Game Description: In Resident Evil 4 you'll know a new type of horror, as the classic survival-horror action returns with all-new characters, controls and storylines. We last saw Leon S. Kennedy in Resident Evil 2—a rookie cop in Raccoon City, fighting to stay alive. That was six years ago. Since then, government forces have managed to control the zombie threat and Leon has become a Federal agent. When the President's daughter is kidnapped, Leon tracks her to a remote, hidden fortress in Europe—where he'll relive the horror he faced six years before. Players will face never-before-seen enemies that make Nemesis seem like a kitten. You'll be wishing for the usual Resident Evil zombies!
The Resident Evil series has always told stories about the helpless and the hopeless: helpless characters in seemingly hopeless situations. Instead of "powering up" like typical videogame characters, Resident Evil's helpless and hopeless protagonists must constantly come to terms with their vulnerabilities and limitations. Instead of feeling empowered, they feel weak. Instead of celebrating cliched notions of heroism, i.e. standing my ground and fighting, Resident Evil was the first game to make "running for my life" not only a viable option, but a perfectly acceptable strategy.
There are a number of things about the series that never sat right with me: the paralyzed camera; the nonsensical puzzles; the equally nonsensical herb mixing; the way Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 (doing an uncanny imitation of Bea Arthur) would growl, "S.T.A.R.S." But the one flaw I could not forgive—and the one that kept me from becoming a bona fide fan—was the over-starched control scheme, which always left me feeling needlessly handicapped by the developers. If only I could move, I thought. If only my character controlled like a living, breathing human being instead of a 1972 U-Haul truck with four flat tires and a broken rear axel, these zombie bastards would be in serious trouble.
Resident Evil 4 opens with government agent Leon Kennedy—last seen in Resident Evil 3—being sent to a lost-in-time European village on a mission to find the president's kidnapped daughter. Within moments, I was surrounded by a group of pitchfork-wielding farmers and one chainsaw-waving maniac wearing a burlap sack over his head. (I could tell he was a maniac right away, because only maniacs wear burlap.) This hell-in-the-cell set piece—without an exit, I had to keep moving, keep climbing ladders and tossing grenades to survive—is a slice of videogame brilliance, far more kinetic and unnerving than anything I've previously seen in the series. While the earlier games always seemed silly in a state fair spook house kind of way, I felt something different at the start of the Resident Evil 4, something that I've never experienced before in the series: a creeping sense of mystery and deep-seated psychological fear.
What makes the set piece in the village so effective? The stunning graphics, the motion-captured animations, and the nuanced soundtrack are all rendered with a high degree of artistic craft and confidence. (Resident Evil 4, from start to finish, is clearly an A-level production.) But what truly shocks and awes here, what distinguishes this as not only a great Resident Evil game but a great videogame in general, are the unshackled camera and overhauled control scheme.
The camera—hallelujah—has finally been set free. And I mean completely free; none of this Code Veronica sort-of-free bunk. Gone are the fly-on-the-wall perspectives; gone are those disorienting moments whenever I walked into a new room and had to 1. first locate myself on screen, then 2. locate any threats. The camera in Resident Evil 4 follows me around like a loyal German Shepherd, always two or three steps behind me. And this new perspective gives the game an intimate, gruesome immediacy.
More importantly, Leon, though still not quite as nimble as a ballerina, has also been set free. For once, my Resident Evil character doesn't barrel around like he's pulled both hamstrings and has intentionally filled his shoes with rocks; no longer must he come to a complete stop before turning a corner. Simply push the analog stick forward, and Leon goes forward. Push left, and Leon goes left. It's simple. It's brilliant. It's revolutionary. Indeed, this is the living, breathing, and very human control scheme I've wanted for years.
This new-found sense of control—it has to be experienced to be believed—coupled with the now-cooperative camera both work together to give Resident Evil 4 something that previous games in the series never really had: genuinely compelling gameplay. Instead of feeling a constant sense of stomach-turning dread every time I came upon a cluster of enemies (the way I did in previous Resident Evil games), I actually found myself hungry for conflict in Resident Evil 4, eager for the next challenge. Many sections of the game, including that excellent village set piece, are worthy of a replay. In fact, hell must have frozen over, because I'm actually playing through a Resident Evil game a second time, and relishing every blood soaked second of it.
Still more good news: the nonsensical puzzles have been simplified. Backtracking is kept to a minimum. Item management doesn't feel like as much of a chore as it has in the past. In fact, I actually found myself taking pleasure in tidying up my briefcase for some inexplicable reason (grenades over here, herbs over there, etc.). Weapons are now fully upgradeable, which gives the game a slight role-playing game quality. And the pacing and rhythm of the game stay true to the series—find a key, solve a puzzle, watch a cut scene, survive a skirmish, battle a boss, rinse, repeat—with one subtle exception: button commands occasionally appear on screen during gameplay. These context sensitive commands, if timed properly, can result in dodged attacks or special moves. While I resented the button commands at first—they seemed gimmicky and cheap to me—I eventually found myself won over by them, particularly during the (minor spoiler ahead) white-knuckle knife fight with Krauser later in the game.
Unfortunately, while Resident Evil 4 opens in an unfamiliar place—that European village, complete with weathered farmhouses and bare trees is unlike anything previously seen in the series—the game quickly resorts to overly familiar environs like a castle, an underground cave, an Egyptian tomb, a medical lab, and an industrial plant, none of which have the creeping sense of mystery that the village has. I can't help but wish the developers had kept surprising me, kept challenging themselves to take the entire game (and not just the first three hours) to new places. Ditto for the bosses. The first boss fight—a showdown with a mutated leviathan on a dank lake that manages to be believable and thrilling at once—is easily the most inventive boss fight in the game (and simply one of the best boss fights I've seen in years). Each successive boss fight, by comparison, disappoints, with the game's final fight—the main event that I'd been waiting 20-plus hours to see—felt like a battle I'd already fought a hundred times, in a hundred other videogames.
In keeping with tradition, Resident Evil 4 still has its fair share of classic helpless-and-hopeless moments. Honestly, some of the how-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-get-out-of-this? scenarios the game dropped me seemed like cruel and unusual punishment at times. (In typical Resident Evil fashion, I fled whenever I could.) In contrast—and this is arguably the very best thing about Resident Evil 4—the game for the first time ever actually has a counterpoint to these moments; the ying to that helpless-and-hopeless yang. That ying is an exhilarating sense of heroic empowerment.
Of course I limped my way through a few of the chapters, but I cut through other chapters like Gary Cooper in High Noon—pardon my crudeness—kicking ass all over the damn place. Instead of feeling constantly oppressed, instead of feeling like the game world was always imposing its will on me, instead of always feeling helpless and hopeless, there are moments in Resident Evil 4—Bruce Campbell-style "Come get some"/"Who wants to have a little?" moments—when I felt like I was imposing my will on the game world. No, Resident Evil 4 isn't perfect—the game peaks too early, becomes overly repetitious, and doesn't seem to know when to end—but these moments of bad-ass, shotgun-pumped empowerment help this franchise, which I'd given up for dead long ago, finally begin to realize its full potential.
Resident Evil 4 is simply the finest videogame ever made.
Nothing else even comes close. It is, bar none, the culmination of all my fondest hopes and dreams about all the things that videogames would someday accomplish, the peerless peak that I never dreamed they would reach.
The most significant difference between Scott's point of view on Resident Evil 4 is that he sees it as the redemption of a fundamentally flawed franchise. I, on the other hand, felt that there was nothing wrong with the Resident Evil series to start with—which makes the fact that I think every change was for the better that much more significant. While others were hoping that this game would revolutionize and revitalize the line, I just wanted another Resident Evil game. Like everyone else, I received far more than I ever could have hoped for.
I'm quite a fan of the Resident Evil series. I'm also the only person I personally know to have played through RE3 the requisite eight times required to unlock all of the endings. A few times a year I'll do a speed run through all the games (Except for Code: Veronica—that's the one without any exploding heads) just to keep my skills sharp. Speaking as a self-proclaimed afficionado and expert on the series, I'm confident in saying that I'm perhaps the only person to have never complained about the control scheme in the Resident Evil series.
While other gamers griped about the stiff and restrictive control scheme, comparing it unfavorably to Battlezone, my point of view on the matter has always been a little different. I see it simply as the way the game is designed. —When I'm playing chess, should I feel restricted because the bishops can only move diagonally? More importantly, I never really felt that the control scheme was ever preventing me from doing anything that the game asked me to do. With its narrow, claustrophobic hallways and excellent sound design, moments were few and far between that a slow turning speed caused any major inconvenience for me.
Yet even I had to admit that Resident Evil 4's control scheme was a giant leap forward for the series, as well as better than anything else on the market. Beyond perfecting the control scheme, the developers have tweaked every aspect of the game design to an utterly flawless state. It's not hard to see how Capcom did it; they simply figured out what the best features of all their other horror games were and applied them to their flagship title. The upgradeable weapons and bonus collecting of Devil May Cry, the precise aiming and camera placement of Dead Aim, and the overwhelming tension and environmental interaction of Clock Tower 3 have all been combined to form some kind of uber--survival horror game design, one that will no doubt serve the company well over the next few games in the series.
There is something that Scott didn't mention in his glowing review of the game, though, and that's the incredible manual targeting system. History has shown that I'm somewhat obsessive about pain animations, and in this respect it seems as if Resident Evil 4 was designed specifically with me in mind. Shoot an enemy in the hand, and he'll drop his weapon. Shoot an enemy in the face, and he'll clutch it, screaming. If an enemy is running towards me, I'll shoot him in the leg, and he'll sprawl forward onto his face. It's the most natural and responsive animation I've ever seen, and it makes shooting the enemies such a pleasurable experience that the game is incredibly replayable.
Just a glance at any screenshot will demonstrate that the graphics are some of the most incredible ever realized in a videogame, and they look far better in motion than they do in still frames. The art designers have taken a page from Silent Hill's book—no longer is the world of Resident Evil beautifully furnished and surprisingly well-dusted. The various environments are believably aged and damaged—not in an overly affected, supernatural Silent Hill way, either. The art design makes it clear that the game is filled with locations where very bad things have happened to people. Very recently.
I'd also be remiss in mentioning that the game features some of the best particle effects I've ever seen. Whether it's the fantastic water effects or the utterly disgusting blood spurts, every time anything falls, or is shot, or explodes in the game, it's a beautiful sight to behold. The explosions deserve special mention. This is a game where I was able to fire a dart loaded with explosives into an enemy's chest then, if I didn't feel like waiting the five seconds for the timer to go off, I could just fire a shot into the dart and watch my enemy explode. Of course, other games have enabled players to perform similar acts of violence, but never have they looked as incredible as they do here. While other developers might have simply placed an explosion on screen and thrown the body (or body parts) around, the designers of Resident Evil 4 have gone that extra mile and created a special animation just for this act: the unfortunate enemy will find themselves vaporized into a quickly-expanding cloud of dust and viscera. Wanting to make that happen to a virtual character was the very reason that I started playing violent video games twenty years ago. It was worth the wait to see it realized so perfectly.
If it seems like I'm spending too much time dwelling on one tiny aspect of the game, believe me, I'm not. This one visual is so fantastic that it warrants purchasing the game just to see it.
One of the few real points of contention that I have with Scott's review is his suggestion that mature people wouldn't find the monsters anything but silly. From the blood-spattered Ganados to the The Thing-inspired dog-bursters and head-poppers, I found all of the creatures incredibly well-designed and scary. All the more impressive is the fact that the game continues throwing new types of enemies at the player for the entire length of the game. The Regenerator that Scott mentioned in passing is one of the best monster designs I've seen, and is just plain disturbing when seen in motion. In addition to this, there are three entirely different sets of Ganado models, one for each of the game's distinct areas, as well as specialized creatures, such as the Beastmaster-esque blind berserkers, or the giant hammer-wielding soldiers that I'm convinced must be a cute reference to the classic Capcom side-scroller Trojan. Amazingly, the designers were so confident in the success of their designs for the game that they saved the most terrifying creature in the entire game—as well as the most obvious nod to Splatterhouse—for the Mercenaries mini-game, where he appears exclusively in the Waterworld-themed Atoll level.
Which brings me to the other thing that Scott overlooked in his review: Resident Evil 4's comprehensive extras. In addition to the standard secondary costumes for the game's three main characters, RE4 contains a sub-character minigame that allows players to revisit one of the game's locations as a different character, fighting different enemies. The real accomplishment, though, is the aforementioned Mercenaries mini-game. Fans of the series will fondly remember the original game which appeared in Nemesis. This new version keeps the spirit of the original—kill the game's enemies as quickly as possible to gain points—while improving it in every conceivable way. In addition to the exclusive monster, the designers went to the trouble of offering three characters that are playable only in the Mercenaries game, two of which are completely new models that appear nowhere else in the game, each with their own exclusive weapons and moves. I was actually shocked by the amount of effort that had been put into what could have easily been a throwaway combat minigame.
There is a downside to the game, though, and that downside is something that the Resident Evil series hasn't had much of a problem with in the past: the plot. While their plots may have been convoluted previously, they were always entertaining. Like any soap-opera addict, I found myself missing out on the opportunity to peel the latest layer of the Umbrella conspiracy. It's become something of a standard feature that the backstory gets exponentially more confusing with each successive game—-even the Resident Evil remake added semi-significant notes to the plot. While it was a daring choice to make a completely Umbrella-free game, I was happy to see some hints dropped that the series' next installment may well feature those elements I was missing here.
The characters are something of a weak point here as well. While Ashley (the character that Leon is sent to protect) is without a doubt the least irritating "needs to be protected" character in history (dig this: whenever I pulled my gun, she ducked to the side so I could get a clean shot at my target) she doesn't have much of a personality, making it hard to care too much whenever an enemy slings her over his shoulder and starts to carry her off. The villains aren't much better. There's no one as clever as Wesker, or as terrifying as Nemesis, or even as just plain interesting as Alfred from Code: Veronica. But the real disappointment is the main character: Leon Scott Kennedy. Apparently he's spent the six years since the Raccoon City incident becoming a hardcore special forces guy, although, beyond a few nifty knife-fighting moves, I wouldn't have guessed it from looking at him. Or listening to him. His dialogue is as action-movie generic and dull as it comes, leaving him in a bizarre middle-area. He's not tough enough to be believable, and he's not clever enough to be entertaining. He's just sort of there. Given the fact that someone on the design team was clearly a fan of the television show 24, it would have been nice if they could have taken a few tips on how to Jack Bauer-up Leon a bit, to make him a more solid leading character. They probably should have started with the haircut.
Perhaps Resident Evil 4's greatest strength was its ability to pull me into the game. Through a combination of comfortable controls, amazing level design and beautiful graphics and animation, no matter what the situation was, I always felt I was right there in it, struggling to find a safe wall to put my backagainst, carefully lining up my shots to make the best use of my last few shotgun rounds. Praying I didn't just hear the roar of a chainsaw sparking to life. I was maybe an hour into Resident Evil 4 when I decided to give it a ten. A man was lumbering towards me, sickle at his side. I tried to blast it out of his hand and I struck him in the leg by accident. Pained, he fell to his knees. I fired a second shot into his chest, and he flopped to the ground. He certainly looked dead, but I wasn't about to take anything for granted, so I took a step forward, aimed carefully, and shot him twice in the face. His head exploded with the second shot, and I knew right then that it was the best game I'd ever played, and that the rest of the game would have to be absolutely awful to cause me to downgrade my opinion. And it only got better from there.
Two weeks into 2005, I've already found my nominee for game of the year. I can't imagine a better game coming out this year. If one does, if something actually tops Resident Evil 4, I'll be happy to have been proven wrong, because it means that this was the greatest year in the history of videogames.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence
Parents are strongly cautioned. This is one extremely gruesome videogame. Heads explode like overripe melons. Bodily fluids are splashed everywhere. Depressing environs like graveyards and abandoned medical labs will likely frighten impressionable teens and young adults. There's nothing overtly sexual in the game, though there are some minor flirtations, and one scene that looks like a rape is about to take place. Obscenity count: two. Death toll: countless. The creatures, which will seem silly to anyone over the ago of 18, could potentially upset children.
Fans of the Resident Evil series are obviously in for a pleasant surprise. This is arguably the first true sequel since the series' inception. Fans of horror movies will recognize allusions to Jaws, Aliens, The Thing, The Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among others.
Subtitles are available for the benefit of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, but some of the sound effects-particularly the rasp of the Regenerator, which serves as a much-needed warning that he's approaching-could leave them at a loss.