Love/Hate: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 6

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

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 5

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 4

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 3 (Remake)

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 2 (Remake)

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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

Love/Hate: Resident Evil (Remake)

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

Love

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

Mixed

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

Hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Witcher 3 is Kind of Trash

Back in mid-2019 I wrote an article about how I thought that Death Note, popularly considered one of the best anime out there, was kind of trash. It was disappointing – I love the premise but after the first few episodes it drops off a cliff and becomes a slog. Well, back then I wasn’t really expecting this to turn into a new series for the blog but I spent 2020 slogging through another piece of wildly popular media and I’ve got to say… The Witcher 3 is kind of trash. I happen to be writing this while Cyberpunk 2077 backlash is in full swing and I often hear the refrain “Someday Cyberpunk will be as good as The Witcher 3!”… which makes me not want to play it at all. There’s so much stuff that I low-key hate about this game which I really need to get off my chest, because I don’t understand why people are so enamoured with it.

The Open World

First off, the big new feature for The Witcher 3 was its open world and I have to admit that it truly is massive, sporting one enormous map for Novigrad, Oxenfurt and Velen, separate open maps for the Skellige Isles and Kaer Morhen (and Toussaint in the DLC), plus a couple smaller maps for White Orchard and Vizima. It’s an overwhelming amount of ground to cover and while I can understand why someone would be excited by this, it’s where some of my first issues with the came come in. First of all, open world fatigue has well and truly set in in the past few years, but I had already gotten sick of most open worlds by the start of 2011 with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. That’s the game that made me realize that, in most games, open world traversal sucks. Spending most of your playtime just trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible is such a boring gameplay loop and it was bad enough that I dropped Brotherhood (which I was otherwise enjoying) entirely. Since then I’ve often found myself getting tired of open world games with sluggish, restrictive and downright boring traversal options, to the point where I tend to avoid the genre entirely since you’re spending at least half your playtime just putting yourself through tedium in order to get to something interesting. Fallout 4, Far Cry Primal, even Metal Gear Solid V (which I loved at the time, but having to sneak past the same two or three boring outposts to get to any objective was frustrating) have left me tired by the end with me just begging to be able to reach my objectives and end the damn game already without dealing with endless open world bullshit. Compare this to Gravity Rush, a game where the act of moving from place to place is, in itself, a total joy. I hear that Spider-man captures a similar experience with its web-slinging mechanics – I haven’t played it so I can’t confirm, but I just offer these as examples of how getting from place to place can be fun in itself in an open world game rather than a constant, frustrating obstacle.

…which brings me to The Witcher 3. After the first couple hours soaking in the beauty of new location have worn out their welcome, traversal becomes boring at best and infuriating at worst. Need to get to an objective directly on the other side of a mountain range? Better hope you have found a fast-travel point that’s only, like, 600m away from the objective or you’re going to be stuck with two unappealing options – either ride your horse around the mountains or cross your fingers and hope that the game will allow you to climb over the mountain. Of course, if you choose to climb then the game will also force you do to this at walking speed and if you fall off the mountain you’ll die and have to do the whole thing over again after a lengthy loading screen. How fun! Sailing is also painfully slow, but nowhere near as slow as trying to swim from place to place. Better hope your boat doesn’t get sunk in the middle of the seas around Skellige!

To make matters worse, you’re likely to come across some manner of annoying enemy on your way from point A to point B. Random attacks by bandits, wolf packs, sirens, etc can make the world feel a bit more alive, but good God they quickly become a waste of time to encounter. I usually just moan and run away from wolves as fast as possible, but enemies like the sirens basically have to be fought because otherwise they’ll sink your boat and cause you even more wasted time. It can be thrilling if you come across a monster several levels stronger than you are since at least they’ll offer some challenge, but these are rare occurrences (unless you’re going out of your way to punish yourself).

On top of that, the open world in this game is loaded with points of interest marked on the map with a “?”. These things are a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it can be enjoyable and satisfying tracking these all down and filling up your map. Some of them are even super useful, such as the Place of Power spots. Unfortunately, most of these are open world busywork at best, or useless bullshit at worst. The majority of the points of interest are monster dens, bandit camps, hidden treasure and the like, which require you to hunt down a nearby cache or slay some bandits or monsters in order to get some rewards. Unfortunately, these rewards lose any sort of value within a few hours of gameplay. They don’t scale with your level so you’re going to be pocketing hundreds upon hundreds of useless weapons and armour which exist only to be broken down into parts or sold to merchants in order to get yourself a bunch of gold (which is, in itself, pretty useless as well once you’ve stocked up a few thousand crowns). Maybe the intent is that players aren’t supposed to try to complete all these points of interest and I’d even recommend looking up the Places of Power and skipping the rest, but I cannot stop going to them. I just have this obsessive compulsion to uncover every point of interest on my map and I don’t know which are useful and which aren’t so I don’t want to miss any. Skellige was the point where this hit its absolute worst, as there are dozens of identical smugglers’ caches hidden in the water, meaning that you have to sail for literal hours around the islands, killing sirens over and over again just to get a bunch of useless items that you’re just going to sell anyway. CD Projekt RED, sometimes less is more – cut the useless bullshit out, please. I get that this is partly my problem, but I really can’t help it and if CD Projekt RED are going to put such worthless content into their game then they deserve to take shit for it.

Inventory Management

Like I just said, 99.9% of the loot you get in this game is worthless crap. I mean, sure, you can sell it for coin that you have no practical use for after a few hours or break it down into crafting components which you’ll quickly be drowning in. It also doesn’t help that the vast majority of the loot you find in the world is clearly procedurally generated, uninteresting guff that exists just to fill out the world. Beyond this, the overabundance of loot leads to two big issues. First, it makes acquiring loot at the end of a quest or out in the open world feel unrewarding and nothing more than a boring chore. If I complete a quest and get a cool sword, I’d like to be able to use it, not go “oh, this is way weaker than the sword I crafted 10 hours ago”. Secondly, this contributes to this game’s frustrating inventory management. Most of this stems from the restrictive encumbrance mechanic. Like many annoying RPGs, a good chunk of your playtime in The Witcher 3 is going to be spent running back and forth to merchants because the loot you picked up put you one point over your encumbrance threshold and now you suddenly have to walk slowly across the world map. This just makes the traversal issues and unrewarding loot that much more frustrating, and this is compounded even more when you consider that encumbrance is totally arbitrary. Sure, some people may say “it’s more realistic!” or “it’s for immersion!” but both of those arguments are shot right out the window when Geralt can comfortably run around with dozens of swords, armour sets and saddles but then that one last flower pushes him over the edge. That doesn’t even take into account that several items don’t even have an effect on encumbrance, such as the hundreds of pieces of food that Geralt can carry at once.

To make matters worse, The Witcher 3 also features a weapon degradation system, because you weren’t spending enough time in your inventory already. On the one hand, I could see this being somewhat useful if the game was set up in such a way where degradation would force you to use other weapons until your favourites get repaired, but that just isn’t the case at all. After the first hour you’re almost always going to have a dozen weapon and armour repair kits on hand, not to mention that you can just go to a blacksmith and pay to get your gear fixed – it’s one of the few things actually worth paying gold for. Again, you could argue that this is about realism or immersion, but it’s just not fun. It’s not common enough to actually affect gameplay in any significant manner, which means that it’s nothing more than a pointless chore the game makes you go through. Seriously, just drop it, weapon degradation systems always suck.

Combat

Which brings us to the combat in this game. The Witcher 3 drowns you in options right out the gate. Not only do you have your actual sword fighting skills, but you also have access to five signs (aka, minor spells), a crossbow and an ever-growing collection of potions with varying effects. These are all improved as the game goes on, with you being able to put skill points into new techniques and upgrades for whatever abilities you want to focus on. Me? I put all my points into sword damage buffs and upgrading my favourite signs. These upgrades never felt particularly significant to me – like, sure, 25% more damage from sword attacks is probably making a difference, but I can’t say that I actually feel it. It wasn’t really until I got the charged heavy attack that I really felt like an upgrade was actually changing my playstyle any. It also doesn’t help that some options are just broken. The Quen sign in particular is so OP that it not only makes combat boring but makes me play lazily and treat it like a crutch. The very first upgrade gives you a one-hit shield which blasts back enemies and recharges quickly. This means that every fight I get into starts with me casting Quen, dealing damage and then taking a hit, backing off for two seconds til Quen recharges and then casting again. Rinse and repeat. Sure, there are other options available, such as buffing your potions (and spending even more time on inventory management!), getting limited-use out of new melee techniques, or applying damage buff oils to your weapons but… like, why? Unless you’re stupidly under-levelled against a tough enemy, you can coast by on all the crutches this game gives you – and I call them that because when the game suddenly takes them away from you (such as in fist fights or Ciri segments) you realize you now need to remember how to parry effectively or you’re going to get annihilated.

It’s cool seeing Geralt spin around and decapitate foes for the first couple dozen hours, but the combat in this game is just not good enough to sustain itself over the course of a hundred plus hours. As I said before, I dread coming across packs of weak enemies because they’re such a waste of time to deal with and that’s because most fights are stupidly easy. You either get one- or two-shotted by enemies more than five levels above you or you’re massacring everyone with ease. If you play like I do and try to complete as many side-quests as you can, then you’re going to be insanely over-levelled with very little effort, making most of the game’s quests a slog to get through. Like… could they not have implemented a level-scaling system, or anticipated that players would actually play their content, or something? I’ve read elsewhere that I’m not the only one with this issue, it’s like the game’s difficulty was designed for you to be only playing main quests and doing even a couple side quests throws the difficulty curve out of whack. And note that I’m playing the game on Blood & Broken Bones difficulty, so it’s a step up from the standard difficulty. I haven’t played Death March, but considering how mind-numbingly boring B&BB is I can’t help but think that it won’t make the game much harder.

Writing

For what it’s worth, the writing in The Witcher 3 is by far the best part of the game. Long after I grew bored of the combat and open world, I was still hanging on because I wanted to see what would happen next. There are also some fantastic stories and characters within this game, particularly the “Bloody Baron”, who is a textbook example of how to write a charming, sympathetic monster, and many of the side-quests have fully fleshed out stories that make them worthwhile to grind through. However, even the writing begins to wear thin over time and test my patience.

Sometimes I’ll decide “fine, it’s time to start getting the main quest underway again” and you try to get the story moving… only for some stupid, random bullshit to happen in the plot which halts all momentum and you have to deal with before you can move on, even though it’s less important than several of the side quests in the game. One annoying example of this is on Skellige when the plot has finally moved on and you’re ready to leave the island, all that’s left is that a king needs to get crowned. So you’re ready for that to be decided when, uh… bears attack the kingsmoot. What the fuck? I should mention that this kingsmoot is taking place in a guarded castle atop a seaside spire, so when this army of bears attacks it’s truly baffling. Then you’ve got to solve a mystery about who unleashed the bears at the kingsmoot and the person you decide to support in the search ends up being the king. Man, I was done with Skellige when this happened and was just ready to move on, but then this happened out of nowhere and felt like an annoying, uninteresting shark-jump that the game was dropping in my lap just to make the game that much longer.

The worst example of this narrative padding is definitely what happens after you complete Dandelion’s doppler play. You spend hours getting a play put together so you can put out a message to an ally who has gone into hiding and it all goes off without a hitch, hooray! You find the ally, he gives you info about Ciri and now you’re ready to move on with the plot… except immediately afterward someone randomly attacks Dandelion’s girlfriend Priscilla and leaves her near death! Oh no! So once again you have to solve a mystery that comes out of nowhere and halts the actual progression of the plot, except in this case the writing is utter bullshit. Turns out there’s a serial killer who ritually murders prostitutes and makes a big scene of calling them whores. You have three suspects: a doctor with a history of violence, a shady coroner who the doctor doesn’t like and a fanatical priest of the Eternal Fire. You find clues about who the next victim is and, oh, looks like the killer doesn’t like people working against the church, imagine that. He kills an acquaintance of yours who has renounced the church and then you discover the name of his next victim, a prostitute. So you go to the brothel and, oh my God, it’s the priest there torturing her. You get the option to kill him, spare him or let him continue torturing her (!?!?!!), and obviously I’m going to kill him because he has to be our murderer, right? Wrong, turns out that it was the coroner and he was just masking his crimes by pretending to be a fanatic because he’s actually a vampire feeding on people. Umm, what the hell? I mean, I get that misdirection is difficult in a mystery but how do you make a red herring so bad that they end up being an entirely separate serial killer with an identical modus operandi? There’s no reason to assume that the coroner is responsible given the evidence that the game gives you, other than metagaming when the game allows you to spare the priest’s life because why would they let you do that unless he wasn’t the killer? The worst part is that when you think you completed the quest you’ll later find clues that the killer is still at large and Geralt basically just shrugs his shoulders and lets them keep at it. Like… dude, turns out one suspect was a different serial killer and you had only two other suspects, maybe look into that!? The fact that this doesn’t reopen the quest or open an alternate version of it is legitimately infuriating to me, I get that this game is complex and ambitious enough but this quest just shows weakness within the game’s structure and it would seriously be better off without it.

Bugs

The Witcher 3 was apparently a buggy mess at launch and while I would consider the bugs that remain in the game a fairly minor issue at this point, there are still several that will pop up in every playthrough that range from funny to infuriating when they happen. The worst one I encountered was this weird audio glitch that happens when you encounter the Crones of Crookback Bog, where the dialogue completely cuts out for like ten minutes, while you awkwardly read the text on screen and watch the crones pantomime to you about how evil they are. Worst of all, my PS4 crashed at one point and I had to restart my game from the beginning, so in two separate playthroughs this glitch happened… how is this still unpatched to this day? I also had one bug that happened repeatedly during the horse races – I would win the race quite handily, but when I crossed the finish line the game wouldn’t register it, forcing me to restart the game and redo the entire race six or seven times before it would finally register the win legitimately. I have no idea why this one was happening but it was maddening when it did.

Perhaps the most persistent and irritating bug though is that the swimming controls will randomly crap out at times, not allowing you to dive in the water. This is particularly annoying because if I’m in the water then odds are I’m only there because I’m diving for sunken treasure. When this happens, your only options are to climb back onto your ship and hope that that fixes the issue, fast travel to reload the world map, or just restart the game and cross your fingers. This is so goddamn annoying and just makes the already awful Skellige smugglers’ caches that much more of a slog to get through, because this issue happened to me multiple times in just that one section of the game.

Bloat

You may have noticed that there’s a running theme throughout all my issues with The Witcher 3 and that is simply that the game is bloated beyond belief. The open world is massive, but it seems to prioritize size and pretty vistas over actually being fun to explore over a hundred hour journey. The game showers you with loot, but when 99.9% of it is worthless it becomes nothing more than a chore to deal with. Combat gives you tons of options, but overpowered options make the rest redundant, the combat is ridiculously easy and it just can’t sustain itself over the game’s playtime. The writing has some truly great moments, but it just feels padded for nothing more than making the game even longer. I had a similar issue with Alien: Isolation, where the game felt like it had to force itself to be a bloated, twenty hour game when it would have been perfect as a tight, terrifying eight hour experience. All-in-all, The Witcher 3 is a game in serious need of content trimming and a tighter focus. I shouldn’t have to actively force myself to not engage in most of the content you’ve put into your game in order to find any sort of enjoyment with it.

At this point I’ve dropped The Witcher 3 after slogging through it over the course of a year. I’m only at Kaer Morhen now and I just can’t bring myself to play it again. Instead I’ve played the remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 and just started Hitman and the difference in enjoyment is palpable. Knowing that I can finish these games casually in a week or two is exciting in itself, not to mention that these are far better curated experiences that deliver greater levels of enjoyment in each play session. If I can give The Witcher 3 one big prop in spite of all this it’s that the game does offer hundreds of hours of playtime for like $20 – that’s a pretty insane value if you need to stretch your money out, but for my own part I’d like to actually get close to finishing a game I started.

But hey, at least Gwent was fun. If I ever do pick The Witcher 3 back up, it will probably be because I want to take part in the Gwent tournament. So that’s something at least.

This shot from a sex scene is one of the featured media screenshots on The Witcher 3‘s website. Seriously.

So How Would You Fix It, Smart Guy?

First off, if even a couple of my big issues with The Witcher 3 got addressed then it would make the experience much better overall, but we’ll go pie-in-the-sky and try to address them all here. Let’s start with the open world. Just due to the mechanics of the game, traversal is never going to be fun, so let’s at least make it less annoying. To that end, make fast travel points a bit more common and make random packs of enemies only really a concern if you’re going deep into the wilds off the main roads. Maybe make them scale in level as well so that they can be an actual obstacle. Similarly, I’d cut down on the useless “?” spots on the map (ESPECIALLY in Skellige), or just straight-up reveal what type of point of interest each is so you know whether to bother with it or not.

For the loot and inventory management, I’d want to make some sweeping changes. First of all, ditch encumbrance and weapon degredation. They suck and can never not suck until you remove them entirely. Secondly, let’s make the loot you get far more valuable. Cut down on the number of random items you can steal or loot from enemies significantly. Let weapons be upgradeable, with each level requiring you to get upgrade materials which you can craft and get the materials around the world map. This would allow reward weapons to actually be useful and could cut down on the number of useless items the game drowns you in. Plus it also means you don’t have to say goodbye to a favourite weapon when you outpace its damage output. Boom, all of a sudden inventory management is no longer a hassle, you actually can get some sort of satisfaction out of new items and it makes looting itself more rewarding because it’s helping you get something that can make your equipment better.

The combat in this game should be Monster Hunter-lite. I get that, conceptually, this is what the game is going for with its decoctions and oils, but they’re pointless compared to spamming signs. Make monster encounters something you have to actually plan for instead of just rushing headlong in like an idiot and suddenly combat would feel far more rewarding. Most importantly, introduce a level-scaling system to make enemy encounters more interesting.

For the writing, basically all that needs to be done is to trim down the padding in the main quest, or at the very least move these into the side-quests. As far as I’m concerned though, that serial killer quest needs to be completely reworked or cut out entirely. In any case, the sum total of these changes would result in the game’s annoyances being reduced or removed entirely, while its strengths are more up-front. It would also mean that the main game would likely be shorter, but if more side-quests were incentivized for the post-game then this would allow players more time to play the game the way they want without feeling like they have to or are missing anything. Given that the lack of urgency in spite of the game’s actual narrative is one of the main criticisms of The Witcher 3, I feel like it would make it a much better game.

DOA Is The Best Video Game Movie (300th Blog Post Celebration!)

This review has been a long time coming. Like, to put it into perspective, I tend to start drafts on my blog so that I remember ideas and am able to come back to them later. Sometimes they even get completed and get published here! Well, it was around seven years ago when I thought “hey, I love DOA: Dead or Alive and would love to write a review explaining why!” For whatever reason, that idea kept getting shoved back in favour of other ideas, but that draft has been sitting in here for literally years in various iterations, including two serious attempts to complete it that got shelved and the whole blog migration to WordPress. This also means that I have had to rewatch the film on several occasions whenever I planned on sitting down to work on this review.

Well, a few months ago I realized that I was rapidly closing in on my 300th blog post. Considering that I celebrated my 200th blog post with a review of DOAX3, what better time to finally get off my ass and review this movie? DOA: Dead or Alive is the best video game movie of all time and I’m going to explain why (yes, better than Detective Pikachu – no one is more shocked by that statement than me).

I remember seeing this film’s DVD cover in the local movie rental place when I was in high school… it looked identical to the covers of the porn DVDs nearby. That was obviously an intentional choice.

Production

After the box office success of the first two Resident Evil films, the producers of the first film, Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt and Bernd Eichinger, were eager to tap into the burgeoning video game adaptation gold rush and searched for the next big hit (funnily enough, of all the video game adaptations listed in production on that link, the only ones that would actually come out were DOA and Resident Evil: Extinction). Perhaps owing to Anderson’s success with the 1995 fighting game adaptation Mortal Kombat, the producers decided to give Dead or Alive a shot – after all, it was all about action sequences and sexy women, so it would surely draw out all the teenage boys, right? Also being brought on to help produce the film was Mark A. Altman, who had previously produced freaking House of the Dead (fighting The Howling 2 for the championship title of most insane film to ever make it into theatres).

Corey Yuen was brought on as the film’s director. Yuen was well-known for his impressive Hong Kong action films and fight choreography, and had just found success with Western audiences with The Transporter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lead actresses were all models: Devon Aoki (of Sin City and 2 Fast 2 Furious fame) was cast as Kasumi, Holly Valance (known for the soap opera Neighbours, Prison Break and… what, she was in Taken!? Oh shit, she was the pop singer Liam Neeson has to protect, of course!) was cast as Christie and Jaime Pressly (probably the biggest name in the main cast, best known for My Name is Earl) was cast as Tina Armstrong. The supporting cast are also filled with plenty of interesting actors. By far the most notable is professional wrestler Kevin Nash as Bass Armstrong. This was an absolutely perfect casting, he steals the show whenever he’s on screen. The film also has several notable character actors and B-movie stars, such as Matthew Marsen (who has been in many films, but was last seen on IC2S in Atlas Shrugged) as Max, Eric Roberts (here playing a discount John Carradine) as Donovan, and Natassia Malthe (a kick-ass Uwe Boll regular) as Ayane. Some relative unknowns were also cast in major roles, such as Sarah Carter as Helena Douglas, Steve Howey as Weatherby and Brian J. White as Zack (who plays the role to perfection). Rounding out the cast were a pair of martial artists, Collin Chou as Hayate and Kane Kosugi as Ryu Hayabusa (he’s fine for the role they wrote for him, but good God do not expect this Ryu to be anything like the demon-slaying badass from Ninja Gaiden or you are going to be disappointed).

Filming took place in various locations in China. Most of the cast had never played a Dead or Alive game before, although most checked it out during production (Matthew Marsden specifically acknowledged that he sucked at it). According to the “Making Of” featurette (which really sucks by the way, nearly half of it is uninterrupted footage from the movie), the cast trained for 3 months with US marines and martial arts experts in order to learn their characters’ fighting styles. According to Sarah Carter, the entire cast performed most of their own stunts and some fight sequences could take up to 7 days to film (such as the impressive Helena vs Christie fight at the mid-point). The film also features a volleyball scene which was 100% pure fan service and which went through a staggering forty pairs of bikinis to complete.

Unfortunately for the producers, DOA: Dead or Alive didn’t light up the box anywhere near as much as Resident Evil had. In fact, while those films had wracked up grosses over $100 million worldwide, DOA brought in a paltry $7.7 million on a $30 million budget. Ouch.

Plot Summary

The film opens at a ninja palace in the mountains where princess Kasumi resolves to find her brother, Hayate, who went missing after being invited to the Dead or Alive martial arts tournament and is presumed dead. However, she is warned by Hayate’s friend, Ryu Hayabusa, that if she abandons the castle then she will be condemned to death by the laws of their people. Unperturbed, Kasumi escapes, pursued by her vengeful half-sister, Ayane, and is invited to participate in Dead of Alive. The film then cuts to Tina Armstrong, a professional wrestler who is trying to prove that her talents aren’t all just showmanship (which she quickly proves to us by beating up a group of pirates who board her boat, securing her invite to Dead or Alive). Finally, we’re introduced to Christie, a criminal who uses her femme fatale wiles to fight her way through a group of Interpol agents who have cornered her in her hotel room, earning herself an invitation to Dead or Alive in the process. With our main cast assembled, the group is flown to the island where Dead or Alive is held, alongside fellow competitors including Zack, Hayabusa (who has entered the tournament to watch over and protect Kasumi), Helena Douglas (daughter of the tournament’s recently-deceased co-founder), Bass Armstrong (Tina’s enthusiastic and laid-back father) and Max Marsh (Christie’s partner in crime, who is joining her to try to steal the company’s fortune). After parachuting to the island and traversing the rugged terrain to reach the tournament grounds, the group is introduced to Dead or Alive’s organizer, Victor Donovan, who explains the rules of the tournament – fighters will be tracked with nano-bots, fights can be called at any time and any place with single-round eliminations determining who will move on to the next round of competition.

As the first rounds of the tournament slowly get underway, the characters begin getting to know each other. Zack spends all his time hitting on a very unreceptive Tina, while a computer technician for the tournament named Weatherby tries to work up the courage to ask out Helena (who, surprisingly, decides to give him a chance). Meanwhile, Kasumi continues her search for Hayate, avoiding attacks from Ayane and the other competitors. She is eventually joined by Hayabusa, but he goes missing while infiltrating Donovan’s headquarters, making Kasumi even more suspicious about what’s going on. Finally, Christie and Max discover the location of Dead or Alive’s vault and try to figure out the password to get inside. Max eventually realizes that the code is tattooed on Helena, a fact which adds additional tension when Helena and Christie are paired off against one another in a quarter finals match. After an intense fight, Christie manages to come out on top while also discovering the tattooed code.

Concerned about Hayabusa, Kasumi convinces Tina and Christie to join her in infiltrating Donovan’s headquarters. They discover Hayabusa unconscious, but are incapacitated and captured by Donovan. Meanwhile, saddened by Helena’s defeat to Christie, Weatherby confesses to Helena that Donovan is working on some sort of secret project and that he believes that her father was murdered to cover it up. Helena decides to stop Donovan, but they are attacked by his cronies. They manage to defeat the mob and then head into the complex to get to the bottom of Donovan’s scheme. Donovan monologues to the captured heroes about his plan – he has been using the nanobots in their bloodstream to collect data on the worlds greatest fighters, which will be fed directly into a pair of computer-enhanced glasses he has developed, allowing him to instantly learn their techniques and counter them all. He plans to sell these glasses to several international criminals to rake in millions of dollars. Donovan then reveals that Hayate is still alive and uses him as a demonstration of the glasses’ power, defeating him in one-on-one combat easily and throwing him through a wall. He is left to die but Ayane saves him, which causes her to finally realize that Kasumi was right all along.

Before Donovan can send the data to his buyers, he is interrupted by Weatherby, who cuts off the upload and alerts the CIA of Donovan’s dealings. Donovan and Helena fight while Weatherby frees Hayabusa, Tina, Kasumi and Christie just before Donovan actives a self-destruct sequence. The fighters all converge on Donovan, with Helena, Kasumi, Ayane, Hayate, Tina and Christie all beating on the old man at once while Weatherby and Hayabusa try to find an escape route. They encounter Max, who has been trying to break into the vault, and help him escape (despite his protestations). Overwhelmed by the sheer number of people attacking him, Donovan’s glasses are knocked off and he is left in a paralytic state by Hayate and Kasumi and watches helplessly as the heroes all escape the island before the base explodes, consuming Donovan in the inferno. The group quickly come across the pirates who Tina had fought earlier and steal their boat as they ride off into the sunset… to a final stinger where our heroines all face off against an army of ninjas at Kasumi’s palace.

Review

The opening of DOA is a perfect encapsulation of what makes this movie work. It starts with a terrible CGI tracking shot through a palace in the sky and then assaults us with stilted acting, bad dialogue and melodrama… and then suddenly Kasumi’s escapes by throwing a sword into the wall, leaps the cross the backs of an entire army, uses the sword as a springboard to launch herself over the walls of the palace and then reveals that she has a freaking hang glider hidden under her clothes to sail away as a robot ninja star just comes out of nowhere and invites her to DOA.

Holy shit, what did I just watch?!

The movie just gets better from there and makes it unmistakable that Corey Yuen and his cast know exactly what kind of film they’re making and then wring every ounce of fun out of the premise that they can with tongue planted firmly in cheek. That’s the thing, DOA has several elements that would tank any other film – paper-thin story, bad acting, a stupid and cheap third act, etc. However, Yuen executes this all in such a manner that they either don’t matter or they even enhance the experience. For example, how many times have I criticized Resident Evil for its crappy stories? The difference here is that the story serves DOA‘s actual strengths – fantastic action sequences and fun characters (and for the record, these are the exact elements that made the two Resident Evil movies I actually like work). There’s very little time wasted on pointless exposition or worldbuilding, the film knows what you’re here for and it will give you enough to make that function and create some stakes in an efficient manner. Again, this would usually sound like a bad thing, but how many action movies have we seen where they put in a forced romance, or set up a long-winded relationship in order to give our character motivation when it’s taken away, or just spent time trying to prove that this is not “just some b-movie”? There’s a reason movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Taken and John Wick are so beloved and that’s because they cut the fat… and it just occurred to me while typing this sentence that I’m unironically going to argue that DOA: Dead or Alive is at least in the same ballpark as those movies.

First off, DOA has some fantastic fight sequences. This should be expected, but you’d be surprised how many video game movies (let alone lower-budget movies in general) that are all about their action sequences fail to even surpass this simple hurdle. Films like The Legend of Chun-Li are supposed to be all about the action but fail to even succeed there. Again, look no further than the most recent Resident Evil, which was basically just an excuse to string together action setpieces but which had the worst directed and edited action sequences in the franchise so far in the process. In this regard, DOA scored a homerun right off the bat by hiring Corey Yuen, whose expertise is clearly reflected in the plethora of fun and exciting fights peppered throughout this film’s runtime.

There are two particular sequences I want to highlight – the showdown between Kasumi and Ayane in the bamboo forest and the rain-soaked, bare-knuckle beatdown between Christie and Helena. The bamboo forest fight is a clear riff on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as a sword-wielding Ayane tries to kill an unarmed Kasumi and features all sorts of acrobatics, wire stunts and creative use of the environment to allow Kasumi to survive her half-sister’s furious onslaught. I highlight this particular fight because it’s basically just thrown there for the sake of an action sequence, but it’s so damn cool that it doesn’t matter that it halts the actual story for a couple minutes. On the other hand, the fight between Christie and Helena is not only really cool (shot in slow-motion close-ups during a pouring rain storm), but is also tense because we have no idea who is going to win. We like both characters by this point and don’t want to see either of them lose. Some of the best acting in the film is demonstrated in this sequence, you can really feel that these characters are fighting a desperate battle against one another and doing whatever they can to come out on top. In a movie with tons of great fight sequences, this one really stands out because it makes you realize just how effectively it has gotten you to like these characters.

That’s another big strength of DOA – the characters are all really fun (well, mostly, but we’ll get to that). It helps their personalities and motivations are conveyed perfectly through the action sequences… again, just like Fury Road. I mean, just look at the character introductions for an example. Tina gets introduced complaining that, as a wrestler, she’s not taken seriously before her boat gets boarded by pirates. She takes the opportunity to then beat the crap out of them, proving to the audience that she is indeed a formidable fighter (and even kind-hearted as she allows the last pirate to throw himself off the ship to spare himself a beating). Meanwhile, Christie’s introduction establishes that she’s a charming femme fatale, using her sexuality in order to get the upper hand when she’s ambushed and seemingly cornered by Interpol. Hayate gets one of these introductions in a flashback as well. Need to prove that he’s the best fighter in the world? How about have him chuck a bunch of needles at a group of bandits, snatch these needles out of the air and prick the bandits in their pressure points to paralyze them all? Holy shit, this guy’s amazing! It makes Kasumi’s unrelenting search and Donovan’s later beatdown of Hayate all the more effective.

It’s not just about the fights though, DOA‘s characters are also just fun to watch interacting with each other and have great chemistry. The most obvious example of this is Kevin Nash’s Bass Armstrong and his interactions with Tina. He’s like the ultimate goofy, macho dad and Tina is constantly embarrassed by his inability to take anything seriously. This comes to a head when Tina and Bass get matched against each other and he bursts into her room, only to sheepishly back out when he realizes that he might have just walked in on Tina and Christie in bed together (in reality she was just sharing a bed because Christie’s room got trashed). It’s adorable how supportive he is of his daughter and is obvious that there’s a lot of love between them, even if there appears to be friction most of the time. Weatherby and Helena’s relationship is also quite cute. While Weatherby is a dork and it strains credulity to think that Helena would find him interesting, the fact that she does is adorable and both are kept interesting enough and have enough relevance that it doesn’t feel like either is a dreaded “generic love interest”. Or how about how the film establishes that Kasumi, Christie and Tina are now friends with each other? When the group parachutes onto DOA island together, they have to reach the tournament grounds in time or be disqualified. Initially they’re all looking out for themselves while climbing the temple, but quickly realize that they’re not going to make it unless they work together and are soon a solid team. It’s simple and obvious, but effective visual character building.

Unfortunately, DOA‘s one big stumbling block in terms of its characters is in its lead, Kasumi. Devon Aoki’s performance is extremely flat and I can’t help but feel like this was intentional – Kasumi herself is a bit of a personality-void in the games and I think they were trying to capture the same sort of stoic heroine energy. It’s a shame because Aoki seems very charming and fun in the film’s “Making Of” feature and it would have been nice to see her in a role that didn’t require her to be so serious the whole time. Similarly, Ayane is also very one-note, just pissed off all the time, while Ryu Hayabusa is downgraded from a demon-slaying badass to Kasumi’s generic love interest. Whenever Kasumi’s plot is in control the film loses some of its luster, but thankfully it’s more than made up for with the subplots revolving around Christie and Tina (and eventually Helena).

Another remarkable element of DOA is that the film is one of those weird movies that manages to strike the fine balance between being sexy and empowering at the same time. This is especially surprising given Dead or Alive‘s reputation as a pervy, tit-obsessed series (this certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2 released only a month after DOA hit theaters). DOA does a far better job of balancing this out, if only because the cast are real human beings and not a bunch of 36DD teenagers and so they can’t just take the easy route by going with over-the-top eye-candy. Sure, the girls are in bikinis on several occasions and there are lots of shots of cleavage and butts, but it comes across far better than in the games. The games are usually just voyeuristic but when they fetishize the girls it can get straight-up creepy, not to mention that the games try to maintain this weird sort of “innocence” to them all, like they don’t realize that they’re all stupidly-hot. In DOA, the women all own their sexuality – if they’re in bikinis it generally makes sense (it is a tropical island after all and they’re often in down-time between fights) and they’re not treated like these chaste, untouchable angels with no idea of how beautiful they are. Hell, Christie is straight-up sexually active in this movie, well-aware of her wants and desires and not afraid to use her allures to get the upper-hand on an opponent. It’s kind of like Bayonetta in this regard, where the female characters are framed by the male gaze, but they don’t allow it to trap them. Beyond the characters’ sexuality though, the female cast just kick a ton of ass throughout the film. That’s actually a strength inherent to the games themselves, where several women can go toe-to-toe with the best male fighters in the world and play out their interesting storylines, but the focus on tits always drowns this out and drowns out an otherwise empowering premise. Freed from pervy obsessions, DOA shows us just how awesome these women are as they take down an evil conspiracy with their fists. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to declare the film to be outright feminist, but it’s sure as hell a kickass girl power romp.

I also have to mention the third act, which is a potentially make-or-break part of the film. For my part, I think it’s fucking hilarious and the perfect cherry on top of an enjoyable sundae, but I can understand if someone would think that it’s terrible. Basically, as soon as Donovan’s evil plan is revealed, DOA turns into a G.I. Joe-level cartoon. The sets get really cheap looking and the plot goes off the rails because Donovan’s master plan is stupid beyond comprehension. Okay, cool, you’ve scanned all the fighting techniques from the world’s best fighters and downloaded them to a set of smart glasses which show you how to fight and beat any opponent… There’s just so much about this that’s pants-on-head stupid. First of all, how do you react quick enough to the glasses’ prompts to even fight back? Second, boy it sure would suck if your opponent decided to shoot you instead of engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Third, why make the crux of this evil plan revolve around a fashion accessory which is notoriously easy to knock off, especially when you’re doing quick actions like… oh, I don’t know, fighting people? Fourth, why then antagonize the fighters you stole the data from!? If he had just waited til the tournament was over to sell the data to international terrorists (some of which look like random incels wearing sunglasses!) you wouldn’t have gotten defeated like an idiot! It’s so dumb, but given how intentionally tongue-in-cheek the rest of the film has been I can’t help but think that this plan was made so campy on purpose, so I’m more than willing to go along with it, grinning like a madman all the while.

If we’re being entirely honest, DOA isn’t a top-tier movie by any means. The acting is fine at best, the story is clearly bare-bones and the low budget makes it look cheap at times. Films like House of the Dead or Street Fighter: The Movie may be similarly fun and hilarious, but it’s clear that they were not intended to be enjoyed so ironically. On the flip-side, recent acclaimed video game movies like Detective Pikachu and Sonic aim to be taken more seriously, but they’re just ultimately mediocre popcorn films with boring characters, unimpressive action sequences and questionably-structured stories. However, everyone involved knew exactly what sort of film this was and they did away with pretension to maximize its strengths and make it as enjoyable as possible with tongue planted firmly in cheek throughout. That puts it well above every other video game movie out there.

6.5/10

Retrospective: Resident Evil – The Final Chapter (2016)

Welcome back to the Resident Evil retrospective!

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

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

Production

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

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

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

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

Plot Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

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

Love/Hate: Let’s Go, Eevee!

It has been a while since I did a Pokemon Love/Hate and you may notice that there was one glaring, recent omission from my list – where were the Let’s Go games? I have had a half-finished Love/Hate list for these games in my drafts for a while and debated restricting this series to the mainline games only, but recently I decided to give it another shot. Since these game released I’ve had a lot more thoughts about Let’s Go and was surprised at just how many things I liked and disliked about them. So, without further delay, I’ve finally got this list written up for your viewing pleasure!

Love

  • Pokemon Appear in the Overworld! – At the time of release this was a controversial addition, but I have always loved it. Random encounters in Pokemon are a series legacy but they have always been annoying. Let’s Go completely shakes that up by having Pokemon appear in the overworld. This makes the world itself feel far more alive as you have Pokemon going about their business on it, plus it allows you to hunt what you want at your leisure (and if you accidentally encounter one, that’s your own fault). Even better, shiny Pokemon apper on the overworld in this game, so you could be just travelling casually when one pops out at you unexpectedly! It makes simple route traversal exciting since you never know when or if a shiny may appear and is something I wish was retained in Sword and Shield.
  • Riding and Following Pokemon! – Following Pokemon has always been a requested feature in Pokemon games, despite the fact that it doesn’t really add much functionality and is more of a characterful quality of life improvement. Well, Let’s Go goes a step further because not only can you have your Pokemon follow you, but you can freaking ride on top of several of them!!! This replaces the bike feature from the original games and is an absolute joy to experience once you unlock it! Hopping on an Arcanine’s back and bounding across the Kanto region never gets old… and don’t even get me started on soaring in the skies on a Dragonite!
  • Can View PC Boxes in Overworld! – This was a simple but HUGE quality of life improvement, easy to overlook. Being able to manage your party and caught Pokemon while out in the wilds is such a time-saver. No longer do you have to trudge back to a Pokemon center or sit through a lengthy Fly animation and then make your way back to where you were hunting, now you can just take care of this whenever your heart desires. Sure, it does make things a tad bit easier to be able to swap out your party on the fly, but the convenience more than makes up for this. Honestly, of all the features that made their way from Let’s Go to Sword and Shield, this is probably my favourite!
  • Partner Pokemon Interactions are Adorable – Let’s Go takes the Nintendogs-style Pokemon interaction systems introduced in Gen 6 and takes them to the next level. Not only do you get to interact with your partner Pokemon in various ways but you can also dress up your partner in several cosmetic items! It’s one of those additions which doesn’t really have any effect on gameplay but, like, my Eevee’s wearing a hat and a vest, holy shit I want to hug it! The whole point of this game is to grow as attached as possible to your partner Pokemon and all these features go a long way to pulling that off.
  • Single-System Co-Op Mode – Holy shit, a Pokemon game with a built-in two player mode?! The mode itself is very simple, but this was actually an amazing feature for me regardless. My fiancé doesn’t play a lot of games or care all that much for Pokemon, but this simple co-op mode allowed us to share some bonding time together catching Charmanders and hunting for a shiny one. I’d love to see this feature return in the future, especially since I now have my own kid who is getting to the age where he could appreciate joining me in a Pokemon adventure.
  • Streamlining – In addition to the improved access to the PC box, Let’s Go has expected quality of life improvements over the Gen 1 games or their Gen 3 remakes. Most obvious is the removal of HMs, which are now just performed by your partner Pokemon. The most notable example of streamlining though is that the item finder has been removed and repurposed. I always found the item finder to be a pain in the ass, not worth mapping to Select over the bike, but in Let’s Go its functionality built right into your partner Pokemon – when you walk around their tail will start wagging faster as you approach a hidden item! It’s a clever and much better way to handling this function, I love it.

Mixed

  • Pokemon Go Integration – It was believed that the Let’s Go games were created as a way to rope new fans into the franchise who had only played Pokemon Go, and to that end several mechanics from the mobile game carry over to Let’s Go. However, the actual interaction between the two games is seriously lacking. For one thing, Let’s Go only includes the first 151 Pokemon, their Alola variants and the Meltan line, so most of the Pokemon Go Dex can’t even be used at all. Furthermore, transfers only work one-way – you can only transfer compatible Pokemon to Let’s Go and none can be sent to Pokemon Go. This has given me a handy, niche use where I can offload duplicate Pokemon Go shinies and legendaries to send to Pokemon HOME, and it has given me access to the Mystery Box to get several Meltans and Melmetals, so it’s not a complete wash. Still, the interaction between the two games could have been far more ambitious and it feels like they just did the bare minimum to integrate them.
  • Missing Areas – At this point it’s pretty obvious that the Gaming Corner from Gen 1 is never coming back due to its simulated gambling, which sucks but fair enough. They’ve set the precedent and it’s more or less expected that this will be the case, even if it does make the game feel a bit more empty. But why the heck do Game Freak refuse to do a Safari Zone area anymore? The Safari Zone was one of the funnest distractions in the original games, why is it completely gutted here in favour of the Pokemon Go transfer room? Again, there’s kind of a precedent here to take the Safari Zone away so it’s not a complete shock, but it’s disappointing none the less.

Hate

  • XP Gains – Let’s Go completely shifts the focus in Pokemon away from battling to catching, doing away with random battles entirely. As a result, your main source of xp comes from capturing wild Pokemon, supplemented by the occasional trainer or gym battle. In my opinion, this is a more tedious system compared to random battles though – catching a Pokemon takes longer than grinding random battles. Even then, previously oppressive areas like the Rock Tunnel were at least a good way to farm for xp til you were strong enough to get through. In Let’s Go, I just dodged around every Pokemon and didn’t get into any battles I didn’t want to, meaning that I was also missing out on xp I probably needed. In general, this also makes it difficult to measure your relative level, since you can’t use wild Pokemon as a measuring stick for your progress and instead have to commit yourself to a battle not knowing if you’re about to get stomped or not. That said…
  • Partner Pokemon is OP – Oh, you thought that Pokemon X and Y were too easy? Just for fun, I wanted to see if I could solo Let’s Go with only my partner Pokemon, without grinding and by using as few aids as possible (eg, medicine). This is very much doable in Let’s Go, as my partner Eevee went down maybe once or twice (and one of those was to a lucky Horn Drill Seaking) and then my other Pokemon were easily able to clean up afterward. Your partner Pokemon is just plain overpowered in this game, which isn’t helped by the fact that they can learn several insane (and stupidly named) tutor moves for coverage. Oh and Eevee gets several more tutor moves than Pikachu does, because screw you Pikachu.
  • Mew and the Pokeball Plus Are BULLSHIT – The Pokemon Company have really been preying on their fans’ compulsive desire to “catch ’em all” in scummier and scummier ways over the years and the Pokeball Plus was one of the most blatant examples. For $60 you can get a Pokeball motion controller which can only really be used in Let’s Go… wow what a crappy deal. But wait, if you don’t buy it then you can’t get Mew and will therefore never complete your Let’s Go Pokedex! Making matters worse, you have to buy the Pokeball Plus new because the Mew is on a serial code packaged inside, meaning that you can only ever get 1 Mew per Pokeball. Well fine, I’ll just transfer my Mew from Pokemon Go to Let’s Go… lol, no they don’t let you do that for completely arbitrary reasons which definitely aren’t related to making you buy a shitty $60 accessory. Oh and speaking of which…
  • Forced Motion Controls – If there’s anything Nintendo loves more than gimmicky motion controls, it’s making them not optional even when the potential to do so is built right in the game itself. If you play the game in hand-held mode, you have to turn the entire system to line-up your shot and then press a button to throw the ball. This is generally what I prefer, but sometimes I want to detach the joycons and put the system down on a flat surface or dock it. Boy it sure would be nice if I could just press a button to throw, but no – when you switch to the joycons the game forces you to rely on terrible motion controls to aim you throws. You can aim right at a Pokemon and have the ball fly off in the complete opposite direction, which is bad enough since it wastes your resources, but in this game Pokemon run away at a high rate so you could even lose a shiny because of this. Like… you’ve built an alternative into the game already, why force me to deal with the gimmick you came up with to sell Pokeball Pluses? It’s bad enough for me, but I can only imagine it’s even worse for players with motor control issues. And all this just compounds another big issue with the game…
  • Endless Catching Is A Boring Core Mechanic – Let’s Go does away with requiring you to battle and weaken Pokemon in order to catch them. Instead it has you just throw Pokeballs at every Pokemon you encounter, with very little that you can do to swing the odds in your favour (you can throw a berry, land an excellent throw or use a better Pokeball, that’s it). If you want one of your Pokemon to be stronger, you have to grind catching that same Pokemon over and over again to get candies. Let’s Go just demonstrates to me that battling in the mainline Pokemon games is a far more interesting core mechanic, since it makes any Pokemon you want to catch tense as you try to avoid knocking them out, but also manageable as you can stack the odds in your favour.
  • Friendly Rival – I get that Let’s Go is meant to be “baby’s first Pokemon game”, but… like, so were Pokemon Red and Blue and everyone in my school had few issues getting through those games. One of the weirdest changes to me is that they take away Blue, who was famously a dickhead who you wanted to beat in every encounter, and replace him with Trace, who’s just a pleasant nobody. Like… why Game Freak? They seem obsessed with giving us friendly “rivals” for the past several years (in fact Sword and Shield are the first games to reverse this trend in ages), but they make for boring characters to interact with and battle against.
  • Seriously? Another Kanto Remake? – Let’s Go mark the second full remake of the Gen 1 games. Sure, it’s been quite a while since FireRed and LeafGreen, but these games are coming out only two years after the Gen 1 games were re-released on the 3DS virtual console. Furthermore, Gen 1 is so oversaturated and over-represented by The Pokemon Company that it can’t help but make Let’s Go a bit disappointing for long-time fans.
  • Competitive Scene Was Dead on Arrival – As soon as the battling mechanics for this game were revealed it was obvious that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were going to continue to be the main platforms for competitive Pokemon until Gen 8 arrived. Why, you may ask? Well, Let’s Go strips out abilities, held items, several moves, not to mention that it features a greatly scaled-back Pokedex, has no auto-levelling system (meaning you have to get all your Pokemon to level 100 to stand a chance) and there’s no breeding for ideal natures or IVs (although Bottle Caps are still a thing at least). The worst thing though is that Let’s Go ditches the EV system that has been in place since Gen 3 and replaces it with AVs, which are effectively EVs that you can use to max out every single stat. No longer are you forced to specifically decide how you want to build your Pokemon’s stats, now you just max out all your stats because you’re literally handicapping yourself if you don’t. This also means that most Pokemon are straight-up useless because their stats don’t make them good at any one thing when everything’s maxed out. Yeah, it’s no wonder that VGC never even bothered with a Let’s Go league in 2018 and 2019.
  • It’s Not For Me – Some people really enjoyed Let’s Go, and that’s totally fair. I’m not saying that they’re objectively bad games or anything, and as you can probably tell I really loved the characterful additions this game brings. However, I like battling with my Pokemon and Let’s Go does not cater to that side of the fandom at all. Endless catching makes this game so dull for me, to the point where I haven’t even gotten through the entire thing and don’t really plan to. Hell, the only reason I bought it was to try to get a shiny Melmetal and even then I had to wait for a pretty hefty price drop before I could justify it. I think that Let’s Go has its own niche within the Pokemon fandom and I actually do hope that we get Let’s Go sequels in Johto in 2021, but this spin-off just doesn’t do it for me… which is fine, I guess.

Love/Hate: Dead Space Extended Universe

From the very beginning Dead Space was conceived as a multi-media franchise. To that end it managed to build up quite the impressive collection of extended universe material in the five years it was active. Having dabbled in EU material from Star Wars, Halo, Warhammer 40,000 and Splinter Cell (among others), a lot of the time these story extensions are viewed as inessential marketing material. As a result, they typically aren’t very well written, don’t stand on their own merits, or are just “bolter porn” (eg, action fests with little in the way of characters or depth). Luckily, Dead Space has some real gems within its EU, although there is still plenty of material which fit into the latter categories… Sounds ripe for a love/hate breakdown to me!

Also, before we begin, I need to mention that the only piece of Dead Space media I never consumed was the mobile game, due to me not having a smartphone at the time. If I had played it I’d probably include it here and from what I hear it was a fantastic game, but the game is no longer supported on modern Android devices and is unavailable on the Play store. If I can manage to get ahold of it I’ll write a whole entry for it, assuming I have enough thoughts for a post. Anyway, with that aside out of the way, let’s dive in!

Love

  • Dead Space (graphic novel) – EA and Visceral games demonstrated that they were not fucking around with the Dead Space brand as the very first piece of media out of the gate was this six issue comic series and it is easily the best entry in the franchise outside of the actual games. There are a few reasons why this graphic novel is essential reading for horror fans. First of all, the writing is pretty great. Antony Johnston portrays how the entire Aegis VII colony goes to hell in compelling detail, slowly building up the tension to the point of absolute desperation. Secondly, Ben Templesmith’s art is perfect for this kind of story, being very clear but stylized and inked in a manner which gives it this manic, twisted and dark edge. Thirdly, it is the definitive tome about what happened on Aegis VII, which we only get bits and pieces of in Extraction, and therefore is essential for fans. Finally, it’s the perfect entry point to get into the franchise – you don’t need to know the lore to understand it, because everything gets laid out for you organically.
  • Dead Space: Extraction (comic) – Perhaps unsurprisingly, the one-off direct follow-up to the Dead Space comics is just as compelling and essential for fans of the series. Antony Johnston and Ben Templesmith essentially take a victory lap, showing us what Nicole is up to on the Ishimura during the outbreak and gives us more insight into her psychology and personality than any other entry into the franchise. That alone is enough to make Extraction worthwhile reading (especially since Nicole is essentially treated like an objective rather than a person elsewhere), but there’s such a bleak and tragic atmosphere to the whole proceeding that makes it so sad to read, especially since you know how it’s all going to turn out.
  • Dead Space: Martyr – This one really surprised me. Like I said up top, video game extended universe novels have a shaky track record and going through the first chapter of Martyr made me think that my low expectations were going to be met. However, by the time the second chapter starts, Martyr gets enthralling. It works for the same reasons that the Dead Space graphic novel works – it’s all about the build-up. You’re going to notice a trend as this goes along: necromorphs are great video game monsters, but an outbreak is boring in a non-interactive medium. Martyr focuses on the madness that the marker causes and the machinations of the people around it, for good or evil. It also gives fans essential insight into Michael Altman, the “Prophet” of the Church of Unitology, and shows us that he’s not a bad guy as we might have expected. Martyr really surprised me with how good it was and it makes for a chilling read with an ending which is just pitch-black.
  • Samuel Irons – I’ll cover Dead Space: Downfall in its own section later, but the one thing I love in it is Samuel Irons, who I would argue is straight-up the best character in the entire Dead Space franchise. Seriously, he’s a goddamn champ and is literally the only Unitologist we get to see who isn’t portrayed as a fanatic or outright evil. Dude even gets his own badass line before he goes off to face a swarm of necromorphs: “I’m not a hero… just a man”.

Mixed

  • Dead Space: Salvage – In the interstice between Dead Space and Dead Space 2, Ben Templesmith was dropped as the artist on the comic series and was replaced with Christopher Shy. I don’t know if this was for creative or financial reasons, but Shy’s artwork is as gorgeous as it is haunting and very befitting of the Dead Space universe. However, this is ultimately a blessing and a curse for Salvage. On the one hand, it lends the graphic novel a distinct and captivating visual style, making every panel a work of art. However, Shy’s style doesn’t lend itself very well to the story being told here. Salvage follows a team of “Magpies”, illegal salvagers who stumble upon the remains of the Ishimura as Earthgov is seeking it in the aftermath of the first game. We’re introduced to a huge cast of characters, but Shy’s art style makes it difficult to tell who is who in any given panel, who is saying what and even what is going on at times. Like, you can understand the broad strokes of the story with little issue, but good luck knowing what’s happening panel-to-panel. Hell, about two-thirds of the way through I realized that all the Magpies were on board the Ishimura – I had thought that only a recon team went aboard that whole time! Like I said, the art alone makes slogging through Salvage worthwhile, plus it gives us some really interesting insight into the greater Dead Space universe and the story itself is enjoyable enough when you can understand it, but the unnecessary confusion makes Salvage more difficult to appreciate than it should be.
  • Dead Space: Aftermath – I have a soft spot in my heart for Aftermath which makes me overlook its glaring flaws. First off, it must be said – the CG animation in this movie? DOGSHIT. Seriously, the animation is ReBoot levels of quality (which isn’t a knock on ReBoot, for the record, but you’d think that 17 years of advances in computer technology would raise the minimum threshold). Since almost half the movie is rendered in this machinima-level style, that’s a major issue right off the bat. However, the story structure and characters manage to make Aftermath interesting (for fans of the series at least). Each of the four main characters’ gets a POV section where their part in the story is told via a different anime style flashback. It’s really obvious that this was done so that five different animation studios could be working on the movie simultaneously and for minimal expenditure, but it’s integrated into the narrative itself in an ideal manner. Plus it helps that all of these anime segments are well animated, as opposed to Dead Space: Downfall (which we’ll get to soon enough…). The characters aren’t revolutionary, but they’re interesting enough to carry the proceedings, especially Nolan Stross, whose role in Dead Space 2 is far more interesting when you have this film’s insight into his backstory. Unfortunately, the film suddenly devolves into yet another outbreak story about halfway through, and I really do mean sudden – one minute everything’s fine, the next there’s necromorphs all over the O’Bannon. Aftermath‘s first half does a really good job setting up the madness and expanding the series’ lore, so when it rushes into a half-assed and boring outbreak scenario it’s a real bummer. Like I said, I have a soft spot for Aftermath in spite of its several flaws which would probably throw it right into the “Hate” section for most, but there’s just enough interesting lore and story here that I can’t help but find it interesting.
  • Dead Space: Catalyst – After the surprisingly good Martyr, my excitement for B.K. Evenson’s follow-up novel, Catalyst, couldn’t be higher as the hype train for Dead Space 3 approached. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as captivating as its predecessor was and is arguably the single most inessential piece of media in the Dead Space extended universe. It follows estranged brothers Istvan and Jensi, along with Jensi’s friend Henry. Istvan has some sort of mental illness which makes him psychotic, which eventually leads him to assassinate a political figure and end up in a remote prison facility where a marker research station is housed. Jensi and Henry try to rescue Istvan… but then another outbreak happens. Sigh. Compared to Martyr, Catalyst has far more interesting and compelling characters and the whole setup works really well. Unfortunately, it’s all in service of just giving us yet another necromorph outbreak story and little else beyond that. About the only revelation with potential impact is that Istvan’s mental illness is such that he can change the marker signal, but it is barely developed and Evenson is careful to cut off that source of potential future storytelling. It’s an alright novel, but it didn’t stick with me or demand my attention the way Martyr did.
  • Dead Space: Liberation – Acting as a direct prequel to Dead Space 3, Liberation gives us the backstory for John Carver, showing us the shittiest day of his life. Christopher Shy is back but this time his style has been reined in to be far less ethereal and abstract and instead more moody and realistic. This makes it far easier to follow the story and I can’t say I was ever lost or confused. However, Antony Johnston (writer on the Dead Space comics and games up to this point) was replaced with Ian Edginton (his series Scarlet Traces is well worth checking out!) and the difference in style between the two is night-and-day. Like Dead Space 3, Liberation is a fast-paced, high-stakes action story, where necromorph outbreaks are so inconsequential that we get two of them! Liberation really suffers from being a prequel – there’s no conclusion and all the major plot beats are basically just to set up stuff that will happen in Dead Space 3. Of all the Dead Space extended universe media, Liberation may just be the most obvious marketing ploy of them all. That said, the only things making it worthwhile at all are getting insight into John Carver’s character and Shy’s continued exceptional artwork.

Hate

  • Dead Space: Downfall – I rewatched this movie for this article and good God I still dislike it. The first big issue? The awful, bargain-basement animation. Just look at that screenshot above – it lacks any sort of detail and is meant to be as simple as possible. As bad as it looks in screenshots, it looks even more terrible in motion, with choppy animation demonstrating that they couldn’t afford/be bothered to key in enough frames to make it look smooth. I don’t know if the studio just got overwhelmed with the work they had to do, but it makes me glad that Aftermath took the approach of farming out work to several studios as its animated segments look leagues better (y’know, aside from the awful CG parts). The second big issue is that the main character, Alissa Vincent, sucks. She’s your generic take-no-nonsense head of security and spends the whole movie being insubordinate, hot-headed and doing random acrobatics in the middle of gun fights. She feels like a lame RPG character rather than someone who belongs in the more grounded Dead Space universe. The third big issue is that the story kind of sucks. There’s some enjoyment to be had in seeing the Ishimura plunge into chaos, especially Captain Matthius’ growing paranoia and delusion, but when the film turns into a montage of Vincent and her Dungeons & Dragons party getting into several shootouts with necromorphs it’s just plain dull. Sure, Downfall has Samuel Irons, but he’s the only thing about this movie that I actually love. Dead Space: Extraction covers the fall of the Ishimura as well, so as far as I’m concerned Downfall can be straight-up ignored in the continuity of the franchise.
  • Dead Space: Ignition – Soooooo, I know for a fact I’ve never played this game, but checking through my PlayStation account reveals that at some point I bought it and then never played it… So, um, I want my $5 back, EA. That said, I’m probably better off for never having played Ignition because it’s apparently the crappiest entry in the entire franchise (and that’s factoring in all the games and extended universe, including Downfall). Do you like hacking minigames and cheap comic book art? I sure hope you do because that’s all you’re going to get out of this experience! The only purpose this game serves to the series’ narrative is letting us know a bit about Franco before he’s immediately offed at the beginning of Dead Space 2, but like… who cares? Skip this one for sure.
  • EU Peters Out By Dead Space 3 – Moving on to more general thoughts, it sucks that Dead Space 3 killed the series because it effectively killed the extended universe while it was at it. This especially sucks because Dead Space 3‘s story was ripe for spin-off tales. After all, it introduced a rogue, militant terrorist faction of the Unitologist Church who come out of nowhere, wipe out Earthgov and then cause outbreaks across the galaxy, which the game promptly forgets. That’s a bunch of potential horror stories that went completely unmined. Even then, the two EU stories we did get during Dead Space 3‘s cycle, Catalyst and Liberation did almost nothing to expand the series’ scope or lore. Dead Space and Dead Space 2‘s cycles both gave us new insights into the universe or background events, which makes the sudden disinterest come Dead Space 3 even more depressing.
  • The Portrayal of Religion – One thing that has always annoyed me about the extended universe in Dead Space is that it’s really obvious that the writers have a bone to pick with religion. Everyone writes off Unitologists immediately and calls them crazy, despite the fact that they’re often being confronted face-to-face with the literal holy object of their religion. Like, I’m no Scientologist, but if someone showed me Xenu I’d at least consider the possibility that they might have some answers. Naturally, every Unitologist (except for Samuel Irons, the goddamn champ) gets written as a fanatic or downright evil, while the people who explicitly oppose them are “rational” thinkers like scientists, doctors and… uh… the police. This despite the fact that about half of the Unitologist characters weren’t even known to be Unitologists until the events of the stories, showing that they’re really just regular people for the most part. It’s just so obviously anti-religious sentiment and is excessively simplified to the point of being insulting (such as the implication that being religious causes you to be more susceptible to the marker’s maddening effects). This also ignores that the Dead Space series makes it explicitly clear that governments are the real villains, Unitology is just a tool. Hell, even the series’ writers seem to have forgotten this because by the time Dead Space 3 rolls around the government’s killed off-screen and we have moustache-twirling religious loonies as the villains. The treatment in the franchise is just lazy and makes “Unitologist” shorthand for “villain” 99% of the time.
  • No Resolution – Sure, you could argue that Awakened ends the franchise with everyone dying, but I don’t buy that. Dead Space has too many loose ends still dangling, the most crucial of which is Lexine. Dead Space 4 (or an EU story at the very least) NEEDED to bring Lexine into the forefront and make good on Nicole’s revelations in the Extraction comic – it is possible to defeat the necromorphs. Hell… I’m half tempted to write my own version, because EA sure as fuck is never going to.

Love/Hate: Dead Space 3

Man, I was being nice to this game back when I wrote my original review of it. The intervening years have made me more and more hostile to Dead Space 3, especially considering that EA used its moderate success as an excuse to kill the franchise. That said, there are things to love about Dead Space 3, so let’s dive in and check it out…

Love

  • Tau Volantis is Cool – I remember a lot of fans complained that a Dead Space game was going to be taking place on a planet back in the day, but I’ve never had an issue with this. For one thing, it’s still sci-fi and for another, a frozen planet is barely a step down from the existential danger of space. In fact, it opens up new opportunities for horror – enemies hidden in the snow, body temperature regulation, snow squalls, etc. Visceral Games use all of these elements throughout the game and make the most of the setting within the framework they set for themselves.
  • Side-quests – One of the most interesting new additions in Dead Space 3 is the optional “side-quests” that you can embark on. These reward the player with supplies for completion and, most importantly, provide little self-contained stories to uncover. I’m a sucker for side-quests and appreciate their inclusion in this game – it gives me some fun, optional content to explore and rewards you for taking the risk.
  • Co-Op is Entirely Optional – Co-op modes were being shoehorned into games during this time period and often resulted in you being forced to wrangle a friend whenever you wanted to play, or dealing with invariably awful AI companions. Dead Space 3 makes the elegant decision to make the game’s marquee co-op mode entirely optional. Want to play through the game solo? That’s cool, Carver will be awkwardly on the fringes of the entire story, but you’re otherwise not even going to notice. It is a far more preferable solution to this than brain-dead AI that turns into a frustrating burden. The only issue is that certain side-quests are co-op only, making it feel like you’re missing out on content for not participating.
  • Extensive Weapon Crafting System – Dead Space 3 is often criticized for its weapon crafting system, being blamed for reducing the horror. However, I feel like it provides a more elegant solution to the weapon management system from the previous games, effectively allowing you to pick the weapons you actually want to use and mash them together into two personal super-guns. Sure, this also results in them being potentially overpowered, jack-of-all-trades crutch weapons, but Dead Space 3 is designed around that so it works. Getting your preferred weapon to a “just right” state is satisfying in itself and there are so many combinations you can produce that it’s cool to see it in action.
  • Supercharged Kinesis – In the very late game Dead Space 3 goes off the rails in terms of its stakes. One of the best parts of this though is the supercharged kinesis – kinesis has always been fun, but how do you like the idea of tearing the limbs right off of attacking necromorphs or launching entire markers at the real hive mind of the necromorphs? It’s a power fantasy but it feels so damn good while it lasts.
  • The Space Section – After the introduction, Dead Space 3 spends a good hour or two in orbit around Tau Volantis. It feels like a watered down version of classic Dead Space, but it’s still a blast to play through as you fly through a spaceship graveyard and trying to get the parts to repair your own craft. I especially like the art direction on the necromorphs here, they’ve been dormant for almost 200 years and they look so desiccated after all this time.
  • Feeders – Dead Space 3 doesn’t introduce a lot of new enemies, but a couple of them are great. Most pertinent are the Feeders, blind necromorphs that are attracted to strong light sources and sound. Having to deal with enemies in a non-combative way is a great change for the series and provides some of the few true horror moments in the game. Plus their backstory is amazing, having been created after starving humans got desperate enough to feed on the flesh of defeated necromorphs. In addition to Feeders, the Shambler is also a cool concept, where a necromorph decapitates a victim and then embeds itself in their neck cavity to control the body.

Mixed

  • Body Temperature Regulation is Underutilized – I know I praised Dead Space 3 for how it makes the most of Tau Volantis, but one thing it could have done more with is body temperature regulation. When you crash land on the planet you have to stay in proximity to heat to avoid freezing to death, but you soon find a thermal suit and never have to worry about it again. If they hadn’t done this then there’s definitely the potential for this to just become a burden, but handled well I feel like having to worry about freezing to death would have added far more tension to the game and made Tau Volantis itself a more dangerous setting.
  • Awakened DLC – Once again, a Dead Space story DLC lands in the mixed section, for similar reasons. On the plus side, Awakened drastically ups the horror elements compared to the main game, making for a tenser and more interesting experience. However, its ending leaves a real sour taste in my mouth. For one thing, it effectively undoes the ending of the main game, going from a bittersweet ending to one that is straight-up nihilistic. The fact that this is the last piece of Dead Space story we’ve ever gotten just makes it worse. Don’t get me wrong, a bleak ending can work but I don’t feel like it was earned at all. In addition, are you telling me that no one managed to evacuate Earth to the several stations and colonies we know humanity has? Hell, I was under the impression that the vast majority of The Sprawl was evacuated in Dead Space 2 and that was in the middle of a full-on outbreak in a confined station. It just makes me even more annoyed that we never got Dead Space 4 starring Lexine Murdoch-Weller going out to kick some necromorph ass.

Hate

  • Balance Is Out of Whack – Dead Space and Dead Space 2 struck a fantastic balance of making health and ammo scarce while giving you just enough enemies to deal with where you felt like you were barely holding on. Dead Space 3, however, completely fails in this regard and just feels cheap at times. The game inundates you health pickups, to the point where I never managed to run out (and, to be more accurate, my inventory was chocked full of them at all times). You’re also never going to run out of ammo for any particular weapon, because ammo pickups are now universal. Enemy encounters are just a pain in the ass though – you get swarmed by enemies from all angles, to the point where it just feels cheap. I’m not sure if this is because the game only has one spawn system to cover for single player and co-op, or if the game has just been designed to try to overwhelm you, but it makes planning less important than spraying and praying.
  • Microtransactions – Dead Space 3 was the prototype for forced-in microtransactions in single player games. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a big deal back in the day because I never felt like you needed to rely on them to get supplies, but goddamn if their putrid legacy can’t be felt to this day. The fact that this game was so groundbreaking for something so shitty is an irredeemable blight on the game that can’t be taken away.
  • Human Enemies – By far one of the worst aspects of this game is that it turns into a cover shooter at certain points. I’m playing Dead Space, I don’t want to play a crappy version of Uncharted or Gears of War. It’s just… ugh.
  • Everything is Watered Down – Did you like Dead Space‘s mix of horror and gore? Cool, then how about we give you an action game in the vein of Uncharted instead… While Dead Space 3 does have occasional moments of light horror, the game is on the whole orders of magnitude less scary and far less violent. Hell, even aspects of the previous game which return here, such as the Stalkers, are changed to be less scary (instead of trying to flank you, they just charge instantly). Like I said, the weapon crafting and universal ammo reduce the tension as well in favour of straight action. What do we get instead? Over-the-top set pieces which quickly outstay their welcome. Even some of the necromorphs are wielding weapons in this game, which just makes them less inhuman terrors.
  • The Story – Hoo boy, strap in because there is a lot to talk about in this regard:
    • In regards to the set-up of this game, within the first few minutes we’re told that Unitologist terrorists have straight-up wiped out EarthGov and are launching terrorist attacks across the galaxy to try to initiate convergence. Holy shit, that’s crazy! I hope you don’t care about this interesting turn of events though because the game never returns to it and we never got any extended universe content to cover these monumental developments. To make matters worse, Awakened ends with Isaac and Carver trying to contact EarthGov so… did they (by which I mean the writers) forget what happened?
    • I also don’t like the concept of the Brethren Moons. For one thing, we don’t need to know what controls and creates the markers, the mystery is part of the allure. Beyond that, we’ve already got enough complication – the markers make the hive mind, which controls the necromorphs… so what’s the point of a hive mind if there are actually Brethren Moons? It’s the sort of plot development that I hate, where it relies on ever-growing stakes to feel important. Like, what was next for Dead Space 4, finding out what’s controlling the Brethren Moons?
    • Oh and nearly every single character in Dead Space 3 SUUUUUUUCKS. Main human antagonist, Danik? He’s such a lame villain. At least Tiedemann in Dead Space 2 was somewhat understandable in his motivations, Danik is just a monologuing asshole. And speaking of assholes, Norton spends the entire game being a jealous prick to Isaac. Even Carver’s a real dick, but at least he has something of an arc where he becomes friendly over time. Most of the rest of the cast are cannon fodder, except for…
  • Ellie Has Been Sexed Up – God damn, EA wanted Dead Space 3 to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, so what’s one way they went about this? They sexed up Ellie Langford, softening her features, presumably giving her implants and then showing off a ton of cleavage whenever possible. Like… it’s so in your face and so obviously pandering that I hate it.
  • It’s Compromised to the Core – Perhaps the worst thing about Dead Space 3 after all this time is that the game is fundamentally compromised. Visceral clearly didn’t get to make the story or game they wanted to, but in order to keep the series going they had to give in to EA’s demands… and for what? The game still didn’t do well enough to keep the franchise alive and even if it did we would have gotten a Dead Space 4 that was even more removed from what made this franchise great in the first place. All we’re left with is a game which betrays everything we liked about Dead Space to begin with and ends the series on a truly sour note.