Sunday, November 21, 2010

Resident Evil Gaiden – those who dislike it are nuts

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.
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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:
James Cox


Lead Programmer:
Kieron Wheeler


Support Programmer:

Odin Phillips


Lead Artist:

Stefan Barnett

Background Artist:

Bruce Silverstone


Presentation Artist:

Mark Brown

Artist:
Elliot Curtis

Musician:

Shahid Ahmad


Game Designer:

Tim Hull
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!

Special Thanks:

Marvin Hill

11 comments:

  1. I absolutely ADORE this game. And I'm really, really glad to see HG101 giving some GBC love to this extent. I actually gave RE:G a shoutout on my blog last month during the October "Spooktacular." I get the feeling that many gamers skipped this one just because of bad reviews or lack of press. Which is insane. RE:G is in my opinion one of the finest examples of how to de-make a game. Everything about it is perfect for the machine it runs on, as was pointed out in the article. It's really amazing.

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  2. Very nice review man, I'll be sure to give this game a go someday!

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  3. Wow, that's such a long time ago, and yes it was a lot of work and effort the team put in. We pressed Capcom to allow us to create an AGB title instead, but they were not interested at the time.

    It's very nice to see someone enjoyed the game so much and I will pass on your link to the other team members, I'm sure they will be very happy to read your page.

    You may be interested to know that the strengths of the RE series that you enjoy, especially where it relates to horror survival, were very much driven by Mikami's personal direction. The RE titles that lack this notion of increasing desperation probably had less involvement from Mikami and suffered as a consequence. Somehow we at M4 were lucky enough to have more of Mikami's attention. There were times when we were perplexed at his decision making process, but his purist approach and our dedication to fulfilling the brief really did give the game its fear factor. Mikami was particularly impressed with the "first person" combat mode we proposed. In the end Capcom were disappointed that the title had not been developed for AGB. This is where development and politics between publishers (Capcom/Virgin Interactive) collide.

    M4 Limited made games 1996-2002

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  4. Resident Evil Gaiden always struck me as a watered down Sweet Home clone.

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  5. I finished the game a while ago. I recommended it for my RE fan friends, but nearly all of them said: "Survival-horror on a GBC? Don't be ridiculous." Yes... they are narrow-minded and too fond of nowadays 3D graphics. A shame I say, 'cause this game is really good one, I like retro :D

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  6. @Tim Hull: any background you can give us on the abandoned GBC port of Resident Evil 1?

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  7. You should maybe mention how the combat works, since that's pretty much the most important conversion aspect of a game known for tank controls on its native platform.

    This is indeed a decent game, but saving the game with few ammo can easily get you stuck and force a restart. That's not acceptable.
    Be careful not to make the same mistake you claim professional reviewers made, only exaggerating its good points instead of the bad ones.

    Also, I'm confused about your stance on its difficulty. Is it hard? Is it easy? Were you kidding?

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  8. Combat is pseudo-first person with a bar at the bottom of the screen with an icon. The icon swings continuously left and right, with a white section in the main bar representing the enemy. If you hit fire while the icon is over the white bar you land a hit. On the white bar is a little blue nub representing the enemy's weak spot. Hitting this takes them down faster, but it requires good timing to pull off. A reviewer compared it to the mechanics in a golf game (with a moving icon over a bar and a sweet spot to hit), but I disagree with this. The need to continuously hit an enemy either with the knife or gun lends the game a rhythm-action style mechanic, albeit without need to time your hits to music.

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, in the context of the hardware, I don't see any negative points with this. I like the fact that if I play badly I have to restart. This encourages care and planning. I find it not only 100% acceptable, but I would encourage other developers to do it.

    I am tired of games which hold my hand and allow easy victory.

    Demon's Souls was similar, in that if you didn't take it seriously, you would be forced to replay the earlier levels and rebuild your soul levels. This is not reason to criticise a game. Complaints about saving are also erroneous.

    Outside of the main save areas, the game actually auto-saves regularly. So if you switch your GBC off and on again, you can pick the "continue" option which will restart you near to where you left off.

    I used SRAM instead of quick saving, because I wanted the authentic experience. On several occasions I shut things down and later found I was near where I stopped.



    As for how difficult it is, I completed it on my first go. I was partially joking - being left with only 2 rockets is not much, so it was tongue in cheek. IE: if I'd been left with zero ammo and had to kill the boss with a KNIFE, that's a tough game. Generally the throw-away quip I made is irrelevant. The game is as difficult or easy as you're willing to plan for it.

    I found it more difficult than RE4, Dead Rising and Ghost Babel, but with careful planning, and the occasional reload of one of the main save states, it was quite manageable. It's not easy, but it's only especially difficult if you're careless or allow it to be.

    You do not approach RE:G casually. It's a hardcore game which demands obedience to a set of strict rules.

    Resident Evil Gaiden contains everything I would want from a game, and it contains nothing which angers or annoys me. That's why I had to write about it. The very things people complain about: saving situation, lack of ammo, etc, are the very things which make me treasure it.

    I refuse to believe I'm alone in thinking all this, but it saddens me that none of the reviewers thought similarly. I'm obviously part of an unrepresented group in game playing circles.

    RE:G contains elements I seldom see in games today, though I would like to see more of these. The lack of ammo and the intense desperation this creates is the best thing about it. If you feel this is unacceptable, then I can only imagine I would have liked the game less if it were more accommodating to you. No offence.

    In the grand scope of the GBC's library, it is my perfect game.

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  9. Wow, Ill here and, after I read your great piece about the Zelda CDi games, I have to say they looked a lot better than I would have expected. They actually looked pretty fun...and the cutscenes really didn't look that bad. I think it's a case of "Internet Bullying" and people's ludacriously high standards when it comes to Zelda games. I always saw them at the store and thought they looked pretty cool (at least the cases)...I should've bought them if I would've known how much of a collector's item they've become.

    Anyway, good article about Resident Evil Gaiden. In truth, I hadn't even heard about this game until you brought it up. It looks pretty good, and I'm also one of the few that said they should've kept going with the GBC remake of Resident Evil.

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  10. I think that a lot of the hate for RE:G comes from the fact that Capcom had finished a more or less accurate port of Resident Evil for the GBC--and then canned it and released Gaiden instead.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShC8zJgbTts
    Check this out and tell me that this would not have been amazing, at least from a technical standpoint.

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  11. Resident Evil Gaiden's failure was really all in the details.

    Let me just preface this by saying I liked this game, and have been studying it because I really admire its design philosophies. That said, because I've been studying this particular game so much, I can maybe shed light on why it didn't do well.

    The game was plagued by slowdown and sound bugs - enough that it would regularly hurt the game's otherwise amazing atmosphere.

    Targeting enemies was too slow and too clunky, and it was easy to misjudge your targeting range. It was also pretty unfair when zombies spotted you, raced towards you, and it took you forever to move the cursor to target them.

    In battle, the speed and size of the hit gauge was completely out of balance. Resident Evil zombies were meant to be slow and therefore easy to hit. It made you feel like Barry was flailing his arm back and forth like an idiot while aiming. The hit gauge itself was fine, the trigger size was fine, but the speed of the trigger and size of the hit box were wrong.

    What this ended up doing was make you waste bullets.

    This, in turn, made the game harder to balance. There were times in this game where you'd have an abundance of ammunition, and times where you had close to none.

    Being able to control the camera during battle also made the hit gauge very easy to exploit: You could basically set the hit box to the side of your screen and it made it much easier to get headshots. After learning this, I didn't feel rewarded: I felt like I was cheating.


    Maps were designed pretty poorly, and were often too cluttered and too much of a chore to navigate. I understand that this was intentional, but there's aesthetic and atmosphere, and then there's just throwing stuff in the player's way constantly and never giving them enough room to maneuver. This was made more painful by the slow targeting, awkwardly difficult/easily exploitable hit gauge, and the slowdown.

    I liked how ink ribbons limited the amount you could save in Resident Evil 1. I didn't like the way this game saved. This reviewer beats his chest and says "...Maybe that’s why they didn’t get RE:G – they just couldn’t handle the save system or severe dearth of ammo."

    That's not an argument. The way you saved your progress in this game was annoying. There were few save spots, and you would have to go long stretches without saving. Long stretches where if you made enough small mistakes, like if you missed your hit gauge and wasted a few rounds, and then this happened again because you're human and refusing to exploit the battle system's poor design, then you just wasted however much time it took you. It became a little tedious.

    This is the game's core problem, and the biggest reason why this reviewer seems to like the game: It has too small a margin for error.

    Ordinarily, I'd be all for this, but Resident Evil Gaiden's margin for error consisted of not wasting ammo during battle. Which was further compounded by the poor map design and how difficult it was to avoid most enemies. If you knew how to exploit the system, it was too easy. If you didn't, one bad battle would make you restart the game or restart your last save.

    So it wasn't a matter of skill, but flawed, unrefined design.

    Still, it had its merits.

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