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Resident Evil 4 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Resident Evil 4 (PlayStation 2) review

"Making horror games fun"

“Oh, my God! YES!” screams my brother in enthralled excitement as he battles an endless stream of cultists. “SUPLEX!” He can’t help but shake with absolute glee as he watches an unfortunate soul’s head burst in a splattering of blood and gore. It’s just one of many such incidences of mass violence, but Resident Evil 4 is so much more than that. Packed to the hilt with challenges, strategies, and horrifying events, the intense carnage and brutality is just a sadistic bonus.

You start as Agent Leon Scott Kennedy, a mainstay of the series; you’ve been assigned to rescue the President’s daughter, who was kidnapped by mysterious cultists somewhere in Spain. You’re on your own, dropped off in the woods near the outskirts of a rural village - yet things don’t seem quite right… The surrounding woodlands are eerily quiet, only the occasional caw of a raven pierces the silence, the houses appear dilapidated and worn, and a general feeling of hostility and tension permeates the air. All is quiet… but not for long.

Soon enough, you find yourself face-to-face with a hostile native. Dispatching him quickly, you progress to a seemingly desolate village, whereupon you are almost immediately assaulted by a mob of deranged zombie-like Ganados. With naught but a handgun, a fistful of ammo, and your combat knife, you are forced to cut through the bloodthirsty horde. Make no mistake, however; these enemies are not mere lumbering morons hungering for brains. With enemies carrying rudimentary weapons such as pitchforks, knives and axes, you now have more to worry about than grasping hands and rotten teeth. Furthermore, their ability to tactically maneuver breaks the series’ norm of constant shuffling frontal attacks. Large groups will use their numbers against you, sending the bulk of the forces to meet you head-on while splinter groups will sneak around the edges of your vision, attempting to flank you. They’re even intelligent enough to speak – a first for the series – though most of it is primitive at best. Still, slaying Ganados amid Spanish threats of “Te voy a matar,” is both fun and ironic, as their overt efforts to kill me failed miserably.

Their intelligence can be compromised, however. When darkness falls and you are unfortunate enough to decapitate one of them without killing it, the parasite living within will take over, sprouting massive tentacles out of the headless body which snake out at you, whipping and stabbing, with potent accuracy. However, in this state, the Ganado loses its ability to use weapons, and it does indeed become just one of the infamous stalkers of old – lurching toward you with nothing more than the primal need to kill and feed.

The game is more than just battling intelligent enemies and enjoying a bloodbath now and then; it’s about experiencing genuine, bone-chilling fear.

It’s roughly midnight, and I am playing through the castle level. The lights are off, no noise to distract me. The only source of light is the TV; the only source of sound is that which the game has orchestrated. I enter a prison, examine the cell within… and freak the fuck out because of the horrifying close up of the tortured monster within. “Holy…. shit!” I exclaim, startled to the point of almost dropping the controller. The monster has no eyes, you see, those having been gouged out by experimenter’s tools. Blood drips down the monster’s face from empty sockets, congealing in pools along its cheeks. As this example demonstrates, the dark conditions of my room combined with the goriness and unexpectedness of the image combined most effectively to terrify the wits out of me. Others unused to these kinds of scare tactics would likely feel as I did.

The game presents itself in other challenging (albeit certainly less frightening) ways as well. Puzzles are present throughout the game: some make you think twice about how you tackle that Ganado with the chain gun, others cause you to lose your sanity as you wander around labyrinthine levels looking for some object to unlock a room. Concerning enemies, not only are there certain bosses that require a specific strategy or use of the environment to defeat, but even minor enemies require strategy to overcome. Is that Ganado with the dynamite blowing you to bits every time you get near? Chuck a grenade of your own at him, or, better yet, shoot him until he drops the dynamite, causing he and everyone else around him to explode in a massive spray of blood, flesh and bone. Is that mangy mongrel with the eight million tentacles poking out of its brain harassing you? Just make sure you kill the rabid bastard before it has a chance to “evolve”. There are many different ways to destroy your enemies, and in the same regard, there are many different ways your enemies can destroy you.

When not blasting away enemy hordes with overpowered magnum revolvers, most of your travels will consist of you going out of your way to find some artifact or totem that will unlock a door. Most of your puzzles consist of destroying rampaging trucks driven by enraged Ganados before they can run you over, sprinting away from rampaging boulders, shooting various points at an ever-descending spiked ceiling, and sneaking your way around an assortment of other little traps and snares designed specifically to kill you. One of the exceptions to this was also one of the hardest in the game. It was one of those slider puzzles. You know, the ones missing a piece and you have to slide all the other pieces around to try and make something sensible of it? Well, this puzzle was so tough I nearly gave up trying to figure it out – a good thing I didn’t, or else I would have never finished the game.

Perhaps to make up for the mediocrity of the vast majority of puzzles, the game includes a very annoying twist that can seriously frustrate (or challenge) any player. Ashley, the girl you were sent to rescue, joins you through roughly two-thirds of the game. She does nothing useful except warn you when enemies draw near as well as provide the occasional cooperative teamwork to push a heavy crate or climb over a wall to unlock a door. Aside from these, however, she is just a hindrance. She can’t fight, she can’t pick up items, and oftentimes she won’t run away from a battle, even if an enemy is smashing her face in with a heavy mace, not to mention that her voice has such a shrill, girly, preppy nature that your ears will bleed just listening to her. Fortunately, you do have some control of her. Command her to stay where she is or follow you, the former often being most useful when exploring new areas. Just leave her at the beginning of a level or in a safe room and explore the area yourself without fear of her dying or getting recaptured. Alternatively, the environment permitting, you can tell her to hide, a feature that grants her absolute immunity from the enemy so long as she stays hidden.

Ashley is at her best and worst in one epic battle. Against a swarm of cultists, Ashley must turn two cranks to open a pair of double doors leading out of the foyer. These levels are located on a balcony while Leon is below. As such, defending Ashley may prove most difficult because Leon can’t reach Ashley’s position. Instead, you have to use accurate and long-range weapons like the scoped rifle or area affecting weapons like grenades to eliminate those forces trying to recapture their victim. The mission can be frustrating, for even though enemies approach Ashley slowly, as time progresses, enemies will also fight Leon at the same time, thus trying to kill the cultist kidnapping Ashley while being mauled by a scythe-wielding maniac can lead to many game overs. However, achieving the task is extremely satisfying; destroying numerous enemies while unlocking the next part of the map is extremely rewarding.

Despite Ashley’s flaws, Resident Evil 4 has effectively left me stunned, frightened, appalled, thrilled, and happy all in one. It was perhaps the most exciting game I have played in ages, not because of interesting plot twists (which in this game are more clichés anyway), but because of the sheer volume of opportunities and challenges, the endless swathe of action and gore, the undeniable gloomy atmosphere, and the downright grittiness that make such horror games fun.

Project Horror 2016
Project Horror saw one (1) horror review submitted every day through the month of October. This review was part of that effort.

wolfqueen001's avatar
Community review by wolfqueen001 (October 11, 2016)

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