The business of art and entertainment is a risky high wire balancing act. What makes for good art is usually at odds for what makes for good entertainment. Good art demands innovation that challenges its audience to process something beyond their usual comfort zone. Good entertainment is usually about pandering to that lowest common denominator comfort zone. Works that manage to obtain high levels on both fronts—like Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie painting, Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings novels and Francis Ford Coppolla's Godfather films—are possible, but are rarities that seem almost accidental rather than by design.
Beyond it first release, no one would ever mistaken a Resident Evil videogame as being one of these dual-achieving anomalies of outstanding art and entertainment. Instead, most gamers familiar with the long running survival horror series would agree that it is a slave to the entertainment distinction since after sequel upon sequel, there has been less and less innovation and more of pandering to the status quo.
The series lack of imagination is one of the reasons that make Resident Evil: Dead Aim, the eighth title bearing the franchise moniker, such a delightful surprise. What separates Dead Aim from its predecessors is instantly obvious since it is first and foremost a lightgun game that employs the Namco Guncon 2 accessory for the full experience (although using the dual shock controller exclusively is possible). Utilizing the control pad and buttons on the Guncon 2, players maneuver the main characters scruffy cop Bruce McGivern and exotic Asian Interpol agent Fong Ling (alternately). Unlike other Resident Evil games, the camera is not fixed in a variety of angles and instead follows the character from a behind the back third-person perspective. The ability to side strafe, do quick 180-degree turns, and evasive maneuvers from marauding zombies give Dead Aim that trademark Resident Evil feel.
However, once a player decides to undo the safety and let bullets fly is when Dead Aim starts to shake up the formula. By pulling the Guncon lightgun trigger at any time, the player perspective changes from the third-person view to a first-person view. Targeting and shooting then handles like any other trigger-happy point-the-barrel-at-the-screen lightgun game. Right and left movements on the control pad will pan the camera in either direction while up and down presses will revert back to the third-person view for continued foot movement. While this may sound a little awkward on paper, the actual execution is fairly smooth and intuitive after several minutes of practice.
Dead Aim is far deeper than most strictly on-rails lightgun games in that it still retains much of the survival horror genre elements of exploration, item collecting and puzzle solving. Where Dead Aim is different from other Resident Eviltitles is that the developers recognize that people who purchase this game are most likely twitch-driven lightgun owners who want to blast the be Jesus out of zombies. Though ammunition is still limited, they are nowhere near as scarce as they usually are in other titles in the series and players can be quite liberal in firefights.
Another element that makes Dead Aim unique is the gameplay design. Most Resident Evil games incorporate inane and absurdly contrived stage and puzzle designs that seem to be the result of overextended peace pipe session. The once frightful horror concept of the series has relied more and more on cheap thrills and obvious cliché that seem more parody than tradition. The stage design in Dead Aim bucks this trend by being realistic and efficient. A majority of the game takes place on cruise ship and having recently taken a Carnival cruise myself, I can attest that the game does a remarkable job of recreating the layouts of a luxury liner and crafting believable puzzles and objectives that stay within context of the environment and story.
Dead Aim is also genuinely scary in way that these games haven't been in long time. Many of the stages are drenched in a deep darkness and the protagonist is only equipped with a painfully limited flashlight to help navigate through the bowels of the boat. With a limited peripheral vision, things tend creep up on players frequently and slight paranoia and tension quickly grips the player.
It's a shame that Dead Aim is so short in length and the production values seem slighted (the subtitles are atrociously inaccurate). I get a sense that because this is a niché lightgun game with limited audience, Capcom didn't put more resources behind it and Dead Aim never achieves its full potential. Had this game been released as part four of the main story arch and had the companies' complete support in development and marketing, I don't think many gamers would have complained with the final results. Gamers might have even ran out and purchased a lightgun en mass just to get the full experience. I would even go so far as to venture that had Capcom made more strides over the years along the lines of Dead Aim, the public might have put the Resident Evil series in that higher Echelon of titles that aren't afraid to take chances and inspire our imaginations. Instead of being a series savior, Dead Aim is more like Pete Rose finally admitting he bet on baseball. Too little. Too late.
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