developed & published by Capcom/2005.10.25
1 Player (9 blocks)/2 MiniDVD-Roms/Nintendo Gamecube/SONY PS2/Wii
Capcom begins 2005 with a bang, with the release of the highly anticipated Resident Evil 4, directed by series creator Shinji Mikami to be nothing less than the greatest survival horror game of all time. Designed from the ground up to bring back players who had given up on the series while at the same time inviting a whole new generation of gamers to give the series a try, Resident Evil 4 revitalizes and revolutionizes the genre from decapitated head to chewy toe.
Leon S Kennedy is back in Hell
Leon makes his long awaited return to the series, this time as a secret agent sent to rescue the President’s daughter from her Eastern-European kidnappers. The cinematic intro makes it clear that Umbrella is finished, and as Leon and his rather unfriendly police escorts arrive outside of the autumnal village of Pueblo, the player is filled with a giddy sense of the unknown.
Disregard the previous entries in the series completely: replacing the static cameras from previous games, Resident Evil 4 employs an over-the-shoulder camera which follows the game’s protagonist, Leon S Kennedy everywhere he goes.
While the control scheme hasn’t been dramatically changed, it works much more intuitively from this new, action-oriented angle. For example, aiming at specific targets is no longer an exercise in frustration, as Leon’s arsenal comes equipped with laser sights allowing pinpoint accurate shooting. While Leon still uses type writers to record his progress, ink ribbons aren’t required, allowing an unlimited number of saves. And unlike previous versions, Resident Evil 4 has a much more flexible inventory management function, allowing you to reorganize your equipment to your heart’s content – not to mention that keys and other special items don’t even take up room in the main equipment screen.
Besides these welcome modifications is the addition of the Merchant. This friendly stranger follows in your destructive wake and offers an assortment of weapons and upgrades. The ability to upgrade or replace weapons as you progress through the game gives an RPG feel to the adventure, and while ammo is limited, enemies drop it liberally throughout your quest. Of course all of these have their price, and Leon can earn some serious cash for defeating enemies or collecting rare gems and treasures along the way.
Context-sensitive actions round out Leon’s repertoire, allowing him to hop over small fences, climb ladders, jump down from high ledges or out windows, and kick or suplex stunned enemies. Taking a cue from Sega’s Shenmue, there are even action sequences requiring the player to press either the L and R shoulder buttons simultaneously or rapidly alternate between the A and B buttons to avoid instant death. Unexpectedly, these do-or-die reflex tests are actually quite fun and spruce up the in-game cinematics with an added element of danger – players accustomed to simply watching cinematics in other games won’t want to put the controller down for long in this one!
You better watch your back!
Perhaps the most exciting and immersive aspect of the game, however, is the enemy artificial intelligence. No longer is Leon fighting slow moving zombies: these are angry villagers armed with pitchforks, hatchets, torches, dynamite and chainsaws that move quickly and attempt to surround him from all sides. They’ll hunt Leon down and leave no place to hide, angrily busting down doorways, climbing in through the windows, tossing axes from afar, and when you’re out of reach they’ll smoke you out with molotov cocktails. And unlike previous Resident Evils, the number of enemies doesn’t top off at 7 or 8, as often you will be attacked by an onslaught of 10 or more enemies at once, and any given area can be populated by dozens of attackers. Enemies become more diverse and require different strategies as the game progresses, keeping the action fresh and nail-bitingly intense.
Artificial intelligence is not simply limited to the enemies either, as Leon’s subject, Ashley Graham, will join him for about a third of his adventure. Ashley follows Leon around most of the time, but can be commanded to wait or hide if the opportunity presents itself. She is vulnerable to enemy attacks and can be carried away by her kidnappers should Leon let his guard down – both of which result in an instant game over. Leon and Ashley will work together to solve a few puzzles and help one another get through certain areas, but this game play element is never fully explored to the extent that it was in ICO. Nevertheless Ashley adds an extra level of vulnerability to an already dangerous situation, adding to the overall panic dramatically.
Eye-popping Visuals & Sound
The graphics offer a visual feast unlike any game before it; virtually every inch of every character, weapon and environment has been meticulously crafted down to the finest detail. Cinematics come to life through keen direction and a flawless combination of motion-capture and animation. Characters actually emote through “acting”; subtle facial expressions and body language. Backgrounds are filled with sumptuous props, such as billowing silk drapery, trees and shrubs, distressed woodgrain textures, or small pools of muddy water. And the bosses will blow you away. It’s undeniably one of the greatest looking games of its time, and easily the best looking game on GameCube. Fans of gore will have plenty to sink their teeth into.
The audio experience aptly complements this visual tour-de-force with first-rate voice acting and sound effects. Enemies talk amongst themselves, or chant in disturbing fashion, and upon sight will shout for help, launch obscenities at you, laugh uncontrollably as they stab you in the back, and fly into a berserker rage when shot. The sound effects, as can be expected, are first rate. The musical accompaniment ranges from a stressful, driving percussive ambiance when enemies are near to a cool, collected techno vibe when Leon’s about to enter the fray. When the action ramps up and the stakes are high, the music drifts into a dramatic, intensifying heart beat to perfectly complement the player’s pulse.
Length & Replay Value
After the first playthrough, which should take the average gamer around 15-25 hours to complete, the game offers an assortment of minigames to play. The first minigame, “Assignment Ada”, is a side story involving Ada Wong which adds to the main plot, upon completion unlocking a tommygun with infinite ammo for your shooting pleasure. The other minigame, “Mercenaries” offers four arenas (three of which are unique to this mode) where the player must kill as many enemies as possible within the time limit for high-scores, using an assortment of different characters. Unlockable weapons and secret costumes make a second playthrough hard to resist, and while the playtime drops dramatically the fun factor doesn’t. A third or fourth playthrough is not unusual for most players, which is highly unusual for any type of game.
Some players will no doubt be disappointed at the shift in focus from puzzles to action, but there are still a number of puzzles in the game. These help to break up the action but don’t require any backtracking or collection of specific items to complete. In my opinion, the whole “collect the emblem key to unlock the red door” thing was already getting on my nerves by the third game.
The team responsible have gone above and beyond the call of duty in providing a fresh take on an established franchise. The changes are irreversibly positive, a true sign of an instant classic if there ever was one, and the minigames add extra vitality to the revitalized corpse we all call “Resident Evil”. Its like an action movie that you control, only better.
- Intense action
- Amazing production values
- Fans of the earlier games may dislike the action-oriented game play
- PS2 version has gimped graphics
- Wii version is the best, though many people already bought it on other systems
One Sentence Review: If you haven’t played it, you’re not a gamer.
One Word Review: Legendary.
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