If you asked us two years ago, we’d say that Capcom was out of its mind when it signed an exclusivity deal with Nintendo for its Resident Evil
franchise. At the time, the console was the least popular of the big three and without a doubt, the least powerful. However, in all those years something amazing happened, almost as if Capcom was unable to unlock the hidden potential of the GameCube that had been missing up to that point. That masterpiece was Resident Evil
. Suddenly Capcom didn’t look so stupid and the GameCube didn’t look so inferior to its competitors. Now with Resident Evil 4
the boys at Capcom have revolutionized the way we look at the survival horror genre and video gaming in general.
You’re Leon S. Kennedy, the protagonist from Resident Evil 2
. After the debacle at Raccoon City Leon joined a Special Forces group where he carried out a number of missions for the United States Government. At the onset of the game, it is learned that the President’s daughter has been kidnapped on her way home from college. In an effort to keep her disappearance under the radar, Leon is called in to a remote village to investigate her disappearance and bring her back home safely. Don’t expect any welcoming committees though, soon after his arrival the villagers start going crazy and appear to hate their newfound stranger. It seems that the villager’s disdain for Leon and his quest to find the missing daughter are interlinked and he’ll have the face the great evil in order to accomplish his mission. Along the way he’ll run into a couple of old friends, a midget with a Napoleon complex and an insane cultist hell-bent on taking over the world. It all sounds very clichéd but the manner in which the story is presented, including the cult’s plan for world domination, is unique and different from what we’ve seen before.
Leon’s adventure will start out in a rural village but by the end of it, he’ll have traversed a gothic castle, a lava chamber, an industrial complex, a hedge maze, a cemetery and a fortified island. Each location in the game looks unique and generally sparkles thanks to some amazing architecture and level design. Even when you’re backtracking you won’t feel cheated because the designers added some extras (such as a beautiful rain effect) in order to spruce up your trip. The locations are memorable as well, including the amazing lava chamber which simply has to be seen to be believed.
One of the most often asked questions pertaining to this game was “where are the zombies?” to which the response was always “there are none.” The mindless idiots that we so loved to kill in the past have been replaced with a number of more intelligent beings. Zombies are creepy and all but there’s something particularly unsettling about a middle-aged house wife running at me full speed with a cleaver in her hand. It’s almost scarier when I think about the fact that I’m being hunted by a smarter and more intelligent being that is able to think and operate on the same level that I do. As the game progresses you’ll discover the ill effects that the cult has on its denizens, leading to some pretty grotesque creatures. Suffice to say that enemy diversity isn’t really issue with this game.
RE4 is played from an over-the-shoulder perspective that displays essentially what the protagonist sees. This is highly disorienting at first and the initial impression we had was that the system was clunky and ineffective. After about 15 minutes our tone had changed, we were convinced that this was not only the proper way to convey the action, but it was the only way. Part of the fright and chills that come from this genre of gaming revolves around the fact that the player can never quite get a full grasp of that which lies ahead. There are plenty of blind spots to be had but that’s part of the fun. It’s frighteningly delightful to tackle on a group of zombies only to have another group flank you from the side and scare the living daylights out of you.An area that has really benefited from the new perspective is the combat system. At first it seems disorienting as well and it takes a little getting used to. Instead of utilizing a dual-analog free aiming solution the designers force you to remain stable in order to fire. After pressing the R button the left analog stick controls your aim. Here you can target specific body parts on your enemies through the use of a small laser targeting system. Where you hit your foes is infinitely important, shots to the breadbasket are the least effective while headshots aren’t always the best course of action. It’s also interesting to see the enemies react depending on where they’re shot. Shoot them in the leg and they’ll collapse into a heap on the floor, hit them in the head and their necks will snap back. It’s especially amusing to watch the physics system in work; shotgun blasts can send multiple foes flying backwards in remarkable fashion.
This also leads to some pretty remarkable weapons, although their intriguing elements come from the way that they operate. Early on you start off with a puny and ineffective pistol but soon after, you’ll have the chance to pick up shotguns, sub machineguns and the ever popular sniper rifle. Each weapon can be upgraded in a number of categories and ammo is generally accessible throughout the adventure. All of the weapons have an especially satisfying feel to them, especially the sniper rifle. The blur effect used to represent the zoom is beautiful and catching a glimpse of your foes up close is definitely a sight to behold. You’ll be doing plenty of killing throughout the adventure and the weapon selection doesn’t disappoint. Now if Capcom can only find a way to refine the inventory system, they’d be in business.
It’s difficult for screenshots to depict just how gorgeous this game is. That’s because it’s not just a one-trick pony, it doesn’t fool you with beautiful landscapes or pre-rendered backdrops. The beauty comes from the animation and all of the game’s moving parts. To say that RE4 set a new standard for graphical achievement would be putting it lightly. Everything looks amazing, especially the weather and atmospheric effects. Fire is everywhere but it’s not just a simple animation that repeats itself over and over, it has a life of its own as it billows and sways in the wind. The lighting is just amazing as shadows are cast about, adding new dimension to the scenery. It’s all gorgeous and it’ll be the standard for console games to come.
An area that kind of let me down was the audio; it features support for Dolby Pro Logic II decoders but it doesn’t take full advantage of the hardware. Yes, there’s mulit-channel support and the sound does come at you from all sides, but it’s not done all that well. When implemented properly, surround sound can be used as a tool to gauge where the enemy is coming from. In RE4 the sound just sort of comes from all sounds and is actually more disorienting than it is helpful. Thankfully the audio samples are crisp and the weapon effects are satisfying. The dialogue is pretty well done too (well in regards to Resident Evil, that is) and features some comedic moments that we generally don’t encounter in the Resident Evil franchise. Overall the sound package is average, and when the rest of the game is so polished this is rather disappointing.
It took me about 15 hours of recorded time to complete the entire adventure, tack on about 2 more hours for restarts and deaths and you have a pretty lengthy game. Upon completion, you’ll unlock two new modes, Assignment Ada and The Mercenaries. Both of these features are decidedly more action-oriented than the main adventure and feature no puzzles to speak of. You’ll essentially run through the environments that you traversed as Leon in search of additional objectives. In the case of Assignment Ada you’re tasked with finding five samples of the Plaga so that you can help an old friend. The Mercenaries is an offshoot of the mode that appeared in Resident Evil 2
and requires you to kill as many enemies as you can in the allotted time. Completing the game and these additional modes will unlock new goodies that can be used in the main storyline.
If you own a GameCube you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Resident Evil 4
. It’s not just an achievement in technical design and visual prowess, it’s a masterpiece in video game engineering. This is one of the finest video games ever crafted and the first “must buy” title in the year 2005. Get it now, if you don’t have a GameCube, buy a GameCube and then buy the game. It’s that good.