Version tested: iPhone
In a sense, you couldn't ask for a more faithful adaptation of a home console blockbuster to a mobile handset than Resident Evil 4: Mobile Edition for iPhone and iPod Touch. Here's a game that somehow packs a fair approximation of its daddy's graphics, control system, enemies, locations, perspective, playing style, systems and story into a mere 37MB. It's even got a Mercenaries mode. It's unmistakably, faithfully Resident Evil 4, and Resident Evil 4 is a titan among action games. How could that be a bad thing?
It depends what you mean by faithfulness. A game like Metal Gear Solid Touch ludicrously reduces MGS4 down to a simple duck-shoot - but it does so with all the style, finesse and sense of drama you expect from Kojima Productions. That's a different kind of faithfulness, and I'd argue a better one, than that displayed by this port - which presses a magnificent game into your hand regardless of whether it's a good idea in the first place, and without the one thing that made the original truly great: attention to detail.
Although Resident Evil 4 is known as the game that finally liberated the hidebound survival-horror series from its painful control shackles and made it playable again, it was still restrictive and nit-picking in its way. It eked it out its fair share of tension from the fact you have to stop moving to aim your gun, and an hour or two of running time from inventory-management, treasure-hunting and shopping for weapons. The reason it worked so brilliantly is the same as the reason its predecessors worked - every minute of play, every cautious, echoing step, every lurch from the shadows, every camera angle and panicked set-piece was crafted to perfection, and paced better than most Hollywood thrillers.
It's that element the Mobile Edition entirely lacks, and without it, you're left with a clumsy and irritating shooting game made slightly more clumsy and irritating by being put somewhere it's not supposed to be.
Resident Evil 4: Mobile Edition consists of 12 stages. interspersed with barely comprehensible bursts of telegraphed plot. Each stage is a recognisable and atmospherically drawn location from the original, but in microcosm: a tiny, open-plan chunk of real estate with nowhere to go, a snow-globe souvenir of real Resident Evil. A reduction in scale is fair enough, but it's the reductive design of these stages that really disappoints.
You could fully explore each one, including awkwardly and laboriously hacking at item boxes with your knife and shooting down glinting treasure items, in under a minute. So they're spun out with carelessly placed, frustratingly random and seemingly endless respawning waves of Ganados zombies who seem to be able to materialise anywhere around you. Conditions for progress vary; sometimes you need to find a key, defeat a boss or simply outlast the shuffling, hatchet-throwing menace until the game decides it's time to move on.
The lack of craft or indeed, much thought at all in the way the enemies attack you and direction from which they do so turns what ought to be a compact Resident Evil Lite into a formless and sometimes farcical melee. The best tactic is often to run around the stage in circles, brushing straight past flailing Ganados until you can find a relatively safe, spawn-free spot to shoot from. It doesn't feel anything like Resident Evil at all.
That's all the more striking when you consider the almost exact transposition of the controls. Hero Leon is manipulated with a virtual, analogue thumbstick in the bottom left, with buttons on the right switching between movement, aiming his gun with the familiar red laser sight and tight over-the-shoulder view, and using his knife. Contextual buttons also appear for picking up and using objects, kicking vulnerable enemies and so on. It's an efficient system, and the virtual stick works well enough for movement, although its sensitivity can be bizarrely and frustratingly unpredictable - and tracking painfully slow - when aiming.
Although the end result isn't too far removed from the console experience - and it certainly wouldn't be a Resident Evil game without a slow, deliberate, heart-in-mouth aiming system - Mobile Edition's combat edges over the boundary into the cheerless territory of "no fun". The wavering fudginess to taking aim and lack of feedback take most of the blame for that. It's not as if these are inherent flaws of touch-screen control, but past iPhone releases (including the aforementioned MGS Touch) have proven that using the whole screen as a track-pad provides more accuracy and tactile satisfaction, and good sound helps too. Apple's device is certainly capable of far better audio than the handful of weedy, coarsely compressed samples gracing this game.
Graphical fidelity is much better, and the 3D engine is smooth and capable by iPhone standards, with good draw distance. But the - admittedly remarkable - efforts made to transpose the original game assets onto the iPhone are misguided. Limited animation lets the models down, and limited resolution and texture definition mean that the original's moody look quickly becomes just muddy, with far-off enemies hard to make out in the overall murky wash of brown and grey.
There's only one difficulty setting, and it's a tough game, for some fair reasons and some unfair ones. The supply of ammo and health in each stage is meagre, and you'll need to spend money on these and upgrades between stages - with that gloriously overplayed Cockney weapons-dealer, a warmly-welcome old friend - to make consistent progress. You won't have much money, though, which is where Mercenaries mode comes in.
In Mobile Edition, the score-attack Mercs stages unlock one-for-one with the story stages as you progress. They re-use exactly the same maps and, as you'd expect, are a simple rush to kill as many enemies as possible within the time limit, with your score converting to cash at the end. They're an easy and useful way to earn currency, and arguably a more enjoyable way to play game in any case, although they go too far in turning the difficulty tables. Early Mercs maps in particular have you running in the same circles as the main game, only this time you're desperately hunting for a new spawn to kill, rather than racing to avoid them.
It would be tempting to say that Mercenaries mode saves Resident Evil 4: Mobile Edition, but all it really does is make it slightly less annoying. It's possible to have much more fun for much less money than its £4.99 price tag on the App Store. Capcom has made all the classic mistakes of the mobile port: over-developed technology, under-developed content, and an all-too-literal approach to the licence that doesn't tailor the design to the device. Yes, it's faithful - but it's blind faith.
4 / 10