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TACTICAL HORROR ACTION

With today, the inaugural day of the annual E3 conference, interest was at an apex while anticipation was also at an all time high for new information and footage of the latest games. Naturally for our own purposes here at Biohaze, RE 5 was the one game in particular which would captivate our minds and which would lead us to a new level of excitement and conversation for the foreseeable future. While there is no dispute that Capcom did indeed come to the show and “deliver” at Microsoft’s keynote presentation this morning, the real question on my mind is if what we were shown today truly resonates with the franchise as a whole and if this footage itself DELIVERED on the premise set by Mikami himself all of those years ago back in the world of 5th generation gaming…

Rather than tackle these issues alone, I enlisted the assistance of George (Yama) and Alex (cvx) and together we pressed the issue and analyzed what has been debuted and our reactions to Capcom’s efforts:
 
1)
Do you the feel that the increased presence of action in the games takes away from the atmosphere and ambience of the environments and story?

Yama: Somewhat. One of the main attractions to the original Biohazard was the highly detailed surroundings. The importance was further noted with the immense amount of detail work put into Rebirth and Biohazard 0, the two titles before the shift. Though Biohazard 4 and 5 have beautifully detailed textures, the minor intricacies of the earlier titles were more apparent. Some of this is due to scale, but the rest is caused by the forceful nature of the game to keep the player moving. While most of this is overlooked by adrenalin junkies looking to blast a few limbs off of a screaming motorcyclist, these are the details that set the mood and kept players intact with some of the creepiest atmospheres known to gaming. I feel the gameplay and atmosphere need to work together to set the mood and a mix of pacing is necessary for Biohazard 5.



SandBox: While I feel that action has assisted Bio titles in the past in terms of pacing and style, I feel that none of the other games in the series cannon (excluding Bio 4) placed action as the focal point of game play like Bio 5 has appeared to do. Consequently, I feel that the story and general atmosphere of the game will take a hit and that whatever classic Bio elements that is present in the game will seem inconsequential and unimportant. This could also make the game feel incoherent and “loose” regarding switching back and forth from action to “rest.” This type of stop and go game play is not what made Biohazard a bestselling franchise.



cvxfreak: To an extent, yes, I do agree with this assessment. The previous Biohazard game play was set up in a way that allowed for gamers to enjoy the atmosphere and environments in a slow, calm pace (relatively speaking). However, I do not believe that the increased presence of action elements detracts from one's ABILITY to enjoy the game's environments. Indeed, clearing a room of enemies in Biohazard 4 allowed for gamers to enjoy the environments, and the new camera angle allowed for a greater amount of depth than before. Regarding the story, I feel that the game play brings no serious consequence to the Biohazard series. As early as Biohazard CODE: Veronica, in fact, Capcom has strived to diversify the enemy lineup, and the enemy-types of Biohazard 4 and now 5 looks to be within series boundaries.

2)
Biohazard has always been a series that has stressed the feeling of impending danger and utter destruction/annihilation on the main characters. Do you feel that Bio 5 captures this sense of fear and uncertainty as present in the previous games? Would you say that for a game to be called Biohazard, this feeling must be experienced by the player at ALL times throughout the game?

Yama: I feel it succeeds in new found ways, but doesn’t capture the original motive behind the series creation. I acknowledge the fact that series tend to evolve, but how far should they be allowed to go before defacing a franchise? The current style attempts to overwhelm players with a new formed sense of tension. To create the intended feel, the game throws a large number of enemies at the main character. However being fully equipped and able to fend each and every one off, the sense of tension is diminished to that of just an action game. Forcing players to solve twisted mind games all while killing, running and conserving formed a better sense of overwhelming tension and stress than five hundred pitch-fork wielding villagers ever could. In order for the new engine to succeed, I feel tighter confines and a mixture of enemies in one place is necessary. Biohazard 5 is a departure from the classic series, like it's predecessor, but can succeed in various new found ways. A mixture of both formulas could prove to be the most horrifying yet.



SandBox: I feel that having the player feeling and sensing danger and the fear of the known are absolutely essential in any biohazard game. From what I have seen so far, Chris seems to be of the attitude of:”There are some enemies….let me go eradicate them.” I don’t feel that Biohazard has ever been the type of franchise in which you go out LOOKING FOR TROUBLE. This type of gung-ho game play is hazardous to the Bio formula. I feel that is important for the player to also have a general sense of fear while playing and to feel that at ANY moment something could pop up at them and cut them into pieces. Complacency is something that should not be a part of any Biohazard experience, this also heavily ties into storytelling and ambience as well. The player is aware of their surroundings and basic circumstances, but they are ignorant of the big picture and must piece together what is going on in the world through the GAME-PLAY in order to figure out who/what is pulling the strings behind the scenes. Having a player feeling like an uber-juiced up commando unmercifully crushing enemies leaves little to the imagination. The Bio series is very much about how each individual player reacts to the high trauma and stress and going into a game guns-drawn-a-blazing destroys this experience.



cvxfreak: More so than the traditional series do Biohazard 4 and 5 capture that sense of danger and annihilation. Even Umbrella Chronicles is superior to the original games in that regard, while the Outbreak games do come halfway in between old and new. They each achieve this feeling in their own way, with the slow enemies and limited ammo in the older games offset by the character's slow movement, and the newer games offsetting enemy speed advantages with plenty of ammunition. In the end, the new Biohazard style wins out. While I hold the Biohazard name to certain standards in order for a game to be entitled to the title, I feel that the sense of danger is not one of the defining points in a title qualifying for the Biohazard name. The series has come so far in over 12 years for it to be held to standards that haven't been true in half the series' lifespan.

3)
Do you feel that "features" such as in-game weapon switching and plug-in & plug-out cooperative game play significantly detract from core Biohazard principles? If so, does this mean that the series is moving in a new direction and the series will longer be the Biohazard brand that we grew up with?

Yama: Completely. As we’ve already covered, if one thing is important in the Biohazard series it is the atmosphere and sense of realism. A cinematic value has always been attributed to the series, especially the last of the classic mainstream saga. Aside from a player’s character, all other NPC’s for the most part are choreographed. The moment a players split decision deciphers an NPC, the movement is unnatural and the sense of cinematic quality is lost. The same is to be said if another player is controlling the second character on screen. The feeling of playing through a virtual cut scene, such as Rebirth, is replaced by a more traditional gaming experience. Though undeniably fun, co-op tends to allow players to rely on each other whereas the Biohazard series is known for a feeling of helplessness. Titles like Outbreak or even Gears of War are successful in what they set out to do, however Biohazard 5 is a mainstream title and certain standards have came of the series. I'll gladly acept additional replay value as long as it doesn't hamper the initial play through.



SandBox: I feel that these new features heavily detract from the Bio formula and could possibly lead to pacing and balancing issues within the game. The in-game weapon switching takes away from the strategic aspect of the series while the cooperative play is something which has never been done before in the series (with the exception of the outbreak games). While it remains to be seen how these changes will be implemented within the actual game, I feel that tinkering with the traditional formula in this way is the first step towards fundamental change for the series. Whether this change is the result of evolution in game design or a result of changing gaming patterns, the fact of the matter is that the traditional Bio formula is becoming less popular with each installment and I feel that over time we will see the powers at be deviate further and further from the traditional center of the series and that the result will be a series which will become unrecognizable to series veterans.



cvxfreak:
I do not feel that technological advancements detract from the core Biohazard principles, whatever those may actually be. In-game weapon switching, once gamers actually have Biohazard 5 in their hands, should not be a big deal, and I'm positive gamers won't notice a huge difference in the Biohazard 5 game play on that basis alone. Co-operative game play is also a logical evolution from Capcom's ambitions as far back as 1999, when development of Biohazard 0 was underway for the Nintendo 64. The Outbreak games went even further with their online cooperation component, and Umbrella Chronicles also brought forward the two-player dynamic. So, to tout the co-op gameplay as a gigantic change is simply misleading. As for the series' direction, it has not been within its traditional roots for nearly 6 years, so it's fair to say that the change has already occurred. Biohazard has spun off in various directions, which is a testament to the series' game play flexibility, a plus point in my view.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Yama: I would have loved to see the Biohazard series continue the way Mikami had originally intended. The technically aged Rebirth and Zero are still some of the most fantastic looking titles to date and to see this formula continue into the HD era would have been truly breathtaking. In consideration of Biohazard’s sister series Dino Crisis, it would have been fitting for a series that progressively surrounded itself by action to consolidate the new game play mechanics. Though in the end the best of both worlds is obviously too much to ask for and it is safe to say the series we once knew and loved is dead. This is a new page in survival horror, for better or worse...

Despite some of my concerns for the series and admitted longing for the classic formula, I feel Biohazard 5 is going to succeed at what it sets out to do and ultimately be a great title. As much of a departure Biohazard 4 was, it did something revolutionary. A mixture of these elements in addition to what made the other titles so memorable could equate to a chilling and exciting title.

cvxfreak: As I have yet to play Biohazard 5, I can only theorize to an extent, but I think my viewpoints will come to pass. Having recently completed Biohazard 0 on the Wii, I do have a dose of classic Biohazard in my head. At the same time, playing through it, even as a diehard fan, I can see why Capcom is so adamant to move forward with the series. I think gamers should appreciate the traditional Biohazard games that actually came out, and treasure them as the best of the best that would be difficult to top by a new game, especially with the departure of much of the staff that was involved in the series in its early years.


SandBox: Above all, the atmosphere and ambience are what define a true Biohazard title. It is also important as you also mentioned for the player to feel that dreaded sense of helplessness and danger. These feelings which the player experiences during game play further shape the style and direction the given title takes during its progression. We both also agree that to have senseless action mixed in with the traditional core game play will not work and will lead to confusion and unbalanced game mechanics. A title that is all frenetic action and hell raising will lead to a title that is too high strung for its own good and that will ultimately lose its artistry in the long run. What I want to see happen for Bio 5 is rather simple. The action in the game needs to be worked out in terms of is specialized and complex ONLY in moments where it needs to be. The title should be made to be holistic and open to the player in that the player can explore and make of their situation what they will rather than forcing endless gunfight confrontations and motorcycle battles down upon the player. The action should not stand out on its own and should be incorporated within the core Biohazard principle mechanics; it should be stylized uniquely and individually apart from the other parts of the game and then tied to the other parts of the whole to form one cohesive experience.

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What does the future hold for our beloved Biohazard series? While change seems inevitable in the game world today, we should not be complacent and let any kind of alteration influence our minds or feelings. It is important to remember how this series began, where it came from, and what influenced people like Mikami to make such a bold statement to the entirety of the gamming community when he created the original Biohazard. Ingenuity is important and it is essential to break new ground and expand one’s horizons. But when ingenuity is not backed by purpose or reason, entropy is the result and the ultimate result is ingenuity for the sake of ingenuity; which benefits no one.
   
 



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