Review by ryansebiz

"Easily the Greatest RE Ever; One of the Greatest Games of All Time"

Resident Evil 4 Review
The Resident Evil franchise, which essentially invented the survival horror genre, was proceeding along a dangerous downward spiral by failing to innovate. It was milking the same formula, continually reusing the same characters, enemies and plot devices. Gamers were growing tired of fighting dumb, slow zombies and evil, corrupt Umbrella. Resident Evil needed to reinvent itself. The fourth installment of the game has accomplished just that and then some. The writing, pacing, direction, combat, motion capture technology, art direction, design, sound, music and gameplay are all top-notch. The production values are so high you feel as if you're playing a film. While that descriptor may be a heavily overused one (see Metal Gear Solid, where you do as much watching as you do actual playing), Resident Evil 4 maintains a consistent cinematic feel throughout the entire 20+ hours of gameplay. Not only is it the best game in the series, it is one of the best games released in the last few years.

The plot sounds simple, but quickly picks up steam from the outset. Leon S. Kennedy, of Resident Evil 2 fame, is back. No longer working for the police, Leon is now an agent for the US Government. His mission is to rescue the President's daughter, who has been kidnapped and taken to a remote European village. This sets the stage for the game which will put you on a roller coaster ride you won't want to end.

Gameplay
The game grabs you from the start and never lets go. As mentioned earlier, it maintains its cinematic feel by always involving the player in the action of the story. Unlike Metal Gear Solid and other action adventure games which use too-lengthy cut-scenes where the player simply sits and watches five to 20 minutes of dialogue, Resident Evil 4 maintains its tight pacing by utilizing brief yet satisfying cut-scenes to advance the narrative. Not only is the pacing adept, but the game also employs a tactic so effective I am amazed it has never been thought of until now: interactive cut-scenes. During the course of nearly every cut-scene, you will be required to press various button combinations (such as L and R or A and B) at random to accomplish various feats such as dodging a villain's attack, jump off a crumbling bridge or pull yourself up from a ledge. This helps to maintain the tension and excitement of the game throughout.

Another pillar of strength for the game is its interactivity. This is evident throughout the course of each unique chapter, which, amazingly, requires hardly any backtracking. This interactivity is required through the all-purpose action button, the A button, which, depending on the environment, can perform a wide array of maneuvers from simplistic tasks such as opening doors or picking up items to more exciting feats such as jumping out of a window or kicking down a ladder (yes, with enemies climbing it, Helm's Deep style). This simplistic yet brilliantly executed gameplay mechanic works flawlessly, empowering the player with a genuine sense of interactivity. Its greatness essentially lies in the fact that it removes a lot of the technicality of video games by streamlining the gameplay. For example, how many times have you been playing a game and gotten so frustrated because you didn't know which button did what? It's only after random button-mashing do you come to find the right button to kick the enemy in the face. Not so in Resident Evil 4. All you have to do is hit A.

Speaking of interactivity, the game's deft implementation in this department is due in large part to the creative ingenuity that has been placed into the bosses. These splendidly satisfying portions of the game are frightening, challenging and very rewarding. You will, among others, fight a giant Loch Ness Monster-esque serpent from a boat, and you will, with help from an unexpected stranger, do battle with a giant Cave Troll-like enemy that showcases his strength by brutally slaughtering the evil villagers before taking you on (a hint about this battle; good things come to good doers). Be ready, these bosses are tough, and only through utilizing different strategies will you be able to take them down. Even the game's later bosses, which rely on more conventional techniques, still require more strategy than the most cerebral boss from any prior Resident Evil.

Finally, the combat in the game is top-notch. The game successfully implements a laser-sight on each gun. The days of blindly-aiming-your-weapon-at-a-zombie-and-hoping-the-shot-lands are over. This system allows you to target various parts of the enemies body, such as their head, torso, legs or arms. For example if you shoot them in the head they'll be briefly stunned or if you shoot their legs and they'll drop to their knees. You can even shoot a weapon out of their hands. You can even shoot incoming projectiles, deflecting them away. Allowing you to see your aim is another tightly integrated component of the game, you wonder why Capcom hadn't done this sooner. Of course the best part of the combat is the wonderfully-scripted enemy AI. I never thought the day would come when I would mention “Resident Evil” and “AI” positively in the same sentence, but this is yet another example of how incredible this game is. The villagers, unlike the zombies who came before them, will swarm you. They will run at you, they will throw knives and dynamite at you and they will kill you. The brutes will rush in with pitchforks and other weapons, flanking you from both sides while the archers will snipe you from a safe distance. You will use strategy like never before in this Resident Evil. Speaking of sniping, you will get to snipe as well, and the big surprise is how well it works and feels. Ultimately, how you take down an area is up to you. Early in the game you can either snipe villagers from afar, or you can rush in with the shotgun. You are not limited to fighting a single monotonous zombie coming at you down an empty hall in this game. There are lots of bloodthirsty villagers who will do whatever it takes in order to eliminate you. It goes without saying that killing actual threats is infinitely more rewarding than mindless zombies. Not only that, but the situations that you will fight these enemies in (I won't spoil anything here), and some of the various techniques you'll use to clear them out, elevates the combat in this game to the best of what any first-person shooter has to offer.

Graphics
Wow. I thought the jaw-dropping Resident Evil remake looked good. Resident Evil 4 is not only the best-looking game on the GameCube, it has some of the best graphics of any next-gen system. During certain areas and moments in the game you will stop to just take everything in. This is a graphical tour de force like you have never seen. Unlike previous Resident Evils, none of the areas are pre-rendered; everything is drawn in real time. Resident Evil 4 pushes the GameCube and its ATI video card farther then it's ever been and the result is nothing short of perfection.

Resident Evil 4 creates an atmospheric sense like no other game. You will feel like you are right there in that mysterious village and creepy interiors and exhilarating boss battles. The game is oozing with style. The dynamic lighting alone is worth the price of admission. It creates a sense of fright without being too dark (ala Doom 3). This is evident in the dimly lit hallways, which can become even darker if you shoot out the lanterns. You will also see it as shadows from objects dance along the walls as you trace them back to a warm fireplace. Perhaps the best use of lighting comes in front of a cathedral as you tiptoe your way through a dark foggy graveyard. You can see immediately around you and see no danger when lightning strikes and illuminates the entire area and you jump at the sight of four incoming villagers. This is easily the best lightning I have ever seen in a video game. Character models are highly detailed and equally realistic. You can see the zippers and pockets on Leon's jacket. Leon and Ashley both have fairly long hair (for a video game), which behaves realistically. The programmers could have taken the easy way out and given Ashley a pony-tail, but, as is evident throughout the entire game, no shortcuts were taken; there is an extraordinary amount of polish here. Explosions are dynamic, bosses are large and intimidating and the villagers look downright scary.

As this is a survival horror game, the deaths are downright gruesome and very, very messy. The decapitations especially are very disturbing, or satisfying, given your disposition. This game is rated Mature, and rightfully so. And to those who call the GameCube a “kiddy console” just wait until you watch in awe as Leon is beheaded by a maniacal chainsaw-carrying wench. After you reload the game three times to watch the different camera angles that are utilized as this happens I guarantee you will change your tone.

Even more impressive is the game's masterful display of in-game cut-scenes. Computer-generated cut-scenes have their place, but as technology advances they are quickly becoming inferior. Why risk losing the willing suspension of disbelief of the player only to cut to a completely different character model who is rendered nothing like his in-game counterpart. You lose the player at that point. They stop and say “oh, it's a cut-scene. Time to sit here and do nothing.” Resident Evil 4 blurs the line between cut-scenes and gameplay, not only with the interactivity, but also by keeping everything in-game. The same Leon you destroy countless villagers with is the same Leon you see in each and every cut-scene. It is a technique masterfully presented by Capcom here, as the cut-scenes always move the story and action forward.

Of special note is the realism in which the characters move. This was accomplished through some of the best motion capture work in video game history. The characters move like real people do because real people did their movements for them. There are no robotic movements here. Everything is very fluid and extremely lifelike. This is further enhanced by the game's brilliant direction. Shinji Mikami utilizes a wide array of angles, speeds and pans to focus the player's attention wonderfully. The tight pacing and engaging cut-scenes transform this from a mere video game into a fully encompassing cinematic adventure. Note to Hideo Kojima: you just got owned.

Sound
Prepare to be blown away. If you don't own a 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 home theatre system with Dolby Pro Logic II, this game is reason to upgrade. I know you've read countless other reviews for various other games saying that “this is the game” to upgrade to a home theatre system (if you don't already have one), but Resident Evil 4 will make it worth every penny. The sound is engrossing. You will be awed. You will feel surrounded. You will not think it is a gimmick. Resident Evil 4 uses sound cues to aid you in your gameplay. For example, I was walking down the hall and heard something to the left, I turned the corner and the sound was directly behind me. I did a quick 180 degree turn and, sure enough, there was a monster right in front of me waiting to meet my shotgun. Besides, nothing is creepier than hearing a different villager coming from each separate speaker as they close in on you.

The sound effects in the game further serve to add to the realism of the experience. Shots, explosions and decapitations sound eerily real (not that I know what any of those sound like) and will make you feel part of the game world. The soundtrack is perfectly suited to the game's setting, from the strings at the outset of the village to the booming orchestral numbers that play during key confrontations and battles. The biggest improvement in the sound department is the voice acting. I think Resident Evil for the PlayStation had some of the worst voice acting in video game history, which shows you how far the series has come. I was most impressed with Carolyn Lawrence, who gives Ashley a tone of vulnerability but enough strength to avoid falling into the area of the clichéd damsel-in-distress. Paul Mercier creates a believable hero in Leon, given the circumstances, of course. It is adds to the experience throughout to watch the relationship develop between these two characters. The end result is a big-brother dynamic that leads you to truly care about Ashley and what happens to her. These are endearing characters, and while the very over-the-top archetypal villains do remind you this is a video game, it expands on the already-high interest the player will develop during the quest. The sound, music and voice acting are all at sky-high production levels and firmly help assert the game's atmospheric realism.

Final Comments
Resident Evil 4 has raised the bar not only for survival horror games but for video games as a whole. This will be one of those games to join the ranks of the classics that have helped to legitimize gaming not only as mainstream entertainment, but as a respectable art form. Whether you are playing the game or watching someone else play it, you will be captured by the tight pacing, suspenseful twists and exhilarating action.

2004 was one of the best, if not the best, year in the history of video games, witnessing several high-profile titles debut across all platforms. Hype surrounded nearly all of them. Some delivered on the hype (Half-Life 2, Metroid Prime 2) while others did not (Fable, and, some would argue, Halo 2). The hype engulfed Resident Evil 4 just as it did those aforementioned games. Needless to say, Capcom delivered.

Resident Evil 4 is so much better then I ever thought it could be. If you have yet to play this game, you are truly missing out on one of the best gaming experiences of the year. If you have a GameCube, you owe it to yourself to buy this game. If you don't have a GameCube, you owe it to yourself to buy one and re-read the previous sentence.

I cannot say enough about this completely enthralling experience. Resident Evil 4 is a game that comes out firing on all cylinders and doesn't loosen its grip on you until the satisfying conclusion. This title executes on all levels, providing an unforgettable journey that will thrill you, shock you and blow you away. The only question is, when will we see Resident Evil 5?

One of the best games of all time.

Gameplay 10
Graphics 10
Sound 10
Value 9
Tilt 10

Overall Score 9.8 (Rounded Up) 10/10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/27/05


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