I’m a man who tends to upset people. This happens because I’ve never been one to care what others think of me. What I do care about though is when creative works, be they film, music, books, or London arthouse theatrical plays, don’t get the praise they deserve or are wrongly criticised. This is why I’m calling out the plague of paid reviewers who were paid money to play and critique RE:G. I’m calling them out for dereliction of duty. Someday I will be dead and later forgotten, but creative works exist for as long as humanity does, hence why I feel it is my duty to correct the mistakes of critics who came before me. This week I’ve been playing Resident Evil Gaiden on the GBC, and contrary to what a dozen shrill voices once said about it, the game is astoundingly good. This is my defence for the unfairly maligned.
If you want my views specifically on RE:G as a game, scroll down.
I tend to defend critically panned games quite a lot. I did it for Zelda on CDi, I did it for The Divide: Enemies Within. I also feel an unspoken camaraderie for Duane Alan Hahn, who wrote the To What Degree Do You Love ET feature and who convinced me of the game’s merit. I like to think that my appreciation for critically hated games is more than simply supporting the underdog (though as a consummate underdog myself, I do like to help fellow comrades). Rather, I believe it’s because I tend to examine games in the context of the time of release, the genre and the hardware they are on. Some reviewers actually criticised RE:G because it wasn’t as atmospheric as other titles, which run off CD and have the benefit of a television screen. You might as well say it sucks because its multiplayer wasn’t like Madden’s. Man, some reviewers are idiots.
Metacritic doesn’t have an entry for the game that I could find, but go to GameRankings to read what they said about RE:G. Look at the scores which average out to 56%. A quick Google brings up comments by sites such as Planet Resident Evil which describe it as a game no one should play. Back in the day it was these same comments in magazines which stopped me from buying it, despite liking the look of it in screens. It was because of the casually dismissive voices of these few pissant cretins who held power in reviewing circles, that I was denied until now one of the greatest gaming experiences I can recall. They failed both me and every other GBC owner.
I only played RE:G this last week by emulating the GBC on my PSP – with the unfortunate side-effect that the digitised voices of moaning zombies were lost (the latest MasterBoy doesn’t emulate them sadly). Even so, it was incredible.
It was a revelation.
It was a reminder that older games can still rock my view of gaming as hard as any new release. It now stands as my joint 1st favourite GBC game, alongside MGS: Ghost Babel. Maybe I even like it more than Ghost Babel. Survival Kids comes a very close third on my GBC list. Furthermore, acknowledging the obvious technological differences, I regard RE:G as a more substantial zombie and survival horror game than either Resident Evil 4 or the Dead Rising games.
And please do me the courtesy of allowing me to explain myself.
RE4 is an over-the-shoulder shooter. It’s Gears of War without the cover system. Ammunition is plentiful, saving unlimited. Enemies are all over the place and it’s very fast. It has more in common with the Contra series than it does with older Resident Evil games. It’s a great game, of course. But it’s not Resident Evil as I know it – which is slow and has a chronic shortage of ammunition and save ribbons. RE4 is an action man’s game and is too easy, which is why I don’t like it.
As for Dead Rising, it’s not a survival horror at all. It’s like a very easy 3D scrolling fighter. It’s Final Fight with an extra dimension. You walk along hitting dudes in the face, eating food you find lying around, picking up scenery to hit the dudes, and then you fight a boss. Then repeat. Like I said, it’s by Capcom so they might as well have called it Final Fight 3D: ZOMBIE EDITION.
Resident Evil: Gaiden on GBC is the pure distillation of everything I loved about classic RE, minus the puzzles. It’s also a British developed game, by developers M4, which sadly didn’t last for very long.
--- THE GAME ITSELF ---
Succinctly put, it’s Diehard the film. It’s a guerrilla war against massive odds, where instead of a full frontal attack you need to chip away at the enemy’s sides, take down who you can, ration all supplies, and crawl on your belly through painful situations just to survive.
Instead of Nakatomi Plaza you have the Starlight ship. Instead of Bruce you have Barry, and later extra characters Leon and Lucia. Bruce starts with a gun, so do you. Then you get a slightly bigger gun, but not enough ammo, and so it goes: gradually increasing your power.
And RE:G is difficult. I mean relentlessly, proper balls-to-the-wall VIDEOGAME hard. To go back to my comparisons earlier: RE4 and Dead Rising were both cakewalks, designed for people with short attention spans and limited gaming skill. They’re fantastic games, but let’s be honest, they’re very easy on default settings. Contrarily though, a lot of reviewers commented on the high difficulty of these games. Which I accept. Some of the critics who reviewed the above zombie titles and RE:G aren’t as good as me and never will be. Maybe that’s why they didn’t get RE:G – they just couldn’t handle the save system or severe dearth of ammo.
But it’s this high difficulty, this guerrilla war which feels like you’ll never win, that makes me love the game so much. I like not having enough supplies. I need to have not enough.
A true survival horror game is about trying to survive against insurmountable odds. Not spamming recovery items and ammo respawn points. To instil horror you need limited resources. RE:G doesn’t actually give you anywhere near enough ammo to finish the game comfortably. Skilful use of the knife, which could be ignored in previous games, is now essential for success.
On countless occasions I would have to sit and spend several minutes planning my next assault, just like John McClane: I’m stuck in an elevator. I’ve got a handgun with 5 bullets. A shotgun with nothing. An assault rifle which has 4 rounds. A few grenades, but I’m saving those for a potential boss. Plus a selection of powders. I’m low on health and I’ve got a small girl in tow who has almost no health and is carrying the infinite knife. Just in case. There’s at least 10 zombies between me and safety, now – how the hell do I make 5 bullets and 4 rounds take down 10 enemies?
So, you turn to the knife. I like to call him Mr Knife. Or maybe Sir Knife. Lord Knife. KING KNIFEY. You kind of stare at the blade, contemplating its physical existence; an infinite razor which extends from and beyond all known space and time. The one object in your universe not shackled by the laws of entropy. It never blunts, it never dulls, and its thirst for zombie flesh is unquenchable. It is infinite.
Yes, the knife my dear friends. We will use the knife.
And so it goes, as your ragtag bunch of survivors encounter and escape from increasingly dire situations. As you trek it from one hell to another, desperately trying to preserve every resource you have and wondering if you’ll have enough by the end. It’s all too easy to reach the final section of the game and simply not have enough ammunition to kill the last few bosses, thereby demanding a restart. And the game is long, so you’ll be restarting from quite a ways back. And this happens because you’re just not good enough. Perhaps reviewers didn’t like the fact that M4 was basically saying to them: you’re just a bit rubbish, son.
This is all good though. If you’ve not got the tenacity to tackle a real challenge, go play Famrville or something equally insipid. As it stands I finished RE:G on my first go, with 2 rockets spare.
So actually I lied. It’s not really difficult at all. But it gives that impression.
The plot is good with plenty of twists, while the need to switch characters interesting. I also like the combat, since it makes great use of the GBC’s technical limitations. Getting a good rhythm with the knife is fun, and overall it’s a very clever idea. I love the combat. A quick note must also go to the sound – the extensive use of digitised speech is genius, at least on original hardware. The music is also cool, making good use of the GBC’s limited sound chips. Previous RE games to my knowledge were never big on music. They had a few ambient chords to add tension, but were generally minimalist. Here there’s proper albeit simple tunes which really got me in the mood. The simple music loops here kept me pumped as I Run-and-Shunned my way through hostile territory.
I also want to make special mention of the sprite art. They say the skill of drawing sprites is almost dead in the commercial world. Very few games use it. Those that do don’t always look so hot. In RE:G every animation frame of each sprite is dripping with gorgeous detail and effort. Notice the cadavers around the piano and bar areas. Notice the detail in the run animations of the main characters. Notice how light and shadow are portrayed, so that both yourself and the enemy is draped in darkness when standing in unlit areas. Notice the colour and detail of the backgrounds, and the minutiae resplendent in everything you come across. It is a painstakingly gorgeous, low-resolution 2D game. I love Muramasa’s big screen splendour, but as a connoisseur of videogame visuals, I also appreciate what can be done with less.
These washed out screens which I stole from the internet do not convey its splendour.
Reisdent Evil Gaiden is a fantastic game. It deserved more than 56% on GameRankings, and frankly I’m embarrassed by the dismissive, shallow, unskilled, and unnecessarily negative views of my predecessors and contemporaries.
Because it sadly didn’t receive critical acclaim, and because I doubt it sold well, I want to call out the talented British developers at M4 who deserve more credit for what they achieved. If the rest of the world was too narrow-minded to appreciate the skill of this team, to hell with the rest of the world. History shows that quality and skill are not always appreciated.
Take a bow, fine sirs. Your creative endeavours have sparked my soul.
Game Engine Programmer:
EDIT: I've just discovered, Tim Hull actually does the Global Timoto website, which documents cultural games from around the world and is definitely worth checking out. It's kinda similar to HG101's Games of the World section. Awesome stuff!