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My Top 5 Game Picks from 2015

As the old year begins to fade into distant memory, we all take a pause to reflect on the passage of time and what we managed to experience and accomplish on the Earth’s latest spin around the sun.  In gaming, that usually means games of the year lists!  I have to say, there were a lot of great games released in 2015, and I’ve come to the regrettable realization that I just don’t have the time to play every game that I would like to pick up.  There were several big games that I didn’t manage to find the time for in 2015.  Namely, I’m thinking about Bloodborne, The Witcher 3, Soma, and Undertale.  I would like to think I’ll eventually get around to playing those games, but as I look forward, I see that 2016 also looks to have a lot of great games on the horizon, especially in the opening months of the year!  So I fear I might not ever really find the time to get back to those I’ve missed.

The existential regrets of a gamer aside, I’ve compiled a brief list of five 2015 releases that I really thought were highlights of the year.  They are listed in no particular order.

Super Mario Maker

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For a guy who grew up on classic Mario, Super Mario Maker was like the game I’ve been waiting all my life for, but I somehow didn’t realize how much I wanted it until it was here.  Having a vast and ever growing library of new levels in the mold of classic games like Super Mario Bros. 3 was a huge blast of nostalgia.  But what I found most impressive about the game was not the access to a huge collection of user-generated content, but how engrossed I became with the level editor, itself.  I had initially been somewhat worried that I wouldn’t have much inspiration to create levels, but everytime I sat down to create something, I found my imagination was immediately ignited.  It’s kind of amazing how quickly I found myself coming up with new ideas and twists for levels, and the sheer fun I found in creation ended up being the real draw to the game for me.  And the creative spark is incredibly well-facilitated as the level editor is amazingly easy and accessible to use, while still complex enough to grant the designer a fair degree of freedom to invent and experiment with entirely new ideas.

I also want to add that I’m really happy with the diligent continuing support Nintendo has given to the game.  A lot of my initial complaints have been solved in the many updates they’ve released which have made improvements like adding checkpoints and creating a better system to browse and discover new levels.

Until Dawn

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Here was another unexpectedly great horror game that released this year.  Until Dawn is not an action game like Resident Evil, but rather a story-focused adventure game, similar to Life is Strange or The Walking Dead.  Featuring a group of teenagers vacationing alone in a cabin in the woods, Until Dawn adapts the classic slasher film setup to an interactive story experience.  The story features a heavy emphasis on character relationships, and as the group’s situation becomes increasingly dire, we see the friendship of these characters put to a real test.

As the player guides the teens through a single fated night, the consequences of the player’s choices determines who lives and who dies.  It’s possible to do a “perfect” run where all the teens live, or they can all end up dying if the wrong decisions are made.  Ultimately, the number of survivors that make it through the night is less important than the player’s curiosity with how the story unfolds.  And for a video game storyline, I found it surprisingly refreshing.  Amongst all the terror, these characters have their moments of triumph, failure, redemption, tragedy, and affection, which I found made for a rich and standout experience amongst horror games.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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Before Metal Gear Solid V, I was a lapsed MGS fan.  I know it’s beloved by a lot of gamers out there, but MGS4 really rubbed me the wrong way and turned me off from the series.  MGS4 was a big step away from the series’ roots, moving from the top-down perspective of the previous games to a behind the shoulder viewpoint, and I don’t think they quite figured out how to make the stealth gameplay work under the new camera conditions.  And on the action side of things, the gunplay was really awkward and lacked grace and fluidity.  But where MGS4 failed in its attempts to evolve the stealth action that Snake’s adventures are known for, I think The Phantom Pain really succeeded.

With its sprawling open world, The Phantom Pain is a huge deviation from its predecessors.  What I admire most about MGSV is the freedom it allows the player in pursuing mission objectives.  I played this game after finishing the PC version of GTAV, and what struck me about GTAV was how restrictive it was toward the player.  At every point in GTA’s missions, the game has very exact instructions that it expects the player to follow.  MGSV, on the other hand, merely drops the player in a huge playground with a mission objective and gives them the freedom and toolbox to devise their own solutions to achieving that goal.  

In some ways, The Phantom Pain doesn’t feel like an MGS game, which is why I’m very hesitant to call it the best of the series.  The gameplay is amazing and probably the best amongst its kin, but the story and characters are not as elaborate and interesting.  Many people feel that the story was probably unfinished due to the troubled circumstances of development.  Regardless, this game was just amazing to me and is a perfect illustration of the obsessive attention to detail that Hideo Kojima and his team are known for.

Resident Evil Revelations 2

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The original Resident Evil Revelaitons was a 3DS game that I thought was alright considering it was a handheld action game.  I don’t think it was a bad game, just not a particularly special one.  With that in mind, Revelations 2 was an incredible surprise to me.  While it still leans toward action, I felt it was much darker as a horror game than the previous two mainline Resident Evil games, which focus more on bombast than tension and dread.  

Revelations 2 stars series veterans Claire Redfield and Barry Burton operating in parallel campaigns.  The player trades off control between the two characters at predetermined points in each of the game’s episodes.  Once again, the Resident Evil series partners the main characters with AI companions.  This time newcomers to the series Moira Burton, Barry’s daughter, and Natalia, a mysterious psychic orphan, travel with Claire and Barry respectively.  Unlike in previous games, the player can switch control between the main character and the partner at will.  While the inclusion of companions in Resident Evil has been highly derided by fans, I think Revelations 2 is the first game in the series to use them well from a mechanics standpoint.  This is because neither Moira nor Natalia use guns, but rather have special abilities that are helpful to Claire and Barry in combat.  For instance, the psychic Natalia can “see” things that Barry can’t, like invisible enemies and hidden weak points.

And finally, the secret ending is just badass.  They really did a good job making all the characters in this game compelling and enjoyable, and the ending is really a “hell yeah” culmination for all their struggles.

Splatoon

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There’s no question that Nintendo is great at making multiplayer games.  I don’t know that there are any games that I’ve enjoyed as much with friends and family as Mario Kart and Smash Bros.  But nonetheless, I don’t think many foresaw just how successful their first foray into the world of online action games would be.  When Splatoon was first revealed, it piqued my interest (and made my highlights of E3 2014), but I really felt I was being cautiously optimistic.  Afterall, Nintendo had been great at making multiplayer games to play with real live human beings, but online competition had not yet been a serious focus of theirs.

But the success of Splatoon is not merely in Nintendo finally proving that it could compete in the arena of online gaming (when it wants to), but in the fact that it injects actual imagination and creativity into the rather stale world of online shooters. For better or for worse, Nintendo tends to go its own way and rarely walks in the footsteps of others, and Splatoon is a game brimming with ideas that are mostly entirely its own.  It was a huge breath of fresh air, and I really know of no other online experience which could be considered similar.   

My only complaint with the game is the single player campaign.  I’m not saying I think it’s bad, as I did enjoy it enough to see it to completion.  (The final boss is a really fun fight!)  Rather, I just expected something a little more memorable coming from Nintendo, but I guess the real focus of the team had been on crafting such a superb multiplayer experience.

 

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Thoughts on RE:Revelations 2 and Mid-Size Releases

I will admit, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Resident Evil Revelations 2.  I’m somewhat fond of the first Revelations game, but my taste for that game has always been tempered by the recognition that it has many not insignificant issues, most of them related to the fact that it was designed as a 3DS game.  For Revelations 2, I can say I wasn’t particularly impressed by the little preview coverage I saw of it.  It sort of looks like a ripoff of The Evil Within, as the game goes for a much more grungy, “rusty” look that is more reminiscent of Silent Hill than previous Resident Evil games.  In addition, I’m not one who really favors episodic content, as I like to be able to complete a game at my own pace without being artificially held up by having to wait for the developer to actually release the rest of it.  And before release there were some disturbing rumors of microtransaction-focused design floating around.  Nonetheless, as impressions of the first episode came out as being generally favorable, and as I am a complete sucker for Resident Evil, I decided to jump aboard in spite of my earlier reservations.

Turns out, I actually really like what I’ve played so far of the game (the first three episodes).  It is a likeable action game that manages to improve a lot on its predecessor.  The thing is, though, that Revelations 2 actually doesn’t have all that much in common with its forebear.  Gameplay-wise, the scanning mechanic from the first game has been ditched, the monsters are very different (not just in appearance and theme, but they are generally faster and more aggressive), there is now a very helpful dodge mechanic (similar to Alan Wake if you’ve played that game), and the AI-controlled partners you fight alongside aren’t merely just another gun but function more for support functions.  You can even switch direct control between the main combat character (Claire and Barry) and the support character (Moira and Natalia).  The one similarity I can find is that the weapons upgrade system has carried over.  Story and setting wise, they are even more different.  So far, none of the characters introduced in Revelations have appeared in Revelations 2.  There have been a few brief mentions of the Terragrigia incident, but that’s about the only reference it gives to the original’s story.

 

Oddly though, Revelations 2 maintains the Alan Wake-style episodic structure, replete with “Previously on…” recaps at the beginning of each episode.  The episodic structure kind of made sense in the original Revelations, as it provided convenient break points and story recaps that complimented the portable nature of the game, but for this downloadable title, it makes somewhat less sense.  Capcom has used this as an excuse to release the game episodically, but on a weekly basis, which means the game is done in its entirety, and they are just trickling out content for reasons unknown.  I’m somewhat leery of episodic releases a la Telltale as I think they are exploitative of customers with months often passing between episodes.  I prefer to only buy these games once the entire season has been released and reviewed  But I guess Capcom has done episodic content in the least objectionable way, as if you buy the season pass you don’t have to wait too long to get all the content you’ve paid for, while if you’re on the fence about the game, then you can buy one episode for $5.99 and then decide to buy the rest based on whether you like what you’ve played.

In terms of creating an offshoot series with the Revelations name, the only thing I can think that really ties these games together are their apparent low(er) production budgets.  As much as I like Revelations 2, it’s apparent that it hasn’t received nearly the same amount of investment as Resident Evil 5 or 6, which is more obvious and understandable in light of it’s $25 price tag.  A lot of little things add up to give this impression, but two things stand out the most.  Firstly from a technical perspective, the graphics are middling for even a PS3/360 level.  Secondly, a lot of the levels are used twice.  The episodes are divided into two parts, a Claire part and a Barry part.  In the game, Barry is tracking Claire’s whereabouts so he visits the same locations in each episode that she does.  Sometimes he’ll take a route around an area that Claire has visited and come upon a new location, but about 50% of the time, he’ll walk through the exact same area.

The thing is I don’t feel like either of these facts are actual issues for the game.  While the graphics aren’t cutting edge, they have a visual design that succeeds in creating the right atmosphere for the game.  And while Barry walks through many of the same areas as Claire, the developers manage to freshen the experience by introducing a completely different set of enemies for Barry to fight.  Barry tends to fight less zombie-ish enemies who are more reminiscent of those found in the original Revelations.  The puzzles (which are somewhat infrequent) are also different between the two characters.  The game is a testament to how low budget doesn’t mean low quality if put in the right hands, and that a creative design team can expertly compensate for the limitations they are working under.

Thinking more widely, Revelations 2 falls in-line with a broader current trend of mid-size games that are filling in the space between the previously established dichotomy of $60 and $15 releases.  These are games that tend to be more experimental (or at least not a standard shooter) like an indie-game, but also possess greater production values than what you might get from a very small team working on a ramen-noodle budget.  This price range has picked up a lot of momentum in the last year and has become an unusual meeting place between smaller independent studios and gargantuan third party publishers.  We’re seeing independent teams (often facilitated by crowdfunding) producing titles such as Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, and Cities: Skylines, but also mainstay publishers such as Capcom and Bethesda are producing titles that fall in-line with this approach to releases.  Even Nintendo, which is usually so stubborn to take on new business approaches, has recently released mid-sized titles such as Captain Toad and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.

Ultimately, this trend is almost certainly good for the variety of games that are being released.  It seems that in the last generation of console hardware a huge amount of variety was lost in the release lineup, with most the big budget releases turning into a sea of shooter games with the occasional driving game thrown in.  Nowadays, these “AAA” releases are thinning out, with fewer of them coming out each year.  Some believe that the decline in the number of these big budget games is a result developers unskilled with the latest console hardware needing more time to complete projects.  There is probably some truth to this, but I also think the high standards of these “AAA” titles in terms of size and features requires budgets and staff sizes that mean that not as many of them can be greenlit.  Now, the sub-$60 price point gives these developers a little more room to breathe as the expectations from customers are not as high.  These games don’t need to be as flushed with side missions, collectibles, multiplayer modes, DLC, etc., and the designers can take more risks since they don’t need to appeal to the lowest common denominator consumer to sell millions of copies.  (That said, Revelations 2 does have a lot of these aspects, just not to the degree of something like Far Cry 4.)

On the other hand, last generation indie developers filled in the gap for the lost creativity, but their limited budgets and manpower put limits on what they were able to achieve.  Part of this was due to the fact that $15 seemed to be the limit on what customers were willing to pay for indie releases, and projects were budgeted accordingly.  Most people don’t remember this, but when Shadow Complex was first shown off Epic was adamant that the game would not release for under $20, but it eventually debuted at the $15 price point.  This is only speculation on my part, but I suspect that Microsoft talked them out of the $20 price by showing them sales of games such as Puzzle Quest: Galactrix and the Penny Arcade adventure game which launched at $20 and were known to have sold quite poorly because they were considered overpriced.

The strict expectations that indie games be so lowed price seems to have eased recently.  I have a few theories as to why attitudes have changed, but I really don’t feel confident in any of the explanations I’ve considered.  Optimistically, I would like to think that the increasing quality and value in indie games hasn’t gone unappreciated by game buyers, and they are consequently more open to considering higher priced games.  Whatever the the reasons may be, I think it is probably a positive thing that prices can now be more variable.  Of course, the shrewd budget-focused side of myself would prefer all games to be sold at cutthroat pricing, but I can appreciate that higher prices may afford designers more leeway in expanding into more sophisticated or ambitious games.  Divinity OS, for instance, is a massively complex and content-filled RPG that I doubt would have been made if Larian expected to sell it at an introductory price of $15.

All said, I definitely think the move to more variable pricing of games will help broaden the creative horizons of gaming.  My only concern is that we’re likely to see a fair few development groups get burned on overpricing their games.  While some games may be worth $30 (or more), not all games are.  It’s important for a developer to be objective when assessing the monetary value expected from their work.  I think a lot of bitter scorn has reached the news lately from the lips of indie game developers who are unhappy that their work hasn’t sold as well as they would like, in some  cases because the game was considered to be priced too high.  Tied in with this is that a lot of hatred toward Steam sales has started to bubble up.  While guilt tends to be cast on “consumer entitlement,” I think its important to remember that gaming is a competitive industry, and gamers can’t be expected to buy and play every game that comes out (especially with so many games being released to digital storefronts like Steam) and will naturally be discerning about the value proposition each game poses.  That isn’t “entitlement,” thats just how a competitive market works.

Game Boy Demakes: Resident Evil Gaiden

Resident Evil Gaiden 3

Resident Evil Gaiden for the Game Boy Color was released all the way back in Summer ’02 (late ’01 if you were in Europe) and was actually outsourced by Japanese publisher Capcom to UK-based developer M4, although its development was presided over by Resident Evil producer Shinji Mikami and Code Veronica director Hiroki Kato (who is credited with writing the game).   It strikes me as a bit strange that the Japanese developer would outsource a handheld version of the series. The culture of handheld gaming has always seemed like it’s been quite a bit stronger in Japan than other territories (even before the DS and PSP dominated consoles last gen), and one would think that the Japanese company would target the handheld version of such a popular series primarily to its Japanese player base. It would be kind of like Microsoft outsourcing a PC port of Halo 4 to a company like Falcom. I guess it shows that the Capcom higher-ups may not have had much serious interest in bringing Resident Evil to the portable market (which at the time was really just Game Boy) and probably just treated it as an opportunity to make a quick buck off the lucrative Game Boy shovelware market.

Resident Evil Gaiden

Resident Evil Gaiden 7

When dealing with downporting sophisticated 3D games to Game Boy platforms, there were two paths that could be followed. The first path is to try to make the 8-bit gameplay of the downport a reasonable facsimile of the original version. Metal Gear Solid is probably the best example of this approach. The GBC version of MGS actually replicates a huge portion of the gameplay aspects of the PSX progenitor, such as mapping enemies on the soliton radar, being able knock on walls to draw the attention of guards, hiding in boxes that you keep in your inventory, using a cigarette to detect laser tripwires, etc. Partly, this is more natural for MGS, as it is played from a top-down perspective that is easy to replicate with Game Boy graphics (the original Metal Gear ran on the 8-bit NES, of course). But for other games, like Resident Evil (or Daikatana which I covered earlier here), their camera and control setup requires a significant rethinking of how the gameplay actually works. Of course, a game like Resident Evil with its prerendered backgrounds and odd camera angles would need to be modified to something more suitable to an 8-bit device, for instance a sidescrolling or top-down (as is used in Gaiden) view. Of course it would, right?

Actually, before there was Resident Evil Gaiden, a company contracted by Capcom named HotGen (another UK-based studio) developed a faithful conversion of Resident Evil 1 for the GBC that included the odd camera angles, prerendered backgrounds (with way low resolutions of course), and familiar tank controls. You can see screenshots of that version below. The game was supposedly completed and submitted to Capcom in 2000, but Capcom decided that it wasn’t enjoyable to play (I wonder why?) and subsequently cancelled the release. However, from what I can gather, code of an unfinished version leaked on the internet. I haven’t played the leaked code, but interestingly enough, I’ve read from a few who have, and some actually disagree with Capcom’s judgment and described the game as surprisingly playable and fun.

Resident Evil GBC 2

Resident Evil 1 for the GBC

Resident Evil 1 for the GBC

Regardless, Capcom tried to shrink down Resident Evil again a very short time later with Gaiden which was first released in Europe in December 2001. This time they tried to significantly rethink the Resident Evil gameplay to make it more suitable to the limited hardware they were dealing with, replacing the third person action with a more simplistic shooting gallery style system. The story takes place post-Raccoon City when Leon Kennedy and surviving S.T.A.R.S. members have gone underground and banded together to expose the truth behind Umbrella’s continuing B.O.W. research. Reports come in about an outbreak aboard a cruise liner and Leon Kennedy (whom the player primarily takes the role of) and Barry Burton are sent to investigate.

Resident Evil Gaiden 6

You explore the zombie-infested cruise ship from a top down perspective as you uncover the true nature of the outbreak. Only certain areas of the ship are initially accessible to explore, but new areas are unlocked in true Resident Evil style by finding keys, performing very light inventory puzzles, and reaching story events. The most interesting departure from the Resident Evil formula comes in combat. To target zombies, Leon must go into a shooting stance which raises a reticle on the top-down screen. Moving the reticule over a zombie does not actually result in Leon firing at the zombie; rather it takes the player to a first person “shooting gallery” style screen. In this screen, the zombies are visible in front of Leon, and will slowly progress toward his position until they are in attack range, at which point they will begin inflicting damage. At the bottom of the screen is an oscillating reticle that moves from left to right. To successfully hit a zombie, Leon must fire when the moving reticule is right beneath the approaching creature, and he will gain extra damage if he fires when the reticule is in a sweet spot positioned beneath the middle of the monster. Zombies can also initiate the shooting gallery mode if they manage to grab Leon, but in this case, the zombie will start immediately in attack range.

Resident Evil Gaiden 2

Ammo is limited in the game, and consequently accuracy is key. As is typical in Resident Evil of the time, when you enter an area with enemies, you will need to decide on whether it is possible to run past them without getting grabbed, or if it is necessary to expend precious ammo to clear them out of your way. Also, there is some strategy in choosing when to target the zombie from the top-down screen. Naturally, you will probably want to target them when they are as far away from Leon in top-down mode as they can get, because this means they will take longer to reach attack range. However, the farther away the zombie is, the smaller of a target it becomes and thus better timing is required to get a successful shot and not waste ammo.

Resident Evil Gaiden 5

When this game was released, it was mostly trashed by critics and gamers alike. Personally, I have a strange fondness for it, but I completely understand where its flaws lie. It is a difficult game for me to recommend, because, while it is a fun game, most people will get bored with it for entirely rational reasons. What’s wrong with it exactly? Well, pretty much all aspects of the game are just very simplistic, with the shooting gallery style combat being the worst. The only enemies you fight in this game are zombies and they are all dealt with in the same way. The exception to this is that there is a Mr. X style boss that follows you around, but fights with him are just as basic as the zombies, except his attacks are stronger, and he takes more damage. The puzzles in this game are all very rudimentary, and mostly just require you to find the right item to use on the right door/lock/barricade/obstacle to progress. In addition, there story is merely serviceable, not terrible just very (here’s that word again) simple.

Resident Evil Gaiden 4

A little imagination could have gone a long way for this game. Perhaps they could of shook things up with additional enemy types that are fought differently. Perhaps you could have, say, lickers that jump to the ceiling and ambush Leon from above, making targeting them much harder than zombies. Perhaps it could have enemies with multiple critical points which are telegraphed with different animations. Perhaps the different enemies could be fought in different mini-game styles instead of just the shooting gallery view mode. I don’t know, but it seems like making the combat a little more varied would have gone a long way to spicing this game up. Also, the puzzles could have been made more interesting. Resident Evil has never had the most sophisticated puzzles to solve (it’s got nothing on Silent Hill), but Gaiden’s puzzles are shallow even by the standards of the rest of the series. I don’t know if the lack of variation is the fault of the developer or Capcom. But as I talked about above, I suspect Capcom had given up on making a quality Resident Evil for the GBC and were just looking for a quick-cash in release. The lack of variation would certainly be consistent with the developer having little time and money to complete the game.

So you might be wondering at this point why I profess to like this game. Well first off, it is a fun game I think, just perhaps not an impressive game. There’s nothing particularly offensive about the gameplay, even if it lacks variation. Some of it’s also just nostalgia. I had some fun times with this game, and I always look back upon all the old Resident Evil games fondly. For me, they are like strange symbols of my middle school and early high school years. But beyond that, I’ve always had an attraction to low-fi, low-tech horror games, including old classics like Sweet Home, Alone in the Dark, and Friday the 13th (“classic” might be a bit of a stretch with that one) as well as modern attempts such as Lone Survivor and The Last Door. Some people think it’s impossible to make scary games with primitive graphics, but I actually think such low-fi aesthetics allow for a level of abstraction that can drive the imagination to run wild with fantasized horrors. Resident Evil Gaiden sort of does a good job with that, there is definitely a pervasive creepy atmosphere to the ship. The limited ammo and healing items do succeed in creating some tension (as well as any of the PSX games I think), but I definitely wouldn’t call it a scary game. Really though, you might consider that just another area of wasted potential for this game. I guess in the end, my fondness of Resident Evil Gaiden could stem from the same place I appreciate games like Knights of the Old Republic II or Mirror’s Edge, those being other examples of games that could have been so much more. I like it for its potential, even if that potential goes largely unfulfilled.

So there it goes, as I’ve stated it’s really difficult for me to highly recommend Resident Evil Gaiden, as my own attachment to the game is the result of deeply personal reasons. However, Capcom has been a big supporter of Game Boy Virtual Console on 3DS, so I wouldn’t completely rule out a future rerelease for Gaiden. I doubt there is much love for this game by the publisher, but on the off chance it does get released on VC, I think Resident Evil fans would likely find enjoyment in it if they can snag it for a few bucks.

Should Resident Evil abandon zombies?

Resident Evil has already had one rebirth after the lackluster Resident Evil 0, when Capcom took decisive action to mix up the standard formula and breathe new life into the weary series with Resident Evil 4. Two sequels and an unnumbered spinoff later, it feels like the series is on its last legs again in the wake of the abysmal Resident Evil 6. This time, though, with much of their visionary talent having defected from the company, I’m far less certain that Capcom can develop a cohesive plan for reinvigorating their old standby megaseller.

Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4

Personally, I wouldn’t be too upset if Resident Evil just faded away. Some great games have come out of this series, many of which are still worthwhile today. I’m also much more confident now of the preservation of the horror genre going forward without it. Particularly amongst smaller developers, there seems to be renewed interest in delivering games in this arena, and the quality of these new efforts is definitely there. And if Resident Evil is to survive as a popular brand that people remain enthusiastic for, I think radical changes are once again needed, and these changes will need to be informed by the new trends in the genre that are occurring outside of Capcom’s doors. Unfortunately, my lack of faith originates precisely from Capcom’s ability to perceive the new environment in which it needs adapt.

Although horror games are getting a bit of a new wind, “survival horror” in the vein of the classic Resident Evil or Silent Hill games is rather scarce. Those games were action games with a heavy emphasis on having to choose between offense or evasion. During a monster encounter, there was a calculation between fight or flight: can I successfully evade the enemies in this area and maneuver around them without getting hurt, or do I need to expend limited ammo to eliminate them as a threat? Modern horror games don’t really have this balance and instead gravitate toward one of the two extremes, being either heavily offense focused (e.g., Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, Evil Within) or heavily evasion focused (e.g., Amnesia, Outlast). In the action-focused offensive games, protagonists are well-armed and empowered, but the enemies they face are mercilessly aggressive monstrosities capable of applying extreme violence (or sometimes extreme numbers) to overpower their otherwise formidable prey. On the other hand, the evasion-focused titles are more like Clocktower than Resident Evil: there are only a few powerful monsters who the protagonist must stealthily outmaneuver or conceal themselves from, as they are incapable of responding to the threat in kind.

Dead Space 2

Dead Space 2: A good example of action-focused horror.

Part of the reason the balance has disappeared is the result of advancing technology. The PSX Resident Evils had notorious “tank controls” that were a product of the PSX and Saturn controllers lacking analog sticks for smooth 360° movement. Consequently, sidestepping zombies and other monsters unscathed was not a simple trick, otherwise you would never need to consider attacking them. Similarly, aiming wasn’t particularly fluid as a result of the camera angles imposed by the pre-rendered backgrounds. Both control methods and graphics have improved since then, so these limitations would only appear in a game if they were self-imposed, and since gamers seem to be more frustrated by controls that deviate from accepted norms, developers rarely choose to implement old-school control schemes.

So where does that leave Resident Evil? Resident Evil 4 already took it down the path of being amongst the action-focused games, and probably for good reason. Resident Evil always gave the impression of being influenced by B-tier action movies, and combined with the fact that most of the protagonists are law enforcement agents, it’s logical that it would eventually move farther down that route. I don’t see the alternative, of Leon Kennedy running away from the monsters to hide under the bed, as being fitting for RE.

But still even with the action-focus, I feel that RE is lagging behind its counterparts in this area. My main problem with modern RE is that the enemies simply aren’t all that threatening. I felt Dead Space really exceled at making aggressive, dangerous monsters. When you hear a necromorph growling and snarling from down the hall, you know that it is coming straight for your throat, and when the creature is bearing down on Isaac, wildly firing at it won’t help. The player has to keep focus in the face of panic to strategically target limbs and appendages to neutralize the threat. For these reasons, the necromorphs maintain an ability to create tension and dread, even though Isaac is outfitted like a futuristic supersoldier. In contrast, the enemies from the last few REs have been relatively limp. Resident Evil 5 drove me crazy in this way. The monsters are definitely holding back in that game. For instance, majini would often charge at Chris and Sheva, only to stop short upon reaching them and sway back and forth for a few moments before making an attack. In reflection, even Resident Evil 4 had a similar problem with the Ganados. When you realize that these unnatural foes are playing with kid’s gloves, much of the tension disappears.

So what is my proposal? This might be sacrilege to some, but I say get rid of the zombies. And not just the shambling classic zombies, but the more intelligent Ganado-type enemies as well. As I discussed above, these sluggish enemies just aren’t that hazardous when the player is using a modern control scheme which allows them to outmaneuver such slow opponents easily. I know some might groan at this suggestion, as zombies tend to be central to the identity of Resident Evil, but should they be? There are so many more monsters in Resident Evil that are much more interesting, such as regenerators, lickers, hunters, scarmigliones, verdugos, etc. These are what the next RE should be looking at when developing new creatures. And these new creatures should be brutal, like necromorphs, unrelenting in their belligerence, which is necessary to outmatch the well-armed and combat-seasoned protagonists we have in these games. They’ve already sort of made the move in this direction as RE:Revelations mostly nixed the zombie-style enemies in favor of more grotesque mutants.

Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4

Some might complain that my plan might permanently take Resident Evil out of the “survival horror” milieu into what might be better categorized as “action horror.” My counterpoint would be that Resident Evil was never really a game about “survival” in the first place, and in modern gaming, that label is better reserved for games such as DayZ and State of Decay which are actually about survival in a zombie-ravaged world, not just ammo management.

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