Review by HeavensSecret

"Bang Bang! You're Dead."

Resident Evil 4 is one of the few games in the last few months that I honestly wanted so badly I could taste it. Every new bit of information or video I got my hands on seemed to reinforce my prediction, which was that the game would be fantastic. And now, in the wake of the holiday rush, RE4 stands tall with little other competition for shelf space. Now, Resident Evil was a series that desperately needed some new life injected into it. The standard formula had aged and gotten stale long ago, and new releases like Resident Evil 0 and Outbreak weren't the hot sellers that earlier games in the series had been. People were simply bored with the standard it had set, so for Resident Evil 4, Capcom almost completely reinvented the series and the result leaves little to be improved upon, which is truly rare for any recent release.

The premise for RE4 is simple enough: Leon Kennedy, now a government agent, has the mission of protecting the President's family. Just before he starts his duties as a bodyguard, the President's daughter is kidnapped. Following a lead that she had been spotted in a village in England, Leon ventures into the town to find much more than he expected, from new adversaries to familiar faces that may or may not be welcome. The story is told through cutscenes and notes that you find scattered about the environment. The way it continues the series' storyline is interesting to watch unfold, and it does a good job of giving you a little kick of motivation to press on through the game to see what happens next. The storyline has its share of twists and turns (many of them predictable), and while the voice acting and presentation is leagues beyond that of any previous RE game, you won't be playing it for its story.

I'll say this right off the bat: Resident Evil 4 is not scary. It's gross, it's unnerving, and man is it intense, but it really isn't scary. You won't jump out of your chair, and you won't wet yourself; but the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up at some points, and your heart may start racing. Instead, this game relies heavily on sound and atmosphere to create a constant feeling of vulnerability that hasn't been achieved in a Resident Evil game, or really any other game as far as I'm concerned. The game isn't trying to scare you silly with cheap 'gotcha' tricks, but rather it returns to the roots of fear and plays mind games with you. The lack of such methods was easily my biggest problem with the previous Resident Evil games, and as such it's one of my favorite aspects of RE4.

There's a lot to say about this game, so let's get right into it. RE4 takes every gameplay mechanic from the series and gives it a complete overhaul. There's tons of new features, and what isn't new feels like it when coupled with the game's new stuff. The first of these changes is obvious: the camera. No longer do you walk around pre-rendered environments from a usually overhead view. RE4 is fully 3D, and the camera is always situated behind Leon, following behind him. To complement this new view, the game's controls have been tuned up and feel tighter. You still control your character like a tank, but because of the new viewpoint, it feels very intuitive. In fact, the entire control setup feels extremely natural and you'll be accustomed to it in minutes. You also have full freedom in aiming, allowing you to hit specific boxes, switches, limbs, or barrels with pinpoint accuracy. You hold the right shoulder button to go into aim mode, and the camera zooms up right about Leon's shoulder to help you be more precise. Speaking of precise, the aiming is very responsive, allowing you to quickly target enemies that may have caught you off guard. Environments are now much more interactive, and using the game's context-sensitive A button, you can do anything from jumping over a gap or small fence to knocking down ladders or kicking a disoriented foe. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The inventory system has also been given a makeover. You keep your items in a case that is made up of a grid of squares. Different items take up certain amounts of space, and you can freely arrange your inventory to make the most of the space you have. This is, strangely enough, extremely addicting. You'll find yourself putting aside gameplay (sometimes in the middle of an especially tense moment) to arrange and/or group items and clean up your inventory space. This system works very well and leads into the new customization aspect of the game. Your weapons are all upgradeable. To afford these weapons and their upgrades, you'll find and collect gold and treasures as you go through the game. Treasures can usually be combined (resetting jewels into a crown, for example), which will drastically increase their worth. However, even without combination, most treasures are worth a pretty penny to begin with and the pressure to jump the gun and sell an item early to afford that new upgrade or gun right away will overwhelm you more than a few times. Each weapon has a different set of stats including firepower, firing speed, reload time, and capacity. You'll constantly find yourself slaving over the upgrade menu, trying to decide whether you want to boost your shotgun's firepower, or increase the firing speed of your sniper rifle, and this degree of customization lets you tune each of your weapons to your own liking, and makes all of the weapons that much more fun to use. You have your standard assortment of handguns, shotguns, and rifles, as well as grenades. Grenades, for once, are actually an extremely useful addition to your arsenal, and this is probably the first game where I looked forward to acquiring and using them. As well as that, I must also make a point to say that never before has a shotgun ever been as satisfying to use as it is in this game. There are also some unique weapons like the Mine Thrower, and deciding on your arsenal is almost as interesting as upgrading it. Do you want a wide range of different weapons, or would you rather just have one or two powerful ones and leave the rest of your space for grenades, ammo, and healing items? Should you sell the submachine gun so you can afford a more powerful shotgun? How can you arrange your items to make room for that high-powered rifle scope? Should you sell your magnum to make room for a mine thrower? Decisions like these constantly hang over your head for the entire game, and with such endless possibilities, you'll often feel uneasy about your selections, wondering if they were the right choice and if you'll need that weapon you just got rid of once you go through the next door.

So you've got some addictive and interesting RPG-like elements to your weapons and inventory systems, and that's before even getting into the actual gameplay. To put it mildly, this is one of the most finely polished game experiences I've ever had the pleasure of playing. You're thrown right into the game's frantic pace off the bat, as the small village you are in is suddenly obsessed with finding and killing you. One thing should be made clear: these are not your standard Resident Evil zombies. In fact, they aren't zombies at all. These enemies have a good degree of cunning and intelligence, and they will make use of it to hunt you down. They'll put ladders up to windows if you're on the second floor, throw molotov cocktails if you're hiding in a tower, and use their crowd presence to swarm and surround you. The villagers' dedication to your death, their sly methods, and the sheer number of them is enough to overwhelm you with panic, and I found myself maneuvering all over the village trying different tactics and buildings to keep myself from harm, feeling generally helpless as I tried to fend off more enemies than I had bullets, and having no idea exactly what to do next. And yes, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are far worse things that await you than murderous villagers. Surely you've seen screenshots or movie clips of the lake monster. Without giving too much away, I'll just say that you ain't seen nothing yet. Not even close.

Every area in Resident Evil 4 is a setpiece of sorts. Even when you're fighting the same kind of enemies as you were in the last area, it will be a very different battle, and any of the game's more prominent confrontations and moments could be considered the showstopping scene in any other game. Every room, hallway, and building has a unique design to it, not one quite like the last, with plenty of interactive elements that help make you believe you really are Leon Kennedy acting on the fly. The amount of backtracking is very low, and even then most of the time you're simply working your way through new rooms in a kind of circle before you return to the main room to open a locked door. It's this diversity in level design that keeps the game fresh throughout the whole thing, because even if you return to an old room, it's usually to do something different in it, not just to run through it on your way to another room. I really enjoyed this, and the fact that you just keep going deeper and deeper into each area instead of simply going around in it gives you a good sense of progress, and because of the game's great design, you'll usually find a key for a certain room while exploring before you even try the door for it beforehand and discover it's locked.

Adding a bit of spice to battles and cinemas are context-sensitive commands. When close to an enemy who has just been taken down a notch by a shot to the leg, you can roundhouse kick him, which can send him flying off of a ledge, into a pool of lava, or a horde of enemies behind him. If a boulder, tentacle, or some other kind of dodge-able object is coming towards you, a combination of buttons will flash on the screen and you'll have a split second to jam down on them to avoid injury or even death. These button combinations are somewhat randomized, which means even if you've played a certain sequence to death and know exactly when to dodge, you still have to be on your toes because you don't know which buttons you'll have to press. These commands will often pop up in cinemas and the outcome of events will rely on them, so even when a cinema begins, you'll be clutching your controller with your fingers twitching, keeping an eye open for them. Many sequences later in the game are rich with them, and when you're suddenly faced with multiple commands in succession it can feel pretty hectic, even though all you're doing is pushing certain buttons when you're told to. It's little things like that which really make RE4 so intense. It hardly gives you time or opportunity to catch your breath, and you really never know what's next.

Boss fights are particularly gripping. Every one is significantly different, with many different methods of disposal beyond simply those of your weapon choices. While a few of the strategies for defeating these enemies are rather conventional, the presentation of their execution and what you're fighting is what makes them stand out from the rest of the pack and feel new. The goals of these battles aren't always killing the your opponent, either. Sometimes the best option is the find a way to get the hell away from it and the battle consists of stalling a creature you're simply not equipped to deal with, which make for some of the game's best moments.

All these finely tuned and diverse elements are packed under one of the best-looking videogame engines I've seen to date. The graphics really are a sight to see, and flex the Gamecube's muscle considerably, silencing anyone who ever mocked the little cube for not being as powerful as the Xbox. Fire looks real (real real, not that fake real), an accomplishment I haven't seen in any other game, and the environments and character models are ridiculously detailed and beautifully designed. Textures are all top-notch, lighting and explosion effects are near-perfect, and the gritty realism (as well as the gritty unrealism) pulls you into the game's dark world. This game has some truly jaw-droppingly gorgeous moments where you just have to pull yourself out of the game for a moment to ponder on how good that last sequence just looked.

The game's music is fairly limited and repetitive. But it works. Besides, in the audio department, the music isn't the star of the show. The sound effects are. All the guns, moans, and screams sound completely real, as well as explosions, footsteps, and all the completely unreal things you end up seeing. The amount of atmosphere that can be generated just by the quiet, gentle hum of a fluorescent lamp with the wings of moths gently hitting it really does speak volumes. Many times, the sound production had shivers crawling up my spine and waves of panic flushing over me. One moment in particular stands out in my mind, which is when you first enter the sewers. I won't give anything away, naturally, but jeez. Rarely does a game get under my skin like RE4 has managed to, and it's thanks in large part to the sound design. I cannot praise the sound enough. It's simply superb.

"But HeavensSecret," you say, "surely this game isn't perfect. There has to be SOME problems with it." Indeed, you are correct. The environments, while interactive insofar as traversing them, are fairly static. You can't shoot every little item off of a counter, and you can't knock over a table. But really, you don't have the time or focus on them to try it, let alone be too disappointed about it. There are also some slight clipping issues you'll run into now and then, but these aren't too drastic, either. I've heard talk of people complaining that you cannot strafe while aiming. While I suppose this would've been a nice feature, I can't imagine myself actually using it that much and the lack of its presence doesn't come close to hurting the gameplay. Leon's aim is a little twitchy, and while this is an accurate depiction of someone aiming a laser sight, it would've been nice if there was a way to steady yourself for only a moment. Perhaps making use of the analog shoulder buttons would've been a nice idea, where if you pushed down on the shoulder trigger all the way, Leon would hold his breath for a second, steadying your aim. But, just like the rest of the game's problems, it isn't a big deal. The truth is, there really isn't that much to complain about. And with that, I will continue.

The replay value of RE4 is pretty high. Because there are so many different ways to defeat your enemies, both in strategies you use and ways to interact with the environment, you can play through the game again and it can almost feel like a new experience as you experiment with different methods. Aside from playing through it again (I started a new game as soon as I beat it), there are two extra missions that become available after beating the game. You can also save your finished game and start over from the beginning with a new outfit and all your weapons from the previous play-through, meaning you can finish upgrading them to their fullest (which results in a special stat getting a bonus upgrade which can range from pathetic to ridiculous). Two new weapons also become available to buy.

This game has officially spoiled me. Literally everything about Resident Evil 4 is oozing with style and meticulous attention to detail. For the amount of things Capcom changed about the series, they hit the mark on a remarkable number of them. You can tell when you play a videogame if the project meant a lot to the developers working on it. If this is their baby it shows in the final product and really does make the game much more enjoyable, both in terms of being able to see how much work went into it and seeing how successful they were in making it a reality. Beyond Good and Evil was somebody's baby. Ikaruga was somebody's baby. Resident Evil 4 is very clearly Capcom's baby. It doesn't matter if you aren't a fan of the RE series. It doesn't matter if you aren't a fan of the genre. This game truly is something special. You're foolish if you pass up even just trying the game out. Resident Evil 4 isn't perfect, but it's pretty close.

Final scoring :

10 Presentation
Phenomenal. Outstanding. From the slick menus to the cinematic cut-scenes, the new play types and the buyable extras, this is Resident Evil at its best.

9.5 Graphics
Superb. Unequaled art. Technically in a league of its own. Gorgeous character models, environments, animation, lighting and texture effects. GameCube's prettiest title. Faked widescreen hurts.

9.0 Sound
Atmospheric and ambient. Heart-thumping sound effects and moody music, all in Dolby Pro Logic II.

9.5 Gameplay
The best Resident Evil game ever made. Truly intense. Lots of new compelling gameplay types. Excellent new targeting and action systems. Boss fights are incredible. Satisfying quest.

8.5 Lasting Appeal
At 20-plus hours, a meaty single-player adventure. And because the game tallies hit ratios and kills per area, there's records to be beaten. Plus, there are unlockables.

Overall Score: 9
I found this game very entertaining and fun. Its filled with scary moments and puzzling things. I hope you enjoyed my review.


Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/17/06

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