Resident Evil 4 (GameCube) review
"It has been a few years since the last Resident Evil game was released. Capcom had reportedly sold the franchise's rights exclusively to Nintendo (but that went out the window when RE4 mysteriously appeared on the PS2 a year or so after its GCN release), and the latest Resident Evil game, RE0, had somehow managed to go almost completely under the radar. Only diehard Resident Evil fans seemed to be playing it. Only time would tell if RE4 would get the same treatment. "
It has been a few years since the last Resident Evil game was released. Capcom had reportedly sold the franchise's rights exclusively to Nintendo (but that went out the window when RE4 mysteriously appeared on the PS2 a year or so after its GCN release), and the latest Resident Evil game, RE0, had somehow managed to go almost completely under the radar. Only diehard Resident Evil fans seemed to be playing it. Only time would tell if RE4 would get the same treatment.
Resident Evil 4 underwent many different incarnations over the years. Its original game engine was scrapped and used instead in the now-legendary Playstation 2 game Devil May Cry. After that, we saw a game with Raccoon City veteran/survivor Leon Kennedy wandering around a castle. Wielding a flashlight and a pistol in each hand, he explores a small room when suddenly small dolls come to life and start going at him with knives. It looked like some kind of twisted combination of Luigi's Mansion, Eternal Darkness and Silent Hill, and it looked awesome. RE4 fell under the radar for a while, and when it next emerged we saw the product we have now. This new RE4 is supposed to revolutionize the series, bringing a new style of gameplay, and a mysterious new enemy. Does it succeed?
Past Resident Evil games haven't done much to change the original's core gameplay (with the obvious exception of the Gun Survivor franchise). Resident Evil 2 included an alternate storyline which detailed what the other character was up to after beating the game with the other. Resident Evil 3 had the ever-present threat of Nemesis appearing and chasing you down. Resident Evil: Code Veronica, while a fine game, didn't really add anything new to the gameplay at all. The REmake completely overhauled the original game and added self defense items. Resident Evil 0 forced the player to control two characters at the same time. It took almost eight years for the series to get a complete makeover, and it happened on the Gamecube, in the form of Resident Evil 4.
Previous Resident Evil games were very cinematic thanks in large part to their fixed camera angles, which made the games feel like a very creepy and claustrophobic B-Horror movie. Resident Evil 4 has taken a much more action-oriented feel, and so it takes a much more action-oriented camera angle. No matter where you are, the camera remains fixed behind Leon's back.
Gone are the virus infected zombies, as well. People were initially very skeptical about this - how could it be Resident Evil without the trademark zombies? The new enemy, however, is very effective. Parasite-infected Spanish villagers stalk Leon in large groups, calling out to each other in Spanish, threatening our hero and formulating plans. No more lunging corpses looking to bite your throat out, either. These villagers (called Ganado, or Livestock) are intelligent, capable of using weapons and setting traps. And they don't just use the preset traps that litter the game (there are a lot of these), they possess the ability to improvise on the fly. Though this happens frequently early in the game, thanks to the numerous open areas you are stuck in, much later on you begin exploring narrow hallways and small rooms and the groups of enemies you fight become significantly smaller.
New to the series is currency. At specific points through the game, a mysterious merchant appears who buys and sells guns. Money drops off of destroyable objects and enemies over the course of the game, and hidden objects can also be sold for considerable amounts of cash. Some objects can be combined with others to increase their value. Once you buy a gun, the merchant will then upgrade it for a monetary fees. Upgrades increase firing speed, power, ammo capacity and reload speed. Upgrading a gun all the way will unlock an extra bonus, which generally increases the gun‘s most prominent statistic by a large ratio. RE4 has a considerably larger armory then past titles. With many different versions of pistols, shotguns, magnums and rifles, there's a lot of gun to go around.
They say closing a door opens a window, and it stays true here. The window is the new Action-oriented feel, the door is the Survival Horror. Is the game Horror? Absolutely. But the survival is all but gone. Ammunition is always available in abundance, as are healing items. Like any action game it's entirely possible to run out of ammunition, but you don't have to consciously preserve it anymore. The game still has its fair share of scary moments, but most of the shock value has been traded in favor of a pervasive creepiness which exudes itself throughout the game.
The bosses are fun to fight and kill, as well, each having some kind of gimmick to it. One fight has you combating a giant lizard which your motor boat has conveniently become attached to, another pits you against a monster in a burning warehouse, a third against a beast which you fight in giant cages suspended above a bottomless pit. The bosses are all a lot of fun to fight, not just to look at, and though they feel somewhat overwhelmed by the hordes of Ganado each is as memorable as any other boss from the series.
The item boxes have been given the boot. Leon's inventory has been expanded significantly, and optional upgrades can be purchased from the Merchant as well. Puzzle objects, keys and treasures are now stored separately from the main inventory, allowing players to devote Leon's inventory entirely to guns, ammunition and healing items. I personally am glad to see this; constantly returning to item boxes (Resident Evil) or keeping meticulous track of where you drop items (RE0) gets old after a while.
Every once in a while during a cinematic scene, the player is prompted to hit a sequence of buttons as they appear on screen. This proves to be as much fun as anything else the game offers, giving a great old school Dragon's Lair-style mix to the game's varied gameplay. Though this feature is used only sparingly early in the game, near the game's final chapter there is an entire boss fight which is orchestrated using this feature. Ironically it's one of the game's most challenging moments, especially on Professional difficulty.
Though the game maintains the old puzzles from the original games (find an item/items, mix them together and use them in the right place), emphasis is moved from actually finding those items and finding where to use them to getting to where that item is and fighting off hordes of enemies on the way there and on the way back. The best example of this is early in the game, when Leon is forced to travel through a lake, a dam and through a makeshift arena and fight no less then two bosses, just to find a key and return it to the door. You know immediately what door this key will open, while any other Resident Evil game would have had this key just lying around somewhere, and the challenge would be in finding where to use the key instead of actually trying to get there. It isn't necessarily less fun, but removing the emphasis from solving puzzles is a blow to fans of the original series.
If the gameplay has one rough spot, it's in the defending of Ashley. Not far into the game, you rescue a hostage named Ashley and are tasked with protecting her at periodic points throughout the game. She tags along closely behind Leon, but can be ordered to wait until Leon calls for her. This doesn't seem so bad at first, but Ashley does get in the way from time to time. Fighting off hordes of Ganado is all the more difficult when you have to avoid catching Ashley in the crossfire. Sometimes, Ganado will grab Ashley and attempt to carry her off. Leon then has to take out the Ganado without hitting Ashley. Luckily, Ashley is only with Leon in a very small portion of the game (less then 1/5), and much of the time she doesn't get in the way. A few rudimentary cooperative puzzles and a brief time controlling Ashley herself rounds out the Ashley-based gameplay.
Resident Evil 4 possesses arguably the weakest storyline in the series (with the exception of the Gun Survivor titles). Not a whole lot happens that really affects the broad storyline, but once you beat the entire game and the Assignment Ada bonus mission, you understand: This game is a kickboard for future installments in the series. The story is acceptable for a pure action game, which RE4 is. If this were any other Resident Evil title, however, I wouldn't stand for it.
It has now been several years since the incident in Raccoon City. The survivors exposed Umbrella's involvement in the outbreak, and the company was all but shut down by the American Government. Apparently impressed by Leon's abilities, he was recruited by a government organization and received extensive training. His first assignment: travel to Spain and investigate the whereabouts of the President's daughter, who was last seen in a small village near the Spanish border.
Once in the village, Leon finds an army of bloodthirsty villagers out to get his blood, a retired cop named Luis and the president's daughter herself. What begins as a simple extraction mission quickly escalates into Leon trying to save himself and Ashley from becoming slaves, and ultimately the infiltration and corruption of the entire United States Government. Wesker is gone as the game's behind-the-scenes villain (though he does make a cameo appearance), replaced by a colorful cast of baddies which include the head of a mysterious cult, a maniacal man-child and an old friend from Leon's past.
Gone now are the many dozens of notes, diaries and informational booklets which were a staple of the previous games. They still exist, though considerably reduced in number and their importance has been downplayed considerably. Almost no storyline is delivered through Notes now. Their main function now is to provide ultimately meaningless information, and more frequently for the game's villains to make idle threats and your allies to tell you that they have something important to say the next time you meet. This is in my opinion a brutal and unacceptable culling to what was a beloved tradition in the previous games.
Even though the controls are technically unchanged from previous titles, the new camera angle makes it much easier to get around and far less disorienting when moving about quickly. The control stick moves Leon about, while holding the B button makes him run. The A Button activates context-sensitive actions (standing next to a pile of logs and pressing A will make Leon jump over them, for example), while Y accesses the menu and X orders Ashley to wait. The L Button whips out Leon's knife (which no longer takes an inventory slot), while the R Button allows him to aim his weapon. Aiming is much improved from the old game engine; you are given complete control of where you point your weapon, and a small laser sight helps the player aim better.
Calling Resident Evil 4 the most beautiful game on the Gamecube would be an understatement. As I write this, it's graphically the most superior game of any console game, period. Leon's hair moves realistically as he walks and runs, your enemies froth at the mouth as they scream at you. Leon's blood splatters in a shower of gore when Dr. Salvador cuts our hero's head off with that famous chainsaw. There are no flat edges, half-finished textures or visible polygons anywhere. The one gripe I can come up with is that often packs of Ganado can grow so large, even the numerous models available for the Ganado just aren't enough. Twins are inevitable. Nevertheless, graphically RE4 is unsurpassed by anything else out there (even by its PS2 counterpart. Especially by its PS2 counterpart).
The game's sound and music is quite good. Each different gun has their own unique sound effect associated with them, and in typical Resident Evil fashion the music is more subdued except when absolutely necessary. The voice acting is quite good, the actors doing a genuinely good job even when the script gets unbelievably cheesy.
The game has a plethora of extras. A bonus mission starring Resident Evil 2's Ada (which hints at something bigger going on then even the game's antagonist is aware of) and a handful of unlockable guns add a lot of extra potatoes to the game's already wonderful beef. The option to restart the game using all of the guns and inventory space from your previous game was also an excellent idea.
Returning from Resident Evil 3 is the absolutely brilliant Mercenaries minigame. Mercenaries lets you choose a character (Leon, Ada, HUNK or Wesker), each of which has a unique set of attacks and guns available to them, and try to survive as long as possible in four different environments. Mercenaries is a fun diversion, but isn't as well implemented as it was in RE3. Instead of earning money to buy hidden weapons, the player has to gain a high enough rank in each of the levels with each character to unlock Mercenary Mode's one unlockable item (the lusciously powerful Hand Canon). A point in Mercenary Mode's favor: It puts the Survival back in Resident Evil, as ammunition is always scarce. The mode requires you to kill enemies to gain more ammunition, challenging the player to use the right weapons at the right time and to make as much use of physical attacks as possible.
Also included is a shooting gallery, which tasks players with shooting wooden cutouts of Leon's enemies while not shooting cutouts of Ashley. A collection of digital action figures (called “Bottle Caps”) is your reward for success, since collectible representations of characters in the game seem to be all the rage these days. The one downside to the shooting gallery is it can only be accessed in the main game, only appearing at preset points throughout the game. With two different sets of guns to use on four different ranges and four bottlecaps total to earn on each range, the shooting gallery gives you at least one excuse to play the game through again.
The game is modestly long, averaging about 12 to 15 hours for a first run through the game. There are three very different environments in the game: a village, a castle (as well as the mines and catacombs beneath) and an “abandoned” military base, each of which offers its own fun. Not only is it one of the longest Resident Evils on record, it's also one of the most entertaining. The game itself gauges how well you do as you play, increasing the difficulty level appropriately as you do. Despite this, there are still two difficulty levels available and the second one can be a doozy for the inexperienced. The first time I beat Resident Evil 4, I was caught somewhere between heartstruck and heart broken. I quickly started a new game on Professional difficulty and renewed my love interest. Resident Evil 4 is just a pure joy to play, in a way I haven't seen since the original Smash Brothers.
Gameplay: 9 out of 10
Story: 3 out of 5
Controls: 9 out of 10
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 5 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 9 out of 10
Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10
The Good: Gorgeous graphics and one of the best game engines I've ever seen add up to one brilliant game. The gunplay is fast and always exciting, and some genuine scares along the way make this feel like a very grownup Resident Evil rather then a glorified action game with the Resident Evil title.
The Bad: The game makes some sacrifices on story and puzzle elements which are sure to at the very least annoy fans of the original games. Mercenary Mode is as fun as it was in Resident Evil 3, but the rewards aren't as rewarding.
The Ugly: If you're a diehard fan of the original games, then the new game engine is bound to make you very angry. If you fear change, then avoid this game.
Since Capcom began developing Resident Evil titles for the Gamecube, they've been taking risks with the series. First, they remade Resident Evil, which was a huge risk as it was one of the most cherished titles in video gaming at that point. But they did such a fantastic job, nobody complained about defiling a gem or cashing in on their own success. Resident Evil 0 followed soon after, abandoning item boxes by allowing players to place items wherever they wanted, and requiring players to multitask by controlling two characters at the same time. Resident Evil 4 took the biggest risk of all: Take one of the most tried-and-true game designs on the planet, and completely redesign it from scratch. Capcom could've shot themselves in the foot with Resident Evil 4, but they didn't. Yet another excellent title for the Resident Evil franchise.
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)
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