Month: February 2017

Resident Evil 7 Review — Make (Urban) America Hate Again

by Jed Pressgrove

One of the most superficial claims about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is that it brings the Resident Evil series “back to its roots.” What this game, written by westerner Richard Pearsey, actually does is reuse anti-rural American horror cliches while sporting a “new perspective,” as if making a first-person title is revolutionary. With this in mind, Resident Evil 7 is most accurately described as a nostalgic survival-horror reboot for city snobs.

Set in rural Louisiana (again, not Resident Evil’s roots), Resident Evil 7 puts you in control of Ethan Winters scouring the home of a “hick family” (to quote condescending critic Simon Parkin) for his missing wife Mia. The proceedings get grotesque quickly: within an hour or so, you will be invited to eat maggot-ridden food and then chased around the house by drawling patriarch Jack Baker, a villain who recalls Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. With his own life on the line, Ethan must fight back with a standard array of weapons (knife, pistol, shotgun, grenade launcher, etc.) that feel like a sentimental regression from the superior combat options of Resident Evil 4.

Although Pearsey eventually provides an extraordinary explanation as to why this rural place and family are so decrepit, his script borrows heavily from American films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, Wrong Turn, and others that suggest rural people are backward. Pearsey’s co-opted vision reveals its contempt for country folk with ridiculous dialogue (“Welcome to the family, son.” and “Rise and shine, sleepyhead. It’s time for supper.”) and references to outdated items like VCRs (which doubles as a treat for nostalgia-obsessed nerds). The implication is that rural people already talk and live funny in their isolation, and when you mix this existing idiocy with nasty science fiction, you have what many critics and fans have called a return to scariness.

Only problem is you’d have to be oblivious to or willfully ignorant of the movies that Resident Evil 7 copies to find this garbage shocking. Even if Pearsey isn’t as snooty and resentful as his script suggests, you would think he, one of the writers of the deconstructionist Spec Ops: The Line, would be more aware of how unoriginal and cheap this horror story is. When you approach a refrigerator to read notes like “Male 20s Portly BBQ,” you have to wonder how anyone living in the Information Age could overlook the vicious repetitiveness of this rural cannibalism idea, which was also excused when it appeared in the second episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. That critics like Parkin would compare this slasher-film crap to Truman Capote’s multidimensional brilliance shows you how delusional a city snob can be.

Curiously, this same type of audience, supposedly progressive, has glossed over the racism and misogyny of Resident Evil 7. The deputy David Andersen is a textbook example of a token black character who is only there to die. And not only does he die, but Ethan, upon finding David’s corpse in a dissection room, quips “Poor deputy.” In one stroke, developer Capcom gets in its minimal diversity quota, and in another stroke, the company implies the black guy doesn’t matter anyway. In another scene, you fight Jack’s wife Marguerite. Here, Pearsey confirms his unexamined urban bias with Marguerite’s line “There’s no escape, city boy.” This dialogue comes at about the time you discover Marguerite’s weak point: her exposed, corrupted vagina. It’s a shameful way of degrading an already-savage rural caricature.

Pearsey does offer Zoe, Jack and Marguerite’s daughter, as a counterexample to her family’s inherent backwardness. Still, Zoe seems like more of a plot device compared to how writer/director Eli Craig uses the character of Allison to show a genuine connection between rural and non-rural people in the sociological masterpiece Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Craig’s film exposes Pearsey’s low standards for horror writing and raises legitimate points about how fear on both sides of the urban/rural divide results in destruction. Resident Evil 7 only offers longstanding stupidity to go along with its clunky action — a frightening combo for all the wrong reasons.

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The Last Guardian Review — Bizarre and Cliched

by Jed Pressgrove

The resistance of Trico, a humongous griffin-like creature, makes The Last Guardian a satire of the virtual-pet and virtual-helper concepts. As the boy protagonist, you are called to work with Trico to solve puzzles, but Trico doesn’t always care about making progress, so you find yourself having to feed, pet, and shout over and over again at the beast, whose whims ironically become the whole point of the affair. With this capricious animal, director Fumito Ueda lays the foundation for one of the most emotionally complex games of the 21st century, yet this startling approach is somewhat undone by the predictability of the journey.

By pouring traits of our favorite pets into Trico (such as a cat’s tendency to raise a paw, pause, then slap at things), Ueda taps into humankind’s sentimentality for animals. Such fuzzy feelings are counterbalanced by the realization that a pet makes life (the puzzle) more difficult than it should be and by the fact that an animal is frightening under distress, best illustrated by Trico’s roaring and stomping after he smashes a foe. Because these sentiments happen in the context of a puzzler/platformer, The Last Guardian mocks convention when Trico doesn’t obey.

For example, sometimes the simple task of riding Trico as he jumps to a higher platform is mind-bogglingly slow compared to how such an action would go down in a traditional video game, where logical patterns dominate. Trico can be calm and positioned right in front of the ledge, with you stamping your feet on his head and pointing at the destination, but the animal might very well show no acknowledgement of the mission, obliviously staring and turning its head. To rub in this absurd lack of rationality, Ueda includes a camera that is baffling to deal with in 2016. The frustration of wrangling Trico in a smaller room can be compounded by the camera — in a strange interpretation of your analog-stick input — doing an illogical close-up of the creature’s feathers, closing off your avatar and the environment from sight.

Due to irritation, it’s hard to laugh at Ueda’s rejection of synchronization and flow, but in hindsight The Last Guardian is hilariously, ingeniously defiant. This obstinate quality means that when things do go right, the catharsis, the affection, is more powerful. At times it can seem like you’re spending minutes (rather than actual seconds) rubbing Trico’s body to calm him down, so after he finally stops going ballistic and shows an appreciative glance, you are moved by something unusual: the sweetness of a colossus.

This emotional purpose is cheapened by a lazy approach to plot. While it is relieving and terrifying watching Trico annihilate armored foes that were trying to kidnap you, Ueda often recycles this scene as if writing another scenario is pointless or impossible. This tendency to turn great ideas into cliches wears down the first half of the game, but excitement returns when the suspense heightens in a section where platforms collapse, kicking off a slow-motion free fall where Trico misses catching you with his mouth, only for his dangling tail to offer salvation. Then Ueda repeats that idea. It’s an unfortunate reminder that even a game-design genius can confuse more content with epic intentions.