A new way to kill some old friends.
Game Revolution is notorious for being tough on games. We consistently grade hyped-up titles lower than our occasionally na've counterparts. It might not help ad sales, but we'd rather be right than wrong.
So when I had already heard some bad stuff about Resident Evil: Dead Aim and saw some of the low scores from other reviewers, I prepared to take aim myself and blast a few new holes in the CD.
But I'm not going to, because I like it and I think my fellow zombies are going like it, too.
RE: Dead Aim breaks free from the arcade-style shooter standard and does some terrific new things. It doesn't hit the bullseye, but I love the direction Capcom is aiming because gun games have been stuck in a rut since Duck Hunt.
Hell, the latest next-gen version of House of the Dead III still has "Insert Coin(s)" flashing at the bottom of the machine. I had to learn the hard way that your Xbox warrantee will not cover shoving $3.75 in quarters into your console.
First and foremost, Resident Evil: Dead Aim is not really a gun game in the traditional sense. You spend more time using other controls than you do aiming your light gun. You simply cannot shoot everything you see because you don't have enough ammo. You have to explore, find pesky keys, get lost, and run away from zombies.
A gun game where you run away from things? Yep. Resident Evil: Dead Aim is really the latest installment in the Resident Evil Survivor series. You just happen to use your light gun to shoot rather than your controller. I think this is a terrific innovation, really bringing you into the game like no other RE title.
Speaking of you, this time you get to be Bruce MacGavin, who appears to be some sort of rogue cop or possibly a government agent. Resident Evil plots never make too much sense, what with their underwater airports and all, but this one might be the most poorly explained yet, literally dropping you into the middle of the action already in progress. You will also run across and play as Fong Ling, a Chinese agent who, according to her bio, tracked down and captured her own brother to be executed by the Chinese government for promoting democracy. Thanks, sis.
You will eventually figure out that ex-Umbrella employee Morpheus Duvall has made off with the T-virus. He and his followers have taken over a cruise ship owned by the Umbrella Corp and plan to sell the biological terror to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, they have turned the ship into to greatest cruise ship of all time, full of fun-loving, shuffleboard-playing zombies. Carnival Cruises just can't compete with forward thinking like this.
The ship looks good, too, with some nice textures and great looking shipboard cabins, halls, lounges, and everything else you'd expect on a luxury liner. Our zombie friends are a little square around the edges, as are the main characters, and there are a few clipping errors, but the game keeps up a smooth framerate and overall looks pretty good.
The sound is well done, with ship noises, zombies groaning for brains, satisfying gunfire and eerie music. The voice acting is a little better than the zombie game standard, even if the dialogue isn't.
The gameplay itself is straight out of classic Resident Evil. You control your character in the third-person with the camera locked fairly solidly behind you. While you run around desperately trying to figure out where the zombies stashed the "Hex Key" (Note: Not a real item, so don't e-mail me), you spend as much time avoiding the undead as shooting them.
And when you want to shoot at them, you just pull the trigger, instantly zooming the game into a first-person view of the action. Then you just aim the gun and shoot. Aiming is important, because you don't have unlimited ammo and good hits (ie. head shots) are key. There are even a number of different satisfying weapons to find. It's simple, elegant, and really makes you feel like those zombies are coming at you.
Unfortunately, when you're not shooting, the controls are not so elegant or simple. The game supports about a million control schemes, including the option to play with a mouse, but I found it best to play with just the PS2 GunCon. Whatever you do, don't play Dead Aim without a light gun. It uses every button on the gun, although some of the button-mapping is awkward. For instance, you can't look up or down.
But the biggest control issue is that all movement is done with the little stick on the back of the gun, the "thumbcon," and this is a straight D-pad and not an analog stick, which makes movement a bit jerky and uncomfortable. You can solve this by using a PS2 controller to move and then snatching up your gun to shoot, but it would all be simpler if the "thumbcon" was analog.
This is the opposite of every other gun game ever made, which historically feature the easiest controls to learn: just aim and shoot. Make no mistake - having to learn a whole new set of complex controls is definitely going to put off some gamers, but I think the freedom to explore your environment is well worth it. However, this means that Dead Aim is not a party game like other light gun games. It's very much a solo effort like the other Resident Evil titles.
Some people have been complaining that the game is too short, and indeed it will only take you about five hours to complete in Normal mode. But while this is about a third of the length of other Resident Evil titles, it's about 10 times longer than most other light gun games. Is the glass half empty or half full? Sure, I want a longer game, but that's only because I'm enjoying myself. It doesn't bug me so much when I hate the game.
RE: Dead Aim isn't the first gun game to try taking you out of the arcade and off the rail, but it's the first one to do it well. I found it innovative and engrossing, and I think it's a great new direction for both the genre of light gun games and the Resident Evil series. At least until they finally let you play as a zombie...