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Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D hands-on preview

Our first reaction to The Mercenaries 3D was "huh?" After all, this is a popular side-mode from Resident Evil 4 and 5, where you enter a map and blast the hell out of zombies until the timer runs out or you're eaten alive. Is that enough content to justify its own (possibly $40+) game? Well, initially I thought not, but after several rounds of uppercutting bad guys until their heads explode I realized this shooting-gallery style is a reasonable fit for bite-sized, handheld gaming.

There's no story. There's no reason or motivation - it's just pure gameplay. Enter a level, kill enemies quickly to keep the timer going and stay alive until you rack up the highest possible score. There's a beautiful simplicity to it, even though yes, we are still scratching our heads at the idea of Mercenaries as its own product. But even after my appointment and allotted time with the game, I felt compelled to go back and try again for a higher score. Maybe I can find more treasure chests this time (each with bonus time or extra items, like weapons or herbs), or perhaps if I choose Krauser and use his rocket launcher against the chainsaw dude, the match will last just a bit longer - it's every bit as infectious as the console version, just on the go.

Capcom reps acknowledged how Mercenaries will be perceived, and made it a point to spell out the various enhancements and additions. First, you're getting a cast of characters from across the RE universe. We saw Chris, Hunk and Krauser, each with their own loadouts, but we also saw a brand new version of Claire Redfield, and were told there were definitely more in the final version. Each is customizable, and there will be further ways to fiddle with each character via content unlocked as you play through the single-player game. What these customizable perks will be is still a mystery.

Second, the controls have been streamlined for easier access. Weapons are hotkeyed to the 3DS' d-pad, and healing items are mapped to the A button for a quick, one-press jolt of First Aid Spray (if you have one, that is). No clumsy menus or "hold this button while pressing another" to get to basic inventory. And if you bring up your gun with R, and then hold L as well, you can actually move while shooting - in a Resident Evil game! Granted, you won't be doing this often, as enemies are pretty much constantly breathing down your neck.

And on that note, Mercenaries 3D is every bit as intense as the console versions. The waves of infected villagers keep coming, and each of them look and animate alarmingly close to the 360/PS3 versions - in fact, the whole game looks more or less identical to the big boys. Sure there are obvious hitches here and there, but for a handheld, it's quite stunning to see. I did notice a bit of stuttery shambling from one baddie across the screen, but nothing else that really soured the experience.

As for the 3D effects... I didn't find them particularly good or bad. Yes there's depth, but it didn't make aiming any easier nor did it suck me into the experience more than a standard display. In fact, I played a few rounds with 3D on, then turned it off, and found the game just as fun, if not better when it was in dusty old 2D. On the plus side, the 3D effects never wore my eyes out or hindered the game at all.

Capcom teased there will be modes beyond "kill everything" and they'll be unique to the 3DS version of the game, but didn't elaborate. More specifically, there'll be online co-op, both local and over Wi-Fi, and naturally leaderboards to see who's on top. All you're really doing is playing for a top time, but hey, such simple competition can keep you playing for hours (as we've all noticed while playing NFS Hot Pursuit and Blur). I don't want to oversell the experience here, especially given the prospective prices of 3DS games, but for a straightforward, RE-themed shoot-em-up, this is pretty damn fun. The real question is whether those additional modes and customization will make Mercenaries feel like a real, standalone package or overpriced semi-spinoff. It's set to launch this summer, so there's a chance we'll see this again at E3 - maybe we'll know for sure then?

Jan 19, 2011