If you need proof of how far certain genres have come in the last few years, just look at how gameplay that was considered a revolution in 2005 is now being treated as a relic in its next-gen sequel – I am, of course, talking about Resident Evil 5. Blame Dead Space for spoiling us if you like, but the fact is that few genres have come all that far in the last five years in any respect other than visuals.
I’m nearing the end of Resident Evil 5, and yes, it does feel clunky after we’ve enjoyed the improvements to the formula in games like Gears of War and Dead Space. Yes, managing the inventory in real-time is an unnecessary attempt at creating tension. Yes, the partner AI is prone to lapses of judgement – although at least this time it can shoot back. Yes, the setting lacks that unsettling, macabre tone of Resi 4. Yes, we’d all like to run and gun. These are flaws that make it worthy of being marked down against its predecessor, but everything else that that game did right is in here as well. It looks great, it has that same satisfyingly precise gunplay, the boss battles are impressive, the battles are intense…
Maybe it’s played things too safe, which is what people seem to be piling on about, but the fact remains that when you play Resident Evil 5 as Resident Evil 5 and not what you think Resident Evil 5 should be, you’ll have a great time.
People are rightfully disappointed in Capcom’s conservatism, but it’s still based on what few will dispute is a classic game and a frontrunner for the best game of the last generation. Dead Space moved the survival horror/action sub-genre forward, but it hasn’t made Resident Evil 4 a worse game and thus to say that Resi 5 is a bad game is hyperbole.
Don’t let me stop you throwing some vitriol over the DLC situation, though. Capcom deserves a kicking over that, if not the game’s overall quality.
It’s a veritable Halloween in February here, what with this and Left 4 Dead occupying lofty positions in my current playlist and F.E.A.R. 2 shortly to join my collection, but before the inevitable comparisons to Resident Evil 5 start turning things a bit nasty, I have to state how bloody good this game is.
Get it? Bloody good?
I’m not getting into that whole Resi 5 comparison because it only ends in tears – suffice to say that Resi did it first but Dead Space has better controls – and this game can stand on its own merits. Yes, it has obvious filmic inspirations as well, and the similarities between the aesthetic here and stuff like Event Horizon, Alien, and The Thing are so clear as to almost go without saying, but this does its own thing where it matters and has plenty of surprises as it begins to ramp up within a couple of chapters. By that point you’ve been through several of the Nostromo Ishimura’s environments and it starts to mix things up on you a little bit.
It’s actually quite difficult to put my finger on what exactly it is that I like so much because so much has been seen before, so I’m just going to have to shrug and say that it’s just a very good, very polished game. It doesn’t really do anything new, a couple of nifty gimmicks like the dismemberment and zero-gravity sequences aside, but what it does it does well.
Maybe the fact that people have seen a lot of the stuff before is part of the reason why it didn’t set the sales charts on fire, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with a game just doing old things in a polished and pretty way. It has fantastic presentation – the graphical quality is obvious from the screenshots and the HUD design is superb, but the audio is beyond stellar – and, if nothing else, the development team at EA Redwood Shores knew which parts of which games to borrow in making a well-rounded horror experience. Nothing wrong with that when it’s done as well and is as fun as this, right?
This may be tempting fate – new EA is still EA, after all – but fingers crossed that Dead Space did enough business to warrant a sequel.
Not every game can be as good as Fallout, and indeed there are many excellent games from last year that I didn’t like as much as Mirror’s Edge at number ten but still deserve a mention, so here are a few more games from 2008, in no particular order, that fell short of making the main list but still deserve a mention.
- Lost Odyssey – It was going to be between this and the game below for tenth spot on the list until Mirror’s Edge stormed in on Christmas Day and pipped them both. As one of the few JRPGs not to have disappointed this gen – I won’t play the well-received Tales of Vesperia until its PAL release – I found this to have likeable characters, an interesting story, and yes: some nice towns too.
- Professor Layton and the Curious Village – When this became the surprise hit of the end of the year, it was well-deserved. It’s teasingly close to being a point-and-click adventure, it has a charming art style that looks like French animation, and Level-5 even managed to cram FMV cut-scenes in there to further the story. It helps, of course, that the puzzles and brainteasers are uniformly excellent and just the kind of thing to play on a handheld. Wait until the price has normalised and then give it a look.
- Dead Space – It may be hard to describe this game in any terms other than its plainly obvious inspirations – Alien’s Nostromo with a dash of Doom 3 and a liberal sprinkling of Event Horizon, all topped with Resident Evil 4’s controls – but it’s still a highly satisfying and actually quite scary horror game. The companion animated movie is worth a rental as well.
- Rock Band 2 – As I hadn’t bought a music game since Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 2 was my attempt to see how far things had come in the intervening generation of plastic instrument-based room-clutterers. Not all that far from the perspective of someone who only plays the guitar, but the boom in à la carte downloadable songs and the sheer amount of music that’s now on my hard drive to choose from makes it pretty irresistible. It makes you feel like a rock star and fulfils all similar clichéd review quotes, and I’d imagine it’s even better with the room for a set of drums.
- Geometry Wars 2 – Pretenders be damned, this is the only twin-stick shooter to play. Take the successful gameplay of the first one and give it six more modes and some brilliant music and you won’t find many deals that are as obviously worth getting as that. Played on a big 1080p TV with surround sound, it may well give you a seizure, but you’ll have to agree that it’s worth it.
- Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – The degree to which I still love Street Fighter II has already inspired its own post, and this has made the other versions irrelevant. Looks great, plays well online, the balance tweaks are enough to actually improve things while not being sweeping enough to rile the hardcore, and if you disagree with any of those comments you can turn off whatever it might be that’s offending you. I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and it only didn’t make the final list because… well… no matter how good the game is, it’s still Street Fighter II again. Roll on February.
- Persona 3 FES – This would have been in with a shout if I hadn’t played and preferred its sequel in the same year, but it’s still worth a look for its sufficiently different setting and tone. It’s also available for a pretty good price by now, so it could be one to bear in mind for when you’ve finished all your Christmas goodies.
- Rolando – ‘An iPhone game!?’ you say? Yep. I liked LocoRoco a lot when that came out, and this is pretty blatantly ‘inspired by’ that game but with the benefit of what the PSP game lacked: tilt controls. It’s unfair to call it a clone, though, as it has a lot more gameplay variety and more creative level design, all designed from the ground up to take advantage of the iPhone’s particular gifts, and I might well end up making a case for it with its own post before too long. In the meantime, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch and are looking for a game with some meat to it, it’s only £5.99 and bodes well for the future of dedicated iPhone development.
I think that’s enough looking back for another year. See you in 12 months for more complaining about the state of [insert genre here].
It’s fair to say that I’ve been critical of EA in the past, accusing the company of everything from single-handedly bringing down the industry to the ritual murder of virgins… maybe. It’s been massively improved recently, though, somehow turning Pro Evo into the football franchise that’s resting on its laurels with the really rather good FIFA 09 and, for every questionable decision, releasing a few games that are actually pretty risky and unique.
In the last year, for example, Burnout Paradise was a major departure from the previous games’ successful formula, and it has since been supported by some incredibly diverse downloadable content, most of which has been free. Bearing in mind that this is the company that has charged for in-game money and that’s incredible.
Rock Band 2 came out and, understandable licensing fee aside, Harmonix was allowed to patch in the ability to export almost every game from the original game for the new one, which made me happy.
Then, this Christmas, we’ve had Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge, both new IPs that bring new things to their respective genres – if Mirror’s Edge could even be considered part of a traditional genre – and have allowed a couple of clearly talented studios to cut loose from their usual licensed pap and Battlefield drudgery respectively and flex their creative muscles.
So it’s good that the new, risk-taking EA is reaping the benefits, then, right? Oh…
It’s not all that surprising considering that people are going to be picky about their games and new stuff like this has to go up against guaranteed sellers like Gears 2 and a new Call of Duty, but it’s still a huge shame. I’ve seen some pretty good deals on both of those, and Dead Space in particular is brilliant, so if you’re looking for some late Christmas presents at least consider them because otherwise the new EA will take over from Activision as the new old EA… or something.