Resident Evil 4 Remake

I’m sure I’ve ranted about my love for various Resident Evil games before, but I like to start my posts with a bit of personal history. From some of my earliest memories, I was a Nintendo fanboy who also loved horror. I loved my NES, the SNES was the console that made me realize how powerful my love of games was, and I was all in on the Nintendo 64. Simultaneously, I loved slasher films, haunted houses, and, of course, zombies. This made the allure of the original PlayStation console very hard to deny. As a diehard Nintendo fanboy, I’d ridiculed Sony’s entrance into the gaming market. No one could take down Nintendo, I thought. But then I started seeing all these exclusive PlayStation games in Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro that I just couldn’t ignore. Final Fantasy VII? Metal Gear Solid? And, yes, Resident Evil. When I finally convinced my parents to buy me a PlayStation (“the games are different! You can’t play these on Nintendo 64, I swear!”), Resident Evil: Director’s Cut was the first game I got.

Thus began my long love affair with the Resident Evil series. Though I owned and loved my PlayStation and PS2, my fanboy heart was still beating for Nintendo, and I was rooting for the GameCube to succeed. When Capcom announced a slew of games exclusive to the little purple console, including Resident Evil 4, I was ecstatic. And when Resident Evil 4 went on to be a ground-breaking game-of-the-year, my heart swelled with nerdy joy. It didn’t bother me that RE4 would go on to be a multiplatform megahit. By then I had pretty much given myself over to the multi-console mindset. Why restrict myself to one console and one set of exclusive games when I could play everything (when I could afford it)? But my love for the Resident Evil series thrived, and in recent years it’s burned even brighter, thanks to incredible remakes and new entries alike.

When the Resident Evil 4 remake was announced, I was surprised by the number of video game content creators and podcasters that legitimately seemed to question the “need” for a remake. I’m tired of remake discourse in general, I think. The “need’ argument rarely, if ever, holds water for me. Whether we’re talking about an original piece of content, a sequel, a remake, whatever, where does “need” come in? What does it mean to need a new piece of entertainment/art? That it’s somehow “vital”? I don’t love that idea. If a video game studio releases a totally new IP, how often do we hear the same people saying “ah, yes, we needed this”? Or, if it’s bad, “we didn’t need this”? It all seems caught up in a years-old distaste for existing IP that goes back decades. This is a personal blog post so I’m not going to dig up the research I’ve read that shows the “we’re running out of ideas” mentality is ancient, but I can’t help but think of it every time gamers bemoan a new remake/remaster just because they’re not interested in it. The remake of Cabin Fever, a horror movie I love, was very bad. It didn’t magically erase the original Cabin Fever movie, just as a “bad” remake of Resident Evil 4 wouldn’t change any of the previous versions of the game, just offer a new iteration for younger gamers who prefer fresher paint and added features.

Lucky for us, the remake of Resident Evil 4 isn’t bad. In fact, like the other recent remakes and mainline entries, it is pretty incredible. Capcom once again does an amazing job at balancing elements that made the original game special with new features, polish, and careful editing. To start with, the game looks great. I’ve blathered at length about how good the RE Engine is at textures, lighting, and more, and this game is another stellar example of that. The engine doesn’t do all the work, though. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and care went into designing every outfit, item, character, and environment. I’ve always loved that you can go into your menu and examine items in Resident Evil games. Not just because you must in order to solve little puzzles or find hidden objects, but it helps me appreciate the time the designers took in crafting these fully rendered, often very pretty objects that have gotten increasingly ornate over the years.

Speaking of beautiful environments, one of my favorite design upgrades in this game is the castle. The castle in the original game was fine in terms of gameplay and basic design, but Capcom has gotten so much better at crafting spaces that feel real, lived in, and are filled with little gorgeous details. As was the case with Castle Dimitrescu from Resident Evil Village, I found myself wanting to own and live in this castle. Yes, it’s filled with blood fountains and mutant insect nests and a rickety-at-best series of underground mineshafts, but that just adds some lived-in charm! Who doesn’t want a library filled with not only books but also violent, aggressive suits of armor? I rest my case. If I suddenly became a multi-billionaire, I swear to you I would buck the current trend of being a massive, maniacal asshole and I would give so much money to the fight against climate change and ending world hunger and unseating tyrannical politicians… AFTER I build an exact replica of every mansion, house, and castle from the Resident Evil series. I just happened to have some screenshots of the remaster of the original Resident Evil 4 on my PS5, so I’ll throw in a couple for comparison.

If we’re talking about glow-ups, however, we can’t pass over one of the biggest makeovers in Resident Evil history: Ms. Ashley Graham. I’m not exaggerating when I say I love the new Ashley. To be fair, I wasn’t much of a hater of the original Ashley. I didn’t love her, and her sometimes incessant shouts of “Leooooon!” were grating, but I really didn’t get the hate about her as a companion. Had people played with other AI follower characters in video games? They were notoriously terrible and legitimately dumb, so to have an AI follower that was smart enough to duck and stay out of the way of my gunfire was amazing to me at the time. The new Ashley, like the new Resident Evil 4, is smarter, prettier, and much deeper.

Okay, maybe “much deeper” is slightly hyperbolic, but I give Ashley 2.0 a lot of credit. I know some people are disappointed that she’s still a damsel, but her kidnapping and rescue is central to the RE4 story, and she’s the president’s daughter, not a rookie cop or special agent. I think Capcom was aware of the image of a flailing, desperate Ashley and made strides in making her tougher and more of a partner rather than a parcel to be carried and protected. She helps me solve puzzles, calls out danger, and even becomes a “master of unlocking” (an Easter Egg that thoroughly charmed me). When you first meet her, she swings a heavy candle holder at your head. And when you flee the church to make your way back to the village, she says “can we take a break?” When Leon says “Sorry, we have to keep moving,” Ashley doesn’t whine or play for sympathy. She simply says “okay,” and that’s the last time she comments about being tired or living through an absolute hellscape. She’s not popping zombie heads or punching boulders, okay, but she’s far braver and stronger than Ashley 1.0.

Part of Ashley’s glow-up is also a, well, glow-up. “Really, Joey? A third paragraph about Ashley? This game is called Resident Evil 4, not Ashley Graham Magical Dress-up Time.” Okay, imaginary reader who represents a small component of my writerly anxiety, but maybe it should be called that, because the new Ashley is, in my eyes, a hottie-boom-body, as the kids say. Or they did. Once upon a time. Maybe. It probably doesn’t hurt that, as with my beloved Lady Dimitrescu, Capcom used a real model for Ashley’s face. Speaking of Lady D, pairing her with Ashley is a fair representation of my broad “taste” in women, virtual or otherwise. Smart, mousey, kind, outgoing? Yes. Tall, assertive, sexy, aggressively murderous? Also yes. Capcom knew what they were doing when they dressed Ashley like Velma from Scooby Doo and gave me nerdy-but-fashionable glasses for her to wear. And have you seen the absolute deluge of Leon smut out there? The in-depth analysis of his biceps and hair? I will not apologize for my newfound Ashley obsession. Insert emoji with the scrunchy little angry face.

Okay, phew, I may have gotten a little defensive there. Let’s settle down, take a breath, and talk about grumpy, one-eyed, spider-spined monkey dudes. Well, him and the rest of the cast of villains. While the arguably silly plot remains (and what would a Resident Evil game be without it), as does a small slice of the camp from the original, the new iterations of Mendez, Krauser, Salazar, and Saddler are more menacing and (to some extent) believable. Salazar in particular maintains his stature and vamping but feels a lot more realistic and at-home in this new world. It feels like some kind of small (eh? see what I did there?) miracle that Capcom managed to keep Resident Evil 4’s silliness but somehow make a slightly more grounded, believable reality. Yes, you’re unrealistically dodging massive chunks of rock on a jet ski and fighting gigantic, twisted tangles of flesh and eyeballs, but all the Resident Evil remakes feel interconnected and adequately less cheesy to me, and I have to think it’s in large part due to their refined villains.

Leon and Luis are also slightly toned down in terms of their quips, but I appreciate their slightly antagonistic bromance in the remake. Luis’s role hasn’t expanded all that much, but I feel like small tweaks to his backstory (like the photo of him on a certain research team) and dialog about him (between Leon and Ashley after his death) make him feel more vital to the story. Leon maintains his golden retriever aloofness, particularly when it comes to Ashley’s subtle advances. I was so tickled when they started flirting in Chapter 9, when Ashley asks him if he does a lot of missions like this and he responds with the classic “well, yeah… but I’m not used to having such good company.” And, later, when Leon balks at Ashley’s suggestion that he wear a suit of armor, she says “too bad. I think you’d look pretty dashing.” Come on, man. Chemistry for days between these two! Except Leon later just has to drop the ball when Ashley suggests she could pull some strings and get him assigned to her security detail. Leon. My man. Get it together.

I should wrap things up, but I’ll rapid-fire some other things I loved. The controls, as with the recent third person RE games, are tight and responsive. The egg bit (using eggs as weapons against bosses) is a cute, silly Easter… well, you know. I am so happy they kept the Merchant mostly the same but expanded his lines. He is so sassy in this. The way he says, “See anything you like, Strange-uh?” gets me every time. The shooting gallery is seriously well-done. The unique design, sounds, commentary, gameplay… all great. I love the inclusion of classic character models for the briefcase charms (though why not let us use them in-game, like the Resident Evil 2 remake did?). Sound design is immaculate. All of my heart to the return of the white wolf.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but the last thing I’ll say is that I love the costumes and wish there were more of them. With them, I was able to take one of my favorite screenshots of all time. Look at these two. It looks like an old-timey Hollywood paparazzi photo where a famous celebrity couple are caught coming out of a diner. Leon coolly looking away, Ashley stunned by the crowd of flashbulbs. I love it.

And I love Resident Evil 4. Capcom has blown me away with how frequently they’re releasing just killer Resident Evil games. A bounty of riches. Having one team work on new entries and another work on remakes is genius, and it feels like a new RE game is always just around the corner. If the pattern holds, we should hear about Resident Evil 9 next, along with maybe a tease for the next remake? I can’t wait.

Big Ol’ Early 2023 Catch-up

*blows dust off imaginary typewriter* Hello again, old friend. Friends? I don’t know who I write these to, in reality. I maintain that this blog is a way for me to chronicle my history with video games mostly for myself, but I am aware that an occasional stranger or friend might pop in and read these overly long and rambling posts. So, to you, hello. It has been a while.

A lot has happened since I last wrote, not least of which is landing a dream job with PlayStation. It couldn’t have come at a better time, too. Last summer I was mid-crisis, anxious about finishing my degree and what came next. I got a call about a copywriting position I’d applied for just two weeks prior. I’d also applied for a game testing position, sure I’d never qualify for the writing position since it was far from entry level. When I got the call, I was certain it was for the testing job. Nope. I felt incredibly lucky and honored to even get a pre-interview call, and with each subsequent round of interviews I told myself that I was just really fortunate to have gotten that far. When I got the job offer, I lost it. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. Maybe I’ll write about it in more detail later but suffice to say it was quite a ride.

This post, as others in the past have, will focus on catching up on games I’ve played recently. Well, if eight months can be called “recent,” I guess. To manage the length (somewhat), I’ll abstain from saying much about games I’ve revisited. Animal Crossing New Horizons is currently pulling me back in, I replayed Ace Combat 7 to chip away at the platinum for that, I played Everybody’s Golf with friends until the second the servers were taken offline (RIP), and I still pop into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Party Superstars, and Phasmophobia on the regular. I also threw several dozen more hours into No Man’s Sky at one point. But let’s talk about newer experiences.

Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers

I’ve gushed about my time with the first Arcade Spirits game, so The New Challengers was one of my most anticipated games of 2022. The colorful art style and character design, the clever writing, the retro game scene vibe — I loved it all, and the sequel fine-tuned much of what I liked about its predecessor. I really liked the original cast of characters so my main concern going into the sequel was that I might not connect with the new crew as well.

Turns out, the team at Fiction Factory Games knows what they’re doing, and I loved the new cast as much as the old. I also really liked the competitive tournament storyline and the many choices you can make about your approach to the matches and Iris, besides the obvious relationship stuff. Speaking of, the first game touched on some interesting gender and sexuality things, and the sequel adds even more, including the ability to be in a poly relationship. I’m sure it’s not the first indie game to allow it, but it still felt pretty refreshing. And I took advantage of it, because it just so happened to involve my two top relationship choices: Grace and Jynx. Best of both worlds, babyyyyy. I do still wish there were character animations and even more customizable player character models, but maybe that will come in future installments – of which I hope there are many.

The Quarry

I’ve written about my love for Until Dawn and my mixed (but mostly positive) feelings for the Dark Pictures Anthology games, so The Quarry was one of the games I was very excited for in 2022. One thing that turned me off about some of the Dark Pictures games was the settings. While I appreciate the desire to let players experience several different horrific scenarios in several different settings, like a ghost ship or an ancient cave system, there’s something about the classic bunch-of-teens-in-the-woods scenario that scratches the classic slasher itch for me. The Quarry scratched that itch even more than Until Dawn, and while the latter is still my favorite in the series, I had a ton of fun with former.

I’ll avoid story spoilers here, but the story was indeed a highlight in this entry. Having good characters is a must for ensemble horror, and I haven’t liked a cast in the series this much since Until Dawn. There has been a likable character or two in each game, but I thought this whole lineup was strong. Ted Raimi was great as Sherriff Hackett, Siobhan Williams played a great final girl (sort of?), frickin’ Lance Henriksen? Ariel Winter? Great cast. My favorite character was Kaitlyn, played by Brenda Song, though. Not only was she “a baddie,” as the kids say, she was the kind of character that you’d actually want with you in a situation like that. Smart, strong-willed, and (almost) unflinching.

Good writing goes a long way in making a good story and good characters, though, and I thought the dialog writing in particular was much stronger in this game. There was an occasional cheeseball line or cringey joke, but those are part of the horror experience, too. For the most part, I thought the characters sounded believable and natural. The graphics were also, as always, excellent. I love the realistic horror movie look, plus with forced camera angles, moody lighting, and great animation, these games still feel like the closest thing we can get to a playable horror movie. I haven’t gotten the platinum trophy yet, but I can see myself going back and cleaning that up at some point. Supermassive Games puts these games out at a decent clip, too, so I hope I won’t have to wait very long for the next one.

Resident Evil Village: Winters’ Expansion

I can’t get enough of Resident Evil Village. Well, I can’t get enough of the Resident Evil series in general, which is why I’m super stoked for Resident Evil 4 Remake later this month. But Village holds a special place in my RE-heart, and not just because of the beautiful Lady Dimitrescu. Okay, so largely because of the beautiful Lady Dimitrescu. Get it? Largely? Because she’s very big? Ahem. No, I love a lot of what Village brought to the series. The graphics and design were stunning, the balance of eerie exploration and tense action was on point, and I was invested in the Winters family’s tragic tale.

The Winters’ Expansion is woefully lacking in vitamin D (as in the Lady), but it does continue Rose’s story right from the end of the main game. It’s a short experience but there are some very cool, scary scenes. Light content spoilers ahead, though I’ll avoid story stuff. You return to House Beneviento and are once again stripped of any weapons and required to sneak your way out, solving puzzles along the way. I loved that part of the main game, so I was very happy to see another level like it. The mannequins were very creepy, to the point where I sent a short video to a friend and they wrote back “oh hell no.” As a matter of fact, oh hell yes. I haven’t yet gone through the game in third person mode, but I do like that they’ve added that option for people who prefer that perspective over first. It was a short addition to the Village story but it was as beautiful and spooky as the main game, so I had a good time with it.


Stray blew up in a way that few could have gue… oh, who am I kidding? As soon as the trailer for this game was released, I think the combination of adorable cat and atmospheric robot city convinced me and many others that this was a sure hit. And that it was, deservedly so. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward game, with just a handful of puzzles and combat scenarios, but it’s incredibly charming and emotionally engaging. I mean, come on. It’s a cat. As a cat owner myself (hi, Bella! She can’t read this. She’s a cat. But I will read it out loud to her at some point), I was instantly invested in this little feline’s fate.

Slight spoilers for the beginning of the game, but right in the very first scene you’re already heartbroken. If you’re me (and at least one of my friends), your eyes are actually welled with tears by the scene that sets the adventure into motion. There are other moving moments as well, but overall this was just a sweet, lovely experience for me. Combat and running from enemies was tense, but later I could find a cozy shelf in a library bathed in soft lighting, curl up on a pillow, and go to sleep. And I could sleep for as long as I wanted. There’s even a trophy for sleeping a certain amount of time! And it’s that kind of thing that made me really appreciate this game. They got the cat-ness right. Rubbing up against robot legs, knocking things off shelves, scratching rugs and couches when I can… It’s not an intensely realistic cat sim, but it balances the right kitty notes with a world I wanted to explore and a story that engaged me. I really liked it.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare II

I hadn’t played a CoD in a while (since… the first Ghosts?), and Modern Warfare II seemed to be getting some buzz, so I decided to give the campaign a try. I finished it, and it retains much of what I liked about previous campaigns, though there were a couple of small annoyances. While I understand the desire to produce highly scripted action set pieces, and sometimes they work well, sometimes it just felt like I was set up to fail. I feel most immersed and a part of the action when everything seems inevitable and natural. When it’s obvious that a guy is scripted to kick in a door and blast me with a shotgun as soon as I step past an invisible line, I feel more like I’m an actor in a movie, hitting my mark. Yes, I understand that these kind of invisible triggers are in most games, but in MWII sometimes they result in immediate death. It was like the developers were trying to get across the point that war is hard and death is around every corner. Which, yes, duh. But you also want me to feel like a badass who’s taking out entire squads almost single handedly, so… these two things didn’t mesh for me. I am fine with challenging games when my deaths feel like my fault. I scold myself and try again. When I feel like the game is working against me and my deaths are the result of careful scripting, I feel far less engaged and more aware of the “gaminess” of it all.

Also, please, video game developers, I’m begging you to do some research on Lake Michigan before trying to depict the Chicago lakefront. This is not the first game where you can see lights across the lake from the city, but this might be the biggest budget one with the most people working on it. You’re telling me no one involved has been to Chicago or even looked at pictures of the lake from the city? Lake Michigan is massive. By surface area, it’s bigger than nine of the US states. It’s bigger than entire countries, like the Netherlands, Denmark, Croatia, Switzerland, and Taiwan (not combined). I understand that people see “lake” and think of, like, a lake where they might go kayaking with their family on vacation but… no. Please. Justice for Lake Michigan.

Seriously, what are those lights over the water? Get outta here.

Anyway, those gripes aside, I had a pretty good time with MWII. It looks amazing, as they often do, and the gunplay and movement feel as fluid as ever. One of my favorite things about the series is the variety when it comes to mission types. I can see how it might get old if you play every single entry, but I like breaching a desert facility with a squad, then firing on several escaping enemies from an airship above, then sneakily infiltrating an area solo, then crawling through muck to snipe a compound. I could probably have done without the vehicle hopping mission, but you can’t win ‘em all sometimes. Overall, it was a fun time.

Disco Elysium

I’ll keep this relatively short because Disco Elysium is a dense game with a lot to unpack. If you are a big fan of the game or just want to hear more, we recorded two episodes discussing it on our Pretty Pixels Podcast (which is now on potentially permanent hiatus, RIP), which you can find here and here. To sum it up, I really warmed to this game over the many hours I spent with it. It was a gradual climb that ended with me loving it. My first hour with the game felt slow and confusing. The second was slightly clearer, but I found myself wondering if this game was being obtuse just to seem complicated or nuanced. With each subsequent hour, my cynicism melted away and I could see purpose behind the design choices the developers made. The amnesia, the inner voices without context, the impact of player choice… like Harry’s memory, slowly things started to come into focus.

In the end, Disco Elysium tells a complex but beautiful (if tragic) story that is not just Harry’s. It’s yours. It’s Kim’s. It’s Elysium’s. It was a ride. I was surprised, I was moved, I was provoked to really consider things like government, identity, systems of power. I started my journey in a detached and cynical way, but ended up getting misty-eyed on several occasions, none of which I want to spoil. So, like other narratively rich games, I mostly have to just urge you to play it and experience it for yourself. It might seem confusing and, depending on your tastes, overly “artsy” at first, but if you stick with it I have a feeling you’ll get a lot out of it, as I did.

Gotham Knights

Poor Gotham Knights. Gamers on social media love a punching bag, and Gotham Knights really took a beating when it came out. As is often the case, it does seem that after the launch ire dies down, people start discovering it and there is an adjustment in public sentiment when people start realizing that it’s not nearly as bad as reactionary hot-take-baiters seemed to make it out to be. I played it alone and with a friend, and while I do agree with some of the valid criticisms of it (primarily that the city isn’t as filled with the kind of rich detail and love that we’ve come to expect), I had a good time and thought it was a solid Batman story.

Yes, the city design is uninspired, but I thought the characters looked great and I was frequently snapping screenshots of Batgirl (the only character I played as) kicking ass and gliding over rooftops. The opening cinematic was rad, as was the ending sequence. One of my favorite things about the game was the costumes, though. I don’t know if this is controversial to say, but the costumes are one of the few things this game does better than the Arkham games (though I do feel it’s unfair to the devs to keep making that comparison). Batgirl alone has the awesome Knight Ops, Eternal, Beyond, and Talon suits.

Online co-op was very fun, though when my friend and I got too far from each other, we did experience some slowdown. I also do wish that the cycle travel was faster, as it felt like I was dutifully obeying local speed limits rather than zipping dangerously through the dark streets of Gotham. Still, overall, I had a really good time with Gotham Knights and am always down for more Batman games where we get substantial story beats involving Bat Family characters we don’t see in games as often. On a last note, I would bet a very pretty penny that Harley Quinn’s appearance was based on Bridget Fonda. Seriously.


That same friend I played Gotham Knights with, Paul (hi, Paul!), had been recommending Thronebreaker to me (and every one of our podcast listeners at the end of every episode) for months, so we did a game swap. He is a huge Star Wars and Mass Effect fan, so I was absolutely shocked and appalled that he hadn’t played Knights of the Old Republic yet. That game played a critical role in deepening my love of Star Wars, plus it was the launch of my love of Bioware-style RPGs that have moral alignments, choices, romance options, and all that good stuff. What I am not typically a fan of is, uh… card games. Thronebreaker, dear reader, is a card game. But I do love The Witcher 3, so in the spirit of the swap, and to keep an open mind, I downloaded Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales and started my deck-based journey.

Right off the bat, I loved the art style. The thick comic lines, minor details, and subtle animations really made the maps, characters, and cards very pleasing to look at. Especially Queen Meve. Because she real purty. Ahem, where was I? Speaking of Meve, though, I very quickly became invested in the story. Again, no big story spoilers, but the plot involves Queen Meve being dethroned and her fight to win back her Queendom. The enemies are particularly well written, which is so important in revenge/vengeance stories because my drive to kill them painfully grows with each new slight or injustice they deliver. And my bloodlust was ready to burst once I got near the endgame. Okay, wait, I guess I should slow down and talk about the actual card battles. As I played the tutorial, and the game introduced rule after rule, and I could see how deep you could get into deck building and strategy. I could feel my brain going numb. I fumbled my way through the first few real battles before deciding to just use a guide for any battles I struggled with.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t many! I fought every battle I could for practice, and eventually I started to catch onto some of the patterns the game uses. An enemy would start laying down certain cards and I would think “ah, they’re trying to set me up for this. Well then I’ll do this.” So, yes, I did need help on occasion, but it didn’t diminish my experience. Every victory felt hard fought and my ultimate victory was very sweet. I didn’t get the best ending, because I made what I didn’t realize at the time was a bad decision, but my ending was pretty solid. Overall, I ended up having a ton of fun with Thronebreaker. And Meve can get it.

Dying Light 2

Oh, Dying Light 2. I really wanted to love you. I really do appreciate all of the work that goes into games, especially games with as many moving parts as Dying Light 2. And there are things I enjoyed in my time with the game. The gameplay loop, which is a big part of the experience, hooked me. Like the first game, I enjoyed doing runs, scoping out new places to raid, dodging zombies, levelling up, all that good stuff. And some of the early story beats, like liberating the first utility tower, made me excited about the narrative and my role in it. If you’d asked me when I was around a quarter of the way through the game what I would score it, I’d have said around an 8, maybe an 8.5. Unfortunately, that number steadily dropped as the game carried on.

Granted, some of my biggest gripes are with the last quarter of the game, which drags on at an uneven pace, making me wish at every turn that it would just end and leave me with my still mostly positive memories. But end it did not, and the final stretch had several sections that just slowed it down even more, like an infuriating and pointless duct crawling section and a terrible final boss. I got the “good” ending, but by the time I got it I just didn’t really care anymore. I was so annoyed by the last bit of the game. If I were just looking for an open world zombie game to pass the time with missions and side quests and such, I might have had a perfectly fine time. The story kind of ruined it for me.


I like to fit small indie games between bigger, AAA affairs, and Unpacking seemed like the perfect kind of low-stakes, chill, cozy experience to follow Dying Light 2 with. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was charming, the retro pixel art was adorable, the soundtrack was pretty bangin’, and the narrative was subtle, sad, sweet, and more. It’s a simple premise, obviously: click on a box to produce an object, find a place for it in a room (or rooms), and click on where you want it to go. You can turn things, move them around, or just lazily toss things where you like. Some things have a very specific location, and I did find myself a little frustrated when I couldn’t figure out where that spot was, but overall the game was pretty free and loose with where I could drop things.

Yet again, no major story spoilers, but I really loved the way the narrative unfolded in this game. Each room, each object, reveal new wrinkles in the story. You find yourself feeling like you really know this character you’re playing as, just by considering the kinds of items you’re handling and the space you’re unpacking them in. Each room contains clues, and this environmental storytelling felt new and rewarding. But my story might not be yours, or even “the” story. A friend of mine played and mentioned how sad it was that the player character [redacted]. But when I played, I didn’t read it that way at all. It’s not that either of us has to be “right” – we just experienced a different version of the same story. Which is pretty cool, I think. So, yeah, I loved Unpacking. While it is pleasant and charming, to call it a “palate cleanser,” as I was about to, is unfair to it, even if that’s how I used it. It’s a wonderful game in its own right.

FAR: Changing Tides

FAR: Changing Tides was another quiet, lovely game. Whereas Unpacking kept text to a minimum, FAR excludes it entirely. For a game about tending your ship, sailing the seas, and exploring the depths, the lack of narration or exposition felt appropriate. The sailing mechanics are simple and rewarding. You push in a heavy switch to raise your mast, carry down a cable to open the sail, and move the sail with a handle to control speed. You can stop quickly by releasing the handle and loosing the cable. These are the opening sailing controls, and I would have been happy enough with even just this simple setup. Slight progression spoiler, but as you get further you unlock a steam engine, then even more upgrades later. With the steam engine, you use trash you’ve collected from the seafloor or ruins as fuel, and must then balance the previously mentioned controls with occasionally feeding the engine and putting out any fires that might occur if you push it too far.

Things didn’t always go smoothly, of course, and dealing with storms, obstructions, and other barriers meant I had to always be on my toes in case I had to jump into action and halt the engine, drop the sail, and stop on a dime. This made travel itself a perpetual puzzle, but to unlock upgrades or a path forward, I also had to explore buildings, ruins, and more, solving pretty straightforward physics puzzles along the way. While these weren’t as fun as sailing, they were still rewarding, especially because I then got to scurry back to my ship, my home, my heart. The sometimes-smooth, sometimes-manic process of driving my ship was endlessly soothing. It made me wish for a fully 3D, open-world version, where I could literally just sail around and explore strange new places.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Man, what a blast of pure nostalgia. Shredder’s Revenge has learned the valuable lesson of recent excellent remakes and remasters, like the Resident Evil games and Metroid Prime Remastered in that it maintains the essence of the thing you once loved and polishes it with modern flair. In my fuzziest, most nostalgic memories of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the arcade game, it plays like a dream. When I revisited it a while back, I was reminded of the reality, which is that it is an arcade game designed to snarf up as many of your quarters as possible. It was purposefully unbalanced and, at times, unfair. We can’t have you just breezing through it on a few measly quarters, can we? Luckily, I played it in The Galloping Ghost Arcade, in Brookfield, Illinois, where you pay an entry fee and can then play as much of any game that you want. Infinite continues meant I could finally beat the TMNT arcade game that I never fully beat as a kid (though I did make it to Shredder a few times).

Shredder’s Revenge takes the fuzzy part of my memories with that classic arcade game and delivers them back to me in a beautiful retro package. The sprite work and animation are bright and beautiful, the soundtrack is bangin’, and the game plays like a cleaner version of what I remember the arcade game playing like with some added special moves unique to each character. It was a pretty short game, yes, but I was able to play the whole thing with a few of friends and had a lot of fun doing it. If I’d just played it solo it would have still been a good time, but there is something extra fun about picking heroes, helping each other, and experiencing something new with friends.

Twelve Minutes

Twelve Minutes, like Gotham Knights, was a bit of a victim of gamer ire on social media when it came out. I can understand why, given the level of Hollywood talent involved, the hype preceding release, and the admittedly awful narrative twist. Removed from the drama, though, I thought it was a pretty decent adventure game that reminded me of the simple joy of a point-and-click-style narrative mystery. Like those games, you investigate objects and points of interest, and, with the power of inductive reasoning, piece together a story. There were a couple of pieces that were a little frustrating to fit together, but overall it was a pretty satisfying loop. Get it? Loop? Like… a time loop? Never mind. Yeah, the twist was very dumb, and the voice acting was a bit of a mixed bag, but it was a short and ultimately decent experience.

Metroid Prime Remastered

Metroid Prime was one of the oldest games on my backlog. I loved my GameCube and was desperate for new, exciting releases after launch. At the time, Super Metroid was on a ton of “best games of all time” lists. I felt like I’d missed out by not playing it, so when Metroid Prime came around I was determined to not miss out. Unfortunately, a couple of things were conspiring against me. First, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released just a couple of weeks prior to Metroid Prime, and I wasn’t ready to move on from its sunny, retro, neon-washed streets. I shipped out for basic military training two months later, so a lot of that time was spent with friends, saying my goodbyes. I wouldn’t get my GameCube shipped to me until I was in technical training, more than three months later. I tried to start Prime while I was in training, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Too many distractions. Like its predecessor, it was held up as one of the best games of all time.

The years went by, sequels were released, and I just never got around to playing it. Then Metroid Dread came along, and I decided to play Super Metroid to prepare for the release of the much-hyped Dread. And I’m glad I did, because I fell in love with it. And Dread. And Samus Returns. And Fusion. Yes, I was a total Metroid convert. I had seen the green visor-tinted light. So when Metroid Prime Remastered was announced and shadow dropped, I snapped it up right away. As the other entries in the series are, it is truly an incredible game, and an amazing remaster. As others have pointed out, it doesn’t seem like a simple up-res. It sure seems like the graphics were completely replaced with new assets. Everything looks crisp and beautiful, and it runs as smooth as Chozo butter… if there is such a thing.

Much of what I loved about Metroid Prime is what I love about the series in general. It’s atmospheric, moody, challenging, and Samus Aran is a certified badass. Every time I got stuck with a puzzle, or struggled with a boss, I worried it was going to be a massive road block that would frustrate me and cause me to walk away. But apparently Retro and Nintendo know how to make video games, because the answer to my troubles were always within grasp. With a little patience and the willingness to approach things from a different angle, I was always able to overcome challenges. Ridley was a classic Metroid boss fight. My first attempt, he demolished me. How could I beat him? Should I look up a guide? After my second try, he still beat me, but I could see his patterns. I crushed him on the third try. I love Metroid Prime Remastered and I really hope they give the same treatment to Prime 2 and 3. Also, that Phazon Suit? Sexyyyyyy.

PowerWash Simulator

My time with PowerWash Simulator was brief but intense. I don’t know what it says about my brain, but pressure washing dirt and scum from every kind of surface, building, vehicle, and structure was supremely satisfying. I don’t really even know what to say about this game that’s not obvious. You have a pressure washer with several attachments that control the strength and size of your jet, and you use it to clean vehicles, buildings, carnival rides, ancient ruins, and more. The game is forgiving in the sense that you don’t need to blast away every single molecule of dirt on a segment of whatever you’re washing. If you get around 97%, it’ll auto-complete for you, which takes away a lot of the pressure (badum-csh) that you might get stuck because you can’t find what tiny patch you’re missing.

I played this game obsessively over the course of a couple of weeks, sometimes listening to podcasts while I worked. It felt oddly productive. Like, obviously I’m playing a game, but after I completed a particularly big, complicated job, I felt seriously accomplished. The very loose and silly story was charming, and there were a couple of very fun surprises throughout. I put the game aside after I finished the campaign, but I’ll definitely be picking it back up at some point to run through the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy VII content, and I hope Square keeps adding more levels from their IP catalog. Chrono Trigger sets, anyone?

God of War Ragnarök

God of War Ragnarök will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s the first first-party game we shipped during my time with PlayStation. I didn’t write for the game itself, just some support stuff, but seeing one of my fellow copywriter’s name in the credits was so exciting. And what a first game to be even loosely associated with. I loved God of War 2018, and I think Ragnarök surpassed it in every way. While it is a cross-gen game and doesn’t take full advantage of the PS5 hardware, it’s still gorgeous. Its beauty isn’t just about the fidelity of its graphics, though. It has exceptional character and level design, with obvious care and thought put into the smallest of details. A word of caution: visual spoilers in the pictures below.

The story and writing were also top-notch. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that they put a lot of work into each and every major character. Every line lands, and there are some really moving and breathtaking scenes. An excursion with Brock to retrieve a weapon (he said vaguely) was probably my favorite. A favorite side quest involved a couple of beautiful, glowing jellyfish-like creatures. I also love how they developed relationships between characters. Again, it’s hard to say much without spoiling anything, but the way that Kratos and Atreus’s storyline wraps up was better than I could have guessed. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for these characters.

The combat, new and old, was awesome, and [slight combat spoiler, if you haven’t already heard] I absolutely loved the spear combat. I liked the axe and blade combat from the first game a lot and, admittedly, I questioned whether a new weapon could match the simple yet rich potential of those two. It did – so much so that it quickly became my primary weapon. I also, once again, enjoyed the added complexity of using Atreus in combat to stun, distract, or damage enemies. Some random notes: the first fight with Thor was amazing. I love Fenrir. So much. I was excited to see Deborah Ann Woll, because I like her a lot. Freya is a baddie and can get it. Sif is a baddie who can get it. Sexy Valkyries are back, babyyyyyy. And the game was surprisingly funny, even more so than its predecessor. I have many more thoughts, but it’s hard to dive too deep without giving anything away. Suffice to say, I loved my time with God of War Ragnarök and it deserves all the praise it’s gotten.

Need for Speed Unbound

I wouldn’t call myself “a racing game person.” I don’t buy every big racing game, I don’t have a racing wheel, and I can be really picky when it comes to sim vs arcade racers. And yet some of my favorite games of all time are racing games. I’ve spent countless hours chucking shells in the Mario Kart games, I nearly hundred percented the first two Midnight Club games, loved knocking heads in Road Rash, and Burnout Paradise was one of my favorite games of all time. It’s been a while since I’ve played a great arcade racer, and since Need for Speed Unbound was getting some hype, I decided to check it out. I was worried that it might be another Forza Horizon experience, though, where people say it’s arcade-y but it ends up being more realistic. As is often the case, I worried for nothing. Before I knew it, I was sliding around corners, breaking dramatically through billboards, and taking down competitors with style.

It made me realize that one of the very specific things I look for in a racing game is controllable power slides. If I can’t slide recklessly around a curve, recover, and get right back in the race? Not for me. NFS Unbound definitely requires skill and focus, but it controls loosely enough to make races feel just the right amount of ridiculous. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had played many, many hours before having a sudden realization: this game reminds me of Burnout Paradise! From the basic design of the open world, to starting events, to breaking billboards, it’s all so similar. Weirdly enough, it was a very subtle thing that made it click: the way the camera swings around behind your car after completing an event. I was amazed… and then I looked it up and, uh, yeah, it’s the same developers. So… duh.

I also got very into making a rad wrap for my cars. When I first looked at the customization options, I wasn’t feeling it. I thought “eh, I don’t want to ruin my perfectly beautiful paint job.” I kept scrolling through the decals. “Oh, well… that one is pretty cool. Maybe just one decal.” Scrolled more. “Ooh, dang. Alright, maybe just two.” Two hours later and my car was completely wrapped. Tweaking my design and unlocking new decals via street art was fun. Tweaking my car’s performance and unlocking new parts was also very rewarding. My only real complaint is that the difficulty is not balanced very well. Between impossibly fast AI who will zoom past you with inferior cars to cops that conveniently t-bone you out of nowhere, it really felt like the game was working against me in unfair ways at times. In the end, though, I had an excellent time with Unbound. Even after finishing the campaign, I couldn’t get enough and drove around grabbing collectibles, cleaning up optional events, and popping a few final trophies.


I loved my PS VR, so I was thrilled when a follow-up was announced, especially because the specs for it were so impressive. I always said I would take power over portability, so I didn’t mind the fact that it would be wired, since that just meant it wouldn’t be hampered by mobile processors and would take advantage of the PS5 hardware. Well, I got one at launch and it’s fully lived up to my expectations so. Granted, I haven’t had it for long, but it has everything I wanted in a new VR unit: 4K (2K per eye) OLED displays, better tracking, headset see-through, controllers designed for VR, and it even has a couple of features I didn’t know I wanted (haptic headset feedback and eye tracking). It’s not the Ready Player One leap that VR skeptics seem to be waiting for, but it smooths out many of the last-gen rough edges and I’m just hyped for the library to grow. I do wish there was a media player on PS5 that supported VR, but maybe that’ll come later.

In terms of games, I bought a handful but haven’t played all of them yet. I got Before Your Eyes, Gran Turismo 7 upgrade, and Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, which I haven’t played yet. I played through the campaign for Tetris Effect Connected, but there’s not much to update there since I also played the original. Same with the few rounds of Pistol Whip that I tried. I played through the tutorial for Resident Evil Village VR, and while the game looks beautiful and the gunplay is surprisingly fun, it’s also the only game I’ve played so far that’s made me feel a little of the ol’ familiar VR sickness. I did play through the opening levels of What the Bat?, which were pretty fun.

Horizon Call of the Mountain

Again, I haven’t beat this game yet, but I’m a couple hours in and it’s great so far. It’s beautiful, the climbing is intuitive, the bow combat is precise and fun, and there are several fun little VR activities (like painting) to show off the medium’s potential. I love the Horizon games, so while I’ve been disappointed with the relative lack of Aloy, I am happy to just have an opportunity to explore the vibrant, colorful world. I’ll do a more thorough VR game post at some point, but for now I have to take another multi-month blog writing break. Just kidding! I think. I hope. No, seriously.

Itchy. Thirsty. My Time with Resident Evil Village

It’s absolutely clear to me that the people behind Resident Evil Village were beyond thirsty when making this game. Maybe the term “thirsty” will lose its colloquial meaning at some point in the future, so let me be clear for future readers: these developers were horny as hell. Sure, the Resident Evil series has had some very attractive characters in the past, but they were usually limited to one or two a game. A Jill Valentine here, a Leon Kennedy there. Sprinkle in a little Sheva Alomar if ya fancy. But Resident Evil Village is filled with characters that seem made to lust after, which is in stark contrast to Resident Evil 7, which had virtually no characters worth pining for. I imagine an early development meeting where the game’s director was like “okay, everyone, with the power of the new consoles and the versatility of the RE Engine, I want this game to be very, very pretty.” And someone on the design team whipped out a forbidden thirst notebook that they’ve been sketching in for years. Anytime they had to draw yet another throbbing, slick, pustule-ridden monster, they would take a break and draw a character they wanted to kiss and do the naughty with. That notebook became the core design doc for this game.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and start with my experience with the game. I’ve written about my love for the various Resident Evil games and characters in the past, so I guess for context I’ll just say that I’ve been a fan since the very beginning. I favor the earlier games and, like some other fans, was mostly turned off by some of the convoluted/silly twists and turns the series started taking. But I loved the new direction (also kind of throwback?) of Resident Evil 7 and I was all-in when I saw the first trailer for Village. Is there still silliness to be found? Sure. But Capcom has traded twisting, crisscrossing storylines for simpler narratives told in elaborate, well-crafted set pieces, much like the earliest games in the series. When I say that Resident Evil 7 and Village go back to the roots of what made the series special, that’s what I mean. I don’t mean that they’re returning to shuffling zombies and Raccoon City. They’re returning to interesting premises that are then fleshed out with minimal story and maximum atmosphere, and an attention to detail in world building.

We can see evidence of this shift even in how Capcom has handled the naming and marketing of Resident Evil 7 and Village. RE 7 was introduced as Resident Evil Biohazard, but many quickly took to calling it Resident Evil 7. The Biohazard moniker wasn’t just a tribute to the series’ Japanese title, which has always been Biohazard, though. Capcom treated RE 7 as a spiritual refresh of the series. New characters, new setting, new biological weapon type (fungus), new perspective. Old level design, themes, storytelling, atmosphere. I believe Capcom used Biohazard because they wanted the game to reach a new audience, and one thing that deters many gamers from a new entry in an old series is numbers. How many times have you heard (or asked yourself) “do I have to play the other games in the series to play this one?” The next Final Fantasy game is Final Fantasy XVI. 16! And there are still plenty of people who aren’t sure how the series works or whether or not you need to play previous titles in order to ‘get’ the newest entry. So, Capcom wanted players to think of RE 7 as a new title that was wholly unconnected from previous titles so that they could hop right in without worrying about feeling lost or confused about who a character was or why you were doing certain things. I don’t know how well it worked, though, because, as mentioned, people instantly began calling it RE 7 and not Biohazard. With Resident Evil Village, however, in some of the earliest interviews with developers about the game, they insisted this game be called Village. Yes, there is a very clearly highlighted VIII in the word “Village,” but when asked if this game was “Resident Evil 8,” the team stood fast and insisted that it was Resident Evil Village, probably for the same reason as with RE 7: they want to market it to people who may have never played a Resident Evil game before. This time, however, I think it worked. I hear the occasional person say “Resident Evil 8,” but for the most part both the gaming press and people I’ve seen on social media or Twitch refer to this entry as Resident Evil Village.

Whatever you call this entry, I loved it. I finished my fourth playthrough recently, a hardcore run, and I plan on getting the platinum trophy for it soonish. The above-mentioned blend of classic RE elements with gorgeous new settings and characters was a winning combo for me. In the early RE games, the pace was generally slow, plodding even, punctuated by moments of terror as you navigated just a few familiar spaces. Starting with Resident Evil 3, the series began working toward the concept of forward motion, where you’re constantly moving from one set to the next. It traded atmospheric horror for the anxiety of having to always be ready to act and react. I never felt like they got the balance between those two things right, if they were even trying. But with Village, it’s about as close as you can get. There are several areas in the game, each with its own style, design, enemies, and more. In some, the pace is slow and you’re meant to puzzle your way through various rooms. In others, you’re moving quickly and aren’t too concerned about exploration because the pressure is on and you have shit to get done. Maybe this blend of the two approaches to the RE formula will leave ardent fans of either upset that the game doesn’t lean heavily one way or the other, but I thought it made for a dynamic experience where in one stretch I was stressed and in distress, and in another I could take my time and explore the gorgeous scenery.

Speaking of gorgeous scenery, I really want to talk about how beautiful this game is. I’m not talking about the sexy thirst traps yet. We’ll get there. Keep your pants on. Pants on, eyes up, because we’re talking about some ceilings. There is so much visual detail in this game that I legitimately can’t fully do it justice in either writing or pictures. Virtually none of the screenshots I’m sharing really represent these visuals in their full glory. I do want to focus on a few examples of the graphics and visual design, though, and ceilings are one of them.

Our beloved Lady Dimitrescu’s castle is much like the lady herself: huge, beautiful, elegant, and I want to be inside it. Wait, what? Shhh. Let’s move on. At every turn I was overwhelmed by the level of detail in each new room or space I entered. Chairs, tables, shelves, a delicate teacup stained with lipstick and blood, a lace shawl draped over a regal couch with two black gloves thrown carelessly nearby. At some point I realized I’d also constantly been looking up at each new ceiling I stepped under. Ceilings in video games have long been an afterthought for game designers. Real house designers, too, I guess, but why would video game ceilings ever need to be unique and detailed? There’s never much of a reason to look at them. Yet here I was, constantly tilting the camera up to appreciate the virtual, digital woodwork, paint, and sculpting. I know that the designers use some kind of high resolution scanning technology to photograph objects and then render them in-game, so maybe these are real ceilings in some real castle or estate in Europe, but either way I was weirdly blown away by the care and attention that went into something as minor as this.

Something I liked more broadly about the game’s visuals was the variety of textures and the way light interacted with those textures. I’ve gushed about the RE Engine’s ability to render realistic looking surfaces before, but with the power of the PlayStation 5 at their disposal, the development team really went all out in producing an incredibly impressive variety of unique textures for this game. Again, these pictures don’t really do the game justice, but I want to talk through a few, starting with one that I think highlights how many different detailed and unique textures you encounter in the castle alone.

Maybe the picture above doesn’t look super impressive here, but if you get close to anything in this photo you’ll find a realistic surface that reflect the soft light from the window in its own way. The fabric of the carpet looks and “feels” different than the fabric of the decorative chair. The wood on the floor has a different grain and reflective surface than the wood of the wall or the wood of the chair or the wood of the small table. The canvas of the painting looks like canvas. The frame looks hand carved. The peeling wallpaper looks at once dated and perhaps formerly elegant, and it reflects both the light and shadow of the window and curtains. I could go on, but again, this is just one picture.

Also, I’m calling them “textures,” but for the majority of 3D gaming history, “texture” usually meant 2D art on a flat surface, meant to give the appearance of “texture.” So, a grass “texture” might have been mottled and green, maybe with some hash marks, to make it look, at a glance, like grass. Over time, other 2D elements were added, like clumps of tall grass, to increase the believability, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that some versatile video game engines were able to render surface to actually look like they had a texture and weren’t just 2D pictures plastered on a polygonal surface. The RE Engine is one of those engines. If you look at some of the surfaces in these pictures, like the floor here:

Or the table here:

You’ll see that things like imperfections, grooves, or separations, are actually rendered in 3D, meaning they’re affected by light and shadow as they would be in a real 3D space, which makes them look incredibly realistic. And these kinds of textures are everywhere. The basement floor in Donna Beneviento’s house, for example:

As soon as I saw it I knew what that floor felt like. I’m no interior designer or architect, so I don’t know if it’s glossy concrete or some other kind of poured material, but I just know that it’s hard, cool, and smooth, just by looking at it. And, again, you can see that it’s uneven, and the light reflects off of it as if those slight, broad bumps and waves are really 3D and not just a flat picture. I’m giving a lot of credit to the engine, but I think the actual visual artists deserve tons of credit, too, not just for the overall design of these spaces and elements, but for the amount of detail that they put into these designs as well. I went on a whole tear about Leon Kennedy’s radio case when I wrote about the RE 2 remake, and now I want to do the same for Donna Beneviento. I should give a general [SPOILER WARNING] here, because I’ll be getting into some light spoilers here, and then major spoilers later (especially in the pictures). Donna Beneviento is a great character, and I’ve seen some people claim that she “steals the show” from Lady D (blasphemy). And yet, we barely see her. She’s in, I think, two scenes (and a couple of very brief flashes), and you barely get a good look at her before she turns to dust. But let’s look at the level of detail they put into a character we’ll see on screen for less than five minutes, total:

Okay, so this isn’t her whole design, but there is one detail I want to laser focus on. Is it the lace doll dress, which has actual holes in the surface and isn’t just a picture of holes? No. Nor is it the thick fabric of Donna’s dress, the etched bone of the doll, the soft wood grain of the chair, or any of the other impressive surfaces and details of this model. You’ve probably guessed it by now, but it’s her hands. And not just the fine lines and creases of her skin, which are very realistic looking, but her nails:

Look at them! They are flawed and imperfectly perfect. Her nails have grown out a few days since they were painted, as evidenced by the fact that we can see some bare nail at the base, near the quick. The paint on her pointer finger looks bumpy, as if her first coat was uneven (or the nail itself is bumpy). The paint on the middle finger looks very smooth and glossy, and the light reflecting on it is clear and shiny. On her ring finger, however, the light is softer and more absorbed than reflected, which seems to indicate that she might have scuffed that nail or messed up the last coat of paint. And look at the little chip near the edge! All of this detail on a hand that virtually no one who plays the game will get close enough to see in their playthroughs. Might the visual designers have scanned in a real person’s nails and just mapped them on a model in the game? Maybe. Either way, a lot of care and thought went into these choices, it seems to me, and I will never shut up about how impressed I am by the visuals of these games. I legit want to live in either Castle Dimitrescu or House Beneviento. Elon Musk is running around spending all this money blowing up spaceships when he could be building an exact replica of one of these homes for me and I will never forgive him for that.

Visuals, aside, I found the gameplay to be surprisingly smooth and responsive. There’s a throwaway line in the very beginning the game that reveals that Ethan has been through military training, so maybe that’s why he’s so much steadier and more adept at using firearm than Leon Kennedy was in RE 4. When you tried to aim any weapon with Leon, it was like he was doing so while being tickled. He could not keep his aim straight. Ethan aims, reloads, and changes weapons like a pro, and it made for very satisfying combat, which is something I’m not used to in RE games (not that it was ever the point). With such precise aiming, shooting shambling zombies might be a breeze, but as with other recent RE games, the developers make up for it with enemies that have erratic, only semi-predictable movement. Lycans will walk menacingly, then suddenly shift to a low dash using their arms, then stand up and side-step a shot. Ghouls will shamble, like zombies, and lazily loll their heads or jerk their upper bodies dramatically to swing a weapon. The combination of precise weapon handling and erratic enemy movement meant that I mostly felt in control of situations, but when shit went sideways or I began to get overwhelmed, I panicked. I like that balance in RE games.

As far as the story goes, there are certainly some silly, anime-esque aspects (I mean, you fight a flying vampire dragon lady, a fishman, and a giant mech dude, all in the same game), but it all made sense in the context of the new storyline that started in RE 7. I especially liked the idea that this fungus, able to transform only specific types of people, was around for centuries in Europe and is likely the source of many mythic characters and creatures that we’re familiar with, like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and more. It’s an interesting if minor twist on the original concept of a virus being the source of modern zombies. I’m not necessarily fully invested in Ethan’s story, but I thought they told his tale well. Do I think he’s really dead? Probably not, unless the developers want him to be. If his seeming unpopularity affects their decision, it would be easy to leave him dead. He did blow up, after all. But they wrote themselves a nice little insurance policy that would allow them to bring him back, too. Chris Redfield and his Blue Umbrella crew are in the area to investigate this new type of mold, and in one audio clip right near the end of the game, one of Chris’s team mentions that testing shows this new mold is very different than the mold found in Louisiana in RE 7. It’s revealed, again near the end of the game, that Ethan actually died in RE 7 and is, himself, a mold monster. How does he have all of the memories and mannerisms of the real Ethan, then? Well, they also explain that the European strain of mold has a huge underground root system that acts as a database, storing any and all DNA that it comes in contact with. It’s how Mother Miranda, the game’s antagonist, plans on bringing her dead child back to life. Her DNA is stored in this “database” and Miranda has been seeking a vessel to transfer her daughter’s essence into. If this mold has a “database,” it stands to reason that the mold in Louisiana did/does as well, given that Evelyn (the antagonist of that game and a test copy of Miranda’s daughter) was able to commune with all mold creatures in the area and communicates with Ethen now, who she recreated through potentially similar means. If that’s true, Ethan’s essence is still alive and able to be transferred to a new vessel or reformed by Evelyn at any time.

In another twist, the BSAA shows up in the final assault, and it’s revealed that they were using bioweapons that looked like ghouls in tactical gear to infiltrate Heisenberg’s compound. Chris is confused, and I think we are supposed to also be confused as the audience, especially given that at the very end of the game Chris says that he’s going to BSAA headquarters to investigate. There is one clue that I noticed on Heisenberg’s very low-effort, basic-ass conspiracy board that I think explains why the BSAA was there:

Heisenberg was creating an army of bioweapons in his factory. There were literal production lines of bioweapons constantly cycling in the background of the main factory floor. In his notes, he reveals that he is trying to create an army to challenge Miranda and basically rule the world. On this board, he very clearly writes “BSAA Come!!” While this could mean a few things, it makes me think that he summoned the BSAA, perhaps with the intent of partnering with them or selling them his bioweapon army. It can’t be a coincidence that the BSAA happens to be using bioweapon soldiers when they show up to a facility that’s manufacturing bioweapon soldiers. Either Heisenberg called them or he simply predicted they would come. I have a hard time believing the latter, given the lack of contextual evidence.

There’s so much more I could talk about but we’re getting long in the tooth here and I need to cover the most important aspect of this game, which is what you’re here for anyway, right? Let’s get to it. These character designers take the term “horny on main” to a new level. Instead of publically pining after virtual sexy people, they just went ahead and created them. A game full of them. The most obvious, of course, is Lady Dimitrescu and her lovely, bite-y daughters.

Besides being featured prominently in the game’s promotional material, sexuality is just a part of their design. Even as the Dimitrescu “daughters,” Bela, Daniela, and Cassandra, are hunting me down to kill me, they’re seemingly in an erotic frenzy, talking about tasting my man blood, tying me up, and shouting things like “don’t you love me?” as I attack them. They chain me up, sniff at a handkerchief that has my blood on it, and are desperate to “consume my man flesh.” When they catch me and chomp into my neck, their eyes roll back into their heads in ecstasy. Yes, most of this is about them wanting to eat me, but their mannerisms and tone are undeniably sexual. And look at them! They’re just sexy, vampy, Nicks-ian babes.

I really loved this flirty little flip of the handkerchief

Our most cherished and worshipful Lady D is, of course, the most famous of the sexy characters in this game, though, and my only complaint concerning her is that she wasn’t featured more prominently. That’s not a real complaint. I knew going in that she was probably just one of several major characters, but I love her design and personality so much that I just want more. So much is made of her size, but that is on the lower end of her most attractive qualities in my eyes. A huge part of it is just how she holds herself and her mannerisms. She is constantly aware of her posture and pose, and moves with determined grace. She doesn’t just command her daughters to string me up – she does so with a stylish flourish of her hands before placing them firmly on her hips. In her argument with Heisenberg, she booms at him with a commanding voice before switching effortlessly to a soft lilt and tossing her head back to show her superiority. Yes, I understand all of this makes her sound like a bitch. And she is. A big, boss-ass bitch. And that is hot. Her fair skin and dark eyes, peeking out from her wide, stylish hat don’t hurt either. I should note that she wasn’t as scary and intimidating as Mr. X from RE 2. If Mr. X caught you, there was a chance that he’d insta-kill you, but other than slashing at me, Lady D didn’t seem to have that ability, which was kind of sad. It would have made it that much scarier. I wish they’d either added an insta-kill move, or a hug move. That would have worked, too.

If I ever become wealthy, my first move will be to hire someone to recreate this for me

There are plenty of other sexy characters in the game, but there were two that surprised me. No, not Heisenberg and Chris (though I was actually surprised at how many people I’ve seen thirsting after Heisenberg. Really?). We’ve already talked about the first: Donna Beneviento. Okay, okay, so she has some issues and she is incredibly shy when it comes to showing her face. But she is a major, under-the-radar beauty. Yes, she plays with dolls, but I have shelves and shelves of action figures, statues, and amiibo, so if she can make Batman or Princess Peach fly around and talk, I’m going to take that as a fun party trick. She also loves games! We played hide-and-seek and tag. So. I’m just saying, I don’t think it would be hard to convince her to sit down and play some games with me. She would love Little Big Planet! And, like my high school self, she has a majorly goth, black-centric wardrobe. She doesn’t have Lady D’s presence, but I think we could make it work.

Lastly, the big baddie herself, Mother Miranda is a stone cold fox. And a stone hearted monster. A minor detail. Look at her!

I don’t know nearly as much about her as the others, because she doesn’t have her own house that I can snoop through to get a sense of who she is and how she lives. I know that she tore a baby apart and put it in jars that she gave to her friends. Which, you know. Not cool. She also did so in order to get a new version of her old baby, and I’m not necessarily looking for kids right now, especially of the moldy variety, but… well, that’s all I got. She’s hot. That’s about it. She’s got the face of an angel and six wings to match. The developers of this game were thirsty as hell and it came out in all of these designs, but you know what? I am not complaining. After a whole run of games filled with bulgy eyeball creatures and slimy mutant blobs of teeth and tentacles, I will take a slew of sexy ladies.

And their plus ones, I guess

Okay, I have to let you go, but I have so many thoughts about this game so I will just randomly throw out some final blurbs. I was disappointed by how they treated The Duke’s character. Many people seem to like him, but his design is very fatphobic. My first run of the game was surprisingly easy. I didn’t mind, though, and the hardcore run was, indeed, pretty tough. I’ve seen people claim that the House Beneviento part of the game “rips off” PT. It certainly seems inspired by it, but the game borrows from tons of horror media, including Dracula, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Saw, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more. If anything, it seemed like homage to PT, particularly given the fact that there is little chance Silent Hills, the game that PT was a demo for, will ever come out. I was one of the people that thought Chris might become a werewolf at some point, but I wasn’t necessarily upset that he didn’t. He was a little more brusque than I would have expected. With how much Ethan suffered, and his pierced hands, and his sacrifice and resurrection, it’s hard not to see him as a Christ figure. I thought the concept of family was super interesting, especially given the previous game’s focus on it as well. Evelyn, in the previous game, was made from a sample of Miranda’s daughter’s DNA, right? And she was obsessed with family. She kept looking for a family. Miranda, her sorta-kinda mother, in this game, is also deeply concerned with family. Also, Evelyn seems to make Ethan as a mold creature, and he’s also obsessed with family and will do anything he can to protect/save his daughter, Rose. Was he “programmed” to do that by Evelyn? Hmm. I didn’t mind the action-packed Chris section at all. After being so precious and careful about my ammo and aim for most of the game, it felt cathartic to just let loose. Lastly, who is this figure in the very last shot of the game? They’re walking on the road in the far distance, and they’re far too small to make out any features, but I don’t for a second believe this was just a random design choice.

Spring Cleaning 2021

I just wrapped up the spring semester last week, and as usual, it was a bit hectic. I’d planned on keeping up with these posts, especially because I’ve recently played some games that I had lots of thoughts about, but ‘twas not to be. So, given that two of my most anticipated games of the year are coming out this week and next (Resident Evil Village and Mass Effect Legendary Edition), I figured I’d do a spring cleaning, as it were, and just jot down some brief thoughts about the many games I’ve played since my last post. These aren’t even all of the games, actually. I’ve continued to play Ghost of Tsushima and Minecraft with friends, I played a bunch of VR games with my family, and I’m finishing up a platinum trophy run of Arcade Spirits on PS5 since I picked it up on sale and was itching to replay it anyway. It’s been fun seeing the other romance options, but Naomi is still #1 bae. I just read that the sequel, Arcade Spirits: The New Challengers is coming out early next year, so my hype for that will slowly be rising. Anyway, let me stop jabbering and get to… more jabbering.

Life is Strange 2

When I saw the trailer for Life is Strange: True Colors in March, I was reminded that I’d never gotten around to the second game in the series. I played and loved both the first game and Before the Storm, and I’d purchased LiS 2 in a sale, but I just never played it. Given that I’m writing this, I think you can guess that I ended up giving it a shot. Wouldn’t that be the worst twist? Write out a whole prelude about how I’ve been meaning to play each of these games and then just move on. No, no. I did play it, and I mostly really liked it. It follows the same formula of the previous two games, including having your character keep a journal. Where Max was big on snapping photos in the first game, our new protagonist, Sean, will find a quiet place to sit and sketch his surroundings, which you do several times throughout the game. You also collect little trinkets and sometimes if you investigate something in the environment while you’re exploring, Sean will write about it or add a little sketch to the journal. I love these kinds of charming details in these games. It goes a long way in developing these characters and complicating the story that is more directly told via dialogue and cutscenes.

There was a lot I liked about the game, but my main complaint has to do with just how much of a bummer the story was. I wouldn’t hold that against it in an objective review. Some of my favorite stories are tragedies. I think the game says some serious and important things about timely issues, like racism, the US justice system, homelessness and more. And I think it handles those issues pretty well. But, I tell you what, it makes for a depressing ride. The narrative structure is what I’ve come to call “tiered tragedy.” I don’t know if that’s a real phrase, but I couldn’t get it out of my head as I was playing it. The other games in the series might also be called tiered tragedies, as would something like The Walking Dead. In these kinds of narratives, our characters never seem to catch a break. There is a tragedy at the very beginning of the story (a popular girl goes missing, a father is killed, a zombie apocalypse), and our characters are ushered from one tragedy to the next, seemingly endlessly. They can never really catch a break, because any time they find some time to rest or begin to rebuild their lives, the narrative structure demands that they encounter a new tragedy, probably worse than the others. In LiS 2, this meant that no matter how hard I tried to make Sean a good brother, an honest survivor, a heroic figure, I seemingly just kept being punished for it. And, like I said, I wouldn’t say that this makes it a bad game. It just left me feeling kind of defeated in the end. There is no “happy” ending, as I verified by looking them up after I finished the game and got a pretty sad ending. Turns out it was one of the better ones. There is definitely a place for stories like this in games, though, and that sense of hopelessness may very well have been a part of the point of the game. These characters, Sean and Daniel, are not only burdened with being Hispanic during a time in the US when a violent, vocal minority despises them, they’re further  marked by this new tragedy that makes them orphans, criminals, and transients. What kind of life do they have ahead of them, even with the “happiest” of endings? But, again, maybe that’s part of the point. It’s hard to succeed and overcome tragedy when the system fails you again and again.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas was another game I’d been meaning to play for quite some time. “Some time” being, uh, just over a decade. Jesus. When “newer” games on your backlog are ten years old, you know with some certainty that you’re getting old. Sigh. Anyway, I absolutely loved Fallout 3 when it came out, and I spent many an hour scouring that game’s fictional Washington DC/Virginia wasteland. I collected every bobblehead, did every single mission I could find, and squeezed every ounce I could out of the story and world. So, playing New Vegas seemed like a no-brainer. I was a little worried that it was being developed by Obsidian, which by that time I’d only known as the developer of the very good but very buggy Knights of the Old Republic II, so when the reviews for New Vegas started coming out and reviewers complained about the many bugs, I grew even more worried. I hated the idea that I might encounter a game breaking bug 20 hours in. My friend, Ron, did play it at launch, and he reported that he encountered something very much like that. So I put the idea aside and told myself I’d come back to it after it was patched. And I did! Plus… an extra decade.

Anyway, let’s get to the game already. Like Fallout 3, this was a huge game, and I spent a lot of time with it. I didn’t quite exhaust every side mission and collect every snow globe, but it was pretty close. I started playing on my old PS3, but I ran into some technical issues with it so I switched over to playing it via PlayStation Now on my PS5, and near the end of the game I was plagued by some very annoying hitching. Between that and the encroaching release of Resident Evil Village, I sort of rushed through the final stretch of the game. When I started, though, I was at first a little put off by the graphics. Well, not the graphics. The movement. The game seemed very dark, and there was a certain amount of motion blur that made me feel… odd. I’d never run into that in a game before. I turned the brightness up and decided to press on, and I’m glad I did. As soon as I began doing quests for the townsfolk in the opening area, I could sense that same magic that I’d loved about Fallout 3. Roaming the desert, helping friendly strangers, sticking it to the scum that would take advantage of the less fortunate, stumbling upon stories and relics from people that died long ago in the war or shortly after.

This game, more than the other two I’ve played, really plays up the concept of factions and their conflicting motivations. There were so many factions, major, minor, and even medium, and I truly had a difficult time choosing how to deal with some of them. I supported the NCR from the beginning, but I found myself trying to be at least somewhat diplomatic with the other factions so that they wouldn’t stand in my way at the final battle with Caesar’s Legion. Sometimes that meant actually helping them out, and sometimes that meant killing or ousting the current leadership and inserting someone who was easier to influence. It was much more complicated than I expected, but I appreciated it. The final battle could have been a little more engaging, but overall I loved this game, as I could have guessed I would. Oh, and for my primary companion, I went with Veronica as much as I could. Who doesn’t want Felicia Day following them around, punching heads off and quipping wise? As for my second companion, I switched pretty regularly between ED-E and Rex, a very good boi.

Emily is Away ❤

I was looking forward to this game from the minute Kyle Seeley, its developer, announced it. I loved the first two games in the series, Emily is Away and Emily is Away Too, in part because of how they tapped so directly into my nostalgia by taking place entirely in AOL Instant Messenger chat windows. The third game takes place in a fictional version of Facebook (Facenook) in 2008. Setting aside, the game’s narrative plays out just as the previous two did, via a series of chats with other characters. I named my character after myself, selected the pixelated profile picture that looked most like me (which wasn’t very close at all – I’d love future installments to allow actual character creation, but given that one dude makes these, I doubt it will happen), and jumped in, ready to find love… I hoped.

I don’t want to spoil much of the story, but I will say that I liked the writing a lot. The interactions seem very real and believable, and there were so many scenarios that seem ripped straight from my early years on social media. It’s what these games are really good at. They simulate memories that I’d nearly forgotten all about. There is something exciting and visceral about flirting with these virtual characters, in part because they stimulate real feelings I once had doing that exact thing. Unfortunately, as with the other two games, warm and fuzzy flirtation isn’t the only mood the game simulates. As I said, I won’t spoil anything, but there are several endings, and after my first playthrough I was bawling. I was hurt, and it felt a little too real. Just as with the happy emotions, I was all too familiar with the sad feelings of distrust, inadequacy, rejection, and abandonment.  I felt like I’d done everything right, and yet things just didn’t turn out my way. And that was the most painful part, I think, because that’s the kind of thing that goes through your head when a real relationship falls apart. In both cases, I was left looking back and wondering what I did wrong. Maybe if I’d done this different or said that another way… but that kind of thinking, as it is in real life, changes nothing. You have to move on. So I did. My second playthrough ended much, much better. Fuck Emily. Evelyn 4 ever. That should be the next game’s title.

Peggle 2

I don’t have much to say about Peggle 2. I played and loved the first game, and this entry is more of the same. The concept seems so simple, but there is a surprising amount of skill involved. Yes, you basically just launch a ball into a screen of pegs and hope for the best. But once you start getting the hang of it, you begin to see better and better ways to aim your ball, resulting in awesome chain reactions that result in those oh-so-satisfying endings that the series is known for. The new Peggle Masters are just as cute and charming as the first game’s, with Luna being my clear favorite. So spooky and cute. These games are old and I decided to play this one for the first time on a whim, but I do wish PopCap had churned out a couple more over the years.


Tender is an iOS game that simulates the dating app Tinder. You eventually learn that you are a human that’s travelled to an alien planet in search of… love? Maybe? You swipe through a variety of quirky, hand-drawn aliens, each with a short bio. These profiles aren’t as expansive as real dating profiles, but you see some familiar lines and attitudes. If you match with someone, you chat with them in much the same way as you do in Emily is Away. You choose between 2-3 dialogue options, and then tap your phone to pretend to type it out. If your conversation sparks interest, the other person (?) proposes a date, which you schedule in real time, meaning you have to actually pick up your phone and virtually meet the person at the time and date that you selected. If you forget, they understandably get pissed. It’s a very cool and interesting concept, and there is lots of cool and unique artwork in the game, but ultimately I walked away feeling underwhelmed. Part of the reason for this was that, of the eight or nine characters I chatted with, none of them went particularly well. What’s worse is, apparently the game asks for the name of your real life ex at some point (which I had forgotten and had to be reminded of by Tab, the friend who recommended the game) and it introduces them as one of the characters you can swipe on and romance. Not realizing this, I thought the name was a coincidence and swiped right on her. I then had to virtually chat and romance (and, ultimately, try and fail to reject) my ex. Not cool, man.

Layers of Fear

I love horror movies and games, but something the two share is that there are plenty of crappy releases of each. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because there are some people who voraciously consume any and all horror, regardless of quality, and more power to them. I just don’t have the time to check everything out, and some of the bad stuff is, like, annoyingly bad. So, I was I hesitant to try Layers of Fear until I heard Brittney Brombacher recommend it on the What’s Good Games podcast. I’ve listened to that podcast enough to know that Brittney’s tastes pretty closely align with mine, so I figured I would give this game a shot.

While it does have the hallmarks of B level horror (less-than-stellar voice acting, cheap scares, weak writing), it also plays around with environment and expectations in some cool ways. I really like when horror games mess with perspective, perception, and other visual components. It’s why I loved Eternal Darkness on the GameCube so much, and why I’ve wanted them to make a sequel. LoF starts out as a pretty standard spooky-mansion game, then devolves more and more into an exploration of nightmare imagery. While I did appreciate the mind-bending visual puzzles, I was also a little sad that the story was told in an unsatisfying way, seemingly in service of the visual spooks. Where the story ended felt very different than where it began, so I almost wonder if they had given us more chances to revisit the mansion in its original state, knowing what we know later in the game, if the story’s conclusion would have felt more grounded. Maybe none of this makes sense if you haven’t played the game, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers, since this game is a mystery, too.

Sakura Succubus

I was tipped off to this game by that same friend, Ron, from the famed New Vegas blurb (above). “Play it and tell me how it is,” he said. Fine. I’ll play the erotic hentai game. For you. For friendship. Okay, so maybe it’s for friendship and maybe it’s because I’ve played a few other sexy-type games. Either way, I played it and was mostly disappointed. It’s rated M, but it’s hardly all that scandalous. It’s suggestive, at best, and despite the game’s tagline of “There’s no shortage of women to woo!”, there are only three. Three women to woo. If that’s not a shortage, it’s gotta be pretty close. I mean, granted I am single, so three women is a surplus to me, but in terms of a fantasy dating sim/visual novel, I’d count three as a shortage.

I didn’t hate this game, because it did have a few funny lines and some of the art was pretty decent. But that’s about all I can say about it. The reason I tend to avoid many visual novels is that they rely almost exclusively on two things: writing and art. There are rarely any gameplay systems or puzzles or even very much in the way of animation. They’re mostly static images and text, so if those elements aren’t interesting, impressive, or engaging, I get bored very quickly. This is where my main issue with this game lies. It has an interesting enough premise, and some of the static images are cool, but there isn’t very much variety in terms of different character poses, expressions, or minor graphical variations, and the writing is pretty bad. I don’t always like to criticize writing in games, because it’s historically been less than impressive to begin with, but the writing in this game contains the kinds of things they tell you not to do in writing classes and workshops. You’ll click through a scene, then the next scene begins with your character waking up and walking you through what you just did. Like “My memory’s a little hazy, but I remember talking with that sexy lady at the bar, and I followed her back to her place where she seduced me, and then I…” We just did that! Why do me need a recap! There is also a lot of unnecessarily elevated adjective work. It’s one of those things they try and break in novice writers. If you mean “face,” you should probably just say “face.” Put the thesaurus down. No one calls it a “visage” anymore. I’ll end on a positive note and say that this was the easiest platinum trophy I’ve ever gotten, though. I literally just clicked through a story for a couple of hours and *badoop* Platinum Trophy Unlocked.

Resident Evil Extravaganza (Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil Code: Veronica, Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil Village Demos)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve recently felt like I could revisit old games without feeling like I was wasting my time (thanks, anxiety). Because of that, I decided to go back and finally, finally finish Resident Evil 0, the only mainline game in the series I haven’t finished. I’d started it twice and never got past the first or second boss, respectively. I think part of it was that I wasn’t a fan of switching characters frequently or the new inventory system, so for this run I decided to use a guide and lower the difficulty to easy. I probably could have just stuck with normal because it ended up being very easy with the guide, but I was able to blaze through the game and I’m glad I finally played it.

One of the things that really struck me about this entry was just how gorgeous it is. I played the HD remaster, sure, but the graphics were only scaled for HD, not reproduced. The move to fully 3D environments in Resident Evil 4, which came out right around the same time as this game, meant a sacrifice of highly detailed, pre-rendered backgrounds for more free mobility and camera movement. It was a good choice, to be sure, but there is something very cool about such an old game looking so good. At the time of those games’ release, gamers were pretty insistent on games being fully 3D, gorgeous, and highly realistic. Tides have changed since then, though, and I wonder if Capcom could get away with releasing an old school, pre-rendered-style ­Resident Evil game. Not a mainline entry, because people would probably lose their shit, but a throw-back side story. These screenshots don’t really do the game justice, but the lighting, shadows, and particle effects were especially impressive. The little leech eggs looked so gross and gelatinous and cool! A weird thing to get excited about, maybe, but you weren’t there. You had to see them in all of their jiggly, glistening glory.

Beauty aside, I did end up liking this one. It, like RE4, is where the series really starts getting into some of the batshit melodrama that would climax in RE6, but it also had a lot of fun stuff from the original games, like shuffling zombies, zombie dogs, big, creepy mansions, and more. Plus, it stars Rebecca Chambers, who I was always hoping to see more of after her brief appearance in the original game. She isn’t always given the same love as the other series mainstays, but I really hope she turns up again soon. Maybe Chris really will turn into a werewolf in Village, as Capcom has been teasing (probably misleading), and then he’ll attack Ethan and we’ll be like “no way!” but then right before he chomps his face, a huge syringe will plunge into his shoulder, and the camera will cut over to Rebecca, who will tilt her glasses down and say “who’s the Alpha now?” Because, you see, she was STARS Bravo Team, and Chris was STARS Alpha team… never mind, let me move on.

After having such a good time with 0, I had a hankering to play Resident Evil 4, even though I’ve played through it several times on both the GameCube and the Wii. It was… uglier than I remember, heh. Where 0’s HD makeover highlighted the benefits of static backgrounds (more processing power available to render the 3D models and other things), RE4’s makeover made some things look better (character models), but some things remained very muddy (environmental textures). It was still great fun, though. I remembered, as I was playing, how exciting and different this entry felt when I first played it. I was also reminded of how Capcom ran with some of the more action-oriented aspects of the game with RE5 and RE6, though. Some of the shooting and the action was fine, but what I liked about RE4 was less those elements and more exploring a spooky village and then an elaborate, deadly castle. Sound familiar? As long as there aren’t too many roundhouse kicks in Village, I’m hoping it takes the best elements of RE4 and RE7.

Deciding to stick with my Resident Evil kick, I chose to play through Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X, since I barely remembered it after playing it a little on a friend’s Dreamcast, and then all the way through when it first came out on the PlayStation 2. I remember thinking it was okay but not great back in the day, but I’ve since seen so much love from some corners of the RE fandom that I was convinced I must have been missing something. I mean, I like Claire a lot, so it is cool that she has (mostly) her own game, but after replaying it now I think my feelings are about the same. I began to get annoyed at having to backtrack in the last half of the game, especially with the annoying moths, who would not only poison me, but also force me to stop and endure the injection animation. This game did introduce semi-fully 3D environments, though. Partially-3D, I guess? So it was visually impressive for its time, but it didn’t have the brand-new excitement of the very different RE4, and it also didn’t retain the same retro-feeling magic of RE0. Plus, there are some very overt issues with gender, which was a little cringey. So, this is certainly on the lower end of my list of Resident Evil games, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it. It had enough REzzy charm for me.

And, of course, I have been playing the Resident Evil Village demos as they’ve been made available. I didn’t make it through the Village demo the first time I played it, even though I was trying to be pretty efficient and not linger too much on gawking over the beautiful environment. I made it through the Castle demo a time and a half on my first run, though, but much of that showed up in the MAIDEN demo so it wasn’t quite as exciting. With the 60 minute demo of both sections, I was able to make it through all of both areas. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say later, after I’ve played the actual game (out tomorrow!), so I’ll just leave you with some of the screenshots I took of the demos. I’ll be playing Village all weekend, so get ready for a big ol’ post about that soon, too!

I was obsessed with this corner. Look at how the light lands differently on the cloth of the curtain, the wood from the wall, and the metal of the gun. *heart eyes emoji*
More *heart eyes emoji*
Is this a Deftones album cover?

Revisiting Resident Evil 7, Thirsting After Lady Dimitrescu, and Getting Hyped for Village

One thing I’ve learned in my many years as an avid gamer is how to manage my hype levels. When I was a kid, I would tear through every page of Nintendo Power or EGM, eagerly consuming every bit of available information, speculation, and rumor about the games I was excited to play. My hyperbolic fervor did nothing to speed the games’ release schedules, though, so I would essentially torture myself for months, wanting constantly to play the newest entry in a favorite series or some new, rad looking IP. Worse, the incessant, obsessive yearning would warp my expectations of these games, so much so that I was often underwhelmed with the very games I was expecting to love. I’ve learned to temper my hype and expectations until a game’s release is close, so you might ask me if I’m excited about a game a year from its release and I could say “eh, I guess.” Then, just a few months from its release date, if you asked again, I might be like “holy shit, yeah, that game? Already pre-ordered the Deluxe Special Day One Collector’s Limited Platinum Gold Diamond Edition, boiiiiii.”

Thus is the tale of my hype for Resident Evil Village. As a big fan of the franchise, there is always a certain level of excitement with the approach of any new mainline game in the series, but Village is very close now and with the excellence of the last three games (Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil 2, and Resident Evil 3), my anticipation is accelerating greatly. After the announcement trailer in June of last year, my hype was shambling like a regular zombie. It was there, it was moving, but it wasn’t in danger of infecting me with uncontrollable, unchecked expectation. Now, after the recent Resident Evil Showcase, my hype is definitely a Crimson Head zombie. It popped right up and is sprinting after me, ready to chomp me with jaws of unbridled hype. That whole analogy got so far away from me. Kind of like a licker when it leaps through-okay I just need to stop.

Resident Evil Village is probably my most anticipated game of this year, and I am so delighted by how much attention Lady Dimitrescu has gotten on social media lately. I’m genuinely not pulling a hipster “I liked it before it was cool” move, but Lady D and her witchy-looking lady friends were the most intriguing and exciting thing about the original trailer released back in June 2020. They were only very briefly shown, but there was something so mysterious and, yes, sexy about their poise and style that just kept me thinking about them. Were they vampires? Ghouls? Witches? I didn’t know, but I was ready to meet them.

Why are they so hot, though? Please, forgive my thirst over these characters, but I have to document my feelings for posterity. I’d hate to reach a point in my life where I realize I’ve forgotten about *checks notes* every virtual character I ever lusted after. I think the witchy “daughters,” as Lady D calls them in the latest trailer, are pretty self-explanatory. They’re… witchy. That’s pretty hot in and of itself. But Lady D’s magnetic allure surprised me. If you told me that I would be lusting after a posh-looking woman in a wide brimmed hat and an outfit with a general “heading to the Kentucky Derby” kind of vibe, I would have said “I’ll lust after anything at this point, I’m desperate.” No, wait! I didn’t mean that. Note to self: edit that out before posting. What I really would have said was that you were crazy. That does not seem like the kind of aesthetic I go for.

So, what, then? Why does she seem so hot? Well, as my Gaming Crushes posts have probably revealed, I do have a thing for strong, capable women, and Lady D is brimming with power, poise, and authority. The refrain I keep seeing in reference to her is “step on me,” and she definitely captures that vibe perfectly. There is a playfulness to her menace. She might be chasing after me and trying to skewer me with her impressive nails, but she’s having a blast while doing it, and that’s more than I can say for grumpybutt Mr. X. She’s bold, confident, and seemingly very self-assured, and that’s definitely attractive to me. Does it hurt that she owns an expansive, beautiful estate and has a keen fashion sense? No. It does not. The high-society look rarely does much for me, but she rocks it. The pale skin, dark hair, fiery eye combo doesn’t hurt, either.

Okay, I’ll move on in a second, I swear, but I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Lady D popping up on social media in response to the latest trailer, but there is one very fast cut from the original trailer that I have yet to see anyone share, and I’m kind of surprised.

While it’s difficult to say what’s happening in this image with 100% certainty, it seems likely that our lusty lady is, well, feeding on what looks like a person’s arm (also, note the tooth-like bumps under her lips – those look like some serious chompers). Given the first-person perspective of the game and the fact that Ethan had his left arm cut off and stapled back on in Resident Evil 7, I’m kind of thinking these witchy women popped it off and are feeding on Ethan’s potentially unique life juice. Why would it be unique? Well, he did get his arm and leg chopped off in the previous game and inexplicably functionally reattached them with either staples or a bottle of freaking first aid potion. In the RE universe, that probably indicates he has some kind of healing power or something, right? Which would make the way that Lady D talks about Ethan in the recent trailer make sense. She not only knows him by name, but she’s also apparently been tasked with tracking him down by a superior. If we’re moving into fantasy territory where vampires, werewolves, and giants exist, though, my money is on his blood being special in some way. So the fact that she is, in all of her towering, seductive, dominant glory, at some point, sucking on your arm, makes me feel… well… I don’t know yet. I’ll get back to you in May.

Okay, okay, I’m done thirsting. For now. As I mentioned in my last post, I so rarely take the time to revisit old games that I’ve played before because there is constantly something new and exciting to play, but recently I’ve allowed myself to do just that. I beat Resident Evil 7 at least a few times when it came out, but I never got the platinum trophy because some of the more difficult achievements seemed, well, difficult. I wanted to revisit it just to sort of play it and experience the horror again, anyway, so I decided to go for the platinum trophy as well. I replayed it once on Easy difficulty, just to get back into it and grab the trophies for using less than three medicine items and never opening the storage chests, and then I tackled it on Madhouse mode. And, phew, it was no joke. I used a guide to make sure I didn’t miss any of the mode-exclusive collectibles, but I rarely find guides useful when it comes to boss fights, so some of those really did a number on me. It took me a long time and a lot of stress lines, but I finally managed to beat it and I got the platinum. Feels good, man.

I also went ahead and bought all of the DLC, which I’d never played before, so I dug through those as well. Some of them aren’t my cup of tea (particularly the combat/survival focused entries), but a few of them added some nuance to the base game’s narrative and I really appreciated them. The first of these is “Daughters,” which offers a glimpse at the Baker family just prior to their infection by Eveline. There are some indications of the family’s humanity in the base game, but not quite enough to fairly frame the tragedy that became their life. This DLC has you, as Zoe, help Jack and Marguerite prepare to take on another apparent victim (Eveline) of a recent storm that is devastating the region, including their farm (and it further explains the boarded-up and broken-down state of the grounds when you get there). There are little clues scattered around the house that show a close, caring family (aside from Lucas, who still seems like a dick), which heightened my appreciation for the Baker family and Zoe as a character in a big way.

Speaking of Zoe, I also really liked “End of Zoe.” This DLC was quite the opposite in terms of gameplay and tone, as instead of passively exploring the house, you play as Joe, Jack’s brother and Zoe’s uncle, bullrushing through the swamps surrounding the Baker’s house and bashing infected and alligators alike in the face with your bare fists. It is ridiculous and very un-RE-like, but also very fun. The main antagonist is what seems to be a resurrected Jack, looking very much like Swamp Thing, and squaring up to him with just your fists is silly and badass. Joe sees an enemy and he doesn’t think “dang, how much ammo do I have? Can I afford to take it down?” He thinks… well, I don’t even think he does think. He sees an obstacle, and he punches it. Literally everything. Wooden crate? Punch it. Boarded up door? Punch it. Toothy ooze monster? Punch. It. Can you imagine him in the previous RE games? “Hmm. A door with the shape of a diamond on it.” *punches through it* “Oh no, a giant snake.” *punch it in its giant snake head* Nemesis comes bursting through the wall. “SSSTA-“ *Punch* Like I said: ridiculous but fun. Plus, it gave us a satisfying (if cheesy) conclusion to Zoe’s story.

The last piece of DLC I’ll talk about is “Bedroom,” an escape-room style bit where you play as our favorite cameraman and Sewer Gators alum, Clancy. If you like the recurring, sometimes macabre puzzles littered throughout the RE series, you’ll probably like this DLC. It’s not just a collection of standalone puzzles – they’re all interconnected. You have to figure each out using environmental clues and solve them in the correct order to escape the room that Marguerite has locked you in. Think of the “Happy Birthday” puzzle that Lucas sets up. It took me a few times to get it, but it never felt unfair or illogical. With both this and the “Daughters” DLC, I kind of wish they’d been in the core game. I guess I can see how they might have affected pacing, but both of them feel like they would have felt natural and contributed something to the tone and setting of the game.

I will continue my revisiting… Revisiting Evil… does anyone have that as a blog or podcast name yet? If not, I should nab it. “This week on Revisiting Evil: how to make a Jill sandwich. Plus, coming up later: why Nemesis would make a great astronomer,” Anyway, I will continue playing old RE titles by starting Code Veronica X soon, since that’s probably the mainline entry I’ve played the least and, thus, don’t remember very well. To look forward, though, I wanted to talk a bit about the “Maiden” demo for Resident Evil Village.

The first time I played it was before my decision to replay RE 7, so playing it again after that really highlighted how far the RE Engine has come. I posted about how impressed I was with it after Resident Evil 2, but it seems like Capcom continues to squeeze every ounce of beautiful, reflective, textured blood out of it with Village. I’m so glad there is no combat in this demo, because it really allowed me to just wander the rooms of this big, ornately decorated castle and inspect every detail. I know there are some people who lament the direction Capcom has taken with RE 7 and Village (despite getting two of the best remakes of classic PlayStation games ever, but that’s a debate for a later time), but I very much appreciate the attention and care they’ve given to maintaining so much of the atmosphere and tone that made some of the earliest games so memorable. Paintings, statues, decorations – these are things that bring texture to a setting just by existing, but the level of texture and what it adds to a player’s experience is variable. If a team has the time and skill, they can create set decoration that tells a story of their own. Some of those in the demo are very classic RE, like:

But some of them seem so well conceived and executed that they bring the castle to life in much clearer and more nuanced terms than any of the previous RE settings. Look at this photograph:

Every time I do it makes me lau- oh god, what am I doing? Ahem. Moving on. It’s just a simple picture of… bats? Birds? Creatures? It’s eerie, sure, but does it have significance? Or is it just for ambiance? If it is just birds, why would this regal, matronly vampire have it framed and on display? Upon close inspection, it looks to be a bird of prey (right) with its talons stretched out, aiming to pierce another bird that it attempting to dodge. Lady D is the antagonist pursuing Ethan in this game, and she, too, has long, retractable talons. Consider also this vase:

At a glance, it looks like a pretty typical medieval style vase. Given the castle’s age and Lady D’s lineage, it might be an actual medieval artifact. It fits the castle’s décor and contributes to the overall spookiness of it, but what may have been behind the developer’s decision to include this specific design? Well, if there is one word that springs to mind when I look at this scene, it’s “ritual.” We don’t see much here, but what we do see is a seated man surrounded by others, seemingly against his will. His brow looks furrowed in concern, but more importantly, the man behind him seems to be clasping his shoulder as if he is preventing him from standing. Another man reaches out to stay the hand of the apparent captor, as another (very tall) man stands contemplating, with his hand on his chin. They are, it seems, deciding his fate. If you read the notes and pick up on context clues in the demo, there is a suggestion of some kind of ritual. There is a list of potential candidates for said ritual or purpose, and in the latest trailer, Lady Dimitrescu refers to “the importance of the ceremony.” I’m not trying to make some grand statement about this vase or any of these background details, but I love how much texture they bring to this setting. This vase lets me believe that some ancestor of Lady Dimitrescu (or the lady herself, if she turns out to be very old) had an artist make a vase to commemorate this ceremony, or perhaps she saw this and it reminded her of the momentous occasion. Either way, it seems to be far from randomly chosen as background flavoring. I can’t wait to play the final game and take my time looking at the impressive number of background decorations that will probably be spread all throughout the castle.

Aside from admiring the graphics and environmental nuance, I very much enjoyed seeing one of Lady Dimitrescu’s daughters in action. In my first playthrough, I rushed past her, as it seems I was expected to. But in later sessions, I followed her up the stairs and watched her glide and dissipate around a corner. The way that she moves is very cool, and I am ready to be both spooked and subtly stimulated by her and her sibling’s pursuit of me in the final game. It’s like “oh, noooo, don’t block my way and bite my neck, sexy vampire ladies! That would be sooooo baaaaaaad!”

So, yes, I am very much ready for May 7th. I’ve preordered the Deluxe Edition, am still playing through old RE titles, and am hopeful that my friends will eventually let me watch them play through the Maiden demo so I can bother them with my dumb love of the same kinds of details I discuss above. I’ll be back in May, of course, with a post about the main game, and don’t be surprised if you see a Gaming Crushes post about Lady D at some point, heh. Until next time, this has been Revisiting Evil. Smash that subscribe button. I’m just kidding. I’m full of dumb jokes today. Ugh. Okay, bye.

Save Point: Discussing My Dissertation

When I started this site, one of my intentions was to use it as a place to write notes and short blurbs about my dissertation as I researched and worked on it. I did post a thing or two about some book notes, but I haven’t really done much else. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, I think, is that I just didn’t feel very confident about my topic – for a while, at least. I am in a fairly traditional English department, so other than our one digital rhetoric professor, there isn’t much of a place for a dissertation that is essentially a video games studies project. The process of writing my prospectus was basically filled with anxiety and stress about convincing my committee that this project had the potential to be important and relevant. I was continually hearing dissenting voices in my head. “But why does this thing matter? What are you actually bringing to the field? Do you really know enough to write this?” But after I wrote my prospectus and began converting it into a presentation, I found my confidence again. Mostly. I won’t sit here and say there aren’t still doubts, but in the process of condensing my prospectus and thinking of how to verbally pitch it, I ended up convincing myself that it was as good as I had originally thought when I came up with the idea.

So, having said all that, I am going to start posting blogs about my work. The second of the previously mentioned reasons for not doing so earlier is that I was nervous about people taking my ideas. After much reflection, I have come to conclude: who gives a shit. I’m doing this work with the intent to share it anyway, and I don’t love academia’s habit of hoarding and gating off knowledge to boot. What scenario is that little anxiety-corner of my brain imagining? That someone will see my blogs and publish their own version of my dissertation? I mean, maybe, but that seems pretty unlikely, especially given that I have lots of material that I’m not posting. What is more likely, I think, is that someone might end up seeing this and thinking “hey, that’s kind of like my work,” and if I’m lucky, they’ll reach out and I’ll have a new contact/friend to chat about video games and research with.

Future posts will probably be a lot more specific. I don’t have an exact plan for what I’ll be sharing. Sometimes it will be fully formed thoughts, sometimes it will be aimless rambles, sometimes it will just be interesting tidbits (to me) that I may or may not even end up using for anything. With that, I suppose I should say a little about what my project actually is. The working title of my dissertation is Soft Power-Up: Japanese Games as Cultural and Rhetorical Exports. The “soft power” in the play on words in the first part of the title is kind of a key component of the project. Soft power is a term that essentially describes a nation’s capacity to influence other nations with culture, rather than traditional forms of global power, like military might and economics. There have been lots of studies on Japan’s use of soft power to fill the gap left by its loss in economic superpower status in the 1980s. Most of these studies focus on widely known things like sushi, karaoke, tea ceremonies, anime, manga, and more. Studies on the use of video games as a part of this national strategy seem surprisingly lacking. The most recent edition of The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture has chapters on music, education, food, anime, and much, much more, but there is not a single chapter on video games. This edition was published in 2009, which is far too recent for any excuses of “well video games weren’t big yet.” Video games are and have been huge exports for Japan since the 1980s, to the point of being the only cultural product that Japan exports more than it imports.

So it seems like a no-brainer to me to study this. I was recently pointed toward Rachael Hutchinson’s book Japanese Culture Through Video Games, published just last year (after I had stopped research for my prospectus), which seems to cover much of what I intend to look at in my work. I have yet to read it, because academic texts are vastly overpriced and I am a poor grad student, but I’ll hopefully find a cheap copy soon. I feel pretty confident that my approach will be different enough that I won’t be treading the same ground, but I can’t deny I was a little sad to see that someone had (at least partially) beat me to print. On the other hand, I was so excited and felt weirdly vindicated (to the doubting voices in my head, anyway) to see that a very close approximation of my idea was not only taken seriously by another scholar, but published by a major press as well.

One thing that differentiates my project from Hutchinson’s (I think) is our choice of case studies. Of all the games noted in her introduction and table of contents, I don’t see any mention of the Persona, Yakuza, or Resident Evil series, or Death Stranding, and these are the games that I’ll be looking closely at. She does have a whole chapter on absentee parents which I am interested to read, because that is one of the many aspects of Japanese culture I see reflected in a metric crap ton of Japanese games and was planning on talking about in my project. I chose the Persona and Yakuza series because they both take place in real Japan, often depicting real, specific locations that exist today. So they offer insight into how the developers chose to depict their culture in explicit terms. On the other hand, there are notable Japanese games that are set in America or other Western settings, like the Resident Evil games and Death Stranding. I want to use these games to show that, regardless of setting, there are a whole host of aspects of Japanese culture that end up showing through in these games (in implicit terms). When consideration of these two types of games are combined, I hope to show what Japanese games are “saying” about Japan to the Western world, how that message has changed over time, and why it all matters.

Okay, I should shut up. As usual, I am mostly writing these for myself, to work out and solidify ideas, and just start writing things out that might be useful later. However, I’m also sharing this for anyone that’s interested in Japanese games, is or will be writing a dissertation, or is in any of the many fields related to games studies. If you want to reach out, please do. I’d be happy to answer any questions or share/swap sources. Thanks for reading, and look forward to more posts like this. Or don’t, I guess. That’s cool, too. You do you.

Video Game Crushes: Jill Valentine

Oh, Jill Valentine. Won’t you be my valentine? No, wait, that’s cheesy. And it’s April, not February. Ahem. Please be my Jill sandwich – no, wait, weird and gross. You truly are the master of unlocking… my heart. *cool sunglass guy emoji*

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The original Resident Evil was a huge reason I betrayed my pulpy Nintendo fanboy blood and asked my parents to help me buy a PlayStation. I had a Nintendo 64, so why did I need a PlayStation? All those games are ugly and stupid and not Nintendo, I thought. Wait, there’s a game with zombies? And a big, creepy mansion? A-a-and there’s, like, giant spiders and snakes and stuff? I mean… I guess I could get a non-Nintendo console. Just this once.


It didn’t quite happen like that, but it was close. My sister’s then-boyfriend had a PlayStation, and when I told him about RE he went out and bought it right away. He and my sister preferred to watch me play, though, so we huddled in his attic with the lights off and played through the game bit by bit, jumping at the zombie dogs, solving puzzles together, and reading all of the creepy notes lying around. That experience satiated what hunger for the PlayStation had risen in me, but as soon as I heard there would be a sequel the hunger returned and I began the classic console negotiation with my parents, where I had to explain that this new console was not the same as the N64 and played completely different games that I couldn’t play on the N64. They eventually relented, and my first games for the PS were Resident Evil: Director’s Cut and Resident Evil 2.

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Okay, so I love the Resident Evil games, but where does Jill come in? Well, my love for Jill started with my preference for playing as her in the first game. If you haven’t played the first two RE games, you have the option to play as one of two characters: Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine in RE, and Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield in RE2. I remember we chose Jill for our first playthrough because she had more inventory space than Chris, but we played through Chris next. Regardless, I always found myself gravitating toward Jill, whether it was in the original, Director’s Cut, or the remake for the GameCube. I was sad when Capcom announced that she wouldn’t be in RE2, but ecstatic when I found out that she would be the star of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.


Jill has come a long way since those famously cheesy lines from the first Resident Evil. As mentioned, she starred in the original Resident Evil 3, she had a very cool surprise appearance in Resident Evil 5, she once again took the lead in the surprisingly good Resident Evil: Revelations, and she returns in the latest RE game, the remake of Resident Evil 3. Her long and harrowing journey reveals one of the reasons I crush on her so hard: she has seen some serious shit. As an Army vet and member of Raccoon City’s Special Tactics and Rescue Service (STARS), Jill was already a badass with military weapons and explosives training, combat skills, and a quick, keen intellect. Layer on top of that all of the horror and hardship she’s seen, and her readiness to not only endure but to return to these terrifying situations in pursuit of the truth and a way to contain the dangerous bio-weapons she’s discovered, and it’s clear that she is one. tough. lady.

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When I poll my students about what they would do if a zombie outbreak happened, you’d be surprised how many of them say some variation of “lay down and die.” A real zombie outbreak would be terrifying, indeed, and after Jill survives just that during the “Mansion Incident” in the Arklay Mountains, she doesn’t collapse in defeat. She begins her own investigation into the event, because it’s clear that her superiors aren’t going to do it. And after the events in Raccoon City, when so much has been lost and she once again survives unimaginable trauma, her response to a villain challenging her ability to discover the truth is a sly smirk and “I’m not afraid of a little detective work.” *swoon*

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She’s not all brawn, though. She cares about those she trusts and she is loyal to her friends and steadfast about her personal ideals. She has some serious trust issues (uh, same, and how can anyone blame her?), but if you demonstrate loyalty she returns it in kind. She has escaped death several times, and she could count herself lucky and stay away from the madness, but she genuinely wants to protect others and help those who are also fighting, like her old friend Chris Redfield or her new friend Carlos. Given her personal fashion choice in the original RE3, a mini-skirt and tube top, I also like to think that she wasn’t always all business. That maybe she had a fun, casual side before she was pulled into the never-ending cycle of horror that is Umbrella and its nefarious products. Regardless, she is strong, smart, capable, caring… and one hell of a locksmith… of my heart… I overplayed that a bit, didn’t I? Damn it.

Sienna Guillory as Jill in Resident Evil: Apocalypse


Resident Evil 2 Infects My Heart

So the semester is well under way, and although this is my first semester with no coursework, between lesson planning, grading, and reading/prepping for my prospectus (not to mention making time for games/relaxing), I’ve once again fallen behind on posting blogs. I really want to write out my thoughts about Resident Evil 2 before they slip even further from my mind, though, so this is going to be a ramble-y mess of a blog, but here goes.

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First off, as I like to do, I should explain my history with the series to contextualize my feelings. I grew up a Nintendo kid, so I loyally bought a Nintendo 64 even though the then-new PlayStation was getting a surprising amount of hype. There were several games that got my attention and made me want to betray my fanboy roots, but ultimately it was the original Resident Evil 2 that pushed me to convince my parents to buy me a PS. Before then, my sister’s boyfriend had one, and we three played the hell out of the first game, Resident Evil. I usually played while they watched, but we turned the lights off and eagerly consumed every classic, b-movie moment.


So of course Resident Evil 2 was the first game I bought for my shiny new PlayStation, along with Resident Evil: Director’s Cut. I wrote about the former on my Top 25 list, saying “Resident Evil 2 was magical in that it retained the same haunted, abandoned feeling that the first game had, but amped it up in every aspect.” I think that sums up my feelings about it pretty nicely, so let’s fast forward 17 years to when Yoshiaki Hirabyashi announced in a 2015 YouTube video that Capcom had approved a remake for RE2, and you can probably guess that I was pretty ecstatic. Over the years I’ve learned to be cautious with my excitement, though, so after my initial freak-out session, I allowed myself to forget about the game until it came out this year. And here we are.

Original Video

Having said all of that, I might come off as biased, but I objectively think this game is going to make for an interesting conversation piece when the game of the year discussions begin. It’s clearly going to be in the running for some awards, but will gaming sites consider it a new game, thereby eligible for the top spot? Or is the fact that it’s ‘mostly’ a remake disqualifying? I suppose what matters more is the standard it will set for future remakes and reboots. This game didn’t have to be this good. Look at the recently released Spyro Reignited Trilogy. That game’s developers largely left the core game untouched, but they did an excellent job of updating the presentation. Fans were, from what I hear, mostly very happy, but the game(s) didn’t seem to reach a profoundly expanded audience. Resident Evil 2 sold millions of copies and was all over social media for weeks. It seems likely that many of the people who played it had never played the original, meaning that if done well, remakes can actually greatly expand a series’ fanbase and not just appeal to the base that already exists.

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I’m waxing philosophical, so let me get a little more specific in what I loved about the game. I’d like to start with the feeling I had when first entering the police station. Although I was more excited to play as Claire, I chose Leon to start with because he was the recommended starting character for the original game, so I wanted to experience this version just as I did its source.

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Entering the police station in the original RE2 was like entering the mansion in RE (with the difference being that you are in control of the frantic fleeing that precedes it). It was a safe space, a refuge from the madness outside, but in both cases something seemed… off. In RE2 it’s a combination of the looming, carefully lit statue that dominates your view, and the emptiness and quiet of a seemingly-abandoned police station during a massive emergency. If the police are gone, how bad must things be in this city? This is one of the things the developers nailed: atmosphere.

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Atmosphere is one of those nebulous things that is really the result of several elements coming together, though. The original games felt atmospheric in their own ways, but the improvement in graphics allowed the team to make a key change to this iteration: it is dark. Like, almost pitch black where your flashlight isn’t shining. Where the original games used camera angles to obscure your vision and create anxiety about what might be in each new room, this game uses darkness, and it’s super effective. Sound is key in both games, because a common strategy is to pause when you enter a new area, listening for a telltale zombie moan or licker click. It made for an exhilarating back and forth, where one minute you’re lulled by the security of a cleared room, only to exit into an unknown and potentially deadly situation.

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But, really, what do you know about anxiety in the first half of the game? You certainly feel like an old, grizzled veteran of it… until you meet Mr. X, when a new kind of terror promises to haunt you at every turn. In the original game you’re treated to a cutscene that shows some kind of pod dropped through the roof of the station – a hint of something menacing to come. There is no such hint in this version, which I think is great because even though I was very familiar with the old game I was still caught off-guard when he popped up in this one.

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He was a son of a bitch in the old game, but in this version he is absolutely overbearing. Where you used to be able to duck into a safe room and have him leave you alone for a while, in this one he is relentless in his pursuit. The sound of his heavy stomps triggers a sense of panic, and the use of context-specific controller vibration dependent on his distance from you is a reminder of how effective (and neglected) that technology is. The pulsing music that follows him contributes to the fear, and it reminded me of the use of harsh, grinding music in the old horror movie The Entity, where the music is used as a way to indicate when the invisible spirit is ‘on-screen.’ More impressively, I think, they managed to give Mr. X a personality using posture, head movement, and gestures, without him ever uttering a word, which is something that I don’t think the old game accomplished nearly as well. I’m being too clinical in my description, I think, but it’s difficult to capture his presence without shifting into narrative prose. If I recommend this game to someone who hasn’t heard about it, it will be in part because I’ll want to hear about their response to Mr. X.

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A great throwback to a similar scene in the original game

The game also gets a lot of the little things right. One of my favorite little things about the older games was the brief notes and journal entries you’d find. You didn’t need to read them to understand the main story, but they made the world so much more real and rich. In this iteration, when I came across Chief Irons’ notes on his taxidermy subjects, I excitedly flipped through each macabre page. And then I came across this:

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The tone was definitely different than the previous pages, and the measurements didn’t seem to make sense. It was pretty clear that he was talking about a woman, but… did he kill her? It says “captured,” but also “forever.” Did he kill a woman and stuff her, like an animal? I didn’t think much about it beyond that, but later, when I was playing as Sherry and sneaking through Irons’ secret office, I found answers.

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It’s the little things. Another one: the gore. Of course a game where you’re killing zombies will have some gore, but there were a few particularly noteworthy scenes where they really turned it up a notch. I’ll just let the screenshots speak for themselves.

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After beating the game with both characters and thus getting the “true” ending, I still felt like I wasn’t quite done with it, so I decided to get the platinum trophy, which would require at least a few more playthroughs. On one such playthrough I decided to try Claire’s alternate noir costume. The game flashed a prompt asking me if I wanted to use the included filter, but I honestly didn’t read it or think about what that meant. I was happily surprised, then, to see that the game was in black and white once I was dropped into the world.

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Having studied film in grad school, I was a little embarrassed to realize only as I made my way through the game just how noir it was the entire time, even without the filter. Gumshoe with a heart of gold, femme fatale, rainy urban setting, symbolic use of light and shadow, Mr. X’s trench coat and fedora (plus the fedoras strewn all over the police station)… how did it take me so long to see it? It’s something I’ll probably write more about later, but things like that are really exciting to me, because if we read video games as texts with ‘authors,’ like we do with film, we have a Japanese team making a game set in the west and very clearly influenced by western texts (themselves influenced by German texts). And how does a Japanese player read it? Super fascinating stuff.

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Okay, I have a million more things I could gush about (performances, story tweaks, enemies, gameplay, etc.) but I’ve already spent more time than I should have writing this, and there is something that really stood out to me but that I haven’t seen anyone talking about on social media or in the press. I mentioned the lighting earlier, and while that’s great on its own, in some cases it highlights how excellent the textures in this game are. The textures in Resident Evil 7 were great, but Capcom really seems to be mastering the RE Engine.

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Okay, these screenshots aren’t big enough to do them justice, but check out the shot of Leon in his alternate Arklay Sheriff’s costume. There’s lots of impressive stuff here, like the fact that everything on his uniform bobs and sways realistically with his movement, but let’s just focus on textures. The braided belt actually looks braided, not like a pattern overlayed on a flat surface. His handcuffs have a realistic metallic gleam. His pants are a heavier weave fabric than his shirt. You can see that the display and buttons on his walkie-talkie are actually depressed and the light creates appropriate shadow on them. Most impressively, I think, are the textures of the different leathers on his belt segments. Look at the walkie-talkie holster closely. You can not only see a realistic imperfection on the surface, a bubbling where the leather may be separating, but it too casts a very minor shadow of its own. Crazy.

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Look at Leon’s uniform in this next shot. You can not only see that his shoulder pad is a different material than his shirt, but it’s saturated from the rain that he just came in from in a different way, too, and in a different way than his neck, which is shiny as opposed to soaked. You can also see the stitching at the seam of his shirt in great detail. Ada’s dress is another feat, as it looks like real, slightly bunched (there must be a word for that) fabric, even when she moves.

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You can see several textures in this shot of Claire, too, like the lighter leather of her knife sheath, the metal of the gun, the fabric of her fannie pack, and more, but what I really want to draw attention to is the design sewn into the back of her vest. It might be a little difficult to make out because I made this image smaller (to save muh tables), but you can see that it truly looks sewn in, as the stitching is very detailed, follows realistic patterns, and actually casts a shadow as if it were really imprinted on the vest. Plus you can see the little wrinkle/bunching of fabric just below the pattern, which is also realistic, because stitchwork like that is often more stiff than the surrounding fabric, so it doesn’t bend as easily as that same fabric.

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I could talk extensively about William Birkin’s mutated design, but I just wanted to specifically draw attention to the way the bones in his ribs protrude from his side (it looks cooler in motion) and his main eye (below). His eyes are especially impressive, because they look realistically gelatinous, including the ability for us to see through the cornea when it’s angled to the side. These are things that developers could only sort of achieve in cutscenes in the past, but now this is all in real time.

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Lastly, just check out this zombie. The most basic and common of enemies. The filminess of the eyes, the gloss of the teeth, the hair matted with filth, the wounds… the level of detail and the ability of this engine to render even the most mundane of enemies as interesting and exciting to look at just blows me away.

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So, yeah, I don’t have an elegant conclusion to this unwieldy beast of a blog, so I’ll just end by saying that this is one of my favorite games of all time. I loved the original, but Capcom improved on and added to virtually everything that made that game so great. It makes me so happy to see the near-universal love and praise the game’s been getting, so I hope when the end of the year does come it gets the accolades it deserves. And as much as everyone seemed to hate Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, I really liked it, so I would be so beyond excited if they brought the same level of refinement and innovation to remaking that entry next (can you imagine if Nemesis could break through almost any barrier!?). But, hey, I’ll be happy with a Resident Evil 8 announcement at E3 2019, too.

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