Review by velmarg

Reviewed: 02/14/05

A tired series gets a make-over, resulting in what can only be described as one of the best games ever made. Period.

When we think survival-horror, we think Resident Evil. It's the series that gave birth to the genre. The first game in the series arrived in the mid-90's on the original Playstation, and at the time, it offered an experience like no other. For many, it was the first truly "scary" video game. The series had its up and downs as time went on, and was eventually considered by many to be a tired series; these criticisms weren't unfounded, as there was very little innovation between the numerous installments. Then in 2003, Capcom announced that they'd be giving Resident Evil an overhaul with Resident Evil 4, promising a very different gaming experience. No one could have predicted how much these changes would breathe life into the series, the genre, and video games as a whole. A survival horror game in the purest sense of the word, the game's intensity and moments of outright panic are unmatched. Make no mistake, Resident Evil 4 is the cream of its crop; the best survival-horror game ever made - and quite simply, one of the best games of all time.

From the second you take control of Leon S. Kennedy (previously seen in the second installment), you'll wonder what took Capcom so long. This really is what Resident Evil was meant to be. The controls, for the most part, remain the same... and yet, they don't seem nearly as restrictive as they once were. This is thanks in part to two things; for one, with the farewell to the beautiful-but-dated still backgrounds of old, Capcom has implemented a fully-realized 3-D environment which you'll explore from a unique over-the-shoulder perspective; this gives the game a much greater sense of adventure. The second, perhaps more important point is the new free-aiming combat system. Gone are the days of aiming and firing in an enemy's general direction. You can now target specific body parts of your foes. Running low on ammunition? Put a bullet in the enemy's leg to phase him so you can make a getaway... or maybe pop him in his head and make a gory, satisfying mess. With the introduction of free aiming comes the implementation of sniper weapons. See an enemy in the distance? Swing up your trusty rifle and pick him off. Now, for someone who's played previous Resident Evils, this might all seem a bit much. That's because the focus here is more on action than conservation. Don't be surprised when find yourself less than two hours into the game with more than a hundred rounds of ammunition for your handgun... and don't be discouraged by the game's turn of the head toward straight up action, as Capcom hasn't forgotten that this is a survival-horror title...

It should be no surprise to anyone now that the zombies of old are gone, replaced by seemingly psychotic Spanish villagers whose sole purpose seems to be your demise. One might expect this to take something away from the horror factor, but the result is quite the opposite. The new enemies are much smarter than the zombies of previous Resident Evils. They'll still slowly stagger towards you occasionally, but they're just as likely to run at you full speed, swinging whatever weapon they're carrying wildly. These weapons range from a simple sickle or hatchet to a chainsaw or mace. They'll even throw them at you from a distance, but if you're quick and accurate, you can shoot the projectile out of the air before it reaches you. Creepy as these foes are, with their blood lust and incoherent zombie-like mumbling and chanting, these things aren't what make Resident Evil 4 scary. Early in the game, you'll come across the village in which these new enemies reside... and it's here that you'll experience one of the most intense, edge-of-your-seat, wetting-your-pants moments in gaming, period. When you're pinned down in a house with little ammo and heal-ups, with villagers smashing open windows and pouring into the room, with maniac chainsaw-wielding enemies smashing through the doors, you'll know that survival-horror has officially been redefined.

If it's not enough that the run-of-the-mill grunt style enemies have been revamped, you have your boss fights... Let's just state her plain and simple; the boss battles in Resident Evil 4 are among the best ever designed. This is thanks in part to the new action-button system that's also used in cut-scenes. Often times when a boss is attacking you, a button or button combination will flash on your screen. If you're quick on the uptake and you hit them in time, you'll avoid the attack. If not, you're in for some hurtin'. The intensity this system lends to the boss fights must be played to be fully understood and appreciated. Of course, this isn't the only reason the bosses of this game are among the best out there; the design is simply top-notch. From the giant fish monster in the lake to the Lord of the Rings inspired "El Gigante" troll, they're as varied as they are impressive. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone in terms of specifics, so I'll just leave it here. The boss fights are simply amazing.

As stated before, the game is much more action-packed than its predecessors. It seems like one intense encounter after another; the action doesn't let up. Rarely will you find yourself NOT in the middle of a fight. With the previous games, the rather sporadic combat meant that a large arsenal wasn't necessary. Resident Evil 4 is (thankfully) a different story. The weapons here are as deadly and satisfying as they come. An array of handguns, shotguns, rifles, explosives, and one sub-machine gun are all at your disposal. You're given plenty of ammo for most of them, which is a relief on two levels. One, you've got a lot of bad guys to blow through. Two, it can be tough to aim sometimes. The new free-aiming system indeed lets you shoot an enemy wherever you want... so long as you can keep your laser sight fixed on your target. Aiming at a foe a few feet away with a handgun isn't much trouble, but as the distance grows, it naturally becomes more and more difficult to land your shots. In a very nice touch, you now have the ability to round-house a stunned foe. Running up to a phased enemy and pressing the A button will result in swift, satisfying kick that will knock down (and potentially kill) that enemy and anyone else caught in its path. It's a simple feature, but it does so much for the action.

One thing this series has always been known for is its difficulty, and rest assured, Resident Evil 4's no cake walk. From the swarms of hard-hitting enemies to the aforementioned brilliant and challenging boss fights, the game doesn't show a whole lot of mercy. Indeed, you'll realize just how few punches it pulls with the game's death counter, which, obviously, keeps track of how many times you've died. Most players will probably come out of their first play-through having died 40 times or more. This isn't a huge problem during the game, thanks both to the sheer fun of playing it and the game's auto-saving system. Gone are the days of dying and having to start over from your last stop at a typewriter (which no longer require ink ribbons). More often than not, if you die during a particular encounter, you'll continue from right there where you were killed. This removes the tedious task of previous Resident Evils when death meant having to trudge your way through empty room after empty room until you were back face-to-face with whatever did you in. In fact, back-tracking in general has been panned. There are very few instances in Resident Evil 4 where you'll have to trudge back through rooms you've already visited. Gone also are the abundant puzzles. Don't worry there, purists; they're not all gone. There are a few peppered throughout the game that are simple, yet clever... Nothing that will leave you dumbfounded for hours on end, but they'll make you think.

Resident Evil 4's a lengthy trip, clocking in for the typical player at 20 hours, give or take. Once the adventure's over, there's still plenty to do... Two unlockable minigames, hidden weapons, and a "Professional" difficulty round out the extras and ensure that the game will keep players interested long after the credits start rolling.

On the technical side of the fence, Resident Evil 4 is just as impressive. You'd be hard-pressed to find a console game anywhere else that looks this good. Indeed, this is arguably the best looking title to come out this generation. The new roaming 3-D world looks just as good as the old still backgrounds did in previous installments. Character models are much improved, and bosses are downright stunning; you might just find yourself getting killed a few times as you gaze in wonder at the detail put into them. The gore effects are grisly, believable, and immensely satisfying. There's nothing more rewarding than pulling out the old shotgun and blowing a villager's head clean off his body. Nothing, I say.

The sound is excellent as well. The awful voice acting found in most of the prior Resident Evils is, for the most part, absent. The dialogue is at times a little wince-inducing, but it's nowhere near as bad as before. The music in the game is great, and often conveys the mood of the given situation perfectly. When you don't have the music, you have the ambiance, which is as believable as ever. Sound effects, from the blast of a shotgun to the moaning of a villager, are all well done. Overall, the sound gets the job done, and then some.

There's so much to like about Resident Evil 4, it's impossible not to recommend it. If you own a Gamecube, and you're mature (notice I didn't say old) enough for this type of game, this is a must-have. It's not a stretch to say that this might end up being the best Gamecube out there, period. If you're a long-time fan, you'll be in heaven (unless you're a snobby purist... in which case, y'know... who cares what you think?). If you've never played a Resident Evil, you'll be in heaven. If you played Resident Evil and didn't like it, well... the tag-line really says it all; "Forget what you know about Resident Evil"; this is an altogether different take on survival-horror. Capcom has taken the series above and beyond what anyone could have anticipated. Best survival horror game? Try best game, period.

Recommendation: If you have a Gamecube, buy it. If you don't have a Gamecube, buy one. It's really worth buying the system just to play this game. I give it my highest recommendation.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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