The Wii’s first year on the market hasn’t exactly been spotless. Despite the glowing reports from mainstream media outlets who don’t know any better, and Nintendo’s own endless self-praise, there’s been a good deal of less-than-stellar material pumped out for the console. The worst of these budget games are “Wii-makes,” which is typically a euphemism for a half-baked PS2 port with motion controls unceremoniously tacked on. Ubisoft gained particular infamy for their practice of cheap-porting. Within the ocean of mediocre, a few gems do shine out, titles that had honest effort put into their Wii-ification. Trauma Center Second Opinion blazed the trail, but Capcom has arguably the best example of a successful Wii-make with their re-imagining of Resident Evil 4. In my opinion, this final version of their survival horror instant classic is the new benchmark by which all Wii ports should be measured.
It does help when you’re polishing gold in the first place; RE4 is one of the best games in recent memory, and I’m sure it lent more than a little inspiration to Gears of War. RE4 helped to revive not only its own series, but the survival horror genre, which had stagnated in recent years. You can go to any game website and hear bountiful accolades for this game, so I’ll spare you more fan gushing. Instead, I’ll try to convince you why this port is worth your money, and is the definitive version of RE4.
The main game remains unaltered, including the story. It works itself out nicely through the course of the game, but the basic gist is this. Leon S. Kennedy, hero of Resident Evil 2, has been dispatched to a secluded Spanish village where the U.S. President’s daughter has been taken captive. Leon soon discovers that there’s more to the village than a simple religious cult. The locals have been infected with a parasite on the scale of the T-virus, but they aren’t mindless zombies. They’re intelligent, cunning, fast and what’s worse, someone is pulling all the strings.
So if the game is just a port, what’s the big deal? Well, the biggest change to this version of the game is the controls. The original GameCube setup worked well enough, although it was a tad sluggish. The PS2 port handled about the same, but the PC bastardization was a nightmare—no native mouse support, which meant you were pretty much screwed unless you owned a USB controller. The Wii version’s controls are the best of all the ports, and they easily beat out even the old Cube scheme for which the game was designed.
The standard button controls are split between the remote and nunchuk, which feels less constraining. If you’ve played the older versions, it might take a minute or two to figure out where everything has been moved on the new setup, but the new controls are largely as comfortable if not more so than the old ones. The pause and map functions are a little awkward on the 1 and 2 buttons, but everything else feels just fine. It’s the aiming, however, that really makes the Wii setup rise head and shoulders above the older models.
The Wii remote really lets RE4 shine in the way it was supposed to. The laser-pointer aiming was a huge step for the series anyway, but the IR control makes it almost perfect. Instead of a flickering laser dot, a small crosshair is visible on screen at all times. When it’s not in use it is colored a light gray, but pressing the B trigger brings Leon into aiming mode and the crosshair glows neon green. When you have a target in your sights the crosshair goes red, which is accompanied by a nice little “bump” from the rumble. The combination of visual and haptic response makes lining up targets worlds easier than the old analog method.
There are a couple of changes that take some adjustment, as no control scheme is perfect. Turning, for example, is still done with the analog stick, even while aiming. When aiming, putting the crosshair at the edge of the screen does not turn Leon’s view, and this must be done with the stick (rifles, oddly enough, can only be aimed with the stick). I’m glad Capcom decided to forgo the clumsy “bounding box” mechanic that plagues Wii shooters, but their solution takes some getting used to. Rest assured, however, that it’ll become completely natural within a few minutes of play.
The motion controls don’t end with aiming, and are seamlessly integrated into other actions. Leon’s knife can now be used by swiping the remote back and forth quickly, and Leon will automatically aim at the nearest enemy or breakable object. The cool thing about the knife is that there’s a balance—the motion activated swipes are weak, so they’re better for quick, dirty situations. Using the knife the old way, by aiming it with the C button and slashing with A, yields stronger attacks. Motion sensing has been worked into reloading too. Aiming a gun and tapping the D-pad reloads as usual, but a quick flick of the remote works too and is more natural.
The now iconic action cutscenes have been augmented with gesture controls. While button combos flashed onscreen during critical moments in earlier versions of the game, now swipes and shaking motions dictate Leon’s split-second actions. Cutting a rope or running from a boulder feel much more visceral now, and the knife fight with Krauser has a realistic and physical edge to it. Turning levers is accomplished by actually holding the remote on its side and rotating it faster and faster. While there are still a couple of combos, the gesture cues make the cutscenes more immersive than ever. Jerking my hand in panic to avoid a hazard is infinitely more natural than scrabbling to press a couple buttons. Capcom has managed to avoid the gimmicky feeling of most Wii games that try to cram in gesture controls, and developers would be wise to follow RE4’s example.
As icing on the cake, RE4 Wii allows both the classic controller and GameCube pad to be used, just in case you feel like playing old-school. Doing such reverts the aiming back to the old laser-pointer style, and the Cube controls are completely untouched for the original experience. Playing with the Virtual Console controller is pretty awkward and lacks rumble, but it’s still a nice “what if” feature and is a somewhat workable comparison to the PS2 pad. It seems that RE4 Wii was built around the concept of choices, and Capcom gives gamers a healthy selection.
As far as I’m concerned, the new controls alone merit a purchase for anyone who already owns it on another platform. It’s the GameCube loyalists who are in for an extra treat. Many Nintendo fanboys were in a froth when they learned that not only was their “exclusive” masterpiece being ported to the PS2, but with added content as well. Now, they get the last laugh. RE4 Wii has all the additional goodies from the PS2 and PC ports, but with the best graphics and controls as well.
For starters, the “Separate Ways” chapters, absent from the GCN build, are included. The PS2 port had lower polygon counts, smudgy textures and lacked several lighting effects, but Ada Wong’s side missions have been retroactively restored to the beauty of GameCube standards. Separate Ways fills in a lot of story details and feels like a full-fledged expansion pack, and playing as Ada is decidedly kickass. For Cube owners, this addition is worth the price of admission.
The third costume set is included, which places Leon in a 1920’s gangster outfit and Ashley in an invincible suit of armor. A final special weapon rounds out the package—the P.R.L laser cannon, which for all intents and purposes is RE4’s BFG. For extra polish, all of the cutscenes have been redone in real-time. Gone are the days of the PS2 and PC’s blurry, poorly compressed pre-renders.
The rest of the game’s original content remains in its entirety. You still get the in-game shooting range, the arcade-style Mercenaries levels and the Assignment Ada mini-quest, in addition to the 20+ hour main game.
Still, for all of its content, RE4 isn’t exactly bulletproof. The game has aged gracefully, but it is two and a half years old. The visuals were breathtaking back at the beginning of 2005, but they’ve tarnished in the face of the endless shader effects that drip from even the most pedestrian of Xbox 360 titles. Its textures are sometimes muddy and low res, and in some areas jagged polygons are apparent. The game’s impeccable art direction is what ultimately saves it. The care paid to every minute detail, the eerily accurate representation of humans and monsters alike…RE4 will always be a beautiful game, because it is such a lovingly (and grotesquely) crafted work of art. The grungy village segues into the gothic but elegant castle, which moves abruptly into the hard, industrial island setting and the unnerving hospital. Just for completion, though, Wii Edition features true 480p progressive scan and 16.9 widescreen, both visual modes that the GCN version lacked.
What’s really sad is that RE4 is probably the prettiest game on Wii to date. If such a graphical feast was possible on the lowly GameCube, then there is no excuse for most Wii games looking shit-awful. It goes without saying that third party developers need to put more elbow grease into their Wii games, but I’m turning a hard eye to Nintendo here, the people who should be pioneering their own console. Even after two years, Capcom is still making them look bad, but I’d better get down from my soapbox before I trip and sprain something.
Regardless of its graphics, it is the incredible gameplay that keeps RE4 timeless. The Wii port retains the masterful pacing, a sense of mounting dread and panic. Each crisis, each boss, becomes more intimidating than the last, and rarely is there a moment to slow down and take a breath. You kind of get the sense that you’re digging your own grave. The game has a wonderful way of making the odds of success look impossibly hopeless, but beating it is still achievable by an average-skilled gamer. It is this consistent feeling of imposed desperation that makes the game so damn scary.
RE4 has a different flavor of survival horror than the rest of its family. Older installments of the series were frightening because it was so difficult to fight back, by virtue of the clumsy controls and rudimentary aiming system. RE4 has none of the old sluggishness, arbitrarily limited number of saves or cheap monster closet scares. It’s a pure shot of adrenaline, the action sequences punctuated by a pounding sense of urgency. The few brief lulls in the fighting let the queasy horror pool in your guts, as you take stock of how hostile and hell-bent the whole environment is on killing you.
One of the biggest contributors to the mood is the sound design. The music isn’t exactly soundtrack worthy, but it wasn’t designed to be; its purpose is to saturate each area with a unique mood, and it does this perfectly. Heavy beats with a lot of subtle percussion let you know that the villagers are right behind you, and the music doesn’t stop until you escape or eliminate every last one of them. Simply put, until the music gives way to wind-streaked silence, you aren’t safe. Every boss has their own distinct piece, and even a few regular enemies merit their own tune. The intentionally off-key music for the regenerators is half of what makes them so profoundly disturbing.
Naturally the voice work has some of the old Resident Evil camp, but overall the acting is strong and distinguishes each character well (there are no masters of unlocking this time). The villagers all speak authentic Spanish with convincing accents, which is a nice touch and adds even more realism to the mysterious European locale. Sound effects are uncanny, from the many painful death sounds to the crisp report of an automatic pistol. Some of the enemy sound work was enough to make my skin crawl—again, those freaky regenerators.
After more than two years on the market, Resident Evil 4 is still the king of survival horror and one of the best action games out there. What few signs of aging it shows, it makes up for with its ingenious design and razor-sharp style. For the budget price of 30 bucks, this package is a steal and has more to offer than most other current-gen games. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise—RE4 Wii Edition is the definitive version of the game. If you’ve played it before, play it again, if only for the Wii controls. GameCube purists have some extra incentive as well. If you’re one of the few who still haven’t sampled this digital masterpiece, you owe it to yourself as a gamer.