Review by brutusmuktuk
"Ups the ante on intensity in video games"
I will admit I only played one Resident Evil game prior to RE4, and that was Resident Evil 2 for the N64. I never finished it because I didn't much care for it. The clunky controls, slow combat, and situations involving you being helpless didn't appeal to me much, although I do admit it was, and still is, revolutionary. So, it's a game I appreciated, but didn't much like. We gamers today are spoiled by polished graphics and smooth controls, and sometimes we confuse those features for a good game, when even those games with rough controls and graphics can be just as good, if not better than those that are polished. What am I getting at? I'm not too sure, but if you compare RE4 to RE2, you will notice RE4's polished graphics and much smoother controls. That's one of the differences in generation gaps between games put on the market today and games put on the market in the days of the PS1 and N64. While these features don't necessarily make a good game, Capcom puts them to good use in a very good game here in Resident Evil 4.
It's nice when developers put a twist on a successful franchise, not just gameplay-wise, but story-wise. RE4 doesn't deal with a large corporation that lets slip a virus which turns a city of people into flesh-eating zombies. It changes things around to fit into a few key themes dealing with control and terrorism. I'll get into that later, while for now I will briefly describe the plot and a few characters. People can complain that the characters aren't well developed, and neither is the story, but the story and characters aren't entirely the point. And really, what is there is entertaining, and Capcom only included as much as they needed to.
Leon Kennedy is an American agent sent on a mission to rescue the U.S. President's daughter in an unknown village somewhere in Spain. Soon after entering the village, Leon finds himself under attack, not by zombies, but by local villagers who take one bullet too many to take down. Worse comes to worse and his ride is trashed. After fighting his way through crazed villagers, a gigantic lake beast called Del Lago, and a gigantic land beast called El Gigante, he finds the President's daughter. Whew, mission just about complete. Little does Leon realize he's barely scratched the surface of the game, and getting Ashley out of Spain turns out to take longer than actually finding her.
The game's dialogue consists of the villains making conversation with Leon and Leon retorting back with (sometimes) witty one-liners. The only character Leon spends much time with is Ashley, who he escorts through portions of the game. He interacts with other characters only in short spurts. Every time he runs into Luis Sera, a traitor to the villain Lord Saddler, they have to part ways after a few lines of conversation. Some of his run-ins with Ada Wong involve even less dialogue before she jumps out of sight. Even his talks with the major villains such as Lord Saddler and Salazar end abruptly, to Leon's disappointment. Leon, like the gamer, seems to want to spend a little more time talking than his friends/adversaries allow, but he's only left to gawk in frustration as characters come and go before anything can be revealed. Perhaps because of this, story scenes can be enjoyable, because Capcom does not answer very much, if anything, in the conversations between Leon and the other character. Later in the game we can understand Leon's nonchalant, bad-ass attitude because any other attitude would allow the villains to know of his ignorance besides that attitude is more interesting than the hero constantly posing questions that aren't answered.
I mentioned earlier a couple of themes RE4 touches on, no matter how briefly: control and terrorism. If it weren't for the notes the game leaves around for you to read, such as Luis Sera's research on the Las Plagas, I wouldn't have come across any themes in the game. The game has an interesting explanation for the behavior of the villagers as a parasite that controls their behavior. It lists examples of actual parasites that do the same thing, although these parasites often control small creatures, such as ants, and force them to go out in the open and get eaten by a predator which happens to be the parasite's true host. In RE 4, the villagers seems to be controlled by parasites inside of them that listen to a more intelligent life form these parasites, I believe, have a collective intelligence. This does tie into terrorism. The game seems to suggest terrorists are under the influence of a more powerful man who hides in safety, and they unquestioningly follow his orders to destroy, even when they will be killed by following his orders, in this case by the human tank, Leon Kennedy. Perhaps the game is saying this desire to kill and be killed is like a parasite, modifying behavior, and the true host is the target of the terrorist attacks, such as America. The terrorists destroy themselves in order to reach the parasite's intended target. The parasite, then, is destruction, and humans are hosts to it. It's not such a long shot. Besides, the game makes mention of terrorism in a few sections, and the way characters call Leon an American agent in such a mocking tone suggests the attitude other nations, especially terrorists, have against America. Yes, Leon and America are the good guys, but in the end, even they help in keeping the weapons of mass destruction alive, as suggested by Ada Wong's final moments in the game.
RE4 isn't a survival horror in the vein RE1, 2, or 3 are survival horrors. Leon Kennedy is a walking tank, as I said earlier, and so the horror part gets cut out, but Capcom made this game just as thrilling and intense as the previous RE games, if not more so. Now you don't have to worry about running out of ammo, but you do have to worry about fending off mobs of enemies. Mostly these encounters are merely intense; they keep you on your toes and keep your heart rate up. Most of your deaths won't be caused by the villagers of the game, though, but during boss fights or instant death encounters. The game manages to give you healing items right when you need them, and it always provides you with enough ammo unless you're a terrible shot. Adding Ashley to your group only adds to the excitement, and parts with her tagging along are very well done she doesn't get in the way and she doesn't act like a stupid NPC. I was worried about how Capcom would deal with using her with Leon, but they did a commendable job. You won't likely find an action game, or any game, that will keep you as tense and exhilarated as RE4.
Balance is key in any game, and RE4 strikes a perfect balance in its gameplay. Every weapon, except for those weapons that are stronger versions of another, serves a purpose. Pistols come in handy as quick, mid to short range weapons; shotguns serve their purpose in close range fights with large groups of enemies or when you just need to keep an enemy back; the rifle is helpful for the long range; sub-machine guns are welcome against large groups or for pounding large bosses; and magnums are lovable for their sheer firepower, but their lack of ammunition balances out their power. All of this allows for a little bit of strategy during trigger-happy moments. Money is well-balanced as well, as Capcom doesn't give you so much you can buy and upgrade everything relatively quickly, but they give you enough to satisfy your purchasing needs. The best games know how to balance gameplay, and also know when to give you nifty toys for your pleasure, and RE4 does just that.
Shooting segments are very enjoyable. Leon's over the shoulder view makes aiming hard, so Capcom gives the gamer a laser pointer so you can see what you're aiming at. Hit locations, while technologically cool, serve a purpose gameplay-wise, as you can knock an opponent down with a knee shot, or knock a weapon away with a hand shot. Boss fights are fun and refreshing most bosses are unique and most aren't too repetitive to fight. Along with the usual villagers, Capcom throws in some interesting enemies that are much harder to take down, such as the Regenerators.
But like I said, mostly bosses or one-hit kills will take you down in this game, unless you run out of healing items, which usually isn't a problem. Some of these one-hit kills were exciting to avoid, such as the chainsaw bosses who run around, threatening Leon with their chainsaws. Some become annoying, such as button presses during cutscenes that come unexpectedly. You will likely die at least once during most of the scenes involving button presses. While they serve to keep you on your toes, they don't come often enough to allow you to be ready for them. But really, knocking the game for these instant deaths is a little nit-picky, as the game as a whole is great fun.
As I said in the introduction, polish is the name of the game in modern video games. RE4 has polish, but polish that makes the game look somewhat muddy, a little dirty. It adds to the atmosphere, and the RE series has been all about atmosphere. It's easy to find a game that looks good amongst the array of games put out today, but rarely do they look good on the same scale as RE4. The visuals are creative and fresh, and characters animate realistically to make them more believable. Attention to detail is rare in a game, but Capcom puts in details such that the tiniest details have detail. There isn't much to say about the visuals, you just have to see them to believe them.
Sound is another category that's tough to describe, but the voice acting is well done, although sometimes the voices of Leon and Salazar grate on you a little bit. The musical score and sounds of enemies up the intensity, as a grunt lets you know an enemy is near. Such sounds as exploding heads are, at first, gratifying, but soon become alarming as creature begin popping out between the shoulder blades. You'll most likely always watch your back when you hear a chainsaw start up, as the chainsaw villains are some of the most frightening in the game.
The game will last a good 20 hours, with lots of replayability to look forward to. While I didn't much care for the side games, such as the target practice and the mercenary mode, that doesn't mean you won't like it. The story game is enough to warrant it classic status, but the side games just give it more goodies to allow it a longer lifespan. The game keeps you entertained for the whole 20 hours it plays, not a minute of it dull. You can't ask for a more perfect game than Resident Evil 4.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/06
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