Originally posted by Boogie Knight:
The horror genre has suffered for want of games, but for some time a fan could get by on action games which made nods to horror. Dead Space and Resident Evil games from RE4 onward fit the bill as pretty good action with a little horror for flavor. However, there is concern that to appeal to “broader” audiences the suits are trying to extricate the niche nature of horror games and use brand recognition to sell generic shooters. I think it’s more than fitting to have a review which compares and contrasts the most recent installments, Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil 6, as well as assess how well founded those concerns are.
Dead Space 3 continues the story of one man who survives encounter after encounter with alien artifacts and the deranged humans who worship the unholy things. In the first couple games, Isaac unwittingly ended up in dangerous places which started going to hell, but this time Isaac gets conscripted into saving his girlfriend (the new one who apparently he had a relationship with which fell apart between DS2 and DS3). To pander to the conventions of the genre, co-op was added and rather than using an established character we get a new guy named Carver who just reminds me of the sucky brother from Dragon Age II. We also get Simon Templeman voicing the human main antagonist, which in and of itself would be awesome, but it gets a tad silly how often the heroes live to fight another day because the badguy would rather talk them to death instead of shoot them.
As the game progresses, we get to learn more about the history of the Markers, the slow dying gasps of the human race, and even get to learn about an alien civilization. The characters have always had only the faintest characterization, so it’s easy to forgive how paper thin the personalities of the cast is. Yet, the mythology itself if pretty engaging and fun to learn about. Though as more facts are learned about the Markers it can get confusing and perhaps contradictory, but this is evil alien voodoo we’re talking about that turns people insane and/or twisted monstrosities which mock the victims with the semblance of humanity that remains.
Resident Evil Giraffe Felatio I mean 6, is about Capcom making crap up as it goes along to get around the big finale which Resident Evil 5 was billed as. The universe allows for plenty of intrigue and plotting with nasty viruses at the center, but this installment goes about it in the clumsiest way possible. To be fair, Ada’s entire story flashes with big neon letters that while Umbrella got all the attention there was another group discretely making plays behind the scenes, but what we get is underwhelming.
And how come I never heard about anyone crying racism over killing all the Chinese mutants? I know I haven’t been paying attention, but the cast of player characters is the most lily white for no good reason. Leon could sorta be justified because he’s tied to Ada and ever since RE4 they’ve been stuck together. Chris’ arc was boring and frankly I thought he could have been another character and he would have made the same impact. Seriously, I spent the first chapter of his story wondering who the hell Finn was and if he was an established character before RE6, and why couldn’t he be teamed up with Claire instead for a little sibling banter between sessions of monster slaying (maybe one scene where they exchange apologies for mean stuff they did to each other as kids when everything looks bleak). It brings up a fundamental issue of the creators introducing red shirts and apparently expects the audience to give a damn when they meet the inevitable doom the protagonists could have seen a mile away.
Then there’s Jake, trying to have one player character who wasn’t a goody goody might have been a step in the right direction, but then there are scenes where apparently he is supposed to be a character instead of pure id and he isn’t as engaging. However, the saving grace is the introduction of a grown up Sherry from Resident Evil 2, which gives me hope that one day Capcom will totally steal my idea of a CG buddy flick teaming up Sherry with Ashley as they survive a skyscraper full of zombies in the spirit of House of the Dead: Overkill (Heck, Claire and Sherry would have made a good team as well with their history, and perhaps a master-pupil dynamic). Apparently, Jake is supposed to come off as a jerk for demanding 50 million dollars for “the cure,” and while he is a jerk considering how much the US federal government squanders on pork barrel projects his offer is fairly reasonable.
Gameplay is the easiest way to examine whether or not a survival horror franchise has totally lost its mind. Dead Space 3’s gameplay is fairly consistent with previous installments, but there are a few notable changes. The ability to roll out of danger by double tapping the run button is very welcome since killing enemies charging directly at me seems to be that one thing I could never get right and thus lose chunks of health or outright die. Making custom weapons with various combinations and attributes from scraps and spare parts is more fitting than the shop system of the older games, though once you make the combination pulse rifle-force gun with stasis coating a great deal of difficulty evaporates. Yes, there is a cover system now, but human enemies whom you use it to fight are a relatively small part of the game and are around almost entirely for plot reasons.
As for the new co-op feature, one could argue that DS3 simultaneously got it completely right and got it completely wrong. Co-op is entirely optional, and the story accommodates for not lugging around the new guy so you don’t have to worry about a retarded AI partner. Yet, there are a few optional objectives which can further characterize the new guy, get logs and collectibles for trophy hunters, but these are only available in co-op. It’s good that you can beat the game without co-op, but the co-op is online only so antisocial players or those with poor internet connections are locked out of a good deal of the content.
The microtransactions for resources have raised the ire of fans, but you can get by abusing the scavenger bots to farm resources… which includes ration seals which you can turn around and use to get resource packs for free which otherwise you might pay for. Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer had ingame currency to buy packs, but the time it took to farm could be taxing and the gear in the packs was essential to creating a decent build so it was understandable for a player wanting the coveted 5K EMS to break down in frustration and buy one or two packs with real money to speed the process along. In Dead Space 3 there is no reason to spend real money other than being a complete doofus who give in to peer pressure easily.
Let me first state that I loved the first Resident Evil, it was the reason I got an original Playstation in the first place. I found the second RE to be like a religious experience, but for some reason afterward my passion for the series waned. Probably because of a number of installments that were for other consoles so keeping up was hard. I hadn’t played RE4 until it got ported to the PS2, and was about 20 bucks, but I enjoyed the game very much and in spite of everything I didn’t hate RE5. Out of morbid curiosity I tried Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and what a piece of crap. I heard bad things about it, but I wanted to be open minded. It was a poor experience, and a franchise is allowed to have ups and downs, but the worst part about ORC was that I felt like it was a taste of things to come with Resident Evil 6.
Okay, seriously, one would think that after ORC bombed more sensible people at Capcom would have argued for taking another look at RE6 to see what bad ideas the two games had in common which could be remedied. To be perfectly blunt, turning Resident Evil 6 into a stupid shooter with monsters could have been tolerated if at the very least it played well! While playing the different campaigns and the multiple personality disorder approach I couldn’t help thinking of other games I could be playing which could do what Capcom was trying and do it better. Leon’s campaign seemed to be making nods to the classic survival horror roots, and yet with the swarms of enemies and shitty lighting as well as constant explosions I don’t know what the hell they were going for.
Parts reminded me of Left 4 Dead, and there were parts in which the player was ganged up on by zombies in damn near total darkness… Dead Space had similar moments, but the monsters had red glowing eyes to be really scary as well as give the player an idea of where to shoot. Oh, and Dead Space had stasis to freeze enemies and the force gun for crowd control. Instead of fixing this, Capcom just accepted it was crap and gave the player the quickshot in which the player would spin around and shoot wild at the nearest foe. Strategic dismemberment and aiming? “Screw that!” seems to be Capcom’s reply.
That is probably one of the big problems of the game, figuring out what the hell you’re shooting at is way too frickin’ hard with the masses of enemies and crappy visuals. I’ve never seen a game look so expensive yet sloppy at the same time, finding a game with a worse pallet would require picking out something from the early 90s. It would have been so much better if the game was bright enough to see everything… or really bright and colorful… and instead of using ineffectual guns got a really sweet melee weapon… like a chainsaw. Wait, I just described Lollipop Chainsaw.
The prologue really sets the tone for the entire game, elaborate but boring scenes where stuff spontaneously combusts as bland music and bad acting assault the senses. For all the slings and arrows it took, Resident Evil 5 at least understood it should wait a few minutes with building tension before throwing swarms of zombies at the players. RE6 just throws us into crisis mode on the assumption that being loud and flashy will be enough to induce a sense of urgency. Oh and somehow, Capcom managed to make the inventory system even more unintuitive and sucky for real time access.
Whether a game will implement regenerating health or not is a big choice that determines how a game should be played. Resident Evil 6 decides to play it both ways by segmented health, but when a zombie grapples ya it seems like the whole damn health bar disappears like a platter of ribs at a refugee camp. Then you either use up a spray can to recover your health bar and risk losing it all again or recover one segment at a time gobbling tic tacs. A shooter with segmented health that you can restore with health items can work, it did for the original Resistance… but The Darkness II really shone as segments were restored by tearing out the hearts of enemies who were slain, or be performing vicious and satisfying executions of enemies you had at your mercy. What were we talking about again?
And then there are bugs and glitches… which come with the territory for games which are heavily scripted. On more than a few occasions I would see enemies milling about not doing anything even as I walked up to them. One amusing moment involved my AI sidekicks and enemies hanging around like they were having a casual chat, almost like a scene from Wreck-It-Ralph, then they notice me and go through the motions in the futile attempt at being exciting. That the game is heavily scripted with its sound and fury signifying nothing is bad enough, the scripted events are retarded as bosses just flat out refuse to die.
Many shooters have the option of firing blind, and while there is the quickshot it requires one more button and consumes stamina. Given that cover based shooting is a major component of Resident Evil 6, it would make sense to let a player fire blind from cover, or at least do so while running around, or let a player get behind cover by just pushing a single button rather than having to hold a button and press another button. And in Chris’ campaign, the player could be forced into situations where neither option will have positive consequences and slip further into a spiral of violence, stupidity, and death. Dammit, I’m now thinking of Spec Ops: The Line.
Okay, now Dead Space 3 is far from perfect. The sparse characterization in the single player experience makes some motives unclear. To be honest, a lot of the problems stem from the choice of changing Isaac from a silent protagonist to a talking one. For plot reasons, it made some sense for Isaac to interact verbally with other characters, but once he started being his own character rather than our avatar in this mixed up world; it became increasingly harder to relate to him. In Dead Space 3 he comes off as petulant and childish when he gets informed of the situation, and takes one hell of a carrot to get him off his ass.
As mentioned before, characterization has been a weakness for Dead Space, but one thing which strikes me about the perfunctory love interest is the squandered potential in connecting it to one of the core ideas of the series. In spite of losing his mind, though his madness often comes out through him insisting he is crazy like whiny teens so, Isaac still seeks out connection to other people, affection from another human being. The main temptation of the Marker is its offer of connection to everyone in their species; the Marker takes a human need and extrapolates it to a perverse extreme.
Yet, the deficiencies in Dead Space 3 are nowhere as glaring as spending time in Leon’s campaign saving people who were already dead and killing people who might have had a chance. How can a plot be so convoluted, yet can telegraph that the player is doing something stupid and not give a chance to advance the plot without being a dummy? On the other hand, introducing something like a choice system would result in a diminished game, as players would only choose the approaches that were not the retarded choices.
In conclusion, Dead Space 3 is more of the same, a perfectly serviceable game which doesn’t offend but doesn’t really offer more than a new plot to excuse shredding up monsters (though I did like one part near the end where one monster was using other little monsters as hand grenades, if there was more interspecies cooperation that might have been pretty scary, like Doom in reverse). Resident Evil 6 is a game I don’t hate, but it’s more like the simmering loathing of a couple that have been together for a long time. Then one morning one of them wakes up early and looks at the other, all the while thinking, “Look at this sorry motherfucker, breathing and shit.”
Some fans throw around the idea of Resident Evil “getting back to its roots” in the same way that unimaginative executives talk about “thinking outside the box,” but there’s no going back for a series where the end of the world might as well be called Tuesday. The only practical options for Resident Evil would be to either embrace the reality that the universe is just damn goofy and play it up for laughs, or do a soulless reboot to try to “go back” and recapture recalcitrant fans. Somehow, I imagine we’re gonna get a few more sucky games before we get the inevitable reboot.
Pertaining to the future of the horror genre itself, there are smaller developers and titles working hard to bring decent games to market. Heck, even the modest Slender game is getting a bigger and hopefully better sequel, and from what I read a spiritual remake of the very first Clock Tower game might be release for the WiiU… which leaved me wondering why Capcom is just sitting on the Clock Tower property along with Haunting Ground. The worst Clock Tower game was when Human tried to ape Capcom’s surprise success by shoe horning in zombies and viruses, as long as the game is playable there is damn near no way that anything Capcom makes will ever sink that low. Screw it, I’m gonna wrap up that Corpse Party sequel and hope that if I’m a good boy, Santa will get XSeed to localize more of that franchise for Christmas.