Monday, 11 July 2011

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D

The first appearance of Mercenaries, in the form in which it exists here on 3DS, came upon completing Resident Evil 4. This bonus mode suddenly appeared out of nowhere and turned what was already one of the all-time great action games into a package of incomparable value. The main game alone warranted numerous playthroughs, but it was the addictive Mercenaries mode, in which high scores were chased within time-limits, that kept Resident Evil 4 in millions of Gamecubes many years after its release in 2005. With Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D Capcom appear to be doing things slightly differently – this is the same extra mode, but like a mutated zombie limb, it’s flailing and detached from a full-bodied host. Value isn’t so forthcoming.

Much of the fondness for the 2005 version of Mercenaries, despite being an exceptional game in its own right, perhaps rests on the context of its unveiling, it being an unexpected dessert to the astounding main course that was Capcom’s revolution of its key survival horror franchise. What Mercenaries did was streamline the new gameplay mechanics that Resident Evil 4 introduced into a structure that focussed on the core of what the series had always been about: panic, tension, frantic shifts in momentum and the killing of zombies. So in a strange way Resident Evil 4 single-player was ostensibly an effective introduction to Mercenaries; the controls were second nature by the time players escaped on that jet ski at the end, and so when Mercenaries unlocked they were able to jump straight into it.

This 3DS version of Mercenaries however seems primarily interested in testing the capabilities of the hardware, at the expense of providing the player with an engaging experience. In this respect at least Capcom have succeeded. The right shoulder button handles aiming, the circle pad controls character movement, while the inventory, which includes the requisite herbs and grenades, is pushed to the touch screen – the layout works well, and soon becomes familiar. In fact, given the ease with which the familiar Resident Evil controls translate to 3DS it’s frustrating that Capcom didn’t decide to simply remake Resident Evil 4 in 3D, rather than release this half-hearted stop-gap. One issue with the 3DS’s smaller screen is that it’s sometimes difficult to get your bearings on the space, navigation around the game’s compact arenas not proving quite as easy as it did in previous versions.

The missions in Mercenaries 3D take place across five different levels, and incorporate a limited array of locations and enemies from parts four and five of the main series. These missions have varying objectives, designed along the same rigid parameters of time and score. So one mission will give you a set number of enemies to kill, while another will challenge you to get as high a score as you can within three minutes (extra time can be gained through physical attacks and breaking time bonus sculptures). Occasionally you’ll face off against a boss. Each of these missions will have an optimum strategy and route, which garners the highest score. In theory then there is enough here to keep player engagement; after all, such score-based arcade shooters thrive on replayability, but some peculiar design decisions prevent this potential being realised.

One problem is the lack of online leaderboards (or, er, leaderboards of any kind), which instantly kills any sense of competition between gamers that could have been created. At the very least such an option would have been a quick way to gauge your relative skill, and give something to aim for. This neutering of the score-attack game’s essence puts many other aspects of the game in a poorer light. These include the lack of variety in missions as well as their paucity – you’ll soon play through every one, and the pull to keep returning them to unlock extra skills and medals is a faint one. Even the much-publicised lack of a save reset is compounded by the game’s structure, as unlockables stay unlocked, meaning anybody inheriting a copy will find themselves with little but the scores of the previous owner to aim for. Capcom’s reasons for implementing such a feature are understandable, but less so when they’re part of a game so starved of substance and content.

Visually it looks and moves fine, albeit with the slight tendency to slow down at exceptionally busy moments, while the 3D effect is excellent. Online co-op is also a welcome feature that does provide a good excuse to play the same missions again, albeit with different partners. But ultimately Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, for all its combo streaks and rank awards and nods towards arcade addiction, can’t quite shake off the feeling that it’s a game that, like its predecessors, would have been more satisfying as a bonus mode, perhaps to the forthcoming Revelations (a brief demo for which is included here). Isolated and presented in the way it has been here, the limitations of Mercenaries are exposed.

- Originally published on D+PAD Magazine.

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