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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The Last of Us 2 - title

Perspective shifts were used effectively in The Last of Us.

I'm a fairly outspoken critic of the first Last of Us. I felt that the gameplay was fairly shallow (though very well-produced), and focused too strongly on the zombie apocalypse plot at the expense of the surrogate father-daughter story that was being told. The best and most memorable moments were the opening scene in which you play as the scared 10-year-old girl as the zombie apocalypse breaks out, and the part where Joel and Ellie pet the giraffe. And maybe the very end where Joel confronts the doctors in the operating room, for those 40% of us who actually completed the game. And the only enemy encounter that was actually good and meaningful was the one-on-one cat-and-mouse boss fight with the cannibal David in the burning restaurant. Those sequences make up the emotional linchpins of the game and are genuinely moving moments of humanity [or inhumanity], and the perspective shifts that reinforce or contextualize those moments are -- dare I say -- artistic! But then 90% of the actual game that you play is rote cover-based shooting separated by stealth-lite and the occasional "puzzle" that never gets much more complicated than propping a ladder up against a wall.

For being a game about a grieving father eventually finding meaning in a surrogate daughter, it never really let the player act out the interactions between the characters. She was invisible to enemies in stealth and mostly took care of herself in combat. She lacked an upgrade tree and didn't really improve her combat or stealth abilities much over the course of the game, so there was also no ludic development of her character, and the player never feels like you are teaching her how to survive, or doing any of the surrogate father stuff that the game is supposed to be about.

So yeah ... overrated... Still good! But like a 7 instead of a 10 out of 10. "Sacrilege!" I know.

The companion isn't the sole focus of the narrative this time around.

This time, however, the relation between the player character and your NPC companion(s) is not the core of the story. This game is not about the character interactions that the player has no control over; this game is about the violence that the player absolutely has total control over! Ellie and Dina's relationship is the B plot behind the revenge plot, and gets further relegated to a C or D plot in the second half of the game. They're already friends/lovers before the game even begins, so there isn't much in the way of building a relationship. In fact, Ellie's story this time around seems to be more about how being a moody, self-absorbed teenager just pushes Ellie away from the people who care about her. It's more a game about being anti-social, which fits much better with both games' core gameplay.

Cycle of Violence

Now, I cannot talk about the artistic merit of the game without talking about the back half of the campaign. Naughty Dog may have embargoed publications from reviewing the second half of the game, but I'm not going to let that stop me from talking about it. Naughty Dog has no place telling critics or reviewers what they can and cannot tell consumers about the game. I'm personally not offended by the second half of the game like some other people are (I think it's the better half of the game, and Naughty Dog is lucky that I'm going to talk about it, because otherwise the game is a D-). I am, however, offended by Naughty Dog thinking they can impose a muzzle order on reviewers, even if it genuinely was in the interest of "not spoiling the game" (as opposed to just trying to hide a controversial element of design that might turn off some consumers). So yeah, I'm going to try to avoid specific spoilers of major plot developments, but this review will contain minor or moderate spoilers about the overall structure of the game.

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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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Resident Evil 2 - title

Capcom's remake of Resident Evil 2 is a pretty difficult game. Much of its design is based on classic survival horror paradigms, which many players may not be familiar with. Classic survival horror has been essentially dead since the release of Resident Evil 4 all the way back in 2005. (And if you want to know what I think of Resident Evil 4, you can listen to my commentary in a playthrough for On the Branch's Let's Play channel). Since then, every mainstream horror game has either followed a formula similar to RE4 (such as Dead Space and The Evil Within), or it has gone the Amnesia route and been about running and hiding from foes rather than confronting them (such as Outlast and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories).

If you didn't play Resident Evil 7 or the REmake of the first Resident Evil, then you probably haven't played a true survival horror game in over 10 years (if ever).

Even though it has an over-the-back, third-person camera, Resident Evil 2's remake firmly follows most of the design conventions of the classic (pre-Resident Evil 4) survival horror genre -- minus the tank controls. Here's some observations of mine that I hope will help you survive Raccoon City, whether you're an experienced survival horror gamer (like me) or a newbie.

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A gamer's thoughts

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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