Resident Evil 6: notes from a dead project

Sometimes, things don’t work out.

Game People, the site I used to write reviews about storytelling in games for, has over the last year or so moved more and more away from text and got into video reviews on the Family Gamer TV Youtube channel.

As part of that, I’ve been attempting to do videos for the channel, with the plan to stack a few up and perfect the format before launching them as a little sub-strand within the channel. The schtick was that I was reviewing grown-up games ‘after dark’, which simultaneously suggests something more urbane and sleazier than me rambling at a camera about Arkham Origins but there you go.

photo (3)Unfortunately the plan didn’t work, out after months of tryouts and attempts. Light conditions in my house are incredibly poor in terms of recording the to-camera links, and setting up tripods etc meant I could only really film when I had the house to myself. Recording off-screen games footage was a mess, the camera never quite lining up with the TV.  The whole thing created a massive editing job for Andy at Family Gamer and, in one final crisis, I found that two reviews worth of my to-camera footage had bad audio recording because of some mess up with either my phone or the mic or both.

At that point we cut our losses.

While we’re still working on me doing something for the Family Gamer TV Youtube channel, probably closer to a Let’s Play format with me talking over directly captured game footage, the reviews I’d been working on are effectively useless. Still, I got the review copies, so it would be nice to belatedly actually talk about the games somewhere, right?

For the last couple of reviews I worked off pretty detailed notes, complete with annotations as to where in-game footage should go, and Andy Robertson of Family Gamer has kindly allowed me to run them here.

So, very belatedly and scrappily, here are my thoughts on Resident Evil 6:

  • Intro – Hello I’m Mark Clapham, I’m a writer and parent to a daughter, and I like to play games after she has gone to bed. Games that provide an alternative to an endless cycle of wholesome cartoons and stories in the day.
  • These are my late night reviews of games that are definitely not for the whole family.
  • With one exception that we won’t go into, you can’t get a more adult genre than horror, and probably the single biggest name in horror gaming is the Resident Evil series.

[CLIP: Resi menu]

  • Resident Evil 6 is the most recent instalment, and has been out for a while for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Unfortunately I can’t really recommend it as a horror game, especially one for busy parents to fit into their evenings.
  • If nothing else it’s a big game, trying to live up to the size and history of this long series with a globe-spanning plot that splits into three main storylines featuring characters from many past games in plots that echo those older games.
  • There’s Leon Kennedy from 2 and 4, dealing with zombies in a spooky old buildings There’s Chris Redfield from 1 and 5, having the more trigger happy battles with funny-headed mutants we saw in 4 and 5.

[CLIPS: Leon, Chris.]

  • More interesting are Jake and Sherry, children of different villains from the series, who provide something a bit newer to the series, including a more convincing romance than Leon’s bizarre infatuation with Ada Wong.

[CLIP: Jake and Sherry]

  • Oh yeah, Ada Wong’s in it too. She mainly does that thing with the zipline she does.

[CLIP: Ada]

  • Unfortunately, these old school characters don’t bring old school Resident Evil horror with them.
  • For the most part Resident Evil 6 tries to match current military action favourites like Call of Duty or Battlefield in terms of shooting, explosions, car chases, missile launches and sequences where helicopters crash into things

[CLIP: Opening action sequence.]

  • If that doesn’t sound much like an atmospheric horror game, you would sadly be right. Resident Evil 6 is way too big, too open, to really build tension, and mainly consists of boxy areas where you spin around strafing baddies with funny heads. There’s very little tension, just a wearying pile-up of set pieces.

[CLIP: generic shooty bit.]

  • It’s disappointing to sit down for some late night scares and instead encounter such generic action. In it’s attempt to be a blockbuster, Resident Evil 6 loses almost all the horror. If you have young teens who are accustomed to gore, you probably wouldn’t be too worried about letting them play this, as there are very few mature scares.
  • The sheer bloat of the game, combined with a terrible save system that makes it hard to keep track of when you can safely put the controller down without losing progress, makes this a hard game for parents, or anyone else who doesn’t have spare five hour gaming sessions to hand, to play.

[CLIP: plodding about.]

  • A lot of these design flaws are because the game is angled heavily towards online co-op, which is a bit tricky for those of us who don’t have the time to have long co-op sessions. Also, multiplayer doesn’t lend itself to slow burn tension, and prioritises fast action, if not fast game session.

[CLIP: action]

 

  • One casualty of the online friendly action is any of the background detail that used to make the worlds of previous Resident Evil games come to life. There are no documents to read in-game – though you can read some from a juke box in the extras menu – no audiologs, nothing to stop and look at. It makes the whole game disappointingly shallow, and fails to build any real atmosphere. There are also very few puzzles, as that would presumably slow the game down by requiring thinking.
  • It’s a shame, as Resident Evil 6 is a really beautiful game, with gorgeous visuals and sound. then, but shallow, expecting nothing of the player but to run and shoot. There’s the odd genuinely good quiet bit, like a drive through a city shrouded in poisonous fog, but these are few and far between.

[CLIPS: blue fog?]

  • Ultimately Resident Evil 6 is a long, repetitive game that feels even longer and more repetitive due to the way the plots intersect, meaning that if you play all three campaigns – and with a lot of unique settings and scenes in each you’ll want to – you’ll fight certain boss battles, which were dull first time around, again from a different angle, which is kind of structurally clever but also boring and annoying.
  • In the end, while it has a lot of gloss and explosions, Resident Evil 6 is too unwieldy and bloated to recommend, to the extent it took me over a year to find time to complete the thing.
  • Please follow the FamilyGamer TV Channel on Youtube for more of my reviews, as well as reviews of games for those difficult times when the children are awake.
  • You can also follow me on twitter at @markclapham. Good night.

 

June 26, 2014. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

“… about 70,000 hostiles…”: Announcing Resident Evil 6

Resident Evil 6 has been announced, and I have a lot of thoughts. Guess it’s time to remember I have a blog, then.

I have to admit that when the teaser posters showing a 20/11/12 release date leaked earlier tonight, I instantly doubted them. Capcom, going from first announcement of a core Resi title to release in less than a year? Surely not – remember that first Resi 5 trailer that came out in September 2006, two and a half sodding years before the game’s release?

But no, at 10pm GMT this went live confirming the date and showing a lot more than early gameplay footage or proof-of-concept FMV:

Now, in terms of scheduling Capcom have only shaved six months off the four year wait between Resis 4 and 5, but in terms of announcing and marketing 6 they’re taking a far tighter, more aggressive approach, sitting tight through the first two years of development then hitting us with a barrage of visuals and a date.

That November date is a statement in itself. Resis 4 and 5 launched between January and Spring, relatively lean times for game releases when a major franchise title can make a big splash. Resident Evil 6 will be thrown straight into the competitive pre-Xmas market, when major franchises battle it out in the most lucrative period of the year, albeit one where smaller name games can easily get lost.

It doesn’t look like Resident Evil 6 is in any danger of getting lost amongst the big names, or being two low-octane to make a splash compared to this year’s Call of Duties and so forth. The launch trailer lays out a globe-spanning blockbuster that abandons the tight geographic progression of the last two installments in favour of something much bigger, more varied and dynamic.

There’s a lot going on in there as well: old favourites Leon and Chris, both playable; an American town overrun by zombies (replicating the series most popular setting, the Raccoon City outbreak without having to timewarp back to 1998 again); head-splitting mutants from the last two games in a neon-lit Chinese city; a big Nemesis type baddy with very sharp hands pursuing a couple of other characters in a bleak urban landscape; oh, and the whole thing opens with a fantastic, dramatic set-piece where Leon has to shoot the zombified President of the United States through the face.

In short, it looks epic, mixing and matching elements from across the entire series in a way that looks both atmospheric and action-packed, and which looks likely to enthrall both loyal series fans of myself – of whom there are many – and a general audience.

It looks entirely capable of going toe-to-toe with the big beast franchises of the current videogame landscape, and to be honest it should be: Resident Evil is one of the biggest, most recognisable names in games, one with wider pop culture impact (as much as we may bitch about the quality of those movies), and it’s only right that the next major game in the series should be a blockbuster to match the Modern Warfares and Assassin’s Creeds that dominate the pre-Xmas charts.

It looks fantastic, and frankly I can’t wait.

Mark

For more of my ramblings on the Resident Evil series, have a look at the Storygamer archive.

January 20, 2012. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Story Gamer

OK, one of the things I’ve been working away at recently (as opposed to bothering to write this blog) has come to fruition:

I’ve joined Game People, a group of writers taking different, offbeat approaches to games reviewing. There are haiku game reviews, reviews from a family perspective, and most famously Rebecca Mayes’ song reviews, as seen on Charlie Brooker’s Gameswipe last year.

Luckily for the world’s ears, I won’t be singing.

Instead I’m doing Story Gamer, reviewing games from my perspective as a fiction writer, talking about the conscious narratives in games as well as the stories that emerge through playing. It should be fun, and scratch the games-writing itch with more editorial discipline and focus than the epic, unstructured screeds about Fallout 3 I allowed myself here.

Unfortunately, the format of the site requires a profile photo, featuring my many chins. The wife kindly took a few shots last Sunday, with me posing in front of various bookshelves (story gamer, see?). One of the outtakes is my profile photo here, but the one that fit the narrow space properly was posed in front of a load of Doctor Who books. In a rather half-hearted attempt to make it look a bit more varied, I shoved a couple of other books (including one of my own, for sheer narcissism’s sake) and the Ace Attorney games on there as well:

Thrilling stuff.

Marinating myself in my own personal cliches, my first review is of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, a game that has an almost entirely unwarranted status as a sacred text in my poor deluded eyes.

I’ve got a lot more of that kind of thing coming, including games which have no zombies in them whatsoever.

Thanks to Game People editor-king Paul Govan for inviting me to join. This is going to be fun.

Mark

January 26, 2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Stop! Hammer Time! (Tomb Raider Underworld again, this time for 360, and some other stuff)

I’m kind of rubbish at summer. While I don’t exactly fear the daystar, I do find the heat a nuisance and nowhere near the unalloyed, positive force that tabloid newspapers and their readers declaim every heatwave to be.

As such, I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors. A brief bout of Acheivement Fever*, and a renewed taste for the Tomb Raider franchise following completion of the rather good Anniverary on PS2 led me to finally complete Legend on 360, and while I was on a roll revisit Underworld for the 360 as well. Legend is notable for having most of its peaks in the second half of the game, unusual for the TR series which tends to pack its big moments up front and then descend into a bit of a slog later on. Instead, Legend has some great later stages – the very concept of the Cornwall level is witty and well-thought through, a nice spin on the series, especially when Lara gets in a forklift and demolishes a corridor of traps with it.

Underworld plays a hell of a lot better on this, it’s lead (along with PS3) format as opposed to the cut down PS2 version I reviewed a while back. It’s actually not as different in terms of level layouts as I would have thought, and the extra enemy types are not that big a deal. Aside from the big changes – some of the PS2’s interminable motorbike sequences replace cleverer sequences in the big boy’s version, like a wonderful underwater section in the arctic, for instance – it’s really a question of execution. What were dull grey corridors on PS2 are, with the souped up engine of a current-gen console, sinister and spectral environments dripping with moisture, the dim light barely illuminating the lost realm of the ancients. Tomb Raider has always thrived on isolation – its why Legend is undermined by its chatty supporting characters always blathering over Lara’s headset – but Underworld, at least in this form, is the first to be actually spooky in places. There’s a dash of the Mountains of Madness in the ancient, desolate ruins Lara finds, and a bit of Clive Barker in those echoing corridors. It’s a lot better game in this version, and I’m quite tempted by the two DLC levels. Eidos are promising a full scale revamp for the next one, but here’s hoping they don’t leave it too long.

Elsewhere, I’ve been continuing my catch-up with PS2 titles I missed first time around. Cold Fear got a bit of a slating on its release in 2005 for being a Resident Evil 4 knock-off with repetitive enemies and environments, but as far as I’m concerned Capcom haven’t capitalised on the strength of Resi 4‘s over-the-shoulder survival horror formula, so it’s good to see someone stepped in there.** Survival horror is a tricky genre to do without an AAA level budget, and even big franchises like Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill have been fumbled in recent years. As such, it’s good to see smaller teams trying the genre and getting things right. Darkworks, who most recently worked on the forthcoming I Am Alive, clearly approached Cold Fear with an intelligent sense of economy, with a tight storyline that sees you as a gun-toting coast guard exploring a mutant-infested Russian whaling ship and, later on, a mining rig.

Cold Fear doesn’t have the sweep and scale of a big budget game, but makes up for it by making you weave through the two main environments in different directions, opening different doors along the way. Thanks to tough enemies and some well-spaced savepoints, it’s also a bit of a challenge compared to more leisurely games in the genre. Most importantly of all, the mechanics are solid – the over the shoulder camera means enemies are occasionally difficult to see, but otherwise the controls work well, and the various water and weather dynamics are impressive even four years on. Trying not to get washed overboard as you attempt to shoot savage mutants, in a three way battle with gun toting Russian mercenaries, is the kind of challenging, scary experience that I look for in a survival horror game.

It’s not mind-blowing, but Cold Fear is a solid entry in the genre with enough unique qualities to be worth seeking out, especially now PS2 titles are so damned cheap. It’s not Silent Hill 2 or Resident Evil: Nemesis, but bloody hell, what is?

Mark

* Sufferers of Acheivement Fever will have occasional periods where they concentrate on playing games with steady progression and gamerpoint rewards, piling up a few hundred points per game until they pass some arbitrary milestone or otherwise snap the fuck out of it.
** Besides, its highly unlikely the resemblance is more than coincedence – the two titles were in parallel development, and the similar control system doesn’t feel like a last-minute bolt-on.

July 12, 2009. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

MF, aye.

House of the Dead: Overkill is the sweariest game ever. Seriously. It’s also one of the funniest, and the most stylish titles.

And it’s on the Wii, of all things. Motherfucker!

Like all Sega’s HotD games, it’s an on-rails zombie shooter. The series is known for it’s ridiculous semi-English dialogue (‘Suffer, like G did!’) and cartoony splatter, and developer Headstrong have rather ingeniously taken this cheesy reputation and filtered it through the Tarantino-popularised grindhouse aesthetic. It’s an astonishingly clever move – instantly, stupid dialogue and stupid plotpoints become assets rather than flaws. The ironic humour undercuts any potential offence, allowing the developers the excuse to cut loose even by horror game standards – aside from the liberal swearing and gore there’s some sexist rambling (from the superbly stereotypical blaxploitation cop Issac Washington), references to redneck incest, a disabled kid turning into a big floaty head monster. It’s all so fantastically stupid that it’s hard to respond to with anything less than a grin.

(And bear in mind, I have *no* interest in all this grindhouse bullshit whatsoever. I hated Kill Bill Part 1, and I avoided any of the other nostalgic riffs by Tarantino and co to a B-movie adolescence that isn’t mine.)

While the aesthetic may cover up potential sins of plot stupidity, it’s visual execution is technically impressive and artful, the in-game graphics tinted and blurred like old film, complete with crackles and hairs in the shutter. Slo-mo sequences look under-cranked, while the music mashes old funk with more contemporary sounds.

There’s substance beneath the schlock as well: as on-rails shooters go this is a good one, well balanced and paced, with a steady stream of bad guys, occasional rushes and hectic swinging ’round from one group of nasties to another. The ‘waggle to escape’ dynamic is better executed here than in Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, and in general this feels up there with Link’s Crossbow Training in terms of Wiimote shooting.

On the entry difficulty level there’s infinite continues, but the games hardly a pushover and a few retries will be required here and there. Not capping the continues is probably a good tactic to ensure the Wii’s more mainstream audience gets to see, with a little application, the full game story, while for the more hardcore there’s a large suite of unlockables, including harder game modes, awaiting.

In fact, there’s quite a package of extras here, with a jukebox to play those aforementioned tunes, some simple but well-designed minigames, a movie viewer and so forth. With unlocks and extras, there should be plenty to keep most players going, pepped along by the sheer silly joy of the main game.

This is good stuff. There’s a surprisingly strong showing for horror games on the Wii, albeit mainly of the on-rails kind, including the just announced Dead Space Wii exclusive (although the forthcoming Fatal Frame and Dead Rising titles for the platform should offer more freedom of movement). This is the most original, and distinctive, adult-oriented game on the Wii yet.

And by adult, I mean ‘consciously juvenile’. Bitch!

Mark

February 23, 2009. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Edge and Edgeworthity


I’ve had a bit of a gaming week. Finally finished Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All. I can see why they did a relaunch for Apollo Justice, as by the second installment Phoenix’s continuity and supporting cast had already managed to get quite convoluted. There’s a certain truth to the suggestion that the Ace Attorney games are interactive stories – certainly the twisty narrative, offbeat humour and endearing characters are the primary reasons for playing – but there’s a definite challenge underneath the narrative, if only in trying to work out how to get from the conversation the game is allowing you to have to the solution you think you’re aiming for.

Yes, with total freedom you’d be able to accuse the right suspect and lay out the evidence within the first five minutes of a case, and you have to sit around waiting for the opportunity to test your theory. This doesn’t bother me – it’s a game, the whole point is to work within the rules. These AA games are a real pleasure. I’ve already ordered Trials and Tribulations, and I’m very glad that while that may mark the end of the Phoenix Wright trilogy, there’s at least two more Ace Attorney titles for me after those.

Now, Ace Attorney is a franchise on Nintendo’s dinky DS handheld, but I do dabble in higher tech end of the gaming spectrum, and you don’t get much more high end than Mirror’s Edge, out this week. I downloaded the demo for the 360, and while I’m very glad I did, I also suspect the demo may be as much Mirror’s Edge as most people need. The demo is definitely worth a try though, as by making an effective first person platformer EA have seemingly invented a whole new genre – this is as tactile an exercise in running and jumping as you’re likely to get, a more immersive perspective on the kind of running, scrambling parkour experience demonstrated in games like Assasin’s Creed, but in a futuristic setting. The game as a whole seems a little sterile, and I have the feeling that it’s obstacle course gameplay and simon says combat may get old quite fast, but do get the demo – it’s very possibly the precursor to the kind of thing we’ll be playing in a year or two, and there’s a great kick from the unprecedented sense of motion you get while flexing this new control system.

Speaking of demos, the Resident Evil 5 one will apparently be announced soon. Excitement over a hint of an announcement of a demo? Well yes, but this is Resi, and it’s special. Euroshamer has this interview with producer Jun Takeuchi, in which he says:

“If we had the chance to go back and remake Resident Evil 2…you know, I think there is the demand for it. It’s certainly something we would like to consider and think about.”

Come on Capcom, you know it makes sense. Having ported/updated the original time and time again, and translated earlier titles into on-rails shooters and pachinko machines, a proper current gen update of Resident Evil 2 is long overdue – it’s got a great story, and introduced Leon Kennedy and the G-virus along with Raccoon City and the atmospheric environments within it like the police station (revisited in 3 and Outbreak File #2) and so forth. Great as Resi 4 is (and Resi 5 looks) a mass zombie outbreak in a major city is the holy grail of the American zombie genre, and always worth revisiting. My (very sad) dream would be a Resident Evil: Raccoon City game for current systems that weaves the plots (and mainly shared locations) of Resident Evil 2 and 3 together, throwing in some NPCs (the cops, the Umbrella mercenaries) to create a greater sense of chaos as the city succumbs to the zombie hordes. Plllleassse Capcom, pretty please?

Mark

November 14, 2008. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.