Once more into the breach
You can't keep a good menace down, and so it is that Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D (3DS) sees Chris Redfield and a host of other Resident Evil buddies gun down hundreds more mutated monsters in this action-skewed spin-off from Capcom's evergreen horror series.
Unhappily ever after
Mercenaries first appeared as a bonus mode in Resident Evil 4, before returning in Resident Evil 5. This standalone 3DS version feels very much like a remix of the two. Maps are drawn from popular locations of the two previous games, while enemies – including some hulking brutes and a boss or two – will also be instantly familiar.
Gameplay is simple. You pick one of eight characters (though only three are available at the start, and each has their own fixed weapon loadout) and then plunge into thirty against-the-clock missions where maximising your killstreaks and elongating the timer are your twin goals. The better your score, the higher your rank. Then it's on to the next challenge, even before you get a chance to catch your breath.
If you've come for the sort of outlandish plotting and ghoulish creepiness that made Resident Evil famous, you're in for a disappointment. This is a purely arcade-style high-score game, with no storyline and no time for atmospherics. The monsters attack, and you keep plugging away until they're all dead. Simple as.
In at the deep end
The game starts with a series of short tutorial missions to ease you into the controls, but they're not really needed. Movement is on the thumbstick, while the right trigger aims your weapon. That's virtually all you need to know. The Y button does almost everything else, from pulling the trigger to collecting ammo to punching monsters in the face - depending on the context. It's really very easy to get stuck into.
There are some more nuanced controls, such as an instant 180 degree spin for quick getaways and the chance to move (very slowly) with your gun drawn, but for the most part it's a shooting gallery. A very nice-looking shooting gallery, in gory 3D.
This is the first truly 3D hardcore action game for the 3DS and Capcom has done a great job of showing just how much the effect can enhance the experience. Judging the distance to targets and surveying the area feels more alive and natural in 3D. The panic when a chainsaw-wielding foe gets too close is palpable. It can be distracting as well though, especially when coordination of the shoulder buttons nudges the screen out of the narrow focus zone, causing everything to go blurry - and right when you need clarity the most.
The game is at its best when played in two player co-op mode, either locally or online via a WiFi connection. Almost all missions are playable solo or with a partner, but some of the later challenges seem specifically tailored to the two player game. Connection issues are rare, and while the graphics start to wobble online the benefits of an extra pair of hands outweigh any technical compromises.
With the ability to coordinate your defences, and pick characters with complementary weapon sets, it's simply more satisfying and exciting to throw yourself into the battle knowing that there's another human intelligence by your side. Once you've mastered the layouts of the maps, you can start pulling off more daring strategies in pursuit of an even higher score.
The spice of (after)life
If The Mercenaries has a weakness, it's that it doesn't really offer much more than was already unlocked in Resident Evils 4 and 5. You'll soon become familiar with the small number of maps, and while you can unlock new characters and skill badges, there's no way of knowing what you need to be doing in order to get them. There's a very short demo for Resident Evil: Revelations which lasts only a few minutes, and the main game's thirty missions won't last dedicated players more than a few days. After that, the game's lasting appeal will likely depend on how addicted you are to the leaderboards.
There's also the restriction to a single save file, which means that everything you unlock, and every score you achieve is burned to the cartridge forever. There's no way to start over, so if you want to begin afresh you'll need to buy the game new. Conversely, if you'd rather get a head-start, picking up a pre-owned cartridge should give you more toys to play with, thanks to the previous owner.
The Mercenaries is a beefy and satisfying action experience that will come as welcome relief to 3DS owners looking for something a little more bloody in their gaming diet. Only high-score chasers will want to stick with it for months, but everyone should give it a try - if only to see what a hardcore action game can do with handheld 3D.
- Brutal, fast-paced action.
- Online co-op works a treat.
- Scratches that hardcore itch.
- Not enough variety.
- Unlocks are opaque.
- Only one save file, forever.