Monthly Archives: February 2019

RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2: Racoon City Revisited.

The Resident Evil series and I go a long way back. I started playing the series with Resident Evil 2, skipping the first because I don’t think we had a PlayStation until long after it was out (we were a Nintendo household, dagnabit). For some reason though the series stuck with my brother and I, the game getting numerous replays as we sought to master its every aspect. I even remember going as far as doing a no-save run, a feat which saw me playing through until midnight, netting me the infinite ammo gatling gun. However after Resident Evil 3 (which I am very much looking forward to seeing a remake of now) my interest in the series waned I went to greener gaming pastures. It was impossible to ignore the wide critical acclaim that the remake was receiving though and, after being prompted to play it by my brother, I found myself back in the zombie infested world of Racoon City. Suffice to say if all remakes were done this way I think we’d all be far more welcoming of developers pillaging old classics.

You play as either Claire Redfield or Leon S. Kennedy, both of whom are venturing into Racoon City for their own reasons. The story starts when both of you stumble into a petrol station on the outskirts of the city, seemingly abandoned with no signs of any humans around. It quickly becomes apparent though that everyone here has turned into zombies and thankfully you bump into each other before making your escape into the town proper. As you journey towards the police station, in hopes of finding shelter and help there, you become separated and so your journey begins to escape Racoon City and, possibly, save a few others along the way.

Resident Evil 2 is based on the same RE Engine that powered Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and the visuals have definitely improved since then. The level of detail has improved significantly, the game no longer relying on the dark setting to hide away the lack of detail in certain areas. Some of this is out of necessity, given that a lot of the areas are a lot more open and bright than they were in 7. There’s also a lot of nice visual touches like the animations that play when you’re using an item and the subtle changes in colour temperature for different rooms that are lit by different sources (moon light vs incandescent lights, for example). The cutscenes are probably the only sections that highlight some of the lesser graphical aspects, the animations sometimes getting out of sync with the sounds or even the animations themselves not being quite right. Overall though I’m glad that Capcom made a concerted effort to improve upon what they delivered previously with this engine.

Capcom was vehement that this was a remake, not a remaster, and that’s certainly true of the game’s core gameplay. Gone are the fixed cameras (thank goodness) replaced instead with a third person, over the shoulder view. This in of itself is a major change to how the game plays out, no longer are you limited to small, awkwardly framed sections that made even the most benign task a challenge. Instead you now have this almost open world in front of you, one that’s littered with many of the same challenges that the original had. Beyond that the game sticks to its survival horror roots, giving you precious little ammo to take on the numerous zombies that will be coming your way. This makes choosing your path through the world critical as you won’t be able to simply blast your way through everything. Stacked on top of this is a heavy focus on item management, forcing you to make decisions about what to take with you and what to leave behind. Lastly there’s a rudimentary crafting system, adding a another layer of complexity in deciding how you’ll tackle the problems at hand. All of these mechanics are, in the truest sense, the essence of what made the Resident Evil series great back in the day and their modernisation some 20 years later has proven the formula can still be successful.

Combat is, as it always is in survival horror games, a frustrating affair of never being sure if you have enough to make it through to the next stage. Zombies never really reliably go down, often just falling over and getting back up at some later stage (save for a few weapons which guarantee kills like the magnum). You’ll also be faced with situations that will make you panic and drain your reserves rapidly, leaving you with few options but to try and run past whatever is trying to kill you. Realistically the only thing in common it has with other third person shooters is the perspective you play from, everything else is more a game of strategy to minimise the use of your consumables whilst maximising the amount of distance you can cover. So whilst it might be a frustrating, seemingly random system there are a number of things you can do to increase your odds of getting through unscathed and with only a few bullets loosed.

If you’re playing on anything but the easiest mode you’ll also have to deal with the health system which retains the originals Fine/Caution/Danger levels which roughly translate to how many zombie bites you can sustain. Other things seemingly do part damage, like some boss attacks or other smaller sources of damage, but they won’t register on the inventory screen. Similarly healing items seem to indicate that they’ll have varying levels of effectiveness but they all seem to be roughly the same, either repairing you 1 level or 2. I’m sure there’s some deeper level to it, probably one that speedrunners are intimately familiar with, but for your average player there doesn’t seem to be more subtly to it than that.

The inventory system is one of the game’s core mechanics, making it hard for loot rats like myself who by default pick up everything in sight. Sometimes it can mean just having to loop back later to pick up some more crafting materials but often it can mean coming across a crucial progression item that you’ll then have to leave behind. Thus you play an optimisation game, scanning the room for everything in it and then deciding what you can and can’t take with you. It gets easier later on as you expand your inventory space, although then you’re usually carrying around more guns to deal with the game’s increased level of threat. I’d typically chide a game for making inventory management such a ballache however it’s clear that it was a core part of the game design, not something that was simply neglected. So whilst I might have been annoyed at the multiple trips I might have had to make to get everything in a room I understood that this was part of the challenge laid out before me.

Now I’m not sure if it’s my 2 decades of experience as a gamer since I played the original but the puzzles of the remake feel a lot more straightforward than they previously did. All the clues you need will come to you without the need for studious exploration and those that don’t can often be worked out with a little logic or brute force. There was only one time when I got stuck and that was due to me legging it out of a room without fully exploring it, something a second trip through fixed up immediately. I was playing on the Standard difficulty so I understand some challenges are a little harder on the top tier but even then I don’t think most seasoned gamers would struggle. For those who do there’s the easiest difficulty level which I think would cater to even the most casual of players.

It’s hard to tell what’s janky in Resident Evil 2 and what’s meant to be a core part of the game. For instance the zombies’ ragdoll physics constantly goes haywire, even when they’re not completely dead. On the one hand this could very well be deliberate as ragdolling in games often means the enemy is completely, 100% dead; something which this game really doesn’t want you to be sure of. Additionally the enemies AI breaks down around doors, sometimes they’ll break them down and follow you through whilst others will instantly forget you’re there the second you close it. Again, could be a game mechanic or could be a glitch, I really can’t be sure. It’s true to the nature of the genre somewhat, frustrating controls and random mechanics that always keep you guessing, which is also one of my biggest gripes with games like these. So either it’s part of the challenge or a frustrating lack of polish, you decide.

The story remains true to the core events of the original and retains the same ever present tension that the Resident Evil series was always so good at generating. Now I’m not typically a fan of the horror genre but it’s hard to deny how well Resident Evil 2 executes it. The game does have some rather severe pacing issues, something which I think is part due to its true to core nature and the assumed multiple playthroughs (which I have not done), but it does seem relationship progression between most of the characters happens way too fast given the time that would’ve passed (less than one night). A lot of it made sense to me given my history with the original game but for those who never played it I can imagine things might have seemed a little weird. Indeed the story seems to be the thing that recieved the least polish which is a shame but it’s still at least enough to carry you through it.

All this being said RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2 sets the bar for what remakes of classic titles can be. Changing up the mechanics, completely rebuilding the environments and thoroughly modernising nearly everything about it brings about a new experience that keeps the essence of the original whilst still doing something new. Even for single playthrough gamers like myself there’s a lot to love here, from the well laid out puzzles to the min/max strategy, ensuring that there’s always a challenge at had to keep you occupied. There are some parts that could either be a lack of polish or a deliberate design decision, something that has always irked me about the survival horror genre. Still, all things considered, if all remasters or remakes were like this I think we as a gaming community would be far more welcoming to them. We may get to see more of it with a possible Resident Evil 3 remake on the horizon and I, for one, am definitely looking forward to it.

Rating: 9.0/10

RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 7 hours playtime and 40% of the achievements unlocked.

What Never Was: My Grandfather’s Secret.

It’s rare these days to see concept pieces that have no ambition beyond simply existing. Most are at the very least teaser pieces designed to get you enticed into backing them on Kickstarter or buying the full title. Indeed I thought as much when I first saw What Never Was, a solo project by a developer called Acke Hallgren whose day job involves designing open world environments for AAA titles like Rage 2 and The Division, but it seems I was wrong. What Never Was stands as a piece for the developer to keep their skills sharp, all the while telling a short but interesting tale about a granddaughter going through the process of sorting through her granddad’s possessions.

You play as Sarah, the granddaughter of Howard James Wright who recently passed away. He was an adventurer, always trekking through the world in pursuit of ancient relics and meticulously documenting his travels in the various books that he authored. You’ve taken on the task that everyone dreads when a relative passes: cleaning out all their belongings. You quickly discover though that there might have been more, a lot more in fact, to the travels your grandfather took and many of the relics he’s left behind are not quite as they seem.

What Never Was is built on the UE4 engine and, like many indie titles built on the platform, has that distinct Unreal engine feel to it. Considering that the vast majority of the visuals were done by the single developer behind it though they’ve managed to achieve a decent level of detail and polish; the single level environment bristling with details for you to investigate. Coupling that with the full voice acting for every bit of dialogue you’ve got a very complete experience, even if the play time won’t run you much past an hour if you get it to 100% completion.S

The game is essentially a one room puzzle, one that most seasoned gamers won’t find too challenging. The real attraction is from clicking on all of the bits of memorabilia around the room and hearing your character reminisce about how those things played a part in their life. The one quibble I have is that the game doesn’t tell you when you’ve finished hearing all the bits of story from a particular item which often means you’ll have to keep clicking it even after you’ve finished the dialogue train to make sure you heard everything. Other than that there’s not too much to talk about except the story itself.

The way the story played out I had fully expected to track down the developer and see that a full version of the game was incoming as What Never Was does an incredibly good job of setting up a world that a larger story could play out in. So I’m somewhat disappointed to see that there’s nothing in the works as this small room does an exceptional job of making you want to see more. I won’t go into more details as the game is really worth taking the 30 mins or so to play to see it for yourself.

What Never Was is a great example of a concept come to life, giving the player just enough details to want more before wrapping everything up. It being the work of a single developer makes it even more impressive as it obviously a labour of love that they just wanted the world to see. The real disappointment is that it is likely to stay a concept as I see nothing to indicate the developer wants to work on it further. It’s a real shame as I’m sure even another small vignette or two like What Never Was would we warmly welcomed by many, myself included.

Rating: 8.0/10

What Never Was is available on PC right now for free. Total play time was 19 minutes with 50% of the achievements unlocked.

Hitman 2: I Will Leave You to Prepare.

I couldn’t tell you why I never got into the Hitman series. It’s not something I’ve deliberately avoided, no I think it’s more that I’ve always had something else to play at the time it was released and, by the time I’d finished whatever I was playing, it was on to the next biggest and best title. However I have one particular friend who is…quite fond of the series and has been relentless in his pursuit to get me to try it out. So, with January not providing any much in the way of new games to play, I figured it was finally time to give the series a go, starting with Hitman 2.

This seems to have been a pretty good place to start because the story of Hitman 2 (which for the purposes of this review also includes Hitman since I played through all of those missions as well) fleshes out a lot of the background of the characters. You are Agent 47, a world renown assassin who works for the ICA: a shadowy contract killer organisation who works at the behest of the board. You and your handler Diana Burnwood are tasked with eliminating targets who pose a threat to your clients in one way or another. However as you complete your missions a pattern starts to emerge and it seems that your assassinations may be playing part in a larger game.

There really is no other game that can compare to the extraordinary amount of detail that’s crammed into each and every level of Hitman. Not only is every place bustling with numerous NPCs, many of which have their own dialogue and action sequences, the environments themselves will likely require multiple playthroughs in order for you to explore them completely. It really is quite incredible to just simply wander around the map to figure out all the different avenues that you have available to you, including the ones that may not have been intended by the game designers. On a purely visual basis the graphics aren’t exactly top tier however that’s made up for in spades with the attention that’s paid to every detail. Performance is also quite good, the game never missing a beat even on my now 4 year old PC.

Putting Hitman into a genre is a bit of a challenge as it borrows elements from many. The core mechanics are essential stealth, challenging you to find ways into various areas without being detected. Whilst I never really tried it there also seems to be a rather well developed third person shooter in there as well, at least that’s the only reason I can think of for the developers to include so many varied weapons in it. There’s also a puzzler element as well as whilst you can likely conclude most missions by simply shooting your target in the head there are many more nuanced ways to eliminate them but doing so will likely require a little digging and out of the box thinking in order to accomplish. There’s also a bunch of different modes in the game that I never tried either so there’s likely other mechanics as well that I personally haven’t experienced. Suffice to say there’s a lot to unpack in Hitman and I can see why it’s one of the few games that’s managed to do well with the episodic model: there’s just so much damn content in each mission.

The stealth is done exceptionally well, even if it is comically unrealistic with some things. NPCs will generally react negatively to behaviour that’s out of character for your current disguise, whether that be walking into places you shouldn’t be in or performing an action that wouldn’t be expected of you. There’s the typical awareness meter which functions as you’d expect it to: enemies further away taking longer to recognise you and those close up being able to recognise you instantly. There’s also the usual mix of stealth mechanics mixed in (hiding in bushes, distracting them with items, etc.) which all work well. Your main challenge is usually hiding the bodies of people whose clothes you’ve stolen which is easy enough, if you can find a place to hide them. Of course you’re very likely to stuff these things up so saving and reloading constantly quickly becomes the name of the game, that is if you’re chasing a high score of course.

Most of the time the system seems fair however it’s not immune to glitching out and behaving in strange and unpredictable ways. Certain actions can seemingly be traced back directly to you even if there’s no witnesses. One mission in particular I hid out of view and shot some gas canisters to eliminate my target. Apparently everyone of the guards nearby was able to trace where those shots came from instantly, altering everyone. There’s also times when NPCs will walk into areas that they’ve never pathed into before, all for the purpose of finding that body that you didn’t hide in a dumpster or closet. Some actions also count as murdering someone when they probably shouldn’t, like dragging someone through a small puddle or pushing them over a small railing. Of course once you know about these nuances of the stealth system you can work around them but it can be rather frustrating to have a Silent Assassin run ruined by some behaviour that you couldn’t predict and can’t fix since you didn’t save before you committed a certain action.

I predominantly played the mission stories and I have to say, whilst there’s probably a lot more to discover in replaying it without them, I had a great time just following them along. To be sure it can make some of the supposedly most difficult missions trivial but they provide a good introduction to the mechanics of the level, it’s layout and how you might go about certain things. Of course not all of them are completely straightforward and you can often find yourself in the middle of completing one without even realising it. There was one level (the Swedish banker one) where I stumbled onto the cameraman mission story without the game telling me I was on it. So what ensued was my own take on it which, honestly, was just as much fun as the other directed ones. I didn’t go back and replay any of the missions though, nor have I done any of the elusive targets, as there was more than enough content for me in just a single play through alone.

The stealth system isn’t the only thing to glitch out unfortunately as there are numerous other things that can go belly up if certain conditions are met. NPCs routines can get messed up for any number of reasons, which can sometimes mean locking you out of a particular mission objective. I had one of my targets get stuck in a loop pathing up and down a set of stairs constantly and no amount of reloads could bring him around. I have to assume that this was because I’d set up for one mission whilst attempting to complete another one which sent the AI spare. I eventually worked around it by luring him out with a trail of coins and guns, but even after that he didn’t resume his original routine. I was still able to complete the mission, just not in the way I wanted to. It’s somewhat understandable given each level’s size but it can still be frustrating to have your run ruined by glitchy mechanics.

Even though this is my first Hitman game I quite liked the story and the developers did a great job of providing background for all the characters. To be sure there are bits I’m likely missing (although my friend did give me a little insight into some of the earlier games) but even coming in at this late juncture I didn’t feel the need to reach for Wikipedia articles or plot summaries in order to understand everyone’s motivations. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have the budget for cutscenes in between the Hitman 2 missions, instead opting for animated still shots, but they at least kept the same amount of dialogue and character development in them meaning the story could still progress. It’s a slightly cliche plotline but it’s still quite enjoyable, heck it’s likely because it’s cliche that it’s so much fun.

Hitman was a series I’d left on the shelf for a long time but I don’t think I will be any longer. The game’s flagship feature is its incredibly well crafted levels, brimming with detail at every corner. This goes hand in hand with well designed stealth mechanics, ensuring that not two playthroughs of the same level are likely to be the same. The mission stories are great for people like me, ones that tend towards wanting a guided experience but also love to experiment every now and then. The cliche story is thoroughly enjoyable, even to someone like myself who has no history with the franchise. Overall I have to say I wasn’t expecting to enjoy playing Hitman as much as I had enjoyed watching people play it on YouTube but I very much welcome the surprise.

Rating: 9.0/10

Hitman 2 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $84.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 15 hours playtime and 20% of the achievements unlocked.