Review: Capcom Resident Evil: Degeneration
Resident Evil may be one of Capcom's biggest game franchises, but the sheer variety of different games that have appeared in this zombie-blasting "survival horror" series -- early forced-perspective games, more recent dynamic 3-D perspective games, and simple cash-in shooters -- makes it hard to know what to expect from any given release. iPhone and iPod touch users have lucked out: rather than taking one of the easier development routes, Capcom has blessed Apple's pocket devices with Resident Evil: Degeneration ($7), a dynamic 3-D perspective title that looks and feels somewhat like Code: Veronica, the first such truly 3-D game in the series, and subsequent titles such as Resident Evil 4 and 5, only significantly pared down visually.
As such, rather than merely being presented with pre-rendered, forced-perspective views of backdrops along with polygonal characters, Resident Evil: Degeneration shows you the head, shoulders, arms and back of hero Leon Kennedy, who makes his way through a realtime-rendered 3-D airport that’s filled with realtime-rendered 3-D enemies. Most of the time, you’re looking over Leon’s shoulder as he walks, pulls his guns, and shoots down zombies and similarly creepy “infected” enemies, but you’ll occasionally find yourself in first-person mode peeking through the sight of a rifle, or in a more distant third-person perspective for cutscenes or quick time events.
During the game’s exploration and shooting portions, control is handled through a useful on-screen joypad and context-sensitive buttons that change icons based on your current needs. One flips you from walking to aiming and another toggles between interacting with objects and firing your gun. A knife’s also available if you run out of ammo. These controls, and a map that’s activated when you need it—often—work pretty well, with only the occasional hiccup as your finger moves accidentally off of one button onto another. The only puzzles to worry about here are action-based and straightforward: a destination is added to your map, and you need to either move forward or backtrack through the airport to get to it, sometimes picking something up along the way.
For the cutscenes, which aren’t as bad as the series’ worst or as good as its best, all you need to do is watch; in the quick time events, you may need to tap the screen three or four times in different places to avoid being crushed, stabbed, or otherwise mangled. Capcom has thankfully come up with a great balance of actual shooting gameplay, dialogue, and the simple quick time events, such that you don’t spend too much time reading the story or playing tap tap with zombies. You’re almost always walking around and shooting, doing so within a 3-D engine with enough smooth motion and polygonal detail to satisfy—not impress, satisfy—fans of the series. Some of the zombies look rough around the edges, but they’re acceptable while moving around. The only other visual issue is the game’s inherent darkness; while we didn’t have a problem playing any stage with our iPhone’s ambient light sensor set to automatically adjust for lighting conditions, some players may prefer to set the screen brightness someplace high and leave it there, rendering distant zombies easier to see.
To its considerable credit, though it starts out on shaky ground linguistically, Resident Evil: Degeneration’s story actually makes sense and contributes to the adventure: one plane has crashed at the airport, spilling infected passengers into the terminals, and spreading a contagion to everyone from security personnel to a special forces team to other passengers. You first need to rescue a Senator who’s trapped at the airport, stop a plane full of infected passengers from taking off, and defeat several boss characters along the way. In keeping with the survival horror themes of the series, Capcom doesn’t shy away from walking you through crashed, burning planes filled with zombie passengers and flight attendants, or showing you emergency personnel—cops, firefighters, and so on—who have been infected and need to be taken down. You’ll move through dimly lit and semi-bright sections of the airport, including a duty free shopping area, security screening, and underground infirmary, occasionally encountering uninfected humans, vomiting ones, and infected dogs that whelp when shot; combined with the story and some very good ambient music, these little touches and occasional zombie groans from unexplored rooms do succeed in generating a little sympathy and fear as you progress.
That having been said, Degeneration does lack in the fine-tuning, intensity, and longevity departments players might expect from a Resident Evil title, and that’s probably because it started life as a mobile game—for the Nokia N-Gage platform—rather than as a console title. Unlike many of the prior games in the series, the fear level never really ratchets up, and it’s rare to find yourself fighting off more than three enemies at a time—typically, one attacks while another is at a distance. Weapon and item management has been largely preserved from prior games in the series, such that you need to make room in a briefcase for guns, ammo, healing tools, and the like, and can purchase, sell, and upgrade weapons from merchant stations scattered throughout the airport. While managing the items isn’t incredibly difficult, a problem that plagued certain earlier RE games, the developers’ desire to give you many weapon choices results in a glut of options that aren’t always different enough from each other, and feel unnecessarily numerous for such a brief game. You can expect to spend 15 or fewer minutes playing through each chapter on the basic difficulty level, for a total of perhaps three hours of play time; it’ll take longer if you don’t follow the objective markers on the maps or ignore the clues found in notes and dialogue.
Overall, Resident Evil: Degeneration represents a really good first stab at the survival horror genre by Capcom on the iPhone and iPod touch. While this title doesn’t push the outer visual or sonic limits of these devices, it does offer a bona-fide, modern Resident Evil gameplay experience rather than the easier, sloppier forced-perspective or pure shooting games that Capcom might easily have released, and will keep players occupied for at least several hours of a single play-through. The $7 asking price strikes us as fair, all things considered, and all we would ask for next time is a longer adventure with even more impressive use of Apple’s audiovisual hardware; Degeneration’s controls, scenario, and general implementation are all better than we’d have expected.