For some inexplicable reason Capcom has consistently blotted its copy book in the light gun shooter department with shoddy, uncontrollable travesties that did little to enhance the brand. But forced to creatively circumvent its Resi Evil exclusivity agreement with Nintendo, it has managed the double whammy of creating not only the finest Resident Evil light gun game ever, but possibly the best light gun game into the bargain. Blimey.
But before we go overboard with astonished praise, let's take stock of the Resi situation in 2003. As any passing fan of the series will wearily acknowledge, Capcom's stubborn commitment to the original 1996 template in all five 'proper' Resi titles is possibly the only truly evil thing about the series these days. The utterly hopeless controls, enemies you can't see, rubbish save system, door opening animations, scarce ammo, tired endless locked doors, hammy sub-B movie acting and so on. It'd be akin to Id bringing out FPSs where you couldn't jump or look up and down, but somehow Capcom has got trapped in its own personal time warp.
The Marmite of games?
Despite these endlessly repeated criticisms, its hugely loyal audience has stuck with it (including us). Somehow the fierce challenge and engrossing atmosphere makes it more than worthwhile; but how we wish Capcom would bring the series up to date - one can only hope the much anticipated Resident Evil 4 does just that.
For the meantime, delightfully, Resident Evil Dead Aim serves as a more than adequate stop gap, forging the core survival horror gameplay with the chance to blast out zombie brains with a G-Con 2 in a way that nobody has attempted before.
Unlike the dire Code Veronica based predecessor, Dead Aim has an all-new story with new characters, mainly revolving around U.S Stratcom operative Bruce McGivern, Chinese Safety Department operator Fongling, and the Ex Umbrella R&D outcast Morpheus D. Duvall.
The story begins with the theft of the dreaded T-Virus from the Paris branch of the shady Umbrella organisation, and the hijacking of a luxury ocean liner, which also happens to be owned by Umbrella. Basically, the evil Morpheus has a bone to pick with Umbrella, and intends to finish the work he started. As per usual, it's up to you to put a stop to this meddling via a procession of zombie VIPs, and assorted mutated slime balls.
So far, so Resi Evil
Gameplay proceedings kick off very much like any Resident Evil game; third person perspective, a series of locked doors, intricately designed gloomy locations, shambling zombies, scattered objects and plenty of exploration.
But this time, it seems Capcom has listened to its fans and overhauled the entire experience; gone are the fixed camera angles that made the combat a lottery, gone are the stupid door/stair/ladder climbing animations, gone is the ridiculously limited inventory and in come a host of pleasant surprises.
The main plus is just how fluid the controls are; whether you use a joypad, G-Con 2, or mouse/Dual Shock combo, the process of getting around is instantly superior to previous Resi Evils. Although the joypad offers a few more (fairly unnecessary) manoeuvres, for the sake of fun we stuck with the G-Con 2 and found it amazingly slick, given the limitations, and for the first time found ourselves enjoying a light gun game that isn't on rails.
The fast and the furious
The simple system of D-pad for movement, trigger for first person viewpoint, and the three side buttons for pick up/open map and inventory works a treat and instantly rids the game of the frustrations of the past. Perhaps the most exciting thing about this new system is the fact that you can properly aim for once, and unlike other Resi games, the fire rate is fast and furious.
But unlike every other light gun game ever made, you're not simply wading through level after level of increasingly difficult baddies - there's a traditional survival horror principle within, and exploration is an equally important part of the game. Very quickly you realise that Dead Aim isn't really a light gun shooter at all - it's a survival horror game with a better control system.
Even better is the fact that the game offers three skill levels from the beginning meaning the previously harsh barriers to entry don't exist. Playing on Easy, you can get on with adventuring without always having to stress about how many bullets you have left. For the traditionalists, however, the Medium and Hard settings will give you a more normal (i.e. ferocious) Resi experience.
Looking good/looking bland
The visual splendour of the Cube-only Resi titles doesn't quite make it to Dead Aim, largely as a result of the roaming rather than fixed viewpoint, but it's still an excellent engine that allows Capcom to decorate many of the areas with the kind of detail you'd expect. Pleasingly, the environments are consistently convincing, with some decent lighting and particle effects, but unfortunately most of the effort seems to have been reserved for the early part of the game, with some rather bland sections midway through that smack of an attempt to pad the game out.
As ever, the standard of the cut-scenes is almost second to none, with some truly excellent rendering techniques complemented by some decent voice acting and lip-synching for possibly the first time ever in a Resi game. Of course, don't expect Shakespeare; this is - after all - a typical chase and kill adventure that follows the traditional path of the series, supplemented by the usual plethora of notebooks, scraps of paper and diary fragments.
Even the audio is worthy of praise, with atmospheric music and crunchy firearms noises, not to mention the sickening moans of zombies and ripping of flesh as another mutant sinks its fangs into your torso.
All over too soon
But, inevitably, there are moans. The main one is the fact that it's really not that big. In fact, a hardened blaster could lick it in four hours - depending on the difficulty level, of course. The other main criticism is the rather pedestrian middle sections which are about as unimaginative as you can get. Someone clearly had a deadline to meet.
At its core, this is the most entertaining Resident Evil game we've ever played, and easily the best use of a light gun ever. With a bigger and more focused game attached to it, this could have been a must buy classic, but instead has all the hallmarks of a classic weekend rental.