noct's Biohazard: The Mercenaries 3D (Nintendo 3DS) review

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Lot of scary stuff here, but none of it is meant to be...

Let me start out by saying up-front that I have not "completed" this game, and typically that would keep me from writing a review, but I really don't think I need to do that here. On top of the fact that you've really seen what the game has to offer within the first half-hour with it, I believe I'm on mission 29 out of 30, so I feel pretty confident giving an opinion of it at this point. Also, the "missions" are all the same exact thing anyways, with the same goals, same enemies, and same (8?) environments, so really that 30 count is pretty subjective in the first place.
Now realize that it came out yesterday, and I didn't even do some marathon gaming session on it. I wasn't timing myself, but I'd guess I totaled around five hours playing. So yeah, that's not great. Granted, you can replay these same missions with other characters, but I'm not sure how much I'll be doing of that. Know also that I didn't really play Mercs in RE5, so my basis of comparison is the included version of it in RE4, but regardless, I'm trying to rate this game itself on its own merits, so whether or not these problems exist in the other versions is pretty irrelevant to this review.

Overall Mercs 3D is a pretty simple and limited game. The difference in the console versions was that they were an included game mode that was just free bonus fun. Here, you realize pretty quickly that it doesn't stand very well on its own. I surely can't blame anyone for my purchase of it, as I knew what I was buying before-hand, but I honestly expected a much more robust version of it that would expand on where the bonus modes started and iron out a lot of the dated stuff in the original game modes. It does not. The strange thing to me is that I really enjoyed it as a bonus in RE4, so I expected a full-on version of it in 3D to be a great addition to my (limited) 3DS library; its not. In short, I'm pretty disappointed at how limited it is and how rushed it feels. Talk about slapping something old into a new box...

The concept here is pretty simple; they drop you into an area from RE with a certain amount of baddies, and based on the "mission", you have to either kill them all, or survive until the end of the round. If you get a passing "grade" of B or better on all chapters of a mission, you can advance to the next level.
They switch it up a little bit every so often by by adding some (sorta annoying) "boss" battles as the final chapter, and for the most part I just found these frusterating. The very first one you encounter is not fun, it's just an exercise in searching for time bonuses while you slowly whittle away at this thing's health by shooting it in one specific area that is insanely hard to target.

The bigger change, and the most distressing one, is that they have made the timer the biggest enemy you face. Console Mercs had a timer, but it always felt to me to be almost incidental there, or at least a fun game play option. It wasn't the oppressive force it is here, and it didn't change the game play the way it does in this version. On the console, I always felt like I was making a concious choice on exiting the level alive versus extending my time and trying to get a higher score. Here that doesn't come across as a gamble, or even as an option. If you don't extend the timer, you lose, and there is typically so little chance of dying (as the enemies are so blatently dumb and without any real challenge), that it almost feels like they used the timer to offset how hard it is to actually be killed off. 

Put simply, in the missions where there are a set amount of enemies to kill (the majority of them), you simply aren't given enough time to do it. This boils the game down into a constant hunt for time bonuses rather than a survival shooting rampage. You add to your timer one of two ways. First are these bizarre looking "ice-towers" that can be shattered to add a minute to the clock. These appear to be a catalyst to get you to explore the area, but they are such a sore thumb from the rest of the scenery, and typically in such obvious, open areas, that it's really not much of a hunt. They also on a purely aesthic level just look dumb and out of place, and I'm not sure why they didn't just leave the old system of finding the clock icons the way it was... 
The other method of gaining time is by doing melee attacks on injured enemies. This typically gives you a 5 second boost, but in certain circumstances, the last enemy in a "wave" will give you an extra minute. Here in lies the biggest problem with the game play in Mercs. They have now made it not only more worthwhile, but in most cases downright mandatory to dispatch as many enemies as you can with melee attacks. Yeah, that's not why I'm playing a shooter guys...

This game play essentially then boils down to plugging a guy in the knee cap so he is staggered, then running up and performing a context-sensitive melee attack to finish them off. Now repeat that exact thing 100 more times, and if you're lucky, you'll beat the clock and "win" the mission. Great.

If they wanted to include a "time-attack" option, that would have been commendable, but at least give me the ability to play the game at my own pace in a "survival" type of scenario where I could get immersed in the environment and play how I'd like. That option is lacking, and it bothers me that something so simple to include was left out.

On top of them making the shooting aspects largely irrelevant, it really just isn't that enjoyable to shoot "people" here in the first place. For starters, the guns just don't feel right at all. There's no sense of weight to them, no sense of power when they fire, and although they control fairly well, they just aren't that much fun to shoot. Adding to that, the sound design is just atrocious. The vast majority of the weapons sound more like a bubble popping then a gunshot going off, and is really not very satisfying to pull the trigger at all. On top of that, there is no visible damage done to the enemies as they get hit, and outside of a barely even noticable "spray" of blood when (some of them) take a hit, most of them just kind of flinch like you threw a spitball at them, then continue on their merry way. Some of the larger "Special enemies" don't seem to even notice you've shot them at all. There is just no visceral feeling to the gunplay at all, and it really hurts the experience. Again, this may well have been the way it all worked in the older versions of RE4 and I'm just forgetting about it, but regardless, that game was made in what, 2005? It feels like we could have improved the experience by now, especially since I'm paying full price for it.

The weapons also feel painfully underpowered. I don't recall if this is exactly the way it worked on consoles, but you can virtually empty an entire clip from most weapons into a guy’s head, and they will keep right on coming. But, if you shoot them in the leg you can run up and do a stomp or punch to their body, and they die instantly... That makes sense.  
There is actually an overall state of things not making any damn sense in the damage system and how it applies to the game play. For one thing, enemies can fall from 100 feet off the ground and take no damage, which is strange enough in this day and age, but also, you can knock down ladders and knock enemies off of ladders or edges to slow down thier progress of getting to you. In another game, that would be all well and good, but in this game, you're in a frantic sprint to kill them as quickly as possible, so why would I want to slow down their advancement? I could see if they could be killed by falling off something, but they can't so, yeah, that's pointless. There is also a bunch of times when they seem to be invulnerable to damage. For example, when an enemy is climbing through a window, you can at certain points unload on them, and the bullets seem to go right through. Another example of this is at certain times when they are getting up off of the ground, directly inbetween the time when you can stomp them and can't. I've shot them during this period before and saw no visible sign that they even recieved the hit. Lastly, when enemies are on the ground, some (maybe all?) of them seem to be invulnerable to certain types of attacks. Like, you can walk up and kick him and he'll die, but if you detonate an explosive next to his head, he doesn't seem to mind. All of this stuff would have been acceptable a decade ago, but now it just feels annoying and dates the gameplay.

Then there are the mutations... Just like in RE4, some enemy's heads will split open when shot and a parasite will grow out of the stump. You get another senseless thing here, as you can literally unload 40 bullets into this thing and it won't even notice, but if you throw a FLASH grenade at it, it dies, instantly. Yeah...  

Then we get to the general control of the character. This for the most part works well enough, although it is as clunky and cumbersome as it ever was. I wasn't really expecting that to change though, and for the most part it's ok and doesn't really hamper the game play. There is however some weird little inconsistencies with it that rub me the wrong way. For one thing, they have included the quick turn option, and it works great, but you can't use it in conjunction with other actions. That might sound like it makes sense, but you can use items and reload weapons while you are walking and turning, so it quickly begins to feel like second nature to be able to do both at once. Then you try to quick turn, and nothing happens because you're reloading or using an item, and it feels broken to me.  That sense of always having to wait for one action to finish is actually pretty pervasive in the game, and it's yet another thing that drives me nuts. For example, most enemies will drop ammo when they die, and if you don't make a point of going after it, you'll run out pretty quickly. The problem here is, picking up items from the ground is a context-sensitive button press, and you can't do it while anything else is going on... For example, say you're in the middle of a fire fight, or running from a giant special character. If you are reloading, healing yourself, changing guns, etc... You can't pick up ammo. So you quite literally have to stop dead in your tracks and wait for the current action to finish and the button-press notice to come up. Hopefully you don't take a giant barb-wire-lined axe to the back of your head in the meantime. This is the way everything in this game works, and a lot of the time it hits me unexpectedly and I suffer for it.
They have added the ability to move while you're shooting (finally), but they may as well have forgotten to bother. You have to hold down the L-Trigger while aiming to walk, and you can then only strafe in four directions; you can't turn while moving, and WAY more importantly, you can't aim while moving. This in very limited circumstances can be useful, such as when you're empyting 20 clips into a chainsaw weilding dude's head and want to back up a bit while you shoot, but, there is a serious flaw with it that I don't understand how they missed... Most. Guns. Have. Recoil. So, you can't adjust your aim, but as you shoot, the aiming reticule moves itself away from what you targeted. Yeah, so, that makes their dramatic evolution into mobile shooting pretty useless unless you're using a handgun.

The weapon aiming works pretty well though, and you can target specific limbs or areas to shoot with ease; the problem is, it doesn't really matter where you shoot the enemies, and headshots don't (typically) seem to do any more damage than a shot to the leg. Why include the ability to target body parts if none of it is going to make a difference anyway?  
Another glaring flaw is this just asinine new game-play mechanic they have added to the health system. If your health falls below a certain range, you enter this state of "recovery", where you walk at a snails pace, and have to hammer on the Y button until you get the health indicator back up to a certain level. The issue with this is that just like every other context-sensitive action in the game, you can't do ANYTHING else while it's going on. Ya know, like HEAL yourself. Often times you'll end up in this mode due to a single hit from one of the larger enemies, and then you have to try to somehow get away from them performing another single-hit kill on you, although you're now moving slower then you were when they hit you the first time, and you're standing right next to them. This might be a forgivable "addition" if it only triggered when you had no Herbs to use (health items), but that's not the case.  
Compounding this problem is that there is still no quick evade or sidestep of any kind, and you can often get boxed into a corner during these segments if there are enough enemies in the area, and you just fruitlessly slam into them until one puts you out of your misery. It's super frustrating when it happens, and it happened to me several times towards the "end" of the game.

Moving on to the audio, it's not great either.  Just like the gun "shots", the sound design in general in this game is really pretty lackluster. A couple of the enemies will scream at you like in the console version, but it sounds like it was recorded in a tin can and is being played back over a drive-through speaker at McDonalds. On top of that, the sound levels are too low, and if you don't play with headphones on, you can barely hear anything other than the soundtrack.  

Now, the graphics... Ok, one thing is clear, the graphics are just outstanding. Well, in terms of character modeling anyways. If you were looking at still photos of the characters you would think this game had the best graphics 3DS had to offer, and in some respects it does. But, they came at an insanely high price. There is virtually no lighting what-so-ever, the character animation is pretty limited, and the environments are painfully empty and without charm. Apart from the obligatory crate or barrel, there's simply nothing to see in these areas apart from empty hallways and corridors and the same repeating models and textures everywhere.

More importantly, this game has the HANDS DOWN WORST frame rate I have seen on 3DS, and possibly, ever.

Well, let me clarify that a little... The frame rate of the game itself, as in your character and the camera seems okay. I'm not expert enough to even venture a guess at what it is, but it didn't give me any motion sickness, which I am very prone to in games that have bad overall frame-rates. That said, they did something so bizarre with the frame rate of the enemies that it boggles the mind (and eyes) to see it. The enemies have what appears to be a scaling frame rate that increases as they get closer to you. I know, that sounds really strange, and it is. Basically, if an enemy is more than say, 2 steps away from you, they start to drop frames, and if they are more than say 20 feet away or so, we are literally talking single digits. They just appear to like skip or stutter in their own skin when trying to move. It's REALLY jarring and is driving me absolutely bananas.

Even stranger is that this change in their frame rate happens right in front of your eyes, and as I said, they only have to be a few steps away for it to start. So, you can quite literally blast a guy with a heavy gun and watch their animation slow down and start twitching as they fly through the air away from you. It just looks awful; I can't imagine what the developers were thinking here.

I thought at first that it must be due to the 3D effect, and I immediately turned it off, and while I believe it wasn't quite so prevalent in 2D, it was still there and still looked totally absurd. It's commendable that they squeezed such excellent models into a portable title, but really guys, at this cost, it wasn't worth it. They would have been much better off lowering the poly-count a little and having some nice animation and rates instead.

Speaking of the 3D, put bluntly, it pretty much straight-up sucks. I don't know if I'm a bit jaded now after playing Zelda OOT, which had simply breathtaking 3D effects, but the effect here is just not good, at all. There is a tiny bit of depth between your character and the backgrounds, but the illusion of a 3D environment does not work at all, and it all sort of looks like flat pieces of cardboard stacked on top of each other. Word to Capcom, go play OOT 3D and see what this stuff should look like.

When you go into aiming mode (if you choose the FPS aim option), the 3D of the weapon in this view actually works pretty well. The weapon appears to have dimension, and it stands out from the rest of the screen. Any other time though, the 3D effect is minimal and does nothing to help the experience. As I mentioned, it seems to further hurt the frame rate, so most of the time I was just playing with it shut off. Congratulations Capcom, you have quite literally made the FIRST game for 3DS that I don't play in 3D. Thanks.

Next problem, the interface is just abysmal in every way. Not only is it pretty ugly, it is so convoluted and needlessly complicated that it boggles the imagination. For one thing, the mission selection is just asinine. Each Mission has a selection of "chapters" that you can choose from, and just to change levels, you have to open the mission screen, and then select a mission, which then opens the level select screen. You then select the level, and have to back out through all those menus to get back to the main interface. Not only that, but missions don't automatically advance when you beat one, so the first time I beat a level I was staring at the interface in bewilderment trying to figure out how to go to the next one. It's not intuitive and it just sucks. I can get not advancing the missions if you have already beaten the game or something, but it seems kind of weird that it doesn't do it on its own when you're trying to progress through the game. The interface in general works this way, and I just hate every aspect of it. This is on DS for crying out loud, and some of it isn't even touch-capable.

The overall load times for the game are pretty damn fast, and I never once really felt ancy waiting for anything other then the (same) annoying narration and text that starts every level. This is a cart though, so really, fast load times are to be expected. However, on certain areas, the "boss battle" is fighting off waves of enemies rather then just a set total; this is when things really go off the rails... For one thing, there is an insane loading screen between waves that is longer then any other load time in the game, it totally breaks up the action, and seems really out of place.  The really strange thing there is that these levels don't seem to have any more or less enemies then the standard ones, and they aren't loading up any new geometry to he area or anything, so why does it stop the game mid-level to load more bad guys? 

The other issue on these wave-based fights is that even more so then the other levels, there is just not enough time given to complete the waves. I must have repeated one particular level about 10 times before I finished it, and it wasn't that I died, I just kept running out of time. It gets particularly annoying when the special characters come out, who can't be melee killed, so the way you've been keeping the clock going up till them doesn't even apply any more.

My last complaint is pretty well known at this point, but bears mentioning. There is only one save file to speak of, and no way to reset user data in this game. That isn't a big deal for your own play-through, but it makes the game tied specifically to you, and that's pretty lame IMO. For example, if I wanted to loan it to a buddy after I was done with it, he wouldn't be able to start over again, and would lose a lot of the sense of progression on his play through since everything would already be leveled, unlocked, and rewarded. Capcom claims this choice had nothing to do with the pre-owned game market, but I think we all know that is just a load of crap. For one thing, when I bought the game, the clerk told me that they won't be taking this game back in used, at all.   (GameStop)
I do want to mention that the game features some multiplayer options, both locally and online, but I haven't tried any of them so I reallly can't comment on how well they work. It does seem odd to me that there is a button to toggle between single and "Duo" (co-op) on the mission select screen, rather then a simple MP game option at the main menu, but again, it just goes to show how bizarre the interface is in general.

Ok, now that I've griped about everything I hate about this game, I would like to mention a couple of positive things. For one, they have added to the Mercs formula a bit in this version. Once you've done all your unlocking, there are eight characters to choose from, each with different load-outs, an alternate costume for each one, and a customizable skills leveling system as well. The skills are various different bonuses you unlock while playing such as adding an elemental attack to melee hits, getting more health from herbs, better "handling (whatever that means) for various types of weapons, etc. You place these skills into one of three slots, and as you play they level up and gain in strength. When maxed out they will add a bonus, such as the health skill will give you a small health bonus for a critical hit on an enemy.

The skills system is pretty cool, and adds a bit of replayability to the title and a nice sense of progression, so that's definitely a good addition. Replay ability is pretty high in general for this game (if you like the overall concept), as you can replay any of the 30 missions with any character and it saves each one's rating on that level in a list below it on the selection screen.

Another small touch for the replay factor and feeling of progression is the "Medals" system, which are basically just achievements/trophies. They don't seem to make any difference game play-wise, but it's always fun to unlock one of these on a console, and that carries over pretty well I suppose.  

Oh, and I want to mention briefly the included demo for Resident Evil: Revelations that is included on the cart, as it seems to be a huge selling point for the game to a lot of people (and Capcom as it's the most prominent thing on the box.) The main thing that sticks out here is that it's pretty obvious that both games run on virtually the same exact engine, and it almost feels like Mercs was just a cash-in using an early build of Rev's engine. The "demo" is really just about two minutes of gameplay where you walk down a hallway and encounter three (of the same) enemies, but it looks beautiful, and it does the job of interesting me in that title. It had everything this game does not, nice lighting effects, good animation, decent frame rate, nice sound. The only bad things I can see there are that the 3D effect still kinda sucks (although it's better then Mercs), and the environments still feel pretty empty and lifeless. It did carry the RE feel/vibe to it though, and I'm wholeheartedly looking forward to playing it.

Mercs 3D is a mildly interesting diversion that I might stick back in from time to time if I'm really starved for some shooting action on the go, but for the most part, it just fails in my eyes in every conceivable way. The only reason I even played through it at all was to try to get my money's worth out of it, and because I like RE in general. It's kind of fun to see these characters and environments in a (slightly) new way, and from a basic "arcade type" high-score hunt, there is some limited enjoyment to be had.

I just can't recommend this game to anyone, not even people that really enjoyed Mercs on consoles. It's just too limited, too janky, and too cumbersome to really enjoy. It feels like a downloadable title, and even at that it feels rushed and clunky.

Boo Capcom, boo.

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