Resident Evil 4 was a defining game on the GameCube. There were many who bought the console just to play it, and many others that were jealous because they didn’t have a GameCube – well, jealous until the PlayStation 2 port came out at least. Then it was the GameCube owners’ turn to be jealous because, while their version had a few extra trees here and there, the PlayStation 2 release came with quite a few exclusive features. When Capcom realised that the Wii was selling better than expected, they quickly took the GameCube game, added the extra PlayStation 2 content, perfected controlling the game with the Wii Remote, somehow contrived to create an even better cover design (PAL versions only, the rest are just ok), slapped Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition on its back, and sent it out the door. We thank them for their efforts, seriously.
The appeal of this edition for old Resident Evil gamers, then, will be how much affinity they have for the Wii’s motion sensing remote, and how much they feel like playing it all over again. I adored the GameCube edition, playing it through twice, but this edition really is the definitive version – if there’s one to own it’s this one. That’s the short answer for veterans; now for the real review, the one for people who think Resident Evil is a movie series starring Milla Jovovich wielding big guns and small dresses.
More than a Boring Horror Movie, So Much More
Horror has huge potential in gaming – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that horror movies are pitiful at creating suspense compared to what can be done in video games. The fact that there is personal interaction with the game world, that your character is the avatar for the real you, means any atmosphere, any fear, any suspense is felt far more keenly compared to watching a film, when you are a mere witness to the horror. Unfortunately horror movies are cheap to make and highly profitable, while good horror games are expensive to produce and too intense for most. But the potential is there, for the most part untapped – with only the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises having any traction with gamers.
Leon Kennedy is the main character, a man sent into the Spanish woods to rescue the president’s daughter Ashley. He’s a great character, like an old-school action hero with one-liners lined up for every situation. When his head is sawn off it really does affect you. Unlike horror movies where the main character dies while everyone else doesn’t, here we have at least thirty different ways for Leon to die, each as gory as the last, and the developers at Capcom certainly didn’t want all those choreographed death sequences to go to waste. Then there’s also Ashley to worry about, and she could be carried off at any time, screaming in true horror tradition.
Leon (that’s you, vicariously) quickly discovers that these villagers are not quite normal – they have a blank gaze like they’re not all there. They’re not zombies, no siree, these are not your grandfather’s slow moving Night of the Living Dead undead; they’re something else entirely. The plot is perfect B-movie material, right down to the absurd premise, ridiculous villains, bad accents, a castle and a camp script, just like the best of the horror genre. It’s all coupled with graphics that blew your socks off last generation and are still impressive today (now in full 16:9, hooray!) The atmosphere is stifling – while there is usually ammunition aplenty, there is still a sense of teetering on the edge of life; there’s always a chance one well placed axe is going to finish you off while you’re trying to reload…
The Controls, or, How Leon Still Moves Like a Tank
Resident Evil, and the survival horror genre in general, has always encumbered the player with tank-controls, so-named because Leon moves like a tank – slowly, methodically, and never sideways. The game requires the nunchuk attachment, which analog stick is used to control Leon’s walking while the Z button makes him run. Pushing the stick left and right turns Leon in that direction while pushing it forward or backward moves him. All the while the camera is slightly above and behind him, so you see the top of his head and roughly what he sees. Leon walks with his gun in the air, so when you want to shoot something, like, say, a deranged wolf, you have to press the B button on the Wii remote to make him point his gun. When going into aiming mode, the camera moves to an over-the-shoulder viewpoint and Leon’s legs fix to the ground – he can’t aim, shoot and run at the same time like so many super-heroes of the gaming world. It’s in aiming that the Wii shows its main advantage – using the Wii remote you can simply point at what you want to shoot and press the A button. On traditional controllers (or the Class Controller on Wii) you would have to move the targeting reticule using one of the analogue sticks, but it’s far more intuitive to aim at something, just like using a gun (not that I’d know), and shoot.
Leon’s inability to walk moonwalk and the position of the camera just behind him makes him very vulnerable to being flanked. Much of the suspense comes from the trepidation you feel because you can’t always be sure that there isn’t something behind you or to your sides. He also takes a while to reload his gun (he wouldn’t be a very good marine I guess), and his aiming is methodical. Turning while aiming is very slow, better to stop aiming, turn and aim again if you want to shoot those chanting monks to your right. Fortunately you can quickly do a 180 degree turn and run away, something Bruce Willis would never do, but then Bruce Willis never fought El Gigante. I don’t think Milla would last very long against it, while Leon fights much bigger things than that over the 20 plus hours of his adventure.
Truly Horrible, What More Could You Want?
I’d guess that Capcom spent 90% of the development time of the Wii Edition working on the controls since it’s not like there is anything else new in the game. It shows, the controls are really tight and breathe new life into the game. Honestly, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition doesn’t need any exclusive bonus content to sell it; it’s such a complete game already. If you enjoyed either of the last two console versions, you’ll find a whole new reason to love Resident Evil, and if you missed those, now is the time to try. Just be warned: this is not your namby-pamby horror movie – be prepared to be truly horrified.