Review by viewtifuljill
"Garish and overworked, Resident Evil 4 is perhaps the most overrated game of this generation"
I love horror games, have enjoyed past Resident Evil games, and was very much looking forward to this one. Much to my dismay, however, not only is Resident Evil 4 NOT a Resident Evil game-- it's not a "survival horror" game at all. It's because of this fact, among others, that I feel that Resident Evil 4, in a generation chock full of overrated games, is perhaps the most overrated game yet this generation.
The gameplay is simple and formulaic: Clear the bad guys out of the room, pick up all the items, move to the next area. Heal yourself when necessary, and "solve" the occasional, nauseatingly-easy, kindergarten-level puzzle(e.g. push statue onto switch, put emblem in socket, slide tiles into correct order-- mostly stuff we've seen in RE games before). All of the "survival" elements of previous installments, such as the necessity of dodging enemies, as well as the limited ammo and herbs, have been ditched in favor of a Smash-TV style gorefest. Make no mistake-- while previous games in the series comprised a vague mish-mash of graphic adventure and action, Resident Evil 4 is purely an action game with only vestigial "adventure" elements from previous installments.
Despite this difference in style, Resident Evil 4 basically controls the same as its predecessors-- it still features tank-like controls and, remarkably in this day and age, a run button. Leon has much more flexibility than RE characters have had in the past, however, now that Capcom has added a context-sensitive button that you can use to climb up on ledges, jump through windows, etc. Additionally, you can get in close on enemies and use this button to "kick" or "suplex" enemies when they're dazed. Also new to the series is the Dragon's Lair-esque element of having to press the right button at the right time during a cinema scene in order to continue in the game-- a feature which I found to be welcome, if not particularly inspired. Finally, Resident Evil 4 also introduces a "money" system to the series, whereby you can pickup various treasures you find along the way and cash them in at the occasional "merchant" who is stocked with all the ammo and first-aid sprays that you would ever need.
In spite of these changes, what really sets Resident Evil 4 apart is the new behind-the-back third-person perspective. Rather than using a set camera for each room like previous installments, the camera always hovers just behind Leon so that you can basically see only what he sees. While this could have been used quite effectively in creating the "sensation" that something could always be creeping up behind you, RE4 nullifies this by carrying on the series's long-standing tradition of letting you know with a musical cue whenever there are enemies in the area. I've always found this particular "feature" to work against the feeling of constant danger which the RE series has always prided itself on achieving, and the circumstances are no different in this installment.
Indeed, the main function of the new third-person perspective is not atmospheric, but practical-- it helps simplify and refine the somewhat haphazard shooting system of previous Resident Evil games. And now that you're literally over Leon's shoulder, you can aim with total precision, as just about every weapon in the game has a super-accurate laser-sight that makes killing enemies a snap. It is in response to this particular mechanic that the designers have made the greatest changes to the gameplay-- enemies now attack you in large mobs, rather than individually or in small groups of two or three. While this makes the action very intense, the fact that your character is armed to the teeth with various pistols, shotguns, rifles, and automatic machine guns (and yes, even rocket launchers-- available from the very first "merchant" onward!)defeats any sense of "terror" that Resident Evil 4 might have achieved. In previous Resident Evil games, one or two inconveniently placed zombies could end your game. In Resident Evil 4, you can take on a dozen enemies at a time... and come out completely unscathed.
Despite all this, the first area of the game, the "village," is absolutely fantastic. The game manages to feel fresh, invigorating, and compelling with its mysterious new setting, wily human foes, and graphical splendor. After this initial area, however, the game begins to get quite predictable and repetitive, settling into a noticeable pattern-- fight off a group of similar-looking enemies, collect items, save, repeat. This malaise is oppressed further by the fact that, off and on, Leon finds himself having to protect the president's daughter, who is a stereotypical helpless, shrieking, well-endowed damsel character whom the game gives you more incentive to cap in the head than to assist. These portions of the game are particularly cumbersome, as you have to do the same repetitive stuff that you did before, but now with a useless computer-controlled drone tied to your hitch. It absolutely gets to the point of irritation, in fact, whenever Ashely gets carried away by an enemy and you have to hear her yelp "Help me Leon!" for the thousandth time.
But you will hear this-- and you will "die" plenty of times... however this will happen more times as a result of Ashley being killed or carried away, or by missing one of the "cues" in a cinema scene, than by anything in the conventional action of the game. To put it bluntly, this game is very easy and is scores easier than any previous Resident Evil game. There are no more ink ribbons, you can save as much as you want, and if you die, you merely start back at the last "checkpoint" you passed. The entire design is very linear and seems totally bent on getting you through the story as quickly and painlessly as possible. No longer will you have to collect cryptically-marked keys and emblems, always wondering what door or what part of the game they will open up. Everything is completely straightforward. If you need the cow emblem to get out of an area, the cow emblem will be in that area.
Many hardcore Resident Evil fans have, from the game's inception, criticized Resident Evil 4's seemingly irrelevant storyline. For the most part, their concerns remain valid in the final product. This game has nothing to do with zombies, Raccoon City, or Umbrella. Near the end, the game essays a rather feeble attempt to tie the story together with events from past games, however it all comes out looking affectedly patchworked. Make no mistake-- this game is about a cult in a secluded rural area of Europe-- not about zombies and viruses and giant corporations.
Overlooking these problems, the story does very poorly in standing on its own. The characters, with the exception of Sera, are all wooden, one-dimensional, and uninteresting. Leon's response to all the horrors around him is *always* passive non-chalance, except in the rare instances when a friendly character dies. In these situations, he inexplicably goes into histrionics for a person whom he's known for approximately five minutes in his entire life.
Leon's rather cavalier attitude about his own possible death, in fact, works completely against the "survival horror" motif, and caused me(among other factors) to gradually lose interest as the game progressed. It would have helped the game's stated intention of producing "horror" if its protagonist wasn't a fearless, indomitable superhero character who makes wisecracks at every possible interlude. Furthermore, Leon's frequent indulgence in completely unnecessary Matrix-esque somersaults and projectile-dodging often give you the impression that you're controlling Solid Snake rather than a guy two-years-removed from being a rookie cop. Of all the areas in which Resident Evil 4 fails, I feel that the establishment of a suitable lead character is the most glaring.
The remainder of the characters are little better-- all simple and cliched. There's a host of irredeemable hell-bent bad guys, a helpless, jiggly hostage character, a vaguely-traitorous military guy, and a cool-as-ice femme fatale-- the latter two being transplants from previous games in the series. The story itself, revealed mostly through memos, notes, and the occasional brief cut-scene, is a rather banal yarn about some European cult who is attempting to take over the world with a mind-control parasite. And there are very few twists or surprises that you won't see ahead of time unfortunately. In fact, the game's insistence on making a big production out of these moments, such as when ANOTHER boss character has transmogrified into a giant, horrific-looking monster thing, is quite comical and symbolic of just how overworked this game is.
Gameplay and story aside, this game looks very beautiful. The environments are huge, expansive, and complex geometrically. The surroundings are highly detailed, and every visual effect in the book is used at some point in the game. The grandeur of the game's settings, however, do come at a cost-- the textures throughout the game are noticeably blurry and quite repetitive at times. It's because of these poor textures that I would be reluctant to say Resident Evil 4 is the best-looking game on GameCube as some have said, but it's certainly still among the best.
Resident Evil 4's soundtrack is barely even worth mentioning. The music in the game is typical Resident Evil horror stock, completely interchangeable with any previous game in the series. The only exception can be found in the out-of-place "battle" theme of the final area, which sounds inexplicably like music out of a 70's cop show rather than a horror game.
To sum things up, Resident Evil 4 is a garish, overwrought, and mindless action game, not a "survival horror" game. As an action game, it is more than passable, though repetitive, and is quite fun at certain points. The game is long, lasting over twenty hours, and sports an array of unlockable modes and items. As a game in the Resident Evil series, however, it is virtually unidentifiable, attempting to incorporate elements from past games, but hopelessly obfuscating them beyond the point of enjoyment.
I became quite disillusioned as the game progressed, in fact, often cringing at the unnecessarily overzealous fruits of this game's notoriously high budget. Games like Resident Evil 4 clamor heedlessly to appeal to the "casual" gamer, and in doing so forget precisely what makes a great video game in the first place: an addictive, engrossing, and holistically-designed gameplay experience. As it stands, Resident Evil 4 feels like a great hour-long game that was copied and pasted several times in various fonts, with the components then being weakly strung together to make a full-length game.
After an absolutely inspired initial stage, then, it seems as if the development team was merely going through the motions in pushing out a "complete" game. After the shockingly breathtaking freshness of the first area, the team fails to build upon its success-- instead choosing to repackage the first level endlessly with variously distracting coats of gloss, desperately fighting a battle to keep the player's attention as the gameplay grows tired and stagnant.
Though it is getting great critical acclaim now, Resident Evil 4, with its flash and pomp, is most certainly not the type of game that will stand the test of time. Is this a game people will still come back to in five years for the sheer appeal of the game's design? Or will the "old-hat" graphics and presentation fell this game in the eyes of future gamers, as it has for so many Tomb Raiders, Wipeouts, and Sonic Adventures? My bet is on the latter.
Not recommended as a purchase, but a solid rental.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 02/01/05, Updated 02/14/05
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