Review by OnceInALifeTime

"The worst Resident Evil, the best game in the series..."

Resident Evil 4

:: Introduction ::

The Resident Evil series, despite not creating the survival horror genre, was the start of a twenty million selling series, two films and a wave of similar titles. The original Resident Evil games were praised by magazines on the Playstation and Saturn for their fear factor, something that has discerned them from other such titles such as the psychologically inflicting Silent Hill series. The controls have always been clunky and tank-like; the scares two dimensional; the enemies re-used multiple times and a convoluted storyline where the developers twisted the past games to create a complicated yet mostly rewarding plot.

Resident Evil 4 was first revealed as a very similar game. It's first incarnation revolved around Leon Scott Kennedy traipsing around a mansion very much like the original, pursued by a fog-like ‘virus'. That was soon scrapped, alongside several other such attempts, as Mikami struggled to create a diverse yet enticing new approach to both the genre and the series. E3 2004 shed light on the version I'm reviewing at the moment. The game was greeted with mixed responses from magazines and the more die-hard of the fans, with a radically changed viewpoint and setting that unnerved many.

:: Story ::

Previous instalments in the series followed STARS, a branch of police situated in Raccoon City who were set-up by their ‘owners', Umbrella. Every past game has revolved around this small group of men and women as they struggle to deal with the virus infested mansions and streets in the Raccoon area as well as an island and, eventually, Alaska. Then there was a period in the series where Capcom focused on spin-offs, with Outbreak and the Survivor series touching on smaller, almost unimportant sub-plots. Thus with the opening cinematic of Resident Evil 4 you're told two pieces of information: Leon is no longer a police officer and that Umbrella is dead.

The latest Resident Evil revolves around Leon as he searches for the president's daughter, presumably in Spain. When met with hostile villagers Leon is forced into numerous rural locations, from farms and villages to castles and islands. Without giving too much away, Umbrella doesn't have much of a role in this game as previous games in the series had, but instead chooses to revolve around a religious cult who has stumbled across parasitic monsters. The story goes much deeper than this, with two very well known characters returning from past games who further the main storyline while complimenting the current one superbly.

The presentation of the plot is superb, with a number of in-game cut-scenes and radio conversations (think Metal Gear) that constantly push you and Leon ever forwards. The voice acting, specifically for Leon and the leader of the cult are very well done…however I can't say the same for the script, which suffers with inconsistently decent one-liners. The voice-actors at times struggle to recite the script naturally, stumbling at some of the strangest lines you'll ever hear. While keeping with the deliberately cheesy dialogue from the past games, mixed with more serious lines, the script is fairly well done except for a few conversations. Another glaring problem are the notes. The popular remake of the original Resident Evil, also on the Gamecube, had amazing notes and journals with genuinely creepy thoughts; yet in this game the enemies have left notes detailing their next moves and revealing the positions of bosses two metres from the door where you'll be fighting them. At times it's useful in the sense that you really do need to know what's coming next or else you'll be slaughtered turning the corner, but at others at destroys the otherwise great atmosphere.


:: Gameplay ::

Three aspects defined previous instalments of Resident Evil: puzzle-solving and backtracking, survival through conservation of items and pre-rendered static backgrounds. Resident Evil 4 takes the series in a different direction entirely. The controls are still very similar to the past games: a tank-like movement system, with one button to raise your gun and another as your general-purpose ‘action' back. The difference? The change in camera. If you look at screenshots of the game, you'll see the camera tracking Leon from behind (zooming in to an ‘over-the-shoulder' view while you're aiming). When you press one of the shoulder buttons you either raise your equipped weapon or draw out your knife, a nice change from having to swap back and forth between gun and knife in the inventory screen. This has opened up multiple combat possibilities: you can now target specific body parts, an example being shooting a villager in the leg to knock him down to his knees, then shooting him in the face to knock him over for an extended period over the standard head-shot, giving you the opportunity to run up and knife him to death…or to simply aim a grenade at the back of a group, and timing a blast with your shotgun to cause maximum damage in an exploding sandwich of bullets and fire.

The A button fulfils it's purpose nicely throughout the game, as it changes function depending on the situation. You can use it to perform melee attacks on stunned enemies, jump through windows and knock down ladders and sprint. Also during certain cut-scenes and enemy attacks you're presented with button combinations you have to press in a limited space of time. Fail to do so, and you're dead, be it death from a falling boulder or dodging underneath a bosses attack. While I've provided little examples of these events I'd be spoiling things…but one of the best boss fights is actually just one big button combination, a tense attack on your reflexes.

The enemies have taken a drastic change from the standard zombie set in the previous games in the series. Replacing slow, dim-witted zombies are villagers and monks, able to run and use a variety of weapons from chainsaws to chain guns, or the standard pitchfork or sickle. As you progress the roster of enemies increases: wolves have replaced dogs for the canine enemy, regenerators make a chilling appearance that'll appeal to the die-hard crowd, invisible insects plague sewers…the range of enemies help keep the game going, with several new and radically different enemies popping up throughout the games. The standard enemies are fairly intelligent, with impressive AI that dictates flanking patterns and plans to invade that hut you've barricaded yourself up in. No major scares like with the zombies, but the enemies are still imposing and pose a serious challenge to your health.

What guns will you be using to dispose of your enemies? Five handguns, three shotguns, single-use rocket launchers, sniper and bolt-action rifles…a startling array of modern and World War 2 weapons that make up your armament. Bullets can be picked up off dead enemies, as well as pesetas (the Spanish currency used in the game) to upgrade your chosen weapons in a variety of categories such as firepower and capacity. This is where merchants come in, as they sell you healing items, weaponry and allow you to upgrade with little hassle. The inclusion of this system may sound dull, but with the message boards often in upheaval over what trounces what, and the best inventory you're guaranteed to have a fairly unique selection of weapons. The choice is certainly there, and the developers were generous. Incredibly generous.

It isn't just your ammunition and money you have to keep a close eye on: about half of the time you're playing the game incorporates Ashley into the mix. Ashley, as the president's daughter, is the whole point of the game. Unlike other such games that use escort missions, this is delivered superbly. The X button dictates the course of action Ashley takes from a simple “wait here” to “follow me”. Both are obvious as to their uses, with Ashley tagging along as you run through villages and castles trying to evade the enemies. When you raise your selected firearm Ashley will crouch behind you (making a celebratory hand gesture as you defeat an enemy), and when enemies close in she'll cling to her knees, waiting for you to save her. Once grabbed you have to quickly shoot her assailant (who holds her over his or her shoulder) without hitting Ashley. While she appears incompetent, you master it quickly, although she'll be inadvertently kidnapped at regular intervals leaving Leon by his lonesome once again.

Another aspect of the gameplay I'd like to comment on is the inventory system. Before you were given eight slots for your items, some items taking up two slots. Now there's an implementation of a grid. Each and every item takes up a different amount of space: grenades and herbs take up two squares, for example, while the starting shotgun takes up much, much more. While the developers were generous with the final amount of grids, when you first start you find you have to be careful about the placement of items, and how you've arranged them. It's a game in itself, sorting out your inventory to accommodate more space in the grid, allowing for more equipment to be stored.

Despite taking a new direction for the series, much has been brought over from the other games. Unlike what you've probably heard from others, this is still very much a Resident Evil game in gameplay, just with more emphasise on gunplay (ala Resident Evil 3) and an expansive combat system.


:: Graphics ::

I've split the graphics into two sub-scores, to show the difference in technical aspects and art direction.

:: Technical ::

Technically speaking this is a genuine masterpiece. The sheer volume of five thousand polygon (per villager) villagers running towards a ten thousand polygon Leon, in a fully 3D background (against the pre-rendered backgrounds seen previously) is overwhelming. The textures are, for the most part, great (although sometimes lacking), and slow-down doesn't exist. Motion blurs hide this during the action, yet it simply adds to the experience instead of taking it away. The only other real point I want to bring up is the fake wide screen…I'm not an aficionado in this sort of stuff, but has it been confirmed on numerous occasions that it's simply fake. Why? We'll never know. However it doesn't affect the game at all, positively or negatively…it's just…there…


:: Artistic Direction ::

Again, a visual masterpiece. As I said previously, the standard enemies have more polygons in them than most main characters in other games, and Leon himself has a massive amount of detail. The other character models are equally amazing, with wrinkles, pimples and the most minute of details show up. One example is one of the bosses beards…it may sound weird, but it is simply incredibly. The amount of detail shown on Leon's costume is superb…the stitching, the knife and gun holsters, his hair and expression, it's all done superbly.

Lighting is delivered in an exceptional way, with over-blown enemies in the dark lit up realistically at each flash of lightning. Shooting a lantern scatters the embers along the floor as the fire dies out, inevitably making it darker.

The locations are amazing: some of the best level-design seen in a computer game (the village, swamp, valley and island base especially) is backed up by some of the best-looking terrain imaginable. The valley, for example, is situated in between two cliff-faces, connected by ramshackle walkways and huts. Ladders and stairs connect to each other, and you're found dashing madly from place to place, jumping off of the tops of rocky ledges and running along catwalks shooting and evading a flanking, intelligent enemy. You rarely spend more than a couple of seconds in one spot, and that is to quickly pull off a couple of pot-shots before retreating once again as the horde of dynamite and pitchfork wielding villagers catch up to you.

The bosses are immense in both size and graphical detail, with the salamander-like first boss diving beneath a lake as it pulls you in your boat, throwing a fine spray of water into Leon's face. The second boss is even more impressive, ripping and wrenching huts from the ground as lightning emphasises his muscles and sheer size. Even the average villager is finely carved from just over four thousand polygons, roughly the same amount Snake from the recent Metal Gear: Solid 3 is constructed from. I don't want to dwell on the graphics: yes, they are amazing, but I don't want to praise it so much that whoever is reading this only purchases the game for the sole reason of eye-candy.


:: Sound ::

The music is great, when it's actually there. The atmosphere is boosted by the ominous chants, the distracting oompth of a villager jumping onto your mine cart…it simply adds to the experience. The music should be familiar to die-hard Resident Evil fans, with the same save-tune and a theme song for one of the characters ripped straight from Product Number 03 (which I wouldn't recommend picking up unless you like old-style (hardcore) gaming). The musical score is unnerving, piano beats following your every step and echoing every shot. I'm not American, so I'm not particularly gun-crazy, but the gun-noises ‘sound' realistic to me. The grunts and groans are delivered as well as grunts and groans can be. The only other thing I have to say is the great voice acting that (as previously stated) suffers from a poorly delivered script.


:: Replay Value ::

The moment the credits roll (which are incredibly amazing, and explain a hell of a lot, such as where all the children go, that happens to be INCREDIBLY unsettling as you're reminded of ‘innocent' sights you see throughout the game)) you're going to start a new file. I can guarantee that. A single run-through unlocks two extra guns to be purchased from a merchant and the ‘professional' difficulty to go alongside the ‘easy' and ‘normal'. A special costume becomes available and two mini-games are handed to you. Ada's Assignment is the last level played as Ada, that reveals a major plot-twist in the main series of the game; and Mercenaries. Mercenaries allows you to play as one of five characters, battling against hordes of enemies as you try to rack up as high a score as possible. Don't expect an empty completion.


:: Conclusion ::

My finishing words should be to go out and buy this game. Don't fret, you should definitely go out and buy it. But don't be disillusioned by the changes; don't be unnerved by the apparent change in storyline. You should hold inhibitions if you've held onto not playing this game because you're a ‘die-hard hardcore' Resident Evil gamer. In fact, I'd say you're stupid to believe that this game does not cater to both action-lovers and the older Resident Evil fanbase. Be ashamed of yourself if you haven't ordered it while reading this review.

To conclude I'll just say one thing: this is the worst Resident Evil, but the best in the series.
Total 96/100

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 06/23/05

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