Was your favorite part of the Resident Evil series shooting things in the head? Was the only part of the Resident Evil series you enjoyed shooting things in the head? Do you wish you could take that part of the game, strip everything else out, and put strict time limits on it? If so, then have I got a game for you …
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D attempts to boil the Resident Evil experience down into one that can be enjoyed portably by taking the Mercenaries minigame from earlier Resident Evil titles and building an entire game out of it. It’s a decent idea that makes for an entertaining on-the-go experience when played in short bursts, but ends up feeling shallow in the long run. There is some longevity provided by unlockable characters, costumes, and skills but eventually, shooting enemies in the head throughout the same set of levels becomes repetitious.
The story is delivered early in the game by the exuberant narrator who seems to be your trainer and commander. In a couple of sentences, he gives away both the entire plotline and the reason he doesn’t work for the military: “I think it’s time for you to learn a little strategy. The purpose of The Mercenaries is to defeat as many enemies as possible within the time limit.” (Alright men, I’ve studied the intel and I think our strategy should be to quickly kill the enemy!) To be fair, that’s exactly what you do: The game is a series of self-contained levels with a time limit that can be extended by breaking glowing red obelisks. Points are earned by killing zombies (or, occasionally, boss creatures) and are increased with combo kills. Afterwards, the player’s performance is graded, which may unlock a new character, skill, outfit, set of levels, or some other trinket, and then it’s back to selecting another level. Repeat until exploding zombie heads becomes boring (this may take a while).
That said, the shooting feels as good as it ever has in the Resident Evil games – if anything, it feels slightly improved by allowing the player to move while aiming which, though slow and rarely useful, is a good first step in addressing the issue of being locked in place while firing that plagued Resident Evil 4 and 5. Hit detection feels good, locational damage is accurate, and guns have a range as long as the view distance, which is impressively far for a handheld game. The control scheme has been adapted well to the controls of the 3DS, and I only rarely felt as though I were struggling against them more than I did their console equivalent.
The unlockable extras provide a sense of advancement that helps bind the arcade experience of the rest of the game together. Though players will likely be able to unlock all the levels and characters with relative ease, earning the alternate outfits and signature weapons requires much more effort, and even advanced players will be challenged. The skills, however, are what provide the most compelling reason to persist. Each character can select up to three skills to use at any one time, conferring benefits ranging from increased weapon damage to faster reload rates. Further, these skills become more powerful as the player earns points with them equipped. It doesn’t prevent each round from feeling similar to the last, but it does give players a reason to play the rounds more than once.
There is a third-person over-the-shoulder camera which allows players to move forward, walk backwards, or slowly turn (along with a button for a quick about-face). Holding down a trigger puts the player into “ready” mode, where mobility is strictly limited, the gun is held up, and the laser sight must be guided to the target. In Resident Evil 4 this was a tense mechanic, forcing the player to choose between moving and shooting, during which the field of view was restricted further, leaving the player vulnerable to surprise attacks. While this is still true, Mercenaries’ focus on constant action destroys the effect – surprise attacks lose their suspense when they happen continuously. The result is an action game with a shooting mechanic more at home in a survival-horror game, and much of the game’s challenge lies in fighting against the sub-optimal aiming system. That’s not to say it’s a bad system, it’s simply out of place in what is strictly an action game.
Like Resident Evil 5, Mercenaries 3D includes both local (though not, of course, split-screen) and online co-op multiplayer, which plays like the single player with another person running around blasting zombies with you. In most cases this is just a more hectic way to play, though the potential exists for organized players to design effective cooperative strategies.
If you’ve played the Mercenaries minigame and really enjoyed it, this is a faithful adaptation that includes unlockables as well as both local and internet multiplayer. If you’re looking for something to spend extended amounts of time with, there are better choices, but if you’re looking for something to fill a few minutes here and there and like the idea of an arcade shooter using Resident Evil mechanics, Mercenaries will do the trick.
Please note, however, that Mercenaries 3D does not allow players to erase their save data. This means that purchasing a used copy will result in a partially or completely unlocked game, which may reduce the replay value. Additionally, some retailers will not accept the game as a trade-in, and its resale value may be severely diminished. This has not been factored into the review score, but it is something to consider before buying.
Bottom Line: An accurate port of the Resident Evil Mercenaries minigame – and that’s all it is.
Recommendation: An entertaining arcade experience, but lacking in depth. It’s worth your money if you’re a big Mercenaries fan or want a polished arcade shooter to kill five minutes with occasionally, but don’t expect much beyond that.[rating=3]