"The Resident Evil games never really changed that dramatically over the course of the series (up to recently). They never ventured very far beyond the boundaries of standard survival horror, even if the series had itself invented a lot of what now defines the genre. However, as the games progressed, they appeared to become more and more monotonous. There's only so many moaning zombies and skinless dogs a person can take before they begin to ask for something a little different. In the fourth gam..."
The Resident Evil games never really changed that dramatically over the course of the series (up to recently). They never ventured very far beyond the boundaries of standard survival horror, even if the series had itself invented a lot of what now defines the genre. However, as the games progressed, they appeared to become more and more monotonous. There's only so many moaning zombies and skinless dogs a person can take before they begin to ask for something a little different. In the fourth game of the series, Code: Veronica, gamers saw for the first time the use of full polygonal environments as opposed to the static, pre-rendered backgrounds which had previously been a trademark of the series. However, the game never really took advantage of this feature, mainly due to the fixed camera angles. So Resident Evil 4 (the next proper sequel in the main RE series) is next in line to rewrite the survival horror genre. So, after Resident Evil 4, is it now rewritten?
Well, I'll answer that question later.
The story follows Leon Kennedy, as seen previously in Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Gaiden. He is now a secret agent for the US government assigned to protect to the President's family. Unfortunately, someone wasn't protecting as well they could have been, and the President's daughter, Ashley, has been kidnapped and taken to a remote area of Spain, where she is being held captive. Soon after arriving, Leon discovers that everything isn't quite right in the Spanish village. Now, we all know Spanish locals aren't the most friendly, but this is a little more aggressive than we were expecting. After being chased by murderous villagers in the first few minutes of the game, Leon finds out that the culprits behind the strange events are a cult known as "Los Iluminados", who are implanting parasites into local residents, effectively brainwashing them. And so Leon has to follow a trail around this remote area, getting ever closer to rescuing the president's daughter. There are three main areas you have to explore in the game, beginning with the Village, followed by the Castle, and ending with the Island. All three are varied and it's nice to have a change of scenery now and again.
The first thing that RE-fans will notice is that no longer are they tied down to fixed static cameras. They can move the camera freely around the environment, checking out Leon's positioning and watching for any approaching enemies. It's a great addition to the series, and helps the game flow much better. When Leon is shooting, the camera automatically zooms down to an over-the-shoulder view so we can aim his laser-sight onto the bodies of enemies, ready to start blowing holes in 'em. With this fourth game in the series, you now also have beautifully crafted environments to look at (with your new free-camera). The graphics couldn't really be better, with great areas to explore and enemies which stagger and run towards you before getting their heads blown off. They really are some of the best graphics seen on an action/adventure game on the PS2.
Although not exceptionally dark (in comparison with games such as Silent Hill) the game still maintains a dark, unsettling atmosphere, which really makes you feel like you're an intruder being constantly hunted. The voice acting, although at times very overracted, is of a high enough standard. Although, while prowling around the village, you do get tired of the villagers murmering the same line of Spanish dialogue to each other over and over. You end up wanting to shoot off their faces just to shut them the hell up. Another slightly annoying, but most helpful, voice you'll hear at various points through the game is the new Cockney salesman! A sinister looking guy shrouded in a dark trenchcoat who sells you new guns, health and upgrades, as well as buying your unwanted stuff off you. This is a nice touch to the game. Unfortunately, however, you still have to deal with the menu-based weapon-changing system. You'd think that in a game which is so advanced in every other way, you wouldn't have to pause in the middle of a battle in order to swictch from a handgun to a shotgun, or to get your granades. But even this minor problem is an advantage in that it serves as a quiet moment between tense fighting and blood-spilling action (although the combat is so enjoyable, you probably won't want a break!).
Even once you reach the cut-scenes of the game, you'll still have to be on your toes, as some of them involve a certain amount of quick button-tapping in order to get Leon through some sticky situations. If you fail to hit the required buttons (either circle+square or L1+R1 simultaneously) Leon will end up getting splattered in some way, meaning you have to redo the cut-scene until you progress. It's an entertaining idea (although not original) and makes sure you're taking in every word during the cut-scenes.
The games longevity is pretty good. There are puzzles, although not many, so non-thinkers needn't be put off. Even in times when Leon has to hunt around in order to find some sort of emblem to open a door, it's all fairly easily done. A nice variety of weapons, which can all be upgraded to increase power, capacity and reload speed, keep the violence varied. It's nice being able to decide how the next brainwashed monk is going to meet his maker. Shotgun-blast to the head? Knife him? Snipe him from a distance? Although this all sounds very violent (and it is), I found that the most shocking moment in the game is perhaps when you let Leon get caught by one of the chainsaw-wielding villagers, only to be swiftly decapitated. In fact, it's almost worth seeing, if you don't mind throwing yourself into the loving clutches of one of the chainsaw-maniacs.
Also adding to the longevity and lifespan of the game is that once you've completed it, you are rewarded with a few nice not-so-mini-games. One, The Mercenaries, is a high-score based game where you play through four different stages of the game, killing as many enemies as you can. Simple enough for you? The other two are slightly more lengthy. Assignment Ada obviously has Ada as the main character and follows her progress through the last third of the game, finding plaga samples. A problem with this mini-game is that it doesn't let you save your progress, you be prepared to play through the full length in one sitting (around 2 hours). The last, and longest, unlockable game is Separate Ways, which again follows Ada through five chapters, showing why she was sent to find the las plagas sample, along with how she helps Leon on the way. Along with these unlockables, if you choose to play through the proper game once again, you'll be able to purchase new guns from the cockney merchant such as the Rocket Launcher. The unlockables are great, and make sure you really do have an incentive to keep playing the game even after completing the main story.
Now, back to the question at the start - has Resident Evil 4 rewritten the survival horror genre?
The answer is that the genre has been rewritten so well that it's almost become something totally different. It's like Resident Evil 4 has torn up the survival horror rulebook and written it's own. It's abandoned everything that gamers expect from a Resident Evil game (and any game in the genre), forgotten all the little cliches, and created something new. Almost everything you experience in the game is fresh and new and unseen, making this one of the greatest horror experiences (film or game) ever created. You need it.
Community review by harvester (April 13, 2006)
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