Review by honestgamer

Reviewed: 01/18/05

The only Resident Evil 4 review you should ever bother to read.

It’s been far too long since the last ‘true’ Resident Evil game. The last one we saw was for the Playstation, and it didn’t exactly make waves upon its release the way some expected. Since then, Capcom announced that it would be releasing the franchise’s fourth entry exclusively for the GameCube (an announcement they’ve since recanted due to the system’s poor sales). But you already know this. What you don’t necessarily know is whether or not the fourth title, just released this past week, was worth the wait. The answer to that question is simple: Resident Evil 4 is everything it should be, and then some.

As the game opens, Leon Kennedy is riding in a car in some foreign country. His companions on the journey are two men in military garb. They seem anxious to talk. Perhaps it’s the oppressive mountain scene, drifting lazily by the windows. Fog-choked forests that look as if they died a hundred years ago hardly are the sort of thing to instill a desire to be quiet. Instead, these men want to talk, as if to reassure themselves that they’re not driving through a nightmare. Of course, they are.

Shortly, one of the two men needs to answer a call to nature. The car pulls to the side of what passes for a road in this remote location, then the soldier urinates by the side of the road. It’s a testament to Capcom’s devotion to this project that the hot liquid sends bits of steam into the air while the soldier shivers. But there’s more going on than a quick potty break. Out in the brush, something is moving. Watching. Waiting. The soldier senses it as he heads back to the apparent safety of the car, but dismisses it as his imagination. When his subconscious should be screaming at him to run, he’s busy trying to convince himself it was nothing.

He won’t be able to for long.

When you arrive at the base of a small incline, the two men joke that they’ll stay behind so no one gets a parking ticket. It’s here that you finally assume proper control of Leon Kennedy, and what a moment it is! After you duck out of the car, you’ll perhaps be overjoyed to find (as I was) that he controls precisely the way he should. Every Resident Evil title you’ve played before is forgotten as you press forward on the analogue stick and he moves forward, then you press to the side and instead of pivoting, he actually moves precisely where you told him to go!

Some people may wonder why I’m making such a big deal of the controls at such an early point in the review. Shouldn’t I be talking about zombie flesh? Shouldn’t I be discussing the eerie sound of wind howling through the trees, of unholy groans from the denizens of darkness? Perhaps I should, yet I can’t get over how good it feels to actually feel like Leon Kennedy is responding to the buttons I press. This feeling of power is enhanced by the ability to aim your shots. As always, holding the ‘R’ button causes Leon to crouch slightly and look menacing as he holds his pistol ahead. However, you’ll see a red pinprick that you can use to aim. Move it with the stick, then fire exactly where you wish.

This is going to be useful information quite shortly. As Leon walks up the trail, you’ll see a cabin nestled against a patch of dead grass and some more trees. Something moves in the cabin, and just like that you forget about the controls as you recall this is definitely a Resident Evil game.

When I saw that movement in the cabin, I hesitated. There wasn’t really a way to approach that seemed desirable. The narrow path afforded no room for quick maneuvers, and I certainly didn’t like the idea of ducking through the rough wooden frame and into a building where one or more hostiles were certain to be waiting. Still, I hadn’t much choice. The game was clearly prodding me in that direction, and so I moved.

Leon stepped into the building, and I felt my teeth gritted as I waited for an attack. None came. I stepped around and there, standing near a fireplace, was an older man. He stoked the fire casually, and it became obvious at this point that Leon is something of a goof.

Despite the oppressive atmosphere—and it is oppressive—he remembered only that he is on a mission to retrieve the President’s kidnapped daughter. So with photograph in hand (not pistol; photograph), he approached the gentleman at the fireplace and extended the picture. He asked his question, and instead received a bunch of gibberish in response.

To me, it sounds like Spanish, but I could be wrong. To Leo, it sounds like a bunch of nonsense. As he’s apologizing for the intrusion, the babbling goon is reaching for an ax. He swings, he misses, and suddenly you’re in the middle of your first enemy encounter. For the most part, this little scuffle should go pretty well. You can dance around the table, take a fair amount of time, then aim your shot right where it will do the most damage: the head.

Remember the Resident Evil remake for the GameCube? Remember how much fun it was to blow off a zombie’s head with one satisfying shotgun blast? You can do pretty much the same thing here, only with a pistol. Watch a geyser of guts spurt from the neck as the body collapses to the floor. Know that your enemy is dead. He won’t be coming back to haunt you because, in a surprising change from the norm, your enemies here are not zombies.

This pays off in a number of ways. When you move from that cabin to the next, and to the typewriter that waits there so that you can save (no ribbons required!), you’ll be thinking that this game is suddenly much simpler. Just a few short minutes later, though, you’ll be rethinking that whole notion. When Leon Kennedy comes to a tree and peers around it with a pair of binoculars, the game suddenly grows even more menacing.

Ahead, walking around a roaring bonfire as if they’re zombies, the people of the quaint little mountain village go about business as normal. Almost. There’s a woman moving back and forth, not really minding her surroundings. A scythe is attached to her back. Her companions move about as well, not affected by much of anything, not really seeming to care about the soldier they’ve slain. His body hangs from a meat hook as flames cook his lifeless figure. It’s moments like this that will haunt you throughout the game. These are—were—normal people. Yet now they’re killing machines.

And I should mention, they’re effective killing machines. With your new-found controls, it may be tempting to rush the village, guns blazing. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons. First of all, though ammunition is certainly much more plentiful here than I remember it being elsewhere (most every corpse you leave behind also blesses you with a box of ammo), it’s never quite enough. Unless you’re making full use of your ability to aim each shot, it takes four or five shots to silence each villager. And there seem an endless supply of them. They stumble toward you and at first you’re taking one at a time, letting them fall lifeless to the ground. Then there are two and you’re backed into a corner and suddenly someone is throwing an ax at you from the rooftop but you’re too busy to care because you’re fighting a lady that’s hugging your knee and another guy is about to gut you with his pitchfork and your gun is out of ammunition. It’s kind of like that.

But that’s the charm of Resident Evil 4, or of any game in the series. It’s just that here, everything feels so much different. Murky hallways are gone. City streets are gone. It’s you—all alone in the wilds—against a virtual army of people with nothing better to do than hack you to pieces. It’s challenging. It’s frightening. It’s Resident Evil 4. Only the gutsy need apply.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Would you recommend this
Recommend this
Review? Yes No

Got Your Own Opinion?

Submit a review and let your voice be heard.