When Resident Evil evolved from the fixed perspectives and pre-rendered backdrops of old into the third-person shooter it is today, there were fans who shed a tear for the passing of the Old Ways. Never mind that Resident Evil 4 was widely acclaimed as one of the best games ever made. For some people, it just wasn't Resi anymore.
If you're one of them, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D won't be of the slightest interest to you. It's 'new' Resi stripped down to its action-based core and chopped into bite-size chunks.
If, on the other hand, you thought the onslaught in the village was the best bit of Resident Evil 4, you're going to have a fantastic time with this. Mercenaries is essentially that scene repeated over and over, the locations sometimes changing but the gameplay unvarying and unapologetically identical throughout.
It's based on the bonus mode that first cropped up in Resi 4 and was expanded to include co-op play in Resi 5. You're dropped into a small level - one of eight in total, all taken from the aforementioned games - and given a few minutes to rack up points by killing an endless supply of zombies and other creeps. If you fail to survive until the end, you get nothing. Otherwise, you're awarded a score total and a grade from a lowly D all the way up - as far as we've managed - to SS rank.
RINSE AND REPEAT
At first glance that's as far as the game goes. You'll play the same levels many times, with different lighting and a different choice of characters. You'll follow the same routes, do the same things and fight the same enemies. But it doesn't feel as monotonous as it sounds.
The locations don't really matter - you'll rarely notice the scenery. It's all about a brutal, visceral form of combat that expands and grows in parallel with your own abilities. At first you'll be happy to last as long as the regulation time limit, and you'll do a lot of running away to make it that far.
Eventually you'll learn the tricks that let you stretch out the timer and maximise your scoring potential, and instead of worrying whether you'll make it to the finish you'll be actively hunting enemies to preserve your combo counter. In Mercenaries the combo is the number of opponents you've taken out in quick succession. If you go for a few seconds without making a kill, it starts to flash and eventually vanishes, resetting back to zero. Needless to say you score far more points with a 20+ combo than you do with no combo at all.
BANG! BANG! *CLICK*
Approach Mercenaries as a shooter and the best you can hope for is 30 seconds of carnage followed by a minute and a half of fleeing in cowardly terror. The choice of weapons is probably the first thing you'll consider when picking a character, but ammo is absurdly limited. Guns capable of producing the splattery headshot effect we loved in Resi 4 come with enough bullets to take out maybe half a dozen zombies at best.
The trick is to follow carefully placed shots with melee attacks. You can only strike an enemy when he's been hurt by a bullet, so the super effective tactic we've settled on is to pop him in the kneecap and smack him in the face while he's doubled up in pain. Although it runs contrary to our baser instincts - this game does awesome headshots - we've learned to play it like this because we were having so little success otherwise.
Conserving ammo this way gives Mercenaries a rather different complexion. Most beneficially, playing melee style adds five seconds to the clock for every zombie you waste. In periods of intense action, you can actually make the time limit increase. Plus you can earn perks that electrify and stagger nearby enemies, allowing you to chain together epic beatdowns. It's such an important gameplay factor that the gunplay takes a back seat. Shooting to kill not only wastes bullets, it costs you time.