"Those early-game villagers utilize all sorts of farming implements, such as pitchforks, sickles and hatchets, in their attempts to end Leon's mission prematurely. And they're the patsies. Just wait until one of their heads explodes to release a tentacle-flailing parasite seemingly crafted in the darkest recesses of H.P. Lovecraft's imagination. Or a gigantic ogre lumbers into the fray, rips a gnarled tree out of the ground and starts swinging it around like it was light as a feather. Or a monstrous semi-invisible bug pounces, spraying Leon with acidic secretions."
Immediately after beating Resident Evil 4, I started up a second go-through of the game. Not one of the unlocked extras, such as the Mercenaries mini-game, the two sidequests concerning supporting character Ada or the more difficult “professional” mode, but what was essentially a "new game +" with all the goodies I'd acquired during my great victory. You see, it was such a roller-coaster thrill to simply survive the main quest, that now, with super-powered weapons and the knowledge of what lied before me, I had this unquenchable desire to even the score -- to get revenge for the couple dozen times that I’d suffered one horrible death or another.
It says a lot when a game gets that sort of control over me, but Resident Evil 4’s simply that good. It doesn’t take long for Leon Kennedy’s European trek to rescue the kidnapped daughter of the president to hit its first snag, as he finds himself confronted by a whole village full of hostile folk. Due to a general lack of ammo, Leon’s not going to have an easy time of blasting his way out of this jam, making survival more a case of being able to dodge the natives and their makeshift weapons. And if he happens to attract the attention of a pair of chainsaw-wielding behemoths, it’s going to be a bit tougher to get out of this place in one piece (literally).
To Capcom’s credit, that tense little scene, which easily can devolve into Leon running helter-skelter through the village trying to stay one step ahead of his bloodthirsty pursuers, is only the beginning. This game keeps the intensity ramped up from beginning to end, ensuring that players simply won’t be able to stop and catch their breath.
To start off, this isn't the same Resident Evil franchise Leon was featured in during the glory days of the PlayStation -- there's no awkward play control or slow-moving zombies capable of doing little more than shocking players by unexpectedly pouncing on 'em from time to time. Everything got bulked up on steroids here, making this game a smooth, fast-moving shooter. Leon's become a lean, mean fighting machine, capable of blasting the hell out of anything that moves with a vast arsenal of weaponry, while stabbing, kicking or suplexing any fool lucky enough to get through that hail of bullets.
Not to say things are going to be remotely close to easy, though, as the seemingly limitless hordes of adversaries are capable of doing a lot more than simply shuffle after him, hoping to take a chomp out of his neck (although many seem to be more than a bit hungry for some flesh). Those early-game villagers utilize all sorts of farming implements, such as pitchforks, sickles and hatchets, in their attempts to end Leon's mission prematurely. And they're the patsies. Just wait until one of their heads explodes to release a tentacle-flailing parasite seemingly crafted in the darkest recesses of H.P. Lovecraft's imagination. Or a gigantic ogre lumbers into the fray, rips a gnarled tree out of the ground and starts swinging it around like it was light as a feather. Or a monstrous semi-invisible bug pounces, spraying Leon with acidic secretions.
And those aren't even close to the worst things that can happen in this game. Many foes are gifted with an instant-kill attack, whether it be decapitation by chainsaw or a good old-fashioned knife across the throat, courtesy of a "super-soldier" with a nasty disposition. And the outcome of other life-or-death situations can only be determined by how quickly a player can tap precise button combos. Succeed and Leon will dodge the attack with none (or little) damage. React too slowly and watch him either take a devastating hit or simply perish. Oh, and during the parts of the game where you're escorting the president's daughter, you'll also have to protect her from being abducted or killed by various foes. And since her primary form of self-defense seems to be huddling in the fetal position while screaming for help, a lack of vigilance on your part can quickly induce the familiar sight of the "GAME OVER" screen.
Fortunately, while Resident Evil 4 takes pleasure in seeing how many ways it can kill players, it's not THAT sadistic. Thanks to a generous checkpoint system, death is merely an inconvenience and within moments, Leon will have a second (or third....or fourth....) chance to overcome whatever obstacle just sent him to his grave. Ammo is plentiful and, thanks to a slew of creepy merchants, there are many opportunities to buy new weapons or upgrade the ones currently in his inventory.
Those quasi-RPG elements just add to the enjoyment I got from this game. Virtually every weapon in this game can be built up to a fearsome level and some of the "exclusive" final power-ups are just insane. There isn't much of ANYTHING that can stand up to the overpowering might of a fully-charged Broken Butterfly magnum (although ammo is admittedly scarce for that particular weapon), while building the Striker shotgun's capacity up to 100 bullets essentially assures that even the most careless player won't run out of shells at a crucial moment. Also, by mixing the right herbs, Leon can essentially double his life meter, allowing him to take many more crossbow bolts to the jugular before collapsing.
Resident Evil 4 is nearly the perfect example of how to turn a classic survival horror series into a classic action shooter. Nearly. There are a couple of minor issues I had with this game, where I felt Capcom could have gone that one extra step. It would have been really nice to have a button assigned to quickly switch from one weapon to another and/or use healing items. With a game as fast-paced and smooth as this, it disrupts the flow to have to constantly go to the menu screen to equip the right weapon for a particular enemy. And for the most part, the game's puzzles (if you can call them that) are pitifully simple and also provide a minor disruption in the gameplay.
Still, take away those little inconveniences and what's left is a non-stop thrill ride. It's simply amazing how Resident Evil 4 never lets up, as it constantly assaults the player with one horde of enemies after another -- making it the sort of game I can see myself picking up for a run-through or two every few months and enjoying it just as much as the first time through.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 29, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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