Resident Evil 4 was the best game of 2005 on the GameCube. There's no ifs ands or buts about it. Upon its release, the Resident Evil franchise and the GameCube itself were getting stagnant. While Resident Evil's graphics were as gorgeous as ever, the weird tank like controls and pre-rendered backgrounds were stuck firmly in the PlayStation era. At the same time, Nintendo's GameCube was trailing both the Xbox and the PlayStation 2 in sales. But like a breath of fresh air, Capcom revitalized both with their outstanding re-imagining of the Resident Evil franchise. Now, everything was in full 3D, you could aim over the shoulder, and the annoying "find the three pieces of this stone to open this door" puzzles were mostly given the axe in favour of purely visceral thrills and frights. RE4 was a true system selling masterpiece, and I maintain to this day that if RE4 had come out a year or two earlier, the GameCube would be hailed as a sales success, rather than the disappointment it is seen as now.
In case you didn't know the story at this point, behold a quick rundown. After surviving the events of the Raccoon city zombie infestation in RE2, Leon Kennedy has become something of an elite secret agent. As a certified badass with a license to kill, Leon is chosen to go on a dangerous mission to a remote Spanish village which is the last known whereabouts of the president's daughter, Ashley. No sooner than he arrives at the village do psychopathic villagers start to attack Leon with a variety of pointy farming equipment and chainsaws.
After a PS2 conversion, Capcom has seen fit to port the game over to the Wii, whilst taking full advantage of its unique controller. While the brilliant game that you know and love has arrived intact, I am proud to announce that the new Wii controls work so well that you'll believe that RE4 was built from the ground up for the system. One of my biggest complaints with the game at first (and it's a very small one, I assure you) was that it was sometimes hard to judge your aim with analog stick and the onscreen laser sight, as it seemed to be at awkward angles from time to time. Now, even that complaint is gone, as you have a crosshair on the screen at all times which is relative to where you are pointing the Wii-mote. Think of it as kind of twisted version of Duck Hunt with pseudo-zombies and exploding heads instead of pixilated ducks. Oh, and horrifying death animations instead of an incessantly giggling dog when you fail.
The Wii controls extend to other facets of the game as well. Make a swiping motion with the remote and Leon will swipe his knife at enemies. Shake the remote while in the aiming stance and Leon will reload his gun. I'll say it again; the Wii controls make RE4 even better than it was before. They take a little bit of getting used to at first, but now I will never be able to go back to playing the game with a basic controller on the Cube or PS2.
Speaking of aim, the game features the standard array of guns such as handguns, shotguns, magnums, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers. The weapons all seem to handle quite well, and some pack a mean punch. Capcom has also implemented a sweet upgrade system that allows you to upgrade your guns in terms of capacity, reload time, firing speed, and power. Weapons are purchased and upgraded by a lovable hobo-looking guy who keeps calling you stranger. Sure, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but the ability to purchase and upgrade your items makes suspending your disbelief much easier to do.
The game's intensity stems from the feeling of being hopelessly outnumbered by a collective enemy that is smarter and more lethal than any zombie(s). There is more than one instance in the game in which Leon is hopelessly barricaded in a cabin or room that is surrounded by dozens upon dozens of enemies, all with an axe to grind against Leon's jugular. However, thanks to the context sensitive A button, Leon is capable of dozens of cool moves of his own, and all he has to do is stand near the potential action. An onscreen prompt tells you what the A button does at any given moment. It's an elegant and satisfying way to roundhouse kick, jump out of windows, push down ladders, and pretty much any other action you can think of.
The context sensitive actions don't end during cut-scenes either. Without notice, your reflexes will be called upon in order to survive a perilous and cinematic situation. The Wii controls have a role here too. One particularly memorable sequence has you frantically making a cutting motion with the Wii-mote to cut a rope tied to Leon's leg that is slowly dragging him to his doom.
Leon will also have to eventually guide Ashley around. Sure, she'll occasionally be the direct result of that infamous "You Are Dead" screen, but she's a lot easier to take care of than 98% percent of NPC escorts in the history of gaming. Ashley will stick to your hip when you tell her to follow you, duck when you're aiming, and even help you solve some puzzles. Best of all, if you happen to be on a lower level than she is, you can look up her skirt and her reactions are gut-bustingly hilarious.
Any review of RE4 wouldn't be complete without making mention of the insane bosses you'll face throughout the adventure. RE4 has some of the most memorable boss fights that I have ever endured. The first boss you face in the middle of a foggy lake is easily among the most intense moments in gaming history. You'll face some truly horrifying mutations, and figuring out how to take them down is fun and challenging at the same time. Even the lower to mid-range enemies are cleverly designed, and will cut you to ribbons if you're not careful.
Capcom's greatest achievement with the game is that it feels completely fresh throughout its lengthy 15-20 hour running time. Leon will visit a plethora of different and interesting locales including trap laden woods, cult churches, a few industrial sections, and a creepy abandoned prison to name a few. While the majority of the game involves fending off hordes of enemies with your trusty shotgun, Leon will also have a several action-movie moments such a mine cart chase, a balladic knife fight, and the aforementioned fish boss in the middle of the lake. One thing RE4 never, ever becomes is boring.
Once you've completed the main quest with Leon, there's a slew of bonus levels and unlockables to enjoy, the best of which are the bonus missions featuring Ada Wong. The separate ways missions that first appeared in the PS2 version are here, which easily add a few more hours of bloody mayhem to enjoy.
RE4 is undeniably the best looking game on the Wii, which is more than a little disconcerting. When the best looking game on your brand new system is a two and a half year old last generation title, it is a cause for concern. With that said, RE4's graphics were breathtaking on the Cube, and remain so today. Sure, the textures look a little muddier and the animation is a little stiffer than I remember from my pre-HD gamer days, but what hasn't changed is the fantastic art style of the game. Lots of little details are littered throughout the game, and every section looks different than the one that came before it. It's a shame that Capcom didn't upgrade the graphics at all, with the exception of a fully supported progressive scan widescreen mode which smoothes out a few jagged edges and makes the game look slightly sharper. Even though RE4 can't visually compete with the best that the PS3 and Xbox 360 have to offer, you won't really notice that much when you're being chased by an insane villager with flailing tentacles where their head should be.
The sound design is just as brilliant as the art style of the game, and makes full use of Dolby Pro-Logic surround sound. There are few things in gaming more unsettling than hearing a revving chainsaw coming up behind you, only to turn around and have your head lopped off. All the guns sound appropriately punchy and powerful, and for once, Resident Evil got the voice acting right. Sure, it's occasionally a little stiff, but for the most part, the actors do a fine job voicing their characters. RE4 is an acoustic assault on your senses, and I loved every minute of it.
What else is left to say? If you've never played RE4 before, then the Wii version is by far the best version of an absolutely amazing game. If you've played it on other systems already, I still recommend picking up the Wii version anyway. I had already completed the game on GameCube during its original release, and the game still gave me sweaty palms and made me jump a foot in the air on more than one occasion on the second go around. The Wii controls add so much to an already sublime horror experience, and how can you go wrong with a game that's reasonably priced at almost half of the average going rate for a Wii title? This is the best game to date on the Wii, period. If you own a Wii, you owe it to yourself to discover or rediscover one of the scariest and flat-out best games ever made.