Inventory of Tetris rules in Resident Evil 4 and Gloomwood
I recently finished playing the Early Access version of Gloomwood, and while the game is far from finished, it clearly has the potential to be an all-time great immersive sim. The game’s most obvious inspiration is Thief, which features you as a character called The Outsider who must sneak out of jail and evade guards by managing the amount of sounds you make and finding deep, dark shadows in which to to hide. While Gloomwood draws heavily from Thief, it’s also obviously influenced by Resident Evil 4 in how it handles managing another crucial element: your inventory.
In Gloomwood, The Outsider carries a briefcase in which you can store whatever items you find, a motley array of items spanning the functional, like bottles you can throw to distract enemies, the valuable, like diamonds and coins, and the confusing one, like a severed head that was stashed in a walk-in freezer I found on the first level. The briefcase is made up of 24 squares, and while some items (like an individual ball) only take up one square, most take up two or more. I made a habit of grabbing every bottle I passed in case I ended up in a tight spot where I needed to make some noise. But, when you find something really valuable that takes up multiple spaces, like a shotgun or a health syringe, you have to start making some tough decisions.
It was a wonderful mechanic in Resident Evil 4 and it’s also wonderful here. I like the idea of clutter mechanics in RPGs like Skyrim and Cyberpunk 2077 – i.e. when you cram too much stuff into your inventory and then start moving at a snail’s pace until that you lose weight – because it forces you to think of your character as a physical being who must actively prepare for their quest and can only carry part of it. But, the clutter leaves a lot to be desired in the way it is executed. In an attempt to get me to think about space and weight as realities I have to deal with, these games ask me to… fiddle around in a menu?
But, Gloomwood and Resident Evil 4 have a much better solution. By literalizing your inventory, they ask you to think of everything you carry with you as a physical object that takes up space. Sometimes you just don’t have the space to carry anything else, leading you to make tough choices about which items are really worth keeping. Sid Meier said, “A game is a series of interesting choices.” Gloomwood and Resident Evil 4 are good games because they are able to make the uninteresting aspects of the game interesting.
Beyond these philosophical reasons, this method of inventory management feels good. In Resident Evil 4, when you finally find a green herb after carrying a red herb for a long time, you can combine them together and suddenly have a useful item where there was a useless item before, and in the same amount of space. In Gloomwood, it’s always satisfying when you try to clear a room, realize your weapon is empty, and move ammo onto the top of the weapon, instantly filling it up and clearing the squares occupied by the ammo box. This kind of inventory system is sometimes referred to as “Tetris inventory” and it seems really appropriate at times like this when, through clever spatial management, you can clear an obstruction in a flash.
While most games make inventory management as easy and streamlined as possible, I respect games like Gloomwood and Resident Evil 4 that seem to say, “If we’re going to put it in the game, it should be fun and not just functional. This is a high standard to aspire to.
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