There's a very good chance that you've already played Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube or PlayStation 2 (or, heaven forbid, the PC). Yet the best games are worth playing through all over again. Not only does RE4 itself remain a heart-pounding thrill ride and a modern classic, but the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls breathe new life into a game that is still a treat to play, two years after release.
If by some miracle of chance you haven't played Resident Evil 4 yet, you've got some catching up to do. You play as Leon S. Kennedy, a secret agent in charge of recovering the president's kidnapped daughter. His search leads to a creepy Spanish village whose residents are, well, not quite lucid. The story drops the occasional cliché, but for the most part, it avoids the usual horror pratfalls to deliver an interesting, intense narrative with a number of fascinating characters. It's also genuinely creepy, leading you through abandoned farmhouses, dank churches, and dripping caves, all the while throwing progressively weirder and stronger enemies at you. Like the PS2 version, it also includes a side story called Separate Ways, where you take control of spy Ada Wong and explore some of the same storyline from her perspective. Unfortunately, the Wii version doesn't include any new, exclusive content.
At its core, this is the same Resident Evil 4 that multitudes of players have grown to appreciate. It's a carefully paced, often breathtaking action game that keeps you on the edge of your seat with lumbering almost-zombies, chanting cultists, and challenging fights against gargantuan bosses. You view the action from a third-person view, and when you ready a weapon, the camera zooms in close. Once you've drawn your weapon, you can't walk, but you can aim. It all feels very deliberate, but it's perfectly countered by the measured speed at which your enemies approach you. However, you shouldn't take this to mean that the action is any less exciting than in a traditional shooter. These are dangerous foes, and you've got to pump them full of lead before they fall.
The fundamental combat is where the game shines most. Your arsenal consists of pistols, shotguns, rifles, and more, with every weapon producing credible results. Popping pitchfork-wielding villagers will cause them to drop their weapons. Or you can shoot them in the knees to make them momentarily fall to the ground. Because ammunition isn't plentiful, being able to handle a crowd of shambling psychopaths with as few shots as possible is a main priority. You've always got a knife as a last resort, but unless you want to take a chunk of damage, it's better to keep your distance.
But what makes this release so special are the subtle differences wrought by the version's definitive controls. Movement and turning are controlled using the Nunchuk's analog stick, and you enter aiming mode by using the remote's B button. But the most noticeable improvement is in aiming your weapon. The laser sight has been replaced with an actual reticle that you fully control with the remote, which gives you more mastery over where your shots land. It's absolutely intuitive, more so than the original scheme, but you shouldn't take this to mean that Resident Evil 4 on the Wii is a cakewalk. You will notice an increase in your hit percentage, but hordes of Spanish not-zombies and gigantic boss battles are as nerve-wracking as ever. Granted, there is a subtle softening of the difficulty level due to the greater degree of control. Yet the newfound fluidness in the gunplay is a welcome adjustment, and the controls still contribute to the deliberate pace.
Other changes are just as welcome. Getting your knife to find its mark is a lot easier thanks to an auto-aim function that makes melee attacks land on the nearest available target. You can still use a more familiar control scheme by holding C and pressing A to slash, but even better, you can waggle the remote to do it. The same is true of reloading: You can enter aiming mode and push down on the D pad to do it, or wave the remote. The famous context-sensitive actions are still a hallmark of the experience, and the addition of the motion sensing makes them feel fresh again. The end result of all these improvements, both subtle and obvious, is a logical and comfortable control scheme that makes perfect sense and heightens your immersion.
Resident Evil 4 sounds as fantastic as ever. It's a sonic spookfest, from the creepy minimalist soundtrack to the outstanding weapon effects. In fact, the most memorable aspects of the game are accompanied by equally thrilling audio, such as the roar of the humongous bosses or the disturbing murmurs of villagers as they infiltrate your personal space. But even here, the Wii version sneaks in a small but notable enhancement, thanks to the remote speaker. Hearing the swoosh of the knife and the clatter of reloading your shotgun emanate from your own hand sweetens an audio design that was already practically perfect.
On the other hand, RE4 on the Wii doesn't bring anything new to the visual table, though like the PS2 version, it supports progressive scan and widescreen displays. Yet it still looks superb, featuring beautifully designed character models and environments that were obviously created with deliberate care and detail. Of particular note are the boss characters, which get more vulgar and imposing as you progress. But even the minor details are impressive, such as flocks of crows that flutter away as you approach or the way flames flicker realistically. And unlike the PS2 and PC versions, which used prerendered cutscenes, the engine renders them in real time here, making the scenes look more natural.
Resident Evil 4 isn't quite as groundbreaking now as it was two years ago when it was first released on the GameCube, but that doesn't make the Wii version any less dazzling. It is undoubtedly the preferred version for anyone who has yet to experience the thrill of climbing up El Gigante's back, and even if you already have had such an experience in the past, this iteration is still most certainly worth playing. The exquisite controls make this the defining Wii action title and a must-play for anyone who enjoys the act of shooting things.
Resident Evil on the Nintendo Wii
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30 September 2007
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