Resident Evil: Dead Aim
Release Date: June 11, 2003
Buy 'RESIDENT EVIL: Dead Aim': PlayStation 2
I'm told by a friend in New Zealand that Survivor was actually fun if you were allowed to use a GunCon with it. I can almost see that, despite Survivor's gummy play control, lousy graphics, and a challenge level that seesawed from "insanely easy" to "hideously difficult" with no real space between the two. However, Survivor shipped without GunCon support in the United States—officially, it was owing to a "lack of retail support," according to Capcom's PR reps, but more cynical sorts might think that the Colombine incident had something to do with it; I, of course, am not one of those people—which means that American gamers were saddled with a nearly-unplayable mess.
The Survivor series, by some mild miracle, has continued on beyond that disastrous initial offering. The second game, Resident Evil: Fire Zone, set as a dream sequence during Resident Evil: Code Veronica, was a collaboration between Namco and Sega that saw release in a few Japanese arcades and on the Japanese PS2. The third game, a Dino Crisis side story, was released here as Dino Stalker.
The fourth game, Biohazard Gun Survivor 4: Heroes Never Die, has been rebranded for its American release as Resident Evil: Dead Aim, in what would appear to be an attempt to distance itself from the original Survivor. They needn't've bothered, as Dead Aim distances itself on its own. You see, it doesn't suck.
Set in September of 2002, Dead Aim is a leap forward, at least chronologically, in the storyline of the series. Stolen samples of the T-Virus bioweapon have turned up in the hands of a group of fanatics who've seajacked an luxury ocean liner. That group of fanatics is led by the renegade scientist and former Umbrella employee Morpheus Duvall. Morpheus' demands are simple. Unless he receives five billion dollars from both the United States and China by midnight of the following day, he will fire missiles carrying a T-Virus payload at several major cities in both nations.
The United States promptly dispatches Bruce McGivern, a covert operative for the U.S. Strategic Command and a member of the government's anti-Umbrella task force, to the ship. His mission is to take out Morpheus and reclaim the stolen virus.
He runs into two problems early on. One is Fong Ling, a Chinese operative with the same mission who isn't in the mood to cooperate, and has a near-fetishistic tendency to kick Bruce in the head. The other is that Morpheus, just to prove he means business, has already unleashed a sample of the T-Virus aboard the ship, infecting both his followers and the ship's passengers and crew. Just for fun, the ocean liner itself turns out to have been owned by Umbrella, and as everyone knows, Umbrella can't let a ice cream truck leave its premises without sneaking a few bioweapons on board. Even better, no one's driving the ship anymore. Bruce is essentially alone, surrounded by monsters, on a ship in the middle of the ocean, and time is rapidly running out.
I will admit that the preceding paragraphs are mild spoilers for the story of the game, but it really doesn't matter. I know people who've played through Dead Aim a few times in rapid succession who didn't get that much, because Dead Aim delivers its story with the same elegance and precision you'd get if you were performing brain surgery with butterfly swords. The Resident Evil series has never been known for a coherent plotline, but Dead Aim takes that tendency to a ridiculous extreme.
I am one of the few people who will notice this, because I am an acknowledged plot wonk for the RE games. The rest of you will have your hands full with the zombies.
In Dead Aim, you maneuver Bruce, and occasionally Fong Ling, using a slightly more streamlined version of the typical RE control scheme. Up moves you forward dependent upon Bruce's orientation. Some people can't get used to this method, but I'm not one of them; I personally find it more responsive and useful than a scheme in which the direction you push always takes you in that direction. (Am I the only one who kept running into problems in games like Parasite Eve and Final Fantasy VII, where you'd run back and forth constantly from one screen to the other because the direction you were running in one screen took you back the other way in the next?)
When you need to kill something, you hit R1 (or a button on the GunCon2). This brings up the shooting screen, where you maneuver a crosshair about the screen. One simple thing makes Dead Aim a lot more fun than Survivor, and that's the presence of hit zones on enemies. Headshots, finally, blessedly, work; you can drop a zombie with one well-aimed bullet to the head.
Granted, these hit zones are tiny, and aren't always obvious given the ill-lit locations in the game, but their presence alone is welcome. By holding down L1 or L2, you can strafe around corners or walk silently, then sneak up on a zombie and put a perfectly-aimed 9mm slug from a silenced handgun straight through the back of its head. That kind of thing is one of the reasons why I play videogames, and I would've been happy with Dead Aim if that had been all that there was to the game. (That said, it's a shame and a waste that there's nothing in Dead Aim like a nightvision scope or a sniper rifle. If Capcom—or someone else—had any sense, they'd be making future Resident Evil games more like Syphon Filter, with tactical stealth-based action, as opposed to yet another retread of the same adventure game. (They'd also do well to hire me to write a scenario, but that's just my ego talking. Call me, Capcom; we'll do lunch.))
Unfortunately, the game's both too short and arguably too easy. On my first playthrough, on Normal mode, I got through the game in two and a half hours. I only died when I was trying to get by the last boss, which is like playing Whack-A-Mole with an assault rifle and a time limit. Granted, there were some tight spots in there, and I spent a lot more time running past monsters than I needed to, but Dead Aim is still shamefully easy.
Its non-action components are all the same old crap, too. There aren't any puzzles to speak of, and you'll spend much of your time hunting down keys, keycards, and—yet again, because no Resident Evil game is complete without it—a valve handle.
On the other hand, you might want to keep in mind that I play way too many of these games, and as such, am moderately sensitive to their flaws. This is probably the best zombie-oriented shooter around, at least until someone gets the bright idea to create a horror-oriented FPS using the Soldier of Fortune engine (gore zones + zombies = HAPPY). If you're thinking about picking this game up, but the similarities to the original Survivor are holding you back, relax. It's an entirely different animal, and it's a worthwhile investment of your time. Dead Aim's not a long or challenging game, though, and so it might be best played as a rental.