Monday, March 30, 2009

team suck v resident evil 5: round 2

the internet has promised me that regardless of what i type into google i will always find a relevant captioned cat picture Rob started his post with a discussion of Resident Evil 5’s flaws, so I’ll start with what I deem the game’s greatest success – it’s fun. Thanks to Xbox Live, this game is the future of single-player story-based games. Let me play through the game’s story mode with the same scenarios and cutscenes, but let me do it with some company. I’d love a Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger or even a Mario game that let you team up with another player like RE5 does - for the excellent implementation of a second player in a heretofore religiously single-player franchise, Capcom deserves kudos.

Though playing the game at the normal difficulty level has proven to be in almost no way challenging, I’m still having a blast. What I’m not sure of is whether I’m having more fun because of the game or because of the other person playing it with me. Now, to talk about the horrors they unleashed when they decided to let Rob and I play this game together.

Yes, Team Suck is an ensemble with a vaunted history – as Rob stated, it all started during a round of Halo 2 during which we simultaneously realized that no matter how hard we tried, we’d never be better than the other players on our campus, guys with names like Poop, Ace, Ronald Reagan, Goat, Goatisgay, and Goatisgayisgay. I don’t remember who shot first, but it was during a round of team deathmatch that Team Suck coalesced into what it remains to this day – one of the two of us was behind the turret of a Warthog, the other was running to hop in the driver’s seat, and the person manning the turret gunned down the would-be driver. This kicked off a spat of vicious team killing that ended with us roundly ruining the game for our hapless teammates – Rob and I were both most pleased.

At Team Suck’s core is a desire to take games like Halo and Resident Evil much less seriously than their creators intended, to make the game entertaining even though we weren’t the best at it. As such, we’ve spent most of our time in RE5 so far making fun of the game’s presentation and dialogue. If a zombie looks like Biggie Smalls, we point it out. If a zombie is content to stand and do a jig on some stairs until the player moves directly in its line of sight, we stand and watch for a minute before popping him in the head. If a game’s ridiculously insistent dynamic music (let me give you an example: BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM) makes it so easy to tell that an enemy is nearby that it removes any semblance of surprise or horror from the game, we laugh at it. If the player can’t play more than five continuous minutes of game before running into an unnecessary cutscene or load screen, we bitch about it.

I think you get the picture – Resident Evil is a series with many longstanding conventions at this point, and as with any longstanding conventions, they become big fat targets for cynical would-be critics on the Internet such as ourselves.

RE5’s boss battles are perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game – each monster is impeccably designed and rendered, but our arsenal has increased exponentially while the boss monsters have stayed the same. This also sort of happened in Bioshock with the Big Daddies – taking down your first was ridiculously difficult and exhilarating, mostly because you’re armed only with a crappy pistol and your reflexes. To bring the enemy to its knees, you needed to strategize, to think, and to be quicker than your adversary. This makes it all the more gratifying when you finally win. By the end of the game, though, you’ve got so much ammo at your disposal that taking a Big Daddy down is hardly more difficult than dispatching run-of-the-mill splicers, which takes a lot of the fun out of it if you’re expecting each battle to be as exciting as the first.

I also wonder whether Capcom fired all the people they had designing the zombies in Dead Rising – that game had tons of different zombie models, or at least enough to make things interesting. As Rob noted, though, this game features a round half-dozen or so different designs. While this does allow for convenient shorthand – I can say to Rob “Saddam’s behind you!” instead of “oh no behind you there is a zombie!” – it also makes the game’s big firefights that much less interesting. I somehow doubt that it would have been very hard to design more of these guys. Also, perhaps in response to the whole racism thing, Resident Evil 5 would have you believe that there are more black people living in Chicago than there are in the heart of Africa. I agree with University of Kent Professor of Anthropology Glenn Bowman’s stance on this one – the whole interview is well worth reading, but most pertinently:

“I think the knee jerk reaction that says if you use black people as bad characters you're being racist is actually itself a kind of inverted racism which says that you can't have scary people who are black.”

Still, I guess you’ve got to do what you can to make sure sales don’t get hurt, right Capcom?

Look for more posts from both Rob and I about this game in the next week or two – we’ve got gripes, but to be fair we haven’t actually completed the game. Maybe something will happen at the halfway point that changes both of our minds about a lot of the things we’ve said so far! I’m not holding my breath, but it’s possible. Team Suck: deploy!