Review by Catch_42
"Tense, stunningly beautiful, drenched in atmosphere; a superb gaming experience"
Resident Evil is wildly regarded as the standard in survival horror. It was the catalyst that began the genre, which has since become a niche; tailored to certain gamers. Although previous incarnations of Resident Evil have been quite impressive, the game never really achieved greatness due to it's clumsy controls. The poor controls became a trademark of the Resident Evil franchise, along with great graphics, pre-rendered scenes, shock horror and copious violence. Despite it's flaws, Resident Evil thrived and offered a pellucid image of how a horror game should be made.
Apparently Capcom wanted more from it's beloved series.
The early screenshots of Resident Evil 4 showed that the typical formula for it's predecessors had been destroyed. No longer were there pre-rendered backgrounds, or awkward controls. Even the symbol of Resident Evil, the zombie, had been replaced by wraiths. Later we learned zombies were not to be featured in the game; they had been replaced by 'The Ganado,' malicious inhabitants of a dark European village. This radical change shocked fans of the game, leaving them skeptical of how the game would play. Fortunately, Resident Evil is a superb game that reinvents the franchise. If it had come twelve days earlier I would be prepared to dub it game of the year.
Visuals have always been important to the horror factor in Resident Evil; without realistic graphics the sense of atmosphere is lost. Resident Evil 4 doesn't break it's predecessors chain of beautiful graphics. In fact, Resident Evil 4 surpasses the standard. The game is stunning. Life-like models with ridiculous amounts of detail are plentiful. Leon's model looks incredible, and all other models are meticulously detailed in similar fashion. Textures are clean and clear. Particle effects and other special effects are entirely realistic, especially in the case of fire. Indeed, the technical aspect of the visuals in Resident Evil 4 are astounding. However this is not enough to warrant a perfect ten. The true strong point of Resident Evil 4's outstanding visuals is the artistry that was injected into every item. The European village is dripping in atmosphere. You are constantly in a dreadful, gloomy, and dark place that emanates despair wherever you go. In the day the sky is gray, in the night its pitch black. Rain pours down during ravaging storms with thunder and lightning abound. This adds to the scare factor in Resident Evil, which needed a boost from the absence of zombies. I cannot express how horrifying it is to be walking in the night hearing nothing but rain, thunder and Leon's breath. When lightning strikes you can see your foes for a split second, then you are returned to seeing silhouettes dance in the black void in front of you. I am confident these are the best visuals of any console game made to date.
Resident Evil 4 does offer some music that cuts in to the lingering silence in the game. The music feels like that of Silent Hill. The songs are sketchy and dark with a touch of insanity. These musical pieces enter at the exact moment of when the tension is at it's highest. These tunes put you on edge and increase the already tense atmosphere of the game. Music during boss battles is especially good. I love the florenzo music heard at the beginning of the game.
Sound too has always been a point of quality with Resident Evil. Indeed, the trademark of hearing realistic footsteps that accord to whatever the character is walking on returns. Water, wood, metal, dirt and many more surfaces have a distinct sound that increases your immersion into the game. Weapons sound realistic and have an impressive authenticity when reloading. It is always a pleasure to let a pack of Ganado feel the power of your shotgun, which sounds absolutely incredible. Your shotgun will be quickly unleashed once you hear the shriek of a villager carrying a pitchfork with blood in his mind. All the Ganado speak Spanish in the game. If you happen to know Spanish, or know others who know Spanish (as I do), the game will be even more terrifying. The villagers scream obscenities and yell threats just before they attempt to slice you up. Sheer horror runs through my veins whenever I hear the sound of a chainsaw gunning jut behind the door. Horror evolves to terror when I see the burlap sack over my executioners head come blasting through the door. All sound effects, especially explosions and decapitations are very satisfying. Voice acting is occasionally cheesy due to the awkward script, but for the most part the characters are well done. The characters usually don't mutter the same phrase twice, with the exception of the merchants, who say the same annoying sentences over and over again.
As previously stated, the gameplay and control has been completely overhauled for Resident Evil 4. Although some were at first skeptical, there is now no doubt whatsoever that Capcom had a definite image for this game. The gameplay is absolute bliss. You see Leon from the left side of your screen whereas the right side is for health and ammo. To shoot, simple press R and aim where you want to kill with your laser sight, then press A to fire. Even devout followers of the game had doubts on how easy this new form of control would be, but I assure you the controls are easy to pick up and even easier to execute. That being said, the easy controls are complemented by swarms of enemies. Where you used to be shooting one or two zombies many times (in excess of 10 shots), you are now shooting constantly at the furious villagers and other beings of evil. You can shoot wherever you feel necessary; the head for quick damage, the knees to trip up your foes, the hand to knock any weapon of of a hand, or the weapon itself, which can have devastating results. This versatility in dispatching your enemies is what makes the game addictive and fun. Many fans of Resident Evil questioned how we could swarm poor Leon with enemies and expect him to kill them all with limited ammo. Fortunately ammo is in relative abundance, but be careful, you can still run dry with a little effort. Boxes and barrels, which can be conveniently broken with the L-button activated knife, contain ammo and health. Enemies too drop ammo and health along with money which can be traded with merchants, who appear regularly in the game, for weapons and other various goods. A quick touch of down and B will make Leon do a graceful 180 degree turn to dispatch any sneaky enemy who comes from behind. This is necessary due to the surprisingly intelligent enemies in the game. They will sneak behind you, make sudden rushes, talk amongst themselves, and in larger groups attempt to swarm you. Later in the game, the enemies will 'change' making them more difficult. Capcom truly thought of everything.
On the topic of Ashley, the President's daughter of whom you are trying to save, there is no worries. Although Ashley tags along with you during dangerous en devours, she is usually safe. When you point a weapon away from her, she'll hide behind you. When you point a weapon at her, she will duck leaving any enemy behind her vulnerable. She can be healed if she does happen to get hurt. She can be told to wait for Leon or to follow him. If Ashley dies or is taken away by a local then you fail your mission and must restart at whatever checkpoint you last arrived at. In a touch of nostalgia, Capcom decided to occasionally let the gamer play as Ashley herself. When playing as Ashley, you have no weapons; only a flashlight and your wits. The original Resident Evil controls return for these segments. They are a nice change of pace, and just as you start getting sick of Ashley, Leon is back to take control.
Many other gameplay elements have been redone. The typewriter is still the standard for saving your game, but the infamous ink ribbon is no longer needed. Reloading is manual by pressing B while aiming, which helps when another wave of infuriated villagers decide to make a rush on Leon. Your inventory is now Diablo-esque; you have a certain amount of room (squares) for weapons and other things, and the bigger the item the more squares it takes up. You can buy a larger inventory from a merchant, but the price is steep. Luckily items can be rotated to fit in small spaces. Weapon boxes are no more. RPG-like upgrades can also be purchased from merchants. You can upgrade you reloading speed, power, ammo capacity and a host of other things.
While Resident Evil is known for many things, lasting appeal is not one of them. The series features typically short games with a challenging level of difficulty. Resident Evil 4 however is quite a long game at 25 hours or more. Afterwards you can proceed to unlock everything the game has to offer, including guns, characters and other various goodies. The game is so good that you'll have no qualms replaying it after you are finished. The game is so open-ended and there is little backtracking to be done. This is a mark of hard work on Capcom's part.
Another question raised when this new form of Resident Evil arrived was the horror factor. Many thought Resident Evil 4 would simply not be scary with the new action oriented controls. I am happy to report this is not the case. The game features tension you cannot experience in any other video game. Each battle will leave you white-knuckled and tense. Everything comes together in the game; the graphics, the sound, the atmosphere and the gameplay, to make this game scary. You'll be jumpy by the end of this one, trust me.
The story in Resident Evil 4 takes place in 2004, six years after the incident at Raccoon City. If you recall, Leon S. Kennedy was part of that incident on his first day working for the RCPD. In Resident Evil 4 your task is to find the President's daughter Ashley and return her the United States. When you arrive in the dark Spanish town you realize things aren't as tranquil as they seem. The story is very interesting, but it is tainted by a strange script that makes a few too many attempts at humour. Despite this, the game's story will keep you interested enough to continue playing the game, but it is the combat that will leave you breathless and exhilarated.
With such hyperbole in my praise for this wonderful game, you'd think I'd be giving it a perfect ten. However no game is perfect. Resident Evil 4 may be exceptional, but it is not perfect; no game is perfect. That being said, Resident Evil 4 is a great achievement in gaming, and it is an absolute blast to play. The wonderful graphics and sound, coupled with the incredible combat and an interesting story will have you compelled. It is truly unfortunate the game didn't come out earlier, as it would have been a very strong contender for game of the year. I'm fairly confident it would have won. Thus far, this is my favorite game on the Gamecube.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/12/05
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