Capcom has been trying to inject new juice into the Resident Evil franchise for years now. It’s been a long road, finding the balance to change just enough to give players a new experience, yet keep enough to still let that person know it is a Resident Evil game they are playing. Capcom has gone back to the drawing board with Resident Evil 4, redoing everything that made the series a hit in the first place and creating a whole new breed of survival horror game, but still keeping the game grounded in the Resident Evil universe. The company shocked the world by announcing that this new adventure had no zombies in it at all. This was just a testament of the different direction they were taking the game in. Built from the ground up to maximize the GameCube’s hardware, Resident Evil 4 looks, sounds, and plays better than any of its predecessors, and possibly any other game this generation.
It’s been more than half a decade since Resident Evil 2 and Leon S. Kennedy, one of the only survivors of the horror that Umbrella, Inc. unleashed upon Raccoon City, has tried to put all that behind him, starting a career working for the US government. Resident Evil 4 starts with Leon on his way to find the President’s daughter, Ashley, who has been kidnapped by some unknown group. The story unfolds through a mixture of in-game cut scenes and the classic notes you find lying around. The story, though not really the game’s strongest aspect, does have the advantage of bringing the series onto new ground, making it so Resident Evil veterans won’t know what to expect next in terms of the plot. There are no zombies, no Umbrella agents, and no T-virus. Because of this, players are just about as clueless as Leon is. All you know is that there is something wrong with the village you have been placed in and you’re probably going to have a hard time surviving.
The new direction of the game’s plot is just the beginning of how different this game is in comparison to the rest of the series. The most touted new feature is probably the ability to aim at anything when Leon draws his gun. When you press and hold the R button, Leon aims his weapon forward, allowing him to aim at any specific location with analog precision. Unlike previous Resident Evil games, which only allowed you to aim up, forward, or down, Leon can shoot anywhere he wants as long as his target is in front of him. The game really pushes this new and exciting concept home with enemies that react differently depending on where you shoot them. Shoot a villager in the leg and you’ll see him stumble or fall to the floor. Shoot one in the face and he will stagger backwards in pain. In fact, knowing where to shoot someone and how they will react to that shot is something you are expected to pick up quickly as it’s one of the only ways to get rid of the dozens of enemies that are thrown at you. Knowing when to knock an enemy down and run to a better shooting position is sometimes the only way to effectively stay alive.
Notice that I said to run to a better shooting position instead of just plain running away. This is another huge change that Capcom implemented in the game. In previous Resident Evil games, the worth of a single bullet was constantly pounded into the players’ minds as they were so hard to come by. Putting a bullet into a zombie’s leg and then running off was always a better idea than sitting there and wasting a clip to down the monster. Learning how to run around monsters was just as important as having enough ammo to take them down. Thankfully, those days are over ? Capcom gives you more than enough ammo to take down every single monster in the game and then some. You will find bullets in crates, in walls, on the floor, and even on downed enemies. Yes, the very same enemies you kill with those bullets will sometimes give them back to you when you are finished with them. It’s a wonderful system that suddenly shifts the focus of the series from constantly running for your life to fighting for it. You won’t feel like your hands are tied behind your back, thinking “If only I had some more ammo for my shotgun, I’d sends all these demons back to where they came from!” Now you’ll whip out that gun, face the hordes of soulless beings breathing down your neck and fire satisfying boom after boom of sweet shotgun goodness at them. This makes you feel extremely powerful, and yet, at the same time, helpless and scared since there are times when there really doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to the constant outpour of monsters the game throws at you at once. Enemies also tend to come at you from all directions ? from the front, back, sides, even from the top and bottom! One moment, you’ll think you’ve managed to get a good look at your surroundings and the next moment, a villager will drop from the roof right on top of you, taking a swing at your head.
Flanking is just one of the ways that the enemy A.I. tries to do you in. Opponents will also dodge left and right when they notice you aiming for their heads, or lift up their arms to shield themselves from deadly headshots. Of course, even though enemies react smartly to your actions, they all act in different manners, and there is a huge assortment of enemies to go through, all of which have a different and grisly way of helping you to your death. What’s more is that just when you think you’ve got the patterns down for a certain type of enemy, the game throws you for a loop by giving them new powers as the game progresses. This changing of the enemies and their abilities really keeps you on your toes as you progress through the game. It’s both exciting and terrifying as you enter a new area, not knowing what horrors await you.
Resident Evil 4 also dishes out some of the most intense boss battles that I’ve ever seen. Gone are the bosses that you can take down by just running around in circles and firing your weapon. Each boss has a unique weakness that you must discover and exploit. What’s more is that you’ll not only have to continuously stay aware of where you are and where the boss is, but also whether or not the boss is attacking. The game implements a sort of twitch feature, flashing buttons on the screen whenever the boss is attacking, giving you the chance to dodge the attack and continue on with your assault. You’ll only get a fraction of a second to slam on the correct buttons, and if you don’t the consequences range from taking massive damage to simply dying instantly. Terrain also plays a big part during boss battles as they take place in wildly varying locations from a swamp to a tiny cage. You’ll have to find your way around each map and discover what location allows you to deal the most damage while giving you the most protection.
Lending a helping hand during these intense fights are a huge assortment of weapons. Everything from your trusty pistol to a rocket launcher is available for you to use. Resident Evil 4‘s new merchant system is very functional (though it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense) and sure beats the hell out of just picking your weapons up off the floor. As you travel through the game, you will find money and treasure, which you can trade in for new weapons and items. You can also sell items you don’t need to the merchant should you need some extra cash. Every weapon besides the rocket launcher is also capable of being upgraded several times in different categories like reload speed, power, and firing speed. During the beginning portions of the game, money is a little scarce, making your purchasing decisions a bit harder, but toward the end, you’ll basically have enough money to buy just about every gun that the merchant has to sell and upgrade each one a good amount.
Unfortunately, no matter how much money you have, you’ll never be able to carry every single weapon with you at once. The new inventory system has Leon storing all his items in an attach? case, which you can upgrade to bigger sizes as you progress through the game. The case is broken up into smaller squares, in which you can store items. Each item you carry takes up a specific amount of squares, so you’ll need to do some rearranging should you want to maximize the space in your case. This new inventory system is leaps and bounds better than the old Resident Evil inventory and box system. Your inventory is usually big enough to hold just about everything you need, but there are times when you’ll have to make that decision to throw away either some ammo or that herb you just found. Generally, it’ll be your ammo that’s taking up all the room in your inventory, which just drives the fact home that you’ll absolutely want to use as much ammo as you can.
Another feature that has received a much needed facelift is the save method. You will still need to save at a typewriter whenever you see one, but you no longer need to have ink ribbons. Like ammo conservation, the old Resident Evil games also taught players not to save as often by limiting the number of saves with ink ribbons. Now, you can save whenever you want as long as there is a typewriter nearby. Also added are checkpoints ? sprinkled liberally throughout the game are points where you will be able to return to should you die. There is usually a checkpoint whenever you enter a new area or before a boss battle.
Killer Looks and Sounds
Resident Evil 4 is, hands down, one of the best looking games of this generation. When your friends laugh and scoff at your little purple ?Cube, saying it’s nothing compared to the X-box, this is the title to pop into your console. Ditching the pre-rendered backgrounds of past games in the series in favor of full 3D, this game is absolutely jaw dropping from the moment you start it all the way to the end. The game has excellent detail in not only the main characters and villains, but each and every monster and abomination you meet in your adventure. The backgrounds are equally stunning, and just drip with the atmosphere that makes the Resident Evil franchise so famous. You’ll make your way through villages filled with run down huts and shacks, across a lake, and into a beautifully realized castle. As day turns to night and the rain starts falling, you’ll feels chills run down your spine as you see flashes of lighting briefly illuminate the night sky just enough for you to see the villager rushing toward you, ready to saw your head off. The lighting effects are absolutely stunning, as you will see when mobs of angry people come at you, torches in hand.
Capcom also tests the limits of the GameCube with this game’s particle system. Every shot you pump into a monster is responded to with a splatter of not just red blood, but ooze, bone, and sinew as well. You’ll see actual matter fly about as you take a shotgun to someone’s head. The rain is also unbelievable ? and don’t forget that none of this is pre-rendered (though it could probably fool many people); the rain actually splatters on the objects it hits. Also check out the water effects during the battle on the lake ? it will floor you guaranteed.
Each and every cut scene in the game is done with the in-game engine as well. Capcom didn’t skimp on these one bit. Every time there’s a brief pause in the action to dole out the story, it’s a treat. You’ll see awesome direction and motion-captured action from all the characters and Leon flips, dodges, and fights his way through the game. If you thought the cut scenes were incredible in Twin Snakes, just wait until you see some of the stuff Capcom has done with this game. Capcom also went the extra mile with the lip matching the voice work. Instead of going for the traditional automatic lip movements, artists actually went in there and hand animated each scene so it matched the voices perfectly ? and it shows.
Topping off the incredible graphics is the equally unparalleled character and creature design. Each creature you run into is a work of art in and of itself. As you progress further and further into the game, you will run into monsters that defy your imagination ? from a hulking giant that throws trees at you to a red-eyed madman with a chain gun strapped to his back. You’ve never seen creatures like the ones in this game before, and you probably never will until the next installment in the series.
Progressive scan support is also included, which is always a plus for you HDTV owners out there. However, if you own a 16:9 set, you’re out of luck. For some reason, the game is locked in a widescreen format with the black bars above and below the picture. This means that the only way to get a non-stretched, fullscreen image on a 16:9 television is to use your zoom feature and just zoom into the picture, getting rid of the black bars. Capcom’s lack of true 16:9 support is baffling considering the game is already in widescreen. Still, it’s really not that big of a deal ? the game looks gorgeous regardless of how you play it.
The audio portion of the game is also nothing the scoff at. True to other Resident Evil games, sound and music are only used when they have to be. Capcom knows the value of silence and it shows in some of the creepiest moments I’ve ever seen in a game. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you’re walking down a dimly lit corridor and you hear the music fade and a raspy breathing noise pick up. You don’t know what awaits you, but you know that it can’t be good. Similarly, each enemy has a distinct sound that it makes when it’s nearing your location and when it’s about to attack, and each one sounds downright scary. Of course, you’ll be able to tell approximately where the sounds are coming from with a great Dolby Pro-Logic II mix.
Surprisingly, Resident Evil 4‘s voice acting is actually pretty good. Each character is voiced quite well, and the writing isn’t half bad either. Leon has been given a biting sarcastic wit, and it’s a lot of fun to see him banter back and forth the villains of the game. Also thanks to the script, you’ll find yourself attached to the characters, which is something completely new in a Resident Evil game. You’ll feel the bond between Leon and Ashley grow as they progress further and further together. It’s not a forced relationship in any way, and you really see their bond grow and strengthen. Kudos to Capcom for creating characters that we can actually relate to and care about this time around.
A Resident Revolution
It seems that with Capcom giving a facelift on just about every aspect of the game, it’s more than a little puzzling that they didn’t do the same with the control scheme. There have been so many complaints about it because of its robotic-like response, and they are valid complaints. Capcom has stated that the game controls the way it does to heighten the tension and add fear to the game, but in a series that relies on quick reflexes to dodge around enemies, it’s a wonder why they didn’t at least add in an option to use true analog control. With past games in the series with the constantly changing camera angles, true analog control could get confusing, but now that the camera is locked behind Leon at almost all times, it should be prime time to add in such a control feature. However, that be as it may, the controls do work better than they ever had thanks to the context sensitive A button, which enables Leon to interact with the environment, be it by jumping over a fence or off a rooftop. I’ll be the first admit that though the controls could be better, they do still work very well.
At the end of the day, you’ll find the game to be 20+ hours long ? the longest Resident Evil adventure by quite a bit. There are also collectible figurines that you can collect throughout the game by getting high scores in the target practice mini-game. Upon completing the game once, you’ll unlock two extra games ? Operation Ada, a little game where you play as Ada Wong and go through a small portion of the game, and Mercenaries, a game where you can select different characters and blast your way through little challenges like seeing how many enemies you can kill in a certain time limit. You can even unlock new characters to play through the Mercenaries mini-game if you get a high enough score. There’s also a hard difficulty that unlocks, so you are more than welcome at giving the game another go, and possibly unlock more goodies. The real testament to how this game plays, though, is the fact that once it’s over, you’ll want to play it again, not because you want to unlock more stuff or you think you can top your old score, but because it is genuinely fun and addicting.
Resident Evil 4 is perhaps the best sign that developers are in fact listening to what we players are saying. It fixes almost every complaint anyone has ever had about the franchise and in the process manages to create one of the greatest games of this generation, and possibly all time. If you’re a Resident Evil fan, you’ll love this game. If you’re not a fan, chances are you’ll still love this game. If you just like games in general, I am willing to bet you will still love this game! Capcom has created an experience not unlike an excellent film ? except this time you’re living the experience through the eyes of Leon S. Kennedy. This is the type of game that can, and probably will, sell systems. Resident Evil is once again the king of survival horror. Welcome back.