The Resident Evil series is about experimentation, success, and failure, both inside and outside its story. The series that had started out conceptually as a remake of an old Famicom RPG had grown and evolved throughout its life on the PlayStation, and as the dawn of the sixth console generation was upon us, Resident Evil would begin to change for both better and worse as it tried to re-find its footing among other Survival Horror titles. Being the first game released on a then next-generation platform, Resident Evil: Code Veronica could be seen as the bridging point for things to come with the series.
The development of Code Veronica is actually a little sad. The title was announced in 1998 for the Dreamcast, several months before Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. As far as consumers knew, this was the next storyline sequel to Resident Evil 2… until Nemesis was unveiled at Tokyo Game Show the following March. Code Veronica was then pushed back from its planned April 1999 release to the end of the year, and then eventually to February 2000. While Code Veronica released with nothing but positive reviews, in hindsight it feels like the game has not aged as well as other Resident Evil titles.
The story of Code Veronica starts several months after the events of Resident Evil 2. Claire Redfield has finally found a lead on her brother, Chris, after his disappearance before the T-Virus outbreak in Raccoon City. She infiltrates an Umbrella facility in Europe, is captured by security, then is deported to a prison on the Umbrella-owned Rockfort Island. She now has to escape the island and stop the plans of the Ashford siblings, whose family runs the island and is trying to regain their control over Umbrella.
Family relationships, or rather sibling relationships, is the big theme for Code Veronica. Claire and Chris’ “healthy” relationship is continually contrasted to that of Alfred and Alexia Ashford. The Ashfords live in a nightmare of crushed self-imagery, having learned that their family was once one of the most powerful influences within Umbrella until their father tanked that reputation into the ground. Both Alexia and Alfred sought to reclaim that position by working together, or so Alfred thought. Alexia’s true intentions are much more selfish than what Alfred thinks. She sees all of those around her as being below her. Her remarkable intelligence led to a remarkable ego. These same qualities are eventually her own undoing, as the Redfield siblings work together (sort-of) to take her down and end the Ashford line.
Code Veronica presents most of its story upfront through cutscenes. Whereas past titles relied mostly on old documents, giving a feeling that you’re witnessing the consequences of things gone wrong, Code Veronica’s story plays out in the now. It’s a bold decision, one that creates an interesting dynamic, even if it’s held back by clumsy writing and voice work. After the improved voicework for Resident Evil 2, Code Veronica’s cast, specifically the supporting cast, feels like a complete joke. Leonardo DiCaprio look-a-like Steve Burnside sounds like he’s fresh off the playground from middle school, and the over-caricatured Alfred Ashford feels very out of place, his voice reminiscent of something from the original PlayStation Resident Evil. Code Veronica did give us Richard Waugh for the voice of Wesker though, and his accent and mannerisms would serve as the ground for every Wesker actor to come after him to play it cool, calculating, and as suave as possible.
The sound design doesn’t just end with the voice cast though, as Resident Evil: Code Veronica has one of the most defining soundtracks in the series….or at least one of the most defining songs. If anyone who played this game pulled anything from it into their memory, it was probably one of the themes for Alexia Ashford. This small music box jingle is everywhere in the game, right up to the credit roll. The soundtrack for Resident Evil has had a few very notable tracks, but none as recognizable or up there as the Ashford theme. While the theme doesn’t do much on its own, I feel like I’d be denying a bigger part of the game by not acknowledging it. The amount of remixes it has both in-game and in various remakes/retellings solidifies it as the identifying element for Code Veronica. Whether a song defining a game is a good or bad thing, however, comes down to one’s opinion about the rest of the game.
Sadly, Code Veronica’s contribution to evolving gameplay is not as ambitious as its contribution to story. Developed in tandem with Nemesis, Code Veronica carried over only a fraction of the gameplay choices that its partner title made, most notably the 180-turn that would become a series staple. It did bring back 3D examination of the inventory though, a gimmick not seen since the original Resident Evil. The game also introduces a first-person mode, specifically for one boss fight and for post-game unlockable “Battle Game.” This focus on the third-dimension mirrors much of the original Resident Evil, in that the game aimed to capture its audience through what was, at the time, a demonstration of stunning visuals. While Resident Evil has yet to take a full-jump into the FPS genre, the working parts and missteps of Code Veronica probably inspired some of the movement options for Resident Evil 4 and every action-oriented Resident Evil game to follow it.
It’s actually surprising that reaction commands were not carried over from Nemesis for this game, as all the enemies feel like they were designed for it. Hunters return from classic Resident Evil, and they’re now much quicker and quieter than they were before- so quick in fact, that it’s hard to beat them on the draw, and they’re almost guaranteed to get in one or two hits before you can even raise your weapon. Even worse is the original enemy, the Bandersnatch, a tyrant-like monster that can stretch it’s arms like a long-range projectile and can hit you at almost any range. This is abused a lot, with plenty of Bandersnatches being left out of view and hidden in crammed corridors. You don’t have many options to deal with them, and the cramped hallways and rooms of the Rockfort base make for some frustrating encounters. You’re given a plethora of unique weapons to fight the hordes of the undead with, but not many defensive options to help when literally forced against a wall, other than to die and reload with that knowledge.
Keeping with the dynamic protagonist theme of previous titles, Code Veronica is split between Chris and Claire. Unlike previous titles though, you don’t pick one or the other, but instead play as both throughout the game. Despite both of them retreading the same areas, their playthroughs feel strikingly different.
Claire’s story takes place before the destruction of Rockfort Island and later on the Antarctic base. Much of the land is left undamaged and begs to be explored between all its major areas, but this is also where my personal least favorite element of Code Veronica, its over-saturated amount of needless backtracking, lies. Claire runs between a prison, training facility, airplane hangar, and mansion area. Each of these areas then gives a puzzle piece to something from a completely separate area, and it takes quite some time to navigate from one place to the next. There’s no feel of connectivity between the sections of Claire’s playthrough, but rather just a bunch of fluff meant to pad out the time and make the game feel bigger than it actually is.
In contrast, Chris’ levels feel very different, despite being retreads of where Claire has already been. He arrives at Rockfort after it’s been destroyed, and is left trying to find a way to his sister. Many of his puzzles are linear in nature. Each new item he uncovers goes directly into something within the next few rooms. There are plenty of shortcuts to help quickly navigate the area, and ultimately it gives the level design a sense of cohesion. It never feels like you’re stopping to backtrack- only like you’re moving forward. If anything, Chris’ half of Code Veronica is one of the better laid out maps of the Resident Evil franchise.
On its release, Resident Evil: Code Veronica received primarily praise from critics. It scored well, with the subsequent PS2 updated version Code Veronica X receiving much the same. If you were to ask any fan of the Dreamcast what their favorite survival horror titles were, you’d be hard-pressed to not hear this game somewhere on the list. Despite all this praise though, Veronica just hasn’t aged well. Its clunky approach to combat hearkens back to the original Resident Evil more than Resident Evil 2 or Nemesis. Its direct presentation of story flounders near the end, denying the first-round players a boss fight they’d been waiting almost half a decade for. And finally, its poorly constructed level design bloats the first half of the game for no reason other than to bloat it.
As a stepping stone for the series, Code Veronica is to Resident Evil what Castlevania 64 was to Castlevania. It’s a design choice that would eventually flourish in subsequent games years later, except, unlike Castlevania 64, people didn’t hate it upon release. If I had to recommend Code Veronica, it would only be to those thoroughly interested in experiencing the progressive baby steps Resident Evil took before 4. Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3, and the 2002 REmake offer much better and unique survival horror experiences than this aged Dreamcast exclusive.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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