Thursday, April 16, 2009


I see games in the context of what's happening in my own life (like most of us do), and I've spent a bit of time in the last few months trying to understand why I've turned away from the hyper-adrenaline games.

For some reason, they're just not fun anymore.

I realized this week that there are probably two reasons, or, at least, I can think of two. The first is that my life is hyper-adrenalized already. I'm over-stimulated, over-caffeinated, bordering on jittery most of the time, so why would I want to play the kinds of games that emphasize this feeling?

The second reason, and I think this has to do with getting older (and, possibly, being a father), is that those kinds of games give me nothing to care about. There might be some thin-as-paper plot that gives me something to care about in the abstract, but when I'm inside a level, my objective is to kill everything I see.

That's it? That's all?

For me, that's really worn thin.

I've thought about this so much recently because of Resident Evil 5, which I started playing because of the whole racism debate. I thought it was an interesting discussion (which I've written about previously), and I wanted to see how the final version of the game turned out.

What I quickly found out, though, is that I didn't care.

It's impossible for me to tell you if I felt the game was racist or contained racist imagery because I couldn't stand to play it long enough to find out. I hung on for two chapters (which isn't very long, believe me--maybe an hour), and I was so bored that I quit.

Don't get me wrong--there are elements of the game that are fabulous. The graphics and sound effects are spectacular, and most (most) of the voice-acting is excellent. The cut scenes, in particular, are pretty amazing, and I would be more than willing to watch a video of the cut scenes spliced together as a movie.

What I'm not willing to do, though, is play this freaking game.

The graphics may be 2009, but the gameplay is 1989--or 1889. It's a crude 2D platformer in a 3D environment, essentially, and immersion gets broken about every fifteen seconds.

Here's the thing about Resident Evil: it's a tension game. Tension is absolutely crucial to the atmosphere, and the RE series is very atmospheric. Every time the game breaks immersion, that feeling of tension is broken. Break it often enough, and the tension just disappears.

Without the tension, it's just a killfest, an entirely one-dimensional excercise.

This is why, in the first battle of the game, when my partner is shooting me in the back of the head every ten seconds, I start to suspect that something has gone wrong. Or when I move between indoor and outdoor areas constantly in some early levels, and every time I make the transition, I see a loading screen. Or when zombies are beating on the door, breaking through, and I see a POTTED PLANT that has clearly been put there for me to pick up. Or crates that clearly need to be smashed to procure items.

Crates? WTF? We still have to smash f-ing crates?

Or when I'm on a roof, and need to be able to jump six inches high to get over a fence and into the next area, only I can't, because I can't jump. My character is Mr. Uber-Action and he can't freaking jump? Are you kidding me?

Wait, that's not quite true. He can jump, at times, when the game prompts me for a button press in specific areas. But as a spontaneous command, no, he can't.

This is what I mean. With these spectacular graphics and a reasonably interesting plot, how in the world did this game get gameplay (and not good gameplay, either) from two decades ago? Hell, I played games twenty years ago that had better gameplay than this.

Much better.

Yes, I understand that these could be considered "traditional" gameplay mechanics, or carried over from previous entries in the series. But is it too much to ask that gameplay be significantly refined in a series that has had five major releases?

I don't begrudge people who enjoy the Run-Shoot-Kill (although in RE it's technically Run-Stop-Shoot-Kill) genre, but it just doesn't really interest me anymore. I need someone to save, or something else to do.

I think that's why Dead Rising was a near-perfect game for me. I had (at times) people to protect, I had something else to do (photography), and there was an overriding sense of humor. Personality.

It's entirely reasonable to say that without playing further into the game, I'm not getting a complete impression. That's very fair. But I also feel that it's the responsibility of a game to keep me interested enough to keep playing.

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