Game: Resident Evil: Dead Aim (PAL/NTSC-U) / Gun Survivor 4: Biohazard – Heroes Never Die (NTSC-J)
System: PlayStation 2 DVD-ROM
Light-gun games have a sketchy history on the PlayStation 2. Capcom’s efforts in particular have been met with everything from mild indifference to outright derision by the gaming public. Luckily, in most ways, Resident Evil: Dead Aim succeeds where its predecessors have failed. It effortlessly combines patented Resident Evil-style 3rd-person survival horror with 1st-person light-gun action and the result is an experience far more satisfying than similar games to date have been. The storyline is ludicrous, the voice acting is just plain terrible and while slightly on the short side, Dead Aim is a very recommendable light-gun game, easily on par with any of its rivals on the PS2.
Dead Aim handles, without exaggeration, marvellously. Resident Evil, the franchise that put survival horror on the map, branched out into action with Resident Evil: Survivor - essentially a free roaming 1st-person shooter – to little fanfare. Maybe this was in part due to the Columbine shootings nixing light-gun support for the title in the United States, but really it was down to the mechanic driving the game being clunky, and unrefined. For aiming and shooting, things were fun, but navigating a 3d world riddled with hidden with hidden items and teeming with enemies, while only looking left and right is bound to go wrong somewhere. Dead Aim avoids these pitfalls by throwing those ideas out entirely, and using the tried and tested Resident Evil gameplay for exploration, and shifting to a point-of-view interface for combat.
The game allows you to either use both a Dual Shock 2 controller in tandem with a G-con45 / Guncon or G-con2 / Guncon2, or just a G-con2 by itself. The former is more comfortable to my tempered hands, but either configuration is a matter of preference. The d-pad and analogue stick control characters’ movement, and all buttons are mapped to confirm / interact. This allows a controller to be easily held in the left hand, with a thumb on the stick, a finger positioned above L1, and with a gun in the right, providing complete control over the game while doing so. Pulling the trigger on the G-con will shift from 3rd- to 1st-person perspective, while shooting off-screen reloads. Lurching zombies can usually be dispatched by drawing a weapon and scoring a clean headshot, while others, such as the frog-like Hunters, will require some moving around in-between taking shots. None of this is cumbersome, but while the game can be played solely with the Dual Shock 2, it is not recommended. Overall, the control scheme in Dead Aim is remarkably simple, but effective, and allows the player a great deal more agency in the gameworld than in any of the previous Gun Survivor games so far.
Dead Aim’s polished presentation extends to its graphics. Not in the same league as Resident Evil 0 for the GameCube, or Resident Evil 4, the game’s graphics are clean and clear, and almost consistently running at a silk-smooth 60 frames. Almost no slowdown bogged the game at any point, and there are instances where veritable legions of zombies will obstruct the player’s quick exit. The interior of the Umbrella cruiser is especially well realised, as much of the architecture above deck, as well as the engine rooms below, bear strong familiarity to their often-seen film and TV counterparts. Without any doubt though, the full-motion-video sequences in the game are almost without peer on the PlayStation 2. Consider this game’s age, and the stiff competition on the platform, this is not a statement that can be made in passing.
Although in some ways a throwback to the old Resident Evils, Dead Aim is completely separate from them in terms of plot. Set in 2002, years after the Racoon City events of the first three games, it follows a CIA agent, Bruce McGivern, who has to reclaim a hijacked Umbrella Corp. cruise ship from renegade scientist Morpheus Duvall. Unbeknownst to Umbrella, however, is that Morpheus has secretly stolen a new hybrid G/T-Virus, and infected everyone on board the liner. This conveniently sets the stage for wanton zombie-shooting mayhem, as the player fights their way through the ship, searching for keys and unlocking their way to Morpheus. Eventually the fight is taken to an abandoned Umbrella facility where the plot reaches its unspectacular climax. In truth, the story is pathetically contrived, but is most disadvantaged by its voice-acting. While the narcissistic Morpheus is suitably effeminate sounding, Raj Ramayya, the voice of the protagonist, oscillates equally between a heavy-south accent, and something more mainstream. Claire O’Connor, who plays Chinese agent Fong Ling, puts forth, without exception, the worst bunged on Chinese accent I have ever heard. As if the already painful-to-watch cutscenes needed any more help sucking, the subtitles never match the spoken dialogue. Obviously one follows a more literal Japanese translation, but the combination of the two actually manages to further obscure what is already a poorly thought out sequence of events.
There isn’t that long of a story to suffer through, fortunately, as the game is as short as its story is poorly conceived. All up a run through can take less than an hour, but there are more serious content-related grievances than that. While there is a standard survival horror fare of weapons and items, including pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, as well as herbs and sprays, there is not a huge roster of enemies. The vast majority of time will be spent wasting the run of the mill zombie, but there are only really hunters, ‘torpedo kids’ and three bosses to deal with other than that. Once you can easily get off three running headshots on the zombies, you are pretty much set for the rest of the game. Crimson heads, lickers and Mr.X were nowhere to be found, which was quite disheartening. Rewards for completing the game are sparse too. Depending on difficulty and rank achieved, a clear save will allow access to either all weapons from the start, or infinite ammo. The ability to control Fong Ling, who is no more than an alternate model, is little incentive to play through a second time. She plays through the same story as Bruce in any case.
On the whole, Resident Evil: Dead Aim is the first game to successfully blend free-movement and explorative elements with a light-gun shooting mechanic. Admittedly it doesn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with the masterpiece that is Resident Evil 4, but Dead Aim is easily the best game in the Gun Survivor series, and one of the best light-gun games available for the PlayStation 2, if not the best off-rails light-gun game ever made. Its short length is a pity, considering how well the it plays, and the script could use a lot of work. Nevertheless Dead Aim is a very capable title that all G-con owners should consider, if only as an excuse to clear off all the dust that has settled on it over the months of disuse. Of course, you could just play the game with a Dual Shock in tow... but where’s the fun in that?