Video Game Review – Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition (Wii)

by on March 22nd, 2014
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Overall Score: 5/5 Stars

Capcom has been among the most highly esteemed video game developer publishers for decades, and one of their most highly prized franchises is Resident Evil. From its genre-busting survival horror entry on the original Playstation console, to its later multi-platform sequel formula tinkerings, those two titular words bring to mind a distinctive form of deep enjoyment for millions of gamers worldwide.

Once upon a time, onto the Gamecube/PS2 generation was thrust Resident Evil 4. This chapter in the series brought back Leon Kennedy, one of the protagonists from Resident Evil 2, but for the first time in the basic numbered chronology brought the action away from Raccoon City and the workings of the T-Virus. Instead, the plot revolved around Leon’s new job under the auspices of the United States government as his first assignment, rather grandly enough, was to covertly rescue the President’s daughter, as she had last been seen in a curious little vaguely Eastern European village. From the initial drop-off by a couple of Spanish cops, the plot thickens rather quickly, spiraling into the dark shadows of a powerful cult, its ambitious leader, and perhaps the behind-the-scenes machinations of a certain familiar corporation.

Despite some boldly significant differences in gameplay mechanics from the usual Resident Evil games, 4 was received very well, especially as its Gamecube version would end up being, arguably, one of the finest titles on the console. Then, in what could either be considered a shameless money grab or a brilliant design decision, the whole game was ported onto the Wii for a so-called Wii Edition, on which the game now took advantage of Nintendo’s then-unique motion controls, for true point-at-the-screen aiming. This review will take a look at the game as a whole, though, taking it not only on its own merits but what the Wii experience has to offer unto its own.

Gameplay

Resident Evil veteran fans of the prior games were in for some big surprises once they fired up number 4. Gone were the puzzle-intensive room crawls, fixed camera angles, and emphasis on jump scares. In their stead was an over-the-shoulder action shooter at a faster pace and different tone than the Resident Evil norm. Fortunately, the all-out creepiness was still intact, along with the careful inventory management, well-honed level of challenge, and very appealing gunplay.

Proceeding through atmospheric environments that range from eerie village countryside farmland to medieval castle exploration and even an underground mine, Resident Evil 4 is an enthralling, enrapturing experience that, from the first farmhouse “zombie” encounter, makes it very clear that this is going to be an addicting, thoroughly just-plain-fun game.

The so-called “tank” controls of prior games is intact in one notable way: Leon must still stand still to fire, but now on the Wii, aiming is as instant as the player’s reflexes, as the ability to point right where the player wants to fire, and is very smoothly executed for a game never originally intended for the functionality. This mechanic even, one could say, adds to the immersion factor, and the tense sense of being right there in the thick of things.

Using the traditional different types of grenades and herbal mixtures, and varying in weaons from a pistol to the shotgun, from a rapid-fire gun to a sniper rifle and even a single-use rocket launcher, Leon is free to ruthlessly slaughter all sorts of monstrosities, priests, and zombie-like infected villagers throughout his rescue of Ashley Graham. One interesting quirk of RE4 is the used of action timings; for example, if Leon shoots a foe in the head or knee, then in the brief moment during which they recoil or bend over, hitting A will trigger a move like kicking them to the ground, or even suplexing them hard enough to pop their skulls open. In either case, savvy players quickly learn to knife-slice the down enemies to conserve ammo.

There are also some dreaded “quick time” sequences where, like a slightly interactive cutscene, the player must helplessly watch a sequence – until suddenly prompted to hit a button or swing the controller, which either triggers a successful action or, if too slow, likely spells out Leon’s doom. This sort of thing will result in some initial deaths, but then becomes easy with repetition, of course.

Whether fighting an enormous boss, one specific stalking horror, or a horde of mindless shamblers, the emphasis on action is a fantastically welcome shift. Without spoiling anything, it cannot be emphasized enough that, meeting differing challenge after challenge, the player is wonderfully rewarded with the freedom to decide what tactics with which to conquer the next obstacle. Toss a flash grenade and kick down the temporarily dazed enemies to finish them off one at a time? Run to a defensible position and shotgun the oncoming beasts one at a time? Stay back and sniper as many as possible before leaping into the fray? Just trust in the faithful pistol and use outright skill to get through a touch pinch? The ways to get through Resident Evil 4 are wholly up to the player’s imagination; in fact, eventually, as more and more countless possible gun/ammo/explosive/healing item combinations become available, some choices absolutely must be made, in terms of how many different guns are really necessary to hold onto. Players may find that a weapon they have been favoring, even regularly upgrading, can now be sold for a tidy sum in order to get two guns of different styles, or one powerhouse. The utter tactical control is mesmerizing.

While Resident Evil 4 does stray from the utter puzzle intensity of previous RE titles, it does not completely abandon it. The difference may be the balance, as there is a nice sense of pacing at work, between making it to periodic safe houses after battling hordes, gruesome boss battles, puzzling discoveries, and other moody bits. Capcom really flexes their muscles and makes it abundantly clear that this is a well-made, thought-out sort of game.

Graphics

The visuals are not updated from their prior generational looks, so this title does not look as good as it could have. Oddly enough, it eventually did receive a high-definition update on PS3 and Xbox 360. The Wii, woefully, is of course not an HD-compatible console. Nonetheless, the game still looks spectacular, from its haunting environments to some truly memorable enemy designs. Certain scenes approach an almost artistic quality, and others go for shock value with mixed success. Honestly, there are only a very few up-close shots where any graphical weakness is exposed, in the pixelated edges of polygons; but, in the heat of the action, any shortcomings are completely unnoticed.

Leon himself looks a little more effeminate than necessary, but hey, that may be expected of survival-horror protagonists, or even Japan-originating franchises in general, it could be surmised. This is certainly made up for in the way Ashley is portrayed – a rather sexually charged vixen, a wink to the male players, as not only does she compose herself as a teenager despite being an early-20’s-aged college student, but also wears a prototypical “sexy schoolgirl” outfit throughout, with a cleavage-bearing ensemble available as a later unlockable. Perhaps this makes the “escort mission” feel of much of the game more bearable for many.

Some of the monster designs are outstanding, and show that the series has come a long way from giant crocodiles in the sewers. The antagonists compose themselves with a glorious sense of self-delusion, and (spoiler alert?) end up in some impressively innovative, if not wholly mind-boggling, reviling transformations.

Sound

Even from its days composing Mega Man background tracks for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1980’s, Capcom has always set a high standard for sound, and its Resident Evil series is no exception. RE4 manages to successful capture the necessary nuances of emotive melodies and tension-birthing tunes. The sound effects are a gleeful highlight of liquid drips, gunshots, howls, gurgles, bone breaks, and the macabre clip of a villager’s head bursting like a gushy watermelon. This game has superb sound all around, knowing when to quietly drop for dramatic effect, when to really let the high notes whine for intensity, and when the adrenaline needs to pump through excited players’ veins.

Originality

The overwhelmingly positive reaction to the franchise-bucking shift to more action-oriented gameplay is notable enough; perhaps just as noteworthy, if not more, is how spectacularly seamlessly this game not only transitions to the Wii, but seems to thrive there, as being able to directly aim the weapons adds a real-time, viscerally sensory appeal. The fact that an already highly considered game could somehow climb another notch only spells out something fantastic for gamers, especially RE-series fans.

In fact, despite not even originally being a Wii release, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition manages to be among the best games on the console, not only on its own merit but also in its utilization of the motion control. While some titles avoid using it altogether, or use it as a cheap gimmick (waggle controls, anyone?), RE4 gets it right, a prowess that is unfortunately not matched by the vast majority of the Nintendo library, and maybe not quite even seen again until the implementation in Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

The main quest is impressive and meaty enough, but what maybe sets Resident Evil 4 over the edge is its immense replay value. From a more difficult secondary playthrough, to an entire separate game under control of a different character, to various weapon and outfit unlockables, to the satisfying arcade-style Mercenaries mode, RE4 just keeps on giving. The result is, in this reviewer’s opinion, a veritable masterpiece, and among favorites. Five stars out of five is the well-earned rating.


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