Review by deftoned

"This time you really do have to “survive” the horror! Resident Evil, the way it should have been all along."

For many years now, gamers have been dreaming of a Resident Evil game that was not, well, Resident Evil. Despite Resident Evil's legacy as one of the best survival horror series, it has grown predictable and outdated. With each new game entry (in the main series), the Resident Evil formula was slight tweaked. However, although the slight adjustments were for the better, Resident Evil games grew stagnant and were starting to show age as other games were gaining popularity (e.g., Silent Hill and Fatal Frame). In order to remain among the elite, the series needed a shake-up… and Resident Evil 4 was that shake-up.

Six years have passed since the destruction of Raccoon City, and as described in the opening cinematic, Umbrella is no more. Surviving the horror of Raccoon City was rookie cop, Leon S. Kennedy (co-star of Resident Evil 2). Leon is now trained as a special agent for the government. Recently, a mysterious group abducted the president's daughter and reports have stated that a girl fitting her description was spotted in Europe. Of course, Leon was assigned to the mission.

If you have played any Resident Evil game, throw pretty much EVERYTHING you knew about the games out the window. Forget about S.T.A.R.S., Raccoon City, the Arklay Mountains, Umbrella, and even zombies! Resident Evil 4 has reinvented the series, and for the better.

Story

The story to the game is quite deep, but not convoluted like previous games. Other than what happened in the past, the previous Resident Evil story line has close to nothing to do with the present game. Plot twists actually make sense, as well as the notes that you find throughout the game. Fortunately, unlike previous games, you are not presented with dozens of cryptic notes that hint at what is going on in the story. Notes fully explain what is going on for the most part and never once was I confused about who was who, and what was what. Similar to other games, cut scenes are used to show important events; however, they are never too long. Also, conversations between Leon a few people occur via a radio that he wears (similar to the Codec calls in the Metal Gear Solid series). The story advances at a wonderful pace—never too much at once and never too little. Capcom did a great job of revealing bits and pieces throughout the game, always leaving you wanting more.

Graphics

Graphically speaking, Resident Evil 4 is a beautiful game and could be considered the best-looking Gamecube game to date. Although not the graphical powerhouse of say The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, the graphics are outstanding. Gone are days of pre-rendered backgrounds. Resident Evil 4 is fully 3-D. There are very few graphical hiccups to mention, other than an enemies weapon occasionally clipping through doors. Lighting and shadow effects are beautiful, as well as fire and water graphics. All the cut scenes are done in real-time and look great as well.

The characters and enemies are very detailed and animated nicely and movements are fluid. The bosses are very creative and unique. They all feel new and fresh; yet still retain a “Resident Evil” feel to them. One complaint however: although there are a variety of different baddies to fight off, some of the character models were over used (similar to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic).

Music, sound effects, and voice acting

Soundwise, Resident Evil definitely does not disappoint. Like past games, music fully kicks in when enemies are nearby. And like past games, the music is good. The other tunes are also good and really set the mood of the game. Nothing that you will be humming all day, but the music does an excellent job raising the tension of fighting off enemies. Where the sound really shines, is the sound effects. Various background sounds always keep you on edge. For example, in one area, there is sound of falling sand that keeps you turning around to see if anything is behind you. The enemies are also voiced splendidly and really adds to the suspense of the game. Nothing gets you riled up like the Spanish speech of the enemies. Sometimes, you hear them chanting, but have no idea where they are. Beautiful, and very creepy.

The voice acting is also very good. If you have played any of the older games, you already know how bad the voices could be. The voice acting is top notch, and I would rank it up there with voice acting similar to Metal Gear Solid or Halo. Leon is convincingly sounds confident and determined and Ashley sounds scared and somewhat stubborn. Thumbs up to Capcom here!

Gameplay & Difficulty

Resident Evil 4 is hard, but not ridiculously hard. It is a very good challenge that actually adjusts its own difficulty depending on how the player is doing. For example, at one point of the game, you are trapped inside a cage with a former mini-boss. After dying a few times, the mini-boss was replaced by a bunch of standard enemies. Although, they were not as difficult to defeat, they were still a handful.

Save points are also more frequent. Thankfully, your saves are not limited to the number of ink ribbons you find because you can save as many times as you want. Save points are also spaced nicely, so redoing things is not too much of a hassle. Another new feature deals with where you begin after you die (or Ashley dies). Instead of reloading an old save, you start at a “checkpoint” just before your game over. You will never again feel the frustration of redoing things.

Throughout the game you will control Leon by himself, Ashley by herself, or Leon and Ashley together. Unlike Resident Evil Zero, where you could swap between Rebecca and Billy, you have no control of Ashley when her and Leon are together. Ashley cannot equip weapons, so it is your job to keep her safe. If she dies or is captured, it will be game over. When the two are together, you can either have Ashley follow you or have her wait somewhere with the press of the X-button. When she is with you when enemies are around, she will usually duck behind you trying to avoid getting hurt. When you run, she runs. When you stay, she stays. She never gets in the way. If she is in front of you and you need to shoot behind her, once you pull your gun, she will duck and move behind you.

On a few occasions, you will have to control Ashley by herself. These portions of the game are quite fun. Because Ashley cannot wield any weapons, her portions of the game truly feel like a survival horror. You pretty much have to run for your life because you are unarmed. Unfortunately, portions where you got to play exclusively as Ashley were few and far between.

Camera

At all time, the camera is behind Leon. Gone are a HORRIBLE camera angles of the past games. You can move in all directions and look in all directions. When Leon is aiming his weapon, the camera zooms in slightly and looks similar to how Sam Fisher aims in Splinter Cell and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. During my play through, I never once had a bad camera angle, even while fighting off enemies.

Controls

In terms of controls, anyone that has played a Resident Evil game knows about the clunky controls. The old controls made you feel like you were controlling a tank. Although the same control scheme remains, because Resident Evil takes place in a fully 3-D world, they work great! They actually feel like they make sense. The quick turn was left alone, and is once again, very useful. Holding down the R-button will cause Leon to ready his weapon, and you control where you shoot with the Left stick. Unlike past games, you can shoot anywhere on the enemy's body (not just head, body, legs). This makes for some interesting action. Shoot for the legs to cause an enemy to trip. Shoot their head to decapitate them. Shoot at their arms to make them drop their weapons. It is quite intuitive. Also, pressing the L-button will cause Leon to equip his knife, which you can use to break open barrels and boxes, so you do not waste ammo. Unfortunately, there was no button that cycled through weapons. It became tedious to switch between weapons in a fight because you would have to go to your inventory screen to do so. Another complaint with the controls was a lack of a strafe button. When aiming, Leon is forced to stay in one stop. While it does add to the tension of the game, it can be annoying, especially later in the game when the enemies are much smarter and more fully armed.

In addition, Capcom added a lot of action buttons to the game. Throughout the game, Leon will be presented with actions that he can perform, such as jumping through windows or knocking down ladders. Also, during various sequences, you will be required to perform certain button presses to survive. For example, you will be prompted to tap the A-button to have Leon sprint, or press one of the shoulder buttons to have him dodge something. They are placed all over the game (even in cut scenes), and the buttons you have to press change when you play. This results in incredibly tense gameplay! You literally cannot put down you control, especially during cut scenes.

Weaponry & Inventory Management

To assist with the battling are, of course, the weaponry of the game. Weapons are vastly improved in this game. All weapons can be purchased from merchants that are scattered throughout the game. You can sell treasures you find and buy new weapons and items. You can also upgrade weapons. The standard handgun is back, but this time it is fully upgradeable. Similar to camera upgrades in the Fatal Frame series, each weapon in Resident Evil 4 is fully upgradeable. You will be able to upgrade its firepower, capacity, reload speed, and firing speed. Plus, you are given a variety of different kinds of weapons and different versions of the same kind (i.e., different types of handguns). Other old favorites are back, such as the shotgun and magnum. But this time, you also get uzi's, mine throwers, and sniper rifles. You also get different types of grenades, that are actually VERY useful.

With all these new toys to play with, Resident Evil 4's inventory management is also new. You are given a case and need to manage your items according to the spaces provided, similar to the inventory management in Diablo II. You no longer have the item boxes that were present in past games. Also, you no longer have the “drop” method that was used in Resident Evil Zero. So if you are out of space, and you pick find something you need, you will need to make room for it. More importantly, key items no longer take up space in your inventory. The days of carry around that rusty crank, the sun crest, or the club key, along with herbs, weapon, and ammo are no more. Key items and treasures now occupy their own separate space, leaving you with plenty of space for ammo and healing items.

Puzzle

Another huge change that was made in Resident Evil 4 was the elimination of the asinine puzzles and backtracking fetch quests. When you do come across a puzzle, and you will, they are intuitive and should not give anyone any trouble. You will not be rearranging books or filling tasks with water. As for the fetch quests, although they are still there, they are done in an intuitive fashion as well. You will NEVER have to backtrack more than a room or two to pick up an item you need. The game is setup so that if you need an item (e.g., crest or key), its location will not be too hard to find.

On a few occasions (and I do mean a few), you will have a situation that will involve both Ashley and Leon. For example, on one occasion, Ashley will have to climb up on a walkway and turn two cranks. In the meantime, enemies are not only rushing you, but they are also trying to capture her—you not only have to defend yourself, you have to defend her as well. These portions are REALLY fun and it would have been great it Capcom had integrated more of these situations into the game.

Scare Factor

One of the biggest concerns amongst fans was that Resident Evil 4 is more action oriented than horror oriented. It is true and false. Yes, the game is more action oriented (as seen through Leon's arsenal and the insane number of enemies to fight off). However, this game scares you in a different fashion. In past games, you could hear the zombie's moaning even though you couldn not see them. You would get a quick scare if one popped out of closet or arms reached in through the windows, but once that is done, it is done. After playing through one Resident Evil game, you already knew what to expect. Things are quit different in Resident Evil 4. Yes, there are a handful of situations where enemies pop out to scare you, but the real scare comes from feelings of impending doom. Throughout the entire game, you never know when an enemy will pop up. You are always moving around wondering when the next group will attack, and I do mean group.

The majority of the enemy encounters are groups of enemies. And the enemies are smart. No mindless zombies that drag their bodies towards you. The enemies in Resident Evil 4 coordinate their attacks and can dodge your gunfire. They also carry a variety of weapons ranging from hatchets to flaming crossbows to electric charged batons. Just having a group of enemies around will frighten you enough to unload clip after clip into their baddies.

Replay

Resident Evil 4 will take you longer than any of the previous games. And like past games, you will be rewarded for your efforts. Beating the game once unlocks costumes, additional difficulty settings, and new weapons. But even more exciting are the mini-games. One game is Assignment Ada, where you play as Ada Wong. The other is the Mercenaries. Both games play similar to the main game, except certain objects are present to the player. Both are very fun to play, and both other unlockable content upon completion.

Overall

The main Resident Evil series had grown stagnant and had not seen a new game in a couple years. Fans had to suffer through sub par spin off like Dead Aim and Outbreak while Capcom reinvented Resident Evil. The years this game was in development and a number of time Capcom went back to the drawing board were all worth it. Resident Evil 4 is arguably the best game on the Nintendo GameCube. With all the changes made in this game due to all the “problems” of the old ones, its amazing that Resident Evil has remained so popular!

If this game were released in 2004 (It was released January 11, 2005), it would have easily stood up to the likes of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Halo 2, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Half-Life 2, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. This game rightfully deserves to be mentioned among the elites of this generation--it is the must own game for the Gamecube, hands down. There was never a dull moment in the game. Capcom did an amazing job managing to create something fresh and innovative, yet staying true to what Resident Evil has always been. Resident Evil 4 definitely looks and feels like a brand new game, but it also feels like good old Raccoon City (minus the zombies of course!).

+ Best looking game on the Gamecube
+ Resident Evil done the right way
+ Fewer asinine puzzles and fetch quests
+ Great enemy AI
- Few Ashley-only chapters
- Few Ashley-Leon-together puzzles
- No strafing
- No quick weapon change button


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/18/05


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