When we talk about the early Resident Evil games in 2017 we often settle on discussing this unending debate; did the wonky “tank” controls of the early Resident Evil games actually contribute to the sense of dread? Or is that a popular revisionist history?
As somebody who missed those games growing up and started the franchise with Resident Evil 4, I don’t have anything to add to that conversation directly. Although you can sure as hell bet that I switched to the modernized control scheme that the PS4 release of REmake offered.
Duskers, one of my favorite games of 2016 relies solely on textual input, from bootup to the core gameplay loop. You assume the role of a nameless pilot doomed to spend his last few days scavenging derelict space craft for supplies. But that scavenging is done indirectly, through a pack of fragile and generally unarmed drones. Your drones who may be affectionately tagged “Wally” or “ Mike” are piloted through in in-fiction command line. “D1” opens door one. “Navigate 2 r2; generator” sends your drone with the “generator” ability to go power a set of rooms. And “Navigate all r1; a1; exit” translates to “let’s get the fuck out of here.”
When you start up Duskers this input method feels solely like a means of world building. Your vision is filled with the green glow of the rudimentary retro-futurist computer from which all the game takes place. The only visual information you’re allowed is a schematic view and a hazy infrared closeup. It channels Alien better than Aliens 3 ever did. Ticks and thunks of the ever decaying derelict you explore are your only audio cues outside of your brave drone’s chirping confirmation of your commands, all wrapped up in the beautiful bow of a faux Apple II interface. That’s until your first encounter with an antagonistic force.
A red rectangle designates that what Wally is seeing in room six is hostile. That notion is confirmed as the red rectangles swarm into view and in a split second your video feed is cut. Command terminal reads “Drone 2 terminated.” And that’s when you start hammering on your keyboard. Your fingers start performing illogical acrobatics.
Navigatte all r1
Command line reads “Input invalid.” Your typo in the word “Navigate” lost you precious seconds as the red draws near your drones.
Navigate all r1
“Input invalid, route blocked.” You locked door number two behind you in your explorations. Your drones, unable to control themselves, sit idly waiting for your commands in the face of impending destruction.
D2; navigate all r1
But it’s too late. The video signals of your drones flick out one by one, and the hope drains from your body.
These moments of tension are what drive my passion for Duskers, and these moments of tension are specifically due to the input method that Duskers asks of you.
If you were to simply drag a selection tool over your drones and guide them home to safety, would it be a more effective control method? Sure, but I’m positive that it wouldn’t have the same effect.
By purposefully obfuscating its control scheme, Duskers ellegantly forces the player to work in its world. Your keyboard is a physical extension of its fiction, in some ways like Guitar Hero or Wii Sports. While I can’t go back to being eight years old and play Resident Evil 1, I think I understand the debate.