Much like last week, where I talked about how SOMA is a wonderful experience, just not true horror, I’m here to discuss the (probably not surprising) pitfalls of one of the latest Resident Evil games. Spoilers follow.
As before, I’ll say some good stuff so no one thinks I’m just here to bash: Like its predecessors, it knows exactly what people play it for. The combat is straightforward, the dodge mechanics work well and can even be upgraded (unlike the garbage reaction-dodge of Revelations 1), and the graphics are about as good as I would expect from a spin-off expected to play on both the PS4 and the Vita.
The main pitfalls are the same that this series has been suffering from for years now. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to capture the same claustrophobic helplessness that the original Resident Evil showed off in every fixed camera angles, because now, we have an over-the-shoulder view of bigger, more textured, open environments meant to showcase design creativity and processing power. I’m not begrudging a nice view (check out The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, some of the Mass Effect series settings, or SOMA if you really want to ogle).
There is another big part of helplessness that the series now overlooks, and that’s the plot. The first game wasn’t giving you some overpowered super agent, it put you in control of a regular human being. STARS team Alpha begins the game panicking, visibly and audibly flustered, worried that some of their agents are dead and others missing, and straight-up freak out whenever a new horror comes their way. Jill Valentine even pukes after curb-stomping a zombie’s brains out. The few jokes were obviously failed attempts to diffuse tension (or, in some cases, amazingly bad dubs).
Revelations Two, meanwhile, is full of out-of-places jokes. After a statue explodes, Claire quips, “And we all had a blast.” She and Moira Burton (Barry Burton’s daughter, for those who don’t know) enter a building, which almost immediately explodes as well, because the RE crew can’t go anywhere without going full Michael Bay. After escaping by jumping out a window and falling a hundred feet or so into a river, Moira says, “Was it good for you too?” because the already over-masculine episode three, in which everything explodes, needed to top itself with a forced reference to lesbians.
That’s not to mention the fact that Barry’s “partner” is a little girl. Any horror fan would assume automatically that she was evil, and those horror fans would be right. Without explaining the cliche backstory too heavily, the game’s main bad-girl, Alex Wesker (who is only so named because the writers probably thought we’d be like, “Oh no, Wesker! I’m screwed!” even though Albert was the only REAL Wesker) wants to download her personality into a body that has conquered fear.
…except she says several times that she’d already conquered fear, so there was no point in her doing this.
But there is something far worse about this game than the fact that the hum-drum, run-of-the-mill supervillain who wants to control the whole world (like we haven’t heard that one before!) spouts generic drivel on loop, like, “I have earned the right to become a god” and “I am true. You are false!” The main problem is that no one is afraid. Sure, the game’s virus, the T-Phobos, so named because originality is more dead than the zombies here, would’ve killed anyone who became truly afraid (except Barry, who was not exposed). I get that. The writers had this nice little design in there that meant we could have Moira, an unarmed, untrained, unathletic woman in her early twenties, face down armies of horrible mutants and fifteen-foot-tall B.O.W.s and then end a battle by yelling, “Go jump on a dildo!” (because masturbation, apparently).
Fact is, there’s no real fear if the characters aren’t also afraid. I’m not worried about Barry. I’m not concerned for Claire. Barry makes it explicitly clear that “I’ve got this,” and I believe him. I’m not even worried about the little girl. None of them are at any risk of dying, and that’s obvious. They’re freakin superheroes at this point, and when their inhuman ability to get hit with a two-ton battle ax, then get up and sprint away like nothing happened, fails them, they’ve got bad jokes and an infinite rocket launcher to make sure the final boss goes up in flames.
(Aside: There were a number of self-referential jokes in this game, including one about the rocket launcher, that worked well, and I absolutely loved them.)
A note to all you fancy-pants developers out there: give us someone we can love, or give us someone faceless. We need real people, not superhumans. That’s why Borderlands and Left 4 Dead work so well: It really doesn’t matter who you play as. You pick a character for their abilities, and the plot remains the same.
Conversely, a great game for balance like that, weirdly, was the Metroid Prime trilogy. Samus, bounty hunter, stranded on a foreign planet, no power ups, no way to leave–awesome. It made sense that there was no character development, because she was in near-complete isolation. Only Corruption really brought in other characters, and something more along those lines would’ve made a great follow-up, or even the start of a new series (unlike Other M, which was such a complete catastrophe that I don’t think I can write a post on it without Nintendo suing me).
What do you think? How much does plot matter to you in horror? Would you prefer a great narrative, at the expense, perhaps, of some action? Or do you like games where you could be anyone at all, another generic Joe Shmo or Simon Garrett, with little to no emotions to get in the way? Let me know below!