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Resident Evil 4 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Resident Evil 4 (PlayStation 2) review

"Call it astonishing. Call it mind blowing. Call it the game of the week, the year or maybe even the decade. Call it the best Resident Evil yet; no one is going to argue. While Capcom may have only clawed at the face of the survival horror genre with its previous installments, RE 4 full on drives a nail into its heart. This isn’t a sequel that dabbles in what previously worked or a sequel that smothers you with irrelevant new ideas. This game is evolution—disturbing, haunting, brill..."

Call it astonishing. Call it mind blowing. Call it the game of the week, the year or maybe even the decade. Call it the best Resident Evil yet; no one is going to argue. While Capcom may have only clawed at the face of the survival horror genre with its previous installments, RE 4 full on drives a nail into its heart. This isn’t a sequel that dabbles in what previously worked or a sequel that smothers you with irrelevant new ideas. This game is evolution—disturbing, haunting, brilliant evolution.

Resident Evil 4 is seen through the eyes of returning favorite Special Agent Leon S. Kennedy. Although Leon has enough moves to make a Navy Seal seem like a kindergarten teacher, he’s still a rookie with the government. His first assignment: Protect the President’s daughter Ashley. Six days before his job is supposed to start, Ashley is kidnapped, turning Leon into a pistol-packing knight rather than a brooding bodyguard. With little Intel given, Leon is dropped off in a remote village somewhere in Europe. It’s up to him and him alone to find Ashley and get her out.

As Leon’s investigation ensues, he finds there is something different about the villagers…something dangerous. They aren’t zombies and he is as far away from Raccoon City as he can get. Without warning, there’s a new evil to worry about because Umbrella—the corrupt, monster corporation that haunted every other sequel—is dead.

But the nightmares never really went away

Gone are the lush colors and bright hallways of previous sequels, replaced with pastel clothes and pale faces. Everything is cold, gray and bereft of hope and I wouldn’t like it any other way. The character design is grisly in the most gorgeous way possible. Lines are smooth, motion is seamless and details are jaw-dropping. The Ganados (zombies) look wonderful… possessed and slightly decaying, but wonderful. The graphics create a looming, dismal atmosphere like a scene right out of the movie “Seven”. The dank, decrepit walls of the castle, the eerie fog on the lake or candlelit caverns can do horrible things to your nerves.

Despite the lack of an emotional soundtrack, Capcom still makes use of the games sound to initiate fear. Anytime music plays outside of a cut-scene, enemies are lurking. You may not be able to see them but until you hear dead silence in the background, don’t get comfortable. The Ganado’s can be downright scary. They chant, they laugh and they mutter. All of it, mind you, is very loud and you’re never quit sure where it’s coming from. Maybe from the rooftop, maybe around the corner, you just know they’re out there, waiting to stop you.

Save Ashley from the depths of insanity

Previous Resident Evil’s were strictly “wrong place, wrong time” scenarios where you simply had to get out alive. This time you are going to find yourself willingly dropped into the mouth of madness, treading further and further into a deadly village until you finally even find Ashley and that is only the beginning. You got in, now you both have to get out.

It sounds like a pain, I know. It’s hard enough worrying about your own survival in a Resident Evil game. But in all honesty, she’s not that bad. No, she can’t fight and she won’t pick up items that you missed but she’s still helpful. Anytime you aim your gun, she either tucks herself tight behind you or she ducks out of the way, so you don’t have to worry about shooting her. She’ll unlock a gate if you piggyback her over it, point out broken walls, turn cranks while you fend off enemies and even become a miniature cheering section every time you drop a Ganado.

Fear lurks around every corner

Scary? Previous Resident Evil’s were scary. A brief hiss of a Licker, a mass of zombies crowding an alleyway or busting through windows worked for a time but eventually, it rotted. Having enough first-aid sprays was enough to make you feel safe, which is why they could only cause momentary “jolt” scares. Now …I want to talk about being terrified. No matter how full your health is RE 4 has a good many moments where one slip up will end your life; whether it is allowing one of the chainsaw-wielding maniacs to get too close or walking right into a dynamite booby trap.

In RE 4, your very life is dependent on not only Leon’s reflexes, but your own. You could be walking down a hallway littered with statues holding swords; you could be watching a cut-scene you think is simply going to play out. Suddenly the word DODGE! flashes on the screen along with a button combination. If you’re quick enough to nail it, Leon dodges. If you don’t, the game ends right there—no matter how full your health is.

Some boss fights have this neat little feature, too. Take for example the lake scene. You end up fighting a huge underwater creature called “Del Lago” while you sit in a boat and hurl harpoons. Several times, Del Lago will slam into the boat knocking you out into the middle of the lake. The word SWIM! flashes on the screen indicating that you need to tap the x button. You may do it indolently at first, but when you see Del Lago’s maw creep out of the lake right behind you, I guarantee you’ll speed up.

A Macabre populace

Imagine enemies that have brains rather than eat them. Enemies that will learn your patterns in a fight, bobbing and weaving, sticking their hands in front of their face or ducking altogether. Enemies that will act completely harmless to draw your attention while others sneak up behind you. Imagine them slowly creeping up to give you the impression they’re not an immediate threat, then charging at the last second to wrap their fingers around your throat. Now imagine hundreds of them, thousands—communicating, plotting and planning only one thing: Your demise.

These enemies are going to swing pitchforks, hurl axes and even dynamite. They will duck behind wooden shields and wear iron masks to prevent headshots. They will pin you inside a tower and launch firebombs through the window. They will climb up ladders if you decide to take higher ground, wait until you’re surrounded to close in and drive you into any dead end they can find. Resident Evil is no longer about zombies who stick their arms out and moan as they lurch towards you. The Ganados are predators—cold, calculating hunters.

Will you be able to escape

Every time I thought this game was coming to a close, a brand new spot twice the size of the previous one would open up. The village alone makes the infamous mansion pale in comparison, but there are at least three more areas after before you can even fantasize about safety and all of them are giant, deadly mazes.

I never felt like I was trying to race to the end, though. Each area may seem daunting at first glance, but the environments are so well-designed and there is so much to be wary of—from booby traps to treasures—you hardly notice how much ground you’ve actually covered. The cut-scenes and dialogue are all intricately placed to shake things up a bit and the puzzles—while not nearly as abundant as in other sequels—still provide a different, less lethal challenge.

Or even survive

Watching Leon flip through lasers, jump out two story windows and dodge more than one knife made me realize the guy’s got some moves, but he’s also got the firepower to back up his slick acrobatics. Not only does RE 4 have a mass of great guns, it has all different kinds. For example, there are five types of handguns that you can get. Some offer more firepower, faster reload or more stability. You can also switch from your flintlock rifle to a semi-automatic one, choose shotguns—from the traditional pump action to a brutal riot gun—and fire either a six-shooter or .45 Magnum.

If you like one certain gun but it’s not as powerful as you would want, you can upgrade it by increasing its firepower, capacity, reload speed and firing speed. The merchant provides you with everything you need to customize your own arsenal.

Resident Evil 4 trampled my nerves and dragged my courage over broken glass. I have never played anything that latched onto my psyche so fiercely that it had me enjoyably dreading every step and every scene. The graphics, the fear, the constant paranoia and the genius A.I. mesh together so incredibly that whether you’re a fan of the genre or not, you have to play it at least once to see how damn near perfect this game is. Don’t go into it expecting to see the same old Resident Evil, because the evil… has evolved.

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Community review by True (January 14, 2006)

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