Resident Evil 4 review
Welcome to survival... escort? Umm...
After four successful games and a few... questionable spin off games, Capcom took a bit of a break from the series as its formula grew stale. Each of the older Resident Evil games, while adding some tweaks here and there, did feel samey and although I love them, I don't think anybody can take yet another instalment of the same exact thing. So what the boys and girls over at Capcom did was change the camera angle from preset ones to one that's over the shoulder. So in a sense, we still have tank controls, but it doesn't feel as tank-y thanks to the more fluid controls and the change in camera angles. That and putting even more emphasis on action gives this game a distinct flavor. But does this make for a grand old time in the realm of survival horror? Well, not quite.
What Capcom also did here was try to start off fresh - keep any and all ties to the older games within the introductory scene. Yep, we're in control of Leon Kennedy again, only he's been long gone from Raccoon City after the zombie apocalypse. Instead, he's sent to a remote village in Spain to rescue the president's daughter who will be known as the ever so annoying Ashley Graham once you rescue her. Okay, seems innocent enough, but then you meet the villagers... who all want your head off of your body. A natural response to this is “what's going on”, but then you get further and realize that there's more to this than you think. It's just like Resident Evil to do that, but unlike the other games, this doesn't go all over the place with surprise betrayals and all that. Leon may meet old friends and deal with some bigger troubles than villagers who seem to hate him while getting involved in some conspiracy involving the president's daughter, but really, it's a straightforward affair. Maybe it's not “horrific” enough - not knowing is the greatest fear of all - but Resident Evil 4 wasn't exactly trying to be scary...
Look at that...
...and that's the best way to describe Resident Evil 4's gameplay – it's not really horror anymore. It still has survival aspects and in fact, that's been massively improved, but it's more action-y in terms of gameplay. No longer do you have to deal with pre-rendered camera angles, because now the camera is over the shoulder. This makes the action segments a lot easier to control as you'll have a better view of your enemies' heads. You'll also have a laser pointer which points out where your bullet will land. Speaking of bullets, you'll be finding plenty of items that require maybe a moderate amount of conservation, but you'll hardly ever be starving for supplies.
To retain some semblance of horror, Leon isn't able to move while he's aiming. In a more action oriented environment, this could fail and make the game terrible, but the enemies are balanced in a way that makes this work. Oh, it's not an easy ride as there can and will be gangs of enemies, and some of them can kill you in one hit (then again, if you got your head cut off in real life, you'd die too). Crowd control will be something that you'll learn over the course of the game. Once you get used to the controls, you will indeed learn how to control crowds, even those that may appear as zombies but still somewhat have the mobility of human beings (running towards you and vaulting over fences) – least you're not fighting the sprinting dead! That's not to mention the bosses that you'll fight throughout the game. They're not so easy to take out as they can take a whole hell of a lot more punishment than the enemies can and they can dish out a lot more to you. While they tend to amount to you running to a point that seems safe and unloading lead on their weak points, the boss encounters are genuinely exciting... mainly because of that fact.
There are a couple of boss encounters that change it up by implementing quick time events, and I feel that now's a great time to talk about it. Quick time events essentially amount to being an interactive cutscene where you have to press/mash the onscreen button(s) before it's too late. While the ones used for the bosses are great fun, the rest feel shoehorned in, as if Capcom had played a few rounds of Shenmue and went “you guys thinking what I'm thinking!?” Unlike that game though, this one just chucks them wherever and gives you little if no indication of them popping up. Then you die. Then you reload from the your last checkpoint (usually right before the cutscene or at the beginning of the area you've come from – not your last save point) and get to try again, hopefully paying attention in anticipation this time.
At the very least, the change of camera angle makes blowing
But you're not the only one you're keeping an eye on; after you rescue Ashley, the game is far from over and she'll be forced to tag along with you for most of the rest of the game. So guess what – IT BECOMES AN ESCORT MISSION!!! Seriously, we're adding this to the equation? Well, as long as she can do something useful, this will be good, right? Well, that would imply that she does anything useful! Sometimes, she can give you a boost up to a higher ledge, and sometimes... she can distract enemies... then get kidnapped... and then when she gets carried too far away or dies, you fail your mission and have to reload from the last checkpoint. So in other words, she's useless and really drags the game down a considerable amount. What's especially worth pointing out is that while the action gameplay is challenging, most game over screens are actually either a result of Ashley getting kidnapped/killed, or a quick time event taking you by surprise.
One big overhaul is how you manage your inventory. Instead of having eight spaces, you have a briefcase that's seperated into spaces like a grid. Different items have different sizes, like how first aid sprays and grenades don't take up quite as much space as a gun, and guns take up appropriate amounts of space – like a pistol doesn't take up as much space as an assault rifle, for instance. This sort of thing makes item management more fun to do as you can move items around to create more room for more items, instead of being bound to a set amount of items. It doesn't count key items as those go into a separate inventory, and even then, you hardly ever have to do any scavenger hunt-esque puzzles – every key you have to find is found in the same area. Suffice it to say, it could've used a few puzzles to really put to the test the briefcase grid-based inventory system.
Vega from the Street Fighter series makes a cameo here in his scary costume. Stay tuned for the next DLC for Marvel VS Capcom 3.
Given that we're no longer dealing with pre-rendered camera angles, there's going to be more to render in real time, and while it's fine on the Gamecube.... eh, the PS2 has about as much RAM as a Texas graphics calculator. If you're worried about graphical power, get it on the Gamecube (or better yet, get it via Xbox Live or PSN), but if you're like me and don't care as long as it's aesthetically presentable, the PS2 version is fine. A few blurry textures and a grainy color scheme shouldn't get in the way of your zombie-like slaying action. Actually, the colors help give it that “The Village” look, like there's something more to the village than meets the eye. If you want anything that was impressive to look at back in the day, the pre-rendered cutscenes look a lot better than the in-game graphics. Plenty of detail was put into those... about as much as the PS2 could muster, anyway. The animations are fine as everyone moves smoothly enough... really, it's just blurry textures that'll get in the way, if anything.
The sound design is... lackluster, actually. Theoretically, a Resident Evil game at least has a chilling soundtrack for the slower bits and more fist pumping music for the action segments. It tries to do that, but the soundtrack just comes across as something that merely exists. It never really makes you feel much and it doesn't intensify the action nor the scares – of which there aren't any anyway. The guns definitely have a lot of kick to them, especially the shotgun. But what especially gives them their pep is the sound of guts being blown off. Oh boy, it just sounds so satisfying blowing heads off in this game! The voice acting is actually pretty good, too. The characters manage to sound as they ought to, which actually manages to suck you right into the game. The villagers calling out to others that Leon's in the area or grunting before/while attacking is a nice touch.
Resident Evil 4 gets an 8/10 because despite the good it does, the fact that it forces an escort mission onto you is just wrong. I really wish that Ashley was more useful and didn't require constant babysitting because it would've made the game a lot better. There is a solid foundation, too. The action is fun, some of the quick time event sequences are actually pretty exciting and the inventory is really cool! But goddamn, I don't know what they were thinking with the escort mission, besides them just going “hey, this is a pretty cool game, but it really needs a useless character that spends more time getting kidnapped than actually doing anything useful”. If your tolerance for escort missions exists, this will be your absolute most favorite game ever. For people like myself who hate babysitting, eh, the rest of the game is pretty good and I still recommend getting it.
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