Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Why I don't like Resident Evil

Yeah, I know I'm twelve years behind the times but I spent some time this weekend trying to play through the Gamecube remake of the popular game and I loathed it. I've tried to play the game in the past (both original and remake) and failed to get very far into it. I'm not sure what prompted this attempt and while I got much further than I had in the past I've still given up. Resident Evil breaks every rule of good game design, does things that stopped being acceptable years before and does things that stopped being acceptable years before its release. The game's popularity is completely inexplicable to me.

First let us start with a premise: Resident Evil is an adventure game with some action segments. The survival horror theme directs certain aspects of the game (how effective combat is, placing the player in stressful situations) but the core game play element is to explore the environment and solve puzzles. That's what players will be doing 95% of the time.

Okay, so we've got a starting framework and Resident Evil does that badly. The puzzles are mostly have the key item at the right place; not a bad starting point but not very deep either. But then the game severely limits the player's inventory. Since most players will want a weapon, ammo, health item, whatever key you're currently exploring with that leaves two to four slots open for item found while exploring. Since a player is always conditioned to pick up everything those slots fill up fast. the only place you can drop things are special rooms so the player spends a lot of time running back and forth. "Oh here's a puzzle that needs the key item I found a while ago! Time to run all the way back, empty my inventory, pick up the item I need, come back, and hope I have enough slots for whatever I get once I solve the puzzle."

So the player spends a lot of time doing nothing but backtracking. Wandering around the same empty rooms over and over and over again is conducive to boredom, not horror.

So in addition to this punishment for exploring the rooms (like the player is supposed to do) Resident Evil stacks on another one. Zombies that are killed will eventually get up again stronger and tougher to kill. So if you explore a room and kill a zombie in there only to find out that you don't have the key item you could have to fight a worse zombie when you come back. Since the player's resources are severely limited (a reasonable design choice given the genre) the player has to spend more than twice the usual amount of their limited resources because they explored. It's like the game was designed to played with a walkthrough rather than puzzled out by the player.

And then there's the save system. I understand that consoles have limited space and so need a more structured save system than on a PC. The problem is that Resident Evil provides a resource (carried in those limited inventory slots, no less!) that is required to save. Once you introduce a limited resource you change how a player perceives it. Every time the player looks to save they're going to have to ask themselves "Is this the best use of my limited resource?" This is good for things like health potions, it's bad for things like saving. It means when the sudden deaths come (and it is a horror game so it can happen quickly) it's not horrifying, it's annoying. What made me stop playing was facing a repeat fifteen minutes of empty game time to get up to the point where I died again. And that wasn't the first time in the game it happened.

Resident Evil is game that punishes playing. It's not horrific; the closest it gets is throwing things out of blind spots and a shock is not a scare. The sloppy combat doesn't add anything to the game and the fact that the character handles like a drunk frat boy makes all the repetitive wandering even more painful. And the less said about the "story" the better. The whole thing just isn't fun to play and an embodiment of bad game design.

I have played Resident Evil 4 and I did like that game; the improved controls and the better designed environment made it more fun. Given my dislike of the first game I was shocked.