Review by nintendosega
Reviewed: 02/10/05 | Updated: 02/26/10
An amazing achievement and a step forward for the horror genre
So....the Resident Evil series was losing steam: that seemed to be the general industry impression. Despite what many critics thought, however, I thought the series was getting better. Then again, I began this series with Resident Evil; Code Veronica, so what do I know? As of this writing I've played REmake, RE0, RE:Code Veronica, RE2, and...obviously, RE4. I actually enjoyed them all, with Code Veronica and Resident Evil Zero being my personal favorites.
But now, we get to Resident Evil 4. I was a little nervous about this one. Resident Evil 0 made so many improvements to the series that I thought they were heading in the right direction with that one. When they announced all these fundamental gameplay and style changes for RE4, I was actually initially upset. I worried that this was Capcom turning a cool horror series into an action game. I wasn't exactly wrong, but it turned out a lot better than I thought it would.
Graphics; This game looks fantastic. There's one CG scene at the beginning, but that's the game's only one. Every other cutscene's done on the game's engine to very impressive results. When playing, buildings are all explorable, (with no load times once in an area), the characters and villagers are very detailed, the atmosphere's amazing (fog, mist, etc.) in the outdoor areas, and the lighting's perfectly handled. One very memorable scene in Resident Evil 4 involves you walking through a dark area at night, with your only guide being flashes of lightning. During this, the evil villagers jump out and try to kill you. Very atmospheric, very creepy. There are hardly any framerate drops, (I only encountered 1 instance of slowdown in the entire game,) and that's amazing considering what's often going on at once. The game has a mandatory "widescreen" view (with black bars) and while it sounds weird at first, after a few minutes you won't even notice it.
As a caution, there's lots of blood in Resident Evil 4. It's fairly graphic stuff, so, obviously, if you aren't able to handle that, don't play this game. I already mentioned that load times have essentially been eliminated in an area, but you still have load times when going from one area to another. Still, that's definitely better than the way things were in the other Resident Evil games. There's not much else to say. Graphically, Resident Evil 4's nearly flawless.
Gameplay; This is where the series (and likely the entire horror genre) has now been totally revamped. First of all, the pre-rendered backgrounds from the other RE games are gone, so now, they were able to bring the camera down to the action. They did even better than that, though. The game's basically a 3rd person shooter. When you zoom in to enemies, (with the flawless targeting system,) the camera moves to an over-the-shoulder view. This system's perfect, and I can't even begin to imagine how Resident Evil games were played before this one. You hold the R-trigger, and a laser points at the enemy. You can move this laser, and therefore target anywhere on an enemy you want. Headshots are always fun, and shooting enemies in the leg may stop their movement. When villagers get stunned, you can push A to perform a pretty badass kick, which is a lot of fun too.
There's plenty of variety here: your combat knife, handguns, shotguns, rocket launchers, grenades, flash grenades, etc. etc. etc. So many weapons to select from, many of which can be purchased from a traveling merchant. Not only that, but you can level certain weapons up in different ways. This all costs money, of course. You often get this from defeated enemies, as well as finding it hidden in barrels, boxes, etc. (all of which can be smashed open with your combat knife.) You can't buy ammunition from this merchant, but that's because there's so much of it available. Although you may be low on ammo at times, it's always easy to find more, and, more often than not, you'll have plenty. There's also room to store it. The inventory system has FINALLY undergone a change, now functioning more like a regular suitcase. You can move stuff around, certain weapons and items take up more room than others, you may have to turn some items in another direction to make room for new ones, etc. Bigger cases are available from the merchant as the game goes on. Never before in a Resident Evil game were you able to fit a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and a handgun, as well as a LOT of ammunition and recovery items...into the item case. In other RE games, you'd have to find an item box, or, in Resident Evil 0, you'd have to drop certain items. NOT the case here. While it's completely possible to run out of room, (and you likely will,) it's hardly as big of a problem here as it was in the earlier Resident Evil games.
The bosses are epic and very memorable, with my personal favorite taking place in a motorboat against a lake monster. Capcom has truly outdone themselves with these boss battles. Only the final boss is a little disappointing.
The game moves at a very fast pace, hardly slowing down for anything. Yes, there are still puzzles, but they're small and self-explanatory. That's right; the infamous Resident Evil puzzles are gone. Some may see this as a problem, but I really enjoyed the change of pace in favor of unrelenting intensity, and this game's intense. The difficulty no longer comes from puzzles, but from the enemies. They'll break down doors, they'll throw grenades, they'll use chainsaws, and they'll attack you in numbers. You may be trying to solve a puzzle with 20 enemies attacking you at once. Things can (and will) get hectic very frequently. Whenever there aren't enemies onscreen, I always wondered when they'd show up. The result is a very different type of scare; the scares in Resident Evil 4 come from pulse-pounding intensity.
At one point in Resident Evil 0, I had 53 ink ribbons in my inventory. That made it fairly obvious what direction Capcom was heading with this ancient save technique, and, in RE4, it finally happened: you no longer need ink ribbons to save the game. (Although you still save on typewriters.) There's plenty of save points, and you can always use them. Now....let's say you die MILES away from a save point. Well, instead of starting back at the last save point, you start much closer at a checkpoint. This actually ends up being one of the better features introduced in Resident Evil 4 and it doesn't decrease the difficulty, it just removes the tedium.
Another new feature to the Resident Evil universe is the inclusion of Shenmue-inspired QTE's. Buttons pop up onscreen, and you have to hit them perfectly, and at the right time, or else something bad happens to your character. These are implemented not only to boss battles, but some cutscenes. During one pivotal plot-advancing scene, someone explains things to you as they desperately try to take you out, so you must be ready during the entire scene for these button combos to appear. While the system isn't particularly well-implemented, (The Shenmue series made better use of it,) it's still a cool idea, and it forces you to always pay attention to cutscenes and events.
The gameplay in Resident Evil 4 is one of its best areas. While at times, (particularly in the game's second half, where it starts to lose steam,) I admit I felt a little...homesick, if you can call it that, for the older Resident Evil games...these moments, though, passed whenever the game threw something new and amazing in my direction. Capcom got the gameplay down perfectly: there are no flaws. And if there are flaws, they aren't even worth mentioning.
Sound; I was worried about this initially. The Resident Evil series had always been known for its terrible voice acting. Luckily, with the GC games, they began to hire good voice actors. Resident Evil 4 is no exception. Leon Kennedy, the main character, is perfectly voiced, and fairly well acted. Luis's voice actor also does a good job at bringing this cool character to life. Ashley sounds a little whiney at times, but it's nothing terrible. The monsters also have cool voices, which work perfectly, and sound very creepy.
The music's another story. Always a very important element in the Resident Evil series, I was sad to see that in Resident Evil 0 it wasn't up to par with some of the classics, and hoped Resident Evil 4 would step it up in this department. Not the case, unfortunately. Like Resident Evil 0, the music itself can be very good, but certain areas re-use the same song, which gets old quickly. In this game's case, there seems to be much less "horror-oriented" tunes in favor of a more action-driven approach. Thankfully, the Save Room Music is very much up to par. I was very happy to see that they didn't get rid of the traditional save rooms. While not very frequent, (Typewriters are usually just lying around,) upon reaching a save room, you're greeted with very calm and relaxing music that fits perfectly, (a series tradition,) and it allows you to breathe a huge sigh of relief as you enjoy a brief break from the terror outside. Again, music here's not bad, just not particularly memorable.
Unfortunately, if Resident Evil 4 has one flaw, (or two,) it has to be the underwhelming plot and the somewhat campy tone. Things get off to a great start, though: Umbrella's destroyed, and Leon, working under the order of the president, is sent to Europe to find his kidnapped daughter. He arrives in a strange village, and he's immediately attacked by the locals. That's basically the plot. As he goes to find the president's daughter, (named Ashley,) he learns a little more about what's wrong with these mutated villagers.
Eventually, you do find Ashley, (fairly early in the game, actually,) and then you must guide her to safety. It's from there, though, that the plot starts to suck. You basically save her one time after the other. Things do get a bit more complicated but overall it lacks strong villains and as a result, it begins to feel a bit flat as the game enters its second half. It also seems hardly Resident Evil-related. There are some returning characters, (and mentions of others,) but the plot keeps itself fairly distant from the other Resident Evil games, (although, if my guess is correct, RE5 could be interesting...) which was disappointing to me. The ending also somewhat disappoints, and continues the game's descent into campiness.
Which is too bad, because the first portion of the game, in the village and surrounding areas, is fantastic, and very scary. But then, not only do the environments become a lot less interesting when you reach a Castle-type area, but you face villains who act like dropouts from an Ed Wood horror movie, and while this was done on purpose, it makes the game a lot less scary.
Also, the dialogue leaves plenty to be desired, with Leon's catchphrases starting to get on my nerves as Resident Evil 4 wore on. He always seems to have a perfectly witty reply for everything the villains say to him when they communicate by radio...in fact, in this game, Leon seems to be able to do just about anything. In one scene, (obviously inspired by a scene in the first Resident Evil movie,) Leon literally does back flips in the air to avoid deadly lasers shooting down a corridor. Huh!? Plus, help always seems to be too easily reached. Leon has a radio that he uses to communicate with his people back in the US government. Wasn't the best part of the RE games the fact that there was NO HELP possible for these characters? (Eventually, this help does get cut, which is good...it just happens too late.)
And, the final, (And probably biggest flaw,) with RE4 is the lack of scares. As I mentioned earlier, this game is intense, and, sometimes, pulse-pounding, but almost all the jump scares from older Resident Evil games are gone. I jumped out of my seat twice, which is fairly low for a Resident Evil game. They really needed more.
Plot and campiness aside, though, this game's amazing. There are so many things that could have possibly gone wrong here, but didn't. Having Ashley follow you could have been complete torture, and an annoyance. It isn't. Ammo could have been a huge issue, but it isn't. The targeting system could have had flaws, and it could have sucked, but it doesn't. Removing FMV's could have taken away from the storytelling, but it doesn't. Capcom pulled everything off almost perfectly gameplay-wise and graphics-wise. Truly an astounding accomplishment. That said, though, if there is a Resident Evil 5, (I assume it will use this new gameplay,) there are definitely some improvements needed. RE4 needed a plot more relevant to the rest of the series, and it needed to ditch the "B-action movie" campiness and dialogue. If RE5 does those things, the game can truly be perfect. As it stands, though, unless you can't handle the intensity, there's no Gamecube owner who should not own a copy of Resident Evil 4. Truly a must have.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Resident Evil 4 (US, 01/11/05)
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