I don't think that Capcom and Naughty Dog realized just how topical their 2020 releases of Resident Evil 3 and The Last Of Us Part 2 would turn out to be. Both games were released in the spring and summer, as a strange novel coronavirus (believed to have jumped from Chinese bats to people) began to spread within the United States and the rest of the world. Both games are about zombie apocalypses, and were released at a time in which large portions of the global economy had been shut down, and residents were expected to essentially shelter in place in their homes for weeks or months to prevent the spread of the pandemic. The 2020 pandemic (which is still ongoing 18 months later, despite the widespread availability of multiple vaccines), provided me with some unexpected context on these two games.

Check out the video essay version of this post on YouTube.

Both games are zombie apocalypse games, and zombie fiction is often based around fears and anxieties of societal collapse in one form or another. The original Night Of The Living Dead channeled the anxieties of nuclear Armageddon, and filtered them through the lenses of both McCarthy era Communist witch-hunts and a degree of racial tension. George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead channeled fears that consumerist culture would lead to toxic behavior that is not only self-destructive to the individual, but also to society at large. Zombies in other fiction might represent anxieties about racism, sexism, socialism, technology gone amok, and so forth.

Zombie fiction is usually inspired by contemporary fears surrounding societal collapse.

Video game zombies are no different, and they can represent any of those anxieties from a simple narrative standpoint. Because games are an interactive experience, zombie games can even explore anxieties about a loss of individual autonomy in ways that non-interactive media would struggle to approach. But I'm not here right now to talk about zombie games in general. I want to talk specifically about the pare of blockbuster zombie games that released last year, during the height of a real-life pandemic.

Both Last of Us games express concerns about the increasingly myopic "us and them" mentality in American culture and politics and the apparent inability of many people to empathize with others and see their point of view -- or even their humanity. And Resident Evil, as a series, channels anxieties about the self-destructive nature of the corporate desire to make profit at all costs, and then use their vast wealth and lobbying power to cover up their unethical activities.

Regardless of the messages intended by the developers, playing both of these games in 2020 made it really hard for me to not look at them both through the lenses of my own anxieties about the contemporary pandemic situation that we saw (and continue to see) ourselves in. It was a situation that neither game's developers could have foreseen (even though scientists, public health experts, and futurists have been sounding the alarm bells for the inevitability of pandemics in our increasingly globalized world). Anyway, since neither Capcom nor Naughty Dog could foresee that the games would launch in the middle of a real-world pandemic, they didn't really design their games around the ideas and anxieties of a real-life pandemic, and I think that shows through clearly in both games.

Neither REmake3 nor The Last of Us 2 are really about the pandemics of their settings.

After all, it would be so much easier to deal with a pandemic if we could clearly see the spread of the disease in the way that characters can in Resident Evil and The Last of Us. It would be so easy to isolate and quarantine individuals if infection caused their skin to almost immediately start rotting, or if we could see with our naked eyes the little coronaviruses coming out of people's mouths and noses when they cough, sneeze, or breath. And it would be so much easier if the disease itself were only transmitted between people through invasive physical contact such as a bite. But none of that is true in this real-life COVID pandemic. In light of a real-world pandemic, it seems almost silly that the fictional pandemics of Resident Evil and The Last Of Us could possibly lead to such widespread societal collapse, and the pandemic itself is of little concern to the player.

To be clear, what follows represents my personal contextualization from playing Resident Evil 3 and The Last of Us Part II during the COVID pandemic. These impressions do not represent my opinions on the actual quality of the games on their own merits. You can check out my reviews of both games, or check out my video on the "Lessons Capcom Learned for Resident Evil 3". I understand that neither game is about the pandemic. All I'm saying is that having played them during a pandemic highlighted just how not about the pandemic they actually are.

The lessons Capcom learned for Resident Evil 3.

Needless to say, there will be some minor spoilers for Resident Evil 3 (remake) and both Last of Us games. There will also be some spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V and Death Stranding. Reader discretion is advised.

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Resident Evil VIII Village - title

Village seems to be positioning itself as a sort of "greatest hits" of earlier Resident Evil games. I'm not sure it all comes together as well as Capcom must have hoped it would. Resident Evil VII Biohazard did an excellent job of modernizing the design philosophies of the original Resident Evil game. Map design, inventory and resource constraints, and the "fight or flight" nature of enemy encounters all perfectly re-captured the feel of the original PS1 classics, without all of the clunkiness.

Village maintains the exploratory map design of the original Resident Evil and of Resident Evil VII, but it also tries to port concepts and aesthetics from the Resident Evil 2 remake and from Resident Evil 4. The RE2 stuff fits well enough, but the RE4 influences just don't feel compatible with classic design philosophy.

The setting instantly reminded me of Resident Evil 4.

Clash of philosophies

Right off the bat, the general aesthetic screams "Resident Evil 4". The game begins in a small, rustic, eastern European village at the foot of a gothic castle. Just like in RE4, you're quickly ambushed by the monstrous villagers and have to desperately fight your way out. Resident Evil 4 replaced the traditional zombies of the series with semi-aware "ganados"; Village similarly breaks away from the traditional zombies, but this time, the monsters are werewolves.

Not long into the game, you'll start smashing crates to reveal hidden loot, and pixel-hunting along the walls and ceilings for obnoxious sparkling gems to shoot down and collect. Also just like in Resident Evil 4, you'll routinely get rewards of items and money from defeated enemies. That money and loot is used to buy items or upgrade your equipment at a shop, just like in Resident Evil 4. This is where the game started to break down for me.

Loot, ammo, and cash can be recovered from smashed crates or defeated enemies.

Giving the player rewards of in-game cash for defeating foes (and for wasting bullets to shoot glowing gems off of walls) completely changes the motivations of the player in how we deal with enemies. I'm no longer carefully considering whether to try to sneak past an enemy or run away, nor am I ever firing off a single round at an enemy's knee to stun or cripple it so I can get away without consuming more resources, the way I might in REmake2. Since every defeated foe returns some of the resources that I invest into killing it, there is no "fight or flight"; only "fight". The enemies stop being threatening or frightening, especially on the standard difficulty setting, in which ammunition is readily available and the monsters patiently await their turns to charge and attack.

Even inventory management is mostly thoughtless. The more linear, more action-oriented, and less puzzle-oriented design of the game means that key items and treasures are not put in your limited inventory, and there isn't even a storage box to keep excess weapons or supplies. Only weapons, ammo, and healing items go into your briefcase. Everything else has unlimited storage. Even crafting components have separate, unlimited storage (the only exception being the animals meats needed for the Duke to cook meals -- more on this later).

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I think the last few years have brought us to a bit of an inflection point for open world video games -- which I feel have been in kind of a rut for the better part of the last decade. Long-time readers of my personal blog will probably be very familiar with my complaints. The two core complaints that I've had with this particular game design paradigm are:

  1. That the map itself rarely feels meaningful as a game space, and instead serves primarily as a convoluted mission-select screen full of time-wasting filler content.
  2. That the sandboxy nature of the game design means that the world and narrative often feel stagnant (as if in a kind of "limbo").
This blog is mostly a transcript of a YouTube video that I posted.

These problems can be traced back at least to 2001's Grand Theft Auto III, which set many of the conventions of open world games for the next two decades. Companies from Ubisoft to Bethesda, and many others, would copy GTAIII's structure of going to a location on the map to trigger a mission in an aggressively linear, cinematic story, while spending free time on time-wasting filler content that did nothing to move the story forward.

Grand Theft Auto III set many of the standards
for open world games over the past 20 years.

Aside from Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed and Far Cry series, these problems have been present to varying degrees in everything from Skyrim to The Saboteur to Mad Max to Just Cause to The Amazing Spider-Man to Fallout 4 to Metal Gear Solid V, and many more. It started getting to the point that when I would see a game advertise the size of its map, I'd roll my eyes and lose interest. "Great, that's just more wasting my time walking from place to place with nothing meaningful or interesting or challenging to do."

Where you are on the map, where you're going, and how you get there was almost completely irrelevant in these games, which made the map itself (no matter how big and scenic it might be) feel mostly irrelevant. In fact, some games started introducing mechanics that let you bypass the map entirely by letting you fly, glide, or zipline to points of interest without having to engage with the space in between. In the case of Metal Gear Solid V's Afghanistan map, the roads are lined with sheer cliffs, funneling the player along linear paths from enemy outpost to enemy outpost, with practically nothing for you to do in the space between outposts. Even though the stealth action at those outposts was some of the best in the series, I couldn't help but think that Snake Eater provided a much more fulfilling experience of living within an open-ended game world.

I would roll my eyes whenever a game advertised the size of its map or hours of content.

The maps themselves weren't playspaces anymore; they were just the spaces in between towns, dungeons, and set pieces where the actual gameplay would take place. Just point in the direction of a waypoint and walk in a straight line, stopping every minute or so to pick up an umpteenth collectible, or climb an umpteenth tower, or sneak into an umpteenth enemy base and kill the umpteenth recycled mini-boss. Stop me if you've done all this before... A majority of the time with the game was just travelling around the map without any engagement in any gameplay systems or mechanics or strategies, and then playing some rote, recycled filler content to pass the time. And as the maps got bigger and bigger, the filler content just kept multiplying.

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Resident Evil 3 remake - title

I played the demo of Nemesis that came packaged
with Dino Crisis, but never played the full game.

Right off the bat, I have to say that Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was never my favorite Resident Evil game. In fact, I never even played the whole thing. I played the demo that was included with Dino Crisis (back in the day when game publishers released playable demos before a game even came out). The original Nemesis erred more on the side of fast-paced action, which just doesn't appeal to me as much as the slower, more thoughtful design philosophy of the original Resident Evil, along with Silent Hill and Dino Crisis. This is why I love the original RE and its GameCube remake, why Resident Evil 4 rubbed me the wrong way, and why I never really got into the rest of the Resident Evil franchise beyond the first game. I tried playing all of the Resident Evil games up through 5, but the only one that came close to holding a candle to the masterful original was 2.

So even though I was excited to play Capcom's remake of the PS1 classic, I went in with tempered expectations. If they stayed true to the original, then RE3make (or whatever we're calling it) would be far more high-octane and action-heavy than the Resident Evil 2 remake that was released a mere year ago. As such, I expected that I just wouldn't be quite as into RE3make as I was into Resident Evil 7 or RE2make. I could only hope that it hit some happy medium between RE2make and Resident Evil 4. But that's really just personal preference on my part. Your tastes may vary.

So now that you hopefully understand where I'm coming from, what do I actually think of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis in 2020? Did Capcom learn any lessons from the few mistakes that were made with RE2make?

Resident Evil 3 is more reliant on spectacle action set pieces than on slowly building atmospheric tension.

The different nature of "Hardcore" mode

If you remember my review of Resident Evil 2 remake (and my lengthy YouTube critique), then you know that one of my core issues with that game was the fact that Capcom locked the Ink Ribbon save system behind that game's hard difficulty. Resident Evil 7 actually had the same problem, but it didn't bother me in that game because RE7 wasn't a remake of a game that included Ink Ribbon saves as a core component of its design.

I felt the Hardcore mode and breakable knife were huge design flaws in RE2make.

In summary, the hard mode made death come much swifter in RE2make. Resource-management wasn't as important as skillful aiming and shooting. Instead of taking a bite or two here and there and having to decide when to fill your scant inventory with a healing item just in case (in the original Resident Evil games), RE2make's hardcore mode made you have to heal pretty much every time you took damage because you couldn't survive a second hit. This low tolerance for mistakes and strict punishment for death felt considerably less fair for someone in a first-time playthrough.

The fact that your knife could break and you could literally be stuck with a save file in which you have zero damage-dealing potential certainly didn't help the feeling of fairness in my book.

My recommendation was for Capcom to separate the hard difficulty setting and the hardcore save system into two options. You should be able to chose whether you want to use Ink Ribbons, and then you should also be able to chose whether you want to play the game on easy, normal, or hard difficulties.

Typewriters are still here, but Ink Ribbons are completely absent.

Instead, Capcom opted to just remove Ink Ribbons for its Nemesis remake. Entirely. They are not locked behind hardcore mode. They are not locked behind New Game Plus. Typewriters are still here, but Ink Ribbons are not in the game at all.

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Resident Evil 2 - title

Getting started with this game was rough. First of all, streaming the game initially seemed to be blocked by Capcom, which sent me down an internet rabbit hole of trying to find a work-around. If I couldn't stream or capture gameplay, then it would be awfully hard for me to get decent screenshots -- let alone any video for possible YouTube content. I even Tweeted @AskPlaystation whether I could get a refund, so that I could instead purchase the game on Steam (where I knew I'd be able to record footage). @AskPlaystation never responded.

It was moot anyway, since the next day, I found that the problem was only associated with having High Dynamic Range (HDR) enabled in the PS4's settings. After disabling HDR, I was able to stream the game and capture video footage as normal. Of course, the game's colors didn't look so good -- but whatever, I could live with it. I guess this is a glitch. Maybe Capcom will fix the HDR streaming issue at some point in the future? I can't imagine that they deliberately disabled streaming with HDR, but left it enabled when HDR isn't being used.

You'll need to disable High Dynamic Range (HDR) on the PS4 if you want to stream REmake 2.

But even when I got the streaming and capture functionality working, I lost another night having to troubleshoot my PS4's network connectivity. I kept getting a DNS error. My PS4 has had internet connectivity issues off and on for years, so it might just have a bad network card. Or maybe my ISP is throttling it? It's hard to tell. The console regularly connects to the router and obtains an IP, but then fails to connect to the internet. Or it can connect to the internet, but fails to connect to PSN.

After several hours of troubleshooting, I had to manually enter the DNS addresses of my router's second and third DNS as the PS4's primary and secondary DNS, then sign out of the PSN, then boot up the PS4 in safe mode, then run a database rebuild (which took a few minutes), then reconnect to the PSN. That seems to have worked ... for now. We'll see how long the fix lasts...

In any case, these streaming and network issues cost me the first full weekend with the game. I'd have to play it on weeknights after work instead. Hopefully the game's quality would make up for these early frustrations...

I have adapted much of this review into a video critique on YouTube, if you'd prefer to watch a video.

The failure of REmake2's "hardcore" save system

Years ago, in the early years of this blog, I wrote an opinion piece called "The Genius of Resident Evil's classic save system". In that blog post, I wrote about how the way in which classic survival horror games (and Resident Evil in particular) limited the player's ability to save actually helped to amplify the horror atmosphere, while simultaneously facilitating open-ended exploration and creating the genre's trademark resource-management gameplay. I love the old Ink Ribbon method of saving, and I was thrilled that the brilliant REmake maintained these old systems to excellent effect. Other games like RE7 and Alien: Isolation also brought back more traditional survival horror save systems, but without the added complexity tying it to a consumable item (at least not by default).

Unfortunately, REmake 2's save system doesn't fare so well. By default, the game apparently uses autosaves and checkpoints, and you can manually save at typewriters without an Ink Ribbon. It all works similar to RE7. However, you can play on "hardcore" mode (which is available by default) to get an experience more similar to the original save system. Except, it doesn't work as well. In fact, it seems to be fundamentally broken.

It would be nice if the game would use Ink Ribbons from the item box,
rather than having to put it in your inventory, then put it back in the item box after you save.

Part of the reason for this is that the "hardcore" mode also doubles as the game's "hard" difficulty. On the "hardcore" mode, there are no autosaves or checkpoints, and you must consume an Ink Ribbon to save at the typewriters (just as in the original release). However, enemies also have more health and deal more damage, and resources are more scarce (Ink Ribbons apparently replace ammo pickups in certain places). This screws with the balance of the game such that the manual save system becomes less viable for a first-time playthrough.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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