The next honorable mention is Resident Evil 5. As a big fan of RE4, my brother and I played through the game a few times and 5 stared every level with every character in Mercenaries mode. Because RE4 is only a single player game, what I really wanted from Capcom was a co-op Mercenaries mode. Years after RE4, I got exactly what I wanted.... sort of.
The following is what I don't like about RE5's design.
- Static space animations. Many of the animations in the game are far too long. During many context sensitive melee attacks, the player character goes through a specific animation. During this time, the player can only bring up the weapons/item menu. Otherwise, there's no mechanical control. This design goes against the purpose of implementing real time weapon/item switching. If the point of these new design features is to keep the player engaged in the action by not pausing the game for a menu, then the long animations that take away player control are about as bad. Furthermore, the longer the animations the more this next problem occurs.
- Invincible frame abuse. While in an animation, the player is invincible. While this design may give the player the confidence to use context sensitive melee attacks/actions in dangerous situations, it's an egregious example of breaking form fits function. The longer the animations, the more obvious this design shortcoming becomes.
- QTE abuse in cutscenes and gameplay. Games like RE4 popularized the use of QTE (quick time events) in action games. When done properly, QTEs are used to keep the player engaged and provide some interactivity in situations that would otherwise be difficult with complete player control. Unfortunately, it's easy to abuse and misuse QTEs, and RE5 takes it too far. Breaking out of enemy holds is an example of a poorly designed QTE. The game indicates to rotate the stick as quickly as possible. Yet, this isn't the way to be successful. Because the visual feedback is so poor, it's hard to say whether or not it's your fast button pressing, consistent pressing, or some other factor that determines the outcome. Many of the QTEs in the game are similarly confusing.
- Obtuse scenarios in the single player/co-op campaign. Many of the scenarios in RE5 are very poorly constructed. Instead of building on concepts and introducing these concepts in parts, you're simply thrown into new environments, set pieces, and/or scenarios and forced to figure things out for yourself. This approach can be very engaging for the player, but it can more easily be very confusing. It's too late if everything clicks in your mind after you complete the challenge. The click should come as quickly as possible so the player can strategize and make meaningful decisions. Like so many disappointing current-gen games, RE5 is more concerned with looking cool instead of being cool/functional.
The core design and campaign of RE5 is disappointing, but my favorite part of RE5 is the Mercenaries mode. Here's what I like about the mode.
- The abstract combo feature can be maintained cooperatively between both players like chaining points in LBP.
- Co-op level 3. When completely separated, if one player is injured or is killed, both players lose. In this way, players can be separate yet tied together. "Hold on" or "just don't die" are common tactics in these situations. All levels in Mercenaries start both co-op players in different parts of the map.
- Co-op level 5. Players get a mechanics boost for meleeing enemies one after the other. In this case, a single player is only able to strike an enemy once. But with both players working together, they can unleash a much more effective 3 hit combo. Taking turns hitting and shooting is a highly effective co-op strategy. Also, the healing effect of items can be multiplied when players stand close to one another.
- Co-op level 6. Aside from no friendly fire (unable to hurt teammate with normal gunshots), much of the co-op gameplay in Mercenaries is organic. Grenades hurt players and enemies alike. Players are free to create their own battle plans. One player can grab time while the other kills. One player can lead an angry mob away while the other sets up a trap. One player can collect items while the other backs him/her up. Players can stand back to back and defend both ends of a hall. One player can be a healer and the other can play more dangerously. It's completely up to you and your teammate. And at any time if one plan fails, all of the roles and be reassigned on the fly in the heart of battle.
There's a co-op dynamic between the safety of sticking together, and the versatility of separating.
Co-op Close Proximity
- Can survive without healing items through repeated resuscitations.
- Can double healing items with the co-op mechanics boost.
- Can execute melee chains with the co-op mechanics boost.
- Can rescue teammates from grabs and holds with contextual QTEs.
- Must take turns climbing ladders and jumping out of windows.
- Run the risk of running out of enemies to kill to maintain the combo.
- Run the risk of dying simultaneously with your teammate from an explosion or powerful enemy.
- Can cover more ground to grab more items and time extenders. Also more enemies can be drawn out and herded.
- Can only rescue teammate with ranged attacks.
- Can take advantage of environmental positions for visual and strategic advantages
This co-op dynamic layers well with the general combat space-time dynamic.
Combat Medium-Long Range
- Since most enemies cannot attack you from long or even medium range, shooting enemies from afar is the safest way to take them out. Shooting in 3D games usually involves compressing 3D space into 2D space.
- The farther away the enemy target, the harder it is to hit them with pistols, SMGs, and shotguns. Most of the playable characters in Mercenaries don't have sniper rifles. The few that do must constrict their already limited vision to hit far away targets.
- The enemies can be stunned and made to flinch in different ways after shooting different limbs (head, arms, legs). Stunning enemies slows down their approach allowing one player to keep back and control a mob of enemies.
- In very close quarters, players can use the knife for an attack that never runs out of ammo.
- While an enemy is stunned, they are susceptible to melee attacks. Killing an enemy with a melee attack not only saves ammo and gives you temporary invincibility, but it adds 5 seconds to the game time. Recovering from using melee attacks is a long process that gives enemies time to move in closer. This can be very dangerous for a solo player. Backing up a meleeing teammate is a great way to safely earn time and extend the combo.
Factor in varied/well designed stages, enemies, playable characters, and competitive options, and the result is almost exactly what I wanted out of RE5. In the end, the design of Mercenaries mode is outstanding. However, the path the designers took to get there and the design of the campaign is not what I want to see in 2010 and beyond.