Love/Hate: Resident Evil 1.5 (BONUS)

Welcome back to a very special bonus entry in the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the original version of Resident Evil 2, dubbed by fans as Resident Evil 1.5. A very rough build of this unfinished game leaked years ago and a group of dedicated fans have stitched it together into a mostly-playable demo. I thought that it could be fascinating to see how this early prototype plays, considering that much of the work put into it was scrapped and didn’t make its way into the game we ended up getting. How does it hold up and differ compared to the Resident Evil 2 that would ultimately see release? Read on to find out…

Love

  • It Exists – Look, the most remarkable thing about Resident Evil 1.5 is the fact that it exists at all, that we have access to it, and that it’s playable. In the world of video game development and releases, this is a straight-up miracle. We rarely get to see in-development game builds, let alone actually play them for ourselves. This stands doubly-true when a game gets scrapped mid-development, with all the ideas and concepts that had been in production at the time never seeing the light of day. RE1.5 stands as a relic of a game that never was and shows a snapshot of the ideas which eventually evolved into the Resident Evil 2 we know, which is just fascinating to experience first-hand.
  • Elza Walker – Leon is largely the same in RE1.5 as he is in RE2, but what’s really interesting is the character who didn’t make it to the full release: Elza Walker. Considering that she is basically an unrefined version of Claire Redfield with very little writing and no voice acting to flesh her out, it’s kind of remarkable how much Elza Walker stands out as her own distinct character in RE1.5. Her racing outfit is instantly iconic, distinctive, and striking. In addition, her skills as a race car driver give the character an interesting and unique hook compared to this series’ stable of cops and soldiers. I’m endlessly fascinated by the fact that this game allows us to play as this character who never got to see the light of day. Sure, we didn’t get to learn much about her in this scrapped build of the game, but there’s enough character here that Elza could legitimately make her way into a future Resident Evil game and be accepted with enthusiasm (in fact, Capcom are definitely aware of this as well since they gave Claire an Elza Walker costume in REmake 2).
  • Zombie Variety – One of the coolest aspects of RE1.5 compared to RE2 is that you’re not just shooting the exact same zombie type over and over again. There are a lot more different varieties of zombies, including female ones, fat ones, etc. This doesn’t have a massive impact on gameplay or anything, but it does make this feel more like a massive outbreak with casualties all across the populace.

Mixed

  • Damage Status – RE1.5 has its own unique way to show damage on your character. As your character takes damage, they will begin to have cuts and show tears on their clothing. It’s definitely an improvement on RE1, but it’s also really easy to miss in the heat of combat. RE2‘s ultimate decision to use a limping animation was far better at conveying information and making you want to heal ASAP.

Hate

  • Technically Rough – Look, I get it. Resident Evil 1.5 was unfinished and has basically been cobbled together to even get into a playable state. If you play it, you’re accepting that you’re not playing a completed video game, or even one that was meant to be played at all. Even with all that in mind, you can’t help but acknowledge that actually playing RE1.5 ranges from awkward, to rough, to straight-up broken. Characters are not properly integrated with the pre-rendered backgrounds, so they will regularly walk “over” scenery that should be in the foreground, the map is completely broken and useless, none of the type writers or item boxes work, picking up items and reading files can cause the game to crash, animations are incomplete… again, this is to be expected when you’re playing a game like this, but it still makes for a rough experience at best.
  • You Can Kinda See Why It Got Scrapped – While there is clearly more work that needs to be done to make this game functional, you really can start to understand the developers’ concerns that the game just wasn’t coming together. This version of the RPD has no personality compared to the released version – it’s just a big, square, stereotypical police department building with three main floors and then two basement floors. It doesn’t have the sprawling exploration of other Resident Evil games, you just travel between floors, clearing them out one at a time. The majority of the obstacles are either masses of very stupid and easy to dodge zombies, or shutters, which are closed all over the damn station.
  • Combat Feels Bad – I’m not sure why it’s like this in RE1.5, but the shooting feels massively nerfed compared to even the first Resident Evil. Maybe it’s just because Elza is not skilled with guns, but every shot I took was painfully slow and it takes a lot of rounds to actually down a zombie. As a result, you rarely have enough space to just stand your ground and kill a zombie before it reaches you, let alone if you have multiple zombies approaching. Sometimes you don’t even have enough room to back up either, so just running tends to be the best approach.
  • Not Entirely Original Content? – This I am not entirely sure of, but there were a couple things I came across which seem like they have been added by modders, which makes me question what exactly is in RE1.5 which has been added in after the fact. The two big things were that I encountered the Brad Vickers poster from REmake 2, and in the basement there is what appears to be a statue of Pochita from Chainsaw Man (for some reason). I get that this is just some modder putting a piece of themselves into RE1.5, but it undermines this game’s status as a snapshot of a game that never was, because now I just can’t know how much of it is original and what isn’t.
  • There’s Not Much to Do – Again, I get it, the game is not finished… but that also means that playing this game as-is doesn’t give you a whole lot to do. It’s the equivalent of a digital museum: lots of interesting things to see, but not a whole lot to actually do while you’re in it.

Resident Evil 1.5 is a fascinating peek into the processes which bring us the games that we love. While it isn’t particularly compelling as a game in its own right, viewing it that way is kind of missing the point. If you’re a big fan of the early Resident Evil games, I definitely recommend tracking this down so you can get a look into the early development decisions which helped shape the RE2 we know today.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 3 – Nemesis

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis! I’ve got quite a history with this game in particular – I can remember seeing Nemesis on the box art for the game and hearing that he would actively stalk you around the game, and I thought that sounded like the coolest shit ever. It was the first Resident Evil title that I can remember being interested in and I would eventually purchase it, RE1 and RE2 for the PS1 Classics store on my good ol’ PSP. However, it’s also the only one of those games that I actually put any time into (again, I really dug the premise, so I really wanted to try it out). I ended up getting about 1/3 of the way in during that attempt, despite not getting on well with the tank controls and general gameplay at the time (that said, I had vivid memories of reaching the train car and a couple of the puzzles and locales, so I know I managed to make it a couple hours in).

Well, in the years since I have played through a lot of Resident Evil games, including this game’s remake and all the other “classic” entries in the franchise, and I’ve been very excited to finally dive back in and complete the game that first piqued my interest in this series in full. Would it manage to live up to the lofty expectations I had placed on it? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Raccoon City – I had already praised Resident Evil 2 for expanding the game’s scope compared to RE1, but RE3 cranks things up to the point of making RE2 look tiny in comparison. Most of this game takes place within the streets of Raccoon City itself as Jill Valentine has to scrounge up the supplies needed to make her escape. For a PS1 game, it is impressive just how sprawling the city is, as you traverse throughout the streets and into various locales (including the RPD itself). The environmental design has also improved once again, really bringing Raccoon City to life, showing the scale of the devastation it has been subjected to, and showing glimpses of the lives that once were lived here.
  • The Outbreak – On a somewhat-related note, RE3 really hammers home the reality of Raccoon City’s zombie apocalypse in a way that RE2 conspicuously ignores (all versions of RE2, for that matter). The game’s opening cinematic really hammers home how brutal and terrifying this situation is for those caught up in it. The streets are absolutely overrun with undead and we find that there really isn’t anywhere left in the city that’s safe for survivors. Moreso than any other Resident Evil game (other than Outbreak, fittingly), RE3 nails the idea of being caught up in a zombie apocalypse and allows you to live out that scenario.
  • The Story – RE3‘s story is, by and large, the same as REmake 3‘s (which I have praised as probably the strongest story in the franchise). While it is less flashy and refined, it is still solid and enjoyable. Like its remake, RE3‘s story largely stands out in the ways that it differs from your typical Resident Evil game. The overall plot is incredibly simple: escape the city. However, there is a strong focus on character, particularly in the development of Jill and Carlos. Jill does not trust Carlos due to his affiliation with Umbrella, and Carlos believes that Umbrella has the city’s best interests in mind when he’s deployed to try to rescue civilians. However, over the course of the game, Jill learns that there are well-meaning people working within Umbrella, and finds herself coming to trust Carlos. Carlos, on the other hand, gains a deep appreciation for Jill’s strength, comes to realize his complicity in Umbrella’s crimes, and questions his loyalty to the company’s orders. Furthermore, the game greatly benefits from its nigh-unkillable and persistent antagonist, who keeps the pressure on throughout the entire game in a way that no other Resident Evil antagonist can really compare. Furthermore, the game also keeps its focus on the bigger picture – the fate of Raccoon City as a whole is kept in focus as we see the city destroyed at the end. It would have been easy for the game to end like RE2, content that our heroes have escaped, but they made sure to show the ultimate devastation wrought by Umbrella.
  • Nemesis – The titular big-bad is, without a doubt, the most intimidating and imposing enemy in the franchise. The story sets him up this way, and the gameplay does not disappoint. He’s incredibly difficult to fight, running at you in a terrifying sprint, firing a rocket launcher, or making you shit your pants when you try to run to another area and then he follows you and donkey punches you in the back of the head. He can put you into a real panic, but he rarely outstays his welcome, and there are only three mandatory confrontations in the whole game, so if you need to run you have the freedom to do so. However, if you want to stand and fight, that’s also an option, and the game will reward you for it with some fantastic weapons and items.
    • For my part, I elected to stand and fight in most cases, including the incredibly difficult first and second fights where you simply do not have the weapons and ammo required to make this fight short. I died to Nemesis more in these two fights than I did in my entire playthroughs of RE1, 2, and Code: Veronica. I had to put on my Dark Souls pants and git gud, which helped make the rest of my encounters a little bit more manageable. Simply put, try to get him close, then run past his right arm so he’ll be baited for a grab. Then get a few meters away from him and unload a shotgun blast or two pistol shots. Rinse and repeat a dozen times and he’ll go down. Sounds simple enough, but he will sometimes charge at you and leave you with little time to react/dodge. Still, using a couple heals is preferable to dying over and over again.
  • Live Selection – RE3 improves on RE2‘s zapping system with (in my opinion) its far more impactful “live selection” mechanic. At certain points in the game, you’ll be given the option to take one of two different courses of action. While these choices won’t drastically alter the story or let you explore entirely new areas (often you’ll just start in one of two rooms, which you will be able to find pretty quickly), the choices they often the player can often be pretty huge. There are several Nemesis encounters that you can avoid entirely, or cheese to get free item drops from using this system. In addition, I found that the game really encourages taking the “bold” course of action, so it’s nice that it’s not punishing you with a cheap death because you didn’t know enough to make the “right” choice. Ultimately, I love how this lets the player tailor the experience to their wants and needs in any given situation, and it encourages replays to see how much you can affect the game.
  • Improved Map – Once again, the map in RE3 has been improved substantially from its predecessor. In addition to all the previous improvements, viewing the map now has its own dedicated button (L2), you can zoom in and out, all save rooms are marked on the map, and areas of interest are highlighted in blue. It’s not quite at the level of REmake 2‘s user-friendly map, but considering that this is only three years after RE1‘s bare-bones effort, this is a quantum-leap forward.
  • Gun Powders – RE3 introduces the concept of gun powders that you can use and mix in order to make ammunition for your various weapons. Like the live selection mechanic, I love how this allows player choice and expression to take center stage. If you want, you can produce ammo for your mainstay handgun and shotgun, eventually learning how to make stronger ammo if you keep doing so. However, you can also choose to mix ammo types together to produce various types of grenade launcher shells or even magnum rounds in order to fight Nemesis more efficiently. It all depends on your ammo situation at the time and your preferences and priorities, which is fantastic as far as I’m concerned.
  • Graphics – Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering that it was the last PS1 Resident Evil game, but RE3 is easily the best-looking entry on the system. In addition to everything I said about how Raccoon City is brought to life, the character models are all a noticeable step up from the previous games.
  • Stairs! – This is a pretty small change in the grand scheme of things, but OH MY GOD, you can just walk up and down stairs now without having to press a button first! Not only does this make for much smoother gameplay, but it also means that you can stop and turn around if you wish (say, if you’re heading down some stairs and then see that Nemesis is waiting for you at the bottom).

Mixed

  • Dodge – RE3‘s dodge is somewhat notorious for how unreliable it is. In my experience, it’s not that it is bad or unresponsive (unlike, say, Resident Evil: Revelations). When I wanted to dodge, I found the timing was pretty reasonable and, against certain enemies, I was dodging like a champ. However, the main issue is that the dodge is mapped to R1 (aka, the aim button), or if you’re already aiming, then it’s R1+X (aka, the button you’d press to shoot). The biggest issue this creates is that, unless you’re actively, intentionally practicing your dodges, most of the dodges you are going to do are going to be completely by accident. Furthermore, you have no invincibility during a dodge. As a result, you can successfully pull one off, and then still get caught in a grab attack, or attacked by a different enemy altogether. It’s kind of bullshit, but luckily the game doesn’t require you to be able to dodge in order to be successful (looking at you again, Revelations…). As a result, it feels more like a bonus when it happens that can get you out of trouble on occasion, or a high-skill mechanic to master, but it would have been really nice if the game let you map dodge to its own dedicated button.
    • This is where I should note that there are apparently custom patches for this game where you can map dodge to the R2 button. I didn’t find out about this until I was just about the finish the game, but if I had known sooner, I probably would have given it a try.
  • Randomized Puzzles – I think that RE3 was the one classic Resident Evil game where I didn’t need to look up the solutions to any of its puzzles. They tend to be pretty intuitive, or straight-up tell you what you need to do, or can be brute-forced without too much trouble… which is good, because you can’t really look up the answers the way you could in the other games, because the puzzles and their solutions have been randomized. I get that this is done to make subsequent playthroughs feel more “fresh” and for the puzzles to not feel like a boring obstacle when you have already completed them once, but if you were to get stuck on one, it could be a uniquely frustrating experience in RE3.

Hate

  • The Controls – While I don’t really like tank controls, I’ve gotten used to them over the course of the last few games because they were necessary to make the games function within their technical limitations, and the games were designed with them in mind. However, RE3 reaches a tipping point where its controls are actively starting to feel inadequate for the situations the game is putting you in. First of all, a lot of the difficulty with Nemesis comes down to his incredible speed, coupled with your inability to maneuver with any speed in response. If you had more “modern” and “free” movement controls, Nemesis would be significantly easier to deal with as you could bait his grabs more consistently, and you could actually respond to his charges. It’s not just Nemesis either, as even the basic zombies are now significantly faster and will close the distance with you in a fraction of the time required of other Resident Evil games. It feels like these changes were made because of the addition of the dodge and quick turn. However, the dodge is unreliable as we have said, and the quick turn is still too slow to actually be useful when fighting Nemesis, so the game just ends up feeling like it has gotten faster than your movement can really keep up with. Oh, also, when Nemesis throws you to the ground and you have to button mash like mad to stand up? Fuck that shit, it sucks.
  • Reload Tool – As much as I love the gun powder system in this game, it all revolves around the reload tool, which some genius at Capcom decided should take up an inventory slot instead of being Jill’s default item… y’know, the sort of thing every other character in a Resident Evil game had had up until this point. Hell, Jill never even has a default item in this game, so would it have killed them to give her this? As a result, I’m putting my reload tool in the box most of the time, because most of the gun powder you find will be near a save room anyway.
  • Difficulty Modes – RE3 has two difficulty modes: easy and hard. No “normal” mode…? The differences between these modes is pretty substantial too. Easy is laughably easy, playing more like an action movie power fantasy, as Jill starts with a veritable arsenal of overpowered guns that she can use to just blast her way through the entire game. Meanwhile, hard mode is straight-up the hardest Resident Evil survival horror experience I’ve ever had. I breezed through the first two games, Code: Veronica, REmake, even 0… this was significantly harder than all of those games*. To be entirely fair, this is at least partially on me for deciding to try to fight Nemesis when I was not well-equipped to do so. It’s not just Nemesis though, the streets are absolutely swarming with zombies, you will barely have enough ammo to deal with them, and if you do shoot everything you see then you will be hard-up when Nemesis shows up. Around the mid-point when you get more ammunition and can actually deal with Nemesis in a (somewhat) fair fight, the game becomes easier, but it would have been nice if there was a bit more granularity between “ridiculously easy” and “tough as nails”.
  • The Mine Thrower – Man, fuck this gun. It fires mine projectiles, which stick to surfaces and enemies and then detonate after a couple seconds (or, if you miss, when an enemy is in proximity). However, there are so many drawbacks to using it. First of all, if you’re in close proximity to the mine when it detonates, you’ll get hit. Guess which blazing-fast enemy you’re going to be using this against the most, who will close the distance to you after being stuck twice, therefore damaging you twice with your own weapon? Oh, and lest you think you can manually reload the mine thrower to avoid getting caught with no shots in the barrel, for some god-forsaken reason you straight-up cannot manually reload it until its empty. That’s not even the end of it though – if you’ve emptied the gun and try to manually reload it before all the shots have detonated, it will cause all unexploded mines to fizzle. What. The. Fuck. Seriously, this gun fucking sucks, just stick with the grenade launcher.
  • The Discourse – This isn’t something I hold against RE3 itself, but I do feel like it needs to be said. As a self-processed lover of REmake 3, I’m absolutely sick of the discourse surrounding RE3 vs REmake 3 within the Resident Evil fandom. If you went into REmake 3 expecting a faithful remake of the original, then I can understand your disappointment. However, then saying that REmake 3 sucks and is one of the worst Resident Evil games of all-time is absolutely insane to me. REmake 3 is a great game and has different strengths compared to the original – the story and characters are better, the controls make the challenge a lot fairer, the presentation is much slicker and modern, the hospital section is a big improvement on the original, and it’s more of an action-spectacle thrill-ride. Meanwhile, the original has that PS1 charm, classic gameplay style, it’s got a lot more exploration, more freedom in its gameplay and story, and has areas which don’t make it into the remake. Both games can stand out in their own ways. Honestly, as we’ve seen with RE1 vs REmake, that’s probably a better fate for a game than getting completely upstaged. Also, I’m old enough to remember when RE3 was considered the black sheep of the franchise – a disappointment compared to the blockbuster RE2, lacking the groundbreaking history of RE1, less-exciting than Code: Veronica, and then forgotten after the release of RE4. It wasn’t until years later that people started looking at this game the way I do, and I feel like history has kind of repeated itself with REmake 3. All I can hope is that it someday gets the reappraisal I think it deserves.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is another true classic in the franchise’s early entries, but what really makes it stand out for me is just how unique it is. No other game in this franchise plays quite the way this one does, with its large-scale scope, full-on apocalypse setting, focus on character development, a persistent and incredibly difficult antagonist, and all the gameplay additions like the dodge, live selection, reload tool, etc. Given that no other game in this franchise has improved or iterated on these concepts, it means that Resident Evil 3: Nemesis still stands out all these years later as an entry worth experiencing.

*Note: Code: Veronica and 0 are notoriously difficult games, but their difficulty is largely down to bullshittery. Code: Veronica will fuck you over if you don’t already know about all its progression-halting roadblocks and respawning enemies who simply waste your resources. 0 is somewhat similar, screwing you over when an out of nowhere boss fight takes away one of your characters, or becoming damn near impossible if you just so happen to not have any flame-based ammunition on you when you come across a leechman. However, the moment-to-moment gameplay of these games is not that bad (although I would say that 0 is easily the second-hardest classic Resident Evil). Contrast this with RE3, whose difficulty comes down to it’s mechanics being more demanding than other Resident Evil games, where even the basic enemies are more dangerous and numerous than in any other classic entry and your movement isn’t really sufficient to keep up with it.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 2

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the original Resident Evil 2! Often considered the best of the “classic” era of Resident Evil, its popularity has been overshadowed several times over the years – first by Resident Evil 4, then by the cult reappraisal of REmake, then by the remake of Resident Evil 2 released twenty one years later. Given that REmake 2 was the game that started this whole Love/Hate rundown of the Resident Evil series, I’ve been excited to check the original and see how it compares. Does it still hold up or, like its predecessor, is it doomed to be eternally overshadowed by its remake? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Scale and Scope – The original Resident Evil was a rather claustrophobic, isolated, and intimate affair, taking place within a single mansion grounds in the deep woods. Resident Evil 2, on the other hand, takes the James Cameron approach to sequels – bigger and better. This game takes place in a full-on zombie outbreak in a crowded city. It feels far more like a Romero-style zombie apocalypse, complete with an opening escape sequence with more zombies attacking you than there might have been in the entirety of the first game. You also encounter survivors who actually get to do more than just die the moment you meet them, making this feel like a massive event that everyone’s struggling to survive through.
  • Everything is Improved – Rather than making a ton of repetitive bullet points for all this stuff, I really need to emphasize just how much everything has been improved in Resident Evil 2:
    • First of all, the presentation. The environments in this game are SO much more detailed than they were in the original Resident Evil. The Spencer Mansion’s environments were sparse to an extreme, whereas every frame of Resident Evil 2 is packed with details, whether these be for mood-setting, environmental storytelling, or to draw you towards objectives and items.
    • Secondly, the voice acting and writing have improved immensely. While not exactly up to modern standards, it’s passable even now, and a damn sight better than most of its contemporaries.
    • On a related note, this game’s CG cutscenes are solid and far more impactful than the laughable live-action FMVs from the original game.
    • They also didn’t waste much time improving a lot of the annoyances I had with the original Resident Evil. The new in-game map is significantly improved, actually showing you what doors are locked, colour-coding them by the key needed to open them, and allowing you to check maps of areas other than the one you’re currently in. Everything just feels like it’s faster too – stair-traversal, text scrolling, discarding useless key items, etc. I would have expected such improvements to occur over the course of a few games, but Resident Evil 2 has already improved to the point where even it makes the original game feel archaic.
  • Refined Design – I was very annoyed with how unfair the original Resident Evil could feel to a new player, especially in the early game when health and ammo are in short supply, zombies are everywhere, and there isn’t much room to maneuver around them. Resident Evil 2‘s environments have been designed in such a way where dodging zombies and Lickers is far more consistently doable, making it a far more reliable strategy to fall back on. Tying into this, this game also gives you way more HP than the original did – at one point, I took three zombie bites (which would have killed me in the original Resident Evil) without dropping out of green health. In addition, button mashing to escape a zombie grab actually works in this game and there’s actual animation and visual feedback to show that it’s working. Similarly, the game also has visual indicators to show how low your health is, so no more just dying out of nowhere – if you’re in danger, you are going to know it and try to heal ASAP.
  • RPD – Okay, I said that the Spencer Mansion was arguably the best environment in the Resident Evil franchise, but that was kind of a mistruth… because I would be the one to argue that RPD is straight-up better. It’s smaller, and we don’t spend quite as much time here, but it has a similar design where two floors are split up on each side of a central hub area. However, the biggest leg-up that RPD has is that several shortcuts are opened up as you explore the area, cutting down considerably on the amount of backtracking required to reach any given area.
  • The Story – You should know by now that I’m always ragging on how disappointing Resident Evil stories are, and I knocked REmake 2 for this very thing… but, man, I was surprised by how much more effective the story of this game is told in the original Resident Evil 2. In REmake 2, the game’s actual plot is “escape the city”, with Leon and Claire just happening to bump up against a more interesting story that’s going on every once in a while that they have no real reason to be involved in. However, everything makes a lot more sense in Resident Evil 2. First of all, it takes actual effort to tie this game’s story into the events of the first Resident Evil. Additionally, the game slowly draws Leon and Claire into the G-virus research and Umbrella politicking going on, and the way it played out made more sense to me for these characters to be getting involved in the unfolding mess. Furthermore, the A and B scenarios are integrated into the story far more organically and make way more sense as overlapping events compared to REmake 2.
  • Lickers – Lickers are easily the coolest non-boss B.O.W.s in all of Resident Evil, so I have to give major props to Resident Evil 2 for introducing them. They’re not even all that difficult to deal with here (either by avoiding them, or by blasting them with a single acid grenade round or 2-3 shotgun shells), but they are such iconic, disgusting monsters and can potentially be such a big threat that you can’t help but be intimidated any time you encounter them.
  • Impressive Gore – The original Resident Evil had some pretty gnarly PS1 gore (even if the best stuff was censored in nearly every release of the game), but Resident Evil 2 kicks it up a notch. In addition to everything that was in the previous game, you can kick downed zombies’ heads off, explosive grenades blow individual limbs off of zombies, Chief Irons gets nearly torn in half from the inside out by a G parasite, and the bowgun violently impales zombies with multiple arrows (which puts the piddly arrows from Code: Veronica to shame). Probably most impressive though is the shotgun: not only can it explode heads (like in the original), but if you blast a zombie with it, it can blow off entire chunks of their body, or blow them in half, causing the lower half to dawdle about for a moment, while the top half falls to the floor and then starts crawling after you. My jaw was on the floor when this happened to me the first time, it’s seriously impressive and unexpected in a game this old.

Mixed

  • Hidden Items – This game’s more detailed environments are definitely a huge step up from the original Resident Evil, but the one big issue I have with them is that they make it a lot harder to determine where items are. The original game’s items were all pretty obvious – they were on the one table/desk/shelf in the room, or the one object in the room that was a 3D model, and were usually modelled in the game. In this game though, many of the non-key items are not physically present in the game, so you’re expected to just inspect everything to you come across to make sure you’re not missing any items. This does seem to be at least partially intentional in order to get you to investigate your surroundings, but it can also be finicky about your inputs and exact placement. I also nearly missed the grenade launcher in Claire’s playthrough, which would have made completing the game orders of magnitude more difficult.
  • Zapping System & Alternate Scenarios – I’ll fully admit, me putting this in “mixed” largely comes down to how hyped this system was for me before playing it. All through the reviews of REmake 2, old-school fans would complain that they nerfed the A and B scenario differences, that it was so much better in the original in comparison, so I was expecting some pretty big changes and for the overlapping stories to make more sense… and then my game starts and I immediately am rupturing the same water tower that Claire did to put out a fire that Claire put out, opening the same safe and locked doors, opening up the same shortcuts, etc. Maybe it’s a bit unrealistic of me to expect this to have been changed more, but it was somewhat disappointing and the unmatched hype left me deflated. That said, I will admit that the A and B scenarios are more fleshed out in the original than the remake in a couple ways:
    • First of all, in REmake 2, an A and B scenario will establish where and how the characters start at RPD, but each character’s plot will play out the same otherwise. In this game, each characters’ A and B scenarios can have some pretty big effects on how the story plays out, which bosses you fight, and what areas you end up visiting.
    • While there is a lot of gameplay overlap in the A and B scenarios in this game, it will heavily remix the order in which events play out in each area (eg, in Claire A you start out exploring the first floor wings of the RPD, whereas in Leon B you’re running around all over the second floor and east wing for the first stretch of the game).
    • In addition, this game has it’s aforementioned “zapping” system, where actions you take in the A scenario will have an effect on how the B scenario plays out. These decisions, admittedly, will barely affect how your B scenario actually plays out, but they’re a cool idea.
    • What this all comes out to is that this game incentivizes at least four playthroughs to see everything its main story has to offer, and makes each of those playthroughs feel fresher in the way it has done this. REmake 2, by contrast, crams most of the content from these four playthroughs into two playthroughs, although the second playthrough is a lot less “unique”. Your mileage will vary on which approach is better and, honestly, I don’t really know myself which option I prefer. I like to move on to new games after beating one, so I’m not going to experience a Leon A/Claire B run anytime soon. I guess it can be said that, when I do get to it someday, that experience will be more interesting, but there’s also something to be said about just getting the experience I wanted the first time around instead of having to do it all over again two more times just because.

Hate

  • No Auto Lock-On (By Default) – I was not too happy when I started Resident Evil 2, saw how many more zombies there were coming at you from all directions this time, and then realized that the game was forcing me to slowly, manually point my character at any zombie I wanted to shoot instead of automatically snapping to them like in every other Resident Evil game I’ve played to this point. However, I did soon discover that there is auto lock-on available, but that it’s found in the controls menu and has to be toggled to. This is baffling to me, why would this not be the default option? You know that there are probably a large portion of this game’s audience who didn’t discover this and ended up playing through the whole thing without it.
  • Sherry Babysitting – While playing as Claire, Sherry will follow you around during a few sections of the game. She’s helpless, so the game will make her stay at a little bit of a distance to avoid getting damaged… buuuut, she will also stop moving if you get too far away from her. What this means is that, on multiple occasions, you’re going to reach an exit, only for the game to say “I can’t leave without Sherry!” because she decided to crouch down an hide somewhere back along the route you took. It’s a minor inconvenience at the end of the day, but it is annoying regardless… and, honestly, nitpicking is about the worst that I can say, that tells you all you need to know about how good this game is.

Resident Evil 2 is fantastic. It’s a massive improvement on its predecessor and it’s easy to see why it was considered the gold-standard of the franchise for so long. It’s basically flawless for its time and I daresay that I enjoy it a bit more than its remake (although REmake 2 is certainly better in its own ways, but I’d have to give the original the slight edge overall). I wasn’t really expecting that going into this game, but it made for a pleasant surprise!

Love/Hate: Resident Evil

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! Now that we’ve been through all the main entries in the franchise, it’s only appropriate to go back to the beginning with the original PS1 trilogy. Naturally, that means we’re going to start with the original Resident Evil! How does this game hold up 28 years later? Read on to find out…

Note: Since I played REmake was Jill, I decided to play as Chris for this run. I know that this makes the game a fair bit harder, but given that this is essentially a second playthrough for me, I figured I was up for the challenge. This may or may not colour some of my opinions on the game, so fair warning.

Love

  • Cheesiness – Early Resident Evil games are known for their bad voice acting and writing, and they don’t get any cheesier than the original game (other than maybe Survivor). The live-action FMVs, the bad localization, and the pathetic voice acting are hilarious and give this game a unique charm that we simply do not get in games anymore. There are just so many unintentionally funny and awkward lines in this game. I already knew about Barry’s heavily-memed lines, but experiencing Chris’s campaign first-hand introduced me to some funny lines I’d never heard before. By far the funniest moment is when Wesker is trying to show off Tyrant, and Chris just laughs at him and calls them both failures. It completely clowns on Wesker as a character, which really undermines what he becomes later in the series (complete with Chris saying that he’s “sleeping with the ultimate failure”), but goddamn is it not funny to see here in the first outing.
    • I’ll also say this – the janky voice acting and writing actually manages to mask some of the more ridiculous aspects of the story compared to REmake. For a particularly egregious example, Enrico’s death is kind of an idiotic plot point. He calls Chris a traitor, points his gun at him, and then someone off-screen shoots him. Instead of, y’know, trying to figure out who shot Enrico or why they might have done this, Chris just goes “huh, I wonder what happened?” in both this game and REmake. That doesn’t make a lot of sense with REmake‘s much flashier and serious presentation, but here it’s just par for the course.
  • Spencer Mansion – I’ve played a lot of Resident Evil games and I can confidently say that the Spencer Mansion is still arguably the best-designed layout in the whole series. Having a central hub area that you figure-eight through throughout most of your journey works fantastically and it’s kind of surprising that no game since has been able to match this kind of design. It also helps that item boxes are never more than a couple hallways away, which really facilitates the kind of survival horror gameplay loop that this game is going for without making it a constant slog.
  • Established the Classic Formula – The quintessential “Resident Evil” formula is here and pretty much all intact, albeit in an unrefined state. That said, it’s kind of amazing how much the core gameplay of “ammo/health scarcity and exploring to find new items to unlock new areas” is still intact nearly thirty years later and as compelling as ever.
  • Some Unexpected QoL – Even here in the first entry, the game will tell you when a key item is no longer useful and allow you to immediately dispose of it. I was shocked by this, I’m used to games of this era being very unrefined and would have completely expected them to expect you to head back to an item box to deposit it. This is especially helpful in a game like this where inventory slots come at a premium and disposing of it automatically might mean that you now have room to pickup whatever new item is in the next room. Also, the Black Tiger boss fight ends with a door covered in spider webs, and the game helpfully provides you with a second combat knife so you know what you’re expected to do and to save you a trip to the item box. Handy!

Hate

  • REmake Exists – Without a doubt, the biggest issue the original Resident Evil faces is that you’re going to be constantly aware that a better version of this game exists. REmake is literally just Resident Evil, but with more content, phenomenal presentation, and better execution. Unlike Resident Evil 2 and 3, where their remakes are more reimaginings of the locations and concepts of those games, Resident Evil is left completely overshadowed. There isn’t much reason to go back to this version of the game other than the novelty of it and to laugh at the cheesiness.
  • Low HP – Compared to other Resident Evil games, you have shockingly low health reserves in this original entry. The first time I took a bit from a zombie and then realized I was already in the yellow, I knew something was up – and, remember, I was doing this playthrough as Chris, the character who is supposed to be significantly tankier. Jill has even less health than he does! Legitimately, you can’t take more than three zombie bites without dying in this game, which is kind of insane considering you can take that many hits in other Resident Evil games without even going into the yellow.
    • Just a note: I’ve read that you couldn’t shake off zombies in this particular entry, so you’ll always take full damage from them. However, this appears to be somewhat conflicting – some people say you can, some say that you can’t. I tried button mashing to push them off towards the end of the game when I became aware of this and didn’t notice a difference. I’m willing to own up if I’m wrong about this, but my opinion here was based on my experience in this playthrough.
  • Frustrating Early Game – The first thirty minutes or so of this game are incredibly irritating. Nearly every single door you come across is locked, you only have two viable paths to start exploring, there are zombies all over the place, and you are extremely limited on ammo. As even more of a piss-off, some of the paths you will HAVE to go at the start of the game have several zombies blocking the way, and each zombie takes at least six handgun rounds to kill, even if you’re also using the knife to soften them up. Basically, the start of this game requires either: 1) knowledge from previous playthroughs to know where to go and what you can afford to kill, 2) considerable trial and error, or 3) a walkthrough. This presents a massive hump to get over in order to actually start enjoying the game and I can see a good chunk of players just quitting in frustration right off the bat as a result.
  • Unrefined Design – Being the oldest game in the franchise, you can really feel the lack of refinement and QOL features which would quickly become standardized throughout the franchise. I don’t want to hold that too much against the game, but there are some particularly frustrating examples. Most egregious is the in-game map, which is about as bare-bones as it could possibly get. It shows the mansion layout, tells you what area you’re currently in, and what rooms you’ve visited… and that’s it. You can check other floors and areas, there’s no information about the names of the rooms, save points, item boxes, locked doors, etc. You’d legitimately be better off making your own map on paper while playing, that’s how archaic this game’s map is.
  • Presentation and Game Design – This is one of my harder-to-articulate complaints about this game, but I’ll try to explain it. I think that Resident Evil‘s fixed camera angles and tank controls were sensible and clever design choices given the technical restraints of the time. However, the way that these have been implemented here create more frustration that they needed to.
    • Pathways are often very narrow, making it difficult to dodge zombies without taking a hit or requiring gunning them down to pass safely (again, see my complaints about low HP and the early game lack of ammo for why this is such an issue). To make matters worse, the camera angles are often so zoomed out or angled in such a way that it can be difficult to judge exactly how much space you have to maneuver around a zombie, making you take hits that you could have dodged otherwise.
    • In addition, the graphics and camera angles combine to make it difficult to even see what paths you can take. On more than one occasion, I completely missed paths forward because they just blended into the background. This is especially pronounced in the underground, where the background textures are extra low-resolution and monotonous.
    • This can also make knowing what to interact with the the environment really frustrating. The most prominent example of this is the placement of the eagle and wolf crests on a fountain with four corners. I walked up to the first, most visible corner and nothing happened. Turns out that the game wants you to go to two other corners, whose points aren’t even on-screen when you reach them, and then interact with them know that’s where you’re supposed to put the crests. It is incredibly easy to miss this and I’m sure plenty of people got stuck wandering around trying to figure out where to go next.

All-in-all, the OG Resident Evil is still a pretty fun time, but you can really feel how unrefined and aged it is, even in comparison to its immediate follow-ups. While REmake is the best way to experience this game, there’s still some old-school charm to this original rendition which makes it worth playing through at least once.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil – Dead Aim

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the third, and final, Survivor game, Resident Evil: Dead Aim! I’ve been pretty up-front with my thoughts on the first two Survivor games – they’re two of the worst games in this entire franchise little to no redeeming qualities between them. For Dead Aim, Capcom looked to shake up the formula a bit to try to finally make a Survivor game worth playing. Would third time be the charm, or is this yet another failure for this sub-series? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Morpheus – Hands-down, the most interesting and notable aspect of this game is its villain, Morpheus. This might seem kind of surprising at first glance, since Morpheus’s characterization is extremely shallow. The game’s opening blurb pretty much establishes their entire character and motivation: to create a kingdom where beauty has absolute authority. But then the game goes in a completely unexpected direction, as this guy injects themselves with this game’s virus and it causes them to… turn trans!? Like, I’m not even kidding either. Morpheus was introduced to us as a Sephiroth-style pretty-boy, but then they come out as a big booby Tyrant with goddamn biological heels (I’m going to go with “they” here simply because we never get a clear-cut answer about how they identify). It’s completely off the wall, but it’s a choice that makes Morpheus significantly more memorable and interesting than they have any right to be. It’s also kind of wild because of how well it’s handled – no one’s calling them a freak because of the change, they’re treated no differently than any other Resident Evil antagonist would be, and Morpheus seems to be living their best life because of it. I’m not even sure that it was the developers’ intent for this to be as positive a representation as it is, but for a game released in 2003, it’s pretty shocking to see. Hell, the game even seems to lean into it. You can’t tell me that the scene where Morpheus’s transformation is revealed, where this tall, booby trans woman turns Bruce into their bitch as he moans pathetically as he gets dominated isn’t meant to come across as kinda hot… and not even in a trans fetish way, I mean more in a general domination kink sort of way. Like I said, it’s kind of insane how well the trans aspect of the game comes across to me (although, to be fair, I’m not trans, so maybe I’m missing some key context). On top of all this, the section of the game where Morpheus stalks your character is legitimately intense, and they have easily the best boss fight in the entire game. Simply put, Morpheus is one of the most interesting Resident Evil villains, almost entirely due to the bonkers decisions they made with the characters, and then how well they managed to execute these decisions.
  • Bruce – Our hero, Bruce McGivern, is about the most stereotypical 2000s-era male you could imagine. Dude looks like the lead singer from Crossfade, an image which I have not been able to shake the entire time I played this game. Bruce is an American spy who is trying to stop Morpheus from unleashing a bio-terror attack on the world. He’s also a massive, bungling doofus, has an extremely weird vocal performance, is constantly getting clowned on by his rival and love interest, Fongling, and, as I stated previously, Morpheus absolutely turns him into their bitch… and, honestly, all this actually makes him kind of endearing. There’s a real charm and sincerity in seeing this dork stumble through mishap after mishap as he tries to save the day and it’s the kind of thing that you just never see from a Resident Evil hero.
  • The Map – Legitimately, Dead Aim has one of the best maps in the entire series. Every room you come across is labelled, making navigating to specific areas much easier. In addition, every locked door you come across with get marked on the map with a cool little scribble effect, like Bruce is updating it in real-time as you explore. He’ll also mark key doors, and circle areas of interest. It’s also great that the map is mapped to the select button for easy access. All-in-all, it’s just an extremely handy tool to have at your disposal and makes exploration less of a hassle.
  • Ambition – Look, the Resident Evil: Survivor games we’ve looked at so far have all been pretty different. The first game was kind of like a stripped-down Resident Evil game with more of an emphasis on shooting. Meanwhile, the second game was a full-tilt, run-and-gun, arcade light gun game. Dead Aim is more similar to the original Survivor game, but it’s very much its own beast. It adds first- and third-person gameplay elements, a stealth system, and a far more cinematic plot and narrative. I’ve actually heard it described as a prototype for Resident Evil 4… which is kind of insane to say, but also not entirely wrong either…? Even if its ideas aren’t always executed as well as one would hope, I appreciate just how far off the beaten path this game is willing to go; it makes Dead Aim a very unique entry in the sprawling Resident Evil franchise.

Mixed

  • Stealth – The aforementioned stealth system is pretty handy. Hold down X, L1, or L2, and you will begin sneaking around, making it a lot harder for enemies to hear you and making them less likely to aggro to you. You can get through the game without using it, but it definitely makes the game easier and you will waste significantly less ammo… however, there are a couple drawbacks. First of all, you’re moving a hell of a lot slower, so the game’s pace is also going to be slowed during general traversal. Secondly, sneaking around isn’t really all that fun, especially compared to blasting zombies.

Hate

  • The Story – The actual plot of Dead Aim is pretty standard spy thriller stuff: Morpheus is going to launch missiles when they reach their island base, it’s up to Bruce and Fongling to stop them. This is a good setup, but man is the story told poorly and barely develops at all (the only major plot points being: Morpheus infects themselves, the cruise ship crashes into Morpheus’s base and blows up, and the Chinese government make a deal with Morpheus and try to kill Fongling off). It also doesn’t help that the game completely bungles its opening. Instead of giving us any kind of setup to establish characters, the setting, plot threads, etc, instead the game starts in media res with Bruce already on Morpheus’s cruise ship and captured at gunpoint by the villain. Then Fongling immediately rescues him and the game starts, despite us having no fucking clue who any of these people are or what the hell is going on. It feels like we’re missing at least fifteen minutes of setup and doesn’t come across like it was an artistic choice – rather it feels like they were just trying to put in the minimum effort to get this story underway.
  • The Sounds – Dead Aim has some of the worst sounds for a major video game release that I’ve ever heard. First of all, the voice acting – I don’t think the performances here are bad like they are in some other Resident Evil games. However, they are recorded and/or mixed terribly (in the English release, at least). You can barely hear what Bruce or Fongling are saying half the time. On top of that, there are all sorts of bizarre and unpleasant sound choices in this game. Most infuriating, most of the cabins on the cruise ship have this awful high-pitched sound that plays the entire time you’re in the room for some godawful reason. In addition, enemies have an incredibly limited pool of sound effects, so you will hear the same zombie sound over, and over, and over, and over, ad nauseum. I’ve also got to say that Pluto, the morbidly obese zombie, makes the weirdest fucking sounds that I’ve ever heard in a zombie game when he’s chasing after you. It gets incredibly annoying and makes this boss fight even more annoying than it already is.
  • The Length – Once again, we have an insanely short Survivor game, clocking in under two hours total playtime. For me, it took 1 hour and 43 minutes, which is just nuts. Unlike the original Survivor, there aren’t even any branching paths to incentivize replays. Perhaps the craziest part to me is that there doesn’t seem to be much reason for the game to be this short? Like, there are plenty of opportunities to pad out the length if they wanted to and allow us to take more time exploring areas, solving puzzles, fighting enemies… y’know, Resident Evil stuff. Instead, the game has a break-neck pace as it blasts through areas with little pomp or circumstance. Like, at one point, I fought a boss and then like two minutes later I was fighting another, completely separate boss who was only like one locked door away. Does it not make sense to space these kinds of big moments apart more, or is that just me…? All I can think is that Dead Aim was incredibly limited for cash and/or has a concrete release date, so they had to cut a lot of corners and use only what they had for the final product (which would also explain some of the story issues).
  • The Controls – Dead Aim has some really strange controls. I’ll admit that some of this comes down to me not having a Guncon 2 to play the game on, but this isn’t really an excuse. Halo: Combat Evolved had been out for two years when this game came out, so there’s no reason for the game’s controller support to be any worse than that. Anyway, the game uses tank controls like every other Resident Evil game up until that point. In addition, you can hold X or L2 to sneak and strafe, while holding L1 will allow you to sneak… but, for some reason, you’ll only be able to move forward and backwards? Not sure why this is even a thing, but it’s here. In order to go into first person mode to shoot enemies, you need to tap R1, and then use the right stick to move your reticle. Want to leave first person mode? You have to press… down on the D-pad. Oh, but pressing left or right on the D-pad will allow you to move the reticle as well…??? Pressing R1 again will allow you to shoot. You can also hold X to strafe in first person mode, or you can also press X to dodge (although the timing is pretty tough to nail). Look, this control scheme works, but is it good? I would say that it is not, lots of its features feel redundant, contradictory, and/or unintuitive and I don’t know how many times I accidentally wasted bullets forgetting that you had to press a different button to close first person view.
  • The Environments – The cruise ship is kind of an interesting area to explore, but even at that point in the game, you can feel how much of the environments are being recycled over and over. This just gets worse as the game goes on, as you pass through identical areas with even less variation to them.
  • The Subtitles – Look, how fucking bad does your game have to be when I’m out here complaining about the goddamn subtitles?! Dead Aim has that infuriating issue with imported Japanese media where the subtitles do not match up with the dialogue. I’m assuming that this is down to different localization teams who, for some godforsaken reason, decided to translate the Japanese dialogue for the subtitles, and then localized the dialogue separately. It makes the awful sound mixing for the dialogue even worse, since you can’t tell what exactly is being said at all times, but it sure as hell is not lining up with what the subtitles are telling you is being said.
  • The Assault Rifle – I’d like to know who the bastard was who decided that every single round fired from every gun in the game needs to make the screen flash white. The reason for this is because the assault rifle, a rapid-fire weapon that holds 100 rounds of ammunition at a time, turns into a fucking seizure-inducing, eye-ball searing nightmare every time it is fired. Making matters worse, it’s an incredibly powerful gun that you kind of need in order to win some of the tougher boss fights, so you’re pretty much going to have to use it at some point, even if it will leave you a frothing, twitching mess in its wake.
  • The Facial Animations – This might sound like a weird complaint, but Dead Aim might just have the worst facial animation I’ve ever seen in a game. Bruce and Fongling are constantly making the weirdest, most unnatural faces that I’ve ever seen (and, in Fongling’s case, they’d feel borderline offensive if they weren’t clearly just the work of crunch and/or incompetence). The end result is that it becomes even harder to take either of these characters seriously.
  • The Sewers – Resident Evil games are notorious for having bad sewer levels, but this game’s sewer section is easily the worst in the entire series. There are a hell of a lot of reasons for this too:
    • First of all, the game suddenly becomes very stingy with ammo out of nowhere. Ammo was reasonably plentiful on the cruise ship, but here you simply will not find enough ammo to kill most of the creatures you come across, let alone have enough to deal with the level-end boss. To make matters worse, if you waste your high-powered ammo down here then you’re a sucker, because what little ammo you do find is going to be mostly for your handgun. Joy.
    • Secondly, the sewer layout is maze-like, but you’re going to very quickly realize just how linear and repetitive it is. Seriously, there’s only one path forward, and you’re not going to be able to more than a few steps off the path without finding that the way forward is blocked and/or locked behind a grate. As a result, when you enter an area, you can just look at your map and pretty much be able to tell which way you can go without even being able to see which doors and routes are blocked yet.
    • Thirdly, this area is full of Glimmers, one of the absolute worst enemies in the entire franchise. These Hunter variants are a massive pain in the ass – they hide in the dark, so you can barely see them, they take a ton of ammo to put down, and they’re incredibly fast, so you have a literal fraction of a second to react before they sprint across the entire room at you in the blink of an eye and grapple you. The concept of a cautious, stalking enemy is really cool, but fighting Glimmers ends up being complete bullshit here in execution. Even the Resident Evil wiki says to just avoid them, because fighting is a waste of time and ammo.
    • Finally, the whole area is capped off with a boss fight with the aforementioned Pluto, a very fat zombie who hunts you through sound. Again, cool concept, but my God is the execution awful. If he hears you, you will take damage. However, you get a silenced pistol very early in the game, so you can trivialize the entire fight by staying far away, and sniping his head with dozens of pistol shots over, and over, and over again. It makes for a tedious joke of a boss fight, to the point where I had killed him and didn’t even realize it until the cutscene started playing about ten seconds later.
  • The Game Incentivizes You to Not Play It – When I first got to play as Fongling, I had been given an assault rifle and a ton of zombies. “Cool,” I thought, “the game’s letting me have a power fantasy where I get to let rip with this gun against a horde of enemies”. Only, no, it turns out that I’m actually an idiot. Later, when I play as Fongling again, she was still out of ammo and was stuck with just her pistol. She never gets more ammo for the assault rifle and never gets any other gun for the rest of the game, making some of the sections where you play as her harder if you wasted her ammo earlier in the game, like a fucking idiot. What did you think I was playing, a light gun shooter!? That’s when it dawned on me: if you’re even bothering to fight enemies in this game, you’re a sucker. Even basic zombies take a stupid amount of ammo to down, you only get to carry six boxes of ammo of any type at a time, non-handgun ammo is exceedingly rare, and if you run out of bullets, there’s no melee option, meaning you are just plain fucked. Literally, the best course of action in this game is to shoot only enemies that cannot be avoided without taking damage. In all other cases, running or sneaking past them is always the best course of action. Again, this is supposed to be a light gun game. For all its faults, at least the original Survivor nailed the idea that you were supposed to want to kill the zombies. This also, obviously, just makes a content-bereft game even shorter and hollow, which is about the last thing it needed.

I appreciate just how bizarre and unique Dead Aim is within the Resident Evil franchise. However, it really fails to elevate the Survivor sub-series out of the depths of the garbage bin it had been residing in. I do think it’s probably the best of these three games, but it’s still easily one of the worst games in the franchise all things considered. Still, there’s not other game quite like it, so it’s certainly worth experiencing, if only to see all the bonkers decisions put into it.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil Survivor 2 – Code: Veronica

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over one of the most obscure titles in this franchise, Resident Evil Survivor 2 – Code: Veronica! The original Survivor is, by far, one of the worst games in this entire franchise. However, this was largely down to the execution being really poor, so the prospect of seeing the concept of “first person shooter Resident Evil game” get another try was an intriguing one at least. Could Survivor 2 do what its predecessor could not? Read on to find out…

Note: I did not play this game with a light gun. This may colour my opinions on this game somewhat, but I honestly doubt it. This is not a game where precision matters (even moreso than the original Survivor), and I just can’t see how a light gun would make an appreciable difference compared to a controller as a result. All opinions here are made under the assumption that I’m experiencing this game using a controller.

Love

Umm… this is a first for the Love/Hate series. Nothing. There’s nothing I love about this game. In every other piece of media I’ve covered, no matter how much I hated that media, there was always something nice I could say about it. This is the first time where I sit down, try to think of anything nice I could say, and cannot. Any positive thing I can think of is then immediately spoiled as I remember some major caveat that pushes it into “mixed”.

So, yeah, buckle in…

Mixed

  • The Controls – Survivor 2 came out right before Halo: Combat Evolved released and nailed down how to design a shooter for console. Unfortunately, that means that Survivor 2 has a really weird control scheme by modern standards. Left analog stick moves your character, right analog stick… does nothing. No, you need to use L1 and R1 to turn your character, and then square to shoot. I kinda see what they were going for, and in a vacuum it’s a reasonably ergonomic layout, but it feels so foreign to a modern gamer’s mindset. In fact, I had to go into my emulation settings and change all my button inputs to make it more natural to me. Even then, I managed to break the R2 button on my RP4+ playing this game from the constant gunfire spam. All the more reason for me to hate it I guess.
  • AI Partner – Survivor 2 lets you have an AI-controlled partner with you at all times, which is helpful for providing some extra fire or drawing enemy aggro. I legitimately like having them there, but their AI is also dumber than a sack of bricks. In particular, if you end up against any kind of strong enemy (particularly against end-of-level bosses or Nemesis), they’ll run right into them and die very quickly because they don’t know enough to run.

Hate

  • Pathetic Playtime – Look, I’m not someone who rags on about gameplay length. I tend to prefer a short game so I can move on to something else. However, even I have my limits: Survivor 2‘s campaign lasts approximately 40 minutes. I’VE LASTED LONGER THAN 40 MINUTES! Like, I’ve legitimately lost more time in Fallout 3 forgetting to save and then dying than I would get from the playtime of this game. The reason it’s so short? There are only five levels and they all last mere minutes.* I had to think about how much I’d hold this against the game – it was, after all, designed as an arcade cabinet game first and foremost. There’s a different sort of design philosophy there and a shorter runtime would be expected. However, even with that in mind, I can’t give Survivor 2 a pass. First of all, it was released as a full boxed game in Japan and Europe, so it should be treated like any other full release title. Even taking into account its arcade game status, it’s not even good when compared to other arcade games. Furthermore, it’s not like they adapted the entirety of Code: Veronica in those five levels and that’s the length the game had to be as a result. No, they only adapt the first half of the game! We never even go to Antarctica! Did they develop this game in six months…? All I can say is “What the fuck?” over and over again.
  • Mindless Gameplay – Survivor 2 is about as mindless as a game can get. At least the original Survivor was trying to stick to the classic Resident Evil gameplay formula, but Survivor 2 is straight-up as mindless a shooter as you can get. Gameplay consists of going from point A, to point B, to point C, all while shooting every single thing in sight and trying not to get hit back. Levels are very short. There are no puzzles. There is no real reason to explore, other than finding gem collectables. The game doesn’t even want you to explore, as it has painted the floors with arrows pointing to your objective. It’s just a mindless gauntlet that becomes more frustrating as it goes.
  • Enemies Are Wasted – Perhaps the weirdest thing about Survivor 2‘s length is how much the game actively avoids stretching it out. For what it’s worth, Survivor 2 has a fantastic roster of enemy types which could easily support a much longer game’s runtime. However, most games will slowly introduce you to new enemy types so you can learn to get good against them. Survivor 2 is playing like a meth addict, throwing new enemy types at you every 30 seconds, only for them to die in mere seconds and then never be seen again. It’s baffling, I don’t know what else to say about it.
  • Feels Recycled – This is a weird thing to say about a game, but trust me, if you played Survivor 2, you would feel it. As far as I can tell, 99% of this game’s assets are taken directly from Code: Veronica and the Dreamcast ports of Resident Evil 2 and 3, with the menu UI and the map system being the only parts that I can see which are wholly original to this game. On the one hand, this is kind of a cool way for Resident Evil fans to see Code: Veronica up close in a way that was impossible before. However, this also means that every stage in this game is literally played on Code: Veronica’s existing maps. THEY’VE FRANKENSTEINED A SHOOTER OUT OF A GAME WORLD DESIGNED FOR SURVIVAL HORROR. This means loading screens every five seconds as you go through a door. This means constantly seeing in-game models which were never designed to be seen this close. This means finding yourself asking why the hell Lickers and Nemesis appear in this game. All I can think is that they just used what they had and didn’t do a single thing more than they had to to ship a minimum viable product.
  • No Voice Acting – It’s really awkward when you start playing this game and see Claire and Steve meet up and their lips are moving… but nothing’s happening. On the plus side, this does mean we’re spared Steve’s voice acting again, but it’s very jarring not being able to hear them speak after I just got done playing Code: Veronica proper.
  • No Stage Select – Much like the original Survivor, if you die in Survivor 2 and run out of lives, it’s game over, back to start. Even though you’re likely to only lose about 15 minutes of progress, that’s still 15 minutes of bullshit to get back where I was. You either get gud, or stop playing. Well, I’ll be honest here, I got through four levels and then died. I was done, I don’t even feel the need to see this final level. The whole thing’s the bloody same shit over and over, there’s no reason for me to believe it will change at all.

Despite all my rage, I honestly don’t think that Resident Evil Survivor 2 is the worst Resident Evil game. Umbrella Corps is still the reigning champion, due to how much more baffling it is that it was bad, and also because the state of its online mode even shortly after launch hampered it significantly. That said, when, in comparison, I find myself suddenly saying nice things about the original Survivor, you know you fucked up badly.

*Your mom lasted mere minutes.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! It has been quite a while since the last entry, but I’m finally ready and able to continue the series with Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X! This is another one of those Resident Evil games that I owned and tried to play through several times (my most recent abandoned attempt being back at the start of 2023), but never made it more than an hour in. However, much like REmake, those failed attempts all made this final attempt go much more smoothly – I knew more-or-less what I needed to do at the start of the game, which allowed me to get over the early game hump of not wasting ammo and health. Practice from previous attempts also meant that I didn’t struggle with the tank controls either and acclimated to them very quickly. Having played through the whole thing now, how does Code: Veronica X hold up? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Classic Gameplay – Code: Veronica is the oldest mainline Resident Evil game with no remake, which means that it also has the most “classic” gameplay formula for anyone wanting to play through the story of the series’ main entries. This also means that it’s the only mainline entry where tank controls are mandatory. While this will definitely be a hang-up for some, I had fun acclimating to them and, after a couple short attempts, they finally “clicked” and I had basically no issue with them through the entire experience. It makes me excited to go into the PS1 Resident Evil games and Outbreak now that I’ve got this down pat. Code: Veronica is definitely less polished and refined than REmake, but the classic Resident Evil formula is still executed well and is really fun.
  • Wesker – Albert Wesker was a decent villain in the first Resident Evil game, but he got clowned on by his own monster. The Wesker we know today though? He came into his own in Code: Veronica. This is the first time he really became King Shit as he laughs maniacally and monologues while beating the tar out of Claire and Chris Redfield. He gets some classic lines and cool new powers that helped establish him as the franchise’s greatest villain.
  • Claire – I really like Claire’s character design here, it’s probably my favourite look for her in the whole series. You can really see how her experiences in Raccoon City have jaded her and turned her into a full-on action heroine badass, best exemplified by the Matrix-inspired opening cinematic.
  • The Story – I almost always rag on the stories in Resident Evil games, even in the franchise’s best-regarded games. They just tend to be poorly told, disjointed nonsense when you apply any thought to them, or they have an interesting story happening in the background which the main story barely bumps up against. However, Code: Veronica seems to have struck a good balance between a story that’s relatively simple and straight-forward (escape the prison/Antarctic base), while also weaving the series’ larger lore into the main plot in a way that makes it all more interesting. Towards the end, Code: Veronica turns into a full-on succession war between the Ashfords and Albert Wesker to see who will control the BOW market in the wake of the Raccoon City incident, and seeing that play out in front of us instead of through optional files is pretty exciting to see play out. On top of that, there are a few good, unexpected twists that keep things interesting and a fairly coherent narrative throughout. All-in-all, it makes for a story that is easily one of the most interesting and memorable in the whole franchise.
  • Nosferatu – If we’re being honest, this boss fight is kind of bullshit. The boss has a poison spray attack that is nigh-on unavoidable and very long-ranged attacks that mean you can barely even see the boss before he can damage you, and he can instant-kill you if you’re too close to the edge of the platform. However, I don’t mind too much in the end because Nosferatu has an awesome, exceptionally creepy creature design – easily one of the coolest monsters in the whole franchise. On top of that, the fight has fantastic atmosphere, taking place in a blizzard as you try to find Nosferatu in first-person view and shoot him in his weak point. Even though I kept dying cheaply to this guy, I couldn’t help but have a good time each time I replayed the fight.
  • Checkpoints – Code: Veronica has added a checkpoint system which makes dying against bosses less of a pain in the ass. Instead of being kicked back to the last save room (however long ago that was), most bosses will have a checkpoint sometime before the boss that you can start at, making these showdowns less frustrating. The game also doesn’t kick you back to the main menu every time you die, which makes dying slightly less rage-inducing.

Mixed

  • Graphics – On the one hand, Code: Veronica is a pretty big step up from the PS1 trilogy in terms of its graphical fidelity. Technology had also increased enough where backgrounds were no longer pre-rendered and were now being done in real-time, which means that the camera can also freely move at times and there’s no more “loading stutter” whenever the camera angle shifts. However, this is a bit of a mixed bag for me in the end. For one thing, being a Dreamcast and early PS2 game, Code: Veronica is, graphically, in the transition period between what PS1 games were doing and what PS2 games would end up looking like. As a result, it looks kind of pathetic in comparison to REmake and 0, which came out only 2 years later (or 1 year if you played Code: Veronica on PS2). That’s not really the game’s fault, but what is the game’s fault is that the ability to move the camera isn’t really explored at all. Fixed camera angles were a necessity of PS1 technical limitations and pre-rendered backgrounds, but if you have this world entirely rendered in real-time, there isn’t really much of a reason for this game to continue sticking it fixed camera angles. The camera just kind of works within the general framework of fixed angles, moving on occasion, but then switching angles as needed because that’s the expectation for the series. This makes all the occasions where you get damaged by an enemy your character could see, but you can’t because it’s off-screen, all the more egregious than they were in previous Resident Evil games.
  • Alfred Ashford – Our initial antagonist in the game, Alfred Ashford, is a foppish, annoying, effeminate, borderline-offensive cartoon villain… but I can’t really bring myself to hate him like I do the Leech Controller in Resident Evil 0. I think it’s because it was entirely intentional for him to be eccentric and pathetic, so he ends up being almost endearing as a result. Definitely one of the worst Resident Evil villains, but he’s at a level of derpiness that I could see me really leaning into the character someday.

Hate

  • Steve – Sigh. As soon as I heard this guy’s vocal performance, I knew I was in for a rough ride. Steve sounds like an early 2000s Final Fantasy/shonen anime hero, complete with squeaky, nasally voice, melodramatics, and his obsession with dual-wielding guns at all times. Unfortunately, it’s not just his vocal performance that does him in. The writers clearly want you to like Steve, giving him a very tragic backstory, moments of over-the-top badassery, and forcing a romance between him and Claire. Uuuuunfortunately, this all fails miserably because you can’t take his vocal performance seriously and the writing of the character just doesn’t work. Like, that “romance” between him and Claire? The “build-up” for this romance is him trying to kiss Claire when she’s sleeping, then telling her he loves her when he’s dying. It just doesn’t work and there is little indication that Claire looks at him with anything more than pity. All that said though, Steve makes for a goldmine of memes. Going into a PTSD meltdown because he has to shoot his zombie dad? Hilarious. Being told that “Steve is suffering” as we try to free him from a room full of poison gas? I’m literally on the floor laughing. Steve gets distracted staring at Claire’s ass, causing their getaway vehicle to crash, releasing a cloud of poison gas that Claire gets stuck dealing with? Comedy gold.
  • You Kind of Need a Walkthrough – Code: Veronica is one of those games where you can find yourself screwed over through no fault of your own because of a sudden difficulty spike or completely unpredictable change in the way that the game works, and you just are expected to deal with it. If you’ve already played through the game, this isn’t a big deal, but if you go in completely blind, you might find yourself having to replay massive chunks of the game, if not restarting entirely.
    • The first big instance of this is the Tyrant fight on the plane. It’s a sudden and massive difficulty spike that is beyond anything else you faced in the game to this point (and, arguably, at any other point). This sonofabitch can stun-lock you to get off two colossal hits in succession. Given that it only takes three or four hits from it to die, this is incredibly frustrating. Your goal in this fight is to launch it out of the plane by activating a catapult system to throw a crate into it. Each time this is activated, you need to wait about thirty seconds for it to recharge before you can launch it again, during which time you need to avoid getting hit and launch as much damage as you can at the Tyrant to wear it down enough for the next crate to take it out. This can take anywhere from two to five launches to pull off, and if you used all your grenade launcher or explosive arrow ammo earlier, then sucks to be you. This difficulty spike can straight-up soft-lock you if you didn’t conserve your ammo and healing well enough up to this point.
    • About halfway through the game, you switch from playing as Claire to Chris. Chris has access to Claire’s item box, but I sure hope you weren’t holding onto your best weapons and all your healing items when you were playing as Claire (which is quite likely, because you switch right after the Nosferatu boss fight). Chris can get by without Claire’s best weapons, but it definitely makes playing as him harder than it needs to be, purely because you had no way of knowing that this switch-up was happening.
    • Likewise, later in the game you switch back to Claire, briefly. Once again, you don’t have access to any weapons or items Chris had and, when you switch back to Chris, any items you take with you will be gone for good. This sequence also has a nasty action sequence against mutant-Steve where you die in only two hits, and you’re going to be hit at least two or three times (if not more). Again, I sure hope that you have enough healing items, or you are literally screwed here.
    • On the smaller end of things, there’s a metal detector early in the game where you have to stash all metal objects on you before you can enter. Not only can you easily forget any important items you left here, but there’s a fire extinguisher you’re likely going to put here after using it, which you actually need to bring with you to Antarctica as Chris in order to get the strongest gun in the game and make the final boss fights significantly easier. This one’s kind of easy to miss, but it’s also kind of bullshit that they’d hinge the best endgame weapon on whether you remembered to grab a seemingly-useless key item hours earlier and put it in your item box until it became useful again. The ID Card sure as hell didn’t do anything after its one short usage (in fact, I accidentally mixed it up with the Security Card, so it actually was a pain in my ass that I still had it at the end of the game)…
  • Bandersnatches – These ugly bastards are a pain in the ass. On the one hand, I appreciate that they don’t do much damage to you, but they will constantly attack you from long range, will stagger you with each hit, and are almost-always doing so from off-screen. They’re just a massive pain to deal with every time you see one and are often not worth the ammo and health you’d need to waste to actually kill them.
  • Unmemorable Locales – Compared to the Spencer Mansion and RPD, the locales in Code: Veronica are not particularly memorable. A prison and an Antarctic base should be really cool areas for a Resident Evil game, but the way they have been designed here doesn’t really do the premise justice. I think the main issue is that the Spencer Mansion and RPD have a main, central hub area that all paths branch outward from and then loop back to. In contrast, Rockfort Prison, the Palace, and the Military Training Facility are three separate compounds which you cycle between (and which take about a minute of travel time each time you go to change areas). On top of this, when you play as Chris, a lot of your routes you memorized suddenly change and get blocked off, making it really hard to remember where exactly you need to go to get to a particular destination.
  • Chris – This one is a bit unfortunate. On the one hand, I think that Code: Veronica might be Chris at his most likeable. He’s straight-up the all-American action hero that he should be, actually getting to interact with Claire also makes him the world’s best big brother, and he also gets a personal antagonist in Wesker. Unfortunately, the mid-point twist where you start playing as him and then realize that they’ve transported you back to the prison right after we’d gotten all excited about escaping was not a great decision. It ends up dragging the prison section out for another hour and a half and feels completely superfluous, like they were stalling for time and reusing as many assets as they could. It also rubs me the wrong way that, as soon as Chris shows up, Claire is completely upstaged for the rest of the game. She basically gets turned into a damsel in distress from that point forward and lets Chris do all the work. I remember when Kaya Scodelario said that Claire doesn’t get to do much after Resident Evil 2 and wanted to change that if they made more sequels to Welcome to Raccoon City, to which Resident Evil nerds went “umm, have you not heard of Code: Veronica and Revelations 2?!” To which I can now confidently say: Claire gets shafted halfway through this game and is easily the most superfluous character in Revelations 2. Kaya’s right, and if we do get more movies with her as Claire, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing some changes made.

I’ll be honest, I went into Code: Veronica not expecting to like it too much. It’s one of those games that has been hyped up for me for years by certain people, but I’d also heard other people who said really mixed things about it. As a result, I went in with a more critical bias against it. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really did dig it. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best in the whole franchise by any means, but it is a really fun, solid entry that is well worth playing through when you’re ready to dive into the “classic” Resident Evil entries.

Love/Hate: Ape Escape 3

Welcome back to the Ape Escape Love/Hate series! In this entry we’ll be looking at the final, mainline Ape Escape game, Ape Escape 3! For whatever reason, despite loving the first two Ape Escape games, I never got the opportunity to play this game as a kid. I remember hearing that it had made some pretty big changes to the formula though, so I was always intrigued to find out how it played. Could it live up to its predecessors’ legacy? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Two Playable Characters – One of the bigger changes in Ape Escape 3 is that you now can play as either a boy or a girl character, Kei and Yumi. This is already pretty cool just for being able to play as the character who appeals most to you, but they’ve gone way further with this than they really needed to. The character you play as gets unique cutscenes and dialogue, they get wildly different costume designs (for example, Kei’s fantasy knight costume is a knight with a sword and shield, whereas Yumi’s is a wizard with a wand and arcane shield), and different gadget designs. Furthermore, Yumi’s character is a popstar in this game’s universe, and some monkeys you will encounter can become star struck when they see her, making them easier to catch. It’s a cute bit of extra differentiation, and it gives some extra incentive to replay the game.
    • I also really want to emphasize how much this change broadens the appeal for Ape Escape. Kei is very much in the vein of a traditional Ape Escape protagonist, with a cool, kid-friendly, edgy look. Yumi, on the other hand, gets to indulge in cuteness, while simultaneously being strong and sassy, making this game more appealing and approachable to girls as well.
  • Gadget Quick-Swap is GREAT – Easily the simplest and best change in the whole game is that you can now quick-swap equipped gadgets. Simply equip a gadget and then press that button again to start cycling through all your gadgets on the fly. Not only does this eliminate the pace-halting menu diving of previous Ape Escape games, but it also means that being forced to use less-used gadgets is less annoying too! This is a fantastic bit of design and I wish it could be retroactively put into every prior Ape Escape game.
  • Costume Designs Are Adorable – A variety of selectable costumes are this game’s main feature and the effort put into their aesthetic design really shows. The aforementioned fantasy knight costume is absolutely adorable, the miracle ninja outfit is really cool, and I like how the cyber ace costume turns Yumi into an anime magical girl (think Sailor Moon). Special shoutout as well to the genie dancer costume – I don’t care as much for the actual costume, but its ability is incredible. You can use it to force everyone to dance: apes, enemy creatures, even the coins and cookies littering the area will dance! You just can’t help but get a huge grin on your face every time you use this thing.
  • Some AMAZING Level Designs – After how derivative most of Ape Escape 2‘s levels were, I wasn’t expecting much from this game. However, imagine my surprise when this game had not one, but two of my favourite levels in the entire franchise.
    • First off, Monkey Expedition Sets Off! is incredible. Starts out fairly unique (for Ape Escape) with a mountain-climbing-themed first area. This results in a vertical level design, which is pretty fun to navigate on its own, but it also shows off the newly-acquired Sky Flyer gadget. Then it moves into a mysterious temple area, which then continues upwards until you end up in the clouds at ape heaven, complete with flying angel monkeys and further vertical level design! An absolute delight of a level, I was blown away with every new twist and turn this level threw at me.
    • Secondly, there’s Ape, Ape, and Away! This level is breath-taking, with the entire level taking place across the backs of a squadron of flying airplanes. You’d think that they’d run out of ideas pretty quickly and force the level to progress to the ground at some point, but no, there are some very creative and unique uses of this space and concept.
  • Mesal Gear Solid – As a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, I was totally primed to love this cross-over, and man did it deliver. The team here have straight-up gotten assets and music from the three Metal Gear Solid games that had released up to that point, they’ve got homages to the games, they mimic the gameplay and style of those games, while also making it simpler and accessible. The referential humour in Ape Escape 3 can be pretty shallow, but they’ve gone so hard into it here that it works great and a lot of effort has clearly been put in to make this a full-fledged experience. My only real complaint is that the controls are really weird (right analog stick to prime your gun, but then you need to use left analog stick to aim it and hold L1 or L2 if you want to aim in first person).

Mixed

  • TV Show Theme – Ape Escape was themed around time travel, Ape Escape 2 was a global ape hunt, and Ape Escape 3 is themed around a bunch of TV show sets. While this gives us a few really cool levels, it only really seems to exist as a vehicle to allow the devs to make a bunch of movie references. The referential humour of this game is very of its era and it reminds me of the sort of “comedy” that I was making back then, where the “joke” starts and ends with “oh hey, that’s Darth Vader monkey”.
  • Apes Can Steal Your Gadgets – Ape Escape 3 goes a step beyond Ape Escape 2‘s nerfing of the Stun aton. Not only can they shrug off a hit from it, but now they can get pissed off and then whack you, knocking whatever gadget you have equipped out of your hands. Not only does this force you to have to grab them back, but they can then steal your gadgets and use them on you. It is objectively hilarious the first time an ape catches you with your own Monkey Net, sending you back to the starting hub. However, it gets old quick and it REALLY sucks when it happens late in a level, forcing you to replay big chunks of a level to get back where you were. It makes the basic “capturing apes” gameplay a lot more dangerous, but not in a particularly fun way.
  • The Shops – The Gotcha Box is gone, and its replacement is a mixed bag. In its place, we get a suite of shops which give you all the same items as the Gotcha Box, but you get to pick and choose what you want. On the one hand, you’ll always be able to get what you want, but on the other hand, given the choice, I’m never going to spend my coins on the silly bonuses (concept art, enemy photos, monkey fables, etc) which made the Gotcha Box so charming. In addition, the prices of the shop items tend to be pretty high, so it makes splurging on these bonus items even more ill-advised.

Hate

  • Costume Implementation – On a conceptual and aesthetic level, I really like the costumes in Ape Escape 3. However, the way that they’ve been incorporated introduces a lot of issues and becomes major flaw for the game at large:
    • First-off, the energy/time limit sucks. You get 30 seconds per charge to use your costume, which immediately turns these things into anxiety-inducers. You can get up to 10 charges to ease the anxiety and extend this time limit, but I’m not convinced that this is entirely necessary because the game showers you with energy pickups whenever it expects you to use the costumes (think the useless oxygen upgrades in Dead Space: the game still has to be balanced for anyone not using the time limit upgrades, making them kind of pointless). The simple solution to all of this is that the game should just let you use your costumes at all times, buuuut…
    • The costumes are game-breakingly overpowered. All of them give you some sort of powerful, room-clearing attacking option, some sort of additional mobility option, and can capture apes at a distance and some even let you capture multiple apes at once. The cyber ace in particular can literally just fire off attacks and fly across an entire map in the process, making entire platforming sections trivial. Which leads to the further problem that…
    • The gadgets are completely invalidated by the costumes. The core gameplay of Ape Escape revolves around chasing apes and using gadgets to deal with challenges. With the way costumes have been introduced, they feel like they’ve been stapled awkwardly on top of the existing system, while also making the conventional gadgets feel entirely outclassed. Why would I risk using my Stun Baton and Monkey Net to catch an ape (who might dodge the attacks or steal my gadgets), when I can just stand in their general vicinity and automatically capture them in a fraction of the time with one of my costumes? The core gameplay has been shot in the kneecap by this decision. They REALLY should have just removed the gadgets entirely and made their functionality a part of each of the costumes’ abilities. That way you would still be incentivized to switch between costumes and you wouldn’t need the time limit.
  • AWFUL Vehicle Gameplay Sections – Ape Escape games tend to have short sections in levels where you need to use some sort of vehicle (rowboat, tank, robot, etc) to get through an area. The row boat and tank actually control a bit better than previous games, but there are two recurring, gimmicky set pieces which absolutely suck:
    • Firstly, there are racing sections which are abysmal. You drive a car where the left analogue stick controls the speed and direction of the car, but then the right analog stick controls the rear wheel steering. It’s supposed to facilitate easier drifting, but in practice it makes you want to throw your controller at the wall. Any section with racing requires you to hunt down two or three apes in cars, and you’re better off sitting and waiting for them to pass you and then ram them three times. This is a tedious waiting game, but it’s far preferable to actually trying to drive this stupid car.
    • Secondly, there’s the robot, which also controls awfully. To illustrate what I mean: WHY THE HELL IS “JUMP” DONE BY PUSHING BOTH STICKS OUTWARDS!? WHY CAN’T I JUST PRESS A BUTTON!?!!! Making matters worse, one of the late-game bosses is fought in the mech, making the entire boss fight pure agony. Thankfully, you can just hop in another mech when yours inevitably explodes, but it doesn’t make the fight any more fun.
  • Weak Story – Story is one of the least-important elements of Ape Escape, but my God, Specter is the least-threatening he ever has been in this game. He was at least sinister and legitimately threatening in prior games, but here he seems like a cartoonish moron… despite basically having already won by the time the game starts.
  • Super Monkey Throw Stadium & Ultim-ape Fighter – The other two mini-games in Ape Escape 3 are, unfortunately, very weak and uninteresting. Super Monkey Throw Stadium is an awkwardly-controlling hammer throw game. On the one hand, it’s like Monkey Soccer, where the apes you catch while playing have different skills you can use in the game. On the other hand… you’re throwing a hammer every time. It gets boring after your first throw. Ultim-ape Fighter, on the other hand, has some potential. It’s basically a simple fighting game, and even has a mini-story mode. However, the controls are really strange, with all actions being input on the left and right analog sticks… I wasn’t a fan of this and dropped it really quickly.

Ape Escape 3 is fun, but it’s a pretty big step down from its predecessors. This is mainly due to the half-baked inclusion of costumes, which compromise the core gameplay and end up making the whole game feel gimmicky. If they had integrated these costumes into the core gameplay more organically, then Ape Escape 3 could have had a shot at being at least on-par with the first two games. As-is, it’s enjoyable, but flawed.

Love/Hate: Ape Escape 2

Welcome back to the Ape Escape Love/Hate series! In this entry we’ll be looking at the PS2 sequel, Ape Escape 2! I remember seeing this game on shelves when it was new and immediately snatching it up for more ape-catching fun. Did it live up to it predecessor? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Monkey Soccer – I’m not even kidding, this mini-game elevates Ape Escape 2 so much in my eyes. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a basic soccer mini-game with apes, but it is so much more than that. You see, your teams are made up of apes that you capture throughout the game, so every captured ape is expanding your roster. This both incentivizes capturing every ape you can find so you can get new players, while also incentivizing you to check-in on Monkey Soccer every once in a while to see what new options you’ve caught for yourself. In addition, each individual ape has their own unique stats, so there’s lots of room for personalization and team-building. My brothers and I used to spend hours playing against each other with our hand-picked teams of simian strikers and it is by far the best memory we all have playing this game… and I don’t even mean that in a way to disparage the rest of the game, it’s just that Monkey Soccer was that much fun.
  • HUGE Graphical Leap – Compared to the very rudimentary PS1 graphics of the original Ape Escape, Ape Escape 2 is simply breath-taking. Between the much-improved graphics and the expressive, fluid, and charming animations, Ape Escape 2 straight-up feels like a Saturday morning anime brought to life. Further reinforcing this feeling, they even managed to get the English voice actors for Ash and Misty from Pokémon involved!
  • Gotcha Box – Fostering addiction in children since 2002! The Gotcha Box is an inspired addition to the formula and a major upgrade from the stars and Specter coins you collected in the original game. Here, coins you collect can be spent for a capsule from the Gotcha Box, which gives you some sort of random reward: extra lives, cookies, coins, concept art, mini-games, new RC Cars, etc. There are also rewards, like monkey fables, which are strangely compelling. Like, they’re usually just monkey-based parodies of popular fables and fairy tales, but I always legitimately finding myself reading them and looking forward to my next Gotcha spin to see if I’ll find out the next part of the story.
  • Themed Monkeys! – In addition to the colour-coded apes we got in the previous game, Ape Escape 2 introduces a slew of monkeys whose appearance and actions mirror the stage they are in. For example, in the Spain level you can encounter a matador monkey, the haunted castle has knights, the Vegas level has disco dancers and clowns, the winter level has Monkey Claus flying on his sleigh, etc. There are plenty more cool variants and it’s always fun to see what sort of new ape type you might encounter.
  • The Magnet – Ape Escape 2 brings back all the gadgets from the original and adds some new ones, but the best of these is definitely the Electro Magnet. This basically lets you attach to, or pull in closer, certain metallic objects, which is utilized in several creative applications to facilitate traversal, open up enemies to attack, or solve environmental puzzles.

Mixed

  • Really Leans into the Anime Elements – Look, I know I praised the game for looking like an anime, and your mileage will definitely vary on this one, but Ape Escape 2 leans harder into anime tropes than its predecessor. Like, for some reason, you now have a flying, baby monkey companion named “Pipotchi” who is basically just Pikachu (a feeling which is reinforced since the main character is, again, voiced by Ash’s VA). Then there’s some of the bosses, whose designs and characterization just scream “anime”. For one thing, there’s Pink Monkey, who’s this demure little pop-star wannabe, but when she gets angry, she glows with energy and becomes this psychic monster. Worst of all though is Yellow Monkey, who is… problematic, so say the least. Like… just imagine the gay/drag queen anime stereotype character. That’s what Yellow Monkey is… which brings me to…
  • Freaky Monkey Five – Specter has some help in this game in the form of a group of monkey bosses. On the one hand, it’s not a bad idea to give him some henchmen who can give you more regular, and varied, boss fights. On the other hand, they just kind of show up, fight you, and then go down, having very little time to actually make an impact. They also side-line Specter for most of the game’s runtime, reducing the importance of the game’s actual villain.
  • Dance, Monkey, Dance! – Basically a monkey-based Dance Dance Revolution, Dance, Monkey, Dance! is functional, but was not particularly compelling to me. Again, there’s enough here that someone might want to dedicate more time to getting good at it, but I find that these sorts of frame-perfect timing mini-games don’t hold my interest.

Hate

  • The Story – Unfortunately, the story of Ape Escape 2 doesn’t work quite as well for me as the original game did. For one thing, the stakes are far lower, with the apes just causing mischief around the world, instead of threatening to change history if they aren’t stopped. For a lot of the game, we’re basically just cleaning up the mess we made. It’s not until late in the game when Specter re-enters the picture and we get information that he’s building a super-weapon to take over the world once and for all, but this “lethargy laser” is barely elaborated on. As a kid, I sure as hell didn’t know what “lethargy” meant, so I was really confused about why exactly everyone was so worried about this weapon.
  • Control Changes – Ape Escape 2 seems to have been rebuilt from the ground up for PS2 and, as a result, it doesn’t play quite the same as the first game, much to my chagrin. I know that some of this is just me being grumpy that “It’s not the same!”, and that I wouldn’t even have an issue with it if I hadn’t played the original first, but… shut up. I can be annoyed that the Stun Baton has shorter range, that you have to spin the stick faster to actually do a Stun Baton spin successfully, that your jump doesn’t travel as far, that the Sky Flyer doesn’t let you travel as far, and that you have to jump up every set of stairs you come across.
  • Apes Can Shrug Off a Stun Baton Hit – That’s right, my mainstay strategy from the first game got nerfed and I’m salty about it. That said, is there any real justification for them to have even the timid monkeys be able to take a hit from a Stun Baton and keep going? I’m not even exaggerating – in the second level of the game, I nailed one timid monkey six times as I was chasing him around the level and he didn’t get knocked over once, it was really frustrating and just artificially makes capturing apes take longer.
  • Rehashed Stages – Look, I get that there’s only so many types of levels you can do in your platforming game, and the original Ape Escape covered a lot of them already, but does it not feel a little derivative when we visit another ninja temple, sandy beachfront, icy tundra, spooky castle… and a dinosaur level…? Again, this game is supposed to just be apes running around in the present day, why the hell is there a dinosaur level?
  • Bananarang and Water Cannon – Unfortunately, the other two new gadgets, the Bananarang and Water Cannon, are kinda useless. The Bananarang acts as a mid-range weapon that you can use to draw in monkeys closer… but it’s rather difficult to use accurately and we already have the Slingback Shooter, so you’ll only really ever use it during the tiny handful of situations where the game explicitly forces you to. Similarly, the Water Cannon just kind of… exists. There are a couple parts of the game where you’ll be encountered by a bonfire… that you could very easily just fly over, but the game arbitrarily prevents you from doing this. There are also water wheels which you occasionally have to shoot the Water Cannon at in order to progress. So… it’s basically as useful as a progression-gating Key Card from Metal Gear or Resident Evil. Oh joy, another gadget that I’m never going to use unless you force me to.
  • Monkey Climber – Okay, this mini-game straight-up FUCKING SUCKS. It describes itself as “extremely hard”, but it’s only “hard” in that it controls awfully. I’m sure you can get better at it and get your monkey to climb higher, but the time investment is not worth it.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed Ape Escape 2. Ape Escape 2 is basically the same as the original, only with some higher highs, but also more things that annoy me at the same time. I think I prefer Ape Escape overall just a bit more, since it’s a tighter experience, but you really can’t go wrong with either.

Love/Hate: Ape Escape

It’s time for a new Love/Hate series on IC2S! For those who have been following my Resident Evil playthroughs, don’t worry – I intend to resume the Resident Evil entries this year. In the meantime, we’re going to look at one of my childhood favourite franchises which has been dormant for far too long now, Ape Escape! And what better place to start this analysis, than with the game that started it all?

Also, just a note: there are a ton of random Ape Escape spin-offs. Maybe I will get to those someday, but at this time I’m only really intending to cover the mainline games.

Love

  • The Core Gameplay – First, and most importantly, it has to be said that just playing Ape Escape is a blast. Chasing apes around and trying to catch them is fun and compelling in a similar “gotta catch ’em all” manner to Pokemon. Levels have been constructed so that each ape you encounter is a mini-puzzle you have to approach and overcome using the terrain and tools you have at your disposal. This is the foundation that Ape Escape really had to nail in order to even become a franchise, and this original perfected it out of the gate.
  • The Gadgets – The second key, fundamental piece of the Ape Escape puzzle is the variety of gadgets it puts at your disposal. All of them are really useful, with only the R.C. Car being somewhat situational, but it’s such a cool gadget to have at your disposal that it doesn’t even matter.
    • Special mention needs to go to the Sky Flyer. Video game power-ups that upgrade mobility and traversal are always 10/10, and the Sky Flyer just feels amazing to use.
    • Also, I really need to give props for how well-designed the Stun Baton and Time Net are. The Stun Baton is your all-purpose, close-attacking weapon, while the Time Net is what actually catches 99% of the apes you encounter. In a worse-designed game, you’d just run around with the Time Net to catch every monkey, but the swinging animation for the Stun Baton is much faster. As a result, it is actually better to stun the apes first and then quickly swap to the net to catch them, incentivizing more strategic gameplay than just wildly flailing about with your net.
    • I also want to give a shout-out to the Monkey Radar, which allows you to switch to a “Monkey camera”, which shows you what each ape is doing, its stats, and gives you a little description for every single one. It lends each individual ape a bit of personality, which is a nice touch and incentivizes getting a peek at each ape to learn a bit of their story… before you chase ’em down and catch them in your net.
  • Innovative Controls – It’s easy to overlook this now, but Ape Escape was the first dual-analog console game and was largely intended to be a showcase for the brand-new Dualshock controller. So many games designed to demonstrate new technology end up feeling like tech demos which get in the way of actually playing the game (looking at you, Uncharted: Golden Abyss), but Ape Escape absolutely succeeded in demonstrating that dual-analog controls were not just a gimmick. Moving with the left analog stick, and using gadgets with the right stick feels natural and works very well at facilitating this kind of gameplay.
  • Iconic Character Designs – The cartoonish ape design in Ape Escape is instantly iconic. That said, there has to be special mention for how much thought went into the way that each ape is designed and how this conveys information to the player. For one thing, the colour of their pants denotes how they will behave and gives you information about how they should be approached effectively (yellow pants are “standard”, blue are extremely fast, light blue are timid, red are aggressive, white have high alertness, black have submachine guns, and green have high alertness and missile packs). This also extends to the lights on the monkey’s helmets, which communicate their level of alertness, as well as letting you know whether they’re on the lookout or not. It’s an extremely efficient and effective way in which to communicate complex information to the player so they know how to deal with each monkey they come across.
  • Stage Variety – Levels in Ape Escape are usually split into three “zones”, which share a unifying theme based on whatever time period you’ve travelled to. Despite sharing the same theme with two other levels, each individual stage tends to be very distinctive and well-designed to provide platforming and capturing challenges.
  • Music – Ape Escape was in that era of really evocative and iconic video game soundtracks, and stands strong amongst its peers.
  • Galaxy Monkey – Ape Escape established a precedent that these games will always have some mini-games and easily the best among these is Galaxy Monkey, which is a simple-yet-fun twin-stick shooter.

Mixed

  • Very Basic Story – On the one hand, it’s as functional and unobtrusive as it really needs to be, giving you the setup of “Apes messing with time travel to change history, go catch them” and only interrupting for more story infrequently. On the other hand, it starts venturing into some really generic anime trope territory (one character literally says “You didn’t need the gadgets, you were strong all along!”). Like, I get that it’s a game for kids, but even as a kid I thought this message was really corny.

Hate

  • The Camera – During the first couple generations of 3D console games, developers were still “figuring out” how to effectively do a camera in a 3D environment. Unfortunately, Ape Escape often suffers from this as well. The camera is sufficient during about 95% of gameplay, but that remaining 5% can really stand out in your mind. Camera manipulation is mapped to the D-pad, which is really inconvenient to use unless you stop playing in order to move it around. There is also the ability to re-orient the camera with the L1 button, which works most of the time, but every once in a while you’re going to be chasing an ape into a corner and the camera will completely lose track of everything, which can lead to some frustration.
  • Magic Punch vs Stun Baton – The Magic Punch is an endgame gadget you get, which effectively replaces the Stun Baton: it’s twice as strong, has longer range, and can break more objects. However, the one thing it cannot do is be spun around to hit things repeatedly… which is a pretty frequent thing you need to do to turn wheels throughout the game’s environment. It’s really annoying to give me a straight-upgrade gadget, but then have it be massively inferior in one particular way, necessitating me menu diving to go get by Stun Baton and then swap back immediately every time. The devs clearly agreed, because this was changed in Ape Escape 2 so that a hit from the punch would make wheels spin faster.
  • Boss Fights – Bosses are very basic in this game. They almost always require you to do some sort of action twice, then move to a second phase where you have to do some other action twice… that’s it. Very simple and boring affairs.
  • Ski Kidz Racing & Specter Boxing – Unfortunately, the other two minigames in Ape Escape are not very fun. While you could potentially dedicate time to them trying to improve your skills, they are ultimately brought down by really annoying controls which make them more frustrating than they need to be.
  • Goggle/Missile Pack Monkeys – Oh my God, these types of monkey are SO ANNOYING. You either have to slowly crawl towards them, or you get constantly bombarded. If you get spotted, missiles fly incessantly, making these by far the toughest enemies in the game.

And that is Ape Escape in a nutshell! Easily one of my favourite games of all time, I heartily recommend it if you have never played.

Video Game Review: Raiders! Forsaken Earth

It’s been a really long time since I did a proper video game review (holy shit, 7 years!?), but I’ve been trying to get back into writing more regularly. A few years ago, I saw a post on Reddit about a developer’s upcoming strategy game which would let you play as a Mad Max/Fallout-style raider pillaging the wasteland. I was fascinated by this premise and instantly wishlisted the game, Raiders! Forsaken Earth, although it wasn’t until this year that I finally got the urge and free time to purchase and play the game.

In a broad sense, Raiders! is a strategy game with lite management and RPG elements, not too dissimilar to the XCOM franchise. You play as a player-created raider who has just taken the mantle of leadership and need to bring your band of scumbags from a ragtag group of thieves, to the uncontested rulers of the wasteland. This plays out in classic fashion – raiding caravans, dodging lawmen coming after you, and eventually building up your strength enough that you can extort entire towns to avoid your wrath. The management elements come into play as you have to build-up your base, manage your ever-expanding groups of raiders, and make sure there are enough resources available to survive and craft everything you need to survive. Meanwhile, the wasteland will react to your attacks with ever-increasing levels of offensive and defensive presence.

That’s a fairly rudimentary overview of the game, but it’s emblematic of Raiders! core gameplay – it’s a tried-and-tested formula and the game executes it well. There’s always some new little goal pushing you forwards, and I found myself on multiple occasions getting that “one more turn” compulsion, and then suddenly 30 more minutes would pass as I raided another settlement and made sure all my lowlifes were equipped with the best items. It’s not as deep as, say, a Paradox Interactive game, but I think it strikes a good balance between strategy and breezy fun.

That said, Raiders! is unmistakably an indie game and its flaws are readily apparent. The most obvious of these is that the game has basically no animation at all. World events are told via a static image and text box, the world map is navigated with a bunch of static PNGs being moved around the screen, and don’t even get me started on combat – you’re lucky if you get a 2 frame “animation” whenever someone does an action (honestly, the most “impressive” animation in the whole game is that you can see spent shell casings ejected out when you fire a gun, but that’s because they can just apply the same small JPG every time and rotate it a few times). While not exactly a major detriment to the core gameplay, it does leave Raiders! with a very unimpressive presentation. On the one hand, it captures the sort of vibes you’d get from the first two Fallout games, but it’s so dated that it’s likely enough to turn some people off the game entirely.

I mean… just look at it. If not for the resolution, you could mistake this for a 90s game.

Beyond the presentation issues, the game’s combat is fairly rudimentary. You get 2 rows per side, up to 4 ranged fighters, and up to 4 melee fighters per row, with melee having to fight adjacent enemies, and ranged being able to shoot anyone they want to. As fighters are defeated, units in reserve will move in to take their place, if any are available. Any fighter has about a dozen options available to them per turn, but most of these don’t matter – you can do heavy attacks (at the cost of accuracy), give an enemy a status condition, heal yourself, regain stamina, break armour, insult an enemy’s mother, etc. However, you rarely need to do anything other than just make a standard attack. The XCOM comparison earlier wasn’t just for show – accuracy is a major issue for your raiders, especially in the early game when they might have 20-30% hit rates, and +10 damage for -10% accuracy is not worth it unless you will literally die otherwise. Likewise, who needs status effects when you can just spec your raiders to be able to one-shot everyone you come across? This also makes a lot of the game’s optional level-up perks kinda useless, because about half of them are activated abilities, and then the good half are all passive bonuses. All of this is even more important because you can cheese this game’s AI pretty reliably – if you hit an enemy and get them around 50% HP, they will usually waste a turn healing. Meanwhile, if you kill an enemy, their replacement usually won’t be able to attack, so you can just cycle through enemies without getting a scratch if you have spec’d your band well enough. All this means that, once you get your band together, combat becomes fairly tedious and trivial outside of all but the most overwhelming battles, and it only gets easier when you get access to WMDs and artillery strikes. Thankfully, the game does have an auto-battle option, so you can speed through caravan raids into the late-game when you know that you will definitely win.

The management aspects of the game can get pretty annoying as well. Maybe it’s just because I spec’d by leader to give XP bonuses galore, but my raiders were constantly leveling up, necessitating a trip into the Roster menu after every fight to assign stat bonuses, buy perks, update weapon loadouts, etc, which only gets worse as you get more and more raiders in your party. Eventually I just gave up and started auto-leveling my raiders, but you’re probably going to want to manually level everyone until you have at least 6-8 max level scoundrels spec’d out with high accuracy, high damage, and high crit-chance as your core so they can annihilate anyone you come across. As you start conquering settlements, you also have to babysit them to make sure they’re all fortified and defended, because if not, then they’ll get destroyed by regulators and need to be recaptured and re-stocked. There’s no way to order units to travel between places, so you have to recruit dirtbags from a city into your party, then walk all the way over to the place you want them to be in.

All of this is small beans though compared to this game’s real glaring issue. The fact that they’ve programmed this game where you buy/sell items either 1 at a time, or all of them at once, is INSANE. My raider band carries up to a maximum of 300 units each of water, meat, and beer. I usually keep these around 150 each, because I will quickly top these all up through regular raiding, and then sell off the excess for easy cash. Now, think about what that means – I am regularly having to click the “sell” button 450 times for an incredibly basic action. I legitimately don’t know how this managed to make it through playtesting and how it has not been patched out, because it’s absolutely moronic that this in the game.

I also ran into a pretty major issue in the late game during my playthrough. If you’ve captured all the major settlements, the suddenly caravans stop running… This is a game about raiding caravans in order to get money and resources. When that gets taken away from you, you suddenly become extremely limited on options that you need to actually finish the game. Luckily, I had enough strength left in my band that I was able to capture the remaining slaver and arms dealer settlements so I could get a ton of cash, but even then I had to wait 2 in-game days to generate enough income to be able to get over the threshold to declare myself governor.

Like I said, Raiders! is a game where its flaws are glaringly obvious… but goddamn, I don’t really care, because this game lets you do some awesome shit. I pretty much always play a good guy in games, but it’s nice to give in to the fantasy of playing the irredeemable, chaotic evil villains for once, and Raiders! delivers how you’d expect it to. For one thing, you can go full-hog as a cannibal if you want to – you can kill and eat your own raiders (or just eat them when they are killed in battle), demand captives from a town and then eat them, capture enemies and then eat them, butcher someone and then sell that meat to merchants… It’s despicable and hilarious in equal measure. You don’t even have to eat people either if you don’t want to – hostages can be ransomed for money, killed to send a message, or you can put a bag on their head and use them as a human shield in combat (…guess which option I used half the time). You can perform human sacrifices to your savage wasteland god for combat bonuses. You can unleash napalm and mustard gas attacks on settlements. You can burn down the remaining pockets of civilization for the sheer fun of it. You can recruit feral dogs and boars to fight alongside you. You can engage in polygamy and build up a harem of up to 3 spouses (and if you want more, just kill and eat one of the existing ones). You can build up your base will all sorts of services, including (naturally) a brothel, which your evil-as-fuck ass can keep in business with literal sex slaves.

The game also has some fun random events hidden in the world map off the beaten path. One of my best raiders was welcomed into the group after being found in the desert. Another time, I found a thunderdome and fought a guy there. Then there was the time we came across an old nuclear submarine and found a goddamn tactical nuke inside, which I promptly took to blast the shit out of a pesky settlement. Then there was the time I found a group of cultists and sold them a bunch of slaves to sacrifice, which was handy because I really needed the money at the time. Clearly, the game allows you to be a real son of a bitch, although the dated, text-based presentation might actually help to not make it feel as “grimdark” as it could otherwise – yeah, you’re doing a lot of fucked-up shit, but most of it is left to roleplay and your imagination. You can also play with a conscience if you want to, but that doesn’t feel like the spirit of this game to me: you can be the good guy in every other game, after all.

While I have harped on the game’s presentation, I will give it some major props for the way that it portrays your raiders and their equipment. Every raider has a randomized appearance and name, and you’ll rarely see raiders with the same face (although I did see names repeating every once in a while). Probably around 95% of the weapons, armour, and items you can equip on your raiders will be reflected on their character model (and, conversely, you can prioritize attacking enemy fighters based on the equipment you see on them). The equipment is all classic raider items – hockey masks, riot helmets, nail baseball bats, rusty guns, shields made of manhole covers and stop signs, spiky armour, dusty jackets, etc. Considering the low production value, I was pretty surprised by this, as it no doubt took quite a bit of work to make this all happen, but I’m so glad they put in the effort.

As you play and level these guys (and gals) up, you grow attached to them as they bring you victories. Like I said, you can marry up to 3 of them. You can also promote up to 2 of them to higher positions of command in your band – this can potentially cause them to get too big for their britches and challenge your for control, although this never happened to me in my game; my officers were all ride-or-die. All of this helps to build affection for your regular group of raiders, which is important because, again, this game is like XCOM – no matter how good you are, eventually a lucky crit is going to happen, one of your favourites is going to die, and it is going to hurt. The game keeps track of your fallen brethren (and whether you ate them), and I had a few memorable losses in my playthrough. Poor Blackburn, he was my best marksman early on, and my first spouse and officer. He died at the end of our first big settlement raid, and it was a devastating loss. Then there was Shockmaster, a regulator who was hunting our band down, but when he was defeated in battle, he defected and became a scumbag himself. In one particularly devastating battle when I was outnumbered and outgunned by another band of regulators, I lost Shockmaster and Snaggle, 2 of my 3 best remaining marksmen at the time. If you’ve ever played XCOM, you know exactly what sort of feels this game gives you and just how ripe it is for roleplay.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t go through some of the hilarious names your raiders can have in this game. Like… there’s literally a dude named “Cock” in my band. I didn’t name him that, that’s just what the game called him. In addition to being appropriate for the “raider fantasy”, it also encourages more roleplay: like, I imagine that all these nicknames were made up by the other raiders during initiation and then stuck from there, so you start wondering how they got some of these names. Some highlights from my playthrough include: Hooligan, Shifty, White Legs, Sniffer, Wrists, Smutty, Rotten, Night Hate, Worms, Maggot, Dank, Pisser, Gonorrhea.

I put about a dozen hours into my playthrough of Raiders! Forsaken Earth. For me, that’s a solid amount of time to sink into a game. I don’t have time, or interest, in games that are dozens of hours long, so this was fantastic. However, I can see Raiders! being one of those games you could sink and much, or as little, time into as you want. The game has procedurally-generated maps and lots of customizable difficulty options, so you could easily have several more playthroughs to challenge yourself more, maybe try handling your band differently, or just replay on a different map – the choice is yours, really. Again, like XCOM in that regard, or like the 90s strategy/management games I used to play all the time, like Age of Empires II or Rollercoaster Tycoon, where it’s a different experience each time.

Raiders! Forsaken Earth has some really rough edges, but its core pillars are rock solid. Honestly, I’d love to see a sequel with more quality of life improvements (let me type how many items I want to sell, PLEASE), more weapons/armour/equipment, more random events, more rival raiders, larger maps, goddamn car chases… I think there’s still a lot of untapped potential here that could make for a real homerun if given the chance.

6/10

Love/Hate: Resident Evil Gaiden

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

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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

Love/Hate: Pokemon Scarlet & Violet

Welcome back to the Pokemon love/hate series! We’re covering the newest mainline entry in the franchise today, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. There’s been plenty said about these games already and they’ve quickly become some of the most polarizing entries in the entire franchise, representing a bright future for the series while also being mired in technical issues which would be enough to sink any other game. I’ve got plenty of thoughts on these latest games in the Pokemon franchise so let’s dive in and find out what I love and what I hate…

Love

  • Great Pokemon Designs – I’m not one of those “new Pokemon look so bad!” people that come out every time there’s a new generation, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how good this generation has been. During preview season I was unimpressed by a lot of the new Pokemon that were being shown off, but getting to see Pokemon like Grafaiai, Gimmighoul and Fidough up close in battle and in the overworld, I have really warmed up to them. There are also an unusually high number of top-tier Pokemon for me this generation, which run the gamut from cool basic Pokemon like Flittle, flawless evolutionary lines for Fuecoco and Sprigatito, awesome paradox Pokemon and really interesting legendaries. As usual, I’ll have my list of best and worst Pokemon of the generation at the end of this post.
  • Lively Open World – My expectations for an open world Pokemon game were very much tempered by Sword and Shield (not to mention Game Freak’s never ending capacity to under-deliver at every opportunity), but I was shocked by just how lively the Paldea region can be and how much personality its Pokemon inhabitants exude. Everywhere you go, Pokemon will react to your presence in interesting ways. Pokemon like Hoppip or Gogoat may walk up to you with curiosity, while Deerling or Stantler may be skittish and flee, Dugtrio and Orthworm will hide from you underground, Cyclizar can often be seen bounding around without a care in the world, and aggressive Pokemon like Tauros or Veluza will actively come after you to initiate battle. It also helps that battles now seamlessly occur on the overworld map instead of in themed arenas as in previous Pokemon games, meaning you can actually see Pokemon continuing to go about their business even then. It’s really cool, immersive to see in action and far more fleshed out than I had expected.
  • Overworld Shinies – Shiny hunting is one of my favourite parts of the Pokemon experience, even if my patience for long, full-odds hunts is lacking. This is a big reason why I love exploring in Violet, because I know that at any moment I could come across a shiny Pokemon. This is a pretty simple way to make world traversal much more engaging because I am constantly watching for shinies to appear. As of the time of writing this entry I’m currently up to 3 shinies found at full odds, but I will the shiny charm soon, making this vigilance even more rewarding and will eventually start using herba mystica to up my odds even further.
  • Freedom to Choose How to Advance the Story – Pokemon games run on a pretty standard formula, but Scarlet and Violet make the inspired decision to split the now standard “gym battles”, “evil team” and “raids” storylines and make them be able to be tackled at your own pace and discretion. While there is a “recommended” and “incentivized” path, you’ll still be weaving in and out of these plots at will. It also helps that these three main plots all improve as you go, especially the titan plot with Arven. By the second battle I was all-in on his story and it only gets better as you go along and the three plots become unified in the climax of the game. I am not exaggerating when I say that Scarlet and Violet have possibly the best story in Pokemon, up there with Black and White and I’d argue that it definitely eclipses Sun and Moon.
    • It’s also worth mentioning that there are also several completely optional side-plots and characters in the academy who you can get to know and help out. Your teachers are a colourful cast and it actually helps the sense that you’re off learning at school in these games (completely with mid-term and final exams!).
  • First Pokemon Game to Feel Like a AAA Experience – Pokemon was very much designed as a handheld, social experience and really excelled at establishing this formula for itself for a long time. However, one of my issues with Sword and Shield was that it felt like it was a half-measure, attempting to take the Pokemon series into a console-based future but with the mindset of a game that was still rooted in 25 years of handheld traditions. For Scarlet and Violet it feels like Game Freak finally stepped back and thought “Okay, how can we leverage the technology we have to make a Pokemon game with a modern, open-world structure?” The result is a game which is leaps and bounds removed from the traditional structure of how you interact with the Pokemon world, while retaining the core RPG mechanics that make the game work. It’s a huge step forward for a franchise which has been accused for decades now of creative stagnation.

Mixed

  • Customization – Character customization has been a big factor of Pokemon games since X and Y and I’m sorry to say that Scarlet and Violet take some baffling steps backwards in this regard. While you can still change your look, hairstyle and most of your clothing, for some reason your main outfit is set between one of four seasonal styles. I have no idea why the hell they would do this, other than “you’re at an academy and therefore need a unified dress code”, even though this is a fantasy game and they could do whatever they wanted to. This game’s player card is also far less interesting and far more limited than Sword and Shield‘s customizable trading card system, to the point where I stopped bothering trying to perfect it early on.
  • Graphics – Look, I didn’t care about the stupid N64 trees in Sword and Shield because of the scope of that game and the fact that it looked much better elsewhere. However, the graphics in Scarlet and Violet are notably bad given the game’s much wider scope. You’re meant to get to the top of high vistas, look down and go “Oh wow!”, but instead all I can think is “Wow, those textures sure are muddy” and “Man, this world sure is lacking in foliage and detail”. This would be one thing if the game ran really well, but it does not (which we’ll get to later) which just makes the graphical issues even more pronounced. Now, I certainly think that the graphics are functional and don’t actually impact my enjoyment of the game, hence why I put it in the Mixed section rather than Hate, but it’s worth mentioning since we’ve already seen better looking open-world Switch games for years now.
  • Tera Raids – Raids were by far my favourite addition in Gen 8, despite some frustrating network issues that tempered that enjoyment somewhat. While I’m happy that they’re back in Gen 9, their implementation here feels like one step forward and two steps back.
    • On the one hand, these move way faster than they did previously. In Dynamax raids it wasn’t uncommon to wait 45 seconds each turn for people to pick their moves, then actually have to watch them all play out before going to the next turn again. Tera Raids, in contrast, occur in real-time and moves all take no more than a second or two to resolve, meaning that the whole process goes far faster. However, it also means that you and your allies need to be focused and acting deliberately, otherwise you may miss your turn or use a heal too early.
    • Tera Raids have also improve the cheer system to no longer give random chances of bonuses, instead allowing you to boost attack, defense, or provide a heal up to 3 times per battle. This is incredibly useful and really helps strategizing during these raids.
    • On the other hand, raids basically are the endgame, especially 6 star raids. These raids are legitimately hard, especially because the Pokemon will create an energy shield halfway through the battle which reduces damage significantly. Sure, you can terastalize to break this shield easier, but 6 star Pokemon will drain your tera orb during the battle, making it take several turns of attacking fruitlessly and trying not to die to make it work. Meanwhile, if a 6 star Pokemon can buff itself, or has a super-effective move against you, it will spam it every turn and just wipe you out. The result of this is that raids have basically devolved into an extremely limited meta of viable Pokemon who can buff themselves massively, heal themselves/take several hit, and/or provide massive team support, all of which need to be max level and ideally using competitive EVs and IVs. On the one hand, it’s exciting to overcome this, but on the other hand it’s frustrating because even a single weak teammate can make a 6 star raid team worthless. Making all this worse is that if you do manage to win a 6 star raid, you aren’t even guaranteed to get a rare item drop, which is what the entire endgame of Scarlet and Violet revolve around (these rare items are needed to easily get competitive boosts and shinies). Now, to be fair, 5 star raids have a chance of dropping these rare items as well and are significantly easier, but it just increases the grind required to access endgame items even more.
    • Add onto this that, somehow, the online infrastructure of Scarlet and Violet for raids may actually be worse than Sword and Shield (which was worse than Gen 7, which was worse than Gen 6…). At least in Gen 8 I could do a surprise trade or player card swap to cause the raid list to refresh regularly, but in Gen 9 you only get a grand total of 8 random raids at a time that everyone in the world can get into at the same time and these can only be refreshed every ~30 seconds, meaning that you have like a second to try to get into a raid before none are going to be available. There’s also a random raid option, but that’s a band-aid on a bullet wound when you want to get into specific raids. Why they couldn’t just implement a server browser with some basic filters is beyond me.

Hate

  • Performance is Shit – Without a doubt, the main talking point about Scarlet and Violet at launch has been the game’s notoriously awful performance, innumerable bugs and poor programming. Fun story: literally the first thing I did in this game was move the right analog stick to get a better look at my character’s room, which caused the camera to clip into a black void. I wasn’t even trying to break the game either, but it set the tone for the experience to follow. Your camera will constantly clip out of the world, I’ve had characters go invisible, Pokemon disappear or slide out of frame during a battle, menu screens and icons that freeze in place and refuse to go away, etc. The performance woes are the real problem though, with the frame rate regularly dipping below 20fps in and around city areas. It’s real bad and can make the game headache-inducing, although saving and resetting your game will often alleviate some of the performance issues. Still, it’s an unacceptable state to launch a game in and clearly was due to The Pokemon Company’s mandated game release schedule.
  • No Level Scaling – The biggest issue with Scarlet and Violet‘s ambitions of being open world and letting you chart your own path is that Pokemon and trainers’ levels are all set from the start. That means that you can go into an area, be massively under-levelled and grind to beat that area, but if you do then several other areas of the game will be a boring chore because they will all be hopelessly under-levelled. You can somewhat counter this by following recommended progression guides, but if you spend any time exploring and filling your Pokedex off of the main path then you’re pretty easily going to find yourself over-levelled in no time at all.
  • The Map is Pretty Empty – While the Pokemon make the world interesting and alive, the actual design of the Paldea region is really unengaging. In previous, more tightly-designed Pokemon games there were all sorts of secrets and cool things to find hidden away in the world, but in Scarlet and Violet you will mainly find basic items, or TMs if you’re lucky. The main reward for exploration are stakes which can be used to free legendary beasts, which is admittedly pretty cool. However, the cities are where the game really falls flat. Previous Pokemon games would always have hidden shops, people who wanted to trade, people who could tell you things about your Pokemon, or even just flavourful lore dumps. In Scarlet and Violet, towns are basically worthless. Towns will basically just have food shops which are arbitrarily spread out over a half dozen locations through the town with different menus, item shops (which get spread out between two locations, plus Pokemon Centers themselves) and, if you’re lucky, clothing shops (which are also spread out between 1-2 types of clothing per shop). Very rarely will you come across people wanting to trade or do anything interesting, so you’ll basically just enter to do the gym challenge and then leave quickly (again, the shit performance in cities doesn’t help either). It’s a real shame, considering that places like Goldenrod, Celadon and Lumiose City had so much going on in them and are so memorable to this day, I can’t imagine Paldea’s cities doing the same.
  • Still No Voice Acting – This would probably be my big caveat to the point about Gen 9 feeling like AAA Pokemon, because these games still, somehow don’t have any kind of voice acting. I get that it’s probably a localization issue, compounded with the time and money that it would take that TPC are too cheap to invest in, but goddamn, voice acting would add so much to this game’s story and characters. It’s just one more embarrassing mark against this series that takes some major steps forward but then shoots itself in the foot with moves that feel super goddamn lazy.
  • Missions Can Be Dull – While I do like the storylines in this game, some of the actions that you have to do to complete them can be really dull. The worst offender in this regard is Team Star bases. There are five Team Star bases spread across the world map, they all play out the same way and they’re all easy and boring. All you have to do is use the auto-battle mechanic to make 3 of your Pokemon beat the crap out of 3 opposing Pokemon. Rinse and repeat until you defeat 30 Pokemon and then you’ll have to fight a boss. And if this doesn’t sound easy enough, you get an extremely generous 10 minutes to complete this and unlimited opportunities to heal. I don’t know how you could struggle to complete these missions unless you’re massively under-levelled and using a full team with poor type matchups. Gym challenges can also be pretty boring. Most of these involve doing some sort of chore before you’re allowed to fight the boss and they make me yearn for the days when I just had to fight 2-5 trainers before the leader which would act like a mini-tutorial for that gym’s theme.
  • Slow Battle Pacing – If there’s one major caveat to Pokemon battles occurring in the overworld now, it’s that it has slowed the pace of battles to a crawl not seen since Gen 4. Battles often have long delays between actions, especially if a Pokemon gets swapped out of faints, where you may wait like 5+ seconds before you’re able to make a decision on how to proceed. Thankfully most move animations have been sped up to compensate for this somewhat, but this is definitely the most sluggish battles have felt in several generations.
  • Let’s Go Feature – Pokemon following you on the overworld has always been a fan-favourite feature in these games, so the idea of having your companions come out whenever you want and even battling for fetching items for you automatically seems enticing. Well… as with most things in this game, the implementation really lets it down. This all comes down to the fact that the tether for this ability is extremely short and is based on your Pokemon’s actual movement speed. This means that if you try to navigate the world at a normal pace on the back of your riding Pokemon, you will almost immediately get too far away from your companion and cause them to head back into their pokeball. This is especially frustrating for the Pokemon who evolve by following you around for a certain number of steps, forcing you to either travel the world at a regular pace, or slow your movement to a crawl so you can have a Pokemon follow you. Suffice to say, I barely use this feature now, which is a damn shame.

Scarlet and Violet have been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I love seeing Pokemon living in the open world, constantly keeping an eye out for shinies and struggling through competitive and raid battles, but the performance and design issues are undeniable and unforgiveable and I’m often finding myself yearning for the tighter, focused design of Gens 2, 4 and 5. I hope that Game Freak will actually do something to improve this game and win back some community trust, but given the history of this franchise I’m not holding my breath.

Best Pokemon of Gen 9: Ceruledge, the entire Sprigatito line, Iron Valiant, Miraidon, Koraidon, Roaring Moon, Klawf, Flittle
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 9: Frigibax, Palafin (the base form is super lazy and the Hero form is an abomination), Sandy Shocks, Dudunsparce (25 years for this… Dunsparce is already the joke, you don’t say the same joke again and expect it to be funny), Gholdengo

Love/Hate: Resident Evil Village

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

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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