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More Zombies Than You Can Shake Your Wii At

August 2nd, 2007

This past week has found me, more often than not, hiding in the basement playing with my Wii. My latest obsession in videogame self-gratification: Resident Evil 4. While RE4 has been out for a couple of years, it’s new to the Wii, and some reviewers have suggested that this is the best version of the game to date. Ever since I bought my Wii I’ve been waiting for a good “light gun” game, so I used my hard-earned Zelda trade-in credit to pick up a copy.

I played the first two Resident Evil games for the PSOne, but have been rather lukewarm to the franchise. I loved the spooky atmosphere and the opportunity to shoot a great many zombies in the head, but found some aspects of the games very frustrating. If you’ve played any of the past entries in the series, you’ll know exactly what bothered me: the scarcity of ammunition, the locked-down “camera” and the need to collect “typewriter ribbons” just to save one’s game.

Worst of all was the inability to bypass the cut scenes. During one of the games, I found myself extremely low on ammo and forced into a confrontation with an especially tenacious “boss” monster. I didn’t have enough firepower to stop it and I was unable to procure more because I’d already cleaned out the complex. Every time I failed, I had to endure a long, unskippable cut scene. In the end, the only way I could get past that chokepoint was to restart the game from a much earlier save.

Fortunately, someone at Capcom figured out that hordes of zombies / a handful of bullets + arbitrarily limited saves X unavoidable cut scenes = no fun, and Resident Evil 4 corrects this fatal equation. There have been a few times I’ve run low on resources, but so far the game has been relatively generous with loot.

Resident Evil 4 casts the player as some sort of special forces soldier sent to rescue the President’s very hot daughter from an army of cultists who, as it turns out, are possessed by alien parasites. They take their cues from the fast-moving zombies of recent horror films such as 28 Days Later, and use a variety of weapons to boot. I’m not sure where it’s set; it looks like an Eastern European village, but all of the proper names are in Spanish. The early sequences had me blowing away a nigh-endless supply of pitchfork-wielding zombie peasants, and now I’m in a castle run by a creepy-eyed midget in a Napoleon outfit.

I’m currently about 2/3 of the way through the storyline, and unlike a lot of other videogames, I can easily see myself playing through it again. I’ve found it very satisfying in terms of atmosphere and gameplay. There are the usual collect-the-key quests, but little of the backtracking that plagued earlier Resident Evil games; often I’ve found the key even before I knew I needed it. The puzzles are just puzzling enough to stimulate my synapses, yet intuitive enough that I’ve had little need for a walkthrough. The frequent need to defend the President’s daughter had me worried that the entire game would become one long “protect the convoy” mission–a videogame cliche in which the player is forced to defend a slow-moving, poorly-armored and relentlessly stupid target–but even that aspect hasn’t proved especially frustrating.

I’m itching to get back to it, and unlike my recent experience with Zelda, it’s not because I’m just looking to get the damned thing over with.

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