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All 3DS Reviews (DS, DSi)

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D (3DS)

And we thought our 3DS problems were solved.

I had high hopes for the release of RE: Mercenaries 3D.  The Mercenaries concept arrived as the bonus content of RE4 (one of the high-water moments in series history–if you haven’t played it, stop reading now, smack yourself in the face, and accept that you have failed at life).  Combine this formidable pedigree with long months of mounting anticipation (the announcement of this title was all the way back in September 2010, giving Mercenaries more than 9 months of lead time), and you end up with a reasonably perfect combination of fan service and desirable series continuity.

I picked this one up on launch day (28 June 2011) as a reward to myself for a really busy June.  As a player who likes to make his dollars count, I usually scour the reviews before investing in a brand new title.  Unfortunately, I let my desire for a substantial 3DS title get the better of me, and I pulled the trigger as soon as possible, assuming that the overall quality of the RE series would insure my purchase.

Not to beat around the bush, but I was immediately reminded as to why I should always wait a few weeks–and for the word to get out–before throwing down my hard-earned cash.  I’d only had Mercenaries unwrapped for less than an hour before I understood that I might be holding a turkey.

Things looked great for the first few minutes; my first impression was amazement at the game’s slick, high-resolution graphics.  The 3D effect wasn’t as intense or overwhelming as one finds in a title like Pilotwings 3DS, but the menu images and over-the-shoulder FPS were surprisingly flashy and sharp for a handheld system.  During battle, the camera zooms in and out with no noticeable slowdown, and though the enemy animation is occasionally framey (for instance, when their heads are exploding from a shotgun blast, or when they are stumbing around in the background), almost everything looked really good for a handheld title.  I’ll admit that I might be a cheap date in this department–I’m still getting adjusted to how much more powerful the 3DS is compared to my loyal and trusty “fat” DS (that’s right, I never even upgraded to DS Lite).  Regardless, the menu interface and vivid character models included cool 3D presentation and catch your eye with a flashy, modern appeal.  Post-play (and following my resale of the cart on Ebay), I’d still admit that the general visual presentation of RE: Mercenaries remain one of the title’s strongest attributes.

My positive impression began to dissolve as I played through the first several missions.  At first, I assumed that the ridiculous simplicity of the assignments were simply meant to warm up the casual or inexperienced player.  It did seem odd that the second tier of missions were still staged as training events–hadn’t I already completed my newbie lessons in level one?–yet the gravelly-voiced in-game announcer kept treating me like a boot-camp grunt, talking to me as though the game hadn’t even begun yet (it certainly didn’t help that the unseen commander sounds like a cheesy hollywood drill sergeant, but not in the lame-yet-funny-RE-horror-movie sense of cheese).  Later, I realized that the “training theme” was actually a confusing attempt at originality on the part of the designers.  Rather than include an all-points “how to play” mode, Capcom framed Mercenaries (at least the early levels) as some kind of war camp for would-be zombie-hunters.  Color me disappointed–I’d rather have gotten my training all in one place before being set loose to test my slicing-and-dicing skills.

Thus, the Mercenaries concept (as envisioned here) became quickly tiresome to this player, especially when I realized that most levels, even at their longest, tend to last less than 3 minutes–and the goal is to become good enough to finish missions in mere seconds.  Either way, one ends up spending a fair amount of time in the menus and lobbies rather than exploding the undead (this aspect is even more annoying in online co-op mode).  As the levels become harder and you inevitably fail some missions (usually due to the clock running out–I rarely died in any of the first 3 unlocked zones) , you’ll discover that your invisible mentor shouts the same tired commands on each go-round, the enemy creatures attack in nearly identical patterns (the levels aren’t expansive enough to allow for much AI freedom), and you, the player, begin to wonder when, exactly, will this game live up to the greatness of a typical Resident Evil title.

Possibly the most tiresome–and most obvious–problem with the Mercenaries appears to be the lack of substantial content.  I was already sensitive to this issue given that other major 3DS titles have failed to deliver $40 worth of game, and Mercenaries didn’t help matters at all.   In an exhausting attempt to stretch the experience, the player is expected to complete every mission with a variety of unlockable characters (a total of eight) using their various armaments.  This repeat challenge can be fun in short (read: 15 minute) bursts, but it gets boring pretty quickly.  The levels aren’t varied enough to keep a player going for long, and the brief framework of each mission means that even an hour-long session of Missionaries exposes the player to a significant portion of the game’s content.  The different weapons carried by each character make it mildly entertaining to revisit challenges, but once the thrill of mowing down baddies with a machine gun, or popping their heads off with a long-range rifle become too familiar, it won’t be long before you start to wonder what, exactly, is the game’s core attraction.  Not a good thing to be wondering, only two hours into the experience.

I’ve seen some reviews that called the brief level structure “perfect for the iPhone generation”.  In response, I’d propose I didn’t spend $250 on a system, and another $40 on a game so that I could play the equivalent of a $2.99 iPhone game.  I want content.  I want depth.  And though some may disagree, I don’t want iPhone-style games on my 3DS.

The game’s easy default setting is another strike against Mercenaries; I didn’t find it particularly hard to get “A” ratings or above (S or SS) with most of the characters (at least up to the end of level 3, when I called it quits).  Achieving high grades with some characters is tougher than others (Chris Redfield, for instance, relies on a comically weak pistol), but the impetus to finish a level with a tough character is weakened when you’ve already passed the same board several times with your more heavily-armed (i.e. easier) characters.  Admittedly, I sold the game before delving into the later levels (which presumably contain more interesting enemies and challenges), but this is telling in itself–I was bored enough with the overall gameplay and mission structure (after only a few hours of playtime) that I simply didn’t care to stick around.

Some games are saved by their multiplayer mode; I won’t even waste your time by describing this one in more than a few sentences.  Playing in co-op, you’re set loose in the same missions you’d encountered in single-player, no added challenges or special features.  In other words, now you have two players gunning down zombies, but you’re doing it faster than ever before, so you’re actually decreasing the amount of time you’ll actually spend playing the game before being dumped back into the menu area.  Couple this with the need to menu-seek a co-op partner between each mission (searching…..searching…..), and you’ll quickly become as bored with the multiplayer experience as you did with the single-player campaign.  It didn’t seem to add anything at all to the title.  It just felt boring.

I really wanted to like Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D.  I really tried.  I hope whoever bought my used copy on Ebay enjoys it more than I did.

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