In 1996, Resident Evil brought the survival horror genre into the mainstream with its creepy environments and ultra violent gameplay. Though it didn’t single-handedly invent the genre, it perfected it. Through the years, it spawned four sequels and a few spin-offs. While each new iteration has brought something new to the table, the core gameplay started to become stale and slow. Fast forward to 2005, where Resident Evil 4 has reinvented the series as well as the genre all together. Sometimes change is good.
You play the part of Leon Kennedy, the rookie cop from Resident Evil 2, on his first day as a government agent on his first mission to rescue Ashley, the president’s kidnapped daughter. Leon’s search lands him in a small village in the boondocks of Europe where he receives a less-than-warn welcome from the local villagers.
Resident Evil 4 takes the series in a new, more action-oriented direction from its predecessors. Gone is the human tank control of the previous games, as you now control Leon in a 3 rd person behind the back (and a bit to the left) perspective which is perfect for the gunplay involved. The analog stick moves Leon and the C stick will barely move the camera to cover his peripheral vision. While this may be a tad annoying at first, you’ll quickly get used to it after a couple of chapters. While there are still some puzzles, they aren’t overly difficult if a minute or two of thought are put into them, they don’t break the flow of the game at all, and something that makes this reviewer very happy. You’ll guide Leon through a host of creepy environments on his journey to find Ashley and ultimately, find what’s happened to the villagers you’ve encountered as well as the hosts of other baddies you’ll encounter along the way. You’ll have Ashley tagging along with you for about half of the game, but she doesn’t get in the way often. You can command her with the X button to either follow you or stay put as you venture ahead. While she is ultimately in danger of being carried off by a baddie, it’s easy to keep her from the ominous glowing door by shooting them in the foot to drop her…provided you don’t hit her while she’s flailing about. While you’re running around levels, you’ll also come across actions that can be performed with the A button, similar to the mechanics of Rise to Honor. These can include jumping through windows, knocking down ladders, jumping over gaps, etc. These actions, when performed at the most opportune moments, really add to the cinematic feel of the game and can cause some really cool outcomes, like knocking over a ladder full of possessed baddies coming up to get you.
The biggest improvement over previous games in the series is the battle system. When you aim, the camera will zoom over Leon’s shoulder and allow you to aim with precision with your laser sight. Enemies display a bunch of location specific actions when shot; they’ll cover their faces in pain when shot in the head, fall then shot in the leg, and drop their weapons when shot in the arm. You can use this as a strategy when you find yourself surrounded, as you often will, by grounding a few of the baddies while you concentrate on others. The baddies show some intelligence as they’ll occasionally step off to the side to avoid a headshot, but they totally seem to prefer charging you head on and depending on their raw numbers to take you down.
Leon won’t be ill prepared for the hordes of pitchfork-wielding villagers, mace swinging religious zealots, and other creatures he’ll encounter along the way. Ammo is plentiful, as you’ll never see yourself trying to preserve it. You’ll also be able to buy new weapons, as well up upgrades (like more firepower, faster reload, and higher capacity) through merchants placed throughout the game’s chapters. You also won’t have to deal with those bothersome inventory issues, since you can buy larger inventories from merchants as well. For those who wished you can freely use a shotgun in a Resident Evil game, your prayers have been answered.
Aside from the hordes of creatures, you’ll also get into a handful of boss battles along the way. While not overly difficult, the bosses are always large, and the battles are very satisfying once you’re through with them.
Aside from the village you start in, you’ll be lead through a bunch of creepy environments consisting of caves, old monasteries, futuristic labs, and castles among other things. Checkpoints are spaced out well through the levels and you can save your game at some (often times, badly placed) typewriters and at the end of a chapter.
Aside from the main game, you’ll also come across a shooting range mini game in some of the game’s levels. Your goal is to score 3,000 points or more by shooting targets to gain bottle caps with the game’s characters on them. Once the game is beaten, you’ll get a couple of new game modes; The Mercenaries, which you have to take out as many “ganados”, or enemies in a set amount of time and Mission: Ada, where you play a mission as Ada Wong. Both of these bonus modes add a lot to the replay value of the game, and the “mercenaries” mini game is just downright addictive.
As far as visuals go, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better looking game on the Gamecube. Environments are very well designed, somewhat interactive, and offer tons of detail. Character models are also very well done. Everyone down to the last bit player looks great. You’ll also get some nifty fire effects, and tons of different death animations for Leon…which would make dying more of a treat than a setback. The more human (and not-so-human) enemies you encounter are very well designed, especially the ones you encounter later in the game; though they do tend to get repetitive after a while.
Sound is also well done, as you’ll as some really great ambient noise while exploring and creepy music when danger is near. I’m also proud to say that the voice acting is the best seen…err heard in a Resident Evil game, though some lines still sound awkward upon delivery, they’ll quickly be forgotten. Enemies also make all sorts of noises, and no two types sound alike. You’ll get a potpourri of Spanish insults from villagers, Latin from the zealots, and an assortment of growls and gurgles when the slugs start flying.
I can say, without any regret whatsoever, that Resident Evil 4 is the best game in the series and a step in the right direction for the series as a whole. Any issues that were plaguing the previous installments are all forgotten and forgiven with this game. It’s got a great flow, an excellent story, characters you can actually care about, and is just plain fun to play. It all culminates in about 20+ hours of enjoyment. If you’ve condemned the series due to the stale gameplay, Resident Evil 4 will be your bouquet of flowers offering forgiveness.
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media