Resident Evil: General topics

I’ve been a bit of a Resident Evil fan for a while now, but strangely enough I’ve never written anything about it for my blog. Turns out the reason for this is when I start writing about the damned game I can’t stop, and the meandering scrawl you see below represents somewhere around a quarter of a… thing… I’ve ended up over-thinking for the past few months. Um, enjoy?

In all seriousness what this wall o’ text attempts to do is pick out some key aspects of the original Resident Evil and then look at how they were either refined or outright changed as Mikami and co. revisited the game for Resident Evil: Director's Cut and the unhelpfully titled remake, Resident Evil (GC/HD). There’s also a section at the end on the remake’s Crimson Heads, because who doesn’t love Crimson Heads?

Before I forget: Any facts written here that aren’t something a player could find or observe for themselves in-game have been taken from either 'Bio Hazard Complete Walkthrough Manual' (Kodansha, 1996), 'Bio-Hazard Director's Cut Official Perfect Guide: Inside of Bio-Hazard' (Enterbrain, 1999), 'biohazard Archives' (Capcom, 2005), or 'biohazard Dissection Document: Wii Edition' (Enterbrain, 2009).

Graphical style and tone:
With the enviable combination of director as dedicated as Shinji Mikami, vastly superior hardware, and a team with the raw experience of six years spent working on other Resident Evil titles there was never any doubt that the look of the 2002 GameCube version would wipe the polished marble floor with the original PlayStation game, but the real reason the remake’s so exceptional is that it was never merely about more - more enemies, more cutscenes, more polygons -  but instead a game that's constantly asking itself the question: 'How will this improve Resident Evil?'


So the graphics department answered this by giving the Spencer mansion the most grimy makeover imaginable; the clean and surprisingly bright rooms of the 1996 original giving way to stained wallpaper, rucked-up carpets, and flickering bulbs dimly lighting up dusty baroque cornices: all ferociously mundane details that contribute towards an undefinable stomach-churning wrongness, a sense of an everyday normality that's been violently turned upside-down. Blood and monsters and scientists-turned-zombie may be gory and disgusting but they're also a very superficial sort of horror, easily dispatched and dismissed. What the remake excels at, and what a lot of its later imitators failed to grasp, was that while the monsters give people a fright, it was the mansion itself that lingered on and haunted their nightmares. A battle-damaged and bloodstained corridor may make for an impressive setpiece, but an unkempt bed hiding a bottle of liquor and a diary on a nearby table filled with rapidly deteriorating entries is a story. The mansion was always more than a set of puzzles hidden behind collection of strange keys and the GameCube version of Resident Evil revels in this silent tale; trapping the player in a building that creaks and rattles as if the mansion itself is alive, a malevolent force eager to devour both the overly confident and extremely cautious alike.


But heaping praise on the 2002 remake doesn't mean there's no joy or wonder to be found in the original, and what that brave PlayStation pioneer may lack in raw power is more than compensated for by the confidence found in its style and execution; boasting a design ethos mature enough even back in the haphazard era of 1996 3D graphics to understand that horror is as much about what you don't reveal as it is what you do. The general brightness of the backgrounds may not immediately call to mind the stuff of nightmares when viewed today, but the clearly themed areas and use of strong colour work well within the limitations of the hardware; just as they did for Resident Evil's main well of inspiration, the Famicom title Sweet Home, back in 1989. It's worth remembering that on hardware of the PlayStation's level over six hundred compressed pre-rendered images stored at the mind-blowing resolution of 320x240 were never going to be able to convey a subtle range of blacks and delicate shifts of hue and the game needed the definition and boldness that comes from the colourful style found in the original to prevent the backgrounds from becoming an artifacted mess.


The passage of time and the progress in consumer electronics couldn't be more obvious when you look between the two of them but the ideas and design philosophy driving both takes on Resident Evil are very much the same - to imply rather than show, to create unease in the player through tension and trickery rather than use straightforward spooks and scares.


Translation:
Resident Evil's remembered for a lot of things; the creepy soundtrack, the cinematic camera angles that conceal as much as they show, the bloody Hunters that can decapitate Chris and Jill with a single swipe when they’re low on health and I’m oh-so-close please let me reach the save room door (not that I'm traumatised by the experience or anything...) - there's a lot in there, and it all works together to create an unforgettable survival horror experience. But there's another mindless abomination lurking in the mansion, one called... voice acting.


There's no getting away from the fact that to the end user the dialogue in the original Resident Evil sounds horribly stilted; filled with odd turns of phase and unnatural word emphasis that would never pass anyone's lips even if they did have hordes of the undead shuffling towards them in the dark. But while it's easier for us all to imagine that this was simply a case of bad actors acting badly it's actually more likely that a perfectly competent if not especially spectacular English-speaking actor was locked in a small room with just a microphone for company and told by the native Japanese speaker directing them that they could read these daft lines about NOt OPENing THAT doOR or getting to the ROOT of the problem as instructed or not get paid. Voice actors, especially for games, and especially back in deepest darkest 1996, were told to read the words printed out for them and walk off as soon as they're done - no pre-recording group read-through with coffee and muffins, no chance for personal improvisation or alternative takes. Think about it - if the Emmy award-winning actor Peter Dinklage can produce a duff line or fifty in Destiny, a game with a budget somewhere around 'blank cheque' level, then what hope was there for the English voice-over to a Japanese game from two decades ago?

But even then blaming the acting and the translation itself can only go so far as once you start looking at the Japanese subtitles you'll find that yes, Barry really is meant to be joking about Jill fitting in sandwiches (with this line and some other timeless Barry-isms beautifully revisited in Resident Evil: Revelations 2) and that the rest of the Japanese text generally matches up with the spoken English dialogue - Resident Evil's English dub (and general translation of other details such as files and item descriptions) may not be down-to-the-bone accurate but it's really not as far off the mark as some people would like to imagine either: The painful fact is the Japanese text is simply not a literary treasure cruelly undermined by poor translation work, it's just [deep breath] not all that good to begin with. Thankfully by the time the GameCube remake came about Capcom had grown to understand just how much good quality voice acting could bring to a game that thrives on atmosphere, and second time around that particular aspect of the game received as much care and attention as anything else.


The English dialogue and its questionable delivery may contain the most obvious differences but they weren't the only things changed over the years; the original Japanese script, the remake's Japanese script, and even the all-new Japanese voiceover recorded especially for the 'HD Remaster' releases are all as different from each other as their English equivalents, meaning the long-held notion that there's one single 'real' version of The Mansion Incident that all the others are based on is simply not true.


Movement:
It wasn't until Resident Evil 2 that the series' trademark 'heroic limp' made its first appearance and allowed players to take an educated guess at their current health level just by looking at the way their character was walking; either bent over with one arm across the body for 'caution', or hobbling along with a potentially fatal slow limp for 'danger'. Unfortunately gamers playing the original game had none of this luxurious visual feedback to rely on and were instead forced to either take a quick detour to the status menu while playing or, if they were in a hurry, try to remember how many times they'd been bitten since the last restorative herb mix as they were being chased down the corridor by something or other. Rather than outright copy either of these systems the GameCube release chose to create its own middle ground between the constant full-speed dash of classic Resident Evil and the low-health shuffle that followed in later titles with a simplified system that still shows Chris or Jill struggling when they hit 50% of their maximum health, but with no further change when they go from better-find-a-herb 'caution' to nail-biting  'danger' status. The speed they move at when shown to be low on health is also much higher than the 'may as well reload my last save' rate of post-Resident Evil games too, giving the player a fighting chance even when they're so low on health a crow's sneeze could wipe them out; creating a fairer game overall while still punishing players who get themselves into trouble.

The exact movement penalties are:
Chris receives an 8%/1% run/walk speed penalty, while Jill suffers a greater 12% deduction to her run, but has a 7% boost to her walking speed.


In addition to the tweaked running system above the remake also gives players a special speed-based wrinkle all of its own to contend with, as weaponry now has in effect a simulated weight and equipping (not carrying in your inventory) a firearm will reduce your character's movement speed by a set amount based on the type of weapon held. Chris receives a straightforward 10% penalty to his running speed and 9% to his walking speed with any firearm equipped while Jill's is a little more complicated - small firearms reduce her run by 11% and her walk by 2%, whereas the shotgun and other larger weapons slow her run by 7%, and her walk by 1%. So overall Jill is a touch slower than Chris, but weapons have less of an impact on her movement speed (for those curious about Resident Evil's other playable character: Rebecca's movement stats are identical to Jill's). There are just two weapons that operate outside these rules - the survival knife and the rocket launcher dropped by Brad at the end of the game - neither of these affect either character's run or walk speed at all. What all this means for the player is that weapons become a double-edged sword - you may be better at killing things when you're backed into a corner and brandishing a shotgun but on the other hand you need to be, because you're just that little bit less likely to successfully dodge an attack or push past an enemy from behind. It's also an exciting dare for players who've exhausted every other mode in the game as the very best clear times only come from players with the skill and nerves to deliberately spend most of the game vulnerable to enemy attack.


Extras:
Adventure games often have a problem with keeping the player's attention after the credits have scrolled by, as once all the puzzles have been solved and the mystery's been unravelled there's no real reason to play through them again unless the story's especially well written, and if we're honest in Resident Evil's case there's... 'room for improvement', shall we say? That's never meant survival horror fans were left high and dry though, as the game in all its forms does try a lot harder than most to mitigate this thorny issue with two different leads to play as and six possible endings between them, and then on top of that throws in some nifty optional extras to freshen things up as well as offer some fun new ways to experience the game.
The unlockable extra most people encounter first are the various alternative costumes Chris and Jill can wear, accessed either by using the closet key on the otherwise impenetrable walk-in wardrobe found in the mansion or in the HD remaster just before finalising your choice of character and starting the game.The clothing available changes with almost every port and re-release, from canonical off-duty wear (the leather jacket Chris can change into in Resident Evil is seen hanging on a peg by his desk in Resident Evil 2's S.T.A.R.S. office) to plain silly (Rebecca's cheerleader outfit in Resident Evil: Deadly Silence) but the aim is always the same - to give the player a reward for taking the time and effort to rescue everyone (or just for finishing the game if you're playing the later remake), offer the player some freedom of choice,  and to give them an excuse to play through the game just one more time...


Let's not forget the super-powerful weaponry with infinite ammunition to be earned either, kept safely locked away behind some strict time limits - a condition which might prove puzzling to those struggling to make their way through the game as it looks like the one thing they need the most is furthest from their grasp. But there is some logic behind this decision that goes beyond simply making people suffer; as this restriction helps to maintain the integrity of the game's survival horror atmosphere for as long as possible. This revelation comes when you realise that these all-powerful armaments aren't there to help you kill things quickly because you otherwise wouldn't be able to do so, they're there to help you kill things quickly because you have reached the point where you know the game inside-out and you're speedrunning. Any player who can complete the game in the times required to unlock the rocket launcher or one of the specialist handguns has enough skill to start trying to race through Umbrella's house of horrors as quickly as possible, and instant-kill weaponry with a limitless supply of bullets helps them take this speedrunning concept to its logical extreme.


If you're playing the original Resident Evil then that's your lot as far as extras are concerned - you can look good and play fast. Perhaps feeling the need to out-do its older namesake the GameCube release tried even harder to expand on this post-game content, adding brand new 'Real Survival' and 'Invisible Enemy' modes on top of everything the original already had. Both of these later additions follow the same design mantra as the rest of the remake; taking a game the player had just started to feel comfortable with and then making significant changes that force them to re-learn everything they were sure they already knew. 'Real Survival' sees the unconnected item chests found in a prototype of the original game brought back and... let's just say there's a reason why they took them out, and there's a reason why when they did put them back in it was as a bonus mode only available to those who had completed the game at least twice already. There's a very fine line between 'difficult' and 'frustrating', and if Resident Evil had shipped with 'realistic' item boxes as the default then it would have definitely been on the wrong side of that divide. As an aside: this is also why small key items 'twinkle' - because as ridiculous as having sparkly keys is, it's a hell of a lot more fun than running against every flat surface in the game mashing the search button just in case there's something important hidden in a drawer or left on a shelf. 'Invisible Enemy' mode is an opportunity for confident players to really prove they know the game as well as they think they do, as the game makes the player rely mostly on their own memory of the enemies lurking within the Arklay mountains to survive. You can still hear the undead shuffling around the mansion's halls, catch a glimpse of their reflections in mirrors and puddles, and if the worst happens briefly see them as they land a hit, but otherwise you're on your own - even against the Tyrant!


Crimson Heads:
By the time 2002 rolled around zombies had been done, if you'll pardon the upcoming pun, to death. Resident Evil 2 and 3 may have upped the detail, variety, and numbers by a significant degree when compared to the first game in the series and Code Veronica had brought them slowly ambling into the next generation, but they were all just conservative refinements of the same concept - basic 'starter' enemies designed to mildly annoy players as they walked down a narrow corridor, just a little groaning something to use as target practise before things really kick off. So to combat this over-familiarity with what was once the spine-tingling unknown Resident Evil's remake tore up the rulebook and zombies could now... wait for it... climb stairs. Other than that and the obvious extra visual detail added since the 1996 original, such as proper fingers and motion-captured movement, the undead behaved largely as they always had done - unpleasant and irritating, but rarely genuinely dangerous.


Fortunately that unkind jibe only holds true until the player encounters their first 'Crimson Head', a new kind of dead dead zombie that's much faster and far more ferocious than the plodding raggedy scientists that usually roam the mansion's halls. Nobody forgets the first time they were chased down a hall with one of these slavering monstrosities baying for their blood, and nobody's quite so keen on mocking the shambling remains of Umbrella's staff after they've run screaming towards the nearest save room from their upgraded corpses. Zombies were scary and unpredictable again - and it's all the player's fault.


This is because rather than simply introduce Crimson Heads as a separate enemy type they're instead the result of finishing off a zombie with a non-critical hit and then leaving the corpse on the floor, waiting for its chance to rise again, instead of setting it alight with the kerosene/lighter combo both characters can carry with them (at the cost of precious inventory space, of course) or blowing its brains/kneecaps out with a powerful weapon or lucky handgun shot. To the player the exact time it takes for them undead to rise again seems to always be somewhere around 'the worse possible moment', but under the hood the game's actually using an adaptive ranking system to determine when Crimson Heads will arise.


So let's break down the mechanics behind the remake's most memorable foe:


First things first - no Crimson Heads will ever appear until two specific conditions have been met: The player must have obtained the dog collar from the second floor terrace, and they must have also 'woken up' the pre-turned Crimson Head lying on the floor of the mirror corridor by the door to the armour key puzzle/trap room too. Once those two conditions have been satisfied the ranking system comes into play, with the difficulty level determining the starting rank: one (easy), three (normal), or four (hard), from a total of six. The rank the player's on when they kill a zombie then determines which 'pool' the game randomly picks that corpse's revival timer from, as shown below:

Rank

Time until revival (minutes)

1

60/90/100/150

2

20/45/80/100

3

15/35/70/80

4

10/20/30/60

5

5/10/20/30

6

5/10/15

So as you can hopefully see, a zombie downed by a player on rank four (hard mode's initial setting) could have anything from ten minutes to an hour before it turns into a Crimson Head - but importantly there's no way of knowing exactly until it's sprung up to feast on a character's delicious brains, a fact which is further complicated by the way the game adjusts the rank on the fly based on how long it takes the player to complete vital tasks within the mansion.

 

Event

Time elapsed
(minutes)

Game start~sword key acquired

60

Sword key~armour key acquired

60

Armour key~sheet music inner pages acquired

90

Sheet music inner pages~shield key

60

Example: A player who takes less than an hour to obtain the sword key after starting the game will have their rank increased by one, while a player who takes over an hour will have their rank reduced by one. Rank cannot go below one or exceed six, and there are no rank adjustments after the shield key has been acquired (a point in the game which means they player's progressed far enough to face the prototype Crimson Head and then leave the mansion for the guardhouse).


What this series of interconnecting timers and triggers means in practise is a game that is always trying to take an educated guess at the player's ability and then adjusts Crimson Head revival times to match. This helps to ensure that players of all skill levels have to keep a watchful eye on the trail of corpses they're leaving around, while still protecting more cautious or methodical players from becoming engulfed by an overwhelming wave of mutated zombies.

That’s all for now folks! Thank you for scrolling to the end of this document, you have prooved the justice of our culture and so on. Please do let me know if you found the above post interesting – I’ve got about another 10,000 words worth of Resident Evil-related text looking at specific room, puzzles, and conversations (told you I had spent too much time thinking about this!) in draft form that I could potentially polish up and release into the wild, but if it’s best off kept to myself then I’ll drop it and work on something else.

Kimimi vs. this mortal coil

Just in case I’ve not yet made it clear enough for everyone – I love games. Really love them. I’d be prepared to swap fluffy kittens, bright sunny days, and my secret superpower to recite most of Red Dwarf series five off by heart for more time to play them, because even when you’re a blog-posting nerd with a house full of games there still just aren’t enough hours in the day. Sure, it might look from a certain distance that I play a lot of games but here’s the secret: I often have to do it in a stop-start sort of way; an hour here, a quick mission there, five minutes and a cheeky save state later on an old RPG – that sort of thing. If I can’t do one of those then my chances of making any progress at all plummets through the floor and the game goes in the ‘Well, I’ll probably retire someday’ pile with all the other ‘immersive cinematic experiences’ I’ve got excited about over the years.

At this point you may be shouting ‘But Kimimi you love Final Fantasy XII, a really long game filled with loads of long/hard/long and hard sidequests!’ to which I reply  ‘Shut the hell up, I’ll stare at Balthier’s backside for as long as I da’ [cough]. The point I’m (badly) trying to make here is that there’s a distinction between ‘A game that is long’ and ‘A game that wastes your time’ – and to make things even more complicated a good chunk of where any particular title lies between those two points is entirely up to the player themselves, as my blind adoration for Final Fantasy XII (and XIV) possibly demonstrates.

But rather than go down the long dark tunnel of whingeing about games that I feel are stuffed with pointless filler I thought it’d be better to instead highlight some games that get to the point and are all the better for it – titles that make some sort of effort to acknowledge that no matter how well crafted they are perhaps the player doesn’t exist in a distraction and responsibility-free pocket universe. Right then, here we go!

Panzer Dragoon Saga: An RPG on four discs! Four! And yet somehow it’s still on the shorter side of things – just 15-20 hours on a typical run, complimented by battles so easy that I can say simply as a matter of fact I have literally died once in all the years and countless playthroughs I’ve done (I only remember it so clearly because it was such a shock!). So it’s short (for an RPG) and easy – but neither of those points are why it’s on here. To mangle a vaguely appropriate phrase: Saga earns its spot because it’s all killer, no filler. The pace is relentless; taking in Imperial fleets, ancient ruins, and burning forests that stretch as far as the eye can see. The game then throws in plenty of boss battles to help keep you on your toes: these fights may be easy but they’re also visually extravagant, relevant to the plot, and so plain old exciting that you won’t mind too much. Heck, even the significant optional content’s not just some mystical thingymabob designed to give the easily-bored something to do but a gasp-inducing reveal that ties all three Saturn Panzer Dragoon games together in some very important ways.

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Pokemon Sun and Moon: These games were actually the catalyst for this blog post – I haven’t touched a Pokemon title in years (not properly, anyway), and a lot of that was down to the series dolloping more content on top of more content with little old me just not being invested enough in the series to bother remembering what worked best against fairy/dark/ghost moves or having the time to sit down and work out where I was, where I’m supposed to be going, and oh heavens no I left my HM slave in the PC where was the nearest town again? Sun and Moon still offer an epic quest and lots of Pokemon to capture along with all the usual fluff about legendary types and game-exclusive collectables but thanks to a little map marker and moves being automatically marked as effective/super effective/not effective after an encounter with a new adversary I know before I’ve even opened up my 3DS that I’ll be on the right track in seconds, no matter how long it was since I last played.

Rowlet is best

Lost Planet 2: I’ve been blessed with sixty nine hours of Lost Planet 2 play on my laptop alone and goodness knows how much when you include the 360 and PS3 releases as well. The reason for this, apart from the game making me feel like my veins have been flushed with pure sunshine, is that its lengthy campaign is divided very neatly into a series of easily digestible mini-missions, allowing any brave explorers of EDN III to take in as much or as little as they feel they are able to tackle that session. Come back the next day and you can leap right in wherever you like, whether that means honing your skills on an earlier part of the game or picking up where you left off.

Lost Planet 2’s hyperactive sugarcoated spinoff EX Troopers also works along the same sort of lines – it’s easy to drop in and out of and it’s always worth having a go, because even if you you don’t pass the mission you’ll still earn something tangible from it to make things a little easier next time.

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Makyouden: This PC-98 adventure avoids just about every problem the point and click genre has thanks to an incredible UI that distils the typical lengthy verb list down to just four icons and even has the good grace to virtually eliminate pixel hunting thanks to a generous search ‘hitbox’ (you usually only need to look in the general area) and a dedicated zoomed-in view window at the bottom of the screen that highlights anything nearby of interest. It’s fair to say that it’s also noticeably more linear than most similar titles too, but does anyone really enjoy grappling with things like Discworld's frog puzzle?

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Galaxy Angel: I’ve included this one as an example of a game that isn’t designed in any particular way that would make it feel as if it respects your time (it’s a visual novel/real-time strategy hybrid with lots of chinwagging and optional extra chinwagging thrown in for good measure), but everything surrounding the endless walls of text has been tweaked to allow the player to take in as much or as little of the game as they please. Want to spend some extra time talking to a particular character? The game will tell you exactly where they are and it only takes a click to reach them. Need to take a break even though you’ve only just started playing? The game allows you to save at any time outside of battle, and offers further save prompts before key events too.

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‘Respectful of my free time’ can unhelpfully mean different things depending on the genre, game, and even (perhaps especially) the player in question – there’s no one right answer. But I think there is perhaps one right question – ‘Why?’. It’s something I’d like to see more developers ask themselves when they make wild claims like ‘It would take six hours to cross the map on foot!’ or ‘Our game has four hundred sidequests!’ ‘Seventy hours of heart-wrenching story!’. Time wasting fluff isn’t a new problem for the hobby but with several still-significant franchises celebrating twenty or even thirty years of success and the fact that gamers more likely than ever to be adults with full-time jobs it’s about time the industry, and gamers themselves, had the maturity to question content for content’s sake. Or to put it another way - The Lord of The Rings, arguably one of the greatest literary works of the last century, struggled to fill ‘just’ 11 hours of extended-length blockbuster movie trilogy with top quality content, why are game developers so convinced they can dream up a story worth sitting through that’s two, three, four times as long?

Workin’ for a livin’

Throw a stone in your favourite game store and it’s almost guaranteed to land somewhere that’ll get you arrested on a title starring a Real Hero – the sort of person who’s spent their live with the full weight of an ancient destiny on their shoulders, fate compelling them to venture out on some sort of thingy-saving quest for the benefit of people who never seem too keen on trying to help themselves out of whatever mess they’re in.

But at least these brave souls have something to look forward to after a long and arduous journey that probably involved squaring up to evil corporations/gods/the very fabric of creation in the form of their deceased mother – no doubt there’ll be a dramatic sunrise set to a medley of the adventure’s better tunes, someone pretty to kiss, and only a very slight chance of their nemesis rising again (assuming the developer didn’t fold a few weeks after the game released, that is).

But what about videogame heroes who aren’t born under a prophetic star or don’t have the blood of a long-gone legendary warrior flowing through their veins? What about those poor souls just trying to earn a living in videogame land?

So now you know how this blog post came into being – I thought it’d be fun to spend a little bit of time looking at some of the strange jobs asked of game characters – the sort of people who go off and do extraordinary things but still have bills to pay and a boss to keep happy; a bit like Spider-Man without the endless clones or terrible movies.

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Monster Hunter: A life of luxury awaits! Do you want to be revered by the village elders, wear fancy helmets, own a sword 10ft long and have access to your own personal fishing pier? All of this is possible in the world of Monster Hunting… so long as you don’t mind braving freezing cold, searing heat, rooting through piles of wyvern droppings and being burnt, bitten, farted on or spat at by some of the most vicious animals ever encountered.

Job prospects: Hard workers can afford to hire a team of live-in chefs. Unfortunately those live-in chefs are all cats.

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Pokémon Snap: Young but dedicated Pokémon photographers required by Professor Oak to capture exciting images of all the creatures living on, under, and over Pokémon Island; a monumental task that will require pelting Pikachu with apples, knocking Charmeleons into molten lava (purely for scientific research purposes of course), and general disturbing of the local wildlife FOR SCIENCE. There will be no cake at the end of this study – delicious and moist or otherwise - or any pay, or a written agreement on photograph copyright ownership, or a reference.

Job prospects: Freelancer Simulator 1999

BBros

Bonanza Bros: Steal things in a semi-official manner for a Police Chief who will deny all knowledge of his involvement and have you locked up if you fail! As you are, of course, only ‘testing’ the security systems of Badville any captured trinkets liberated in the line of not-duty must be returned immediately after dodging security systems and escaping via a blimp on the roof, making the reward for this job ‘Not spending the rest of your life in jail’. Hmm.

Job prospects: No pension plan. No legs either.

RE1

Resident Evil: Raccoon City’s S.T.A.R.S. team are currently looking for a young test subject rookie for general VIP protection and anti-terrorist work. The right candidate for this role with be able to hold more than six items at once and look good in a basketball uniform (please supply a photo with your CV). Survival instincts in a bio-hazardous environment a plus but not required. Will also consider young women with no combat experience if they can mix chemicals and work easily with any strange heroic men they encounter.

Job prospects: Surprisingly steady work with a chance to branch out into theatre/musicals.

doom3

Doom 3: Welcome to Mars! The Red Planet has plenty of opportunities if you’re the sort of UAC worker who can keep their mouth shut and go wherever your company-issued PDA tells you to – and there might even be a few extra credits on the table for those willing to volunteer for some more… experimental… overtime (details supplied on the day). Successful applicants must be able to wield a gun and a flashlight, but are not required to do both at the same time.

Job prospects: ‘The UAC appreciates your health and safety concerns and will respond to your email as soon as the remains of the HR department can be extracted from the bowels of Hell.’

VStory

Vagrant Story: Congratulations! We already hired you for the job, unfortunately an unspecified previous traumatic event has sealed away your memories so you don’t remember the recruitment process. Your next mission requires you to infiltrate an abandoned magical city filled with evil spirits while looking for a man with no limbs and performing some light warehouse-style box management as necessary. Full uniform will be provided and will be very tight.

Job prospects: Successful employees will earn a sweet tattoo and the ability to disguise themselves as a lady.

deka

Dynamite Deka: Two candidates in fragile clothing required to rescue president’s daughter from a complete lunatic and a varied assortment of wacky underlings. Firearms provided as standard, although the right person will also be able to handle grandfather clocks, brooms, and highly complicated grappling manoeuvres in a work environment. Promotion is available for the sort of person willing to punch their friend in the face just because a little girl asked them to. Immediate start.

Job prospects: Short term contract but bloodthirsty applicants who can turn on their colleagues in an instant can progress into full-time employment.

A little look at… Patlabor: Game Edition

Do you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books that used to place you – yes, you – in the heart of the action across a variety of fantastical stories? Did you hope and pray that one day ‘Labor pilot’ would be added to the list of self-insert adventures found in your local library? Then Patlabor: Game Edition is very-nearly-almost-sort-of the thing you’ve been waiting for!

2016-11-19 13.41.18

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Released in November 2000 for the original PlayStation, Patlabor: Game Edition has you fill the boots of a nameless and faceless freshly-trained (male) Labor pilot with absolutely no dialogue or personality of your own; which would present something of an issue in a story-heavy game like this if you weren’t partnered with Kukoku Midori, another new recruit who acts as the adorably chirpy voice of this made-for-the-game duo.

The game follows a single story told across ten chapters, with each one following a strict story>battle>story>end pattern – an attempt to recreate the feel of the TV series, perhaps. The adventure sections are straightforward visual novel-like affairs, meaning your only input is to move the text along at a speed you’re happy with: there are no decisions for you to make, objects for you to interact with, or any choice in where you go or who you speak with. The plot itself reads like a pick-n-mix of typical Patlabor scenarios with OS viruses, mysteriously malfunctioning unmanned Labors and is-he-evil-or-does-he-have-a-point foreign scientists with sharply trimmed beards making an appearance. It’s hardly uncharted territory for the series but with the original voice cast on hand it does feel suitably authentic and as these sections tend to fall on the shorter side of the plot exposition scale (probably helped in an accidental way by having to keep the game to a single CD) they tend to get to the point while still leaving a little wiggle room for the odd barefoot-Goto telephone call and other team-building scenes.

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Once the chin-wagging’s over it’s finally time for you to get your hands dirty, which in Patlabor’s case means bashing the solitary Labor stood before you (there’s never more than one opponent) until its HP bar’s depleted. Whether you’re facing construction Labors or an unmanned Griffin fights always follow the same rinse-and-repeat pattern - avoid the enemy’s attack then rush in close enough to grab them before following up with your own combo; then once your attack sequence is over you have to back off and wait a second or two for your Ingram’s energy gauge to go green before starting over again from the top.

Attacks are performed simply by pressing one of the four face buttons on your pad in time to a small visual marker – succeed and you get to execute the move shown and hopefully set yourself up for another attack, miss and the enemy gets a chance to retaliate and you have a brief window to block this unplanned-for assault. Landing blows helps to fill up an on-screen gauge – the more energy stored, the longer your combos can be and the more devastating the moves you can execute. Your only other offensive option is to fire your six-shooter, but as it’s quite weak and can’t be reloaded it’s best used to open up a chance for a melee attack while they’re reeling than used as a weapon in its own right.

If I’ve made battles sound a bit shallow and disappointing up there is probably because… well… from a mechanical point of view, they really are – the objective is always the exact same thing, with no ‘‘Protect the target!’ ‘Prise open the cockpit!’ ‘Disable the Labor’s weapons!’ or any other blindingly obvious alternatives that trip off the end of my fingers to spice things up, so it’s a good thing they make up for their faults by being very, very, Patlabor.

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It’s the little details that matter: the creaks your Ingram makes as it braces itself against another Labor are absolutely spot on. The satisfyingly weighty feel of movement as you stomp around the cleared-out streets of Tokyo is superb. Fights mostly involve violently slamming military Labors into the ground like some massive robo-Wolf Hawkfield. Unlike a lot of other tie-in games that try to re-jig an IP to fit a typical adventure/action/platform genre Patlabor really feels like Patlabor – even if that means making a disjointed story/action game that you have little real influence over. If you’re a fan of the series then this has enough fine detail and overall quality to make you squeak with excitement at familiar things and turn a blind eye to its shortcomings. If you’re not…

Hmm. There are better visual novels and better 3D arena battlers on PlayStation; but if you’d like to try something that mixes the two this is a polished and relatively inexpensive purchase that might spark an interest in an excellent manga/anime series.