The process of running through an airport, trying to avoid the grunting, mindless life forms that populate it in a bid to escape is not uncommon to most of us. In fact, going on holiday could be termed a ‘survival horror’ episode of its own. So it might seem strange that we find ourselves playing an N-Gage game that appears to go with the above formula for fun.
That’s the basic deal with Resident Evil: Degeneration. Protagonist Leon Kennedy busts his way into an American airport shortly after everything goes wrong. No, not a baggage mix-up - it’s even worse than that. A plane has crashed into the main terminal, unleashing the deadly T-virus, which turns everyone it touches into a zombie.
This sets up 11 chapters of tense action as you stalk through the airport’s VIP lounge, baggage area and even onto a plane in order to rescue survivors and control the epidemic before attempting an escape. When we say ‘control the epidemic’ that of course means repeated injections of the lead variety.
Make no mistake, this is a resolutely action oriented Resident Evil in line with Resident Evil 4 and the upcoming Resident Evil 5 on the home consoles. Where previous games involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing solving spatial puzzles with the odd heart-stopping encounter with a foul beastie, here you’ll find a gaggle of nasties in the majority of the rooms you enter.
Fortunately, the controls manage to accommodate this emphasis on action, with a press of ‘A’ zooming the view in over Leon’s shoulder and the D-pad aiming your weapon.
It’s very much like the system used in the brilliant Metal Gear Solid Mobile, if you want a reference point. With a greater emphasis on blasting, however, there’s a far more noticeable aim-assist element whereby your sights will be snapped to the relevant enemy if you’re aiming in roughly the right area.
With a constant supply of target practice, the game is in danger of becoming slightly repetitive at around the half way point, but a number of variations ensure that you’ll have a blast right up to the end credits.
Firstly there’s the occasional zombie variant, with armour-wearing police guards and gas tank-wearing fire fighters (guess where you should aim for here) mixing things up. Then there’s the inclusion of fire-extingushers, which can be targeted with explosive results.
There’s also a levelling-up system whereby you can buy new weapons and upgrade existing ones using the generous supply of cash and treasure left carelessly around the airport.
Unfortunately, any tactical considerations are soon blown out of the water when it becomes apparent that there’s far too much money up for grabs in relation to the cost of the upgrades. Any reasonably thorough player will soon be swimming in lucre, meaning that before long you’ll just jump straight in and tune a new firearm up to the max.
Resident Evil: Degeneration also suffers from a similarly brief running times to Metal Gear Solid Mobile, with an almost identical first run-through time for me of an hour and three quarters. It also has the same Point Pickups reward for completing it in less that 45 minutes.
However, where MGSM’s slightness probably cost it a 10 out of 10, we won’t be penalising Resident Evil: Degeneration for the same crimes.
Upon completion of the game, you’ll unlock the excellent Mercenaries mode. Here, you're provided with a timed run-through of a specific area in the game. The point is to make your way through, capping zombies and collecting time-boosts to prolong your round.
At the end you’ll be awarded a points score which can then (and this is the clincher) be posted onto an online leaderboard.
Needless to say, this additional mode prolongs the life of the game drastically, and almost entirely makes up for the rather short Story mode.
So why doesn’t RE:R win a coveted Pocket Gamer platinum award? Well, we’ve discussed the flawed upgrade system, but there are other imperfections that marred our enjoyment.
While the game is unquestionably decent looking, there are a number of rough edges. Some of the character models look downright ropey, with some of the fit-and-well survivors looking far more horrific than the zombies.
We also noted some scruffy clipping issues, such as every time Leon puts his hand up to his ear to take a call from his helper.
While the frame rate is generally solid, towards the end in the baggage pick-up section of the airport things got a little choppy, even with no enemies around.
Finally, the in-game menu feels clunky and unsatisfactory to use. When scrolling up and down to select an item, it would frequently skip multiple slots with a single press, requiring an awkward ‘jabbing’ technique to move single spaces. Perhaps that’s a handset-specific quirk, but there are plenty of our N95s out there, so it’s a notable frustration.
In general, the game just lacks the visual artistry and general attention to detail of MGSM, as well as that game’s sense of innovation and strong story. (Comparison is inevitable, given the games' respective profile, country of origin, and striking similarities.)
Comparisons aside, Resident Evil: Degeneration stands on its own merits as a tense, gripping action game that further marks N-Gage as a serious gamers platform.