Review by Freakstylez

"A Noteworthy Addition to the Resident Evil Franchise"

Resident Evil 4 is the fifth numerical installment of the Resident Evil series. Including the numerous offshoot games and prequel, Resident Evil 0, it is closer to the twelfth or thirteenth game. Leon S. Kennedy, of Resident Evil 2 fame, is front and center in this uncharacteristic, action-orientated sequel, as a rookie-turned-government-agent.

GRAPHICS (10/10)
The graphics are gorgeous, easily the greatest display of eye-candy of the generation. It is clear what Capcom was trying to achieve: realism and believability. Through meticulous attention to detail, they achieved their goal; the environment and atmosphere are as alive as the characters in it.

SOUND (7/10)
The sound effects are superbly done and well-integrated into the game. The voice acting is passable, with Ashley being the major exception. While her acting is fine, her shrill voice might invoke homicidal tendencies. My only complaint lies in the music. It's not nearly as memorable as in previous Resident Evil games, and the encounter music is highly repetitive. The tranquil music played near typewriters is soothing, however, and is a plus.

This game, as they say, "reinvents the survival horror genre." Many dispute this claim; I, however, embrace it. Resident Evil 4 was an archetype for a new breed of survival horror. The behind-view camera is a brilliant addition, and adds a new dimension to the mix. At long last you can see eye-to-eye with your enemy. Capcom's mistake in relation to gameplay is the armory they provide you with. Scavenging high and low for supplies is no longer necessary, as weaponry is provided for you in the form of the merchant, and ammunition and first aid are provided by your fallen foes. On its own merit, the gameplay is a phenomenal, action-packed, high-octane experience; it's downfall is that this is a Resident Evil game.

There are several other gameplay elements that may or may not be worth mentioning, but will be discussed regardless in the in-depth analysis provided below. These elements are Ashley, whom you must tote around for a good portion of the game; and special events that require you to mash a single button or press a combination of buttons to avoid death.

STORY (3/10)
A group of terrorists operating out of an undisclosed, rural area in Europe kidnap the president's daughter, and Leon is tasked with investigating the kidnapping and returning her to safety. Throughout the game, two more elements are introduced: the Las Plagas, and the Los Illuminados. By the end, only two of the three are resolved. Unfortunately, the two Capcom chooses to resolve are the least interesting and unsatisfactory, resulting in a respectively unsatisfying ending. The third and decisively more essential element is left to speculation. Consequentially, as a standalone plot, Resident Evil 4 is a failure; as part of the series, it succeeds only in building anticipation for a sequel.

VALUE (7/10)
Resident Evil 4 is not without its rewards. For completing the game, you unlock two mini-games, "Assignment Ada" and "The Mercenaries," as well as professional mode. Loading your completed saves allows you to purchase several special weapons from the get-go, as well as two more, an adequately powered submachine gun and high caliber magnum, for completing the aforementioned mini-games, respectively. While ridiculously expensive, these toys will provide the necessary motivation to play through the game again, effectively extending its life.

OVERALL (7/10)
In general, Resident Evil 4 is a highly enjoyable experience and is a crucial step in the progression of the series. It's flaws do not eclipse its successes and, all said and done, provide a solid action gaming experience for Gamecube and Playstation 2 owners, and soon PC owners, as well.

As a Player's Choice title for the Gamecube and Greatest Hit for the Playstation 2, you can buy it at the bargain price of $19.99. Shelling out an extra $10-$12 for an owned copy is worth the expense, and if you're exceptionally thrifty, you might manage to find a used copy for less. As for availability, most department stores should have a copy. Buy it!

(+) Wonderfully detailed environment.
(+) Creepy atmosphere.
(+) Intense gaming experience.
(+) Originality.

(-) Less "horror," more "survival."
(-) Story lacks vitality.
(-) Leaves too many vital questions unanswered; unsatisfying.
(-) Ashley is extremely annoying.

(?) How can Leon survive falling from a three story tower?

Before I even begin to analyze Resident Evil 4, I want to make it clear that Resident Evil 2 is my favorite game in the series. I enjoyed the first, and while many describe it as the best because it defined the genre, I feel that the second game expanded on the first and improved it. I've never played Nemesis, and I feel that the other games, while respectable in their own right, are not worth mentioning in regards to this review.

I want to first address the most glaring area of contention among fans: the new gameplay model. One side of the argument is that it improves on the sluggish controls and static cameras of the previous installments. The other side argues that it detracts from the horror, easily the most important element of a Resident Evil game, and transforms it into an action game. I maintain that the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. The active camera and full-axis aiming improve game flow and increase immersion, but the implementation undermines the horror element.

My question is this: why must you have sluggish controls and a static camera to feel horrified? The answer is simple: you don't. I think people developed this misconception because of the gratuitous amount of ammunition and first aid available to you throughout the game. Rather than scavenging high and low for necessary supplies or potential weapons, it's all gift-wrapped and tied up in a pretty bow for you. Removing these luxuries would likely have increased the tension tenfold, while still allowing for the active camera and full-axis aiming.

Of course, thus far I've only addressed tension, and in turn, survival. To address the horror, or lack thereof, I must turn from gameplay to atmosphere, where I believe the horror element is developed. Resident Evil 4 has a wonderful visual atmosphere, lush and diverse, while at the same time intentionally monotonous and stale; the ambient, weapon, and enemy sounds are varied and lively; but the music is lacking. There is a persistent encounter theme throughout the majority of the game. While it's effective at building tension and keeping you on your feet, it detracts from the horror by giving you foresight. As a result, the experience is dominated by adrenaline, a sense of action and excitement, rather than fear.

To counteract this, Capcom would have done well to divert to a more subtle, eerie theme that keeps you guessing. One of the most memorable tracks from the Resident Evil series, for me, is the music heard in the main lobby of the R.P.D. police station in the second game. It was creepy, subtle, and eerie; and frankly, a far cry better than any track presented in Resident Evil 4. (Actually, that track may very well be the typewriter room theme throughout the entire game, but it's been several years since I've played Resident Evil 2.) That said, the music may be the single biggest mistake Capcom made in developing Resident Evil 4, with gratuitous weapons and ammo being the very near second. Of course, the so-called "intelligent AI" wasn't exactly sound, either.

On the back of the case, it states that the "cunning enemies use their abilities to attack the player en masse." This is a flagrant lie, as the enemies are far from intelligent. The illusion of intelligence is presented through scripted, rather than spontaneous, events. In fact, aside from the first visit to Pueblo and the farm, none of the enemies seem to have any business other than to stand at attention, waiting for you to arrive. This wouldn't be so annoying if you couldn't see them one-hundred feet away, standing dumbfounded. While it's no different than other games in the series, nor other games in general, it is a glaring flaw that Capcom seems to have halfheartedly attempted to nullify, and in their attempt only worsened it by failing. In general, enemies, from the start to the end of the game, will pursue you inexorably, without retreating to regroup nor strategize. To some degree, the statement is partially true; they do indeed attack you "en masse," but it's a not difficult task when the group is spawned en masse in the first place.

In essence, the enemies are no different than in previous Resident Evil games. The only major difference is their ability to wield weapons, and perhaps their increased nimbleness. Of course, this advantage is offset by Leon's overwhelming selection of firearms and the fact that the active camera allows you to move more nimbly, as well. The only real challenge, if any at all, is presented in the boss encounters. While the majority of the boss encounters feature regular gameplay with more advanced enemies, there is one unique and satisfying encounter rather early in the game. I won't spoil the surprise, but by the time you play through it, I think you'll agree with me when I say, "I think I need a bigger boat."

As promised in my initial breakdown of the game, I must return to gameplay momentarily to address Ashley and the action sequences. After a certain point in the game, you must battle your foes with Ashley in tow, and let me assure you that when I say she is useless, I mean it. While it's common sense that the helpless young lass you've come to rescue is a liability, it's sad to think that anyone can be as useless as Ashley. She will never defend herself. She will never avoid the enemy. She will never even avoid obstacles. She does little more than "sit" or "follow." As with the enemies, her only usefulness comes into play during scripted events, when you can command her to operate a switch or lever whilst you battle the enemy. In most games, disobedient AI is an annoyance; but after experiencing Ashley, I daresay that stubborn AI is better than no AI.

The aforementioned action sequences are not nearly as nagging. In some situations they add an element of skill to the game, and at other times they are simply a hassle. An example of their benefit includes dodging certain attacks, rather than having to guess where to run to avoid them. An example of a hassle is having rapidly mash the A button to avoid a large boulder from crushing every bone in your body. In the end, they're not substantial enough to add or detract from the game, unless you're handicapped or otherwise unable to rapidly press a button. Also of note is that they occur during cut-scenes, presumably to keep you focused on the action unfolding throughout the scene.

Resident Evil 4 has its fair share of flaws, especially as a Resident Evil game, but in the grand scheme of things, is able to hold its own. The special weapons are worth playing through the game to unlock, and the action-packed gameplay makes that play-through tolerable, if not pleasurable. For the bargain price of $19.99 or less, Resident Evil 4 can guarantee at least twenty hours of enjoyment, and is worthy of being called a greatest hit.

Recommendation: highly recommended.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/04/06

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