Review by Evil Dave

"One of the best action games of all time, for any platform."

Without a doubt, the Resident Evil series is the most internationally popular and recognizable survival horror videogame franchise. Its massive following has seen it through incredible growth - from its origins as a first-generation Playstation game, to the 9 game sequels and two major studio movie releases that it currently boasts, there have always been plenty of people following the travails of the series' crew of heroes.

The basic gameplay of the series has remained mostly unchanged through the many sequels it has seen, save for some title-specific innovations that have popped up at different points in time. No matter if it took place from a first-person perspective (as was done in RE: Survivor and RE: Dead Aim), or if it used a partner-zapping system and an ‘I don't have room to carry this, so I'll throw it on the floor here' inventory system (such as was used in RE:0), or if it featured online multiplayer (as in RE: Outbreak), you – as one of the aforementioned heroes of the series – would be traversing zombie-infested locales, seeking to solve puzzles, defeat bosses, and escape unharmed from the terror around you. This gameplay has become a hallowed icon in the survival horror industry, and is well loved by many people who enjoy scaring themselves silly with a good videogame.

Resident Evil 4, from its initial announcement, was said to be a huge change for the series. No longer would there be static camera angles, lock-on targeting, or even (gasp!) zombies. Instead, Capcom has decided to take the gameplay for the latest sequel in (as quoted from the back of the case) “…a terrifying new direction.” Now, as with any popular thing that undergoes massive changes, one simple question was on everyone's minds: would Leon Kennedy's first console solo adventure still be good? Read on:

Visuals:

In-game and main menus look good, and are designed well from a usability standpoint. All options are laid out simply and understandably, and every option is easy to access. The in-game menu does a good job of showing all the information you will need to know during the game, and does not become annoying, despite the amount of time you will spend looking at it. Everything is superbly designed, with plenty of attention to detail.

The in-game graphics for RE4 are, in a word, beautiful. Everything – from the character models, to the environment, to even the weather effects – looks almost photorealistic, and highly detailed. The animation is also of the same quality level as the visuals. Small touches, such as enemies reacting accordingly to being shot in specific body parts, and your character covering his face when an explosion happens nearby, are as pervasive as they are amazing to behold. Also, in perhaps the most incredible achievement of the game's graphics engine, fire looks and acts almost exactly as real flames would. Of course, there is one persistent small problem that occurs occasionally during the game; every once in a while, you will see part of an enemy character model clipping through an interactive solid object, such as a door, either before or after the enemy has been dispatched. This takes a little bit of the luster away from the game's visuals, but it will ultimately mean nothing to most players.

The graphics are made all that much more impressive by the fact that there are no static camera angles in the game. These had previously been a staple of the Resident Evil series, but now every part of every environment can be inspected up close, in all of its beautifully-rendered glory. You are also able to see more of your surroundings at a time, due to the fact that the picture on your TV screen is always in widescreen.

Cutscenes are all rendered using the in-game graphics engine. The scenes play out beautifully, with excellent motion capture for all of the characters involved. They look incredible as well, as the game engine gets a chance to show what it can do in a non-interactive environment. The cutscenes are up to the high standards set by the rest of the game's visuals.

RE4's visuals are, arguably, the best ever made for a console game. Every aspect of the game's visuals looks as if great care was taken in their production, and the end result is a game world that looks and feels like a very close approximation of the real one.

Score: 10/10

Sound:

RE4 has a wide array of sound effects, and much like the visuals, they all perform at an extremely high level. Everything sounds appropriate, from the weapons you'll be using to the footsteps of enemies in the distance. Environmental sounds envelope you in every area you enter, and if you have a Dolby Pro Logic II-enabled surround sound system, you will be able to hear everything happening all around you. Hearing everything around yourself is an important skill in RE4, as enemies will often approach you from behind, and the only way for you to know that this is going on is to listen for footsteps or enemies muttering.

The voice acting is a double-edged sword. The script itself is very cheesy, and leaves the actors very little room to perform to the best of their ability. On the other hand, though, most of the actors do a very good job wrangling with the awful lines they're reading, and in the end they get their jobs done admirably. Just don't expect to hear any Oscar-caliber performances.

The real vocal stars of the game are not the main characters, but the ‘not-zombie' enemies you'll be fighting against. You will constantly hear these creatures screaming things at you, but you'll need to know Spanish to understand them, since the game takes place in Spain. These sayings will repeat somewhat frequently, of course, but they don't ever get old, as they are a valuable tool in defending yourself against the hordes of attacking monsters. There will also be moments when the enemy voices will come across as generally creepy; one such instance that sticks in memory is walking into a new area for the first time, with the only sound you can hear being an enemy (that you can't yet see, of course) muttering ‘el loco' repeatedly, almost as if in a trance. This type of situation adds tremendously to the tension of the game, and works as well as the visuals to engross you in the action.

The music in the game is fairly generic, but it does a solid job of heightening the tension of your encounters with monsters. It also plays an important part in your efforts to fight off those monsters, as it will only be playing when there is danger present, and it will almost always cut out when you've eliminated all of the monsters in an area. Overall, it accomplishes what it intends to without being a nuisance and so it cannot be counted against the game.

RE4's acoustic score shines as brightly as the game's visuals in almost every way. While you'll still be faced with a so-bad-it's-good script, the unilateral excellence of the surrounding audio aspects make up for this deficiency once again.

Score: 10/10

Gameplay:

RE4's gameplay style can best be described as an evolution of all of the series' titles up to this point. It combines some aspects of the previous games with exciting new twists, and in the end comes up with an incredibly fun amalgamation.

For starters, the controls work extremely smoothly on the GameCube controller. Movement is controlled with the analog stick or the D-pad; if you hold B while moving, you will run, and hitting B and down together will turn perform a quick 180 degree turn. The A button interacts with items in the environment, such as ladders and doors. When you hold down the R button, you will be locked in place, and raise your weapon; once it's up, you can fire it with the A button, and reload with the B button. The L button will quick switch to your knife, allowing you to instantly change between weapons. The C-stick is used to swing the camera angle around Leon. The Y button brings up the in-game menu, the Z button brings up the game map, and the Start button brings up the pause menu. Finally, the X button is used to issue commands to the character you're escorting. The controls are very good, and function very well in the game. You should have everything down within fifteen minutes of starting to play the game.

The gameplay will task you with using multiple weapons to protect yourself (and sometimes your escortee) from the onslaught of monsters. You start out with a basic pistol and knife. You no longer have the ability to lock on to enemies, so aiming is now done manually, with the help of a highly useful laser sight on every gun. Of course, to accommodate this, the camera perspective has been moved behind and slightly to the right of Leon. From this view, you will be able to target the array of monsters who seek to stop you in your journey, although things are made a bit difficult by Leon's slightly unsteady aim. In no time, though, you should be off and shooting.

Shooting monsters is where the depth of the gameplay first begins to show. Every ‘non-zombie' enemy has different hit detection zones on its body, and will react differently to being hit in different places. A shot in the leg will knock the enemy to the ground, while a shot in the arm will cause them to drop whatever weapon they're carrying. While a headshot on these monsters will not guarantee death, the head is still the best place to deal damage to them.

You will, at certain points in the story, be escorting around another character, Ashley. These escort missions, while certainly the most tense in the game, are also some of the least fun. Ashley will generally stay close behind you, so you will be able to keep tabs on her at all times; however, if you are forced to wheel around quickly, she will stand in your way, forcing you to aim around her to kill any attacking monsters. She will cower in fear if you point your gun at her, and will not move until you let go of the R button. This will occur even if she is in danger from the area you are pointing your weapon at, and she will likely die several times because if this AI flaw. Of course, there are also times when you must protect her from an attacking horde while she tries to open a door in an area you can't reach, and these moments are among the most memorable in the game. In the end, the Ashley escort missions are weighed down by her poor AI, and end up hurting the gameplay ever so slightly.

Enemies feature incredibly realistic AI as they come after you. They will gang up on you, attempt to surround you, and will use environmental features to their advantage to try to stop you. Of course, their pursuit of you will always come ahead of their own survival instincts, so they can still be lured to their death in traps, and will always keep coming at you, no matter how many times you shoot their legs out from under them.

Even many of the cutscenes feature an interactive element. You should never put down your controller when a video starts to play, as there will be plenty of times when a button will flash on the screen in the middle of a scene; more often than not, failing to push that button on time will result in your character's untimely demise. The game also adds a bit of trickery to this process, as it will occasionally switch the buttons necessary to press for a given sequence, so as to keep you on your toes. This mechanic isn't used often, but it will keep you awake when redoing a failed video nonetheless.

RE4's boss fights can be counted among the most memorable ever seen in a videogame. They all feature incredibly tense confrontations, where you will need to think on your toes to stop a foe that is without a doubt much more powerful than you. These fights are made even better by having interactive video portions, where you must time button presses just right to get the upper hand. Every encounter will leave you breathless, and waiting for the next.

Another of the more interesting features of the game is its RPG-style inventory and weapon system. You will have an inventory that you carry with you, in which you will keep all of the various items you pick up along the way. It has limited space, so you may need to reorganize things occasionally to get an item to fit. Of course, this system can be a bit annoying, but combined with the merchant system, it actually works very well. The merchant system is made available through a mysterious demon merchant that appears in what can only be called the oddest places throughout your journey. He will give you the opportunity to buy new items (such as upgrades to your carrying case, or new weapons), as well as to upgrade your current weapons. You can also sell him trinkets that you collect as you go through the game, to earn more money to put into your weapons. These features may seem out of place in a Resident Evil game, but when you're playing through RE4, they are a welcome addition, and they allow you to keep pace with the increasingly stronger enemies that you'll be facing as you progress through the story.

Of course, since puzzles have been such a staple of the Resident Evil series thus far, there are still some puzzles in RE4. They are not tremendously involving or difficult, though, and they ultimately are in the game more than likely to just serve as a break from the continuous fighting.

The gameplay in RE4 represents a refreshing break from the series' staid style. While somewhat difficult, it is incredibly impressive from all aspects, and downright fun to go through. It is not perfect, and the presence of escort missions hurts the overall score, but in the end it is so revitalizing and unique that it makes the game one of the best to come out in the action genre to date.

Score: 9/10

Story:

To be fair, the story in RE4 exists mainly as a way of threading together all of the action sequences. It has very little to do with the Resident Evil universe, other than borrowing a few characters and motivations, and it really serves as little more than an excuse for shooting lots of ‘non-zombies.'

The story begins simply, with you as Leon Kennedy pursuing the President's daughter, Ashley, after she has been kidnapped and taken to a village in Spain. There, you encounter the aforementioned monsters, blast through them, uncover what is behind all of this mayhem, and eventually must try to save Ashley. It's a by-the-numbers storyline, and it really won't end up motivating anyone to continue on with the game any more than the incredible gameplay already would.

As disappointing as it may be that the latest Resident Evil game has so little to do with the series' storyline up to this point, the story in RE4 does an adequate job of filling in the gaps of the gameplay. If nothing else, it will certainly give you plenty to guess about the series' future.

Score: 7/10

Features/Modes:

Once the game is beaten for the first time, a new difficulty level is unlocked for play, along with certainly goodies for use during the game. There are also a few short mini-games to play that are unlocked at the end of your first time through. Other than these, though, there is little in the way of replay value, other than playing through again to find all of the secret items and unlock all of the special weapons.

There are enough extras here to make anyone who is a fan of the game want to play it through again, but there isn't much besides that.

Score: 5/10

Total Score:

The huge fan base that follows the Resident Evil franchise came to exist for a reason: many people love the slow, somber gameplay style that had become the hallmark of the series. So, with the departure from that tradition that RE4 is, it makes the game difficult to judge based on its past. It is, without question, an incredible game; its extremely enjoyable gameplay, stunning visuals, and enthralling audio score make it a standout release, even in today's crowded game market. Unfortunately, as with any title, there are people who simply will not enjoy this game, and in this case, that group overlaps somewhat with the fans of previous Resident Evil games. So, if you are interested in this game, make sure you approach it with as open a mind as possible. It is not the perfect game for fans of the previous Resident Evil games. What it is, though, is one of the best action games to come out in this generation of consoles.

If you own a GameCube and are a fan of action games, you need to buy play this game. If you are otherwise a fan of action games, you should attempt to find a GameCube, so that you can buy and play this game. Finally, if you don't fit into either of the previous categories, your interest in this game would best be tested with a rental.

Score: 9/10 (not an average)

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Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/27/05


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