Monday, April 27, 2009

Revisiting the Metal Gear Solid Saga

Call it foolish or some version of vain anticipation for the Hideo Kojima announcement at this year's E3, but I've made a lofty decision that might be too big for me.


If you’re a gamer that wasn’t excited for June 12, 2008, then you weren’t a devoted fan of "Metal Gear". It can easily be said that for those who moved on from the series this day in video game history was of little significance, but for the rest of us it was special. This was the day, where everything, in the sometimes loopy fiction of Metal Gear to finally be answered. After all the teasers, the promotional materials, and the great Kojima Productions podcast series that the fans were finally ready for a grand opus.

Indeed, "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" was glorious (depending on your perspective) and then it ended up stuffed in the game corner of my shelf with the rest of my personal collection.

This was my experience almost immediately after conquering the army of Outer Haven, after thwarting Liquid Ocelot’s nefarious plan, and after finally bearing witness to love blooming on a battlefield. The finale to MGS4 was so big that after it all settled I immediately sought a ‘much needed’ retirement from the world of tactical stealth espionage. The ending to MGS4 brought a satisfying conclusion to all the unanswered questions that the series had conjured, even if the long-form self-indulgent cut scenes were a bit pretentious. But immediately placing this game back on the shelf did something major for me. It broke an unspoken (and somewhat sacred) tradition I had with the franchise - much like movies, this is a game series that just gets better the second time through.

Only after a second play-through could I really see the wind from the trees and offer a clearer take on what MGS4 is. And rightly so. Your perspective is clearer tackling a game like this much later. The hype machine has past, and coming back to a Metal Gear the second time is a great opportunity to hunt for easter eggs, a notable series tradition that traces back to the original Metal Gear Solid.

Aside from the usual second-time-through-for-the-story approach, a greater appreciation sets in for me this time: this one focusing on advancements over the prior games in this stealth series. This is when the bigger picture comes to play (at least, for people like me it does). This playthrough becomes the a pivotal moment for feature sets, trying additional controls, or just trying the wacky shit you were too scared to try the first time through.

In this regard, MGS4 truly holds ups as the most replayable Metal Gear - the biggest proponent for this argument being the reworked control scheme. After all, there was enough evidence in MGS3: Snake Eater that the complex web of added functions and improvements to the controls needed some rethinking, a fact made evident by revisiting the older games. Only then can you witness the seemingly ridiculous system of old. Take, for example, the separate attack functions - physical attacks and CQC mapped to circle while all weapon attacks mapped to square. It’s only by looking back at a series a a whole that we can appreciate these things. It's then a wonder how we ever finished the prior Metal Gear games, or how miraculously carpal-tunnel syndrome never set in. But I've decided to use this second play through as something more than typical comparisons.

So for the past few weeks (thanks, in part because of the awesome Kojima keynote at GDC 2009), I've been replaying all the Metal Gear Solid games for the purpose of just admiring the series as a whole. Hell, I’m even considering going back even further to the original MSX "<b>Metal Gear</b>" and "<i>Metal Gear: Solid Snake</i>", simply to have a better perspective of the entire saga. The amount of discoveries factored in with the huge amount of in-game man-hours interspersed within these games should make this series replay totally worth it, right?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Resident Evil Versus Conundrum

(A while back, I promised more posts on Resident Evil 5 and then life happened. I'm happy to say I've finished the game three time and I'm currently working on the fourth. But there's always more to coverage than you expected. Below you'll find my take on the Versus multiplayer mode that hit XBL and PSN last week. The original post appeared over on Systemic.)

We sat down this weekend to spend some time with the new versus mode in Resident Evil 5 and present you with our take.


It's a bit of an overstatement at this point but prior to the release of a new Versus mode for "Resident Evil 5", there has already been plenty of talk regarding Capcom's first RE DLC. Anger was the initial response from the fans, but then controversy transitioned to outrage over the possibility of that this content already existed on the retail disc. At this point its feels like, regardless of Capcom's intentions, its all spun utterly out of control (and this time race has nothing to do with matter), with most people having already chosen sides.

But one fundamental question remains: is the mode worth it?

"Resident Evil 5" did ship with one mode we've sunk a bunch of time into as of this writing: Co-op. Working with our partner we panicked, nefariously planned, and executed the destruction of countless enemy Majini's and other freakishly contorted creatures. The move to co-op in "Resident Evil" made sense overall, even if it slightly subtracted from the traditional atmosphere of the series, known more for it's tension filled environments and lonely corridors. But part of that very tension was produced because you played the game alone. No AI partner or human buddy could jump in to save you. Yet, it seems Capcom is looking for more ways to extend that buddy experience.

So versus is a new thing for the series. One that veterans, like me, seem to smirk at, ultimately unsure if it makes any sense. Sure, we've spent countless hours fragging Spartans and Elites, or blew away plenty of other iconic heroes and villains in competitive online multiplayer, but how does this mode work in "Resident Evil"? And, more importantly, should we care?

Playing it made slightly more sense of the new versus mode, and its really keen for people looking to get more playtime out of "Resident Evil 5". Or at least, more game for $5. Think of it as an extension of Mercenaries, except now you can shoot other humans, too. In Slayers, player's build a high score by defeating the most enemies possible within an allotted time frame. Chaining Majini and other boss kills for higher combos is the best way to get the highest score, but you can also defeat rival players as well to slow down their score. Survivors is more slayers, but this time dropping rival players is the only way to score. And each time a player is beaten in Survivors they drop a random item from their inventory, so don't get too attached to that machine gun. Every player begins survivor mode with a pistol and then finds upgrades as they play through each level - all of them based on locations from the main game.

As with any standard multiplayer these days, the matches in RE5 Versus come in two varieties: ranked and player matches, team based or free-for all, and almost obligatory leaderboard support.

The one bonus of this versus mode that seems designed to entice players to keep playing is that they use their points earned in the this mode and main campaign to unlock other playable RE5 characters. Players can unlock multiple versions of Chris, Sheva, Jill, or Albert Wesker - complete with a very deadly Magnum and triple barreled Hydra shotgun combo. Wesker sports an almost unfair combination that slightly detracts from the competitive experience found in Slayers. His powerful arsenal makes him a mainstay for any Slayer match (we've seen at least two of him in every game of versus we've played) and this seems like a foolish design choice if the designers intended to balance the game.

In fact, the balancing here in versus mode feels partly neglected. For example, the default versions of Chris and Sheva have weapons ill suited to taking out Wesker up close. He's not unbeatable, it just means that to take him down you have to use a different set of tactics. It's possibly more frustrating than the developer's may have predicted. The game does grant you other weapon drops (like the occasional magnum drop) immediately after defeating a boss character, so you have a fighting chance but the situation seems unbalanced to begin with. Basically if you're not picking Wesker and someone else did, prepare for an uphill battle since his weapons will kill Majini's (and you) a lot faster than yours.

Tactics are still present here in RE5 Versus. Plant a mine before you're retired in Team Surviors and leave a nasty surprise for careless opponents, or lead other characters into a nasty partner ambush. Better still, sneak up carefully to rivals and flank them while they're distracted by Majini's. Anyway you look at it, it can still be sort of fun in it's own I-can't-shoot-and-move-at-the-same-time sort of way, but if you're considering this DLC as a purchase that's probably a non-issue.

We'll never know what directly lead to this mode's existence, if it's already on the disc, or what Capcom's intentions were, but we do know this: You're basically looking on a tacked on mode built competitive types that enjoyed mercenaries and don't feel shackled by RE5's control set up. The focus here is on teamwork using tried-and-true RE 5 cooperative gameplay mechanics. Overall, it's a take it or leave it thing where the barrier to entry is $5.