Resident Evil 5 is notorious for its stiff controls, frustrating partner-AI, obtuse interface, questionable quicktime events, and an incredibly silly storyline. As one would expect, these elements don’t make for the most compelling single-player experience.
However, the game’s co-op mode is incredibly fun and rewarding.
The Standard Co-op Setup
Most action games encourage players to work together by turning a Prisoner’s Dilemma into a Trust Dilemma, i.e., making it so that helping each other out is always the most beneficial course of action for everyone involved. To achieve this, friendly-fire and other possible sources of griefing are diminished or removed, enemies are tweaked to take on the firepower of multiple players, and player-goals are designed around non-competitive challenges, e.g., everyone gets an achievement for defeating the boss instead of one person getting an achievement for the most kills.
Healing a defenseless comrade is another common mechanic that ensures players try to help each other out. Letting a partner die diminishes the chance of success — or can even result in a game-over screen — so all members of a team can usually depend on friendly aid. This in turn fosters a reciprocal relationship facilitated by special indicators that display the location and status of everyone else in the group.
Forcing gameplay-cooperation at specific script-points is common as well, e.g., having one player boost another to higher ground in order to proceed. While these sound good on paper, such statically-defined activities are rarely as satisfying as letting the players come up with their own strategy for traversing a level. With that said, scripted gateways serve to differentiate the gameplay and ensure that each player feels like part of the team.
All of these co-op elements are present in RE5, but there are many more as well.
All The Extras
A great example of something that’s conducive to cooperative play is RE5′s shared-healing mechanic. Whenever any healing item is used (except for the eggs), both characters get healed if they’re standing close to each other. This encourages players to communicate and plan rendezvous points in order to get the most value out of their reserves.
Communication is also made easier by the fact that all firearms come equipped with laser sights. Laser sights allow players to point directly at areas of interest simply by aiming at them. The visible laser-pointers reduce the amount of explaining needed for proper communication, and they’re cleverly implemented as they give a secondary function to an existing mechanic.
Another interesting element is that both players must activate the map-exit in order to transition to the next area. Some players complained about this being a bit inconvenient, but I personally thought it was a great decision. Having a loading screen suddenly pop into view while sniping an enemy can be quite jarring. The wait mechanic prevents this from happening, and it allows both players to fully explore each area without feeling rushed.
Whenever one player activates the exit, his point-of-view also swirls around to show his teammate. This is a neat little touch as it informs the player to the whereabouts of his partner, which in turn let’s him quickly decide whether to stick around at the exit or go back into the field.
Money is another important asset in RE5, and here the game takes a cue from a various co-op RPGs. In order to prevent players from squabbling over treasure, both players simply receive the full monetary value of each collectible. While this is definitely not realistic, it prevents anyone from worrying about splitting the loot and keeps the focus on the action.
Finally, the level and enemy designs make it beneficial to communicate and devise on-the-spot tactics. Maps tend to be closed off arenas with multiple paths, and they allow players to split up and cover each other from different vantage points. This is especially important when fighting the more powerful enemies as attacking them from alternating directions helps expose their weak spots.
The above mechanics enhance the standard cooperative template, but there’s one more element that makes RE5 special.
From Good To Great
Each player has a 9-slot inventory, and all items take up a single slot. Some items can stack within a slot as well, but only up to a point.
While this might seem like plenty of space, the real estate is at a constant premium.
The weapons in RE5 are differentiated by their damage output, area of effect, firing rate, range, penetration, clip size, and chance of scoring a critical hit. The enemies and environments are well tuned to these attributes, creating situations where one firearm is much more useful than the others. Since each weapon also requires a custom ammo-type, it’s impossible for a single player to hoard all the goodies. Instead, each player must take on a specialized role.
For example, one player keeps a group of enemies at bay with a shotgun while the other snipes some archers in the background. Or one player pilots a vehicle while the other showers fast-moving opponents with a semi-automatic. Or one player leads a boss up a path with some explosive barrels, while the other uses his handgun to blow them up from above.
In addition to the standard firearms, though, the inventories must also accommodate healing items, armour jackets, and miscellaneous other collectibles such as proximity bombs and stun rods. It’s very easy to fill up the available slots, but the ability to trade items alleviates the issue.
Trading also encourages additional cooperation, especially when one player’s path leads him to stacks of ammo for the other player’s weapons. Although enemies never drop ammunition for weapons neither of the players possess, forking paths often force players to collect items they don’t really want. This in turn creates a unique flow to the game: an area is entered, its enemies are dispatched, the players scavenge for loot, and finally they regroup to heal up, trade, and get ready for the next challenge. The pattern doesn’t keep the players tightly tethered together, but it always brings them back to help each other out.
Like most co-op games, RE5 ultimately needs players to cooperate with each other; progress can’t be made if one person refuses to play along. If both people are on the same page, though, the game’s rich tactics and inter-player interactions elevate it above the co-op modes of its contemporaries.
- Mass Effect Interface Fail – Krystian Majewski’s thorough drubbing of Mass Effect’s user interface (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). A must-read for anyone interested in making games.
- Virtual Economic Theory: How MMOs Really Work – A look at the evolution of game-economies in MMORPGs and the pro’s and con’s of various trade systems.
- Guiding The Player’s Eye – An overview of subtle cues in Half-Life 2 (and its episodes) that serve to grab the player’s attention without subverting user-control.
For my second SMB 3 post, I took a look at worlds 2 through 8 and picked out 30 stages that exemplified clever level design. World 8 is the last standard zone in the game, but I decided to write one more article detailing SMB 3′s hubs.
Hubs are an old videogame trope, but in SMB 3 they are much more involved than in previous incarnations.
Each hub in the game has its own visual theme and unique layout, e.g., World 7 is a scrolling archipelago, while World 8 comprises multiple skull-filled maps. These areas are not only littered with standard level nodes, but also contain unique stage-icons such as quicksand pits, tanks, and piranha plants. Offsetting these challenges are shops and sporadic minigames that provide bonus rewards.
All these elements — and plenty of additional ones — turn the overworlds into individual mini-levels that are also connected to the main gameplay stages. Here are 10 examples of how that’s done:
Throughout L.A. Noire, the player investigates crimes largely by questioning suspects, witnesses and medical/forensics experts.
The advanced facial animations are used to gauge a rough accuracy of the given testimonies, and, combined with the pre-existing knowledge of the crime and the player’s own intuition (often boiling down to simple prejudices, which I’m sure someone else is already writing a post about) the player chooses a response.
This is done with a half-circle of shortcut buttons: truth at the top, doubt on the middle-left, and lie at the bottom. Truth assumes the interviewee’s story is correct; lie confronts them about its validity, often requring the player to present a piece of evidence that contradicts their statement; and doubt hovers somewhere in between the two.
Mass Effect used a similar streamlined dialogue system with its spoked-wheel interface. BioWare wanted a very cinematic feel for the game, including its dialogues, so this made perfect sense.
The player didn’t need to read through a long list of possible responses, scroll down to his preferred one, then listen to his character speak it back word-for-word. Instead, the desired option could be selected instantly based on a keyword or a short blurb. The locations of these often followed a simple pattern, and a few extra choices were included to allow the player “good” and “evil” reactions.
Some people were not satisfied with this approach as they found that Commander Shepard would periodically say things they did not expect. I never had this problem, but maybe that’s because I assumed Shepard was a pre-existing template I was occasionally steering with my own preferences.
BioWare’s other game at the time was Dragon Age, and it used a more traditional dialogue-tree system. This also made perfect sense as the game placed greater emphasis on creating a player avatar and defining him/her through interactions with other characters. Such an approach required much more granularity in the dialogue options, e.g., “What heirloom?” might have been OK as a single choice in Mass Effect, but in Dragon Age it had to be split up into multiple, well-defined choices:
- How long has this heirloom been in the family?
- What is its history?
- Who was the heirloom’s last caretaker?
- Do you think it’s wise to worry about such things while we’re in the middle of a war?
- I’m sorry for your loss, but we have to move on…
- We’ll get it back even if it means going to the ends of the world!
- We’ve all lost our favourite trinkets at some point; get over it.
- If we come across it, you’ll be the first to know!
And so on.
Of course L.A. Noire stars a strictly defined character, so on the surface it seems more suited to a simplified Mass Effect system than a complex Dragon Age one. However, its dialogue scenes are not casual, open-ended conversations.
These interrogations require detailed information, observation, and a bit of luck to properly resolve. There’s no back-tracking or second guessing, and navigating the system with the vague options of truth, doubt and lie can be a bit frustrating.
For example, if Detective Cole is interviewing the wife of a murder suspect and she tells him that the murder weapon isn’t hers, that might be the absolute truth. After all, the firearm is registered to her husband, and the gun-store clerk confirmed his identity.
If I select “truth,” though, it might permanently close off that topic of conversation. Since the gun is a pivotal clue to the case, I want to get all the information about it that I can.
There’s always the “doubt” option, as in I doubt she’s telling the full story, but I have no idea how Detective Cole will react to it. He might console her with a soft tone and ask her if there’s anything else she can remember that might help the police prove her husband’s innocence. On the other hand, he might start screaming at her about obstruction of justice and how her sleaze-bag of a hubby will never survive prison.
It’s impossible to tell what the player character will do, but that could be remedied with more detailed conversation options (and perhaps more conversation options in general). As things stand, I’ve repeatedly found myself taking the wrong conversational turn not because my assumptions about the case were incorrect, but because I failed to properly convey them to the game.
Now this might seem like a major complaint, and although it’s significant, it doesn’t ruin the experience. The interrogations don’t always have to be successfully resolved, and a few sparse hints aid their traversal.
I also commend the developers for sticking to their guns. There are no extra HUD meters that break the suspension of disbelief, and the dialogue sequences largely rely on the script, the actors’ performances, and the technology behind them. The results are quite immersive, and actually much more intense than the checkpoint-rich action sequences.
I just think the game would’ve benefit from more information to accompany the delicate and often volatile interrogations.
Stranger’s Wrath is 1st person/3rd person hybrid that’s something of a cult classic.
The game takes place in a Western-themed Oddworld filled with crass chickens and weird monstrosities that skew closer to the cute than the Lovecraftian. The protagonist’s goal is to travel from one hub to another capturing bad guys and collecting the bounty on their heads. The money is used to upgrade Stranger’s arsenal and eventually treat his mysterious ailment.
Now the parts that make it stand out:
— Stranger’s only weapon is a double-crossbow that uses live ammo. This is the game’s definining feature, with each live ammo-critter behaving in an amusing and distinct fashion. The variety of the ammo requires Stranger to frequently change his load-out, but unfortunately there are no shortcut keys to do this.
— The Chippunk ammo is loud and obnoxious, making enemies abandon their posts just to shut it up. This is a major gameplay element as it allows the player to lure enemies into various ambush scenarios: tall grasses where Stranger is hiding, underneath heavy machinery that can be used to squash them, back-alleys littered with the ravenous Fuzzles, or even deep waters where drowning is all too easy.
All these elements are quite satisfying and make Stranger feel like a real hunter stalking his prey.
— Bolamites and various other ammo types allow Stranger to stun his enemies and bring them in alive. This results in larger bounty prizes, but it’s often much more difficult than simply killing everything in sight.
— The Zappflies are the only unlimited-ammo critter in the game, and they can used to activate machinery and stun other critters or enemies.
The interesting thing about Zappflies is that they can be charged up for a more powerful attack à la Mega Man’s Mega Buster. Unlike Mega Man, though, Stranger’s Wrath doesn’t require the player to hold down a button to perform the charge. Instead, the critters automatically charge up in Stranger’s crossbow as long as he is not actively firing them.
— Boss battles can get a little repetitive, but they contain a few neat mechanics such as picking away enemies while hiding underneath a roof from their mortar attacks, or using Zappflies to short-circuit a power generator in order to climb a previously electrified cable and reach the boss.
— Stranger is quite agile and can climb ropes and shimmy across ropeways. An extra “grab” button exists that allows Stranger to snap to these props, making it much easier to use them (especially while in mid-air).
— If Stranger starts running in 3rd person mode, he’ll eventually lean forward and begin using all four of his limbs. The animation for this is quite good the speed increase allows the player to quickly cover large distances.
While in this sprinting mode Stranger can also smash through enemies and obstacles, but the bumpy terrain makes it all too easy to lose steam and be forced back into a walk.
— Sliding down chutes is great fun, and it builds up speed that’s retained when Stranger exists the slide. This allows him to travel down the chute, jump off of its end point, soar through the air, and finally hit the ground running on all fours. Very satisfying.
— Optional sidequests appear while travelling from hub to hub, giving the player a chance to earn some extra “moolah.” These are presented in a typically humourous Oddworld fashion, e.g., scurrying natives scream about how they hope “the demon” (Stranger) doesn’t climb their roofs and steal their idol, and when he does, they complain that it’s no fair and he should leave now that he took their stuff.
— Speaking to townspeople is required to initiate some missions, but this does not always result in a cutscene. Instead, the NPCs simply begin talking but control is not fully taken from the player; it’s still possible to move the camera around and sometimes even walk away.
— If Stranger tries to talk with no one around, he ends up doing a quick monologue that gives clues to the current mission.
— The player can attack NPC’s and get some extra money from them, but doing this too often makes the townspeople rush indoors while the guards start shooting at Stranger. This only lasts a little while, though, and eventually the NPC’s reemerge declaring something humourous like “It’s boring sitting inside all day, so we’re gonna come out now. You just behave yourself, you hear!”