- I launch the demo. There are two levels for me to play: Public Assembly, and Shanty Town. That seems pretty reasonable. I pick Public Assembly.
- Loading screen. It gives me the “here is all the controls you will need, just in case you have a photographic memory” image. The kind of thing which was lampooned in this Penny Arcade strip.
- I’m in the game. I’m a dude. I have a woman following me. We are in some ramshackle buildings. There is a cutscene of a guy with a megaphone, whipping some zombies into a frezny. Up on a roof, a guy with an axe decapitates the only non-zombie guy around. Then they notice my dude and his female companion and run at us.
- Back up a second here. Who am I? What am I doing here? Do I have any particular goal? Who’s my friend? Where are we? (From reading what people are saying about the game I’ve gleaned that it all takes place in Africa. But “Africa” is a little broad. And are we really going to include people talking about the game in forums as part of the narrative?) Is it too much to ask for someone to put things in context before throwing me into zombietown? I have nothing invested in these characters yet. I don’t even know my dude’s name. I know this is the demo and they couldn’t put in all the cutscenes, but could they throw me a bone and give me a little text as to who I am, what I’m doing, what time period the game is set in, who I’m working for, that sort of thing?
- The zombies start crawling out of the woodwork. I shoot a few. Ten seconds later I’m out of bullets. That was quick. Even if every bullet had scored a kill, I wouldn’t have anywhere near enough of them. Oh wait… I have a shotgun. I use that.
- There are a lot of quicktime events and button prompts popping up. Help your friend! Shake off the zombie! Ask for help! Perform a finishing move! That zombie dropped money (?!?) pick it up! Colored circles are popping up so fast I feel like I’m playing guitar hero.
- The shotgun runs dry. Maybe if I had been super-perfect with aiming I could have cleared them. But I have no bullets and lots of zombies are swarming us. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. They keep getting back up. Should I be taking more time to score headshots? Did I miss some ammo in all the confusion? Am I even supposed to be fighting these guys? Maybe they’re endless and I’m meant to run away?
- A guy comes on the radio, says he’s coming to help us. We have radios?
- A seven foot guy with an axe has entered the room. I can do awesome martial arts moves when a zombie grabs me, but I don’t know how to just switch to fisticuffs. The axe comes down. I’m dead.
- The game shows me a little advertisement for the full version, proclaiming, “FEAR YOU CAN’T FORGET”. Erm. I love me some scary games. Silent Hill 2 and 4 both rattled me so bad I thought about quitting several times. But this is just random violence. It’s about as frightening as watching a bunch of unrelated b-movie zombie attack clips chained together. How can anyone find this frightening?
- I am dumped all the way back to the title screen. I guess the designers didn’t think anyone would want to keep playing after that. I think they’re right, but I decide to give the game another chance.
- I have no idea what I’m doing, and I don’t remember the controls, so I decide to bump the difficulty down until I get the hang of it, if only to save myself another trip all the way back to the title screen.
- Sigh. There is no difficulty adjustment. Wow. Good thing all gamers everywhere in the world are at exactly the same level of skill, I guess.
- Loading screen. Controls. The game begins again and I realize it’s cleared the controller settings. I re-invert the camera axis and dive back into zombietown.
- I try making sure I score nothing but headshots. This proves to be rather hard. Zombies are mobbing me and I can’t tell if this approach is worse or better. It’s all open mouths and quick time events. I run out of ammo anyway. Axe dude shows up again. I decide to leg it.
- The area we’re in isn’t very big. It’s a couple of shacks and a house. I can get up onto the roof, jump to another roof, and then climb back down again. This lets me run laps around the area. The zombies always pause before they lunge, so I’m basically invulnerable as long as I can keep jogging.
- Our nameless friend radios us from his undisclosed location again and promises to send help. Whatever.
- Jog, jog, jog. Zombies climb up to the roof just as I jump down. They leap down just as I hit the stairs again. Sometimes I run right past one as he lunges at the air behind me. The scene takes on an absurd slapstick feel. Yakety Sax pops into my head and I begin grinning.
- I can see a gate – a perfectly climbable gate – but my big strong hero can’t figure out how to open or climb it. The zombies start to clump up around me so I go back to jogging.
- Radio Guy cuts in again and promises that he’ll be here to help in a minute. Whatever man. No rush. I’m good here. Everyone’s jogging.
- Radio Guy shows up in a helicopter. We have helicopters? He uses a rocket launcher to blow open the gate. Honestly, if my guy is too lazy or stupid to haul his butt over an obstacle like that then it’s probaby best to let him die, but whatever. At least the gate is open, so we can finally see the rest of this lev-
- Title screen again. I guess that’s it for that level? Kind of… pathetically small. And I guess the designers didn’t think that after completing the first level we might want to go on to the second?
- I start up the second level. The game has once again forgotten all my settings, so I go and invert the camera again.
- This level looks pretty much like the last. Corrugated metal buildings. I still have no idea why my character would be screwing around in this hellhole instead of jumping on the helicopter and leaving town. And I’m tired of groping for reasons to care.
You know what pisses me off? All through the 90’s, games struggled to shoehorn a story into their pixelated adventures. Before they had voice acting, or motion capture, or facial expressions, or any other fancy tools, they were trying to create characters and stories. Now developers have more money than they know what to do with and technology that would have been indistinguishable from magic to a developer in 1994, all they can think to make is “Guy Shooting Zombies”. This demo had less story and less context than Wolfenstein 3D.
This wasn’t scary at all. It wasn’t very fun. It was unintentionally hilarious when I discovered the joys of the zombie rodeo. But to see such lavish visuals yoked to such wanton idiocy fills me with despair.
I would not buy this game were it not for Stolen Pixels. I do plan on picking it up, but only so that I can heap shame on whatever nonsense plot the full version contains. And I cringe at the responses I’m going to get to those strips from the die-hard fans: “u dont get it RE5 not about story its all about the gameplay!!!” As if “good story” is some sort of unobtainable technological goal, some lofty ideal nobody can attain. As if story doesn’t add anything to the richness of a game. As if it’s hard to devise scenarios that simply make sense. The only zombies I’m afraid of are the ones that will mob me for pointing out the wasted potential.
EDIT: I re-did the last couple of paragraphs, as it sounded like I was calling all RE fans idiots. That wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to point out that this is a series, like Final Fantasy, that will draw ankle biters if you take it to task for its shortcomings. It’s cool if you like the game, but I remain firm in my belief that a coherent story would act as a multiplier to whatever entertainment the game has to offer.
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