Whether you’re a movie editor working on a visionary director’s overlong opus or a writer working on an abridgement of a classic novel, you face the same difficult task. How do you present a slighter, leaner version without sacrificing the feel of the original?
Such is the problem faced by Capcom with Resident Evil 4: Mobile Edition - the iPhone edition of one of the finest and most technically accomplished console games of recent years.
We know that a total conversion of Resident Evil 4 is impossible, but nothing less than a faithful distillation of that great game will do for the legions of shuffling fans.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what Capcom has achieved. What we have here is a veritable highlights package of the original, bringing to the fore some of the most memorable sections and trimming a lot of the narrative fat.
By using a modified version of the Resident Evil: Degeneration engine, Capcom has managed to create a dozen or so convincing approximations of some of the stand-out moments in the original. While Degeneration featured boxy enclosed spaces, though, RE4: ME needs to present larger, more organic environments such as a dilapidated European village and a creepy old mine.
It does so very effectively, with a particularly impressive draw distance and some decent animation. True, the textures look a little ropey up close, and the lack of detail and muddiness of the palate can make enemies hard to see at mid-distance, but the overall effect is very pleasing.
The action is very simple, playing out as an over-the shoulder third person shooter. You make your way cautiously through each self-contained level, picking off rabid villagers while keeping an eye on your ammo counter - not to mention your own back.
That back belongs to one Leon Kennedy, ex-cop and new recruit to the US Secret Service. On his first day on the job he’s sent off to rescue the President’s daughter, who has been kidnapped by a strange cult called Los Illuminados.
While the plot mattered in the original, however, it takes a definite back seat in Mobile Edition. Due to the highlights-package nature of the game, there are huge leaps in time and location, with the ensuing plot holes insufficiently filled by some hastily scrawled expositional text (an early example: “this caused stock prices to pummel”).
If you haven’t played the console original the story will make very little sense to you, but that doesn't matter too much. At its heart RE4: ME is an old skool score-attack shooter, a fact that’s emphasised by the mode that runs parallel to the Story Mode - Mercenary Mode.
Here you run through the same environments, trying to rack up the best score possible in three minutes. This bite-sized approach makes the mode far more suited to mobile play.
Indeed, it’s almost essential that you dip into Mercenary Mode if you want to make decent progress in Story Mode. The Merchant from Resident Evil 4 pops up in between levels to provide new weapons, ammo and upgrades. The trouble is, you’ll find that the money and treasure you obtain throughout the story is insufficient to make major improvements to your arsenal.
To free up some real lucre you need to switch across and take part in Mercenary Mode, with the financial rewards there contributing to your balance in Story Mode.
If we haven’t mentioned controls yet, it’s because for the most part they’re not an issue. There’s a virtual analogue stick in the bottom left that controls movement and, with your weapon readied, your aim. While running feels a little imprecise, aiming is quick and accurate with standard weapons.
When you get your mitts on the scoped rifle, however, the game fails to adapt to the zoomed in view, with a touch of any direction causing the cross-hairs to leap past your target. Something to be sorted out in the first update, perhaps.
In fact, most of RE4: ME's niggling faults point to a slightly rushed release, from the poor quality of the writing to the odd control quirks.
That doesn’t stop the game as a whole from being a triumph, however. With this release Capcom has written a solid abridgement to one of the finest tales of recent years.