Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: June 19, 2007
Resident Evil 4 is a game with a long history. Announced not too long after the release of Resident Evil: Code Veronica, RE4 was supposed to be the next "true" title in the Resident Evil franchise. The first version of Resident Evil 4 was a massive change from the older RE games, focusing more on hardcore, over-the-top action. However, this version seemed too much of a change and was eventually converted into a new title: Devil May Cry.
The second attempt was in almost the opposite direction. Instead of being focused on action, this RE4 appeared to be inspired more by Silent Hill or Clock Tower instead. This version, shown at Tokyo Game Show, was filled with ghosts and fog and looked almost nothing like the other Resident Evil titles. At E3 2003, we got yet another version, which went back to the more action-oriented gameplay and included many of the elements seen in the final version, such as the over-the-shoulder gunplay and the interactive cut scenes. However, the plot appeared to be focused on paranormal elements more fitting of the Silent Hill franchise. After this long and convoluted history, Resident Evil 4 was finally released for the GameCube, and rather unsurprisingly, it was a massive departure from the series' status quo.
Set in 2004, Resident Evil 4 could almost be the start of a new franchise. The Umbrella Corporation, the primary antagonists of the Resident Evil games up until this point, had been defeated off-screen — not by guns, but by their rapidly collapsing stock. Instead, we join Leon S. Kennedy, protagonist of Resident Evil 2, in a new adventure. After the events in Raccoon City, Leon was drafted by the United States Government and underwent training to become a member of the Secret Service. However, on his first day on the job, the President's daughter, Ashley, is kidnapped by a mysterious cult based somewhere in Europe. Leon, being the battle-hardened hero, is sent in to rescue her. Of course, things are not quite as easy as that, as the cult is actually dedicated to worshiping and experimenting with a mysterious parasite known as Los Plagas, and Leon is once again thrust into the world of survival horror.
The amusing thing about Resident Evil 4 is that it is as much a parody as it is an actual game. Even for a Resident Evil title, the plot is goofy beyond measure, involving everything from giant trolls to chainsaw-wielding masked men. It never takes itself seriously, and that is truly to its benefit. Instead, it feels like a mix of various action and horror movies, complete with cheesy one-liners and over-the-top acting. It is even filled with a number of movie parodies, making clear references to movies such as "Predator," "Aliens" and "Terminator." While this is sure to upset some Resident Evil fans, since it all but ignores the storyline that had been developing through the previous games, it works very well for this plot. Rather than worrying about plot holes, illogical puzzles or bizarre situations, you can simply enjoy whatever the game throws at you.
The major difference between Resident Evil 4 and its predecessors is in how action-oriented it is. Leon has changed a lot from his rookie cop persona in Resident Evil 2 and is now every inch the clichéd action hero. He dives through windows, performs acrobatics and prefers his knife to any of the number of massive guns he carries. How this translates into gameplay is what really sets Resident Evil 4 apart from the others. Whenever Leon pulls a weapon, the game moves into an over-the-shoulder view, which allows you to precisely aim at any part of an enemy's body. Aiming for the head, for example, can stun an enemy, which allows Leon to perform a special finishing move; shooting an arm can make the enemy drop its weapon, and so on.
The Wii controls in Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition make this iteration simpler than previous games however. In the GameCube and PlayStation 2 versions, you slowly moved a laser target onto the enemy, making rapid fire shots almost impossible. The Wii version allows you to simply aim and shoot with the Wiimote by moving a crosshair on the screen, significantly increasing your accuracy and speed. In fact, these new Wii controls almost make the game too easy, since Leon's speed increase is shocking. Furthermore, Leon can pull out his knife out and instantly target the nearest enemy simply by flicking the Wiimote, so even knifing foes is far simpler. Players who wish to experience the old control scheme can plug in the GameCube controller or Wii classic controller, rather than use the new Wii-specific setup.
Fighting enemies is far more complex and important than in any previous Resident Evil title. Each enemy has its own specific strengths and weaknesses. The Ganado, the basic enemy you encounter, are fairly weak, but come in swarms and use weaponry ranging from pitchforks to rocket launchers. However, later on you encounter more unique enemies, like the Garrador, a blind beast with claws that is lured by sound and is only vulnerable by shooting his weak spot. While you can wildly fire your gun at most enemies in Resident Evil 4, you're going to quickly run out of ammo that way. Learning when and where to attack is the key between facing a boss with a full shotgun or with a nearly empty pistol.
If conserving ammo is so important, why should you bother fighting most enemies at all? The answer is fairly simple: enemies drop items. Some drop ammunition or healing items, but for the most part, the enemies drop cold, hard cash. Money in Resident Evil 4 is used at the merchant, a bizarre individual with a thick accent who can be found all over the place. He offers to sell you weapons and items and can even occasionally upgrade your weapons into new and more powerful forms. Of course, these upgrades don't come cheap, so you've got to keep a lot of money on hand. Good news for returning GameCube players: The fixes made to the game's weaponry in the PAL version are kept in Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition. That means that the weapons have been better balanced, and the original Rifle has now been given a significant power increase to justify its slower speed. However, sadly, the Killer 7 weapon is still all but useless.
Those who played the previous GameCube and PlayStation 2 releases of Resident Evil 4 will find this version significantly more difficult, even with the new and improved control scheme. Compared to the GameCube version, there are more enemies on-screen than before, so it can be a bit difficult to keep up. Furthermore, the enemy item drops were changed to match the PlayStation 2 version, so ammo is far more scarce than in the GameCube iteration. However, to balance this out, the Wii controls make a few of the bosses significantly easier. The El Gigante boss, for example, is very easy to defeat in two attacks on its weak point, when it usually took three in the other versions of the game. This isn't due to a change in health, but more to the fact that the Gigante's weak point involves pounding on a button, or in the Wii's case, shaking the Wiimote. Likewise, many of the interactive cut scenes are far easier to perform, and using the automatic dodge on some enemy attacks is a breeze.
New to Nintendo gamers, although not to PlayStation 2 fans, is the addition of the Separate Ways mini-game, Plagas Removal Laser, and an extra set of costumes. The Separate Ways mini-game stars Ada Wong, one of the secondary characters returning from Resident Evil 2, as she has her own mini-adventure alongside Leon. While mostly there to tie up some plot-holes, this secondary mode is a good way to add extra replay value to the game. Ada has access to new weapons and areas that Leon never got to visit, as well as an exclusive final boss fight.
In addition to Separate Ways, the Wii version also includes the Mercenaries and the Assignment: Ada games, although these two are almost untouched from their previous iterations. (Ada Wong has a knife in both, something not found in the GameCube edition.) Although none of these bonuses can quite match up to the main game, they're more than fun enough to justify playing a few times, and doing well can unlock new and more powerful weaponry for a playthrough of the main game. One disappointment is that the Wii version doesn't include any exclusive extras that the PlayStation 2 version didn't already have. However, Resident Evil 4 Wii already has so many extras and bonuses that it doesn't feel like a major complaint.
Resident Evil 4 was probably the best-looking title on the GameCube, and it looks exactly as good on the Wii, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's still an excellent-looking game, but it isn't pushing the Wii in any way, with the only hiccups occurring in the PlayStation 2-exclusive material. Resident Evil 4 Wii is an excellent-looking game, which is an impressive feat for a two-year-old, thrice-ported game. It just doesn't look anywhere near as good as the original content, and that becomes obvious when both versions are on-screen at the same time. Leon's Mafia costume, for example, looks exceedingly ugly in this version of the game, looking very out of place when even the enemies seem to be better rendered than he is.
Likewise, while the Separate Ways exclusive areas are well designed, they seemed to be lacking some of the polish and shine that made the primary game look so good. Even worse, the PlayStation 2-exclusive costumes don't appear in cut scenes, which leads to very bizarre moments where Leon is dressed in a fancy outfit at one moment and in his basic suit the very next. Even the Separate Ways cut scenes seem grainy and strange-looking, having been apparently taken directly from the PlayStation 2.
In many ways, the audio work in Resident Evil 4 is better than the graphics. All of the sound effects are solid and easily recognizable, and when you hear a flying axe whiz past Leon's ear, you know what it is. Hearing the eerie breathing of a Regenerator as you crawl through a dank prison, unsure of where it is, but knowing it is somewhere nearby is a feeling hard to replicate. Perhaps the "worst" aspect is the voice acting, which is cheesy and silly, but it's difficult to fault the title for that, since it is apparently exactly they effect they were going for. What little music the title features isn't particularly memorable, but it fits the tone very well, especially during the intense action sequences.
This is, by and far, the definitive version of Resident Evil 4. Even if one end up disliking the new Wii controls, this is the whole package. With the top-notch graphics seen on the GameCube version, the tweaks and extras from the PlayStation 2 iteration, and the wide variety of control offered by the Wii, Resident Evil 4 has never been better. If you've never played this game before, it's worth picking up, especially at the very forgiving budget price of $30. However, even for gamers who've already defeated the Los Illuminados on every available system, this game is still a fun addition to your Wii library, and perhaps the first game to make full use of the Wii's controller for gunplay. Both as a port and as a game, Resident Evil 4 Wii succeeds in almost every way, and the only disappointment is that Resident Evil 5 is still so far off.