The Resident Evil franchise had come to very much resemble one of the undead, zombie denizens of the series? Raccoon City, aimlessly shambling along as it was, with camera and control schemes old and decrepit enough as to be near to rotting away altogether. Many fans had abandoned the Resident Evil games when, after 2 phenomenally successful entries, an entire genre of survival-horror clones descended upon gamers, ravaging them with corny dialogue and improbable puzzles involving fragmented crests that open locked doors, and the like.
Resident Evil itself received a third and fourth entry (though Resident Evil: Code Veronica was not enumerated), which, their quality notwithstanding, were widely recognized as more of the same. Then, in early 2005, the languishing series was given a hard enough kick in the pants to bring it back from the (un)dead. Resident Evil 4 was an adrenaline shot right to the heart, and the newly revitalized survival-horror series would once again captivate gaming audiences, garnering many game-of-the-year awards and an incredible amount of praise (not to mention two enhanced re-releases) in the process.
Resident Evil 4 puts players back in the shoes of Leon Kennedy, one of the player characters from Resident Evil 2. Six years have transpired since the virus-generated zombie attack and subsequent nuking of Raccoon City, and Leon has gone from being a raw recruit in the R.P.D. to a raw recruit in the Secret Service. His first mission: get on over to a remote village in Spain where the president?s daughter, Ashley, is being held hostage by a mysterious cult-like group called ?Los Illuminados.?
Why would a weird cult kidnap the first daughter, and why is a lone rookie agent dispatched to rescue her? Um, because this is a Resident Evil game. The more important question is: Are there zombies in this remote Spanish village? No, not exactly.
The residents of this unnamed hamlet, or ?Los Ganados? (the cattle), as they are referred to, are not undead, but they are host to a malevolent mind-controlling parasite known as ?Las Plagas,? and hunger for the blood of interlopers into their wickedly twisted yet still very much pastoral slice of Spanish Gothic. Leon must not only infiltrate this village and its outlying areas, also under the control of Los Illuminados, but also evacuate Ashley safely while at the same time getting to the bottom of the Las Plagas infestation and any ties it may have to the long-time Resident Evil resident shadowy organization, the former-giant-pharmaceutical-corporation-now-supposedly-defunct Umbrella. It is quite an assignment, and it makes for a hell of a survival-horror adventure.
Resident Evil 4 breaks from series tradition in a number of ways. Not only are the setting and antagonists very different from prior games?almost every aspect of Resident Evil gameplay has been re-examined, streamlined, or revamped altogether. No longer are players confounded by ever-changing camera angles set on static, pre-rendered environments?a configuration that would often have a character do something like leave a hallway through a door at the perspective?s vanishing point only to appear on the next screen emerging from the other side of that same door in the upper right corner of the screen or some equally incongruous place.
Now, the environments in the game are all fully realized in three-dimensional polygons (like most games), and the camera is forever rooted to a spot just over and behind the player character?s right shoulder.allowing for both a consistent viewpoint and a quick weapon aiming, something which stands in stark contrast to the prior games? ?torso-or-head y-axis and pray-you?re-at-the-right-angle x-axis,? and is very important to RE4?s core gameplay mechanic?precision sniping of enemy weak points for quick and effective threat neutralization.
Los Ganados and members of Los Illuminados are smarter, faster, and altogether much more numerous than the zombies of Raccoon City, and tend to swarm you, so it is important to keep them at bay with shots to kneecaps to fell them, shots to the hand to cause them to drop that hatchet or lit stick of dynamite they were about to toss your way, and shots to the head if you feel like gambling. Unlike your run-of-the-mill undead, those infected by Las Plagas cannot be instantly killed by removing their heads. At a rate of about one in three times, instead of dropping right to the ground, the person will keep stumbling toward you, only now with a razor-taloned 10-foot tentacle beast protruding from it?s neck where a head used to sit. Other memorable encounters include a giant monstrosity known as El Gigante, robed cult members swinging flails, a giant Nessie-like underwater creature, and the terrifying blood-soaked, chainsaw-toting villager with the burlap sack over his head.
All these changes add up to make the Resident Evil 4 play more like an action game than one from the clunky survival-horror genre the series is responsible for inventing. Its control scheme isn?t perfect–I would have preferred to be able to aim with the right analog stick like in most modern shooters–but it is definitely a large improvement for the series. Inventory management is relatively unchanged for Resident Evil 4, and that is one area that could be improved upon. It would be nice to be able to switch between your handgun and shotgun or rifle quickly, by using the directional pad, perhaps. Luckily, the load times encountered when accessing the menu are mercifully short.
Resident Evil 4 is surprisingly long, as the action moves from one large area to another, through the village and its outlying areas, a large castle, underground sewers and catacombs, and finally to a large military base on an island in the North Atlantic. All of these areas are well detailed and full of hidden secrets to find, such as gold and gems to sell to the mysterious merchant that inhabits them. This merchant can always be found hanging around the area you?re passing through, with his signature blue-flamed lamp, and will sell and upgrade your store of weapons for a small fee.
If you have the Playstation 2 or Wii re-releases of the game, upon completion of the main game, you will unlock a host of extra features that really stretch the value of the game. First off, in Separate Ways (not included on the original Game Cube version) you will be able to play through the game?s scenario as Ada Wong, an agent working for an unkown third party, whom was also a character in Resident Evil 2, and has both a connection to Leon and a mission of her own to accomplish in infiltrating Los Illuminados. Separate ways is, like the main game, fairly robust, and will take a few hours to play through. There is also a second, shorter, Ada scenario simply entitled Assigment Ada that is around an hour long (and apparently not canon to the series, as opposed to Separate Ways).
Finally, there is an unlockable mini-game called The Mercenaries, in which you are dropped into a large environment and simply must kill as many psycho cult members as possible while trying to survive long enough to be evacuated out by a helicopter. Time extensions can be found in order to boost your kill count, and high scores will unlock additional characters from the Resident Evil universe for play in The Mercenaries. All in all, there is a great amount of content on the disc, which is still largely available at retail for the PS2 and Wii.
Resident Evil 4 will be remembered as one of the highest-rated and best games to come out of the last generation of consoles, and one of the greatest series re-inventions ever. It is recommended.