Resident Evil 4
From the very beginning, Resident Evil has been a 'hate it or love it' series that is very popular among serious console gamers, but not so much with the casual crowd who don't feel like dealing with clumsy controls, pre-rendered backgrounds, set camera positions, and frustrating inventory and save systems. Not having read much about this newest entry in the series, I went into it expecting pretty much the same game without pre-rendered environments. Oh, how wrong I was. Not only is it the best game of the Resident Evil series, but it is arguably the best GameCube game as well, because of its amazing visuals, great game play and engaging story.
With the Umbrella Corporation now only a recent memory, Leon Kennedy of Resident Evil 2 fame has taken up a new job with the U.S. government. Sent to a remote location in Spain on a top secret mission to rescue the President's daughter, he gets far more than he bargained for when he becomes the target of countless possessed villagers of a clan-like religious group called the Los Illuminados.
Being the first true Resident Evil sequel in many years, the game has taken on a very different feel than the series' previous entries, becoming much more cinematic. The game opens with Leon driving through a dark Spanish forest towards the village in which the President's daughter is being held, and little things throughout this cut scene increase the tension little by little. By the end of the sequence, as Leon becomes stranded, this tension stays for the rest of the game, never letting up and always keeping the player's attention for the twenty-odd hours that it takes to complete the game. The cut scenes take place within the engine, so the switch back to game play is always seamless.
The game is presented in 16:9 letterboxed widescreen, and this could be to either keep the frame rate afloat with such beautiful graphics, or specifically to add a cinematic feel. Either way, it certainly helps with its added peripheral vision, especially since the majority of the game is seen from directly behind Leon, in a sort of FPS-inspired third person view, ditching the stationary camera angles of past Resident Evil games.
This new camera system works extremely well, making for both ease of aiming and exploration through the game's vast and complicated locales, which seamlessly connect to each other with barely any noticeable load times. It's surprising that Capcom hadn't switched to a system like this earlier, since it works so much better than the old way, especially with aiming and movement through hordes of enemies. Although it may be a little difficult to get used to at first, it becomes surprisingly fun after the first ten minutes or so of playing. Also new to the series and perhaps as a result of the non-static locales is Leon's ability to interact with the environments and the various objects scattered around them.
In one extremely intense sequence of the game, the villagers are descending upon the house that Leon has just entered, and after he runs up to the second floor, they begin to climb up the ladders and enter through the windows. In order to prevent such an entrance, the player must throw the ladders down. Later in the game, the player can shoot torches down onto the enemies, lighting them on fire. Leon can also dive through windows and off of buildings to escape the enemy. Interaction such as this adds an interesting twist to the standard shooting that ensues for the majority of the game.
The new perspective and environmental interaction aren't the only new revisions. The ink-saving system is no more, making the game a lot more enjoyable and playable at one's own pace. Weapons can be bought from dealers in blue cloaks throughout the game, adding a sense of strategy and a little budgeting to the game. The entire game play style has changed as well. Resident Evil 4 is primarily an action game, with little bits of adventure thrown in. There are very few puzzles, and the few puzzles that there are generally take less than five minutes to figure out, not requiring any backtracking or hours of searching for clues.
If you couldn't tell yet from the reading of this review, Resident Evil 4 is an extremely violent game. However, said violence is also very beautiful and well done. The game simply has the most amazing-looking body explosions that I've ever seen. Enemies will realistically fall down from a bullet to the kneecap, drop whatever they're holding if shot in the arm or hands, and fly backwards if taken down by the pump shotgun. This time around, however, a shot to the head won't automatically guarantee a kill. The enemies are widely varied, from psychotic villagers to almost monk-like hooded figures. The bosses are another true highlight of this game. Simply saying that they are big would be an understatement. They are massive! Just their size alone makes them unforgettable.
Resident Evil 4 is certainly the most beautiful game of its series, as well as the best-looking GameCube game currently available. The environments constantly vary, and they look so realistic that at times I had to stop moving through the area just to enjoy my surroundings. The textures look great, the characters move with realism, the water looks ridiculous, and the bosses are unbelievably huge. It also helps that the frame rate is rock solid, with no noticeable choppiness to speak of.
However, all is not perfect with this installment of the series. The inventory still feels very clunky due to its box setup, and the lack of quick weapon switching can be frustrating at times. In addition to these small but noticeable issues, is the occasionally repetitive action. At times I felt like the only reason I was playing was to see what would happen next in the story, instead of just enjoying the game.
Nevertheless, these occurrences were rare and they didn't take away from the experience too much. Resident Evil 4 is the best survival-horror game to come out on this generation of consoles, and I have no doubt that it will be regarded as such for a long time to come. If you can handle excessive, bloody violence, then you will surely enjoy yourself as much as I did. It is a graphical tour de force that really shows what the GameCube can do, and I'm excited to see how well it holds up when released for the PlayStation 2 at the end of the year.