to fight through the containers AGAIN (but this time there’s a jet on a turn table shooting at you). Having to fight through the hangar twice felt like padding, having to fight through a third time feels like a joke. This whole section of the game was awful and tedious but it inadvertently lulled me into a sense of boredom that was about to get shattered.

Anyway, you finally get out of the goddamn hangar and get this weird cutscene where Ada has a private conversation with the bad guy in Leon’s campaign, except for some reason she’s having this conversation over a loudspeaker which broadcasts it to the entire ship. Wow, Ada sure is a great super-spy isn’t she? This is literally the sort of material you’d expect out of a spy comedy film and here it’s played totally straight. I’m not really sure why they needed to have Chris and Piers listen in on this conversation anyway. It’s about as stupid and pointless an exposition dump as you could imagine.

From here, you get into a few quick fights in corridors and rooms as you make your way to the ship’s bridge to catch up to Ada Wong. This part is actually reasonably enjoyable in its own right – not only is there a sense of urgency because you keep catching glimpses of Ada just ahead of you, but there’s progression and some actual craft behind the gunfights you get into with the J’avo here. Soon enough, you catch up to Ada and Chris decides that this whole revenge quest he’s been on is no longer about revenge, it’s about “Justice” and so he tries to take her into custody instead of killing her. Ada reveals that she’s about to launch missiles to create zombie outbreaks around the world when suddenly a freaking helicopter appears behind her and shoots her to death. Wait, what the fuck!? Just like that, the whole narrative drive of this campaign is gone halfway through the fourth chapter, now we’ve just got to clean up the mess she left behind.

Chris decides that the best way to deal with these missiles is to get to the hangar so you run off to do that, urgently. You’re immediately faced with a really annoying road-block – a locked door that requires three passcodes to enter. Wow, this imminent missile launch definitely seems like the right time to make the player go on a ten-to-fifteen minute side quest! Jesus Christ. Not only is the area that these three passcodes have been hidden in an absolute maze that easy to get lost in, this is also where the developers decided to confine their Regenerator-wannabes who only show up here and never again in this campaign. While they are clearly modeled after the Regenerators, complete with their own breathing problems (which sound more annoying than creepy), they’re kinda pushovers in comparison because you can kill them with a bit of firepower… so, in other words, like any other enemy in this game.

Anyway, I was slogging through this side quest and this was around the point where the edibles really started kicking in and I realized I had long forgotten what it even was that I was supposed to be doing or why. This whole segment of the game is clearly padding out the chapter, at the cost of bringing the game’s pacing to a screeching halt. My drug-addled mind was having a really difficult time remembering what the fuck was going on in the game, but by the time I got those three passcodes and was able to advance I was not prepared for what came next.

That hangar bay Chris was trying to get to? It never really clued in to me that he wanted to go fly a jet. Not only that, but for once this isn’t going to get confined to a QTE-sequence, the game literally expects me to fly the jet. So imagine me, already confused and high out of my mind when suddenly the game turns into a fucking Steam Early Access-quality arcade flight game! Let me explain just how insane this is: this gameplay segment lasts, like, two minutes, tops. The devs went to the effort of designing an entire arcade-style jet fighter minigame and give you no time to get used to it. It would almost be impressive, except for the part where it controls horridly. Like I said, not only did they have to design this within the engine they’re already using for the rest of this game, but they have to make it as simple as possible so players can understand how to play it immediately. Now, I’m no stranger to arcade flight games – I’ve played a couple Ace Combat games, Rogue Squadron, Battlefield, etc. However, because this flight sequence is using Resident Evil 6‘s control scheme as its base, it’s not using traditional flight controls (eg, left/right control roll, up/down control pitch) to treat this jet like it’s an airplane. Instead, it’s using Resident Evil 6‘s normal movement controls to treat the jet like a human that can’t stop moving forward (eg, left/right on the left stick make the jet yaw hard in that direction and up/down on the right analog stick controls the pitch). Suffice to say, I was all out of sorts with this control scheme and it probably wasn’t (only) the drugs that were making it so difficult to understand. The way this whole sequence is put together reminds me of the Fallout 3 train hat, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was all sorts of sorcery involved behind-the-scenes to make this sequence actually work in-engine. It’s glorious and by this point I was laughing my ass off at the absurdity unfolding on my screen.

It only gets better though. Piers jumps out of the plane and runs over to deactivate the missile, instead of, y’know, landing right beside it or shooting the fucking missile with the goddamn jet. Since I was playing Chris, the game then turns into a sequence where you hover in mid-air and provide air support to Piers (which, being honest, sounds really boring for the person who gets stuck playing Piers in this scenario). Oh and to make things even better, suddenly a giant fucking mutant J’avo appears from under a tarp and starts chasing after Piers. By this point I had completely lost it, I was laughing my ass off at how absurd this level had gotten. To make things even better, my wife happened to call at this time (she was away seeing family that evening) to say good night and in my drug-induced delirium I tried to explain just how batfuck crazy this level was. That went about as well as you could expect.

Anyway, despite all your efforts one of the missiles gets away “because plot” and Chris and Piers feel bad. While this is technically the end of the chapter right here, the lead-in to Chapter 5 is just as ridiculous and bears mentioning. Chris and Piers are just chilling in their airplane when they get a radio call from Leon telling them to go rescue Jake and Sherry Birkin at an underwater lab. Oh, also, Jake is Albert Wesker’s son, which Chris clearly holds against him. They do what Leon said and head down an underwater elevator, where Chris tells Piers that he’s going to retire when this is all over and that Piers will be his successor. Like, recall what I said earlier – the whole point of this campaign was Chris wanting to get revenge on Ada Wong for killing his men and that got resolved halfway through the last chapter. By having a whole other chapter after that point, the game suddenly has to come up with entirely new directions to take the characters and story which ring hollow given how rushed they are. This is the problem with the way Resident Evil 6 structures its four campaigns – they aren’t four self-contained narratives that, combined, tell a wider story. Instead, they’re three four that weave in and out of each other inextricably. As a result, you’ve got the actual story of Chris’ campaign told by the end of Chapter 4, but then we need Chris and Piers to provide co-op in Jake’s campaign so suddenly they’re given a whole other chapter to go resolve things for someone else’s story. The result is four campaigns that are trying to tell one epic narrative but instead tell four unsatisfying narratives.

Resident Evil 6 has been a ridiculous, insane trainwreck and I have to say that Chapter 4 was undoubtedly the best experience I’ve had in the whole game. The way that it goes from boring tedium to full-on batshit lunacy with a straight face the entire time is just baffling when you sit down and think about what the game is actually making you do. I’ll have a full Love/Hate out for Resident Evil 6 when I’ve gotten through a couple more games in the franchise, so hopefully that will be done before the end of the year. In the meantime, I had to give this chapter its own entire write-up because holy shit did it ever leave me in hysterics.

Retrospective: Resident Evil – The Final Chapter (2016)

Welcome back to the Resident Evil retrospective!

…yes, you read that correctly. It’s been more than seven years now since I did my retrospective of the live-action Resident Evil film franchise. However, at that time the final film in the franchise, the aptly-named Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, had not come out yet and so it wasn’t included in the retrospective. I’ve mulled over the idea of doing a “Retrospectives Round-up” for a long time, covering the newest films in franchises that I’ve covered in the past and as we close in on our 300th blog post on IC2S we’re finally getting around to doing it. We’re going to start with Resident Evil today and then over the course of the week we’ll catch up on the new entries in the other retrospective series. Got it? Alright, let’s dive in and see if the Resident Evil franchise could go out on a high note…

This is… actually a pretty cool poster. Colour me surprised, good job Resident Evil marketing team.

Production

After the financial success of Resident Evil: Retribution, it was inevitable that the Resident Evil franchise would continue to shamble on. Early on the producers bandied the idea that there could be two more films in the franchise before it would be rebooted, but by December of 2012 Paul WS Anderson confirmed that the sixth film would be the final one in this continuity. Anderson signed on to direct, committing to the project after he was done work on his historical disaster-epic, Pompeii… and, well, we know how that turned out. Production was continually delayed on this film. Even when it looked like filming was about to begin in August 2014, they had to delay again for another year when it was announced that Milla Jovovich was pregnant with her second daughter.

For the cast, obviously Milla Jovovich returned once again to give Alice her last hurrah. For the other returning cast, Ali Larter reprised her role as Claire Redfield once more, while Shawn Roberts returned as Albert Wesker. Iain Glen was also announced to be returning as Dr. Isaacs, despite being killed off in Extinction. Disappointingly, these are the only characters who make their return. Despite being the grand finale, major characters like Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong and even freaking Becky (the surrogate daughter Alice was shoe-horned into adopting in the previous film) don’t return and are killed unceremoniously off-screen. I’d say it’s a middle-finger to the fans, but then again it would almost be weird if Resident Evil started caring about narrative continuity at this point. In their place, several new characters were introduced, played by Ruby Rose, Eoin Macken, William Levy, Fraser James, Rola and Lee Joon-gi.

Production was finally able to get underway in earnest in July 2015, with filming beginning in South Africa sometime in August or September. Unlike the previous two films, The Final Chapter was shot in 2D and then converted to 3D in post-production. Filming lasted just over three months and was wracked with disaster. Four crew members were injured during filming, the first being Jovovich’s stunt double, Olivia Jackson, who collided with a camera crane that failed to move during a motorcycle stunt. The accident crushed her face and caused half of it to be torn off, severed an artery in her neck, paralyzed her arm, broke several bones and tore five nerves out of her spinal cord (among many other injuries)! It was so bad that they had to put her into a medically-induced coma for two weeks and amputate her paralyzed arm. Then, near the end of filming, crewmember Ricardo Cornelius was freaking crushed to death by a Hummer, holy shit! Anderson, what the fuck is going on on your set!? Even worse, when Jackson sued the production in 2019 it came out that the producers’ insurance for stunt performers was wholly inadequate, not even providing coverage for medical care! Suffice to say, Jackson accused the producers of “elevating financial considerations over safety” and won the lawsuit. Apparently this isn’t new for the Resident Evil franchise, which has seen the hospitalizations of at least fifteen crew members over the years, a shocking number considering that most major franchises are able to get by with zero injuries, let alone fatalities.

If finances were all the producers cared about though, then The Final Chapter did not disappoint. While it grossed only $26.8 million domestically (significantly less than any previous Resident Evil film), its international haul was much higher, resulting in a worldwide total of $312.2 million, making it the highest-grossing film in the franchise. Of this total, more than half ($160 million) came from the Chinese box office. Also worth noting is that the film’s budget was only $40 million – adjusting for inflation, this is by far the lowest budget for any live-action Resident Evil film.

Plot Synopsis

Like most of these films, The Final Chapter opens with a voice-over exposition dump by Alice, who reveals that the founder of Umbrella had a daughter named Alicia who was dying of progeria, a disease which caused her to age rapidly. He developed the T-virus to try to save her, but it is soon discovered that it has the unexpected side-effect of creating zombies. When the founder tried to shut down production of the virus, he was stopped by Dr. Isaacs, who had Albert Wesker assassinate the founder and performed a hostile takeover of the company.

Cutting back to the present, we find Alice in the ruins of Washington D.C. The heroes were betrayed by Albert Wesker at the end of Retribution (who saw that coming) and everyone except for Alice was killed. She encounters the Red Queen, who tells Alice that she wants to stop Umbrella but her programming prevents her from doing so directly. Therefore, she needs Alice to act on her behalf, as she estimates that there are only 48 hours left until the last pockets of human resistance are wiped out by the zombie hordes. She tells Alice that the only way to do so is to travel back to the Umbrella Hive in the ruins of Racoon City, where an airborne anti-virus has been developed.

Alice fights her way across the country, killing monsters and Umbrella soldiers on the way, until she is captured by Dr. Isaacs and his convoy of Umbrella tanks which are leading the zombies back to Raccoon City. Alice escapes on an Umbrella motorcycle and then makes it back to Racoon City first, where she encounters Claire Redfield and a band of survivors, including Claire’s new boyfriend, Doc. The group defend against the zombie onslaught, burning the zombie hordes and killing most of the Umbrella soldiers (although a wounded Isaacs manages to escape). The group then decide to break into the Hive to save humanity, dealing with more zombies and defenses as they go.

When they finally make it into the Hive, the Red Queen reveals that Isaacs has been planning on using the T-virus to cleanse humanity and create a new world on Umbrella’s own terms. To that end, the airborne anti-virus will be released once the rest of the human resistance is wiped out and the rich and powerful being kept in cryogenic storage in the Hive will be revived to inherit the Earth. She also warns Alice that Umbrella has an agent among the ranks of her companions.

After losing several team members to traps, Alice sets bombs throughout the facility and confronts the real Dr. Isaacs. It is revealed that the other two Isaacs we have encountered so far (as well as basically every other character who has been miraculously resurrected to this point) were actually clones who thought they were the real thing. It is also revealed that Doc is the traitor as Claire and Alice are captured by Wesker. Isaacs then revives Alicia and reveals that Alice is actually her clone (shocker). Before Isaacs can eliminate them, Alicia fires Wesker, which allows the Red Queen to attack and fatally wound him. Claire executes Doc and Alice chases after Isaacs, stealing the anti-virus from him and seemingly killing him by detonating a grenade in his pocket.

Alice escapes from the Hive and tries to release the anti-virus as the clock ticks down, but Isaacs appears out of nowhere and stops her. However, then the clone Isaacs Alice had fought earlier arrives and, believing himself to be the real Isaacs, kills him before being killed by the zombie hoards. In the confusion, Alice unleashes the anti-virus, which immediately spreads out in a cloud and kills all of the zombies. The bombs in the Hive detonate and kill Wesker, Alicia and the rest of Umbrella. Claire wakes Alice sometime later, who is thanked by the Red Queen by uploading Alicia’s childhood memories into Alice’s brain. She then rides out into the wilds, searching for any remaining pockets of survivors or T-virus holdouts.

Review

I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from The Final Chapter. It’s by far the highest-reviewed entry in the franchise, up there with the original (which is still, somehow, considered one of the best video game movies of all-time despite being crap). I guess I was hoping that it would be a fun but dumb experience, akin to Extinction or Afterlife, moreso than a mind-numbing ordeal like Retribution. Unfortunately, The Final Chapter is much closer to the mold of Retribution than anything else, providing a particularly loud, dumb and unsatisfying conclusion to the franchise.

The first big issue is that The Final Chapter is what it says – it’s the big finale and therefore it needs to feel suitably climactic. Unfortunately, its obvious that the plots of every single Resident Evil movie were made up on the fly, cockteasing us with amazing cliffhangers at the end of each movie, only to completely retcon everything by the time the next one rolls around. The Final Chapter is pretty bad for this. Oh wow, Retribution ends with a huge siege at the White House with a bunch of iconic Resident Evil characters, good and evil, in the mix? Well I hope you didn’t want to see how that goes, because everyone dies off-screen except for Alice (yes, even Becky, whose shoehorned surrogate daughter storyline was the entire point of Retribution, she gets dropped without a single reference to her). With the slate wiped clean again, Anderson sets about making up entirely new plot developments to bring this whole series to a close. Wow, Game of Thrones really took off, let’s make Dr. Isaacs secretly the main villain all along, even though he died! Oh, and let’s reveal this during a big exposition dump at the start of the film, perfect! Can’t forget to make it so that Alice was actually a clone of the Umbrella founders’ daughter… because reasons! Oh and we’ll bring back Claire Redfield as well, but we can’t let her actually do anything, because then Alice won’t be as special!

The Final Chapter also has the unenviable task of trying to plug holes that the previous’ films created (and even this film in some cases). Foremost amongst this is why the hell Umbrella are so stupid that they managed to wipe out their entire consumer base and yet are still operating all this time. The Final Chapter reveals that this was actually always intended, Umbrella has been trying to wipe out humanity so that their chosen few can repopulate the world and have all the resources to themselves. It’s idiotic, but it almost works… until you remember that the first film is all about Umbrella soldiers trying to contain the outbreak and subsequent sequels have Umbrella still trying to create bio-weapons for use in war (not to mention injecting themselves with the T-virus they’re going to wipe out soon), so it’s obvious that they’re just pulling this out of their ass at the last minute. The Final Chapter also reveals that everyone who has died and been resurrected at this point in the story? Secret clones! Considering what has been established in the franchise to this point, it kind of makes sense, but it just feels so much dumber. Around the mid-point of the film Alice tells Claire that Isaacs is alive, to which Claire says “I thought you killed him?” Alice just replies “I thought so too” and the scene moves on. It made me laugh, but that really should have been as far as they went with it, it’s the only explanation that is needed. Revealing that there are clones means that they actually put a bit of thought into this, but it just begs the question of why they would have a bunch of clones running around in the first place. Just go the route of The Fast & The Furious – with dumb fun you don’t have to dwell on the hows and whys.

Iain Glen stars as Dr. Alexander Isaacs in Screen Gems’ RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER.

Like most Resident Evil movies, the characters are also a big Achilles heel for this film. Alice is… Alice. Whatever you thought about her before, you’ll still feel it after this is over. I don’t care about her character at all, and it’s infuriating how everyone else gets kneecapped to make her seem cool, but six movies in it’s undeniable that Milla Jovovich has mastered the art of playing a badass woman, so it’s nice to see her get to ride into the sunset with her signature character. And as much as I love Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield, she gets nothing to work with here, to the point where she could have easily been written out entirely. Iain Glen’s Dr. Isaacs is also completely different in this film, to the point where I’m convinced they only brought him back because of his newfound popularity in Game of Thrones. He is now suddenly a religious fanatic, a trait which this film clubs us over the head every chance they get. He’s an okay villain I guess, but considering that he was a low-key, one-and-done villain in Extinction, he feels far less impactful than if, say, they had made the more over-the-top and slimy Albert Wesker the villain for this finale. As for the rest of the survivors… meh? They’re a bunch of personality-less nobodies. Hell, I was expecting Ruby Rose to get more of a role so when she gets minced early on in the Hive that was one of the few real surprises in the film, but that wasn’t because I had any sort of attachment to her character.

Being a Resident Evil retrospective, I feel duty-bound to point out some of the most ridiculous parts of this movie’s plot that I haven’t gone over already. First of all, the film’s literal ticking clock is ridiculous. The Red Queen tells Alice that she estimates that the last pockets of humanity will be wiped out in 48 hours by the zombies unless the T-virus can be stopped. So Alice releases the anti-virus but it’s at the last second… sooooo, umm, did the Red Queen get it wrong and everyone had died early? Even if she didn’t, that anti-virus is going to take ages to actually reach any of the disparate bastions of humanity, so odds are that it did jack-shit to save anyone outside of Raccoon City. Oh and what few humans we know for sure were alive died infiltrating the Hive and/or got blown up with the Umbrella executives. Good job, Alice! There’s also a whole action sequence which revolves around Umbrella having GI Joe tanks – Alice punches open an easily-reached emergency hatch on the exterior of the tank, which deploys a motorcycle she uses to outrun the Umbrella forces. Then there’s the scene where Ruby Rose gets sucked into a giant fan blade. This is hilarious because we literally just saw that the fan blades have no suction to them, but Wesker reverses their direction and suddenly they’re sucking harder than Superhead? The funniest sequence though is when Alicia and Dr. Isaacs start debating about who owns Umbrella… like, in this case I get that it’s to establish the twist that Alicia can fire Wesker (which begs its own questions about labour laws, but whatever), but it’s the freaking apocalypse, nearly every human has been wiped out, money doesn’t matter anymore, who cares who owns the damn company!? Seriously, it’s another moment which highlights the stupidity of Umbrella more than anything. And lastly, the movie makes a big deal out of including yet another laser hall sequence. This might have been a cool callback to the original film, especially since this takes place in the same location… if we hadn’t had laser hall call-backs in all but one of the subsequent sequels. Here I just sighed and said “Oh my fucking God, another one?”

Okay fine, the story sucks and I don’t care about the characters. That’s to be expected with a Resident Evil film, I’m just here for the action. Unfortunately, that brings me to the next issue with The Final Chapter, for a film which is almost non-stop action sequences, the action is really underwhelming. This is because the way the action is shot and edited is the worst we’ve seen in the franchise since Apocalypse. As much as I hated it, at least Retribution tried to replicate the gorgeous slow-motion action scenes from Afterlife. The Final Chapter instead feels like it’s trying to emulate freakin’ A Good Day to Die Hard of all things, with constant, rapid-fire editing which makes every action sequence incomprehensible, disorienting, annoying garbage. Seriously, I was watching for this and the average shot length in this film can’t be more than a second at most – the action sequences barely hold for half a second and even dialogue scenes cut constantly. It’s supposed to be exciting and fast-paced, but it’s just exhausting. The action is also let down by the fact that the film does nothing to establish geography and therefore you can’t build up any sort of tension (think Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones is fighting his way up the convoy – we know where everyone in the convoy is and where the objectives are, so we can build up tension as Indy fights his way through to the Ark). The Cerberus chase is a good example of this – the heroes try to escape into the Hive while being pursued by zombie dogs. This could have been exciting if we knew how far away from the entrance they were, or what their escape corridor looked like, but instead were get a solid minute of incoherent running and shooting as people we don’t give a shit about die unceremoniously.

The only time that the action feels fine in this movie is during the big siege in the second act (yes, The Final Chapter features yet another skyscraper being overrun by zombies). The Final Chapter fires on all cylinders here, managing to get around several of its other missteps and it’s obvious that a hefty chunk of the budget went towards this one action sequence. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but Anderson does a good job of finding ways to add new dangers to the siege which need to be dealt with so that it’s not just a bunch of mindless bam bam pew pews. It probably would have meant more if we gave a shit about any of the survivors, but it’s cool seeing thousands of zombies get immolated at least.

What else can I say? The Final Chapter is yet another dose of Resident Evil, but it is loooong past the series’ stupid-fun days. Like Retribution before it, The Final Chapter is just loud and dull in addition to being stupid. I kept telling myself the whole time “Well… it’s better than Retribution at least… maybe?”, but the more I think about it, the more certain I am that The Final Chapter really is the worst Resident Evil movie. It takes everything that makes these movies suck and dials it up, while simultaneously knee-capping the action sequences so that you can’t find anything to enjoy. The fact that someone died and another person was maimed to bring this movie to life just makes it even more sickening to me. Resident Evil is finally dead and thank God for that.

3/10

So… where does the series go from here? Well, a more faithful reboot of the series is already well underway and it was recently announced that the cast include such great young actors as Kaya Scodelario and Robbie Amell, which gives me a lot of hope for this attempt. Hopefully they take a cue from the recent Resident Evil video games and make this film less action more horror. I may cover this film sometime in the future and add it to the retrospective, but we will have to see. Right now I’m just burnt out on this franchise and the prospect of even more zombies is depressing, even if I am cautiously optimistic about this reboot.

Retrospective: Resident Evil – Retribution (2012)

Welcome back to part five of the Resident Evil retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fifth (and thus far final) movie in the franchise, Resident Evil: Retribution! However, just before we get to that, I want to highlight a somewhat relevant article I read recently about how fanboys are ruining Hollywood. Considering that I’ve been criticizing Paul W.S. Anderson for deviating from the games, this might make me seem like a biased fanboy… but the truth is that I don’t really give a crap about the Resident Evil games. I’ve played a little bit of most of them, but they’re not really my cup of tea – gimme a Metal Gear, Battlefield or Splinter Cell game any day of the week. That said, I don’t think the authour of the article defenders their position very well – they call on fanboys to piss off because they can’t write off a movie for making deviations from the source material. In some ways I can actually agree with this, but the way they presented it is questionable. He seems to be writing this as a response to Man of Steel and World War Z, stating that (SPOILER) why should it matter if Superman kills Zod? In this respect, it is a betrayal of what the character stands for and also creates major scriptwriting issues in the future (if Superman is willing to kill, then why won’t he kill his enemies when the going gets tough from here on out?). The changes in Man of Steel change fundamental aspects of the character themselves, not the way that they’re presented. On a related note, World War Z has nothing to do with the novel beyond having some type of zombie in it – if you’re going to change the source material that much then you might as well just give it an original name. The only reason I can see them not doing so is because it will allow them to market to an existing audience. However, I did agree with some elements of the article, such as when the authour defends Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. I may not care for Resident Evil, but I’m definitely a Tolkien fanboy… and I actually quite liked The Hobbit in spite of its excessive length. It is extremely faithful to Tolkien’s book and appendices (with the only major exception being the stuff surrounding Azog), moreso than The Lord of the Rings was. On its own merits, The Hobbit was quite a good movie, and people who write it off due to it not sticking to the book solely or for being too long (I honestly found that it didn’t feel like 2 1/2 hours) are really missing out. All-in-all, the authour makes some decent points, but I can’t find myself in agreement with them for the most part.

Anyway, after Afterlife, the Resident Evil series was even more popular (and reviled) than ever. Inevitably, Retribution was greenlit and prepared to assault the intelligence of audiences worldwide for a fifth time. Thankfully, the series had somewhat gained its footing, as Extinction and Afterlife were both at least watchable… could Retribution carry on this streak and turn the franchise into a true guilty-pleasure? Read on to find out…

There were quite a few posters for this movie, but this one’s my favourite. The skewed perspective and use of colour make it look very cool.

Afterlife raked in almost $300 million worldwide, making it by far the most successful entry in the franchise. While the series was basically a joke by now, it was still drawing in new audiences (especially internationally). This time around, Anderson seemed to want to draw back fans of the games, and so offered to introduce characters which had not been brought into the series yet. Based on a popularity poll, Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong and Barry Burton were written into Retribution. The marketing for the film also promised that the action was going to take place on a “global scale”, whereas previous entries were confined to the United States (barring the opening sequence in Afterlife). Also, since it performed so successfully in the previous film, Retribution was again shot and released in 3D… only this time they (thankfully) toned down the gimmicky usage of the medium. Crap almost never gets thrown at us to artificially hammer home the effect, instead it is integrated organically throughout.

Retribution features one of the largest main casts in the series. As usual, Alice is back in the lead. This time around she’s supposedly a regular human again, but you’d never know it – she displays impossible feats of athleticism and (sigh) dual wields so much that super-powered Alice would have said “Whoa, slow down girl!” Of course, at the end Alice does get all her super-powers back in the most convenient manner possible… bloody hell Anderson, make up your damn mind about how you want the character to “develop”! Actually, he and Milla did try to develop Alice in this entry somewhat by stealing a page from James Cameron. Alice finds a little girl who she becomes surrogate mother for, and then has to rescue her from the monsters near the end of the movie. It’s not even close to a stretch to suggest that this whole plot strand completely ripped off Aliens – hell, the rescue scene even uses identical framing and lighting to that film (not to mention that the kid is inexplicably cocooned as well). This whole subplot was ill-conceived in my opinion. Ripley is certainly one of the great heroines in all of cinema, and Aliens really drove that home… but ripping that off doesn’t suddenly make Alice a deep character. There’s no real established precedent at this point for Alice to be a surrogate mother to anybody, nor is it set up well at all. By throwing it in it just seems like Anderson and Jovovich just wanted to indulge their own family. To make matters worse, the relationship just makes no sense. The little girl, Becky, only follows Alice around because she thinks she’s her mother, but when she finds out that she isn’t she screams “You’re not my mommy are you?!?!” To that Alice simply quips “I am now!” As much as you’d like to be her mommy Alice, you really aren’t. Becky’s got a whole life that she can’t just forget because you decided that you should take care of her. Of course, the movie doesn’t address this because Alice has become a Mary Sue at this point, full-stop. She’s supposed to be vulnerable now, but she’s totally invincible in practice, and we’re never convinced that she’s in any sort of danger whatsoever.

If you’re a Ukrainian supermodel, you can kidnap anybody.

Enough about Alice though, onto the other characters. Retribution actually got a fair bit of buzz by bringing back characters who had been killed off, namely Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and James “One” Shade (Colin Salmon). To that I say one thing: AWESOME. Carlos and James were easily the best parts of their respective movies, and a chance to bring them back to kick more ass is very welcome indeed… unfortunately they are given little more than overglorified cameos. Like, literally all that they do is show up every once in a while and look intimidating before they get killed off unceremoniously (and another clone of Carlos gets munched by a zombie at the start of the movie). Well how about Rain then? Since Resident Evil she had become one of the most recognizable action heroines in modern cinema, surely she got a good role this time around? Umm well no. There’s two versions of Rain in the movie, a good one and a bad one. The good one runs around and is kind of funny for being fairly useless (and dies of course). Bad Rain on the other hand is such a poor tertiary villain that it’s cringe-worthy. I thought Rodriguez’s acting was bad in the first movie, but she’s just awful in Retribution. This actually really saddens me because she’s proven that she can be badass in movies such as Avatar, so wasting her like this is just frustrating. So there you have it, 3 favourites from the film franchise are brought back to much fanfare… and then squandered so badly that you’d swear that the filmmakers were intentionally screwing with us.

How about the other characters then? Boris Kodjoe returns as Luther West, and while he was pretty cool in both movies, he doesn’t really get to do much before his own unceremonious death. Albert Wesker also inexplicably makes a return after getting blown to smithereens at the end of the last movie… like, literally no one questions how he could have possibly survived the explosion. They don’t even offer a half-assed hand wave. On top of that, Shawn Roberts’ acting is pretty bad this time around. For whatever reason, he emphasizes every damn word that Wesker says, making him seem a bit odd to say the least. Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) also returns in a full-fledged role once again, but her acting is still very bad. She certainly livens things up “physically”, but doesn’t do a great job convincing us whenever she has to open her mouth. Also, I’m kind of annoyed that they decided to emulate Resident Evil 5 for her appearance. Like in Apocalypse, her outfit is distractingly impractical:

Sure, it provides eye candy, but I can’t really take that outfit seriously. As a defense to Paul W.S. Anderson though, the game series is mostly to blame for that outfit, but that said he also bears the responsibility for adapting it. I actually am kind of disappointed that Capcom reinforced the “single male loser in the basement” stereotype when they worked Jill into Resident Evil 5, especially since she’s not generally a particularly sexualized character in the series. Sexism is a big issue in the gaming industry, and forcing one of the major strong, female characters to prance around with massive cleavage damages our ability to see them beyond that (on the flip side of the coin, Chris Redfield’s muscles are RIDICULOUS as well – you see angry Internet commenters, sexism works both ways!).

Bloody hell I’ve almost written a thousand words on the characters and still haven’t gotten through them all. Okay, picking up the pace slightly, the first new addition is Li Bingbing as Ada Wong. As she puts it, she’s Wesker’s top agent… and that’s basically all we learn about her. She’s given absolutely no development, and Li’s acting is atrocious on top of that. Similarly, Johann Urb’s Leon Kennedy isn’t given any development either… but that doesn’t really matter because he comes across as a massive, stupid douche. As I’ve said before, I haven’t really played much of the games, but is Leon always this much of a dork? I know he’s a fan favourite, but between this and Resident Evil: Damnation, my opinion of him is that he has the personality of a piece of plywood. The only bright spot among the characters is Kevin Durand as Barry Burton. Again, he isn’t given much to work with, but he goes out with style. Sadly, Chris and Claire Redfield are both conspicuously absent this time around… although considering how many damn characters are in this movie, that’s probably for the best.

As for the plot… well, you might want to sit down before you read about it. I did not think it was possible for the Resident Evil movie franchise to make a stupider, more plotless movie than Afterlife, but Retribution makes that movie look like a freaking masters thesis. The plot holes and contrivances are so bad that they retroactively make the plots of the previous movies worse. Yes, you read that right. Here’s a list of the problems I jotted down while watching the movie: How does it make any sense for Umbrella to produce clones and put them in a perfectly simulated world to simulate zombie apocalypses? The movie claims that they do it to try to gain control of the T-virus, but I don’t buy this (since they don’t offer any “solutions”, they just unleash the zombies and call it a day). Why does Umbrella bother to go to the detail of creating a whole world when they do this simulation? For example, Alice finds photographs of one of her clones’ marriage to Carlos, family vacations, etc… did Umbrella stage these photographs to make things more “real”…? Why does the Red Queen need humans to do her work? Why not just release chemicals to purge any intruders (y’know, like she did in the first movie)? Why can’t she lock the damn doors? Why are the Red Queen’s mind control scarabs so stupidly easy to neutralize? For that matter, if the Red Queen is in control of the scarabs, then why did they have them on the Arcadia (since this was controlled by Wesker, not the Red Queen)? If the zombies and clones aren’t all killed in a simulation, what happens to them (since Alice finds Becky hiding in suburbia)? How does Alice know sign language all of a sudden? How can Leon and Luther get the elevator moving if the Red Queen shut down the power? Why did Luthor come to infiltrate Umbrella HQ? He’s a basket ball player, not a special forces operative! And finally, a retroactive issue – if Alice bonded with the T-virus at a cellular level, wouldn’t getting bit by a zombie allow her to get her super powers back? I could go on and on, but I found the following image macros covered some of the problems pretty well:

If it sounds like they made the film too damn complicated, that’s not the issue at all here. In fact, Retribution‘s plot is so straightforward that you’d swear a kindergartner wrote it (hmm, I wonder if Paul and Milla’s kid has a writing credit on this movie…). The plot is as follows – Alice is captured by Umbrella, wakes up in their HQ, escapes and then has to fight her way out in under 2 hours or they’ll all get blown up. I think Scott at FEARnet describes it best:

Alice is “being held captive in a massive facility beneath Russian ice, and she needs to get from the ‘lab hologram’ to the ‘Japan hologram’ and end up at the ‘suburbia hologram’ to meet a team of rescuers. Not only is this a painfully lazy and perfunctory way to cobble a plot together, but it removes any of the ‘stakes’ that may have survived from the previous Resident Evil movies. What was once a story about a zombie plague that was accidentally unleashed by a nefarious corporation has congealed into a series of progressively dumber action sequences featuring a hot, skinny redhead who simply cannot be killed.”

That’s really the jist of it. The movie has nothing at stake and we’re never really left in suspense. We just watch action sequence after action sequence, but it doesn’t have the level of enjoyment which punctuated previous entries in the series, particularly Extinction and Afterlife. This movie features a fight against two Axemen – if you remember my previous review, you’ll remember that the Axeman fight was one of my favourite moments in Afterlife. While you’d think two Axemen equals two times the fun, you’d be sorely mistaken. The fight is actually boring, an adjective I could apply to most of the action sequences in the movie. The last 10 minutes are basically an extended fight sequence between Alice and Jill, and then Alice and Bad Rain… and it just feels like it goes on too long. Why do we care about Alice fighting Bad Rain? She hasn’t really bothered Alice all that much until now, and Alice just kicked the crap out of Jill. Shouldn’t that be enough for us? That’s not to say that the fights aren’t cool or are badly choreographed, they all just aren’t interesting. How do you get that interest back? Most movies needed a coherent plot and good characters to make the action engaging, if you don’t have that then the chances of failure skyrocket. In all honesty, I can’t believe how highly it was received.

Of course, Retribution is not all bad. The opening credits are epic, delivering on the promise that the ending of Afterlife held. The movie also does some interesting things, like FINALLY HAVING CHAINSAW ZOMBIES! Why did they not do that before!? Finally, as much as I disliked the film, the ending is totally epic. If the next movie actually delivers on the promise of mankind’s last stand that we were given at the end of this film then we’re in for a treat (even though I’m 100% certain we’ll get another shit-fest).

3/10

And that does it for the Resident Evil franchise at the moment. Of course, there’s a sixth and (supposedly) final film on its way, but what about after that? Well apparently plans are to then reboot the series from the start again. Ugh, well at least we can hope that they stick closer to the games this time… and please, PLEASE go back to horror and put someone other than Paul W.S. Anderson in charge for the love of God! Also, for those interested, this is how I would rank the franchise from best to worst:

1. Extinction

2. Afterlife

3. Resident Evil

4. Apocalypse

5. Retribution

Also, as I promised at the start of the series, I’ll cover the two animated Resident Evil movies briefly – Degeneration and Damnation. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen them so this is from memory, but it should suffice. Degeneration is a pretty standard fare – in the first half, Leon and Claire are at an airport when there’s a T-virus outbreak and the pair have to survive this. In the second half, they have to take down mad scientists responsible for all this. It’s pretty straight-forward, but surprisingly well-done all things considered. Damnation was just plain crap though. It was nice to see Umbrella bio-weapons actually being used in a warzone for once, but the story and acting were terrible. It also is more of an action movie than horror, basically just existing as a tie-in for Resident Evil 6.

And there you have it. That wraps up my third retrospective series! If you liked it, be sure to comment or share it so we can build up a bigger audience here! I’ve already got my fourth retrospective series lined up, and it’ll provide a bit of a change over the thus-far standard “bad action/horror” template I’ve been utilizing on the last three series. Continue to tune in and see you soon!

Retrospective: Resident Evil – Afterlife (2010)

Welcome back to part four of the Resident Evil retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fourth movie in the franchise, Resident Evil: Afterlife! Once again, the latest Resident Evil movie (Extinction) made even more money than the previous one (Apocalypse) – obviously this meant that the series had to shamble on another day. Despite Extinction being billed as the last entry in the series, Resident Evil: Afterlife was soon announced… in 3D (y’know, back when people still got excited when a movie was released in 3D)! Afterlife and the game it draws inspiration from, Resident Evil 5, mark a clear tonal shift to intense action for the franchise… would it work out in the end? Read on to find out…

What is with Resident Evil and dual wielding!?!

After the surprisingly decent Extinction, the Resident Evil franchise finally seemed to be settling into a groove. After releasing his Death Race remake, Paul W.S. Anderson returned to the franchise once again, but this time he was taking the director’s chair once again (in addition to screenwriting of course). Entering production shortly before Avatar was released, Anderson and company believed that 3D was going to be the next big thing in Hollywood blockbusters – as a result, they decided to shoot Afterlife in 3D. I’m actually kind of happy with the way his was handled – rather than going for the cheap 2D-to-3D conversion cash-in, Anderson decided to shoot the film with actual 3D cameras. In my opinion, 2D-to-3D conversions are one of the major reasons why 3D has become a hated gimmick in the last couple years, because it just looks awful (as I can attest having watched Voyage of the Dawn Treader, ThorCaptain America and Clash of the Titans). On the other hand, all of the most visually stunning 3D movies I have seen have been filmed in 3D (Dredd, Life of Pi, etc). Sure it costs more to do, but the result is worth it if handled skillfully. So yeah, kudos to Paul W.S. Anderson for doing the right thing.

While I’m glad they filmed the movie in real 3D, I have to admit that I haven’t actually seen it in 3D. However, I can imagine how it would look because there are some sequences which are visually stunning even in 2D – Paul W.S. Anderson can really frame a good shot. On the negative side though, the 3D is often used as a gimmick. Crap is thrown at the audience throughout the whole movie: axes, coins, knives, bullets, hell even a pair of glasses at one point (as seen above). As I said in the restrospective for The Final Destination, this is just a cheap, gimmicky way to use 3D and just kills any sense of immersion. So… umm… kudos for filming in real 3D, but way to squander it in the end, Paul.

Moving onto the cast, the film stars most of the usual suspects – Milla Jovovich is back, obviously, and so is Ali Later as Claire Redfield (who thankfully gets to do more this time around). Sienna Guillory also makes a cameo appearance at the end, reprising her role as Jill Valentine. Spencer Locke also returns as K-Mart… but honestly, who cares? She didn’t do anything in either movie whatsoever so she’s hardly worth the mention. Anyway, the major new additions in Afterlife are Wentworth Miller as Chris Redfield and Shawn Roberts, taking over as Albert Wesker. I actually quite like Wentworth Miller in this movie, he definitely has a suitably badass air about him. Shawn Roberts is decent as Albert Wesker, pulling off the smug and imposing look although it comes across like he attended the Dick Dastardly school of villainy at times. Aside from the main cast, the movie also features a group of survivors in a prison, all of whom are just transparent as plot devices – there’s the useful black guy (thank God he doesn’t do street slang), the douche bag, the T&A and then the obligatory redshirts.

As for the movie itself, it opens on an exceptionally high note: the opening credits are absolutely awesome. The music, the cinematography and the slow motion all combine to make for a very memorable opening to the movie… and then the movie launches into even higher gear. Remember how Alice got ahold of an army of clones at the end of Extinction? I thought they would cheap out on this or handwave it away, but they actually go ahead and have an army of Alices attack an Umbrella Hive. This attack sequence is quite good and really opens the film on a high note… even if it’s only real excuse for existing is to conveniently get rid of Alice’s army and her super-powers to make the rest of the movie work. Yup, plot conveniences strike again, but at least we got an awesome first 10 minutes out of it.

As for the plot… well it probably makes the least sense of all the Resident Evil movies up until this point, which is saying a lot. It’s clearly just a thin pretense to support the action sequences. Put simply, Alice finds Claire (who has convenient amnesia) in Alaska – turns out Arcadia isn’t a safe haven after all. They then fly 3000 miles in a Yak-52 to Los Angeles, where they decide to land on a maximum security prison and help out the survivors there. Cue an hour of zombie action, culminating with them landing on the Arcadia (turns out it’s an Umbrella tanker) and battling Albert Wesker. In terms of plot, it’s absolutely brain-dead and the list of plot holes/conveniences I noticed while watching is just staggering. Why does Wesker carry a syringe on himself which can take away Alice’s powers (and his for that matter)… and how would that even work anyway? How the hell does a non-super powered Alice survive a plane crash unrestrained when it smashes head-first into a mountain? Why does Umbrella still want to experiment on people when they’ve already wiped out most of the world’s population? Who is Alice leaving her video blog for (it seems like just a lazy way to shoehorn in exposition)? Why is there a maximum security prison in the middle of down-town Los Angeles? How can zombies dig through solid concrete? How the hell does the Axeman make any sense? Why are the zombies suddenly Plagas? What are the chances that Chris Redfield happens to be at the same prison that Claire ends up in (not to mention that he’s apparently been locked up for about 5 years)?

While the plot is pretty much dead on arrival, that’s practically expected with Resident Evil by this point. What’s really important is that the action sequences are stunning. The latter half of the movie is littered with action and it is at these moments that the movie really kicks into high gear. The zombie attacks and gun battles are all pretty good, but the movie features three standout sequences. The first is the opening which I mentioned previously. The second is the cliffhanger ending, which is just epic and really heightens expectations for the sequel (even if you already know it’s going to suck). The third is the shower fight against the Axeman. This scene is jaw dropping… and pretty damn sexy too. Ali Larter really kills it here, and the slow motion and drops of water make the scene a visual feast. Paul W.S. Anderson should direct music videos. Seriously, just watch it:

Sure, the slow motion is gratuitous, but it’s done well (although the movie would probably be 15-20 minutes shorter if you cut out all the slow-mo in it). Resident Evil: Afterlife is a mindless guilty pleasure movie – the plot is pretty much non-existent, but the action scenes compensate for it for the most part.

5/10

Be sure to come back soon for the final entry in this retrospective, Resident Evil: Retribution!

Retrospective: Resident Evil – Extinction (2007)

Welcome back to part three of the Resident Evil retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the third movie in the franchise, Resident Evil: Extinction! However, before we get to that I want to speak briefly on critic-audience disparity, which has come to mind with the recent release of Man of Steel (and which can be applied to the Resident Evil film franchise by its fans). Superman Returns had a high critical reception (75% Tomatometer), but had a mixed reception with audiences (67% liked it). Conversely, Man of Steel has had a very mixed reception (56% Tomatometer), but is scoring well with audiences (82% liked it). One audience rebuttal to this I have read is that critics are not fans of the property in question, and therefore do not know what makes a proper franchise film. However, this makes critics look like robots, not to mention implies that they don’t have any personal interests of their own. For that matter, why should it matter if they’re a fan of the property? If they think the movie’s bad then that’s their opinion, and the one they give to a general audience who may not be fanboys either. For example, I love werewolves. I thought that The Wolfman remake was a great werewolf film, despite the movie’s very tepid reception (35% Tomatometer and 38% audience approval). Reviews are ultimately just opinions. However, I’m more inclined to trust a critic since they have seen a wider variety of movies and therefore have more to judge a film against than the average movie-goer. As a result, I’m expecting Man of Steel to be very middle-of-the-pack when I finally see it.

Anyway despite making even more money than its predecessor, Resident Evil: Apocalypse shit all over the best period of the Resident Evil games’ storyline. With the Resident Evil film franchise basically the butt of bad video game movie jokes, how could the film franchise hope to carry on? The answer was quite… surprising to say the least. How so? Read on to find out…

Simple, but striking. The poster conveys the style and theme of the movie quite well. This poster was pretty badass as well.

At the time that Resident Evil: Apocalypse was released, the Resident Evil video games had been stagnating: new games in the series either regurgitated the Racoon City time period (Outbreak), were prequels to the original games (Zero) or remakes of the original games (REmake, Code Veronica X). However, the games were given new life mere months after Apocalypse when Resident Evil 4 broke new ground. With the Resident Evil game series attaining relevance once again, it would be fitting if the film franchise could finally achieve some form of success.

Although Paul W.S. Anderson was once again given scripting duties, the actual directing of the film was passed off to Russell Mulcahy. Mulcahy was an inconsistent but well-established director, having directed a ton of music videos. As for his filmography, he was best known for directing the cult classic, Highlander. Unfortunately, his CV also contains epic turds, such as The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior and Highlander II: The Quickening (although budget and producer interference played a major role in these flops). Still, he was certainly a step up from Alexander Witt.

In terms of its cast, most of the (surviving) main characters from Resident Evil: Apocalypse return. The only major character who is missing is Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), because she was appearing in Eragon instead (ouch, bad move…). Taking her place as the secondary heroine was Retrospectives veteran Ali Larter, who was previously featured in my Final Destination series. She takes on the role of Claire Redfield. Considering that Guillory did a fairly poor job as Jill Valentine in the previous film, this was definitely a step up. Taking the reins as the main antagonist is a minor character who appeared in Apocalypse, Dr. Isaacs, played by Iain Glen (holy shit, Jorah Mormont!). The main villain of the video game series, Albert Wesker, also makes an appearance, played by Jason O’Mara… unfortunately, he isn’t given anything to do, and just comes across as very bland rather than cunning and sinister.

The cast actually does a decent job, especially compared to the other movies in the series. By this time, Milla Jovovich has really settled into a rhythm, totally convincing us she’s a cool and killer badass. I quite liked Oded Fehr as Carlos Olivera as well – his role is expanded a bit from the previous film and we actually become fairly attached to him (although the romance between he and Alice just comes out of nowhere). Ali Larter does a decent job as Claire Redfield, although she isn’t given a lot of material to work with (a common complaint, which also extends to the secondary characters). Hell, even LJ’s role gets expanded this time around and I actually found myself sympathizing with him… that said, I was still overjoyed when he died, just because of how annoying he was in Apocalypse. I also liked Iain Glen’s Dr. Isaacs, who really brings some much-needed campiness to the proceedings. He plays the usual mad scientist role, but he’s unpredictable – I mean, how unhinged to you have to be to be too crazy for even the Umbrella corporation!?!

As for the plot of the movie, Extinction is, in a lot of ways, a massive middle finger to the fans of the games. Why’s that, you might ask? Put simply, the movie goes post-apocalyptic, killing off 5/6ths of the world’s population, whereas the video games revolve around preventing another outbreak like Racoon City and stymieing bio-terrorism. Basically, at this point the franchise has even less to do with the video games than the previous two movies did. However, I think this is actually somewhat of a blessing in disguise – this allows the movies to go places the video games never did (sort of like what a video game tie-in for a movie would die). Furthermore, it gives the movies the freedom to do whatever the heck they want within the setting. Finally, it allows angry video gamers to finally divorce themselves from the franchise all-together. As a result, Extinction marks the first entry in the franchise where the opening of the film discards elements from its predecessors to make the movie work conveniently.

Resident Evil: Extinction owes its existence to two very obvious sources – the first being Day of the Dead. Let’s list some of the familiar elements, shall we? Extinction features scientists in an underground laboratory surrounded by zombies behind a chain-link fence. In this underground laboratory, they’re trying to domesticate the zombies, showing them objects from their previous life and using them as well. Hell, even the Umbrella soldiers complain about losing men because they keep having to go to the surface. The links to Day of the Dead are just too similar to be a coincidence. The second major influence is Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (in fact, when this movie came out I called it “Mad Max with a Vagina”). While the similarities are more cosmetic than plot-related, the movie revolves around a civilian convoy scavenging for resources in a post-apocalyptic desert, who are saved by a lone badass who is left behind as they head off to a safe haven. Again, the similarities are clearly there and hardly subtle.

Of course, as with any Resident Evil movie, the plot is just riddled with holes. Why does Umbrella run amnesiac Alice clones through an assault course filled with booby traps that she has no chance of avoiding? Why is she then a “failure” for not having completed their impossible course? For that matter, are they planning on releasing clones with amnesia into warzones? Hell, why bother with this testing when they’ve already killed off 5/6ths of the world’s population? How can the T-virus kill all of the world’s vegetation and dry up most of the water? Why would Umbrella want to domesticate zombies? And how many freaking super zombies were in that small container in Las Vegas? It looked like maybe a half dozen, but they must have killed about 50 of them in the ensuing shoot out… And while this isn’t really a plot hole, why the hell would Sony want to have product placement in the movie… for Umbrella!??!!

The usual Resident Evil-related gripes aside, I actually don’t hate Extinction by any means. Sure it’s a rip-off of The Road Warrior and Day of the Dead, but at least it picked two great movies to emulate. The story also features plot holes, but they’re far more minor than in any other entry in the series. In fact, Extinction largely succeeds in that it does a good job not screwing up. There’s no stupid attempts at humour, no major editing mistakes and far less issues with the plot than in previous entries. The movie looks extremely stylish due to Mulcahy’s direction, similar to The Book of Eli. Extinction also goes to some effort to actually set up the story, giving us over 30 minutes to get situated and meet the characters (most are left undeveloped, but at least they’re introduced… unlike in Apocalypse…). Unlike every other Resident Evil movie, Extinction also manages to be suspenseful at times, despite occurring entirely in daylight (feeling silly now, Apocalypse?). On top of that, it’s less of a cartoon than the previous movies – characters actually miss their shots and people die and it feels like it means something. Hell, even freaking Carlos, a character from the video games, dies – who expected that!? It was a pretty ballsy move in my opinion, especially after they gave him a far better role in the movies than he ever got in the game he appeared in (Resident Evil 3: Nemesis). Finally, the zombie make-up is absolutely spot-on – despite having identical production budgets, Extinction blows Apocalypse out of the water visually.

Most importantly though, the action scenes in Extinction are fantastic and really mark the point where the franchise became a full-on action movie series with minor horror elements. The early battle between Alice and the zombie dogs is pretty great, and the Las Vegas zombie shootout is a thrilling climax, but the real standout is the zombie crow attack. Seriously, the crow sequence is amazing and is probably my favourite sequence in the whole franchise. It’s also utterly unique – no other zombie movie is going to give you a sequence like this. It’s a truly suspenseful, exhilarating and frightening sequence and serves as a good introduction to Alice’s new powers.

Actually, speaking of which, Alice has gone full-on God Mode in this entry. In addition to her unbelievable accuracy, martial arts abilities and general super-powers, she now has telekinesis and an army of super-powered clones at her disposal… so yeah, she’s basically an over-glorified Mary Sue at this point in the series. Appropriately, she was pregnant with Paul W.S. Anderson’s child at the time so that goes so way to explaining why he’d be fawning over her so much (and maybe also explain why she’s naked for the third movie in a row).

The only major issue I have with Extinction is its third act, which is extremely weak. Alice infiltrates an Umbrella hive and then has to fight Dr. Isaacs, who has become a Tyrant. The fight just comes across as exceptionally hokey and isn’t anywhere near as engaging as the rest of the movie was. On top of that, Alice is just too powerful at this point – she beat the shit out of Nemesis before she gained telekinesis, what chance does a more minor Tyrant like Isaacs stand? Still though, Resident Evil: Extinction manages to be a fun (but mindless) action movie on the whole, which is more than I can say for the previous two films. It’s far from great, but I can think of far worse ways to spend an afternoon.

5.5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part four of this retrospective, Resident Evil: Afterlife!

Retrospective: Resident Evil – Apocalypse (2004)

BREAKING NEWS!!! Microsoft has reversed its position on used games and online requirements!!! This is somewhat surprising, but it’s good to know that they actually listened to complaints. I’m still a Sony fanboy for life, but I’m glad to see that the console war won’t be a curb-stomping.

Welcome back to part two of the Resident Evil retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the second movie in the franchise, Resident Evil: Apocalypse! Before I get into the meat of this retrospective, I just want to clarify something: I may not have left this impression when I was writing about the first Resident Evil, but I actually don’t fawn over Milla Jovovich by any means. I mean, she’s certainly good looking but she’s not an actress who I find myself particularly drawn to. That said, I know that there are a lot of people who would respectfully disagree with that opinion (and by respectfully disagree I mean screaming “WTF!?!? ARE YOU GAY!!?!!?” at me). Anyway, the first Resident Evil had been a minor financial success and ended with a cliffhanger setting up a sequel. While Resident Evil wasn’t a particularly great film, Resident Evil 2 was considered the best video game in the series at the time (Resident Evil 4 wouldn’t be released until the next year). The destruction of Racoon City is one of the most famous storylines in video gaming, being visited in two separate canonical Resident Evil games and revisited in at least a half dozen spin-offs. To stack the deck even further in the movie’s favour, it was going to use one of the greatest enemies in the franchise’s history – the Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. With an attempt to go back to the storylines from the games, a more interesting setting and zombies gaining traction in the media, could Resident Evil: Apocalypse become a success? To find out, you’ll have to read on…

Maybe it’s just me, but this poster makes me think of Return of the Living Dead for some reason…

Just after completing Resident Evil, Paul W.S. Anderson began working on a sequel. However, Anderson chose not to direct this sequel – instead, his script for Alien vs. Predator was green lit and he was chosen to direct that movie. While Anderson stayed on as producer and screenwriter, Alexander Witt took over the reins of Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Similarly to David R. Ellis and Steven Quale from my Final Destination retrospective series, Alexander Witt had been in film for a number of years as a camera operator and second unit director on a number of major films, but Apocalypse was his first (and thus far only) directing gig. Perhaps realizing that the original Resident Evil hadn’t lived up to the potential, more elements of the video game stories were worked into Apocalypse so that it would be more than just Resident Evil in name only. Interestingly enough, the movie was filmed in Toronto during the SARS outbreak, adding a bit of currency to the film’s premise.

Umm… who the hell designed Alice’s outfit? Did she kill a stripper zombie after she woke up from the hospital?

Resident Evil: Apocalypse features an almost-entirely new cast of characters… which is appropriate, considering that basically everyone got killed off by the end of the first movie. The heroine is once again Alice (Milla Jovovich), who is no longer a passive bystander and occasional ass-kicker when the plot calls for it. In this entry, Alice is infected with the T-virus as an Umbrella experiment. Conveniently, this gives her super powers instead of turning her into a zombie. Apparently the whole zombie thing is an unfortunate side-effect, although none of this is really elaborated on in the movie (I had to check the Resident Evil Wiki to find that one out). The only other character who is technically returning is Matt Addison, although he is played by a different actor (and by “played” I mean that his dissected body is portrayed by someone else) and he is mutated beyond recognition into Nemesis… so yeah, basically just Alice then.

The new characters are a mixed bag. On one end of the scale, we have the characters from the video games: Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr), both of whom are central to the action. Unfortunately, both are flatly characterized, trying to come across as “badasses” in basically everything they do. Carlos’ introduction is incredibly goofy as he bungie jumps out of a helicopter firing dual-wielded pistols, each round successfully headshotting a zombie. Conceptually it’s rather badass, but it just comes across as cartoony in action. An even worse offender of this is Jill Valentine:

As you can see, they transcribed her Resident Evil 3: Nemesis costume almost perfectly. However, this suffers the same adaptation problem as the original Judge Dredd did in the costume department – it just looks goofy. Jill Valentine is supposed to be a special forces agent, why the hell would she be dressed in a miniskirt and tube top? To hammer things home, Jill’s fight scenes were hampered because Sienna Guillory had difficulty moving in her costume. Could they not have picked something a little more practical… like, I dunno, her costume from the first Resident Evil? Unfortunately that’s not where the troubles end for Jill Valentine, because she suffers the same cartoonish, over-the-top treatment that Carlos is saddled with. In her introduction, she literally walks into a crowded police station and kills zombies (who, at this point, are still thought to be human). To make matters even more over-the-top, she shoots a guy’s handcuffs off. Furthermore, I felt that Sienna Guillory might have put in the worst performance of the major characters. This may not be so much her fault though, since she’s given nothing to work with on a script-level. The treatment of the video game characters makes them feel more like action movie caricatures rather than real people and really makes it difficult for us to have any real bond with them.

On the other end of the scale are the expendable and/or useless characters (of which there are many). Some are basically just transparent plot devices (Dr. Ashford and Angie Ashford), some are there just to die (the entire S.T.A.R.S. team and Umbrella special forces) and then some serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever (Terri and LJ). Terri and LJ are so useless that I have to rant about them to hammer home the point. Terri is supposed to be a professional reporter (who apparently uses a cheap camcorder for her job) who follows Jill Valentine around until she dies. She literally does nothing of importance but run around and then get eaten by zombie children. LJ’s even worse, being nothing more than an annoying, generically “pimpin'” black side-kick. Do you remember the secondary black guy in Event Horizon who suddenly turns into comic relief and helps destroy the third act of the movie? LJ and that guy must have attended the same school of gangsta slang. LJ just shows up in scenes and screams or makes really stupid gangsta quips which just distract from the plot. He’s thrown in here as comic relief, but all he really does is make you want to punch Paul W.S. Anderson in the face for writing such a useless character.

Moving onto the plot, the movie picks up right after the first Resident Evil ended. Umbrella goes into The Hive and stupidly allows all the zombies to escape. Soon after, Racoon City is overrun with zombies and quarantined by Umbrella. Meanwhile, Alice, Jill and company have to rescue the daughter of a high-level Umbrella employee if they want to escape the city before it’s sanitized. Finally, taking advantage of the chaos, Umbrella decides to test their Nemesis bioweapon against Alice in order to determine which program shows the most potential. As you can probably see already, the story is once again very thinly drawn (which is a shame because a movie set in the background of the Racoon City outbreak has ample opportunities for a great story). Plot contrivances absolutely abound. Why the hell would Umbrella open up The Hive when they know there are T-virus zombies loose inside? How lucky is it that Alice finds a fully-loaded shotgun less than 10 seconds after escaping the hospital (more lucky than the video games, I’ll tell you that much)? How does Alice know about what the Nemesis program is, considering that she was unconscious when it was enacted, and she didn’t link it to Matt Addison until later? How does Umbrella get away with dropping a nuclear weapon on Racoon City, especially considering that they let a bunch of people escape the city (and therefore spread the news about the zombie apocalypse)? How can Jill and Carlos pretend to be Umbrella Agents when there’s a televised national manhunt for the pair? Finally, why the hell do they get Alice and Nemesis to fight each other… with their fists!?! Do they plan on sending them into combat unarmed? And how would this really determine which of the two is “better”?

Obviously the story has more holes than Swiss cheese, but unfortunately I feel that Alexander Witt botched things from a directing standpoint as well. Being his first solo directing effort, I get the feeling that Witt overcompensated and ended up using directorial techniques in a really mish-mash sort of way. For example, half of the time the zombies are on screen, Witt films them at a low FPS setting, making their movements extremely jarring. Maybe Witt was going for extra terror or something, but it just comes across looking awful and overused. It’s techniques like these which make Resident Evil: Apocalypse look more like an amateur effort. I may give Paul W.S. Anderson a lot of shit, but I’ll admit that he can at least shoot a film and make it look like a very professional production. I think Witt’s inexperience also extends to making Racoon City feel like, well, a city. With very few exceptions, the streets of the city are completely empty unless the main characters are getting attacked by zombies, which is odd considering the whole zombie apocalypse thing.

The treatment of Nemesis is another major issue with this film. On the one hand, I’m glad that they went with an almost-entirely practical costume to portray him, since it looks far better than the CGI models used in the first film (although the CGI has noticeably improve significantly in Apocalypse). Unfortunately, this is a bit of a double-edged sword. Nemesis is supposed to be terrifyingly swift – I’ve played Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, and I nearly shit my pants when I saw how fast he was coming after me. However, the Nemesis costume they used is extremely bulky and makes movement very difficult. Nemesis is visibly bumbling about awkwardly and trying to slowly catch up to Alice despite the stiffness of the costume. Basically, Nemesis is turned into a big, slow enemy who’s easy to avoid… which is particularly bad for an enemy who’s major feature is chasing people. Even worse, Paul W.S. Anderson decides to turn Nemesis into an anti-hero near the end. If you remember AVP, that makes two Paul W.S. Anderson movies released in the same year where the big, strong villain gets turned into an anti-hero side-kick. This was really just a big middle finger to people who pissed themselves playing Resident Evil 3 and were expecting Nemesis to replicate at least a tiny fraction of those feelings.

However, there is one positive to Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and that’s the action sequences. Some of them are quite epic, especially Alice’s intro in which she drives a motorcycle through a church and shotguns Lickers to death. Owing to his experience as a second unit director, Alexander Witt is quite accomplished at filming an action sequence, and the film is generally at its best in these moments. If that’s all it takes to please you then you’ll find stuff to like in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, but if you’re looking for a decent story or characters then you’re going to be severely let down. Hell, even Paul W.S. Anderson thought this film sucked. How bad do you have to get for that to happen!?

3/10

Be sure to come back soon for part three of this retrospective, Resident Evil: Extinction!

Retrospective: Resident Evil (2002)

Welcome back! As promised, this is the kick-off of our next retrospective series! This time we’re going to tackle the live-action Resident Evil film franchise (as a result, the Capcom CGI films Degeneration and Damnation won’t be covered, although I’ll probably give them each a very short review at the end of the series). And since we’re going to be covering a video game movie franchise, I thought it was appropriate to mention some of the current events in gaming before we dive head-first into these retrospectives. First off, as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought that Microsoft was testing the waters by leaking the restrictions on used games and required internet connection to Wired rather than announcing them in their press conference. Turns out I was wrong (mostly anyway).

Most of you have probably already heard this by now, but it would seem that Microsoft have waffled and are now placing the used games restriction in the hands of publishers. The online verification thing is sticking as well, although it is a 24 hour verification (or every 1 hour if you’re logging into someone else’s XBOX ONE). This might be forgiven if the system was priced extra-cheap, but it’s going to be $499 (with Europe and Britain getting shafted by exchange differences). I hate to be an obnoxious fanboy, but right about now I’m extremely glad that I am a PlayStation lifer: my first console was a PS1 and I’m probably going to stick with them out of misguided brand-loyalty forever – even if the shoe were on the other foot in this instance. That said, the only real negatives I’m seeing about the PS4 right now are that online multiplayer requires a PS+ subscription and that the system is HDMI-only… both of which are features of the XBOX ONE anyway and so wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. In any case, I’m getting really freaking excited for the next generation of gaming consoles, enough-so that I’ll probably be pre-ordering a PS4 soon.

Alright, enough of that, time to get to Resident Evil. The Resident Evil film franchise is the most financially successful movie series based on video games, having brought in almost $1 billion between the (thus far) 5 films. With a 6th film in production it is likely to surpass that mark, which would make it one of the most lucrative franchises of all time. Of course, money isn’t everything – despite its successes, the franchise has a rather… uh… toxic critical reputation to say the least (which we will, of course, be covering over the next couple weeks). In this entry, we will be discussing the first film in the franchise – 2002’s Resident Evil. This film has frequently been labelled as one of the best video game adaptations of all time, usually being brandied about alongside Silent Hill, Mortal Kombat and Tomb Raider. Are these accolades* justified? Read on and find out…

Going for the sex appeal are we, marketing-types? Very smart move. I also really love the colours here, they blend very nicely.

In the early stages of production, George A. Romero was in charge of writing and directing Resident Evil. Yes, that’s right – the man who invented the modern zombie in Night of the Living Dead and perfected it in Dawn and Day of the Dead was supposed to adapt Resident Evil into a film. Of course, the man was almost 15 years removed from those films at the time, but the prospect of him returning to the zombie genre was certainly an exciting one. At the time he had not returned to the genre in quite some time (and would not until the release of Land of the Dead in 2005), and so his involvement was one that generated much interest.  Romero was apparently planning on making a fairly close adaptation of the first game in the series, using characters from the game (Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Albert Wesker, Ada Wong, Barry Burton and Rebecca Chambers). For whatever reason, Romero was fired (apparently the hardcore gamers would bitch about deviations from the plot and newcomers wouldn’t be engaged) and the film went into development hell. If you’re interested, you can actually read the original draft here… I haven’t, but if you have/do then let me know how it was in the comments.

At some point, Sony approached Paul W.S. Anderson to work on the project. Anderson was almost certainly approached for his work on the relatively successful Mortal Kombat film, and soon was both locked as both the writer and director for Resident Evil. At the time Paul W.S. Anderson wasn’t quite the hack he’s considered today (he wouldn’t release Alien vs Predator for another 2 years, and he was still living off the good will of the first 2 acts of Event Horizon), and so the decision wasn’t too troubling. Oddly enough, Anderson decided to move even further from the original story than Romero, with only the Umbrella Corporation, the mansion and monsters connecting the film to the video game series. In his own words, “under-performing movie tie-ins are becoming all too common and Resident Evil, of all games, deserved a good celluloid representation”… which basically translates too “the best way to adapt a video game is to not adapt it at all”. I’m not entirely against this line of thinking, but the movie risks alienating the core audience if it fails to “feel” like the source it’s claiming to be an adaptation of. Of course, there has to be a balance – for example, how awful will the Uncharted movie be if it’s a direct adaptation of the first game? Just make a new, well-written adventure story starring true-to-character representations of Drake, Sully, Elena and Chloe. Similarly, Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy managed to be an awesome fan film just because it captured the fundamentals of the source without being a direct adaptation of it. Many video games have perfectly serviceable plots which can be translated to screen, and Resident Evil was one of them in my opinion.

Also worth noting is that Paul W.S. Anderson was gunning for the movie to get a PG-13 rating. Yes, you read that right – a movie about cannibalistic zombies and monsters with no skin butchering people sounded like a fun time for the whole family. This sort of ties into my previous point as well – the Resident Evil games are fairly violent. Each game has a screen which warns you that there’s violent content and therefore appropriate only for adults. Hell, the game’s ESRB rating is “M” (not that anyone seems to follow that). Luckily they ended up going with an R-rating (a fairly tame one at that), but I had the same sort of problem with the recent World War Z – how do you justify making a movie about people getting violently torn apart and cannibalized and make it PG-13? You end up having to sanitize it which just cheapens the experience and practically ensures a bad product. I’m not usually someone who pushes for R-ratings like some others I could mention (would The Lord of the Rings really have been improved with an R-rating? No, no it would not). However, zombie movies they really do require an R-rating because the staples of the genre involve visceral violence and gore – taking those out with discretion shots tends to not work.

Anyway, when production began in earnest, 2 fairly big names signed on in lead roles – Michelle Rodriguez (who had been making waves as a beauty in Blue Crush and The Fast and the Furious) and Milla Jovovich (at the time, probably most famous for The Fifth Element). There were some more minor male roles of course, but these were the big two, as evidenced by the poster for the film. As a result, the movie was marketed as “sexy chicks kill zombies”. In fact, I can actually remember seeing a commercial for the film as a little 12-year-old kid, where the crux of the marketing campaign was basically “see this movie because a girl in a slinky red dress slow-motion kicks zombie dogs in the face, Matrix-style”. Oddly enough, that’s actually more appealing to me now than it was back then…

Ahem… so we’ve got pre-production out of the way, but was Resident Evil any good? Well, let’s talk about the plot first… or lack thereof. Resident Evil (and its sequels) are notorious for their shallow, illogical plots and this fact became evident in the first film. Put simply, a zombie toxin (the T-virus) gets released in an underground facility owned by the Umbrella Corporation called The Hive. When The Hive’s AI unit, The Red Queen, locks the facility down, Umbrella sends in its own private military unit (plus a couple civilians they decided needed to tag along) to infiltrate The Hive and shut down The Red Queen… of course, this releases the zombies. Based on that short rundown, can you spot a few major flaws? Like, if the AI locked down the whole Hive, why do they have to send in a PMC to investigate? Can Umbrella not communicate with The Red Queen directly, or maybe check security footage? Don’t they have failsafes or something? When they reboot The Red Queen, why can’t she just lock down the facility again? Why can’t The Red Queen warn the Umbrella Corporation that there are zombies inside? And probably most importantly why would they take civilians into The Hive with them!?! Is their m.o. to reveal Umbrella corporate secrets to damn well everyone (especially since one of the civilians turns out to be an NSA agent)?! Basically, the whole plot’s just a thin pretense… like a video game, minus good gameplay to make up for it.

No, touching your joystick does not count as “game play”.

Then there’s Alice, Milla Jovovich’s character, who is basically just a convenience. When The Red Queen locked down The Hive, she also releases some sort of stun gas which causes amnesia… for some reason, she also releases this at the Umbrella Mansion (despite it being kilometers away from The Hive), causing Alice and her fake-husband Spence to lose their memories. As a result, this allows Paul W.S. Anderson to seed us new information and skills when it’s convenient to the plot, to add some “suspense” and to allow characters to spew exposition at her. Need to suddenly deal with zombie dogs? Oh goody, I just remembered that I know martial arts, now I won’t be just a bystander all the time. There’s also the fact that Paul W.S. Anderson seems to do whatever he can to get Milla Jovovich naked – there are 3 separate scenes where she’s either completely naked or almost naked (her introduction where she’s knocked out in the shower, a flashback sex scene and the end of the film where she wakes up in a hospital). You’d almost think that Paul W.S. Anderson had a thing for her… of course, we’ll get to that in good time.

Speaking of Alice, the characters in the film aren’t very well drawn, or acted for that matter. No one really has anything to work with, but I felt that Michelle Rodriguez did a particularly bad job (which is unfortunate because in her later films she is an effortlessly badass bitch). The one major bright spot in the acting department though is Colin Salmon as James “One” Shade, the leader of the Umbrella PMC. His character is AWESOME, but dies way too early. To be fair this was a fairly clever curveball on the part of Anderson, but considering how weak the other characters were it was a bad move to kill off his best character. There’s also the fact that his death scene is pretty badass and definitely a highlight of the film.

Partly because of the weak script, Resident Evil just plain fails as a horror movie. I know that Paul W.S. Anderson can create suspense and horror – Event Horizon was really successful in this regard, at least until the 3rd act at which point it went off the rails. Unfortunately, he just plain failed to do so here, thinking that he can scare us by kicking a can off-camera a few times (hint: it’s not working). In fact, the first 40 minutes are rather boring because we’re supposed to be getting connected to the characters and getting scared by what’s happening, but fails on both accounts. The movie also suffers from using CGI on some of the monsters. I can understand having to use CGI to represent a Licker since it’s a pretty grotesque, out-of-this-world being, but the effects are just really cartoony and plastic. To make matters worse, they’re intercut between shots of an animatronic Licker which just reinforces how bad the CGI is in this movie. Think I’m overstating just how bad it is? This is one of the first zombies we see in the movie (read: it’s supposed to make us piss our pants):

Yeah, we’re pissing our pants alright… pissing our pants laughing that is. Did they render that on a PS1 to remain authentic to the game? The Red Queen hologram’s pretty awful too, with horrid lip syncing and extremely stiff movement. In fact, Resident Evil might have some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen in a professionally-made movie… and don’t give me any “oh it’s 2002, the special effects weren’t good then” bullshit. Jurassic Park came out 10 years earlier and it looked phenomenal. The Matrix came out 3 years earlier and looked much better than anything on display here. The technology wasn’t lagging here, it was the guys who worked on the movie who are to blame.

Also worth singling out is the extremely shoddy editing, which might actually be the worst aspect of the whole damn movie. One two separate occasions, the characters get completely surrounded by zombies and then, one cut later, they’re safe with absolutely no explanation as to why this is. That’s like if in Saving Private Ryan the Americans had been getting shot at on Omaha Beach as soon as they land, but instead of showing everyone getting gunned down, they instead cut straight to them firing flamethrowers at the pillboxes. It’s very noticeable and just suggests that they probably just didn’t film the whole damn movie (because why would you cut out the exciting escape or last-second scramble to get onto the pipes…?). There’s also a point where Alice fires a 9mm pistol at the zombie dogs at least 18 times without reloading . Now I’m no expert (unless countless hours of video games factor into that), but the Beretta 92FS that Alice takes off the dead security guard doesn’t appear to have a magazine capable of carrying that many rounds (the standard size is apparently 15 rounds)… as a result, I figure it’s probably just bad editing… and really, did she need to fire that many shots to take out a half dozen zombie dogs?

All-in-all, I think you can gather that Resident Evil was a pretty bad movie. Barring James “One” Shade, the zombie dogs and some half-decent action sequences, the movie is not very well done at all. The fact that it gets name-dropped among the “best” video game movies is baffling to me – as far as I’ve seen, all video game movies have been unfortunately shitty, and Resident Evil is absolutely no exception to that.

4/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 2 of this retrospective, Resident Evil: Apocalypse!

*Of course, none of these are considered “good”. I’ve only seen Silent Hill out of these 3 movies, and while it captured the atmosphere of the town quite well, it really failed as a proper film. On the laurels of its atmosphere and cinematography alone, I’d have to give it a 5/10.