Review: Resident Evil 4: Mobile Edition

iphone-pics-1127The first few times I picked up Resident Evil 4: Mobile Edition (iTunes link), I wanted to throw my iPhone out the window and watch it slowly sail 8 stories below into the Potomac river. Now, after five days of playing through the game’s 12 levels, I am ready to take my iPhone into bed with me and make sweet love to it. The controls take a lifetime to get used to, but once you’ve got them down, the game is extremely addictive. It took me a full three levels to get used to the game mechanic, but it was well worth it. The much-anticipated iPhone port of the console classic, Resident Evil 4, is only for those who are willing to put in the time I did. So be warned, short attention-span iPhone gamers: RE4 is not for you. For those who have come to appreciate the iPhone as a full-fledged portable gaming device, proceed, but please be patient.

For those of you experiencing your first few days in civilization, Resident Evil is a first/third-person zombie shooter franchise from Capcom that has infiltrated every form of media on the planet. It started as a kick-ass video game, back in 1996. Since then, Resident Evil has appeared in 20 games on 12 platforms (including “PC” and “Mobile Phone”). It has also spawned a variety of movies, comic books, and, yes, someone took the time to write novels about Resident Evil. The story has varied and evolved over time, but there is one running theme: humans killing zombies. OK, history class over. Now onto the review:

iphone-pics-1119The mobile version’s storyline is fairly simple: you are Leon S. Kennedy, a new hire Secret Service agent, and your job is to save Ashley Graham, the President’s daughter, from evil monsters. You save her, and then she gets caught again. Then you save her. She gets caught. That repeats a few more times. Then, finally, you save her for good. There are 12 levels in all, and they are each extremely challenging (more on why later, but it took me upwards of four times to beat each level – sometimes as many as 15). As you go through the game you amass currency, and use that currency to buy weapons, ammunition, healing herbs, grenades and other upgrades. Each level involves killing a shit ton of enemy creatures, each of which is ferociously attempting to bite your head off. In essence, it’s a simple RPG-style shooting game.

The first thing you’ll notice are the controls. As is becoming popular, on-screen buttons for the iPhone appear and disappear as needed. A joystick appears on the left-hand side and allows you to move around (there is no strafing). When you draw your weapon, you freeze and cannot move, and a red laser appears. You aim the laser with the joystick and shoot at will. Here’s the problem: aiming perfectly is damn near impossible; you simply don’t have the precision on the touch-screen to move the laser exactly where you want. When the enemy is more than 2 feet away (so, always), it is maddeningly difficult to aim. I eventually got used to it, but it took a really long time – and I have yet to perfect it. Given that head shots are far more valuable than body blows, you will surely miss the precision of better controls.

iphone-pics-1115Conversely, the graphics are rock-solid. They are on par with those of Doom: Resurrection; the enemies are well-detailed, the lighting is perfect, and the characters’ movements are surprisingly smooth. Furthermore, the bad guys vary quite nicely: I never got sick of blowing the heads off the same baddies time after time. They also had different weaknesses and “personalities.” For example, one type of enemy is blind and simply identifies your location based on sounds you make (so, you can shoot a giant bell across the room and the enemy will charge at the bell instead of you). Others attack in such a manner that you have to dodge their blows; this is all about timing: you hit the “dodge” button as soon as it pops up on the screen and you’re scot free.

Again, it takes forever to get used to the controls, and this is the game’s Achilles’ heel. It is the reason why the levels can be so frustrating. Time and time again, especially early on, I would complete 50-75% of a level and then be unable to aim my laser at an enemy before he tore me to shreds. To top it off, there’s no auto-save, so I would have to start from scratch all over again. That said, the diversity and depth of the levels made me smile. Each is different, and has a unique setting. Your tasks change from level to level; sometimes you have to just walk towards the exit and stick a bullet in everyone on the way. Other times, you act as a sniper and try to take out the enemies as they attempt to grab your dear Ashley and take her into their lair. You’ll barely get through each level, even if you’ve got plenty of health and ammo. The strategy for each level also changes depending on the variety of guns you’ve got to choose from. You can only carry/buy so many, and your choices are integral to your success.

iphone-pics-1133I’m honestly torn on whether I’d recommend Resident Evil 4: Mobile Edition. I played through the first few levels largely because I had to and not because I wanted to. After pulling teeth with the controls for a bit, it was smooth sailing: I immersed myself in the game’s diverse levels and jaw-dropping graphics. If you were as excited to see this title pop into the App Store as we were, I’d say its a no-brainer: forgo the lunch money and spend the $7.99. However, if you haven’t any allegiance to or experience with the Resident Evil franchise, you should probably pass on this one.

What we like:

  • Awesome levels. Deep, challenging levels. Valiant enemies and rigorous fight scenes. This game was difficult enough to frustrate you, but just enough to keep you from growing any gray hairs.
  • Variety. Resident Evil 4 is chalk-full of weapons and zombies: what else could you want?
  • Engaging gameplay. Fight scenes are uniquely entertaining, and you’ll be hooked in no time.

What we don’t like:

  • Control stick. This game has one critical flaw, and it is massive. Like a bloody pimple on a beautiful face, the poor controls stick out and make it difficult for even a Resident Evil lover like myself to whole-heartedly endorse the iPhone version.
  • Auto-save. The joystick problem was magnified by the lack of checkpoint saving in this game. Personally, any game with longer levels ought to have auto-save built in.
  • Menus. This is a bit nit-picky, but the menus take forever to go through. It took too many taps to get from one level to the next, or to select a new weapon, or to sell existing weapons, or… you get the point.