Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: January 11, 2005
Buy 'RESIDENT EVIL 4': GameCube
Resident Evil has been redefined. In fact, survival horror, the genre that Capcom created with the inception of the original Resident Evil, has been redefined. With each installment, the series was beginning to get lost in a shuffle of survival horror games. Tecmo's Fatal Frame and Konami's demented Silent Hill series seemed to take the wheel, as they pushed the genre in new directions, while RE stuck with basically the same safe formula, acquiring small upgrades from game to game. Now we have Resident Evil 4, a game that represents a massive paradigm shift for the genre, and is a must-play for both series loyalists and survival horror newcomers.
Let's begin with the numerous improvements and additions. The R.C. car controls are gone, replaced by one of the most effective third person camera angles you'll encounter. Enemies are quicker and significantly smarter. Inventory management has been improved, so you can worry more about blowing away deranged freaks, and less about whether or not you have enough space to hold a tiny key. The much-lamented ink ribbons are now history, and weapons can now be purchased and upgraded with cash you collect throughout the game. The action comes at a much faster pace than any previous RE, and monsters are more gruesome and freakish than ever before. Capcom has also added quick time events for reaction-sensitive sequences. In between all of this are excellent, real-time cut scenes that rival those of MGS3.
The story revolves around our old friend Leon Kennedy, who you may remember from such hits as Resident Evil 2. It's been six years since Raccoon City was obliterated, and Leon has been assigned to track down the President's daughter. His search leads him to a rural European town, but he discovers that its residents are…well, evil. Things become a lot more complicated than a simple search and extract mission. There are a few plot twists that you'll encounter as you uncover the cause of the strange behavior of these townsfolk. As with past REs, notes and cut scenes move the story along, which is of an endearing B-movie caliber.
RE4 is more focused on action than any other RE before it. In order to accommodate this new intensity, Capcom wisely chose to ditch the old RE controls, and place the camera behind Leon. Although the camera angle has changed, the feel of the controls remains basically the same as previous games. You can still perform a quick 180-degree turn, and holding back still backs you up, as opposed to running headlong in the opposite direction (the camera is always behind Leon). One gripe about the controls is that Leon is still kind of slow to rotate, which makes tracking some enemies with certain weapons a bit difficult. Also, some players may wish that Leon had the ability to strafe. However, it seems that the ability to strafe would have taken away some of the anxiety of turning a corner. Overall, the control is excellent, and matches the pacing of the action nearly perfectly.
There is one problem that falls a bit outside of the actual control department. You will have a few weapons available at your disposal. Since the action is turned up a few notches, you'll find yourself needing to switch between weapons often. The only way to do this is to bring up the inventory screen, and equip the weapon you want. The game really needs a quick weapon change option, because frequently accessing the menu has the tendency to break up the game's otherwise great flow.
The A.I. is better than what you're probably used to in a video game. Capcom has made it clear that these foes are not zombies, and they're somewhat right. The enemies are still infected, virtually brain-dead shells of humans, but they are a bit quicker, and a lot smarter. These "non-zombies" will often find alternate ways to attack you if they realize that one method may not work. They might run away, only to come back around behind you or from the side, and some may wait in a room for you to come to them for an ambush. If their pitchforks and axes aren't doing the job because of your position, they'll try Molotov cocktails. It's really quite impressive, and also adds greatly to the feeling of urgency throughout the game. You'll see not only "non-zombies" but also mutant animals and freakish bio-monsters reminiscent of Umbrella creations.
RE Zero tried to improve on the inventory system of previous games by allowing players to drop items anywhere, instead of using the outdated "magically-connected-trunks" storage system of previous games. Still, this system required players to leave potentially useful items behind, and backtrack to retrieve them when needed. Capcom got smart with RE4, and gave gamers a lot of room to carry items, with the option to increase your space. Keys and treasures don't even take up any room in your attaché case. The only space management you have to worry about pertains to weapons, ammo, and health items. It's nice to see that Capcom has placed focus on the gameplay, and not inventory management. Don't worry about saving space for ink ribbons, because you don't need them anymore. All typewriters are inked up and ready to save.
The weapons are nearly as much as a focal point as the action. There's plenty of firepower for you to choose from, ranging from the standard survival knife and handgun to a mine thrower and rocket launcher. This time around, you collect cash from dispatched enemies and other sources such as wooden barrels. A mysterious arms dealer serves as your weapons connection, and new weapons become available to buy as the game progresses. You can also sell rare treasures to him, such as lamps, gems, and crowns, to get some major dough. Once you buy a weapon, you can spend more money to level up its ammo capacity, firepower, and reload speed. In short, the weapons system is much deeper than any previous RE, and it's more than just fluff. The options you have with weapons and upgrading can directly affect how well you do when taking on monsters.
Although RE4 doesn't sport any multiplayer options, it's almost guaranteed that non-players will become fixated by the graphics and opt to watch you play. You'll be shocked to see what your little GameCube can do. The detailed enemies and environments will undoubtedly pull you into the RE realm, where blood, flesh, and unmatched amounts of gore will welcome you. Many of the death animations will make your jaw drop; expect to have your face eaten off, your skin melted off, your head chopped off, and your cranium impaled, among other things. The game is automatically set to widescreen, which is not only great for owners of widescreen sets, but also gives all players better peripheral vision, so you can see more monsters that attack from wider angles. This is arguably the best-looking console game on the market.
Without the sound, RE4 wouldn't be half the game that it is. This is the department where 90 percent of the creeps come from. Growling voices, whispering chants, unintelligible whispers, ambient music, and well-timed bursts of noise are all part of the audio arsenal. The sound of lead piercing the bones of baddies is extremely satisfying, and expect to hear lots of sounds that recall exploding sacs of fluid. The game supports surround sound, so home theater owners will be extra freaked out. The visuals and the sound work together perfectly to bring the player into the demented world of RE.
There's so much to rave about in RE4, that the best thing you can do is go out and play the game yourself. The action is very well implemented, and it's obvious that Capcom had this focus on action in mind when creating various aspects of the game, from the inventory system, to the weapons system, to the speed and intelligence of the numerous enemies. Series loyalists shouldn't fret about things changing too much. There are still a few puzzles and a few find-a-key moments. Although there is plenty of action, there are enough quiet parts to keep you guessing as to when the next mutant will jump out and chew on you. Capcom included more additions and improvements than they had to. What RE4 does is put the "survival" feel back into the survival horror genre. It's nice to see the originator back on the bloody cutting edge.
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