A survivor’s guide to the Gun Survivor tetralogy*

*That’s a fancy way of saying “Thing what has four parts”

Wildly mediocre reviews of Capcom’s light gun-compatible sort-of-series kept me away until recently, when a surfeit of Paypal money coupled with a devil-may-care attitude to the potential Metacritic score of my game collection came together and ended up with me buying the complete set – hurray for slightly irresponsible financial spending!

At the time these games were released either the light gun side of things was played up by Capcom (or Capcom’s PR arm), or the reviewers saw it on the back of the box and latched onto it like a hungry Rottweiler to a string of sausages; however in reality these games being compatible with Namco’s excellent light gun peripherals is about as relevant to the Gun Survivor series as Dreamcast keyboard compatibility is to Soul Calibur or how ambitious gamers can play Dark Souls with a Guitar Hero guitar. In practise the Gun Survivor series is actually better played and understood as twin-stick FPS games; left stick for movement, right stick to aim. They never did get the feeling quite right but the controls aren’t an insurmountable issue, they’re just a bit awkward.

Every game is very different and unconnected to the last, so each requires a different sort of approach:

Biohazard: Gun Survivor (AKA: Resident Evil: Survivor)

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The series kicks off on the Umbrella-owned Sheena island, starring Ark Thompson; the amnesiac friend of everybody’s favourite ex-RPD rookie, Leon S Kennedy. The amnesia angle is given a welcome little nudge away from the usual as Ark spends a fair bit of the game thinking he’s the wrong man, and the mysterious evil past he’s fretting about turns out to not be his past at all – good news eh? Although the light gun compatibility and first-person view lead many to expect it to play out as a typical arcade shooter, Gun Survivor is very much a typical (if distinctly low budget) Resident Evil title complete with keys, files, hidden magnums and should-I-fight-or-should-I-run sections to contend with. Ark can be whipped round to focus on points of interest in the room such as doors and items at the touch of a button, making movement, exploration, and item hunting relatively straightforward.

Oh, and if you’re looking at the screenshots and thinking “Those guys look familiar…” it’s because they lifted a lot of assets directly from Resident Evil 2.

Best thought of as… a first-person Resident Evil game

 

Gun Survivor 2 Biohazard Code: Veronica (AKA: Resident Evil Survivor 2: CODE: Veronica)

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Now unlike the others this one really was an arcade gun game (released in partnership with Namco), although the guns were the sort mounted onto the cabinet (so, analogue joysticks in disguise) rather than proper Virtua Cop style light guns. In any case, as a real arcade game this one’s all about getting you into the action quickly, finding keys to open doors placed throughout the free-roaming map and beating the clock; if you don’t get out of an area in time Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis shows up (he was probably grateful for the work) and then you’re really in trouble! The home port has a few nifty extras, as well as an inexcusably poor English translation.

Oh, and if you’re looking at the screenshots and thinking “Those guys look familiar…” it’s because they lifted a lot of assets directly from Resident Evil: CODE: Veronica (much like I lifted this sentence from the Gun Survivor description above).

Best thought of as…  CODE: Veronica Battle Game Deluxe

 

Gun Survivor 3: Dino Crisis (AKA: Dino Stalker)

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For whatever reason the Gun Survivor series took a break from shooting the undead for one game and instead drew inspiration from Capcom’s other survival-action series Dino Crisis instead. This one keeps the free-roaming (although the route is pretty linear) and timer (replenished by shooting or collecting crystals littered throughout the stage) of Gun Survivor 2 but greatly expands on the environments and polishes the gunplay into something much more satisfactory. It’s also absolutely bonkers, putting the player into the role of a doomed-to-die World War II pilot plucked out of his timeline by people from the far future to fight dinosaurs in hyperspace as well as a perfect dinosaur created by an evil supercomputer. No game – old or new - has come close to making me smile as much as this one has all year; and I love this game for it.

Best thought of as… Don’t think, feel.

 

Gun Survivor 4: Biohazard: Heroes Never Die (AKA: Resident Evil: Dead Aim)

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As is typical for this sort of thing, Capcom pulled the plug on the Gun Survivor series just as they really nailed it. Heroes Never Die returned to the slower-paced exploration and dread of the original Gun Survivor but with all the added polish and experience gained from the development of the previous titles. Unlike the others it’s possible (even if highly unlikely) to run out of ammo in this one, meaning that accurate fire is no longer just a matter of personal pride but necessary for survival too. Thanks to its exceptional graphics and engaging gameplay out of all the games in this spinoff series Heroes Never Die is infuriatingly just a HD upscale and over-the-shoulder aiming tweak away from being a decent mainline Resident Evil game in its own right.

Best thought of as… A prototype Resident Evil 4 

In fairness the first two games in the series probably require you to be seriously interested in experimental design ideas or a complete Resident Evil nut to really appreciate them, but the last two are legitimately good games, if a little unwieldy. Gun Survivor 3: Dino Crisis is the closest I’ve come to playing a game that really captures that gloriously mad 80’s/90’s arcade game feel in far too long, and Heroes Never Die is the game that finally got the balance between arcade-accurate shooting and the more traditional Resident Evil game structure just right. I’d encourage anyone that’d like to try a pair of underappreciated Playstation 2 games to seek out Gun Survivor 3 and 4 straight away.