Reinventing a franchise as much known for its innovations as its cliches, has to be one daunting task. How do you retain freshness in a series as long in the tooth as Resident Evil? I mean, the survival horror genre has been in the videogame vernacular for almost 10 years now. Luckily you and I don’t have to answer these questions; we just get to play ’em. Fret not because it all worked out in the wash. Director Shinji Mikami’s RE4 is a triumphant spectacle which begs you to sit down and play it until it’s finished; even if you’ve already done so on the GameCube.
Returning to center stage is S.T.A.R.s rookie and one time resident of Raccoon City, Leon S. Kennedy (RE2) who is now investigating the disappearance of the president’s daughter and the trail leads him to a remote town nestled away somewhere in Europe. Unfortunately for him and you, the townsfolk don’t take kindly to strangers and will attack you upon sight. Something isn’t quite right about these people who become downright unkind to poor Leon, but unlike previous games they aren’t mindless shuffling zombies who are easy to dispose of; they are fast, nasty buggers hellbent on killing you alone, in packs, through windows…whatever it takes.
If you haven’t played the Cube version of RE4 this review is simply an obstacle in your way of actually playing it – don’t waste anymore time, go and buy it. For those of you who have had the distinct pleasure of getting to the end of RE4 once already, you’re surely wondering if this one is worth it. The extras above and beyond what was available on the Cube include new costumes (purely cosmetic), new weapons for Leon and Ada Wong and an entirely new quest for Ada entitled “Separate Ways”. Sure the new costumes are nice and the new weapons – laser rifle (Leon) and explosive crossbow (Ada) – are kick ass enough, but it’s the Separate Ways adventure that you definitely MUST play. Not only is the quest incredibly long but it’s filled with tons of information that will shed all sorts of light on questions that you may have had when playing the first time through. Want to know why the enemies instantly stop attacking when the church bell rings? You’ll discover this and a lot more. The new quest will take upwards of 5 hours or more, which is actually the length of time some of the previous RE games took to beat (once you knew where everything was) which makes it one impressive little extra.
Where RE4 ups the ante over every game in the series is by systematically eradicating all of the little things about Resident Evil games that pissed you off. You won’t have to suffer through door or ladder animations. Kick the freakin’ door in! Climb the damn ladder now! It’s all done in realtime. The perspective is over the shoulder allowing for true aiming control at your enemies as well as providing a “close to the action” visual which completely puts you into the drivers seat for all of the horror. The environments are in 3D (you can’t go everywhere but there is more freedom available than ever before) and you’ll encounter context senstive areas that will allow you to jump through windows or over fences. Gotta love that. The 3D movement completely zooms past the “rotate on your axis” school of movement found in previous RE titles and allows fantastic analog control of Leon and Ada. Also the puzzles while still present aren’t as mindnumbingly boring or nebulous as the “find the crest to open the door” that drove me crazy throughout every single game in the RE library. You will still require typewriters to save your game and the chests have been removed in favor of a briefcase which will hold all of your precious items and can even be upgraded. You can even pick up and drop items whenever you need to making inventory control extremely user friendly.
Adding to the overall sense of realism is the body sensitive damage areas which can be used against your enemies. Shoot them in the leg to slow them down, shoot the dynamite in their hands to blow it up, blow off their heads in one shot to kill them (yeah, that’s what I thought to the first time….) – it’s all good and it requires a steadier hand and damn good solid aim, more so than in any previous RE game yet. And it only gets better. Just when you thought RE had completely changed in terms of direction – outdoors instead of creepy mansions, human villagers instead of zombies – you’ll face the first of many completely insane bosses which inhabit the game. The boss battles in RE4 are legendary and you won’t find me spoiling anything for you.
Visually the PS2 version stands up extremely well to the Cube. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference and I physically had them going side by side. There may be some texture disintegration and whatnot but only Type A gamers who have absolutely nothing better to do will notice. Type A gamers that have both versions running side by side…..hey, don’t look at me like that! I just did so in the name of research you freakin’ bunch of labelers! (Note to self – is “labelers” a real word?) The PS2 does boast true widescreen mode and supports Progressive Scan for cleaner visuals. My TV doesn’t which sucks but that’s my problemo. Not to be outdone, RE is an aural treat for your ears. Great voice acting, context sensitive orchestral soundtrack, ambient sound effects and villagers who speak Spanish so you won’t know what they’re planning (unless you speak Spanish of course) combine to make RE4 one of the best sounding games this year.
If you’re a true RE fan you can prove it by purchasing the Premium PS2 Edition for $49.99 (the regular game retails at $39.99). The Premium Edition comes with a custom Resident Evil 4 Steel Case, Resident Evil 4 game, a making of Resident Evil 4 DVD, a limited edition Laser Cell of Ada Wong and Brady Games’ Resident Evil Prologue Mini Art Book. If you want to take your RE obsession to the next level make sure to pick up the RE4 Chainsaw controller which is shaped like an actual chainsaw and covered in gore. That will set you back $59.99. Definitely only for the dedicated….
If you’re tickled pink that the RE series once again returns home to the PlayStation family of products where it belongs, rush out and invest in one of the best survival horrors games to date. RE4 is a refreshing take on the genre and manages to be just as taut and tense as previous titles without relying on the usual tried and true scare tactics. Clocking in at over 25 hours of gameplay (if you’ve never played before), RE4 never once bogs down in rehash or mindless repetition, managing to keep the pace on “alert” from start to finish which is a most impressive feat considering most two hour movies can’t sustain that level of suspense. Highly recommended.