a review of Biohazard [Resident Evil] 4: Wii Edition
a videogame developed by capcom
and published by capcom
for the nintendo wii
text by tim rogers
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Biohazard (Resident Evil) 4 to the “Five years or less away from being considered ‘Retro Gaming'” club. The third version of this game (after the Gamecube original and the PlayStation 2 port) is for the Nintendo Wii, and the inclusion of precise, snappy motion controls simultaneously perfects the beautiful skeleton that’s existed for three years and exposes all the tiniest flaws to new scrutiny.
First, know this: if you or someone you trust has recently expressed doubts about playing Resident Evil 4 on the Nintendo Wii because you’re “not sure how the motion controls could add anything to the experience”, or maybe because you’ve “played that Red Steel (1/2*) game, and boy that sucked ass“, you need to wake up and smell the wrong and/or get the fuck over yourself. Motion controls make this game control perfectly. I do not use that word lightly: perfectly. If you want to shoot a zombie in the head, you point the remote at his head and you press the B button (on the bottom of the remote) to command Leon S. Kennedy to whip out his firearm and aim it right at that nasty Hispanic cranium, and then you press the Action Button to fire the shot. Some will puzzle about this game, and declare with a weird degree of mouth-breathing fetishism that they need not possess in order to continue living that this game was perfect with the Nintendo Gamecube controller so they’ll only buy the Wii version for its true 16:9 video output, and only if you can play it with the Gamecube controller. Really, though, this isn’t Zelda, with motion controls shoehorned in cutely: this is a game about shooting mobs of deranged men in the head in rapid succession, and the point-and-shoot interface here is about as good as it gets. If you’d rather consider holding a big pillowy shoulder button down and moving an analog stick to aim “perfect”, be my guest, and be also wrong. You’re probably the kind of person who wanted a dual-analog-stick control scheme in Metroid Prime, because the auto-lock thing is “so fake” and “for babies”. Yeah, I’m sure the boys in the foxholes in World War I enjoyed drawing figure-eights against the starry skies of Germany with their gun muzzles.
Wii remote aiming is visceral and weirdly real; it feels like a lightgun shooter felt before you were too mature to realize how vapid Duck Hunt was — and it’s deep, because you’re controlling the character’s movement, as well. The sound of a spent shotgun cartridge hitting a wooden floor echoing out of the speaker in the middle of the videogame controller in your hands is worth the price admission to anyone with a Shadow of the Colossus limited-edition print poster on his wall. Pointing, aiming and shooting with the Wii remote is unabashedly fantastic stuff. No, it’s nothing like aiming with a mouse and a keyboard. It’s not that tacky. It feels real — you aim, you shoot. Moving Leon with the nunchuk is pretty smooth as well. Sometimes the position of the nunchuk shifts around in my hand so that I’m holding it a little funny, and I accidentally press it to the left or right when I mean to go up, though I guess that’s my fault for not knowing the palms of my own hands very well, or my fault (again) for not buying the rubber sweat-grip-thing for the nunchuk, or even Nintendo’s fault for not making the nunchuk out of a surface more conducive to gripping ecstatically while hip-deep in the semi-undead.
If pressed to mention a negative aspect of the Wii remote controls, I’d have to say that the lack of an option to turn the aiming reticle off is kind of stupid. I mean, it’s so intuitive as-is. You know when you’re pointing at a zombie’s head, because you can see the remote pointing at the television. Hell, the remote even thumps in your hand when you aim the gun at an enemy. Why can’t we rely completely on the tactile feedback? Wouldn’t that add a neat little element of challenge? Instead, there’s the aiming reticle, crowding up the screen. Hey, at least it’s not as bad as the enormous HUD in Zelda: Twilight Princess.
And that’s about it. As the old saying goes, it takes only one blinged-out young man with diamond-encrusted platinum teeth (we call those “ice teeth”) to steal a tricky ho off an old playah, and Gears of War has long held Resident Evil 4 over its thigh and spanked the ever-loving shit out of it. If the game industry were working correctly (Protip: it’s kind of not), this is how it would be for the next couple of years: game A revolutionizes a genre, and then game B arrives, taking the revolution into account, while marrying the genre back into the family where it belongs and rendering game A pretty much irrelevant. Gears of War has perfected the Resident Evil 4 formula: the challenges are faster and the enemies are more thrilling to kill. The set-pieces are simple and more honest; in Gears of War, climbing up a staircase into a mansion feels meatier and more meaningful than the original Resident Evil‘s entire zombie-infested mansion. After Gears of War, Resident Evil 4 feels more like a frequently-interrupted stroll through some rustic horror film scenery.
Dead or Alive producer Tomonobu Itagaki once somewhat-famously quipped, of Resident Evil 4, that though he appreciated the game for its integration of concepts, he couldn’t exactly stand playing it for too long because of how the main character had to stop and stand in place every time he fired his pistol. “What kind of man stops to fire a pistol?” asked Itagaki, to the fist-pumping, aww-yeahing, and hilarity of much of the internet. The truth is, a man who doesn’t want to throw his back out is the kind of man who stops to fire a pistol. Though you know what? I can let Itagaki’s ignorance slide; he’s obviously the kind of man who learned everything he needs to know about real life from Contra III: The Alien Wars. He knows what this world is about: brawny men hefting two-ton beef-cannons and strut-rushing into the collective face of the red-fleshed alien bitch-menace. And you know what else? Maybe he’s kind of right. There’s a certain avant-garde love to be found in this recent art-like obsession with detailing, in fiction of whatever format, the real-life-like reactions of ordinary people to fantastic situations. We’re a couple half-decades away from “summer blockbuster” being synonymous with a film about a labcoat-wearing scientist defeating a Hummer full of werewolves with a champagne glass full of orange Skittles.
Either way, why not let Leon move when he’s firing his gun? Really? The situation around him is already pretty fucked-up; disbelief all over the place is going to be suspended through the roof. We’ve got hundreds of psychic Spanish-speakers sharing a half a dozen faces, starting fires and brandishing pitchforks, over here. Leon is able to pause the action whenever he wants, and eat one of many green herbs that he finds conveniently lying all over the place. Why stay dead-realistic about the gun aiming, then? I’m not asking for rocket shoes and X-ray vision or anything. In fact, I could hardly even care less about being able to walk and shoot simultaneously. I’m sure it would be nice, though, really, I’ve played this game before, and I think I can handle it.
“I’ve played this game before, and I think I can handle it”. That’s a pretty meek way of putting it, though hey. There you go.
What other game-design misdemeanors do we put up with in the name of “enjoying” a “classic”? How about the completely, terribly bullshit story? Resident Evil 4‘s story is pretty bad. Sorry to have to break it to you, kiddo. Does its story have to be good? I guess not; Super Mario Bros. had a lame-ass story about a guy rescuing the princess of a fungus fairyland from a turtle-dragon, though it manages to ascend to the status of almost art because it carries itself with noblest distinction.
Resident Evil 4 is not so noble. It’s lazy, in fact: it begins with a man named Leon S. Kennedy, who once fought zombies on his first day as a police officer (because a rookie cop was a good choice for a main character of a game (Resident Evil 2) set during a zombie outbreak in a small town), now on his way to a city in a Spanish-speaking country the name of which was omitted because Capcom Japan feared legal action from a tourism department or two, to rescue the president’s daughter from an unknown organization with unknown demands. “The president’s daughter” is the primary goal of this mission at the start because “The president” seemed too difficult for the story planners: on the one hand, the United States of America Tourism Department might end up suing Capcom because of the implication that the American President’s bodyguards are weak enough to allow him to be captured, which might increase the possibility of terrorism attempts; on the other hand, this is a Japanese videogame, and there is significantly less opportunity to show the president’s panties than there is to show the president’s daughter‘s panties, because the president probably wouldn’t be wearing a skirt, even on vacation.
Right from the start, the storytelling is hokey; the little secrets and somethings they’re not telling us are either groaningly obvious or sighingly contrived. The “president’s daughter” could be a brilliant MacGuffin, though in order for that to happen, it would have to stay a MacGuffin. You rescue her, because the planners were eager to get a skirt on the screen, and the “real plot” begins. That a “real plot” exists at all is kind of ****ed; in the end, all they’re doing is giving Leon reasons to shoot beastly men in the head (or reasons to shoot them anywhere except the head), and each longwinded radio conversation screen functions something like a ten-minute cut-scene between world 2-4 and world 3-1 of Super Mario Bros., during which Super Mario meets a gnarly old man in the woods, eats sausages while discussing the meaning of life until sundown, and is eventually driven, on the old man’s bitching Harley, to the castle gates at World 3 under cover of midnight: thus, the sky being blue in World 2 and black in World 3. In other words, who the fuck cares? In other words: don’t you dare say to me that Resident Evil 4 is a silly action game, and the story “doesn’t matter”. The simple fact that it has a story is confirmation enough, straight from the developers’ mouths, that they believed a story was necessary.
This weird, cautious self-importance manages to seep into the game’s soil and poison its reservoir in the tiniest spots. The story’s “chapters” are made up of large, ingenious interconnecting set-pieces teeming with the semi-undead; usually, to get from one section to another, you need to open up a few treasure boxes and find magic items — crests or whatever — to open doors. The first time I played this game, I’m pretty sure I didn’t ever once reach a door and find I didn’t have the right items. Why have the items at all? Why advertise the game’s genre as “Survival Horror” on the box (yes, that’s what the genre is listed as in the Japanese version), if it’s more of an “Adventure Horror”? Sure, “survival” in this case indicates that we must move forward at all costs, which means finding those crests, keys, or whatever. The menu screen is pretty nice — Diablo-like, space-based, kind of a mini-game in and of itself — though really, why have herbs and whatnot, anyway? This game lets you continue at the beginning of an area when you die, just like any old FPS. And death normally comes pretty suddenly, after a short burst of hard hits. Why not just have a Gears of War-esque “run away, take cover, and wait” healing system? I suppose that would be because the enemies aren’t very smart, and running away from them isn’t always difficult.
Let’s see how many more times we can mention Gears of War: how about the radio communication segments? Why does this have to take up the whole screen? I’m sure that the little camera whirling around Leon as he detaches the radio from his belt and holds it up to his ear has become something of a gaming archetype in recent years, though really, let’s look at this, here. When the screen fades to the radio correspondence mode, Leon is holding the radio up to his ear. Yet now we see a video image of him. And we see a video image of whoever he’s talking to. Of course, as he’s holding the radio up to his ear, this means that the camera in front of Leon must be hovering on an invisible wire over his face, and that the image of his current conversation partner is kind of sitting against his cheek. At first, the game’s eagerness to show you the radio is kind of understandable, because you’ve never seen the person that Leon is going to be talking to, so they might as well show you. Eventually, though, little things stick out like gangrenous thumbs: why the hell is the name of the character speaking displayed above the (huge) subtitle window? There are obviously only two faces visible at any given time, and if we can’t tell the difference between the two characters’ voices, then it’s not our fault — it’s the storytellers’. Why, in Gears of War, the main character only ever converses on the radio with someone he’s seen in person before, and even then, it’s only in voiceover. Sure, radio transmission also forces the main character to stick his finger in his ear and slow his trotting pace down to a crawl, though hey! At least it doesn’t swamp up the whole fucking screen and make our trigger fingers itchy. Dead Rising did something kind of right smack in the middle of Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, with the walkie-talkie banter being displayed only in text and requiring the main character to hold the walkie talkie up to his head powerlessly. Either Gears of War 2 or Resident Evil 5 will have fixed this I’m guessing.
Either way, here it is, broken as can be, stinking up several parts of Resident Evil 4; the break-ins aren’t as frequent as in, say, Metal Gear Solid 3, though I dare say that they are also not one-tenth as well-written.
And here I will also compliment Resident Evil 4, by saying that even though the interruptions are not frequent, they are terribly painful, because I want to continue playing the game.
And now I will frown: the voice acting, as per Capcom, is pretty bone-chillingly atrocious, which may or may not have been for “camp” value, or maybe not. If the bad voice-acting, the shitty story, and the weird inconsistencies like the radio-screen video-image paradox are, in any way, ever confirmed to be throwbacks, elbow-nudges, or send-ups of other “videogame cliches”, then I will be boarding an airplane with a pair of ceramic brass knuckles in my carry-on baggage, I swear. Resident Evil is already a send-up of horror movie cliches, now made thrilling because I’m in control of the action. We don’t need “ironic” videogame references shitting in the game design gene pool, please.
If you read the internet (Protip: You’re doing so right now), you might have seen a story with “OMG” in the headline, which detailed the censorship of the Japanese version of this game. The censorship is not new news; the previous Gamecube and PlayStation 2 versions were censored in exactly the same way. Namely, there’s no blood (none, of any kind, at all, et cetera) and the satisfying, explosive pop-splash of shooting a man in the head is deleted in favor of making every single location on an enemy’s body cause the same amount of damage when shot. Yes, this means you can shoot an enemy in the head five or six times in a row. Yes, this kind of breaks the game as the story starts to develop. Capcom is a fan of doing this to their games on both sides of every ocean: here in Japan, for example, where the content rating system consists of four ratings that are not “enforced” (A (all ages), B (12-13), C (13-17), D (17 and up)) and one rating that is “enforced” (Z (ages 18 and up only)), companies like Capcom are left with no other choice than to cast a vote of no-confidence in the system, and censor their games out of “social responsibility”. The simplest way of looking at it is this: the ratings board is stating from the start that none of their ratings matter except the one that does, so why should retailers trust the one rating that does, if the board is admitting that all of the other ratings are bullshit? And, ironically, as with anything containing “mature” content (blood, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, income taxes), games like Resident Evil 4 are mostly popular amongst snot-nosed twelve-year-olds, anyway. It’s a shame, then, that the censorship practices have to kind of break the game — not as bad as in the US release of Monster Hunter, though, where the blood was removed because the enemies’ similarities to animals elevated the game to something of an animal-cruelty simulator, which is not to be chuckled at in this time of hooker-killing-simulators. Unfortunately, blood was also the game’s indicator of when you were hitting an enemy in the right spot (Monster Hunter keeps numbers out of the gameplay), so the game was essentially broken.
It’s a weird culture-clash, I tell you. The best solution, probably, is to just leave the games how they are intended to be, and everyone will be happy. I’ll be damned if the mere sight of a realistic man pointing a gun at a realistic man-monster wasn’t enough to cause an actual girl who dresses mostly in pink to avert her eyes from the screen. Should she keep her eyes on the screen after the “bang”, even she would raise critical questions about the absence of blood.
Like Ninja Gaiden on the PlayStation 3, Resident Evil 4 is getting a somewhat-deserved second wind on the Wii. It’s a breezy game despite its heavy subject matter, and despite the intrusion of some nasty game design archetypes and some groan-worthy narrative choices, it has exceptional flow, some awesome bosses, and tons of visceral crunch. The Wii version is the best version available, and I’m trying real hard to not mention how heart-breaking it is that the game can’t display in at least 720p resolutions, or how I wish Gears of War could use this control scheme, because hey, these things just aren’t possible. You have to make do with what you have.
I’ve saved the best for last: you know those brain-dead quick-timer events in the Gamecube and PlayStation 2 versions, where you have to press a button quickly in order to make Leon cinematically avoid chains of certain perils? If you answered “Yes, that’s one of the dumbest trends in videogames today”, then you’re correct. They’re all gone in the Wii version — kind of. Rather than press buttons in time, all you have to do for every quick-timer event is shake the controller from side to side as vigorously as possible. Even long, elaborate sequences require no more than a vigorous controller shaking. I was prepared to call this the worst part of the game, and bemoan it as the lamest possible forced implementation of the Wii motion controls. I was going to say that, in a game where the motion controls are used so maturely and cleanly, they really didn’t have to put this in here. That was until I figured out the secret — you don’t have to shake the controller side-to-side. No, no, if you’re a man, you already know the best way to grip the controller. I tell you, I was sitting here in the middle of the night, window open, cool spring breeze wafting in, jerking this Wiimote like it was a pretty plastic penis, and there, on the screen in front of me, not some hot babe engaged in pornographic pleasure — no, it was Leon S. Kennedy running toward the screen, huffing and puffing, a boulder hot on his heels. There was a sudden, electric disconnect between Leon’s huffing and puffing and the jacking-off-like motion of my hand on the Wiimote, and a big spark jumped up in my throat and I had what was probably the best laugh I’ve had in months. Of course, I thought, of course. Thank you, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, for making that perfectly clear to me. I’d been on the fence about it for years.