The best RE game ever, and probably the only good one too.
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Though it's been three years since Resident Evil 4 first graced the Gamecube, with the upcoming Wii edition, I thought it was a good time to refresh the memories of why the game was so good in the first place and to give some information for people who have never played it before (shame on you!).
I have to be honest here. Until Resident Evil 4, I HATED the series. Not because of the somewhat contrived plot (which continues to become more convoluted), or because of the game's fear factor, but because I simply couldn't play it well. This was due to two factors; the first was that the controls utterly sucked (they felt like a worse version of an RC car's control) and the designers stubbornly refused to change them, saying that the 'difficulty of the controls made the player more scared'. I simply call it bad and lazy design. The second reason was that I didn't understand HOW the game was supposed to be played; for the longest time, I had thought that you were supposed to kill whatever zombie or monster you came across, but no, that wasn't the point at all and I felt cheated.
That's actually a rather interesting point, considering what happened with RE4. What did happen?
RE4 is almost completely different from any of the other games, and yet it's also the same.
The game starts with RE2 protagonist Leon Kennedy on assignment from a new government job. Apparently, the President's daughter has been kidnapped (though considering that he only lost his daughter, this president is leagues better than the current one. Imagine that, someone in a video game better than someone in real life!) and Leon is assigned the task of getting her back from a band of cultists known as Los Illuminados. When Leon enters the small area of Spain in which Ashley is said to be, hell breaks loose almost immediately.
One thing that is readily apparent as you fight the game's first enemy is that the player FINALLY has the ability to aim wherever they need to with their guns/grenades/etc. While you would think that this would become easy, as head shots are a breeze compared to before, the designers cleverly throw new wrinkles into even common enemies, making head shots something you actually want to AVOID on most enemies.
Another huge relief to the gameplay is the change in vision. While before players would run to various pre-rendered background settings and would usually see their characters from only one viewpoint, Leon is now given a 'behind the shoulder' view which actually complements the still basically unchanged controls. Interestingly enough, Leon feels MUCH easier to control simply because of the different viewpoint, making me wonder how good it would feel if they made the game totally analog.
So other than the controls and new view, what makes this Resident Evil better than the others?
Possibly the biggest change has to do with one of my complaints above. Apparently, Capcom felt the same way that I did about capping zombies and monsters, and now the game is far more oriented towards action than it is about survival. For one thing, rather than mindless zombies shuffling towards you, the enemies you fight, even grunts, are FAR more intelligent. In just the beginning of the game, various zonked out villagers throw axes and scythes at you, are able to break down doors, corner you in a pincer position and even have one particular member with a chainsaw who is almost IMPOSSIBLE to take down through conventional means. To have a worthy counter to this, Leon is given ammo and items from almost every enemy he takes down, letting him either keep these things or sell them to the game's various merchants, allowing him to (finally) gain more space for items, or buy weapons and weapon upgrades. These start from various new pistols and shotguns to one shot rocket launchers.
The game is one massive thrill ride from start to finish, and only starts to wear down at the very end.
Throughout the game, players are given many moments in which they have to press a button, or a certain sequence of buttons while action occurs onscreen, similar to Sega's Shenmue games. Dodging a giant boulder, outrunning a statue, and even jumping onto the back of an enormous boss monster are just some of the ways this is used. The game is better for it, able to do amazing action that the normal game simply could not.
What's interesting is that the level structure and pacing of the game could be seen as almost directly coming from Capcom's classic 'Ghouls and Ghosts'. You start out in a small forest type area, eventually making your way through a huge castle and finally making your way to the final boss. Players are given quite a few backdrops to the setting, and before the adventure is over they'll have gone through a lake, a clocktower, a dungeon, a boiler area with statues that shoot real fire, and even an almost abandoned military base.
Now let's talk about the game's enemies, as a big part of the Resident Evil titles is knowing how to fight and defeat various foes. RE4 is Zombie free, instead having Leon fight mostly real people. Some are infested with a plague similar to the T-virus, while others are simply part of the Los Illuminados cult. These people will do almost anything to stop you; while at first they only try to grab you, throw axes at you and chainsaw you, it gets to the point where the enemies are using catapults with flaming boulders, wooden shields, and spiked clubs to try and get you, the enemy total and intelligence rising with each encounter. Some even volunteer as suicide bombers, leading to some VERY nasty encounters.
As if these normal enemies weren't enough, players face quite a variety of others. While a good portion of the enemies have never been in a RE game before, others are nastier versions of series mainstays. Giant bugs now swarm around you and can turn invisible; three tortured prisoners have been fitted with metal claws and armor, almost impossible to take down through normal 'blast 'em' methods; suits of armor, stronger attack dogs and even enemies that just won't die are included within the huge number of things you'll have to kill.
The bosses however, are the game's highlight. Even in the very first stage, the boss Leon faces is incredible, and proves that the element of fear can still embody Resident Evil... just in a different way than before. I'm not going to spoil this boss for you, nor any of the others, but trust me when I say that you'll have to use your head against these guys and you'll love every minute of it.
So enough about how the game plays. What about the other things, like Sound and Graphics?
Well, honestly I would say that RE4 is probably the best looking game on the Gamecube, even managing to stop Twilight Princess in its tracks. The amazing animation, weather effects, lighting and everything else combine to form a picture that will often have you questioning if this is actually a game or not.
The music fits almost perfectly to the entire game, staying silent at certain times in order to heighten the ambiance. Likewise, the various sound effects and grunts used for enemies, items and weapons are all just right.
While the voices in the game don't often pop up, they definitely do a much better job than usual for Resident Evil. Leon is now voiced by Paul Mercier, a fairly new voice actor who nails the grizzly protagonist. Likewise, most of the voices are performed well, with the only exception being the venerable Lord Saddler, the game's big boss. Mainly this was because his Spanish accent sounds incredibly forced, and you start to think that he's a Spaniard being played by a very bad American actor.
If you've got something that's a comparison to Chrono Trigger, your game HAS to be good!
As if all this weren't enough, players are given the chance at the end of the game to start over with all of the money, weapons and items that they began with, in a New Game + sort of feature. Depending on how much money you have, the player can buy various special weapons that are incredibly fun to go through the game with (An infinite Rocket Launcher against a pack of villagers? Priceless!) and give it even more replay value.
Basically, if you haven't yet gotten this game, or are leery of it due to past RE titles, GO OUT AND BUY IT! You won't be disappointed, trust me. Considering that Capcom's upcoming RE5 is using the same basic game engine, that should tell you something.
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