Review by jesternario

Reviewed: 04/16/13

I still don't see why people think this game was so revolutionary.

The Resident Evil series is one of the main reasons I got a Gamecube. I was a huge fan, and when I heard that they were remaking the first game and making a prequel for the system, I went out and got one as soon as I could (I found other reasons to like the Gamecube, but that’s not part of the review). The series has always had decent story, if silly in some spots, and was one of the series that pioneered what type of games could be made in a three-dimensional environment.

When Resident Evil 4 came out, I was as excited as anyone else was, but I didn’t get it immediately, not being able to afford it at the time. I heard how it was “revolutionary” and how it changed the way games would be played forever. When I got the game, I was somewhat disappointed and felt like I was playing a different game from everyone else. It wasn’t the industry-changing game everyone said it was. It wasn’t even all that innovative when compared to the rest of the series.

The story of RE4 is excellent. The incident in Raccoon City and other locations controlled by Umbrella caused the company to be shut down. Those who had survived the incident were given the attention by various taskforces. One such survivor was Leon Kennedy from the second game. He has been hired by the government to go to Europe to find and rescue the President of the United States’ daughter, Ashley, who has gone missing and is suspected to have been kidnapped.

But when he gets to the village that she was supposedly taken to, everyone in the village becomes hostile and attacks, forcing Leon to defend himself. The villagers show intelligence, team work, and tool use, so they are not zombies. Will Leon survive long enough to find Ashley and escape? What is the reason for the hostility, beyond simply not wanting to allow a U.S. government agent to find the kidnapped Ashley? And what is so special about the religious order that seems to control the area?

Right away, the storyline is immersive and exciting, and like all the RE games made for the Gamecube, great care is taken to keep the player from making “master of unlocking” jokes. Dialog seems natural and the voice acting is superb, with the now somewhat jaded and cynical Leon easily being one of the best characters in the series, giving snarky quips during cut scenes that most players would probably say themselves. Likewise, exposition isn’t given in a way that seems like its being spoon-fed to you or forced, coming naturally. All this makes for an excellent storyline.

Graphics & Sound
This game shows off the reason I believe that out of the four systems of the time (Gamecube, Xbox, PS2, and SEGA Dreamcast), the Gamecube was the best as far as the graphics capabilities were concerned. The graphics in the game are excellent, and the environment, while still prerendered, didn’t look like it. The characters mesh well with the environment, giving further immersion to what the story already gave.

Sound, likewise, is superb. You will not find an out of place sound or a music score that doesn’t seem to be in the right area. The sounds are realistic, and the music, when it is there, gives you enough to pump you up or make you appropriately tense as the situation warrants, and then stays in the background or just stops playing when it’s not needed. All in all, the sound makes the game just that more enjoyable.

This is what made me wonder why everyone was calling RE4 “revolutionary” and “a game that changes everything.” From a control scheme perspective, you pres up on the control stick to move forward, using left and right to turn, and down to back away from things or just move backwards. If you’re wondering why that sounds so familiar, it’s because the controls are the exact same as every other Resident Evil game ever made, and indeed a good number of 3D games that use a 3rd person perspective. The only real difference is that the camera is now in a behind the shoulder perspective as opposed to a fixed camera perspective that all the games before it had.

If the camera angle is the “new and revolutionary” part of it, it certainly isn’t innovative. In fact, if anything, the camera perspective can make the game far more challenging than it should be, simply because you cannot see behind the character when you need to. It is innovative, however, to have the enemies behind you make a noise to give away their position a moment or so before they attack, avoiding the hate that would come from sudden surprise attacks from behind.

Combat in the game is sound and is extremely fun. The opening mob attack at the beginning of the game (and the entirety of the RE4 demo) is one of the best parts of the game; when I played it in the demo, I knew the game would be fun. The aiming system uses a free aim that allows you to aim for various parts of the body. People thinking this part is innovative will be sorely disappointed, as any first person game made during the time had already done this. Also, the tank controls are still present here; you have stop moving and root yourself to one spot while you aim at an opponent. I was very grateful for that “enemy behind you makes a noise” feature.

The ability to attack an opponent with a roundhouse kick when they are in a sustained pain animation (such as when you shoot them in the knee or head) is useful. Used judiciously, this allows you to save your ammunition in the early parts of the game, where you have so little of it. There is so much more ammunition around when compared to the other games in the series, however, that you will rarely use this move later on, as you will always have enough rounds for whatever gun your using. This is one of the elements in the game that marks the departure of the series from the “survival horror” genre and the move to “action adventure.”

As with other Resident Evil games, inventory management is a must. You have precious little space to keep everything. However, RE4 stops using the “inventory slots” method of item management and instead has what the game calls an “Attaché Case” system. Basically, you have a large space that consists of several small squares, and every item you obtain takes up a specific number of spaces in a specific formation. You can move items around in your attaché case so that you can free up space to allow you to hold larger items.

As with the control scheme, this may sound familiar. That’s because this form of inventory management was first done by the Diablo series. So once again, I don’t see what’s so innovative about it. I do prefer it to any other inventory management system I’ve ever seen in a game, however, and wish they would include it in other games in the series.

One thing that I do feel is truly revolutionary is how the parts with Ashley are handled. Once you find her, the game becomes one giant escort mission. This is one of the few times I have ever seen this style of gameplay done correctly. Ashley, while having no combat abilities, acts with intelligence; staying behind you when you aim, or ducking if you are aiming at an enemy directly behind her. In several sections, you can have her hide in a dumpster while you fight. The enemies are apparently too dumb to look for her in it, so she’s safe there. Also, Ashley does help in several parts of the game, opening doors and pathways so you can continue. Ultimately, I really am pleased with the way this part of the game was handled, as it is such an important part, since this takes up a good portion of the game. It’s good to see that Capcom put in the effort to make this part better than the “dumb as a brick runs into danger” escort or the “gung ho, run into danger and waste all their ammo at a tree” escort.

However, not everything is good. This game is a horrible offender on the “quick time event” and “instant death animations” lists. There are several parts in the game where you will have to dodge out of the way of a falling axe or block, or run from a rolling boulder. Not only do you have to press the right button at the right time, but you have to pound the buttons rapidly during some of these, followed very soon after by pressing a different set of buttons at a precisely timed part. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to be killed and have to start the area over for the twelfth just because you weren’t quick enough to push the A and B buttons a split second after you had to pound on A or B rapidly for a minute. Also several enemies have instant kill attacks if you get close, making some combats frustrating.

This game is not short. You will spend a good weekend or longer playing this game. When you’re done, however, the game gives you several reasons to play it again. Several side missions, such as the secondary character infiltration mission, the combat arena minigame, and the collection sidequest, make this game worth playing more than once.

In addition, you can use your save from your previous game to start the game over with your post game inventory, and you are allowed to buy equipment and upgrade weapons with the money you’ve saved up in the previous play through. This allows you to finally give that guy that probably lopped off your head with a chainsaw an upteen number of times in the opening area a little payback.

Of course, the extra costumes are present just like any other Resident Evil game (and a few RE clones), and you can play through the game in these new outfits.

Final Rating
This game is a good game. The storyline and immersion is enough alone to play the game, and there are a good number of tense moments combined with fun combat segments.

It’s not that the game is bad. I just don’t think it was all that innovative. I guess in the end everyone was simply fooled by Capcom’s attempts to hide unimaginative elements as something new. I once read two reviews on this site that were written by the same reviewer, where he outright bashed a previous RE game for the very same elements he praised this game for. I still do not know why. I guess innovation is all in how you spin your unimaginative ideas.

Final Rating - 5/10. The game is fun to play, but it’s not new, and it’s not revolutionary or innovative.

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Product Release: Resident Evil 4 (US, 01/11/05)

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