After three numbered sequels, two side stories, one remake and way too many gun survivor games, Resident Evil was in desperate need of a makeover. By 2005 survival horror fans had visited too many scary mansions, fought off too many slow moving zombies and were finally sick of the unwieldy tank controls. Resident Evil fans demanded something brand new; a fresh take on one of Capcom's biggest franchises. Their demands more than met with Resident Evil 4, a sequel that six years later remains one of the greatest games of all time.
Since its original GameCube release, Resident Evil 4 has scared its way to the PlayStation 2, Wii, personal computers and now the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This twenty dollar port features improved HD graphics, full widescreen support, online leaderboards, trophies and a bevy of extra content not found on the tiny GameCube disc.
Resident Evil 4 wisely ditches most of the franchise's most belabored cliches. This time around you aren't fighting zombies, but rather religious zealots, their experiments and the villagers they keep under mind control. Gone is the spooky mansion, replaced by lush outdoor environments, religious temples and even a couple fun sequences involving a boat. Capcom wisely removed the insufferable tank-style controls and added a more modern over-the-shoulder point of view. With its emphasis on action, lack of time consuming backtracking and well-written dialog, this 2005 sequel was a massive departure from the Resident Evil games we knew and loved.
The story involves Leon Kennedy (star of Resident Evil 2) who has traveled to Europe on a mission to save the President's daughter. It seems that some Spanish cult has taken Ashley Graham for international leverage. The plan is to get in and get out before anybody notices; there's no reason to drag this mission out longer than needed. In true Resident Evil fashion, things don't go as planned for Leon. Without warning he is swarmed by a legion of zombie-like villagers. His luck goes from bad to worse when our hero is injected with a mysterious mind control parasite. Now it's up to this Leon to save the girl, kill the parasite growing inside him and get as far away from Europe as possible.
Along the way you'll fight off all kinds of monsters (both real and fictional) in a whole host of impressive looking environments. You'll also meet up with a few familiar faces, solve contextual puzzles and maybe even learn a thing or two about what Umbrella is up to these days. With a 15+ hour running time, Resident Evil 4 is also the longest game in the franchise. The game's excellent pace helps keep the action flowing, all while introducing new locations and adding intriguing wrinkles to the story.
The big change to this this PlayStation 3 version (as well as the Xbox 360 port) is the addition of high resolution graphics. Capcom has gone back to the original HD textures, delivering the best looking version of Resident Evil 4 you will ever see. The game looks as good (if not better) than many of current generation titles, a real testament to the original game's attention art design and attention to detail. There are a few moments when something looks a little grainy or outdated, but it never breaks the illusion.
Equally impressive is the sound design, which goes out of its way to shake its very spotty history. Gone is the cheesy synth soundtrack and B-rate voice acting, replaced with a fitting score and actors who can deliver well written dialog. The game is appropriately atmospheric, bringing the audio in line with the incredible visuals. You won't be disappointed with Resident Evil 4's presentation.
Unfortunately I wasn't as wild about the game's control scheme. Don't get me wrong, the gameplay in Resident Evil 4 is leaps and bounds better than past efforts. I definitely felt like I was in control of Leon, rarely stumbling to move our hero where I needed him to go. However, using the left analog stick to aim took some getting used to. I also found myself stumbling to switch between the knife and gun.
On top of the game's lengthy storyline, players will also have a chance to go through some of the extra content originally found in the PlayStation 2 port. Here you'll be able to play new scenarios with some of the game's supporting characters, as well as earn big points in the Mercenaries mode. These extras are fun diversions, but they pale in comparison to the single-player campaign.
Coming right off of reviewing
Code Veronica X, I was impressed by all of the minor tweaks made to the gameplay. While the graphics and control scheme get most of the ink, somebody should point out how streamlined the item management is this time around. I also liked buying new items, guns and upgrades from a wandering salesman. The developers have eliminated almost all backtracking. Usually when you find an item, you'll be spit out close to the location to use it. It's these little things that make all the difference.
Ultimately I was relieved that this six year old sequel holds up as well as it does. From its sharp pacing to the non-stop action to the unbelievable graphics, Resident Evil 4 is a masterpiece from beginning to end. I doubt you'll see a better looking version than this PlayStation 3 release, which should be all the reason you need to spend twenty dollars on the best survival horror game of all time.