Review by foreed
"A game that vindicates the series massive worldwide popularity."
Resident Evil 4 review
This review is intended as a critique of the game's quality rather than a description of its content and the material will reflect as such. I will also mention that in my ratings system, what most people would describe as a 9/10, is a 7/10 in my system. I have concentrated in expanding the top of the ratings range, being more interested in the spectrum of high quality.
The RE series often featured quality games but never quite achieved truly classic levels of quality with the heights it's titles reached. This is the latest instalment in the series that has challenged gamers the world over since the advent of the 3D capable generation of consoles. Resident Evil 4 (RE4) is the culmination of years of hard work by those clever bods over at Capcom, who have embarked on creating a new approach to the series. Survival horror has died, but it has stirred back to life, in an improved, zombified version, without the zombies...
The RE series has always focused on the evil doers at Umbrella Corporation, gone are the mad corporation and its associates as well as their regular retinue of zombies. This time there is a new group of psychotic/meglomanical individuals to deal with. The president's daughter, Ashley, has been kidnapped and Leon an agent of the US government is sent to Europe to find her.
The story is told throughout the game using superbly acted/directed cut scenes that only suffer a little from averagely scripted dialogue. The tension is also built up through textual logs and files found within the game that elaborate on the events taking place in the game or build up the tension to an encounter with a formidable enemy. The narrative is not really the main focus of this game, but it is well executed with an involving tale to be told.
The game takes place in some of the most detailed environments ever seen in a console game, with rooms chock full of knick knacks and trees intricately modelled, the variety of texture maps gives each area an individual feel that shows just how much effort has gone into creating these environments - Bungee Software take note! (Halo). The developers have created a vibrant yet dark world that will astound the player with its great architecture and the sheer variety of environments, the level of detail throughout the game never falters.
The main characters and bosses have been afforded a huge number of polygons articulating their every detail. Leon himself looks at good as any polygon model I have ever seen. Despite the sheer complexity of the games geometry, the frame rate never dips below 30fps and this cements the impeccable visual quality that this game has oozing from its every pore. The animation in the game is, smooth and believable, the cut scenes may well be motion captured.
Many reviews have stated that the game uses only real-time generated cut scenes, this is simply not true, what we have is CGI video that uses the in game graphics assets, although in larger numbers and with more complex animation, allowing the game to seamlessly switch between cut scene and in game action.
One fault that can be attributed the game is the letterbox visual format. Zealots will state this is done for a cinematic widescreen feel, my opinion this was for the sake of maintaining frame rate performance. Never has a GC game thrown about so many polygons so casually, and this could be the result of tapping performance from the fact that fewer pixels and fewer objects are drawn per frame. This can prove a little obtrusive with objects near Leon's feet that cannot be seen despite being very close, the manual look feature does combat this well and most objects are highlighted by light projecting from their location vertically so that they have a wider vertical viewing angle. In practise the narrower view can seem awkward at first, but has little effect on the gameplay.
The series has lost the obtrusive, if tension building, camera angles of yesteryear. The new camera is so good in fact that you will never really take notice it, which is exactly how a camera should be in a game; transparent. It can be controlled during gameplay using the second 3D stick to examine environments. During key moments in the action it cuts away to add drama via an all action angle, be it of Leon's flying kicks, suplexes and even just the effect of a switch triggering a door to open.
Music within the game is often used for tension sake and builds to a crescendo as encounters unravel, this is very effective and slots in seamlessly alongside the visual experience. Not much of the music is particularly memorable, but it is consistently of a good quality, however it is the sound effects and voices that are really profound in the game's aural experience.
The satisfying clunk-click you get from reloading a rifle, the sound of a head squishing painfully as its owner is suplexed to the ground, the screams of Ashley as she is carried away by the enemy, the game has a great variety of excellent quality sounds and voices that add tension and believability to its world. The characters throughout the game will scream, swear and converse with you and each other, there is a generous amount of dialogue within the game, with some pretty creepy whispering and mindless chanting thrown in for a good measure.
What we have here is the old resident evil control system of rotate to turn and push forward to walk forward, albeit in an "over the shoulder" third person view. This view is quite rare in games, but a similar camera view/game style can be seen in Headhunter on the DC/PS2.
There is a key change that builds on the playability of this series, player controlled aiming, this little touch has improved the gameplay exponentially. Classical gameplay mechanics draw upon the advantages/disadvantages of a players actions and RE4 is a prime example of that. You can only shoot while standing still, this avoids the game turning into a first person shooter and adds the element of skill to the encounters. The shooting action provides a great deal of strategy and satisfaction, as enemies react according to where they have been shot, stumbling when taking a blow to the leg, and dropping weaponry if hit in the arm. Such gameplay is the key to this titles success, and provides an unprecedented feel. The games controls and play mechanics are so successful we can already see homages to it, in titles like "Gears of War".
A few years ago the mighty Shen-Mue series of games introduced "quick timer events" to the world of gaming, where the player had to use their reactions to press the right key combination in order to negotiate a tough situation successfully. RE4 takes this idea and uses it to stunning effect, with some great action scenes dealt with in this manner, the player will learn to stay alert at all times as they never know when their reactions will be tested.
Another series that that RE4 borrows from is the 3D Zelda games, more specifically, context sensitive controls. What this means is that in given situations a prompt to perform a certain action with a specified button, will appear. Pressing the appropriate button can cause Leon to duck, fly-kick, perform a suplex, climb up a ladder, push a propped ladder to the ground, etc. This keeps the controls simple, yet maximises the scope for interaction. Where this system really shines is in the boss encounters with all kinds of imaginative ways of dealing with the more formidable opponents.
Many of the elements of the old RE games are still present with strategic item juggling and bit-part puzzles making their customary bows. The typewriter save points also reappear, but this time you can save an infinite amount of times with no need to find/use ink ribbons. In fact another extremely strong feature of the game is the continue system. If you die while playing the game, there is the option to continue from the set piece, boss or encounter you just failed. This works so well and absolutely minimises frustration, there is even the option to reload during play, either from a saved game file or from a continue point, if you just feel your last performance was not quite up to scratch. It is amazing to think that this kind of system has not been used much in games over the years, it is an absolute boon.
The games difficulty is usually pitched just right although at times its maybe a little too easy although this does ensure the player progress is pretty much constant throughout the game. The sheer level of enjoyment of many sections within the game is so high that you wish you could savour them a little more. This game is certainly worth playing on the hard mode first time round if you're confident of your ability.
A new feature for the series is the item salesman. Every once in a while and usually, conveniently placed before a tough encounter, a salesman is found who will sell, upgrade and buy items off the player at a price, a hark back to the days of classics like Gradius and Forgotten Worlds, with their shop based power-up systems. Given the vast array of weaponry available to Leon in his journey, this feature is a wise move and saving up to buy more powerful and sophisticated weapons, and upgrade existing artillery, is a fun pastime and an integral component of the new, more rewarding, nature of this part of the RE series.
A problem often faced by game designers is how to populate levels, when this is done to a poor standard it can often be the rigidity of the game engine and not the imagination of the designer that is at fault. RE4 rewrites the rulebook, in terms of just how versatile a game engine can be. It is astonishing to think of the sheer variety and regularity of interesting situations the player will get into. There are set-pieces a plenty, with a huge variety of challenges, no stone has been unturned in the creativity department and this provides a pace to the game that is almost unmatched. Every corridor, every room, every open space is there for one reason, your entertainment.
Playtime/Replay Value 8
This is a massive action title with two discs jam packed full of gameplay, eye popping graphics and a rousing soundtrack. The main game will take twenty-five to thirty hours to complete, which is very large for an action game and not a minute of that time is wasted. In fact the first disc took me more than 20 hours to complete, with all optional tasks undertaken, that alone would be length enough for a good action title. There are a few unlockable bonus games and other features, which should provide a handy diversion once the main game has been beaten. Having said that, the gameplay in this title is so addictive and satisfying that replaying is very worthwhile.
Final Recommendation 9
I believe that the quality of a game can only be expressed comparatively, and as such I will put this title into context. Many years ago a certain Nintendo 64 magazine raved over a game called Shadowman. This game was a dark, violent, third person shooter, with adventure elements. In reality this was a rotten excuse for a game and I can't help feeling that RE4 is the game that Shadowman should have been. Everything that is right about RE4 is what was wrong with Shadowman. The level design is tight, linear and superbly scripted. The controls are intuitive and responsive. The camera system is flawless. The gameplay is supremely satisfying. RE4 combines all of these feats to make one hell of a gaming package that vindicates the RE series massive worldwide popularity. This is the greatest action title of this generation and one of the strongest video games in history.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/22/05
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