Leon, where's Leon?? Well I'm sorry, but he's probably...
The long-running Mercenaries minigame from the Resident Evil series has always made for an entertaining, score-focussed alternative to the main story. While technically speaking the Mercenaries minigame first originated in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, it was Resident Evil 4's interpretation that has stuck with the series for so long and has now been released as its own stand-alone game.
The concept behind releasing a game that is strictly centred around the Mercenaries minigame is something that I feel has merit, however it also requires that it features a bevy of content to help shoulder the comparatively shallow gameplay design. Unfortunately, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D's poultry offerings do no favours to the idea that The Mercenaries can move on from the shelter of its bigger brethren and stand on its own.
Mercenaries 3D's iteration on the Mercenaries minigame largely resembles how it was in Resident Evil 5, only it's been remixed with certain characters and stages from Resident Evil 4. Though weirdly enough the game first sets up a series of missions for you to complete before you're able to then select a stage and play the game more traditionally. While they're labelled as Missions, a large majority of them primarily follow the standard design of you running around an environment in your attempts to kill as many enemies as possible within a time limit. There's the occasional spark of creativity where one mission plays out in unlimited waves, with each wave completion supplying a generous boost to the ticking down timer. There's some that have a particular enemy that must be killed to win, and so on. Though the majority play out like any classic Mercenaries game, and in fact the first set of missions are simply tutorials.
There's not very many missions available overall at that, and it'll likely only take you maybe an hour or two to see them all through. Once that's done you unlock ''EX Missions'', which then allows you to select any of the game's eight stages and play some regular-ass Mercenaries. Which is unfortunate, because the Mission structure the game opens with feels like it could have functioned as the game's 'Mutators' equivalent as it were, with all kinds of weird variables coming into play. Instead, they merely act as something to get out of the way before you're allowed the freedom of choosing your own stage. The EX Missions are at least more difficult than the Missions prior, and will commonly feature multiple sub-bosses chasing after you at once rather than just the one like in previous Mercenaries iterations.
Fortunately the core gameplay itself is still as fun as it's ever been. It primarily plays out like RE5's Mercenaries, but the pacing is slightly faster. You now run automatically without having to hold down a button, enemies typically die from less punishment, your score combo can last much longer before dissipating, and there's no longer any animation for collecting supplies in the field. You can even now run and shoot, though it's primarily restricted to if you have the Circle Pad Pro attachment. Otherwise you'll have to play it with the classic stop-n-pop gameplay of RE4 & RE5. You can still hold down the L button to move and shoot, but it will conversely lock your laser sight in position, so it isn't ideal. Though you can at least still move while reloading, which also adds to the game's speedier pacing. From my experience playing without a Circle Pad Pro, it all still functions as intended and I never felt like I was at a significant disadvantage without it. Though at the same time it's certainly easy to see how it would prove beneficial.
Controls-wise the game may feel a little more squirrelly than Resident Evil games past, but it didn't take long for me to get used to it all. The way the game presents the action up top with your inventory and map below works really well, too. You have a dedicated button for healing yourself, and switching between weapons can be done by pressing down on the d-pad or instead tapping on the weapon on the bottom screen. The d-pad method can be a little finicky and I was pleasantly surprised to find how much more intuitive the touch screen method works.
There's some light customisation on offer by way of some passive perks you can equip and level up. These range from providing better weapon handling, increasing the effectiveness of your herbs, to receiving a time boost should you kill an enemy while the last second on the timer is on a seven. You can equip up to three, and keeping them equipped will level up them providing some additional benefits. Though while it's appreciative to have a little added customisation, I can't say they really mixed things up very much.
Technically speaking the game looks quite nice. The character models in particular are strikingly impressive, and Chris Redfield looks almost as good as he does in RE5. The one blemish is the draw distance; while the game doesn't conveniently douse the stage in fog, any enemies that are maybe only 5 or more feet away will have all of their animation frames cut in half. It looks pretty goofy, but I suppose it was a necessity for the sake of the game's rock solid 30 frames-per-second.
As mentioned before, the primary culprit behind what's stopping Mercenaries 3D standing on its own is its lack of content. There are only eight stages and eight characters--each of whom at least have a single unlockable costume--and while the game mixes and matches multiple elements across both Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, it doesn't compile nearly as many of the series stalwarts as you'd expect. While it does feature the return of classic Merc characters Krauser and H.U.N.K--complete with some new melee attacks--there's no Leon S. Kennedy or Ada Wong. Hell, even all of RE5's lot doesn't make a return, including such strange omissions like Sheva Alomar. That it doesn't even include every stage from both RE4 and RE5--which would at least present a slightly more substantial selection of twelve maps rather than eight--is rather deplorable. The inclusion of Claire Redfield is at least appreciative--who has never before starred in a Mercenaries mode--but the overall selection of characters and stages is still far too small. When you consider that the Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition release actually has more on offer, including its own cooperative story modes, it makes Mercenaries 3D seem all the more of a rip-off. It's disappointing really, because the gameplay itself is again a lot of fun, and if there was more stuff available then I would feel pretty comfortable in wholeheartedly recommending it.
Mercenaries 3D should have functioned as a celebration of all of the characters and locations of Resident Evil, with all kinds of hidden characters and costumes--both mainstream and obscure--and unlockable stages to dig into. I imagine Capcom had instead banked on releasing more stuff via DLC, but then backtracked on that idea once the game's reception solidified it as something to be avoided. Not like that justifies this in any way, and if anything would only make it all the more despicable.
I was lucky enough to purchase Mercenaries 3D for only £4, but I weep for anyone that happened to have bought this on release date. I've opted to give it three stars rather than two purely for the time of this writing and for the much cheaper price it now typically goes for -- the gameplay itself will still prove to be a lot of fun, for what little there is. I'm still far from deterred at the idea of a Mercenaries-only release as well, but next time around--if there is to be a next time--here's hoping they'll supply it with a little more meat. Itchy, tasty meat...
PS: They also took out all of Barry Burton's goofy one-liners from his Resident Evil 5 Mercenaries appearance. Like, what the , Capcom?