Anyone who knows the Resident Evil series knows that it has been a franchise with its major high points and low points. Also, like many of you, I came close to fearing the thought of another Resident Evil game. Therefore I was skeptical and also somewhat worried when I heard about the new¯ Resident Evil 4. Thinking, Oh God, another recycling of the same old stuff¯, I could almost see one of my favorite game series going straight down the drain, never to return. But as the hype grew and I saw more of the game, my eyes widened at the idea of, This game might actually be for real¯. And now, after having entire nights consumed by this game, I look back at my initial fear and cringe in shame. Now I must bow down and pray for forgiveness from the video game gods, hoping I won't be struck down via a bolt of lightning from my Gamecube. A new beginning for the series, RE4 not only lives up to the hype surrounding it, but also excels on nearly every level possible.
Six years have passed since the horror in Raccoon City, and in that time the U.S. government has managed to destroy the infamous Umbrella Corporation. But now government agent Leon S. Kennedy, former Raccoon City cop and star of Resident Evil 2, has been called upon to rescue the kidnapped President's daughter, Ashley. The action starts as Leon finds himself near a rural village somewhere in England, where they have a good lead as to Ashley's whereabouts. Turn off the lights and turn up the sound, you're in for a gaming experience you won't soon forget.
When you first see it, how can you say anything but wow¯? This game is simply a work of art. As you progress through the game, you pass through several different types or areas including woodland, villages, a castle, and many more that you will just have to see for yourself. The game designers did an excellent job in keeping the environments fresh and varied while still giving you that classic somebody's watching me¯ feeling. Wooded areas, for example, are dense with trees and undergrowth, forcing you to watch your every step and keep an eye on all of your surroundings. An eerie fog also shrouds the landscape, making spotting enemies even tougher. But before you know it you find yourself venturing in and out of dark corridors, guaranteed to bring back memories of fighting your way out of a deadly mansion. All the characters are also very good looking.
As you walk, Leon's hair sways back and forth with every step. His jacket also wavers and blows in the wind. The special effects are beautiful and sometimes beautifully disgusting. The flames from torches and explosions are particularly impressive. And you are hard pressed to find anything more satisfying than watching as one of your bullets makes an advancing enemy's head go kablooey.
Through its history, the Resident Evil series has been known for its less-than-great voice acting; and while the speech in RE4 isn't perfect, it is an improvement. Despite the fact that Leon can throw out some brutally lame one-liners during conversations and that you sometimes get the feeling Ashley is about as smart as a box of rocks, the voice acting is pretty solid and at least won't take you out of the game. The true staple in the sound department, however, is the music and sound effects. In classic Resident Evil style, you go about the game in complete silence just waiting for the next attack. Instead of music, you hear background noises: birds squawking, branches cracking, and paper blowing. But as soon as an enemy spots you, loud droning music kicks in. In the already stressful situation of trying not to get your head chopped off (and it happens, believe me), this music creates an unbelievable feeling of tension and really gets the blood pumping. Along with the environmental sounds are all of the noises your enemies make. The traditional low moaning of the somewhat dead is also accompanied by the sounds of creepy chanting and the yells of enemies calling for backup. Other times the game throws sound effects at you just to try to freak you out. Sounds such as a creature running toward you or objects falling in the distance are common but not overused and can really keep you on edge. It is here I must applaud the audio folks at Capcom for, on several occasions, making me literally too scared to turn around.
Gameplay is unbelievable. The all new behind-the-back perspective is a welcome addition and should make all you camera angle whiners jump for joy. This viewpoint ties in perfectly with the new shooting system as well. Using the laser sight on your gun, you can put a bullet anywhere you want. You can shoot an enemy right in the eye to put him down for the count, or if you're in a hurry you can just stick a bullet in his leg and run right on by. Just don't aim in one spot for too long. There are no mindless zombies in this game, but there are times in which you wish there were. The AI is leaps and bounds beyond any of its predecessors. Hostile villagers will run toward you with reckless abandon as well as duck and dodge to avoid being hit. The only real issue I found with the gameplay is that there is no way to quickly switch between weapons if things aren't going as planned. You have to go into your inventory and manually equip whatever it is you want. The game pauses while you are in your inventory screen so this is not a problem, but a quick switch definitely would have been a nice feature to have.
Speaking of your inventory screen, you can finally carry more than six items at a time! Yay! And when I say you can carry more I mean MORE. At one point in the game I had on me a pistol, a rifle, a shotgun, ten boxes of ammo, half a dozen hand grenades, and five healing herbs with plenty of room to spare. Item boxes may be a thing of the past, but with an expandable carrying case for all of your goodies you will rarely be wishing you had one. Also gone are the days of solving puzzles in order to get new weapons. As you fight your way through mobs of villagers and other enemies, you can pick up item drops which usually consist of ammo and cash. With the money you collect you can buy various items, such as weapons, from merchants located throughout the game. You can also use your hard earned cash to upgrade your current weapons via improving firepower, capacity, etc.
With the new camera placement, weapons, and enemies, Resident Evil 4 is a true case of evolution. So much so that I question it being called strictly a survival-horror¯ game. Think of RE4 more as an action-survival-horror game. The entire process of how you go about beating the game has changed from previous installments in the series. The number of puzzles in the game has been drastically slimmed down and the puzzles themselves are relatively simple and easy to figure out. Instead you are required to constantly think on your feet. Even cutscenes are potentially dangerous with many requiring you to use split-second reflexes to dodge sneak attacks. I actually found myself looking forward to the puzzles just so I could take a quick break from filling villagers full of lead.
But of the few things that disappointed me, the biggest was that this game never really tied into the rest of the Resident Evil series. Sure, Leon Kennedy is in it, and there are a few interesting moments of dialog which I won't spoil here, but other than that there are no other solid links to any of the other games. I understand that this game is supposed to be something completely new and amazing, and it is. But I do wish that it had remembered its roots a little more.
Simply put, Resident Evil 4 will blow you away. Hardcore fans may be disappointed that it puts more emphasis on action than puzzles and has a shaky tie to the rest of the series, but have faith. This game has been better than anyone could have expected. Great graphics, fantastic sound, and gameplay to die for, there very few reasons why you wouldn't want to pick this one up. If you are a gamer who wants a really, really good game with a healthy 20+ hours of playtime, RE4 is for you.