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What do you mean there's no zombies...
With combined sales surpassing 25 million, the Resident Evil series has become a firm favourite with gamers, single-handedly creating the â??survival/horrorâ? genre and certainly helping the difficult transition from the 16-bit to 32-bit generation. However the series hasnâ??t enjoyed the best of times in recent years, with many fans turned off by the exploits of Claire Redfield and Steve Burnside in Code Veronica and the apparent plight of the series on the relatively small GameCube userbase â?“ a decision that Capcom appears to have regretted with the confirmation of a Playstation2 port in October 2005.
So when Capcom confirmed the first original Resident Evil title for the GameCube (Resident Evil 0 started on the N64) back in 2002 itâ??s fair to say that the future of the series relied very much on the success of Resident Evil 4. With tantalising claims that Resident Evil 4 would introduce drastic changes to the frustrating gameplay youâ??ve either grown to love or hate, along with the slow drip-feed of details, Resident Evil 4 has remained on the top of gamerâ??s most anticipated lists â?“ an accolade that sadly not many Cube titles have held in recent months.
Thankfully after over two years in development and a distinct departure from its original form, the game is finally upon us with a greater degree of anticipation then virtually any other game set for release this year; has it been worth the wait, do the changes finally evolve the series and more importantly where the hell is Resident Evil heading now?
As everybody should know by this stage, Resident Evil 4 sees you assuming the role of Leon S. Kennedy after his disastrous â??first dayâ? with the Racoon City Police Department saw him becoming embroiled in the outbreak of the T-Virus in Resident Evil 2. The subsequent nuclear obliteration of Racoon City and the disbandment of the Umbrella Corporation within Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, left us to question what on earth would be left to terrify gamers across the globe, but now we know or at least we think we do...
Believing that he has left the memories of Racoon City and Umbrella way behind him, Leon finds himself employed as a Special Agent with the US government, sent to Europe on a top-secret mission to investigate the abduction of the Presidentâ??s daughter and bring her safely back to the United States. A relatively routine operation and one that you would have thought would go smoother then his last, however sadly for Leon thatâ??s not the case when his investigation takes him to a remote village, whose inhabitants are certainly not what they seem. Itâ??s not long before Leon once again finds himself in the proverbial mess, knee-deep in corpses and having to survive an onslaught of what appears to be Spanish civilians not too pleased to see a US Secret Agent â?“ despite making references to â??terrorismâ? however and the cultâ??s obsession with cleansing America, the game isnâ??t too heavily influenced by strained US-Euro relations in the real world, instead you slowly discover that these unwelcoming civilians have been possessed by something, although theyâ??re certainly not zombies.
He is not a Zombie
Right from the start, this is Mikami-san and his team rejuvenating Resident Evil; from the moment you search the first corpse and are met with â??He is not a zombieâ?, you know things are never going to be quite the same again â?“ we just didnâ??t realise quite how significant the changes would be.
Before we start looking at the details, itâ??s fair to say that the whole dynamic of Resident Evil has changed with the release of Resident Evil 4; benefiting immensely from the new camera system, the emphasis is now very much on action and less so on creating tension, although thatâ??s not to say there wonâ??t be moments when youâ??re filling your pants. Right from the start youâ??re chucked into the deep end as youâ??re besieged by legions of the strange new characters known as the Ganado; despite looking vaguely familiar to the zombies, their movement along with their eyes indicate that thereâ??s something completely different here to what Leon has experienced in the past.
During that very first scene as you realise just how many Ganadoâ??s youâ??re up against, the stark thought of â??how the hell am I going to do thisâ? comes across your mind, but then the new third-person camera swoops into view, activating the targeting system with the right shoulder button zooms this in closer and it takes a few moments before you become conscious that Resident Evil finally has a more then competent combat system â?“ in fact itâ??s better then that, but weâ??ll leave more details for later.
Merely labelling the changes as switching to a traditional third-person camera doesnâ??t do the game justice; itâ??s quite unbelievable just how smooth, how fluid, how responsive, how fun, how not like any other Resident Evil this is. Itâ??s in no small part testimony to the delights of the GameCube pad and its criminally under-used shoulder buttons, which makes the overall system far more satisfying then the vast majority of third-person titles, and whilst the controls remain positively Resident Evil, somehow these seem to have improved immeasurably because of the new camera system. In addition the left shoulder button is used to thrust your dagger giving you quick access to the weapon when you need it and removing the stilted nature of having to access your inventory first; it would have been nice to have seen grenades also linked to this system, perhaps toggling between your dagger and grenades with a certain button â?“ but hey itâ??s a small complaint against what is a remarkably enjoyable, responsive and satisfying control/camera system.
Once the euphoria regarding the new camera system dies down and legions of the Ganado have become apparent, the next thing that smacks you straight against your face is just how smart these guys are. They attack in groups, using a wide variety of weapons, ducking if theyâ??ve noticed your laser-scope targeted towards their head and just generally moving or running with a natural, fluid style â?“ it can be damn creepy at times. However itâ??s their ability to track you down that is the most impressive aspect of the AI; even when youâ??ve found what appears to be a safe point on the roofs, youâ??ll hear a shout and notice them lift ladders and climb to get to you. This ensures that thereâ??s never a spare moment, these guys will always manage to find you, so youâ??re constantly on your feet and keeping an ear out for the shrieks which is more then enough to make you jump.
Placing the emphasis so strongly on action was indeed a risky decision for Mikami-san and his team; however when combat is this entertaining itâ??s hard to find a fault with the game. The Ganadoâ??s and various other creatures and creepy characters that from the Los Illuminados cult, have a tremendous number of hit-points, so you can really make these guys dance on the spot or take the strategic decision of aiming for head-shots and being efficient with your ammo â?“ although the vast supplies of it throughout every stage, ensures that thereâ??s less emphasis on this compared to previous Resident Evil titles. Localised damage is even woven into the actual gameplay, with certain creatures requiring an infra-red scope so that you can target specific areas on their body, whilst the whole subject of damage is taken to the nth degree in scenes such as taking out a pack of looming Ganadoâ??s through a closed door â?“ just blow a chunk straight out of it and keep shooting!
But, thereâ??s far more to it then just that.
The game often chucks up context-sensitive events such as those featured within Shenmue, often requiring a combination of the L+R shoulder buttons or A+B to perform evasive manoeuvres. Unlike the aforementioned SEGA classic however, these moments are brilliantly woven into the actual gameplay and donâ??t stand out as a frustrating Dragonâ??s Lair clone. Often youâ??ll notice these moments during the epic boss encounters, such as quickly having to dodge a tentacle attack whilst trying to take down the creature at the same time; however there is one scene relatively late on into the game that sees Leon face against a character in a dagger-dual â?“ safe to say weâ??ve never seen anything quite like it. These â??quick-timeâ? events are also used throughout to keep the game flowing from start-to-finish; often youâ??ll put down the pad when a cut-scene is about to begin, only to feverishly rush to grab it again when an event flashes on-screen and you realise that cut-scenes arenâ??t the traditional time to rest easy for a few seconds but instead semi-interactive, creating a phenomenal sense of continuity throughout the entire experience.
Which leads on to the Magic â??Aâ? Button.
The A button is used throughout the game to carry out a variety of context-sensitive actions, ranging from jumping out of windows, kicking off ladders to kicking in combat and sprinting away from colossal boulders. Thereâ??s just something uniquely brilliant about the implementation of this throughout the game; it lends a great deal of interaction with the environment, whilst its sheer simplicity ensures that thereâ??s a great sense of style throughout.
Itâ??s All Changed
Resident Evil 4 is a â??specialâ? game which is immediately evident from the outset, thereâ??s a multitude of smart touches and concepts working underneath that helps to create an experience wholly unlike anything else out there. Certainly one of these relates to just how random the game appears to be; there appears to be so much happening (and we donâ??t just mean on-screen action) at any one time, that the game has a great sense of variety and just general randomness. This is largely created via the â??Adaptive Difficultyâ? which modifies the game to suit your skills; one particular session saw us strolling through the first village relatively easily, whilst the next time we gasped in horror as we were mowed down by the chainsaw-wielding maniac who appears to be an â??indicatorâ? of your current skill, as you can never predict when heâ??ll turn up. Weâ??ve played through Resident Evil 4 on a number of occasions now and experienced a significantly different experience each time, with such examples as accidentally back-tracking into a room to witness a cut-scene we had previously missed out on.
It can probably all be explained relatively easily, but weâ??ve never â??feltâ? anything quite like it; more importantly it ensures that Resident Evil maintains its â??survivalâ? aspects as youâ??re never quite sure what lurks around the corner, when it was in some danger of degenerating into a routine third-person game, albeit a stunning one at that!
Taking a closer look at the game reveals that the vast number of changes from previous Resident Evil titles continues, one noteworthy example includes the ability to purchase from an ever-increasing arsenal of weapons along with upgrading your arms in an RPG fashion. A relatively short way into the game youâ??ll come across a strange vendor who provides the gameâ??s only laughable moments with his choice phrases; as weâ??ve said before youâ??re free to buy and sell weapons and items to this guy who has a strange habit of turning up when you least expect him, however more importantly is the ability to upgrade your weapons in various aspects such as Firepower, Capacity, Reload Rate and Firing Speed. Throughout the first few stages youâ??ll have the opportunity to collect treasure, which can be sold to the vendor for a hefty fee, whilst certain artefacts can be combined with other jewels to really rack in the pesetas â?“ which brings up one of the strange points, if the game is set in 2004, why on earth isnâ??t the currency in euros???
Resident Evil fanatics will spot many changes as youâ??re playing through the game, such as no longer being able to sneakily combine your ammo with the gun in the inventory screen to eradicate the time taken to reload your gun; and whilst the herbs return in their normal fashion, youâ??ll never find yourself becoming poisoned, instead Red Herbs can be combined with Yellow and Green to not only boost your health but also increase the size of your health gauge.
So Is There Anything Wrong?
If there was one concern it would be that Resident Evil aficionados may feel a little alienated by the sheer emphasis place on action; sure thereâ??s puzzles throughout the game, but thereâ??s literally nothing that will have you stumped and they often feel as though theyâ??ve been put in merely to break up the relentless action. It can be argued that the sheer unrelenting pace of the game eradicates the sense of tension of previous Resident Evil titles, where you progressed through quiet areas before leading into an intense scene and then back into the calm, however as weâ??ve claimed above, the random nature of the game does create a certain sense of apprehension throughout. It could also be said that the overall storyline may put off the hard-core, particularly if you didnâ??t enjoy the tangents that Code Veronica took, as Resident Evil 4 certainly brings some closure and strays away from past Resident Evil storyline; whilst we wonâ??t mention story specifics, the ending does leave it wide open for future titles, although youâ??re left questioning exactly where it is all going.
The game is truly epic at times; as weâ??ve stated beforehand the pace is absolutely relentless throughout, however there are a number of scenes, particular boss-encounters, which will have you gasping at the screen and are guaranteed to stay in your mind forever. Smart touches continue to become apparent throughout the game, with player actions actually having a consequence later in the game; such as saving a wolf from a bear-trap whoâ??ll come to your rescue when you most need him, leave him in the trap and your cruel decision will come back to haunt you!
Due to the change of structure and the sheer unrelenting pace the main game is likely to take between 12-15 hours before you come to the ending, whilst thereâ??s a distinct lack of sections that will have you stumped for any considerable time. However in true Resident Evil fashion, completing the game unlocks a number of extra modes, such as a new â??Professionalâ? difficulty and being able to select alternative costumes for the primary characters. However thereâ??s plenty more to sustain your interest once youâ??ve passed through the first time. The â??Mercenariesâ? mode intensifies the action, by placing you in one of four stages with the sole task of destroying as many Ganadoâ??s as possible within a certain time-limit, whilst being able to accumulate additional time by collecting certain items â?“ think Crazy Taxi crossed with Resident Evil, itâ??s a lot of fun. However it doesnâ??t stop there; as fans will know (and we donâ??t think itâ??s much of a spoiler), Ada Wong makes an appearance within the main game, and upon completion youâ??ll be able to play through â??Assignment Adaâ?. This is essentially a cut-down version of the main game, which fills in details from her side along with the return of a stalwart Resident Evil character.
But What About The Graphics
It could only be so long before we mentioned the visuals and general presentation of Resident Evil 4; without making any overstatement itâ??s fair to say that Resident Evil 4 is a monumental achievement and a reminder that the GameCube can do far more then hold its own against the likes of Halo 2.
Particularly towards the beginning, the murky, dirty look that is composed from a predominantly brown colour scheme brings up memories of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to great effect. Both environments and character models pack a huge amount of detail, brought to life with some stunning texture work and just sheer variety. However itâ??s the visual effects that truly bring this baby to life; touches such as depth-blurring and heat-haze help to create some of the most remarkable pyro effects weâ??ve seen within a videogame; whilst the lighting effects, particularly during a lightening storm, truly tops the overall atmosphere and leads to many more pant-filling scenarios when you come across somebody who you didnâ??t previously notice. Weâ??ve already mentioned the quality of animation featured throughout Resident Evil 4; whether itâ??s the creepy Ganadoâ??s or the colossal El Giganteâ??s, every character featured within the game moves with a great degree of style and panache.
Itâ??s worth noting that the game does run in a condensed format with borders similar to a widescreen format, however it appears that this wasnâ??t a cinematic decision, but crucially important to maintaining a solid frame-rate whilst packing the screen full of action and detail. We quite enjoy the style, however itâ??s worth pointing out that the display can be a little too small if youâ??re playing on a 14â? portable â?“ then again thatâ??s not how you want to be playing this game, hook it up to the Home Entertainment set-up and enjoy every last minute.
Surprisingly the actual game isnâ??t the only thing to witness massive changes, as Resident Evil 4 actually features half-decent voice acting for a change; sure there are moments that are classic Resident Evil, but in general both the script and dialogue are of a sufficiently high standard to completely embroil you into the experience. The same can be said for every aspect of Resident Evil 4 presentation; sound effects pack a meaty punch, whilst the subdued music kicks in during intense scenes to really ramp up the excitement.
Some Resident Evil fans may pick it up and find the action-orientated experience not to their taste, and it’s fair to say that the whole game has undergone a massive change, however certainly one for the best we’d argue.
The sheer number of epic moments throughout the game, coupled in with a selection of really neat touches and just solid, entertaining gameplay creates the most accomplished Resident Evil title yet in our opinion, and one that will have you completely hooked from start-to-finish – and perhaps once or twice again just to sample the delights all over again.
When trying to think of genuine criticism it is actually a hard task, with only personal taste coming into the equation as to whether you’d like the change in style, the lack of puzzles and fairly obscure storyline that does begin to get a little tenuous towards the end. Sure it can be argued that Resident Evil 4 feels a lot more like a routine third person action/adventure game then any of its predecessors and that the “survival” aspect is less important given the sheer amount of firepower and action on offer, however the game still has what it takes to make you jump from your seats and will most certainly sustain your interest from the moment you pop in the disc.
Xbox owners may have Halo 2, Playstation2 owners are having fun with GTA: San Andreas, however long-suffering Cube owners finally have a title to make the other fanboys sick with envy – just boot it up and watch their faces.