Second Opinion: What has four limbs, two heads, and wears yellow pants? Well uh, that'd be me... after ya know, another "bathroom accident."
Remember when the word "horror" used to mean something? You'd be quaking in your shoes, busying in your trousers, wallowing in madness...all because the never ending, living, BREATHING terror would never give in. That's apparently gone from gaming now, thanks to the melding of action and survival/horror in titles like last year's The Suffering. Instead of fear and suspense, players are given gruesome monsters and keen weapons to bring them down with. But just because these monsters are graphic, that's not the same as setting up the stage for the true vision of "horror." You know, the moment when you hear the door banging open and shut. The hallway has been darkened, and seemingly no one's around. As you approach the repetitively winding door, all the sudden a creature springs to life through the wall behind you. Capcom, arguably the company who brought survival/horror into the mainstream, has taken their sweet time in tinkering with their latest and fourth edition of the series that continually brings zombie-based horror to the table. Only, there aren't any zombies anymore, and the usage of traditional "horror" has all but disappeared.
The town. The characters. The outbreak. The incident. Rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy had just become an officer of the law. On his fateful first day of duty arriving in the small mountain town of Raccoon City, he came and he saw the unexpected. It was there that an army of zombies had arisen right before his very eyes. In this moment of excitement while trying to flee the scene, he came across a human girl by the name of Claire Redfield, Chris's sister. The two worked together to escape the infesting death that had infected the city. Years later, the story returns its focus on Leon who we last left off on the train tracks leading out of Raccoon. Turned into a special forces government agent, Leon has been assigned to find and protect the President's daughter, Ashley Graham. For reasons unknown to Leon, she was kidnaped by a rogue organization and brought to an outlying reach within Europe. Having breached the location, Leon must now figure out a way to find and rescue Ashley before the "welcoming committee" kills him and her first.
Living dead, undead -- or zombies, plain and simple. People reborn into mindless monsters, who from lore are known best for feasting on the flesh of human beings. In turn of this messy transaction, they too then become a soldier amongst the brainless army. That is the abnormal species that has been one of the main recurring factors in every Resident Evil thus far. However, zombies seem to be extinct in Capcom's eyes. They've been shot, burned, stabbed, and even nuked. Trying to put a different face on things, the rampant zombie that has become sort of the mascot of the Resident Evil name is now replaced with a new kind of monster: people. Yes, people. But not just any kind of people. These villagers are mad. They're not furious as in their kid just dropped out of college to become a full-time sandwich maker at Subway. They're just crazed. Loco in the cabasa. Insane in the membrane. Coocoo for Coca Puffs. You know the deal -- their minds are shot, as they've all been brainwashed. They're able to strike in ones or twos, threes or sixes, and waves of up to about twenty or more at a time. They come with fire, they come with axes; gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning! Ganging up around Leon and Ashley, these villagers jab pitchforks and saw off heads with chainsaws. Through windows they climb in, up ladders they scale, down platforms they fall, and through doorways they barge in and find you. They show up unannounced from behind and they come bearing death. They're smart, these buggers are -- smarter than any zombie (not that zombies have anything but dinner on their minds). It's the idea that you always have your head straight, eyes forward, and be on the lookout for impending danger (since it's always around you) that fuels Resident Evil 4's innovative design formulating how long you can outlast not just a house full of zombies, but an entire island overflowing with them.
Where to go from there is the problem. Their numbers are quite vast, and yours are so few. The odds are literally impossible. NO ONE WILL SURVIVE...just kidding! Ashley is not able to do a whole lot besides hide behind Leon, get injured (or killed) or kidnaped, and help him out with a few puzzles here and there. Leon's capable of wielding more than the usual build of series weaponry, thanks in part to the game's newly arranged attache case inventory system and a traveling merchant you'll frequent through the passing hours. Now here's where Resident Evil 4 gets a little too much like Ratchet and Clank. Vendor stations are located throughout the game. A mysterious man dressed in a black robe waits at each location dispensing, purchasing, and upgrading variations of weaponry (and items and accessories), all for a price. The zombie people in Resident Evil 4 usually leave behind different useable goods when they perish, including grenades, ammo, health, and cash rewards. Named "ptas," these coins are Resident Evil 4's mode of currency, which naturally allows Leon to break into a valley girl impersonation and shop 'til he drops at each vendor's location. Leon also has the option of buying and attaching additional items to select sets of weapons, such as the rifle scope for sniping enemies from ranged distances. Trouble is, everything costs a lot of coinage. When the scraps left behind by fallen zombie freaks or found within breakable crates (amongst other places) is too meager (and they will be), you might find yourself shortchanged and scarificing some necessities you really need.
But that's mainly in the beginning parts of the game. As you get used to playing Resident Evil 4, treasure hunting becomes a bigger deal than it was in the beginning. Shiny objects that twinkle, like in any Resident Evil adventure, act as a bounty here of goods and services that aren't actually useful to the game other than to be sold, or pieced together and then sold. Certain collectibles can be combined with separate pieces and sold to the merchant at higher prices. Some trinkets though are relevant to the puzzle solving throughout the game thanks to the newly designed and handy inventory system. About these means of riddle me this (which I'll get to next) and item storage me that, there are two separating areas now where regular items (i.e., health, weapons, ammo, etc.) are all placed, and another where those other specialty treasures get divided up neatly and effectively. Leon carries a suitcase that can be upgraded for continued ample storage as the game gets harder and when a greater supply of items are direly needed. This suitcase stores those items in its quantity of box patterns. Health and ammo containers for instance take up two box spaces, while guns can fill up anywhere from six to twelve slots. Figuring out how to balance what items you'll save, which ones you'll discard, and which ones you'll use for the moment can be tricky at times. But by purchasing suitcase upgrades from the merchant, you'll be sticking your thing in these sluts (er...I mean things in these slots) in no time. Being able to carry items with Leon, and more items at that, also reduces the back tracking factor from past Resident Evil titles. Retaining items comes in handy particularly when you're completing the game's simpler fetch quests (so that you'll always have the items for a keepsake on you). Other puzzle types aren't as easy. In one segment, Leon must keep zombie people from snatching Ashley by triggering them from an elevated position, while Ashley on the other hand has to evade them long enough to gain access to the next sequence. When ready, she'll have to confront zombie people and living suits of armor using only her abilities to pull levers, toss lanterns, crawl under tables for cover, and press coordinated button sequences accordingly. These action-oriented, button mashing scenes show up at a lot of other places, too (adding interesting quick arcade-like reflexes, however disappointingly draining the suspenseful horror moments in the process), like when Leon needs to avoid getting crushed by rolling boulders, or dodging all different types of boss advances elsewhere. One specifically "cool" moment is when Leon times the creature's repeated offenses from the ceiling, freezing its body in liquid nitrogen temporarily, blasting it, and repeating the process until the nasty is no more.
With all these big changes happening for Resident Evil 4, it comes of sort a surprise that one of the biggest and easily one of the more natural is the style in which character control is handled now. For years survival/horror adventures have utilized a third-person perspective, non-interactive dynamic camera angles, and robotic character movement. Resident Evil 4 changes all of that, in a way. Closer to your man than ever before, Resident Evil 4 takes its focal approach positioned directly from behind Leon's head and shoulder. At first you're going to think and fully realize that a blockage of screen space is awkward (since Leon's huge cranium and back take up half of the screen), but gradually you'll slip comfortably into this untraditional angle as you'll begin to master the art of downing enemies from all sides of the screen. It's kind of a more "truer" path, as you're viewing the horror happening near Leon's face and upper body (who you can kind of picture ultimately as yourself) rather than being able to see everything all around you. With the combinations of the R trigger for aiming any gun weapon (with a handy laser sight already enabled for each one), L for the knife, A for firing, B for reloading and running, and C for rotating the camera or zooming in (with the use of the rifle's scope), Resident Evil 4 won't actually feel like the right fit right away. But with about half an hour to an hour or so of play time, the control scheme will start to make a whole lot of sense.