"The greatest adrenaline rush ever, packaged and released in video game form."

Resident Evil 4 is one of those rare games whose insane amounts of hype were fair. There was a minor controversy about Capcom promising only to release this on the Gamecube and then announcing it as multi-platform once they saw the critical acclaim and success, but who even cares? This just means more people get to play one of the greatest games ever. And make no mistake, Resident Evil 4 is in the discussion when discussing the five or ten best games ever made. It's that good. Timeless. Legendary. There is no limit to how many over-the-top positive adjectives you can slap onto this game, and all would be well-deserved.

In the very beginning, Leon Kennedy of Resident Evil 2 fame is assigned to rescue the president's daughter Ashley Graham, who has been kidnapped and taken to some remote part of Spain. He arrives at a remote village with two local police officers, who conveniently stay behind and have Leon investigate the village by himself. No harm done, right? It's just some dinky little remote village.

Leon goes down the beaten autumn path, and in the very first house some crazy guy attacks with an axe. No problem, we can chalk that up to some crazy old man having five functioning brain cells. On Leon goes to the actual village, where he encounters a few nice locals who will assuredly give him a tour of the place as well as give some clues as to Ashley's whereabouts.

But nope. The most heart-pounding music ever kicks in and Leon has to fight off an entire village of crazy-ass people coming at him from all sides with axes, torches, and even bare hands and teeth. The car with the police has long since fled Leon to fend for himself, and he's stuck with a tiny little handgun and limited ammo. After killing a seemingly endless number of villagers, a church bell rings, everyone goes on their merry way and Leon barely escapes with his life.

This all happens before you get to see the game's title screen, proving this game isn't messing around. It gets worse for Leon, with far harder enemies. You think these basic little villagers at the beginning were a problem, even though they probably killed you five times? Easy street. Wait until instant death enemies or super-powerful psychotic freaks with a small army's worth of killing power show up, and you have like 2 shotgun blasts, a handgun and a knife. That's what makes this game great, especially the first time through. Until you get the best guns in the game, rack up a lot of ammo or just plain get better through dying and retrying areas a lot, this will be a scene that repeats itself quite often. Crazy zombie-people coming at you from all sides, barely fending them all off, barely escaping with your life and somehow moving on. And the whole time, Leon will be talking inordinate amounts of trash. Leon himself has come along way from the green "I must protect everyone" idiot in Resident Evil 2, and he's much better-off for it. RE4 does atmosphere perfectly, even if it doesn't fit the mold of a true survival horror game. You won't get jump-out-of-your-seat scared very often, but there is an unreal sense of tension throughout. Not only do you have no idea what's around the next corner, you don't want to find out.

And even with a lack of nightmare scare tactics, the game pulls it off in other, more subtle psychological thriller methods. For example, you'll learn pretty damn quick to fear anything holding a chainsaw. There are giant invisible bugs that you'll hear long before you see them, a ton of people inflicted with a legitimately scary virus (it's Resident Evil, of course all the people are affected by a supervirus), and Regenerators. You'll know and hate Regenerators and the Iron Maiden the second you hear them, and the end results will not be pretty.

All this makes RE4 one of the best, most atmospheric games ever before you even pick up a controller. It doesn't have the deepest story ever --- the president's daughter is kidnapped, go save her, kill everyone before they kill you, the end --- but it's not in a genre that needs a perfect storyline anyway. Survival horror action games need only good atmosphere, limited ammunition and maybe a trash-talking badass or two. Leon Kennedy is a prototypical over-the-top action hero badass that talks a ton of smack no matter what happens to him. It's all you need in an action game storyline.

But the gameplay, the other big selling point of RE4 along with atmosphere, is absolutely sick. Resident Evil 4 tries something new, in which you move your character in a 3D world but your own perspective the entire time is looking over the character's right shoulder. It'll seem weird at first, but it's intuitive within minutes. Movement can be a little funky especially with the inability to strafe, but Capcom lucked out big time as this lack of a feature only adds to the game's tension. You need to take care with where you're moving, because fumbling around with a ladder or carelessly letting an enemy attack you from the side can get you killed. If you screw up and someone with a chainsaw comes at you the wrong way, you'll get your head cut off and die instantly.

You are however given means to defend yourself, in the form of some great weapons. You start out with a basic handgun, but you'll eventually get shotguns, sniper rifles, explosives, magnums, machineguns and all the other good things one could need to kill off an army of zombies. The game uses a new system of shooting called a hit zone aiming system, which in layman's terms means you don't have to hit an enemy perfectly for it to count as a hit. You still have to come pretty damn close, but shooting doesn't require laser precision like in other games. And speaking of laser precision, every gun comes equipped with a mounted laser so you can easier see where and what you're shooting at. It's a tad weird at first, but like movement, shooting stuff will become intuitive and easy within minutes. "Hit zones" mean an enemy will react a certain way when shot in a certain part of their body. In past games, shooting an enemy in the head or foot has virtually the same effect. In RE4, where you shoot something matters just as much as scoring hits. You can blast something 100 times in the feet to kill a zombie, or you can just blow its head off. It's not a difficult game to learn by any means, which is something game developers can easily overlook. If a game is too hard to just pick up and play from the beginning, it can turn people off. Thankfully RE4 doesn't do this.

Once you learn the basics, you'll start to notice all the cool things you can do with them. Instead of gunning every enemy to death, you can shoot one in the legs, then run up and do some badass melee attack that'll likely result in an exploding head. If it should live, you just knife it to death. There are random explosive barrels you can shoot if a bunch of enemies are stupid and get too close to them. A few of the enemy's traps can actually be used against them. And so on and so on. The random things scattered about are really fun to figure out and do, and it only gets better as you learn new tricks.

The game isn't just about gunning everything down and killing whatever moves, either. Other things are done well, including interactive cutscenes, a few puzzles now and again, and even some mini games. Not only is the Merchant one of the most defining characters in the entire game, he has a fun little diversion shooting range mini game for you to waste some time on. Other random fun stuff includes a dog near the beginning that's stuck in a bear trap. If you help it out, it'll return later to assist you in a boss fight. The game is filled with stuff like this, to the point where you can play it through five or six times and not discover everything.

The interactive cutscene bit is especially important, because you do more during scenes than just putting the controller on your lap and watch what's going on. Often something will attack Leon and you have some buttons to press, and he'll die if you miss. There's an entire boss fight, a knife fight no less, dedicated to this. If you're worried it all sounds like a hassle, don't be. RE4 is about creating tension, and what's more tense than having a split second to press L+R before death? There are some enemies you'll come across with interactive bits outside cutscenes, including a good number of the bosses. If you're fighting Del Lago on the lake and you fall off the boat, you'd better be ready to mash that swim button. You'll die otherwise. When you're fighting (more specifically, running the hell away like a little girl) Salazar's right hand, your choices are avoid most every attack he unleashes at you via the popup button combo or die. A ton of this stuff pops up all through the game --- you know, just in case the near-perfect gameplay starts to bore you --- and it never stops being fun. It's a game filled with tension from start to finish, and again, it never stops being fun. Isn't that what games are all about? Having fun and well-done immersion?

Adding to the tension in RE4 are some wonderful graphics and music, arguably the absolute limit of what the Gamecube is capable of. If this were an N64 game, there'd be something like 45 expansion pack add-ons and 20 cartridges to capture everything. Even for the Gamecube, the graphics stack up to anything and they add to the atmosphere like nothing else. You'll come across bloody dead bodies, wells filled with dirty maggot water, prisons that feel like actual prisons, sewers that feel like actual sewers, bug nests that feel like actual bug nests, and so on. The game spares nothing to make you feel like you're going through Hell itself, and in a way you are. Blowing an enemy's head off might feel satisfying, but not when a giant virus comes out and eats your head afterwards. There are a ton of fun ways to die in this game, including getting eaten alive, getting your head cut off, getting your face melted off by acid, getting blown up, getting your neck snapped during a certain cutscene, getting stabbed to death during a certain other cutscene and so on. Even in dying, the game never stops being fun because it's loaded with continue points and you're never set back all that far. And as mentioned before, few games have music adding to a game's endgame purpose than Resident Evil 4 does. Nearly every track you hear in the game just screams out "You're going to die soon, you suck, go kill something", and it starts right at the beginning when you see your first enemy.

It all adds up to a near-perfect package, and by itself renders it one of the best games ever. But once you beat the game, you'll come across the best postgame content ever made: Mercenaries. There is other postgame content like a little stint with another character, a New Game+ mode and the like, but Mercenaries is where it's at. Mercs didn't make its debut in RE4, but RE4 perfected it.

Mercs is this awesome mini game in which you pick a character, go to an area from the game and kill as many enemies as you can within a certain time limit. If you kill enemies quickly all in a row, you gain a combo bonus and score a lot more points than you normally would. Each map also has time bonus items, a combo bonus or two, and various assorted weapons that give the weaker Merc characters a chance against the reappearing mid bosses. If you really get into Mercs, there are four maps in total, and five characters in total all with their own varying traits and starting weapons. It's a very simple concept, but it's fun and addicting, and grows on you more and more as you get better at it. And if you master Mercs, you'll even unlock a gun buyable in the main game on a New Game+. Mercs by itself is astounding, and when tacked on to such a great game it helps RE4 go from great game to timeless classic.

If you've never played RE4, you have no clue what you've missed out on. It's available on four systems for cheap these days, so you're pretty much a non-gamer if you haven't looked into getting this yet. RE4 truly does belong in the conversation when discussing the best games ever made, which you'll see for yourself once you play it. And you better play it, because the Iron Maiden is watching you.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/03/09, Updated 02/08/10

Game Release: Resident Evil 4 (US, 01/11/05)


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