Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D in Review

Let’s get it out of the way up front. No, you can’t delete your save file from your Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D cartridge. For unclear reasons likely tied to losses incurred by aftermarket sales, Capcom decided to ship the game with one unalterable save slot. So this means that high scores and unlocked content can’t be reset.

Although corporately draconian, it’s also not really that big of a deal and it’s definitely not enough to warrant Amazon bombing or demagogic bloggers resisting it as some kind of “cause”. RE: The Mercenaries isn’t a narrative game, it’s the same high score attack mode that the last couple of numbered installments of the series have featured as bonus content. It’s a high score game parceled out in selectable levels. Better performance nets better grades which in turn unlock skills (all individually upgradable), new levels, and new characters. But believe me, you’re not really missing out on anything by being forbidden to play with Jack Krauser until you clear a certain stage in the game. And if you happen to pick up a used copy with some really good scores- that just makes the game more challenging.

OK, are we straight on that? The rest of the review follows.

Now, the more important aspect of RE: The Mercenaries is that it is a fun and sometimes addicting game, and it’s one of the better handheld shooters I’ve seen to date if only because the controls aren’t an arthritis-inducing trainwreck and the 3DS is able to churn out a very good-looking third-person action game including some very cool 3D effects. It’s a little strange seeing the European cultists from RE 4 and the African Majini from RE 5 hanging out together, but the assortment of weapons puts them all down nice and easy, just the same. There aren’t a whole lot of settings or levels and I think it’s quite disappointing that there isn’t more material from the best game in the franchise (that would be number four, of course), but I can not say that I didn’t have a good time with this title despite the fact that it hardly showcases the property’s best aspects.

In a way, a Resident Evil action game is kind of like an all-ballads Slayer record. It’s just not what it’s best at. RE has always been sluggish, plodding, and really geared more to atmosphere, adventure-puzzling, and inventory management than fleet-footed gun battles- regardless of what the developers of RE 5 believed. Despite being able to move and shoot this time out, the game still retains that lack of mobility which I think is actually essential to the survival horror genre. Even though it’s without narrative context, there are still plenty of visceral instances where Jill Valentine will be cornered, herbless and holding a dry shotgun and realizing that she’s going to have to knife her way out. Or she can awkwardly run, clutching her stomach.

Levels are timed. Some require you to kill everything that moves while others let you keep rolling through waves of enemies as long as you can keep extending the clock with combos, items, and melee attacks. Occasionally there’s a boss or one-hit killers like the dreaded bagheads, but usually you’re gunning down not-zombies ad infinitum. If it gets lonely, there’s local and online co-op. The online functionality is good- I’ve had a couple of really fun games with strangers and some of the higher levels are damnably difficult without another player along for the ride.

Unfortunately, where it all goes south doesn’t really have anything to do with the game. It’s in how it’s packaged. As an added bonus in a full, numbered Resident Evil installment, Mercenaries was a fun diversion, full of fan service and that cool RE vibe. As a $40 standalone retail title, there isn’t enough variety, content, or value here to justify its price regardless of how much fun I had with it. This is a game that I would absolutely recommend as a ten dollar download on PSN or XBLA or even as a five dollar one on the App Store. But for the same cost as Ocarina of Time, what you’re getting are a very small number of different level types with not really all that many enemy types and eight characters to play with. There aren’t any alternative game modes or objectives- shoot the place up, unlock stuff, and do it again but better next time to get the SS ranking and the high score.

Five years ago, this kind of game would have been more acceptable as a retail title on a portable game platform. But the market and value expectations have changed dramatically, and now it’s just not enough. Had Capcom made this a more comprehensive game that spans the entire RE canon with tons of characters, lots of enemy types and areas from every game, and provided more fan-oriented material than a three minute long demo of next year’s Resident Evil: Revelations, then this might have been a $40 title. As it stands, my recommendation is to ignore the “one playthrough only” scare and pick this one up second hand for half its sticker price or less.

Current Social Games Are Not Fun

That’s not me talking. Well, not directly, anyway.

That’s from Richard Bartle, the man who helped invent the MUD and basically started, albeit via text, this whole MMO thing. I played a MUD in college (Tsunami MUD) when I “worked” at a computer lab and became hooked. Graphics based MMOs never came close to the MUD feeling for me but that’s a story for another time.

Bartlel is taking aim a “social” games which he says are really social at all.

“The big thing about social games that they don’t like to tell you, is they’re not actually social. Games played on social network sites is what we mean by social games … These games are categorized more by the platform than that they are social themselves.”

“The way they engage their players is not through interesting gameplay, it’s done through extrinsic rewards – basically bribes. These are badges, pats on the back, and so forth. I’m level two! That person over there, who started playing five minutes ago, is level one! I’m better!”

Preach it, brother.

If you like like a little developer rage on your Fridays, read the entire piece at Gamasutra.

XCOM Preview at RPS

The fine folks at Rock, Paper, Shotgun have tossed up a preview of XCOM, which after reading it sounds like much of the same demo saw at E3. Maybe a tad more detailed, hard to say, really.

I still think it’s odd that the designers are still tinkering with ideas after the game has been in development this long and after reading this preview I get the notion that RPS doesn’t quite know what to make of it either.

As for NHS, we’re on the fence. Both Todd and I are old school X-Com fans from back in the day and I’m still very leery of this game; Todd is totally on board and Brandon just likes to shoot stuff.

As the preview says in its conclusion:

Here’s hoping…

BioShock Infinite E3 Demo (Well, sort of)

If you want to see the full 15 minute E3 demo for Infinite, well, you’ll have to wait until July 7th. If you want to see the first two minutes of said demo (in other words the stuff before it gets really good) then today is your day!

Spike TV special premiere for a 15 minute E3 presentation? Great press for Irrational and 2K.

But man…that’s weird.

Disney Closes Doors on Split/Second Developer

Really hate these stories.

Disney today confirmed to Develop that the publisher is closing the doors on Black Rock, the developer of both Pure and Split/Second, both games while critically successful failed to do much at the cash register.

The Disney statement: “Disney Interactive Studios confirms that Black Rock Studios’ current project has not been greenlit for further development, consequently the company informed employees yesterday of the intent to enter a consultation process on the proposal to close the studios.”

Black Rock has fired back, however. Again Develop has the goods on this story where two Black Rock employees state that the new game pitch was merely lip service and that Disney knew the axe was falling at the start of the year.

This bit from the story says a lot, I think.

By the time Christmas 2010 came around, Disney had pushed online and social gaming to the top of the agenda – the US HQ bought Facebook game firm Playdom and bumped its CEO John Pleasants up to Disney Interactive boss, pushing out former head Graham Hopper. Then Disney went about trimming its console business….

In this business the critical reception usually doesn’t matter. Still, the 360 version of Split Second supposedly sold around 500,000 units so it’s not like no one bought the game and with the overall critical praise…a damn shame Disney kicked the developer to the curb.

Media Molecule Says Goodbye to Littlebigplanet

UK developer Media Molecule confirmed today that the company is taking a break from developing future LBP games. Siobhan Reddy made the statement at Barcelona’s GameLab 2011 event:

“We’re stepping away from LittleBigPlanet to focus on some new ideas.”

What this means for the future of the franchise is unclear, but the Sony Cambridge studio developed the PSP version and the sweet looking Vita version is being developed by both Double11 and Tarsier Studios so I doubt this marks the end of the franchise. That said, LBP and LBP2 have taken on a life of their own with all of the user made content available. So maybe it’s not a bad idea for the company to branch out into something different.

Mass Effect: What Went Right and What Went South

Wired has a preview/interview with producer Jesse Houston on ME3 and the history of the series and the lessons the company has learned over the years of developing the franchise.

It’s not too long and is worth a read.

“We learned a lot about the way story flow should work” from Dragon Age 2, Houston said. “I don’t want to go into too many details, but ultimately, we’ve listened to the fans in a big way: We’re taking it very, very seriously and we’re committed to making sure we don’t repeat mistakes.”

Don't Shoot the Food – Hunted Demon's Forge Edition

No High Scores

Since returning from vacation, I’ve been playing a lot of Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. It’s a co-op game, but I’m playing it single player as my limited co-op experience with Bill and my extensive single player experience has led me to believe that the game would kind of suck in co-op. Well, if you were playing Caddoc, the big, burly melee guy. Then again, the entire game sucks as Caddoc, so it’s not much of a stretch to think co-op would suck with him as well as it would have the added suckitude of pissing off your partner because you keep dying. At least that’s how it would go for me.

The problem, as I see it (and don’t worry, we’ll get to the food soon enough) is that Caddoc doesn’t pull his weight in co-op. He’s melee, so he should be drawing the aggro off of the archer lady, and he does, but he’s also a bit of wuss and it doesn’t take much to kill him. Oh sure, blocking is key, but when you’re mobbed, shields only work for the beasties in front of you. The rest of them can get at you quite nicely, and when they get into their four swing attack animations, you can get killed fairly quickly. Caddoc doesn’t have the same area of effect spells that E’lara does, so when he gets mobbed, he’s limited in how he can deal with him. Based on this, you would think that the best way would be for Caddoc to deal with the up close guys while E’lara helps him out with her magical arrows when things get too crazy. You would be right except for the fact that while Caddoc is getting mobbed, E’lara usually is too so she has her own problems to deal with. The other, common scenario is that while Caddoc is being mobbed, a gaggle of archers are perforating both of you, requiring E’lara to turn her magic elsewhere…

The revive system in this game certainly doesn’t help matters. Caddoc and E’lara can each carry vials that can revive their fallen teammates. As you progress through the game you’ll be given a higher capacity for vials based on how much you revive one another. Limiting the number of times you can revive your partner is, to put it bluntly, an extremely stupid decision. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be a risk/reward system in place for revivals, but in this case, if you revive your partner and then don’t find another vial, you’re essentially penalized for reviving them, or they’re penalized for being downed, and it seems a tad bit harsh. In Gears of War, you had to balance your ability to get to your partner and revive them with the current engagement. Yeah, he may be bleeding out, but if you don’t deal with some more of these dudes, you won’t be able to get there any way. In Borderlands, the downed player has the ability to revive themselves if they can somehow shoot through the darkening vision and kill someone. In Halo, if you die, at least one person in the squad has to survive until you can come back. All of these games offer some seriously tense moments around a partner’s death or downing, but none of them seem like they’re penalizing you for dying. Hunted seems like it’s penalizing you, and maybe that’s the point, but if you’re looking to play a fun night of co-op monster slaying, there’s no need to engender animosity between the players due to a cruddy revive system. The fact that the vials you pick up have to be actively picked up, as opposed to health and mana potions that you pick up automatically makes the system seem even more punishing. In the heat of battle, if I run out of vials, I know not only have to be on the lookout for them on the battlefield, but also looking at the on-screen prompt to make sure I’m not stopping to pick up gold instead of revive vials while my partner bleeds out.

So, with this in mind, it got me thinking to food and how really good dishes can use different textures and flavors to play off of each other to a harmonious end, just as good co-op games can use the different play styles of the players to good ends, even within the restrictions of the game. A couple of months ago I found a recipe for a paella that uses soy chorizo and edamame in it. I’m not a big paella fan as the traditional dish has a lot of shellfish in it, and I don’t dig on shellfish, but this seemed like a winner. The only problem I could see was that it would combine the softness of rice with the crunch of soybeans and my wife is not a big fan of mixing textures within dishes. I can sort of understand that as mouth feel is a big deal for me, but I thought it would be worth it. In the end, we both loved it and my son inhaled it as if he had been in the desert for a month. My only complaint is that having the bell pepper in the mix the entire time the rice is cooking makes it too soft and I’d rather put it in with the edamame at the end. Then again, maybe that would raise the crunch factor too much, so who knows. Bottom line is that this is a great dish, full of flavor and with some really different but complimentary textures that play off each other wonderfully, like a good co-op game in your mouth. Best of all, no one has to be Caddoc.

Paella with Soy Chorizo and Edamame – Cooking Light

1. 6 oz soy chorizo – I made this with real chorizo and it was to die for. Obviously, I’m not advocating you break your moral or religious code for pork, but dayum.
2. 2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
3. 2 1/4 cups chopped yellow onion – sure it says yellow, but feel free to use frozen onion if time is an issue.
4. 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed – OK< saffron is very expensive, at least it is when you buy it at Kroger. Maybe you can get saffron for less at ethnic markets, but I haven't checked. You've been warned. 5. 4 garlic cloves, minced 6. 1 cup Valencia or other medium-grain rice 7. 1 cup (1/2-inch) pieces red bell pepper - use whatever kind of bell pepper you want, but red is nice and colorful. I think I used orange. I'm crazy that way. 8. 1/2 cup dry white wine 9. 2 cups organic vegetable broth 10. 1/4 teaspoon salt 11. 1 1/2 cups frozen shelled edamame, thawed 12. 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 13. 1/4 cup chopped green onions Cooking Steps
1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook until browned. I don’t know how soy chorizo is, but the coloring of the “real” stuff makes it hard to tell when it’s brown. Shoot for around ten minutes or so. Make sure it’s all crumbled up by the time it’s done. Once done, remove it from the pan and set aside.
2. Return pan to medium heat. Add the oil, swirl the pan to get even coverage with the oil and the add the onion, cooking for ten minutes.
3. Add the saffron threads and garlic and stir constantly for a minute.
4. Add the rice and bell pepper and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently.
5. Add the white wine and cook for two minutes or until the liquid is almost gone, stirring frequently.
6. Add the vegetable broth and salt and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. It’s ok if the rice is a little wet, you just don’t want soup.
7. Return the chorizo to the pan and stir in the edamame. Cook for five minutes or until everything is fully heated. Sprinkle on the parsley and green onions and dinner is served.

Still hungry? Check out the Don’t Shoot the Food archive.

OOTP 12 Gets First Patch

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of …OOTP being patched within a week or two after release. It’s the reason we are waiting to port our OOTP league over to the new version until after we finish the 2016 season. By that time we may even see another patch released and I don’t want to port our league over and have a massive patch come out.

Here’s the fix list:

* An improved major league roster set (you’ll need to start a new game to take advantage of the changes)
* Tweaked budget calculation at the start of the offseason
* Tweaked player contract demand adjustment
* Tweaked salary arbitration demands and estimates
* Improved roster AI
* Fixed a crash when saving and leaving a game and then immediately quick-simming it
* Historical leagues: Added the option to base the recalculation of player potential ratings on 1) recalc period, 2) remaining career, 3) peak seasons, or 4) remaining peak seasons.
* Fixed a bug that prevented you from making substitutions in the pregame screen when real lineups were used
* When selecting league stats totals from a different year in the league setup, the game now automatically calculates the matching league total modifiers to ensure proper stats output for all categories. Also, for fictional leagues, the year is remembered and the “Automatically adjust league totals modifiers for historical accuracy” function now works properly
* The option to send a player to rehab is no longer visible if the player is still injured, unless it is a day-to-day injury
* Fixed several small cosmetic bugs and glitches

Grab the patch here

War of Honor in Review

Less than an hour after Bill Abner posts “we’re not just shilling for Gameshark here”…here I am shilling for Gameshark here. The thing is, it’s tough reviewing a couple of board games a month as it is, and there’s no way I’d be able to do exclusive board game reviews for NoHS. Bill does that for you when I tell him to go play a game and he can pat me on the back publically here for turning him on to it. So the Gameshark reviews keep us in promised board game content, and there’s that odd chance that maybe, just maybe, you might see something here that might get you and your friends or family together for tabletop fun.

This week, I’m taking a look at War of Honor. It’s a sort of “super starter” set for AEG’s long-running Legend of the Five Rings CCG. It offers some enhanced rules for multiplayer as well as some streamlining in terms of victory conditions and an abstract map element. Basically, it’s four clan starters and a quick-start rulebook. It’s also quite good, and having never played L5R I’ve been really surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it. It’s also a good value at $50, particularly since you just need extra starter decks to expand the game.

Next week, I’m going to be reviewing Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars. It’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’. Prepare for destruction.