I’m a pretty big Resident Evil fan, as I’m sure can be seen from previous blogs. What an impression that first game made on me when it came out. I still vividly remember wondering, at the age of eight, as to just what kind of a person would live in such an oddly designed house. What happened if you needed something important in a room, but completely forgot how to solve the ten puzzles to get inside? What if one of the nephews came over one weekend and took with them the blue gem to the tiger statue, forever locking away the medallion behind it and cutting you off from all the ammunition you’d been hoarding in case shit ever got crazy and all the zombies made a jail break? God forbid anybody grabbed the shotgun without thinking twice. “Remember to replace it before you leave: we’re still trying to scrape your Uncle Reggie off the ceiling.” People paid money to live there. It’s absurd.
But I digress.
The series has had its ups and downs over the years (mostly downs these days), but the peak of my own personal dissatisfaction with Capcom’s hit-or-miss wizardry goes all the way back to Resident Evil Outbreak. There seems to be a rather inexplicable cult following with this short-lived franchise, with people even forming petitions demanding HD ports and an outright sequel. My only guess is that none of these people actually played the game online when the servers were still up, because holy shit was it bad. It was horrible. For those who’ve never heard of it, Outbreak was an online co-op Resident Evil game that played very much like the original ones did, except with four people banding together – it was Left 4 Dead before Left 4 Dead was even thought of. They even did the concept one better, and allowed you to become a zombie and turn on your teammates!
They were fabulous ideas with terrible execution. They ought to make laws against making games this bad, or at least draft a formal UN resolution condemning Capcom for the number of incredibly stupid decisions they made in its production.
This game was a double disappointment for me. One of the main features the game touted was that it could be installed on the brand new PlayStation 2 hard drive – it was an extra accessory loaded into the back of the console and attached to the network adapter, providing a whopping forty gigs of memory to basically just store all of your extra save files. They promised updates to your games, content you could download, a chicken in every pot, and a car in every garage – there was none of that. One game used the HDD regularly, and that was the MMO Final Fantasy XI. SOCOM II actually had “DLC” in the form of extra maps you could install to the HDD, but you couldn’t actually download them – you had to chase down copies of the Official PlayStation Magazine for the demo discs inside, which had the map on them.
Map. Singular. As in: one disc had one map, and there were a total of three maps you could collect. Each came on a single disc which had to be purchased and then installed onto the HDD. You’d have to go from store to store each month, hoping that they not only carried the magazine, but were also current with its issues. It was essentially a tedious treasure hunt with treasure you had to pay for.
Overlooking a handful of other minor games which included HDD support (which can be counted on two hands with fingers left to spare), Outbreak was the last rather important game to support the device at all. Hopes were riding high on this game as it looked like my $100 purchase was about to be justified.
Then I started playing it.
First and foremost, the loading times were atrocious. You’d literally spend twenty seconds looking at a door before it opened and allowed you to enter the next room. You’d walk around it for five seconds, realizing you’d already been there about ten times and still didn’t need anything out of it, and would spend another twenty seconds trying to leave. Shooting yourself in the mouth would be a lot more fun than wandering around in this game, and it’d definitely take a lot less time to pull off. If you had the HDD and installed the game onto it, the rooms would take five seconds at most to pass through – quite a considerable drop.
The problem came when trying to play online (which was the only way to play the game, as the single player was a painful, boring, and futile exercise in AI management), as the servers were segregated between the haves and the have-nots – those with the HDD, and those without it. Each lobby would fall under two distinct, marked categories: HDD and DVD-ROM. If you wanted to use your HDD install, you would have to find like-minded fellows who also had an HDD to accompany you in your journey. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough idiots in the world to buy enough of the damn thing, leading to a lot of these lobbies being empty most of the time. This would then force you into the DVD-ROM rooms, which disabled your install by default so you wouldn’t have an unfair advantage against your other teammates. You either played the game from your hard drive with other people doing the same, or you weren’t allowed to use your hard drive at all.
So there went $100 right down the drain.
After being forced into a slower DVD-ROM lobby, you’d finally be able to play an online match. If you could stand the load times, it wasn’t too bad of an experience. Being able to work and communicate with three other people brought a new element of strategy and cooperation that the franchise had never seen before, elevating it to an entirely new level which could be enjoyed by all.
Except you couldn’t communicate with a single fucking person.
Capcom decided to ditch both voice and text chats in order to maintain an atmosphere of tension and anxiety throughout the game’s design. The only tension I found was balled up in my fist, and the only anxiety was that I definitely would not get my money back if I snapped this game in half. The game used the directional pad to make your character shout out vague, general one-liners in the hopes that anyone around you could get the gist of what you were trying to say. Conversations often sounded a lot like this:
It’s not like voice chat would have been a radical idea. The SOCOM games were already wildly popular by that time, and they could all be bought with headsets included. They each had vibrant online communities with plenty of people using their mics, back during the days when you had to go through DNAS checkpoints before hopping online. The technology was there and it was in a lot of hands – more hands than the HDD was in, that’s for sure. This was a deliberate design choice, one which was repeated in the sequel after everyone bitched about it in the first game! It’s one thing to slam your nuts in a car door because you’re curious – it’s quite another to do it again when there’s no more curiosity to be had.
The only hope was in death. After bumbling around in a few rooms and deciding that I really need to think before I buy games, I’d end up throwing myself into the horde and joining the ranks of the undead. Life wasn’t worth all the loading screens. I’d rather die and hunt my friends than spend another second trying to take the game seriously. So I’d sit and wait in the shadows, setting up my ambush for the poor soul who would soon pass through my trap. Granted, I'd be spending a lot of time spinning in a circle before anyone showed up. It’d be worth it though, for as soon I got my chance, I’d drag one of them with me into the fiery, tiresome hell of the afterworld itself. So I sat and waited. Waited, and waited, and waited.
Then somebody would come into the room, run right around me like I was a piece of furniture, and then go about their merry way.
There comes a point in everyone’s life where they’re brutally introduced to the everyday tenants of market economics. They learn that all ideas are great until they’re actually put into practice – from that point on, not all of them are winners. The concepts of bottom lines and profit margins hits them smack in the face as they become collateral damage in shameless cash grabs. People will sell you things using brand name alone, knowing they can stick a good enough name on the worst of all products and still make a buck. The trust and faith people put into a franchise can be worth as much as gold, even if what is being sold is a rock wrapped in yellow foil. There comes a point where that trust and faith is broken, and your world becomes a little more cynical as its nature begins to show. This game was not worthy of the Resident Evil title, no matter which way you slice it.
You also learn that some people are just fucking stupid. They made a sequel to this shit. And it still didn’t have voice chat!