To call "Resident Evil 4" a redesign of the concept started back in 1996 is false. This is an entirely new game, one that takes the very basic core of its predecessors and throws everything else out. In its place lies the most exhilarating, thrilling, and brutal video games of all time. It's also one of the best you'll ever play in this lifetime.
Brining back Leon S. Kennedy from "Resident Evil 2" as the lead character, players begin their quest for the president's daughter in a small European town. Immediately, the game lets veterans know things have changed. After being attacked by one of the villagers, players shoot him down. Investigating the body, the text sets the tone for the rest of the game:
"Well, he's not a zombie."
What they are remains the games key mystery, one that unravels without too many surprises, but that's hardly an issue. It allows players to focus on the most important segment of the game, which has shifted from annoying puzzle solving to non-stop action. Ditching the slow, awkward pace that ran the previous games into a rut, "Resident Evil 4" is all about blasting enraged villagers in pieces via a new 3rd person perspective that becomes the best camera system ever implemented into a game.
For most of the playtime, the camera is firmly planted just behind Leon, zooming in when he equips a weapon and is ready to fire. You'll do plenty of that in this 15-20 hour adventure. This is this generations equivalent to a 16-bit beat-em-up, just swapping out fists for guns. Thanks to a new laser sight (on every weapon), gamers now have the ability to shoot specific body parts, a crucial element that adds a small strategy element to the otherwise standard blasting.
Long time fans will likely be sent for a loop when they learn just how much action is crammed onto this 2-disc set. Those brain-numbing puzzles of old have been tossed to the wayside. A few do still exist; you simply don't have to spend much time with them. Those players can have fun buying and upgrading their weapons from a mysterious merchant, another new addition. Picking how to spend the money you have found in the various locales adds yet another layer to an already deep title.
There's not a single moment in the game where it drags or you want to get it over with. It maintains its pace, addictiveness, and overall fun factor throughout. This is also a rare title that never lets players get lost or confused. Objectives are clear and just in case you missed something, the map always lets you know where you need to be going. The games length is very honest with hardly any backtracking, which in turn keeps things fresh.
It even makes sure to keep players involved during the cinematics. You'll never feel safe dropping the controller, as the developers require gamers to hit certain button combinations to escape deadly situations. If you miss or hit the wrong buttons, it usually means death. This bit of gameplay also comes into its own during certain boss battles, allowing Leon to dodge specific attacks when prompted. These can be occasionally frustrating, but after a death or two, you should have no trouble passing through.
Also gone (and certainly for the better) is the infuriating save system. Typewriters still provide save points, though mercifully there is simply no need for ribbons this time out. They are spread quite liberally as well. Capcom has also been kind with the check points, sending players back to a very reasonable spot when they die. Again, this is all in place to make sure players are making progress, not to ease the difficulty. This game still has some viscous battles that will send a player to an early grave multiple times.
Those fights occasionally break up the standard run-and-shoot action. A few of the boss battles end up becoming some of the most mesmerizing skirmishes this industry has seen. An early one involving a mammoth man-eating salamander will not be forgotten for a long time to come. After all of this, the final, be-all-end-all brawl does seem a bit under whelming (and easy), but it does have its moments.
Presented in a faux widescreen, "RE4" is simply one of the best-looking video games ever produced. The cinematics are here to show off the seamless character models along with incredible lip-synch and motion capture. Multiple changes in scenery provide different effects depending on what mood the developers were shooting for. Needless to say, once you hit the dark in a pouring rainstorm with only a flashlight, you know what you're feeling.
There's plenty more to this graphical package worth mentioning. Creature design is some of the most grotesque since John Carpetner's Hollywood remake of "The Thing" back in 1982. Watching these "people" morph and mutate is as bloody as anything you'll ever see. This is not one for the squeamish and in all honesty, that "M" rating on the front may have been kind. Those with HDTV's get to see all of the bodily fluids spew out in 480p.
Going for subtlety, audio is reserved for moments that deserve it. The music kicks in full force during the battles, lays low for those long, eerie corridor walks, and stays silent while snooping around for precious ammo. Extended fights show off the soundtracks weakness as they loop in occasionally irritating fashion, but the intense (and realistic) sound of gunfire usually overtakes it. Voice acting is fair even if the script could have used a rewrite or two (expect some real cheese factor once in a while).
A few minor annoyances keep "RE4" from absolute perfection. You're unable to move and shoot, something that really would help out during combat. Even the simple ability to strafe would have alleviated this. Finally, the camera can be too close at times, especially early when the villagers plant bear traps across their land. Making them hard to see is one thing, making them impossible to see is another. Since you can't actually see your feet, you can't see the ground either. You have to spot them early or lose health. The latter is usually the result.
It's almost impossible for anyone to convey in words just how great this game is. It's a title that absolutely must be experienced by any decent Gamecube owner. Those who do not have the console should immediately pick one up. "Resident Evil 4" will go down as one of the best games to hit store shelves from this generation of systems. It should also plant itself on multiple "greatest of all time" lists. It certainly deserves it.