Review by DarkChocobo47
"I'm afraid to play this game... because I know I won't stop for hours."
After years of not having played this iconic game, I finally decided that it was about time that I do. I figured that if it was as good as everyone has been saying, then I would surely get my money's worth. Reviewing this game so long after it came out, my judgments are going to be much different. Instead of seeing the game as revolutionary, I see it as a step backwards from what is today the norm, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as you'll see. So let's get started with the review.
The very first thing that you notice about the game is the strange controls. Mainly that you cannot move at all while aiming your gun. Is this a problem? No, the game was designed to be played that way, obviously. I'll come back to this later, but the control scheme works for the game. This does lead me into my first point though which is the game's environment and atmosphere. Both of them are superb and they do an excellent job of establishing the mood of the game. They are also varied enough that you don't get bored. One thing I can't stand in games is when the environment doesn't change throughout (I'm looking at you Borderlands). This game has diverse enough environments to keep you entertained the whole way through, and each comes with it's own disturbing and haunting features that will keep you sufficiently nervous.
My second point is in regards to the scariness of the game. It IS a survival horror game after all, you'd think that there would be some horror elements in it. Well there are, but not in the conventional sense. I'm fairly resistant to "scary" things in general so I might be a little biased, but this game is not scary in the "BOO" kind of fashion that is present in games like Doom 3 and Dead Space. There are precisely zero instances in the entire game of something scary suddenly popping into your face and making a loud noise. This I welcome because to me, those moments are cheap scares and really don't contribute to the game at all. The kind of scary that this game establishes it much more effective. It's more of a disturbing and uncomfortable scary. What I mean is that the game doesn't frighten you actively, it makes you nervous and uncomfortable. You get nervous as the character you are playing as, not directly as the player, which happens with the "boo" kind of scares. This game does an excellent job of immersing you in the character's mentality. The visuals are very disturbing and the enemies cause you anxiety. Hordes of zombies coming at you, with scarce ammunition and with your back against the wall, unable to move while shooting is a very nerve wracking experience, especially since in a lot of cases the enemies come from where you don't expect them. You may be going to town on the enemies in front of you while enemies behind you launch a sneak attack and force you to reformulate your positioning and strategy. Not only are the situations in the game stressful, the imagery is also disturbing. From the evil in the eyes of the enemies to the strange and demonic bosses and creatures found throughout the game, you will be more disturbed than frightened, and I welcome this aspect of the game. It helps even more to totally immerse you in the character's mind. The environmental variation and the successful scare tactics present in the game are very effective at enhancing the overall experience and I think make it a stronger game.
The third thing I want to talk about is the progression of the game. I found some problems with this, so this part isn't all positive. In the beginning of the game, the progression is spot-on. The game is all about getting from point A to point B, but normally you are presented with both points right off the bat, with point B being closed off, usually by a locked door. The beauty of the game comes with how you get to point B. It's usually a convoluted process in which you take branching paths and unlock other various doors along the way, finally coming to the key you need, and sometimes backtracking along a different route from which you originally came. The progression doesn't feel rushed or too slow. The game does a good job of making sure backtracking doesn't feel dull by adding new enemies or changing the gameplay elements around when you have to backtrack. Though the progression stays strong throughout the entire game, when the game nears it's end it starts to taunt you plot-wise. Without spoiling anything, you have to rescue a girl, and two times you get to the point where you are supposedly supposed to rescue her, only to be banished to an entire new area by her assailant. And these aren't like 10 minute mild annoyance areas, these are full areas that take in excess of an hour to complete. Twice. That's bull no matter how you slice it. When it gets to that point it feels like the game is artificially lengthening itself, like the level designers had lots of ideas, but the plot guys couldn't think of any way to incorporate them into the game except for the villain sending you there when you are about to rescue the girl. The extra areas aren't bad by any stretch, but it's extremely aggravating to go through such a long stretch of area only to be rewarded with another equally long stretch with zero plot progression. The game progression itself is strong, but it doesn't have the accompanying plot progression to go with it. There is only so far you can stretch the "rescue the girl before it's too late" story mechanic before you have to actually show if she gets rescued or killed, and this game stretches it far beyond what is acceptable.
I'm sure you want to hear about the gameplay, because that is that most important part of the game. It's good. Oh you want to know more? Ok then, the game plays well but falls victim to some flaws that aren't necessarily the fault of the designers, but they should have been caught in testing regardless. The first fault that is annoying is that the button you use to pick up ammo is also the button you use to kick enemies, and picking up ammo takes priority when both options are available. What does this mean? Well you can only kick an enemy when you stagger them and they are very close to you. This also happens to be the range at which enemies can deal damage to you. Starting to see a problem? If you stagger an enemy and go up for a kick, but an ammo or gold drop happens to be right in front of you, you pick it up instead, the enemy recovers from the stagger, and proceeds to instantly attack you. This is especially problematic when there are a lot of enemies in front of you clustered together so that the drops are highly concentrated and you get attacked from all sides if you decide to kick and instead pick up an item. This feels like a really cheap way to take damage and is obviously very frustrating. This could be easily remedied by making kick a combination of buttons, or by making kick take priority when both options are present. Obviously if you need ammo then you want the ammo pickup to take priority, but kicking isn't an excessively common action in the game in general, so most likely you will not even have the option to kick when you go for a pickup, so you would make sure the situation is safe anyway. Aside from that control issue, the gameplay is very good and (mostly) never cheap. Something that is impressive in the game is the implementation of strategy. You'd think a zombie game is somewhat of a shooter equivalent to a hack and slash game, but this is far from the truth. The game gives you very limited ammo, and it is also impossible to buy ammo from the merchant in the game. This means that you have to manage the ammo for all of your guns and really choose which situation is best for which gun. To make it even better, the game drops ammo for low powered guns much more often than for high powered guns, so handgun ammo drops more frequently than shotgun ammo, which drops more frequently than rifle and magnum ammo. The game will also drop the ammo that it wants to drop regardless if you have a gun to use it with. By the end of the game you will have enough room to carry one gun of each ammo type, but early on you have to pick and choose wisely which gun types you want to carry and which are going to be the most useful in the situations that you find yourself in. Ammo management is very fun to do and again helps with immersion. Sometimes one shotgun round can do as much work as 20 or 30 handgun rounds, so establishing how much each round of each weapon type is worth in relation to other types in important in the game and can help you manage your ammo effectively. Some situations might be heavily reliant on one type of ammo (typically shotgun) and once you get low on that ammo type, you really have to think about how to use all your other weapons to account for the deficiency in the most effective weapon type for the situation.
So the game is pretty good so far, what could possibly ruin it? Two things. The first is that this game suffers from the presence of... quicktime events. If you don't know what that is, it's when, during a cutscene, some random buttons flash on the screen, and if you don't press them in time your character dies. Sounds like fun right? Having to replay sections of the game because you missed one button press? Sounds like excellent game design to me. Oh wait, it's horrible game design. The thing is, the game would be EXACTLY THE SAME without the quicktime events. They only serve to annoy the player, and that's no good. If you have to press a button to save your character, that means that he has to live to progress through the game. Why not just assume he lives and play the dame cutscene. The quicktime events are literally only there to frustrate the player, and that is why they're so infuriating. That coupled with the fact that you die if you mess up puts it over the top.
The second thing that I have a problem with is the boss fights of the game. They aren't bad like quicktime events, they're just really bland and uneventful. The thing is, because the game is designed for you to not be able to move while shooting, all the bosses are really slow and every single boss fight ends up being reduced to your character running around, turning around quickly to shoot the boss a few times, then continuing to run around. Because of this, you can beat most of the bosses without taking a single hit, which to me kind of defeats the purpose of a boss. They are just enemies that take more hits to kill than normal. You can outrun them indefinitely and their attacks are clunky and slow, making them easy to dodge. Some of the bosses are very patience trying however due to the fact that they have one-hit kill moves, and coupled with quicktime events, makes them infuriating. One boss near the end of the game has a one hit kill move that is easily dodge by sidestepping, but immediately after that you have to shoot it's weak point that is exposed when it does the move. However, as soon as you sidestep, the appendages of the boss attack you right away, and the only way to dodge is with a quicktime press, and by that time the weak point is gone. This leaves you almost zero time to actually aim and shoot the weak point. If you try to hit the weak point before it launches the attack, you will get hit by it. The lag from shooting a gun, putting it away, and starting to run is greater than the time it takes for the attack to come out. I ended up just buying a rocket launcher to kill the boss in one hit because I ran out of patience. I knew I could kill the boss if everything went perfectly but I flat out didn't want to deal with the cheapness for that long. This was also the boss that sent you to two lengthy areas for no reason, so I really wanted to get him good. I just don't think the game's control scheme is built for fighting bosses the way that the designers set it up. Your character's mobility isn't high enough to be able to fight a highly mobile boss without having to use hit and run, which isn't fun at all.
So overall, is this game good? Yes, is is very good, but those few flaws I mentioned keep it from being perfect. From the somewhat strange controls to the completely unnecessary quicktime events and lackluster bosses, these flaws are too large to ignore. The game also suffers from being repetitive. The enemy variety is very good for 90% of the game, but near the end they just recycle enemies from the beginning of the game. These were the most annoying enemies and seeing them return is not fun. They are the last thing you want to see when you are about to finish the game. You also know how to effectively beat them all so no new strategies have to be formulated and it's overall a major drain on the fun factor. However the game does have very tight and precise controls despite the one issue, and the environment, level progression, and scare factors were all far above my expectations. This is a mental game and it is designed very well, but like I said, the designers slacked off in some key areas which kept it from being a perfect game. Definitely worth a buy now that it's price has gone down so much. The game is so engaging that I honestly could play it through in one sitting if given the chance. Like the title says, I'm afraid to play this game not because it's scary, but because I know I won't stop for a very long time.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 04/09/12
Game Release: Resident Evil 4 (US, 01/11/05)
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