do/do not: RE6

Do I?  Or don’t I?

My rental copy of Resident Evil 6 arrives either today or tomorrow, and I’m legitimately torn between sending it right back unopened, and actually giving it a go and seeing how far I can sit with it.

I have no great allegiance to the franchise.  I think I talked about this when I talked about the demo last week, but to recap:  I never owned a PS1, but I played a little bit of RE2 on my friend’s console – definitely jumped off the couch when the dog jumped through the window, but the controls never felt quite right in my hands.  I bought Code Veronica for the Dreamcast, and I remember sort of enjoying it, though I never finished it.  When I finally bought the Wii, RE4 was one of the first games I bought for it, and I hated it.  I fumbled around in the first chapter for 20-30 minutes, fighting the controls, and finally gave up.  RE5, on the other hand?  Loved the hell out of it.  It was goofy, silly, and not at all scary; but it was also gorgeous, and the controls made sense, and it did more to encourage multiple playthroughs than almost any other game I could think of – there were so many cool things to collect and unlock and upgrade.

To say that RE6‘s reviews have been mixed is to put it incredibly kindly.  Looking only at the scores and pull quotes, you would think that the reviewers were sent completely different sets of code, from completely different builds.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a discrepancy in scores in such a high-profile game.   I don’t know what to believe.  (Though the arguments I’ve heard against playing the game sound pretty goddamned persuasive.)

Here’s my deal:  I’m not really playing anything at the moment.  I’m sorta doing a second playthrough of Borderlands 2 in True Vault Hunter mode*, and at some point I want to give Torchlight 2 another try, and I’ll be devouring XCOM next week.  But if RE6 were to arrive today, it wouldn’t be displacing anything in my agenda.

And yet… I’m not in the mood to have my time wasted.   Like I’ve said before – RE4 was universally loved, but I hated it.  RE5 was met with relatively solid and respectful reviews, but I ended up loving the hell out of it.  The reviewers are all over the place on RE6, but the reviewers I generally trust all seem to be in agreement that it’s a massive disappointment… even though they also agree that the game has an astounding amount of content (which scratches that same itch that RE5 satisfied so thoroughly).  I’ve heard that it’s at least as long as one playthrough of Borderlands 2, which is, what, 40 hours?  Jesus.

So…

Like I said last week (or whenever it was) – I played the demo with no preconceptions and no expectations, and even though I only played one campaign (of the available 3) for around 10 minutes, I wasn’t really all that impressed with what I saw.  It was hard to know how much of that was due to the state of the code (the demo does say that it’s not based on a final build), and how much was due to it being actually shitty.  And I don’t know how much shittiness I’m willing to put up with, especially when it comes to a franchise that I have no real strong feelings towards.

A lot of my waffling here is partly because I had too much caffeine this morning and needed something to write about; I’m not, like, agonizing over this.  But it’s also because I’m torn between (1) wanting to be part of the conversation and (2) being aware that I’m not a professional game journalist and thus the conversation is really just a soliloquy.  You’re not going to be missing out on anything here if I don’t end up writing about it.

And yet… I’m just so goddamned curious.  RE6 appears to be one of the highest-profile flops of the last few years, perhaps even of this entire console generation.  But even with its control issues and weak story and everything else that’s wrong with it, there’s also a lot of stuff in it that sounds quite interesting (at least in theory).  That mode where you can jump into a stranger’s game as an enemy?  That sounds inspired.  (Even if it’s inspired by Dark Souls.)

As it happens, the rest of this week and the upcoming weekend is going to be incredibly busy for me anyway, so I’m not sure I’d get all that much time with it before XCOM starts pre-loading.  Which ultimately leads me to ask… why bother?

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* In case you don’t know, True Vault Hunter Mode is basically New Game +.  You keep your current inventory, your level, and your badass perks, and then you start all over again with enemies that are also levelled up.  I’ve played it for around an hour or so, and have already looted an amazing shield, shotgun, and sniper rifle.  (Still looking for a better assault rifle, though; it’s my default weapon and I’ve been using the same one for the last 6 hours of playtime.)

The Best Games of 2009

If I’m being completely honest, 2009 was a bit of a let-down, and not just because it followed the staggering heights of 2007 and 2008, or that so many high-profile titles eventually slid to a 2010 release. Case in point – Resident Evil 5 was my #1 title, purely by default, right up until August.

August, of course, is when Batman: Arkham Asylum was released, and from that point on it seemed that every week held something of promise. And what made 2009 so special is how so many of the good games seemingly came out of nowhere. Uncharted 2 certainly lived up to its hype, but who could have foreseen how good Borderlands would turn out to be?

Here’s my take on the year that was, starting with some raw data.

I played 76 games that were released this year. Of those:

  • 42 were on the 360 (including the 2 bits of GTA4 DLC);
  • 15 were on the PS3 (not including 2 PS1 titles which were made available on PSN in 2009);
  • 8 were on the DS;
  • 7 were on the Wii;
  • 4 were on the PC; and
  • 0 were on the PSP, which is just as well, since I traded it in towards the WiiPlus remote in July.

I “finished” 19 of those games. That doesn’t mean 100% complete; it means that I finished a game’s main single-player mode. In alphabetical order:

  1. 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
  2. Assassin’s Creed 2
  3. Batman AA
  4. Beatles Rock Band
  5. Borderlands
  6. Flower
  7. Ghostbusters
  8. God of War Collection (both 1 and 2)
  9. InFamous
  10. The Maw
  11. Modern Warfare 2
  12. Outrun Online Arcade
  13. Peggle PC
  14. Peggle DS
  15. Resident Evil 5
  16. Sacred 2
  17. Shadow Complex (twice)
  18. Uncharted 2
  19. Uno Rush

And now for some arbitrary superlatives:

BEST NEW IP: Can Batman: Arkham Asylum count, even though it’s based on an existing IP that everybody in the world already knows about? No? Even though it felt remarkably fresh and exciting? OK, then it goes to Borderlands, which maybe lacked in story but certainly made up for with art design, mechanics, and sheer feel.

MOST CRACK-LIKE: Here we go, I’m about to lose whatever cred I might have had. It’s true that I got hooked on Borderlands this year, but if I’m really being honest with myself, I have to acknowledge the diabolical combo of Facebook’s own Farmville / Bejeweled Twist. Bejeweled I can at least explain: when work gets boring, Bejeweled is a great way to get through the day, and Twist features some great stat-tracking and leaderboard integration. But Farmville? I don’t even like real farming, or even going outside. There’s no enemies in Farmville; there’s no real challenge. And once you plant your garden, there’s nothing to do until everything’s finished growing. And yet I’ve logged into it pretty much every single day since I got started with it earlier this summer, and I’ve even spent real U.S. currency on stupid power-ups for it. I am currently at level 37, which means there’s no new seeds for me to unlock. I have “beaten” Farmville, and yet I’m only #2 amongst my friends. Zynga, I have no idea how you do what you do, but I have succumbed to your will and there is nothing I can do about it.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: To be fair, I only played Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 for about 30 minutes, but that was long enough for me to know that this was never going to be as joyously awesome as MUA1. I’m not enough of a comic book nerd to appreciate whatever changes they might have made to the roster; I just wanted some kick-ass beat-em-up RPG action. MUA2 felt clunky, under-polished and soul-less. I had very high hopes for MUA2 – I’d hoped it would get me through the summer doldrums, and instead it got send back to Gamefly and I ended up being productive with my life.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLATFORM: PSP. The Wii was pretty inessential this year, to be sure, but at least it tried. The PSP, on the other hand… I don’t even know where to begin. Wait a minute, yes I do. It had no games. It didn’t even have any bad games that I could at least rent as an excuse to dust the damned thing off. I traded in my PSP and the 7 (old) games I had for it towards Wii Sports Resort in July, and even if I’d accidentally set Wii Sports Resort on fire before I’d made it home from making that transaction, it would have been worth it.

WORST GAME OF THE YEAR: And maybe this is because my expectations were far too high, especially for a puzzle game. But let me be clear: I bought and played the original Puzzle Quest on both DS and XBLA and loved the hell out of them, and was looking forward to Puzzle Quest Galactrix with an anticipation that bordered on rabid. Galactrix was a mess on pretty much every conceivable level; it looked ugly, it had an unacceptably shitty frame rate (it’s a fucking PUZZLE game!), and it took forever to load. And, of course, the actual puzzle itself was completely unintuitive and featured an enemy AI that cheated even worse than the original Puzzle Quest, which is saying quite a lot.

BEST GAME I DID NOT FINISH: This is a tie between two of the DS’s best: GTA Chinatown Wars and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. While I can’t remember why I eventually put GTA down, I do know that I got stuck in M&L right near the end. Chinatown Wars was quite an accomplishment – it really felt like GTA, even with the DS’s hardware limitations, and the little touch-screen minigames were clever and engaging. Mario & Luigi, on the other hand, was as good as I’d expected; maybe it tried a little too hard with the humor, but the mechanics were as solid as ever.

FAVORITE NON-LINEAR ACTIVITY: Driving around the heavy-metal landscape of Brutal Legend. I never was able to get past (or even into) the RTS business, which is a shame because as a result I never got to see the rest of the world, and the world of Brutal Legend is as fantastic and unique as any game I’ve ever seen. I did as many side quests and found as many hidden collectibles as I possibly could, and that never stopped being entertaining. The Deuce Coupe was a pleasure to drive. Runner-up: grinding on rails in InFamous.

BEST GAME I COULDN’T GET INTO NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRIED: Tie between MLB09 and Street Fighter 4. MLB09 is absolutely the greatest videogame adaptation of baseball I’ve ever seen, and I’m terrible at it. I can pitch decently enough, but I can’t hit to save my life, even if I tweak the options so that it’s more or less slow-pitch softball. Likewise, I can appreciate Street Fighter 4’s artistry and charm, and it certainly brought me back to my childhood playing SF2 with my brother on his Genesis, but I couldn’t win more than 2 matches against the computer even on Very Easy.

BIGGEST INCONGRUITY BETWEEN EXCITEMENT FOR THE RE-RELEASE OF A BELOVED OLDER TITLE AND TIME SPENT PLAYING SAID TITLE: The XBLA release of Secret of Monkey Island. I made it out of the first town, saw the opening cutscene that opened Part 2, put it down, and never got back to it. I’m such an idiot.

MOST UNFAIRLY DERIDED / BIGGEST SURPRISE: Resident Evil 5. I’ve been seeing this pop up on a few “Worst Games of 2009” lists, which is odd, because I seem to recall it getting pretty good reviews when it was first released. Anyway, I can’t speak to the multiplayer, which I never tried. And I can’t compare it to RE4, which I tried playing on the Wii for about 20 minutes before wanting to break it in half, such was my frustration with the controls. What I can say is that I played the shit out of this game. I played it enough to unlock infinite ammo for the super bad-ass Magnum, which in technical terms means “a lot.” The game’s mechanics are awfully contrived and yet they still worked, and some of the game’s levels are truly wonders to behold – I’m thinking of the ruins of Chapter 4, specifically. I went into RE5 hoping that it would be engaging enough to get me through a dull winter; I emerged with it as one of my favorites of the year.

BIGGEST GAME THAT ENDED UP BEING SOMEWHAT OF AN AFTERTHOUGHT / MOST OVERRATED: Considering how drastically it altered the release calendar, as most publishers moved their big titles to 2010 Q1 just to get out of its way, it’s more than a little interesting to see how far down the radar Modern Warfare 2 has slipped for me. The game’s multiplayer strengths are without peer, certainly, and the SpecOps co-op mode is truly something to savor, but the single-player campaign ended up being somewhat ridiculous, derivative, and just plain weird. The “No Russian” level was as controversial as advertised, but perhaps not for the reasons the developer may have anticipated; similarly, the game’s constant attempts at shock value and upping the ante ended up being nearly comical, if not simply incomprehensible.

MOST ANTICIPATED GAME THAT I HAVEN’T PLAYED NEARLY ENOUGH OF: Without a doubt, this goes to Left 4 Dead 2, which I’ve played exactly twice. There’s no excuse, other than that my preferred group of friends to play it with live in different time zones and it’s hard to get everybody together at the same time.

FAVORITE ACHIEVEMENT: Unlike in years past, I can’t really recall one particular Achievement that stood out from the rest. So I’m going to give it to whichever Achievement it was – presumably in Assassin’s Creed 2 – that put me over 50,000.

BEST TREND: Quality DLC. And I’m including regular XBLA/PSN arcade titles in this as well, because there were a LOT of great games that emerged without corporeal form. Remember how everybody fawned over Braid a few years ago? A lot of that was because there wasn’t really much else for it to be compared with. This year saw the release of Shadow Complex, Trials HD, Flower, Pixeljunk Shooter, The Maw, ‘Splosion Man, and Shatter; and while they might not have been as artful and meditative as Braid, they were all really well made and loads of fun to play. But to then add GTA4’s 2 DLC campaigns, as well as most of Fallout 3‘s DLC and Borderlands, and it’s clear that DLC is for real.

MOST OVERLOOKED: InFamous. I keep forgetting how much I enjoyed this one. At first glance it felt more or less like a Crackdown clone, but it had a lot of personality and a remarkable level of polish. Perhaps it felt a little, I don’t know, small; it didn’t take that long to finish the story and all the sidequests. But it’s definitely in a good place for the inevitable sequel, which I suspect is going to be stupendous.

I HAVE NO IDEA WHY I SPENT SO LONG PLAYING THIS GAME, CONSIDERING HOW MUCH OF IT THERE WAS TO DISLIKE: I actually finished Sacred 2‘s single-player campaign, which in retrospect I feel like I ought to have won some sort of medal for. That game did not deserve the 40+ hours I sunk into it, especially as I generally played it with the sound off, because it featured the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard. But that’s the Diablo formula for you; mindless hack-and-slash action never seems to get old. This is proof positive that the first half of 2009 was severely lacking in quality content.

THE 2009 “10 MINUTES OR LESS” ALL-STARS: These are all the games I played in 2009 that, for one reason or another, I played all I was ever going to play in 10 minutes or less:

  • Halo 3:ODST. I’m officially done with the Halo franchise; I just don’t care anymore. I’ll probably try Reach, but out of curiosity/boredom, not out of need.
  • Lego Indiana Jones 2. Not sure this warranted a second iteration, considering how terrible the 4th movie is.
  • Super Mario Brothers Wii. I rented this and tried to play it with my wife; we both eventually ran out of lives and didn’t really care one way or the other.
  • Prototype. I stopped playing this because it sucked.
  • Wolfenstein. It didn’t necessarily suck, but it felt awfully by-the-numbers and uninspired.
  • Fuel. I think Codemasters did this, which is why I rented it in the first place – I’m a huge fan of DiRT, and thought GRID was OK. Maybe Fuel needed more capital letters?
  • Henry Hatsworth. I rented this thinking it might be something to keep me occupied on an upcoming weekend holiday, saw that it wouldn’t, and sent it back.
  • MX v ATV Reflex. Talk about uninspired! These games are usually worth at least a couple hours of screwing around; this just had nothing in it for me.
  • Onechanbara. Not really sure why I rented this one; it was pretty horrible.

THE “I REALLY NEED TO FINISH THESE GAMES” LIST: These are games that I was enjoying and got distracted from, or games that I just never had enough time to get into but still want to revisit.

  • Left 4 Dead 2.
  • Demon’s Souls. Maybe this shouldn’t be on this list. I played it right up until I died for the first time, saw how much I’d have to do in order to get back there, and decided to send it back to Gamefly. But I think that’s only because I was impatient and didn’t really have the time to truly punish myself; I can see why this game has supporters.
  • Ratchet and Clank. This (and others on this list) were victims of the Gamefly Curse, so named because if something else was coming up right behind it, I either had to play it enough to buy it or send it back immediately so that my Queue wouldn’t get screwed. I liked the first PS3 game, and while this one wasn’t necessarily knocking my socks off it was still pretty good, but I had to make way for something and it just wasn’t good enough to keep.
  • Dragon Age: Origins. If this list were being ranked in order of regret, this would be right at the top. I just haven’t had the time to get immersed in it, and the 360 version is just clunky enough to make it difficult to get into.
  • Little King’s Story. I’m not much for strategy games, but this Wii title was engaging and charming and had some interesting things going on. I may yet re-rent it and give it another go.
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla. I finished the first “world”/”area”/”section”, drove around a little bit in the second area, and for whatever reason got sidetracked and never picked it back up. It wasn’t amazing, but it was certainly entertaining.
  • Scribblenauts. Once I heard about the magnet/vending machine glitch, I kinda stopped caring. But enough time has gone by where I could probably give this another go with some fresh eyes.
  • Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. I generally do most of my DS playing right before bed. I was somewhat enjoying this one – I got right up to the part where your train gets a cannon, so obviously I’m not that far in but I still had enough of a taste to know what was in store. But then I got a Kindle as an early birthday present, and as a result I’ve been reading before bed instead of DS-ing.

THE GAMES I CURRENTLY HAVE OUT FROM GAMEFLY THAT I REALLY WANT TO PLAY BUT HAVEN’T REALLY GIVEN ENOUGH TIME TO, WHICH PROBABLY WON’T AFFECT THE TOP 10 BUT YOU NEVER KNOW: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Dead Space: Extraction. I’ve given Silent Hill about an hour or so – the chase sequences are a bit wonky but the rest of it is exactly what I’d want out of the Wii controls, and it truly feels unique and exciting. I have not yet tried Dead Space, and I’m hoping to do that before the end of the week.

And now, without further ado, THE TOP 10 GAMES OF 2009.

10. Flower. I am not necessarily all that interested in debating if games qualify as art anymore; there are plenty of shitty films, books and albums that come out every year that shouldn’t qualify as art, either, and yet the Earth continues to not crash into the Sun. That said, Flower is as close to playing a dream as anything I’ve ever experienced, and for that I am in awe. It uses the PS3’s motion controls better than anything else on the platform; it should be the last game on the system to use them, frankly, until the wand comes out in 2010.

9. Torchlight. I said it before in talking about Sacred 2 – mindless hack-and-slash never gets old, and when it’s really well done it’s positively narcotizing. I haven’t yet finished Torchlight, but it’s not like there’s a story – I’ve left- and right-clicked enough to know that this game is well worth its price tag. Also – I miss gaming on my PC. My PC is 5 years old and struggled to run World of Warcraft 3 years ago at an acceptable level; Torchlight scales remarkably well and it runs like a dream on my ancient machine.

8. Resident Evil 5. I talked about it before, but I didn’t mention how fantastic the game is at encouraging multiple playthroughs; the rewards for doing so are quite thorough and worthwhile. It’s definitely archaic, and the series could definitely do with a reboot, but I’m of the opinion that it went out with a thoroughly enjoyable bang.

7. InFamous. Again, probably the most overlooked gem of the year. I have high hopes for the sequel.

6. Shadow Complex. I played through it twice, the second time opening 100% of the board, and I loved every minute of it. Outstanding.

5. The Beatles: Rock Band. Well, this certainly lived up to my expectations, even if I never successfully guessed the set list. Aside from being a remarkable adaptation of the Rock Band formula, the game featured oodles of cool miscellanea for the true Beatles nerd; never-before-heard studio banter, photographs, biographical information – all of it presented with tender loving care. I’m not sure any other band will manage to cause the same stir with their own vanity imprint; once again, the Beatles got there first and did it better than anyone else.

4. Borderlands. This came out of nowhere and became an instant favorite; it outdid Fallout 3 at its own game. Fallout 3 certainly had a better narrative, but its combat was always clunky and slow-paced, and the world was oppressively brown. Borderlands took the Unreal engine and finally did something truly cool with it – indeed, it’s the first cel-shaded game in years that really matters. But most importantly, it absolutely nailed the combat. Shooting just felt right; guns felt suitably powerful and each minute change in weaponry had a tangible impact in the field. I’m on my 2nd playthrough – I think I hit level 41 the last time I played, and I’m going back and forth between the Zombie Ned DLC and the regular game world.

3. Assassin’s Creed 2. Had I given an award for most improved sequel, this would’ve been it. It kept everything that worked in the first game, got rid of everything that didn’t, and then added a ton of cool stuff that made it even better. I was worried that it would end up getting swallowed up by Modern Warfare 2’s immense shadow, but as it turned out it held its own quite admirably. I enjoyed virtually every minute I spent playing it; the only reason it’s at #3 is because the games at 1/2 were that much better.

2. Batman: Arkham Asylum. I went back and forth with it, but putting this at #2 shouldn’t mean it’s any less deserving. I was genuinely astonished at how good this game turned out to be, and when I played it last week it still felt as good as it did when I first tried it out. It’s a complete package; a good story, fantastic voice acting, immersive graphics, intuitive and thoroughly satisfying hand-to-hand combat, challenging puzzles, and a world that is detailed and littered with things to do and see. But most of all, it makes you feel like you’re Batman. When you set up a trap, turn on your nightvision and swoop out of the darkness to knock out a thug, you feel like a badass. It’s a remarkable achievement and one can only hope that next year’s sequel (!) is given the same amount of time and care that went into this one.

1. Uncharted 2. I saw Avatar this weekend; I kept my expectations low. All I really wanted out of it was to see something I’d never seen before, and to that end I was thoroughly satisfied. The movie itself was pretty good; a little hokey, a little cheesy, but certainly good enough to justify the absolutely mind-boggling visuals. And, dear God, those visuals were astounding. Uncharted 2 had similarly mind-boggling visuals, at least for its medium, and from beginning to end I saw stuff I’d never seen before in a game. But to its credit, U2 is far, far more than its good looks. The game’s got charm. It’s got charisma, and it’s got personality. And it’s also got pathos. Nathan Drake is as 3-dimensional as an action hero can get, and considering that he’s completely polygonal, that says quite a lot. U2 might not be the paradigm-shifter that Bioshock or Portal might have been, but that’s not giving it enough credit for being what it is, which is the best interactive roller coaster ever made. It is absolutely reason enough to own a PS3; it is an experience that needs to be seen to be believed.

>Weekend Recap: RE5 and 50 Cent, together at last

>Ordinarily you wouldn’t put Resident Evil 5 and 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand in the same sentence, but we’re edgy risk-takers here at SFTC, and so: that just happened. I finished both of these games over the weekend, and I was a little surprised at how much they have in common; certainly it was a little disorientating when switching between the two.

Consider:

  • 3rd person shooter
  • crazy-ass story that doesn’t make a lot of sense
  • many enemies take lots of bullets before going down
  • crate smashing galore
  • hidden targets that yield bonus items
  • campaign can be played co-op, which I didn’t try but it would definitely enhance both experiences

Of course, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand lets you move while shooting, and if you want to destroy a crate, you just have to hit “B”, instead of “LB + RT”. Most importantly, your AI partner in 50C:BotS can handle his own inventory, thank you very much, and is much more vocal in giving encouragement and pointing out objects of interest. Advantage: 50 Cent.

I kid, of course. 50C:BotS has been compared to Gears of War quite a lot, mostly because they both have cover systems, but the last level is a blatant and bizarre “homage” to both Halo 1 and Halo 3, and it completely rips off has quite a bit more in common with Bizarre Creations’ conceptually interesting but underwhelming arcade shooter The Club, where you fulfill disbarred attorney Jack Thompson’s wildest fantasies by literally getting points for killing people, plus bonus points for killing people in quick succession, and where there also are hidden targets to shoot.*

50C:BotS is better than I expected it to be; indeed, it’s better than it has any right to be. But that’s not to say that it’s a great game, or that I would recommend that you purchase it. Quite frankly, the biggest thing going for it is that it might be the most unintentionally hilarious game I’ve ever played. When I wrote earlier that 50’s AI partner is very encouraging, I’m not screwing around – every 10-15 seconds, your fellow G-Unit possemember is saying shit like “Hey 50 – over here, man!” or “Yo 50 – here they come!” or, my personal favorite during the obligatory driving level, “Yo 50 – hit that ramp!” The game is utterly ridiculous; the story makes absolutely no sense; when a character warns you in the game’s first chapter to “trust no one”, it goes without saying that everybody you’re going to meet in this game will double-cross you, but it’s not especially clear why they would be helping you in the first place. There are more than a few cutscenes that appear to have been edited for some reason so that they now function as nothing more than non-sequiturs, featuring evil people that you’ve not yet met conspiring to do things that have nothing to do with you – or, rather, finishing up their conspiring and walking away as the image fades to black. It’s very strange stuff indeed. I will concede that the unintentional hilarity was my primary motivation in finishing the game; I got all the Points I cared to get out of it and promptly sent it back to GameFly.

As for Resident Evil 5, it is much better than Blood on the Sand. I am obviously uncertain as to where it would stack up in my 2009 GOTY voting, but I think I can safely put it in the top 10; and if I were to play 10 new games that were demonstrably better than RE5 before the end of the year, I think it’s safe to say that we are all in for a real treat.

The controls in the RE5 demo frustrated me to no end, and I was fully prepared to hate RE5 to death. They do indeed remain archaic and strange in the full game (as does the inventory management, which gets its own paragraph) but they somehow work in the game’s context. If you were able to move and shoot at the same time, with your aim being the center of the screen, the suspension of disbelief would be utterly shattered; you’d have more than enough time, then, to actually see how ridiculous it all is. There’d be no tension, there’d be no cathartic release; the game succeeds because of its control scheme. You hit the left trigger to aim and your focus instantly narrows, and each infected thing you kill becomes its own tiny individual battle; you are forced to look at what is attacking you and, then, you are forced to look at what you have done to it. And just when you’ve seen enough of the same type of enemy, another one comes along with slightly different tactics or weapons or, eventually, it becomes something entirely different that you have to kill again. I’m not sure if that qualifies as genius, but it becomes pretty compelling and it’s only at the very end of the game where it stops being, well, fun.

The inventory management is a little wonky and clunky, and while it adheres to standard RE conventions while giving it its own twist, it could probably be done a little better. I read something last week – maybe it was in Zero Punctuation? – that decried the utter lunacy that a bazooka took up the same amount of inventory space as a first-aid kit, and that first-aid kits don’t stack. Again, I didn’t find it much of a problem until near the end of the game, when ammo management becomes both essential and ridiculous. The nice part about the game’s design is that you maintain your inventory and money at all times, so if you die, you can at least get a free, untimed re-organization and contemplation and you can buy whatever supplies you may need.

That’s really my favorite part about RE5 – it’s not necessarily the single-player campaign, but the entire package that arrives on the disc. The game is clearly designed to be played more than once, and there is a tremendous incentive for doing so; there’s a lot of cool stuff to unlock, for one thing, and as I said before the game lets you carry over your inventory so that you can replay chapters with new and advanced weaponry. You can also upgrade your weapons, which is its own meta-game; do you continue to put money into upgrading your basic weaponry, or do you start from scratch with a potentially better weapon that will be less powerful when you acquire it than the one you upgraded?** In addition to goofy costumes and graphics filters (which I haven’t really messed with yet), beating the campaign unlocks the Mercenaries mode, which is a fun diversion (and which I’m not very good at yet).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: while I was playing RE5, my mind kept coming back to Metal Gear Solid 4. They are both set up as the conclusions to their respective mega-franchises, although Kojima hinted at future MGS games at last week’s GDC, and Capcom has already said that RE5 is a conclusion of the current storyline and that RE6 will be a dramatic reinvention. They are both graphical show-stoppers; I might even say that RE5 is better-looking than MGS4 if only because there’s a wider color palette. They’re both very quirky and are somewhat insular, even as they’re accessible for people unfamiliar with the larger story. They both take themselves very seriously, even though they’re also high in camp. And they are both ultimately love letters to their adoring fanbases; they are absolutely loaded with special treats that long-time fans of the series will no doubt enjoy. I was not a die-hard fan of either franchise, and I wound up really enjoying both of these titles, even through their faults. I’m not sure I’m going to run out and play any of the earlier MGS titles, but you’d better believe I’m going to dust off the Wii this week and see if I can’t finally get into Resident Evil 4.

* The hidden targets might even be the same color, now that I think about it. I would insert screenshots to back up my point, but Google isn’t being helpful and I don’t have the time.

** I think I read somewhere that when you fully upgrade a weapon, you then have the ability to have unlimited ammo for that particular weapon; fully upgrading a weapon is very expensive, however, and in the meantime you could be messing around with other things to buy.

>Announcement

>I fucking LOVE Resident Evil 5. It makes no sense to me that I should love it so; but there it is. I just finished Chapter 4-1 a short while ago and the only reason why I’m calling it a night is so that I can keep going back to it during the week.

As much as the game is ass-backwards in so many respects, there’s something about how it all comes together that is wonderful.

That is all.

>Super-Quick Impressions: RE5, Halo Wars, GTA:CW

>One of the first things they tell you in acting class (well, one of the first things they told me) is that when you’re in an audition, the directors can pretty much make up their mind within the first 10 seconds whether you’re right for the part or not. It’s true that sometimes a gut impression can prove wrong, but they’re awfully hard to shake one way or the other.

I’ve been finding more and more lately that if a game, book or TV show doesn’t immediately grab me, I tend to lose interest (and patience) very quickly. I’m not entirely sure why this is – either I’ve developed adult-onset ADD, or my standards have become unreasonably high, or maybe it’s just that my bullshit detector is malfunctioning. In any event, I’ve been pretty busy lately and I’ve found myself having trouble getting sucked into anything (with the very notable exception of the now-defunct TV show The Wire, which I’ve been devouring like mad).

Hence, my quick impressions of 3 rather notable games.

With regard to Halo Wars, I’d played the demo and enjoyed it enough to let it remain in my Gamefly queue, although my 360 was in the shop when it arrived; when my 360 got back to me and I’d gotten over my initial infatuation with GTA4:L&D, I popped in the HW disc and quickly burned through the tutorial and the first level, which is exactly what the demo was. But as soon as the second level started, and the freeform nature of the game finally took hold, I found myself not really terribly interested or invested in what was happening, and I gave up about shortly thereafter. I’m gonna chalk this up to my own reluctance to dive in to the RTS genre, though; the game would appear to be very well made and even in my short time with it I didn’t find anything that would otherwise turn me off, other than the nature of the game itself.

On the other hand, I’d played the Resident Evil 5 demo along with half the world and was utterly underwhelmed; the game felt antiquated in all the worst possible ways and the super-deluxe graphics only reinforced how un-modern the game actually is. I kept the game in my queue just for the hell of it, though, and when I started playing it over the weekend, I have to admit I found myself getting kinda sucked in to it. The controls are still 1997-ish but they weren’t as offensive as I found them to be in the demo. It’s certainly faithful to the RE conventions, for better or worse; even though I hadn’t really played an RE game since the Dreamcast’s Code Veronica, I immediately knew what I was in for. But it is true that the game is incredibly antiquated, and while I suppose I can respect Capcom’s decision to err on the side of fanboy pleasure instead of actual 2009 playability, it’s definitely going to need a dramatic overhaul in order to really stay relevant.

The “tension” that supposedly results from not having any ammo is really just an artificial frustration that immediately destroys the suspension of disbelief; for example, for a series that’s already stretching that disbelief (leaving alone the whole “killing zombies” thing), are we really to accept that these trained soldiers we play as would enter a combat zone without carrying any additional ammunition? Here’s my suggestion, as long as we’re operating under the notion that limited ammo is a necessary component to a successful RE game: I think if you really want to heighten the tension, you should start the game with all the ammo you’re ever going to get. You will think twice about taking a difficult shot if you know you’re never going to get that bullet back.

I’ve only finished the first 2 missions, in any event, so it’s not like I can really talk about the RE5 experience with any authority. That said, what I’ve seen is encouraging, and unlike HW, I’m still holding on to my copy.

Finally, my copy of GTA: Chinatown Wars for the DS arrived today, and I played the first mission just a short while ago during my lunch hour. And even though that really only amounts to about 10 minutes, I can already tell this is a better game than the PSP games, and certainly better than the GBA title. The novelty of seeing the word “fuck” on a DS screen is pretty goddamned hilarious, but more to the point – it looks great, and it has that all-too-elusive feel of its console brethren. It’s not a compromised vision at all – it is clearly its own beast. I am very much looking forward to checking it out for real.

>Weekend Recap: Fallout 3, The Maw, RE5 demo

>So I accidentally finished Fallout 3 over the weekend. That’s a problem, of course, because when you finish the last quest, the game is over; the credits roll, and that’s it, and I still had a bunch of stuff I never finished doing, as well as a bunch of other stuff I never saw. I (fortunately) had a save point right before the last mission, and so I’ve taken advantage of this rip in the space-time continuum in order to keep playing and exploring. This also means that I can start messing around with the DLC and still be super-powered.

Fallout 3 is a very impressive game, on many levels, but it’s also problematic. After all the hours I’ve put into it, the combat still hasn’t ever really felt totally satisfying – come to think of it, I had the same problem with Mass Effect. My favorite thing in the game, ultimately, is simply exploring and finding new points on the map, and yet this is also a little bit of a bummer because everything kinda looks the same. Still – the amount of content and the level of detail is absolutely staggering, and Bethesda did a really great job revitalizing this franchise. I’m going to be keeping this game in my rotation for quite some time to come; I’ve got a few more Achievements to score, of course, but really there’s just so much more in the world that I’ve yet to see.

Played a bit of The Maw, which is one of the better XBLA titles to hit in some time. It’s pretty simple but very enjoyable, although I’m not sure there’s a lot of replay value. (I tend to prefer my XBLA games – as well as my handhelds – to be either puzzles or just straight-up arcade titles, as they don’t get too repetitive.)

Speaking of which, I actually fired up my PSP this weekend and tried to play the latest Star Ocean title. Unfortunately, I stopped giving a shit about 10 minutes in; endless, unskippable cutscenes plagued the pacing and I’m a little tired of cookie-cutter JRPGs. I would regret buying a PSP more if I remembered I still had it. I came very close to trading it (and all my games for it) towards Wii Fit this weekend, except (of course) Wii Fit was sold out everywhere.

Finally, I fired up the Resident Evil 5 demo this morning before I left for work. Not ideal circumstances for trying highly anticipated titles, but whatever. I saw what I needed to see, and what I saw is that it’s basically a hi-def RE4 with slightly less clumsy controls. I’m hoping to try it tonight via online co-op; maybe that’ll make the experience less disappointing.