Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: Resident Evil 4

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Resident Evil 4

You are dead. Three words that many people believed could be applied to the Resident Evil franchise, after Capcom's many renditions of its Romero-inspired zombie games. What with Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, Zero, CVX, Outbreak 1 & 2, and the three Gun Survivor games in all their various editions and director's cuts, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Capcom were flogging a dead horse by releasing Resident Evil 4.

Well, I'm pleased to report that that horse has risen from the dead and angrily trampled over all who doubted Capcom's ability to reinvent the definitive survival horror series. Resident Evil 4 is an entirely new experience.

Resident Evil 4 catches up with Leon Kennedy six years after the whole exerimental-bioweapon-viral-outbreak-leads-to-whole-city-becoming-flesh-eating-zombies affair that he dealt with in Resident Evil 2. The evil Umbrella corporation and their zombie-spawning T-virus are long gone. This time, Leon is sent to a small village in a forest in Spain, to rescue Ashley Graham, the President's daughter. It appears she has been kidnapped by the leader of a regional religious sect as part of an elaborate plot to put an end to "America policing the world". The Spanish locals go about their country-folk business until they notice you, and then they drop everything and try to kill you en masse.

They aren't zombies as such, but they don't appear to be entirely human either. When you shoot one in the head and they just wince and keep coming toward you, you know something isn't right. They're not the slow lumbering undead, rather they're fast, intelligent and organised. They talk to each other, they lay traps, they use a wide variety of weapons, they'll do their best to surround you, and they have no qualms about taking your head off with a chainsaw at a moment's notice. The first time you face a large group of them running toward you, it's quite intimidating. When you draw your gun, take aim and they suddenly dodge, weave and duck out of your line of fire, it starts to get really frightening. It's about then that you'll get hit in the head with a flying axe. The enemy AI in RE4 presents a real challenge.

The quality of the graphics is astounding. Resident Evil 4 has been developed from the ground up for the Gamecube, and it shows off the power of the machine like no other game has. Unlike the other RE games, RE4 is presented entirely in real-time 3D, featuring no pre-rendered backgrounds or movie sequences. It's displayed exclusively in letterboxed widescreen format, which not only lends a suitably cinematic feel to the game, but no doubt helped Capcom to maintain a constant framerate (30fps) even in progressive scan. The environments are dripping with rich detail and show off some of the best weather effects ever seen, while the villagers and numerous other enemies look and animate very convincingly. The overall effect is extremely realistic and immersive, which makes the game all the more terrifying.

The Gamecube's audio capabilities have been pushed to new heights with Resident Evil 4 too. The whole game is encoded in Dolby Pro Logic II, and you'll want your surround sound system turned up to really get the most out of it. The atmospheric soundscapes really play a huge role in creating an ominous, oppressive feeling. On more than one occasion, my neck has been saved by one of the rear speakers alerting me to the presence of an approaching enemy. By the way, if your grandmother speaks Spanish, she probably won't be impressed by what she hears in this game. In another departure for the series, the voice-acting is actually very good, and is properly lip-synched.

Most of the game system has been overhauled, though the gameplay is unmistakably Capcom flavoured. Leon now has a wide variety of context sensitive actions he can perform. Defeated opponents will sometimes drop ammo or money that can be used in 'shops' to buy upgrades, new weaponry, or items. While the mission (or chapter) objectives are linear, your path needn't be, and there are many extra battles, side-quests and hidden treasures to be found. It's an evolution of the gameplay that Capcom have been developing in many of their other games like Devil May Cry and Onimusha. Sure it's formulaic, but it's one of the most satisfying gameplay formulas around.

You may find the inventory system a bit frustrating. There are no more item chests - you can only carry whatever you can fit in a single attache case (though bigger cases are available). You won't have room for more than a few weapons, so you'll need to plan carefully. You can discard or sell items that you no longer want to carry. Having to make potentially compromising decisions about what to keep and what to discard is all part of the survival horror experience.

The difficulty curve builds in harmony with your skills and the atmosphere keeps getting thicker. Just wait until night falls and you're being persued through a graveyard by a lynch mob (complete with flaming torches) in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm. Boss battles are intense, spectacular and peppered with fresh ideas that keep the fear factor up. Even the cutscenes will have you on your toes. Every now and then you'll need to do a bit of impromptu button mashing during cutscenes to avoid certain death. The challenge grows even greater when you find Ashley and bring her with you. Turn your back for a second and she'll be carried off by the village people - and they aren't taking her to the YMCA.

There's so much more I'd like to say about Resident Evil 4, but I don't want to spoil anything. You need to play this game for yourself, whether you liked the earlier Resident Evil games or not. This is not just the best survival horror game yet, its one of the best executed games I've ever seen. Every aspect of it is of the highest quality. I should mention that Capcom have confirmed that RE4 will be ported to PlayStation 2 in 2006, though it is inevitable that the game will suffer badly in the process. Gamecube owners rejoice: this is the title that shows how good Gamecube really is. Non-Gamecube owners: go and buy one now. Resident Evil 4 is probably the best game you'll play this year.


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