In case you didn’t already know, Mercenaries 3D is NOT a brand new Resident Evil game. Instead, it’s a fleshed-out version of the time-attack Mercenaries mode made popular by RE4 and RE5, in which you try to rack up the highest number of kills before the clock hits zero. There are new characters to choose and a couple of new maps not found in the console versions, but for the most part this is existing RE material converted into 3D and made available on a handheld system.
As a side mode, Mercenaries is great fun. Simply choose a character and map, then try to stay alive as enemies continuously flood the area. Victory comes when the timer reaches zero, but the goal is to kill as many baddies as possible – not merely survive. To really succeed, you need to kill enemies quickly for combo bonuses, plus replenish the time meter with clock-shaped pickups throughout the map. However, the longer you keep the streak going, the more enemies keep pouring in, including tougher baddies like the one-hit-kill chainsaw dudes that terrified us so thoroughly in RE4. This constant balancing act (keep timer going and possibly die vs let it run down and finish with a lower score) makes every single second a tension-filled, white-knuckle experience.
But sessions are measured in single-digit minutes, and in the end a high score is all you can hope for; that’s what made this a perfect side mode, a companion piece to the main RE4 and RE5 campaigns. As a standalone $40 title, with no online leaderboards or means to compare and share your best times, replay value is light. Sure there’s online co-op, but I can’t talk to my teammate as I could in RE5, and again there’s no way to compare my performance with leaderboards so the incentive is slight. The alternate character costumes are cool (especially Barry's super-patriotic suit), but most of them will unlock in the natural progression of the game, not because of repeated attempts. Furthermore, playing on a handheld will lead to the dreaded “claw hand,” as you’re holding R with your index finger almost the entire time. Be prepared for discomfort.
To pad out this fun but inarguably fleeting experience, Capcom’s added Call of Duty-like perks that unlock as you progress. These Skills cover a wide variety of abilities, everything from enhanced healing powers to better gun handling to oddities like “defeat an enemy with ‘7’ displayed on the clock for a time bonus.” They’re a nice touch, but they don’t drastically affect the flow and feel of the game, and I was able to beat every level with mostly A and S ranks using no perks at all. I suppose fiddling with various Skill combinations to achieve insurmountable scores is appealing to some, but again… you can’t post those scores anywhere, and in 2011 that seems flat out wrong.
There are three other issues introduced with this handheld version. First, enemy animations randomly stutter and shake when seen from far away. It’s a very distracting bug that I never recall seeing in the console versions; a Majini zombie or Las Plagas villager will skip around the map as it approaches, then suddenly re-synch and appear right in front of you. Second, there’s a bit too much menu surfing for what’s supposed to be a fast-action portable game. Want to replay the same map after completing it, say for a better score? You’ll have to go all the way back out and reload the map. Why not have a clear screen with three options: Replay Mission, Next Mission and Main Menu? Oddly enough, you can retry the mission if you die, but not if you succeed. Simply put, the interface and presentation are all around clumsy.
The third issue isn’t necessarily related to the quality of the game, but is worth mentioning in case you ever wanted to wipe your save data for the sake of starting fresh. Namely, you can’t. There’s only one save slot, and it cannot be deleted. Anything you accomplish is there forever. Personally, I don’t mind this “feature” in a score-attack game, because why would I want to erase all that data and start clean? But for those who might want to do so, or were thinking of buying the game used, realize that you 1) Can’t reset the save data, and 2) If buying used, it will already have data on the cart that can’t be altered.
Finally, there’s a playable demo of Resident Evil: Revelations included on the cart. “Demo” is a strong word, given that it’s about two whole minutes of walking through dimly lit hallways. You see three enemies, kill them and then you’re done. If you were hoping the Revelations demo would balance the $40 price tag, it really doesn’t. That said, I’m still intrigued by Revelations, as it does appear to be a return to a slower, scare-focused game and not the balls-out action of RE5.
Mercenaries 3D is a perfectly fine game. The underlying mechanics are a lot of fun and the new characters, maps and Skill system make it a more robust offering than anything that’s been on a console. But even these additions don’t justify the hefty pricetag, and with no online leaderboards to spur further playing, we suspect most will move on not long after the five-hour game is complete.
Jun 28, 2011