Posted May 13, 2007
Dismembering the dead has become one of the favorite pastimes of gamers and Capcom delivers another dose with Resident Evil 4’s reimagined take on the franchise that helped to define survival horror. But instead of zombies, you’ll be dealing with a new evil that has taken up residence within the series’ latest chapter as angry village people, a pasty faced midget, and a new religion take the place of the recently deceased.
Bring Out Your Dead
It’s been six years since the incident at Raccoon City had forced the President to destroy it with nuclear fire after a viral outbreak turned the citizens there into the undead. The pharmaceutical giant, Umbrella, whose research was responsible for the incident, was finally brought to justice as the Government suspended its business, effectively bankrupting the vast corporate empire. The nightmare appeared to be over.
Leon Kennedy, a survivor of Raccoon City, is now on assignment to protect Ashley, the President’s daughter who was kidnapped while returning from college. Following clues that have taken him to a village in Europe nestled deep within a forest of dead trees, it’s the only lead that he has to try and find her. But what has started out as a simple assignment to find Ashley will turn into a fight for survival as evil in a familiar form, although not quite what he might expect.
The newest chapter of Capcom’s monster mash shows off a large number of changes that have made it more of a survival action title than the kind of survival horror that had frayed the nerves of long time fans, living up to what the back of the case has said in forgetting what you know. Saves can now be made whenever a typewriter is nearby rather than relying on how many ink spools you might have in your inventory, there’s a more ammo to be found along with healing herbs, and the chests that you can use to store extra stuff has been turned into an attache case that Leon slugs around with him and can even be upgraded. These are only a few of the changes that RE4 has brought to the table and it has made it more accessible to players that may appreciate the kind of desperate horror that Resident Evil is known for, but secretly wish to indulge in the guilty pleasure of taking on the dead like an action hero.
That’s not to say that you’ll be able to go in with guns blazing, though, and there are plenty of scares to be found within the game from the start as an entire village of psychotic humans come for you. They’re not dead, but they’re not exactly human, either, and this is a theme that will play out through your adventure as they scream for your blood, laugh, and chant their shuffling fleet towards you. Sack cloth headed chainsaw psychotics, axe throwing old men, whispering cultists that have more in common with the Many from Looking Glass’ System Shock 2, and a huge number of traps and puzzles will stand in your way as you, and eventually Ashley, try to survive a modern medieval nightmare.
The game throws out the fixed camera angles of the earlier formula to bring the player much closer to the action with a third person perspective that rides shotgun over Leon’s right shoulder. As you explore the 3D environments, additional actions such as climbing over fences, jumping through windows or from high ledges, or toppling raised ladders will also play into what you must do to survive. Aiming your weapons will bring the camera in closer and a laser sight helps to focus on getting those valuable, ammo conserving, headshots. The Gamecube’s controller works well with the in-game mechanics and won’t take much time in getting used to moving around while trying to fend off the putrid, flesh covered fingers of those who consider you the odd man out of their little community.
You can also slow many of your enemies with shots to the legs. Depending on where else you shoot your more human enemies, they’ll react accordingly as they jerk back, fall to the ground, hold their faces in pain, or get really pissed and try to rush you. Their flesh hasn’t rotted away and they’re not entirely without their humanity as many of them can run, climb ladders, or even use maces and shields to break you apart. If they’re holding a stick of dynamite, a little sharpshooting can usually result in a room clearing experience. Weapons such as axes or sickles can also be shot out of the air with ease, as long as you can point and shoot in the right direction in time. And some enemies, such as the awesome bosses, require you to find their weaknesses first before you can even scratch their flesh, surviving what they can throw at you first before you get a chance to even get an idea of what you should do.
An in-game merchant will supply you with goods ranging from a number of healing sprays to offering his services in modifying your weapons to make them deadlier as you collect cash from your foes or find secret stashes hidden everywhere, urging you to actually explore the dark corners of RE4’s world as opposed to trying to find other ways around them. Special treasures are also scattered about, some of which can be improved with other trinkets that you might find in order to make them even more precious before you hock them for a rocket launcher. You can also smash up certain items to see if there’s anything in them, open up furniture to search for ammo and other goodies, and solve a number of simple, but fitting, puzzles.
The game is also loaded with context sensitive button sequences and triggers during several in-game cinematics, such as tapping madly on the green A button as Leon tries to outrun a boulder coming down the path, to hitting either the Left and Right triggers at the same time to jump out of the way in a split second decision. Other moments included shaking the stick to fend off the teeth of a hungry villager, or rolling beneath a tree as it’s swung at you. It will also mix up the sequence to keep you on your toes, substituting A and B for the triggers or vice versa. At first, I didn’t mind these as they were simple and didn’t feel overdone. Later on, they unfortunately became more and more a part of the gameplay, especially during one boss encounter that took place while in-cinema where they become an exercise in Simon Says until you get it right.
Evolving horrors courtesy of Capcom’s artists to the damned will stand rotting in your path as Leon and Ashley try to survive, and all of them literally bleed personality. Whether it’s an invasion of killer country folk or the slithering personality of their so-called religious leader, to the bug faced fliers and fang baring mongrels that haunt the dark recesses of the land around you, RE4’s world is a Darwinian freakshow of science gone horribly wrong as its inhabitants fill in locales ranging from a village in the country to a vast castle complete with its own twisted history. RE4 pushes the Gamecube’s graphics from the muddy browns of the great outdoors to the opulent interiors of a castle that Bavaria’s Ludwig II would probably have built showing some of the best visuals that Nintendo’s little box had to offer.
The story is tightly woven right into the action and fits in easily with what Resident Evil is all about, despite the changed gameplay and occasional moments of cheesy dialog, with plenty of twists. The top notch voice acting blends Leon and Ashley into an unexpected team as villains sarcastically taunt them. The music and sound also come together with plenty of gushing plops and dribbling pouring out from your speakers with the music raising the tempo after suddenly finding yourself in a life or death struggle while knee deep in the dead. The only downside to the presentation is in how the camera is sometimes taken away from the player on occasion, sometimes placing them in a bad position because of the time they could have otherwise used to prepare themselves for what is coming. Most of these moments can be canceled out of, though, allowing you to get ready as opposed to just waiting for the enemy to arrive.
Despite RE4’s emphasis on action, the title is filled with plenty of content. Just when you think you may have finished the game, a new area opens up complete with even more terrifying secrets to uncover with an appropriately exciting finish to the adventure. Getting through the game for the first time may take fifteen to twenty hours, and special unlockables become available depending on how well you had done at whatever difficulty level you had decided on. Special weapons, new costumes, and two new gameplay options offer up new ways with which to play the game at. Ada, a mysterious agent that Leon will encounter within the game, has her own sidestory that you can try out afterwards while Mercenaries offers plenty of gunplay as you try and beat its score challenge.
Stay Awhile, Stay Forever
Veterans of the series may miss the tension filled horror that RE4’s predecessors had chilled their blood with in the past, but the action packed twist to the formula continues to maintain the quality of its gameplay with plenty of its own shuffling scares and moments of eerie uncertainty in between moments of explosive gunplay and survival cinema. Capcom has really outdone themselves with Resident Evil 4 and anyone looking to get into the series for the first time couldn’t ask for a better introduction into its biohazard filled frights. Umbrella may be dead, but there are plenty of other things in the world that have been waiting to come screaming in from the night.
– World 1-1