IGN Review of Resident Evil 4
Let's dispense with the pleasantries. You know what Resident Evil 4 is. You know that the still-atmospheric survival horror sequel was one of the best games to grace GameCube and, nine months later, PlayStation 2. And so you would also know that Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition is essentially an enhanced port of a two-year-old project. If you didn't know all that, now you do. The third-person action game, which stars franchise hero Leon S. Kennedy on quest to save the president's kidnapped daughter, comes to Nintendo's little white console with improved controls that partially utilize the Wii remote, all the extras from the PS2 iteration, and a true 16:9 widescreen mode. Those additions aside, nothing has changed - a truth that isn't really a negative. After all, RE4 remains as frightening and as frantic as it was when it debuted two years ago, only now it looks and plays just a "Wii" bit better - and did we mention it retails for a reduced price? You could call it Wii Edition, yeah, but we prefer Collector's Edition.
This review does not reiterate everything you already know about the original project. For that, read our GameCube or PlayStation 2 reviews. We wrote mini-novels for each review and we're confident you'll be able to discover any minute detail you need to know about the title. For the purposes of this analysis, we'll summarize so if you had a hankering for a full-blown refresher, please accept our apology for skipping the flood of regurgitated factoids.
Resident Evil 4 was and is this: a successful departure from the formula of the franchise. Prior to the game, survival horror relied upon seemingly empty hallways and zombies that crashed through windows to shock you just as much as scare you, but in RE4 the B-movie clich¿s were toned down as a state of fear was alternatively generated from frenzied chases and from being outnumbered by the enemy.
Leon finds himself in a desolate village saturated by disturbed men and women that want him dead. He doesn't know why. In fact, he doesn't know much, and before you have time to ponder the situation you're being run-down by a man wielding a chainsaw and wearing a burlap sack over his head. Resident Evil 4 rarely lets up, throwing everything in Capcom's arsenal at you, from pitchfork-carrying villagers whose heads erupt into masses of flailing tentacles to giant ogre-like creatures, mansions and castles, lakes and creepy hallways, chanting monks, and even some recognizable faces for good measure. The first time we trekked through the robust 15-plus-hour adventure, we wiped sweat from our palms just as many times as our jaws dropped at the sheer variety of levels and characters - a lot, if you're counting.
All of the above still applies to the Wii iteration with one caveat, which is that the graphic presentation - outstanding for 2005 - is not nearly as impressive as it once was. If you own an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, you will have played games with much richer and more detailed visuals. At the time of this writing, though, RE4 remains one of the prettiest efforts on Wii, a truth that probably should make us happy, but doesn't - it only serves to demonstrate the lazy approach that the majority of studios have taken on Nintendo's new system thus far. What holds up by today's standards is the quality of the art. The character models, the make-up of the world that Leon explores, the sheer variety in environments and creatures - it's all still sensational. However, the blurry textures skinning the figures and stages are more noticeable today than they were when low-res graphics were the norm. It is worth noting that RE4 pushed GameCube to the maximum; Wii, though, has roughly twice the power and memory, and several times the storage capacity, and yet Capcom has made no effort to really improve the graphics, which is unfortunate.
We do want to clear up, though, that the Wii iteration is based on the initial graphics from the GCN build, not the PS2 one. That means that cut-scenes use the real-time game engine and that the added lighting and water transparency effects from the GameCube version are in the Wii port. In addition, the Wii incarnation boasts the true 16:9 widescreen mode of the PS2 title, which means that it's really a combination - the best of both worlds.
You very likely realize that the biggest change to the Wii build of RE4 is the new control scheme, which makes use of Nintendo's pointer and, occasionally, the gesture capabilities of the device. Leon is still controlled (somewhat clumsily) with the nunchuk's analog stick; this moves him forward and backward in addition to left and right through the environments. To be clear, you still turn the character with the analog stick and not the Wii remote, which is problematic because Wii owners have been taught to expect that turning is a mechanic handled by the pointer; just point and drag the screen or move the on-screen cursor beyond an invisible bounding box. Wrap your head around this: in RE4, you can point to the far-right side of the screen all you want, but if you press left on the analog stick, you'll turn to the left, anyway. The functionality takes some getting used to and we're not going to lie - you may occasionally fumble it up. But give it 15 or maybe 20 minutes - that's all it'll take, and then you'll discover the strengths of the new scheme and why, ultimately, the new Wii controls are superior. Using the Wii remote, you can point at the screen and aim with a higher level of accuracy and speed than was previously possible. The controls haven't been magically overhauled. You can't all of a sudden target and shoot enemies while running, for example. You will still need to stop walking to shoot. But the extra speed and accuracy count for a lot. Birds that flew away before you could cap them in the GCN build will be a breeze to shoot dead in the Wii game. Headshots will come more naturally. Targeting legs and arms won't pose a problem. You will with very little practice be able to walk through environments with the analog stick, all the while setting up your next shot with pinpoint accuracy using the Wii remote. It's an undeniable improvement in control and one that helps you play better.
There are also some largely unnecessary waggle movements. You can hold B-trigger and shake the Wii remote to draw and slash Leon's knife, for instance. It works just fine, but you can alternatively tap the A button, which is preferable. When your weapon goes empty, you can shake the Wii remote to reload. This one makes a little more sense. Our personal favorites, though, are the motions tethered to some of the scripted sequences. As Leon flees from a rolling boulder, you shake the Wii remote back and forth to make him sprint. When a villager grabs hold of the character, you do the same to break free. Frantically shaking the controller to escape these situations feels very natural.
Resident Evil 4 for Wii thankfully includes all the extra modes from the PS2 iteration. The Ada Wong missions, the new costume sets, the new weapon, the movie browser - it's all there, so if you already played the GameCube version but missed out on the additions, now's your chance to check them out. The Ada Wong "Separate Ways" side story explains the side-character's storyline and her relationship to the always-devious Wesker. As an added bonus, Ada sometimes uses a blowgun. The extras don't make or break the experience, but they do offer some tangible incentive to come back to Resident Evil 4 if you've already played through the standard single-player affair.
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