We have come to the conclusion of Retro Resident Evil Reviews, with Resident Evil 4. This game was a reinvention of Capcom's classic series. Not only did it change the gameplay for the better, it brought in a whole new audience (while also creating a most vocal bunch of detractors). As we see in the current political climate of 2009, some people just do not like change, even if it is for the better.
Resident Evil 4 first started development shortly after Code Veronica was released and would go through 3 versions before arriving at its finished version on the Gamecube on January 11, 2005. The previous versions include the game that would ultimately become Devil May Cry, a haunting version that featured creepy dolls and Silent Hill type scares, and the most promising version that had the over the shoulder camera of the final as well as a hook man that would stalk you throughout the game. Alongside Resident Evil 1.5, these versions should really be released on a bonus disc, just so series' veterans can see the evolution of RE4 into the masterwork that it eventually became.
Resident Evil's storyline is set in 2004/2005. Leon S. Kennedy has been in secret training with an anti-Umbrella group to hone his skills and now works for a branch of the US Secret Service, protecting the President's family. It was when he was about to take over as the protector of the President's daughter, that she was abducted on her way home from her college in Massachusetts. Leon has received intel that she has been spotted in a remote area of Spain, so he immediately sent overseas to check it out. The game begins just as Leon is heading toward Ashley Graham's (The Prez's daughter) latest confirmed location, with two Spanish policia in tow.
The graphics in Resident Evil 4 really elevate the Gamecube, doing things visually that you thought was only possible on Xbox or other systems. Again it was Capcom who once again showed not to write off a system as graphically inferior just because some consoles are easier to program for than others...
Details abound in RE4, from the new look of Leon, right down to his sexy cowlick and bomber jacket, to the impressive vistas of the Spanish countryside. The village is often mentioned as the best section in the game, and I think that the visuals have a lot to do with all the praise. The village has a real dingy look to it, like it is out of time, but as you seen more of it, you recognize plenty of modern technology. It is a real visual trick to accomplish. A village of Spanish peasants that quickly transforms into a modern terror haven, where danger lurks around many a corner.
The visual detail is also rich in the backgrounds, from twisted trees and snags to rope bridges to massive lakes, the village is a sight to behold. The first time I played the game, I was nervous as I crossed the suspension bridge over the lake near the first El Gigante fight, simply because of the note that mentioned Del Lago. A great tense situation, even though my concerns were mostly unfounded. Too bad.
Speaking of the first playthrough, I almost totally missed a visual detail that is definitely great, hidden background treasures. From crows to bird's nests, there are a lot of hidden areas to shoot for treasure and items that one can easily miss due an initial playthrough. The best games always force you to see the game a different way on subsequent playthroughs.
Ok, enough on indirect visuals. Let's talk about the enemies. RE4 definitely continues the Resident Evil tradition of very inspired enemy design. From the plain looking villagers all the way to the Comillos and Novistadors, Leon's adversaries are a menacing lot. The initial shock of fighting what seems to be little more than pissed off villagers gradually yields to the tragedy of their current existence. This doesn't mean that they are any less effective at making the player feel unease. I especially like when you shoot them in the shoulder and they wince back, then quickly recover with a great glare in their eyes. Make sure to shoot them again quickly...
Last in this overally long section on graphics are the bosses. These uber enemies are some of the most visually imposing creature creations in gaming history. The funny thing is that all of these monstrosities really just spring from the same type of affliction that affects the villagers. What Capcom was able to do creatively with such a simple idea is a work of genius. From El Gigante to Del Lago to Garrador, you won't forget these bosses easily.
Don't worry, gentle readers. Music will not go on as long. And this is simply because Resident Evil 4 failed to reverse the emerging trend that started with Resident Evil Rebirth on the Gamecube. The score in RE4 is still good, and rather effective in-game, but frankly, these, for the most part, are not good musical compositions. There are some highlights to be sure, but it is far too ambient for my liking. And as you know, ambient music can be a bitter pill to swallow for outside the game. I don't quite regret buying the game's score on CD, but I am wishing it had been available on iTunes or suchlike so I could have just gotten the highlights.
These highlights include Hard Road to the Castle, The Theme of Krauser, and Back Fire. Krauser's Theme is very ominous, which is definitely reflective of his character. Back Fire is a piece that makes me very nostalgic for past RE scores. It is a great action piece that hearkened back to the action fest that was Resident Evil 3:Nemesis. Sounding rather Ramboish in its booming horns and sound presence, I really wish more of the score had been written with the game's obvious emphasis on action taken into consideration.
Sound effects in RE4 are not really an improvement for Resident Evil, as past games relied heavily on such for scares. You could often hear something, but not see it. I can only think of one time such a technique is used in RE4, just before you meet the Novistadors for the first time. What the game does excel at is the taunts/threats of the Spanish enemies. There is a myriad of sayings that the enemies can use and many of them are situational, say if they are right behind you... Great stuff. I can't type Spanish well, but they say everything from "Grab him" to "A Stranger" to "Kill, Kill, Kill..." This well thought out vocal presentation does a lot to instill the scariness that has been removed from other parts of the gameplay.
Gameplay in Resident Evil 4 was regarded as a massive change to the core RE gameplay, but the truth must be told. The only thing that really changed in the gameplay was the lack of static backgrounds and a new aiming system. It is because of these two great changes that the game really feels like something completely new. The controls are actually the same, move left or right to turn left or right and so on. It just felt different, and perhaps served to show detractors that the old RE control scheme was functional for those games.
The free aiming system is a huge improvement, as you can now trip up enemies by shooting them in the ankles, or stun them by shooting them in the faces, through which the game's context action system comes into play. Leon can do roundhouse kicks to the face or short kicks, all meant to give more breathing room to the combat when facing multiple enemies at a time. A great new feature that the forthcoming RE5 definitely seems to expand on.
The old inventory system is also gone. No more magic item boxes and limited item capacity. Leon instead has an attache case that can be upgraded. Whatever you can fit into it, you can hold. Ammo takes up one slot for a certain amount of ammo, and weapons can be placed in multiple orientations to allow you to fit it all. Also treasure and key items finally have their own inventory space, which eliminates second guessing about which item you going to need at what time. I really like this system and it was a long time coming.
Another new addition is the Quicktime events. Sure, other games like Shenmue and Dragon's Lair had them in the past, but RE4 uses them like they are new once again, in that they are very well integrated into cutscenes and boss fights. Never take your hands off the controller, lest you find yourself dead all of a sudden! A latter cutscene makes especially great use of QTE events, and is fun to watch every time.
Lastly, we have the new money and merchant system. Money is dropped by defeated enemies or found throughout the game and can be used at any of the traveling merchants, who always seem to be one step ahead of you. You can buy weapons, bigger cases, and weapon upgrades. To afford these items, you can also sell unwanted supplies and treasures that you can find throughout the game. I also like the merchant's Australian accent. "Ah, I'll buy it at a high price!"
Challenge is something that is up to the player; at least in the way I understand it. In the original Gamecube version, I am told that the game adjusts its difficulty (number of enemies, herbs dropped etc.) based on how much the player dies, is hurt, and suchlike. I think this was removed from the other versions of the game, mostly because the First Aid Sprays that you can buy no longer accumulate. You can only buy them if you have like no other healing items, which is a change for the better, but can make the game harder I guess.
Besides trying to explain this system (that may not even exist anymore) Resident Evil 4 is a pretty easy game, especially if you use the environments to your advantage and are not overly trigger-happy. Of course this opinion comes from a veteran of Resident Evil games, but if I had to chose the easiest RE game, this would be it.
Replay value is very high for this game, there are difficulties to unlock, some very neat bonus weapons, bonus modes, and other content that you'll definitely like. To put it in perspective, I played the Gamecube version of this game 5 times, the PS2 4 times, and the Wii 5 times so far since 2005. I would say that serves to define RE4 as having great replayability.
In summation, Resident Evil 4 is probably the greatest RE game and one of the best games I've ever played. Some lament that fear and jump moments have given way to gunplay and increased action, but it really is for the best in keeping Resident Evil at the forefront of video game excellence. I say play RE 3 to see that Resident Evil has been doing that for quite a while.
RE 4 is a must play, a must own, a must replay, a must everything! I've tried many times to make a Top Ten Favorite Games Ever list, and I usually don't get past 3 or 4. It is just that hard to name the best of the best. I do know one thing though. Resident Evil secures its place as my number 2. If you've not played it, I can't fathom why, there really is something for any kind of gamer in the masterpiece that is Resident Evil 4.
- Ugly Bob