Review: Paula Cole said it best ? where have all the zombies gone?
It takes a lot
of nerve to risk alienating your core audience to completely redefine an entire franchise ? even if it's needed. Such is the case with Resident Evil. For years the PlayStation staple was one of the top franchises in the business, one which spawned so many 'survival horror' games that it practically became the clich? of the generation, much like fighting games prior. But once it made the move to the current generation, starting with the Dreamcast and PS2 hit CODE: Veronica, the franchise seemed to age overnight, with its clunky controls and rehashed premise of zombies, viruses, and evil drug companies. The games were still good, if not great, but it was getting a bit long in the tooth and franchises like Silent Hill were doing things better. In short, it needed an overhaul. So while the PS2 received some unique entires that tried to shake up the zombie concept in both RE: Dead Aim (another lightgun-style game like RE Survivor) and the online-centric Resident Evil Outbreak, and the GCN got a RE-make, an oft-delayed N64 revamp, and ports of the old games, Capcom went back to the drawing board for a second time for the next official game - Resident Evil 4 (remember, Devil May Cry was once RE4 until it matured into its own distinct franchise). At this point in time, however, it was far off the radar of all but the most dedicated RE fans.
So Capcom shook things up with RE4. Boy did they ever. Far less horror and far more survivor, Resident Evil 4 isn't your usual chapter in this beloved series; indeed, RE4 redefined the entire franchise with its changes and made it important again. More action, less puzzles, a different storyline (though it still is a part of the overall series plot) and a distinct lack of zombies, in their place being something a lot more...alive. In short, the game is fantastic ? one of the best games of 2005, though cursed to being forgotten due to a January release. Of course, Resident Evil 4 was a GameCube title, meaning you'd need to buy one to play it if you hadn't taken the Nintendo plunge yet. However, much to the surprise of pretty much nobody, Capcom's new classic found a path to the PlayStation 2, and right in time for Halloween and more importantly, the increased visibility in a medium that tends to forget great games if they don't ship between September and December. While the PS2 version takes a slight graphical and control hit, its made up for in new special features ? most importantly, a whole new story-based bonus that explains events from a very different point of view. PS2 fans lacking Cubes should hesitate none to pick up this instant classic ? the little bumps in the conversion won't even bother them. As for those who have played it on Cube, it's worth checking out to see the added features. Regardless of platform, Resident Evil 4 is one of the top games of the entire year, and most importantly, it redeems a once-dying franchise and makes it relevant again. It goes to show you can take risks and have them pay off in stunning fashion.
Umbrella is dead. Much to the chagrin of some who hoped to see some sort of resolution to the Umbrella storyline (CODE: Veronica didn't really solve anything other than the destruction of the two locations the game was based in, but instead hinted at an ultimate conclusion), RE4 all but kills the Umbrella story. You learn in the opening sequence that the US Government has caught the company for their atrocious shenanigans and stripped them of any sort of license to conduct business, which killed their stocks and ruined the company. So how do you make a sequel? By making the story even more sinister than before and add a touch to make the plot more in-tune with modern times. RE2 favorite Leon Kennedy is your star, and since all the Umbrella BS is gone, Leon has taken a job as a US agent. His first job is to save Ashley Graham, the daughter of the President, who was kidnapped by a strange cult you come to know as Los Illuminados, based in Spain. Leon arrives, and almost immediately the evil takes center stage?when Leon is attacked by a resident of a small village that's connected to the cult, who seems to have some...err...issues with outsider Leon. Things get a lot more complicated than that, but much of it is tied to spoilers, and well?I ain't going to spill the beans. Like all RE games, much of the story is told through files scattered around the game, revealing the truths about every event and character in the game. Unlike previous Resident Evil games that are one whole story without any real breaks, RE4 is split into 6 chapters, with all but the final chapter split into sub-chapters that give you a chance to save and take a break from the action.
For those who expect the usual RE shenanigans, such as zombie shooting, bizarre boss battles, item boxes, ink ribbons, and numerous head-scratching puzzles, you're going to be in for a surprise. With RE4, Capcom has outright shattered the old RE formula, creating a game that's far more action than adventure ? if they were to move Leon into the 1st person view it would be just as awesome as a first-person shooter. The numerous possessed villagers are no zombies; they'll charge at you, gang up on you, throw projectiles at you, and otherwise make your life a living hell, especially if you come across one of the infamous chainsaw-carrying townsfolk ? since one hit from a chainsaw is instant decapitation and death. There are other odd creatures to encounter in RE, such as freaky cultists who look like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars
, up to the weird Regenerators. Any way you slice it, Leon has to be on his toes and be an accurate shot to take down the enemies before he gets pulverized by them. Puzzles are still around in RE4, but they've been toned down a bit, mostly due to the design of the game. There's a few fun ones here and there but Capcom really wants you moving and shooting stuff instead of being stuck for a while on a particularly difficult puzzle. The boss battles tend to be few and far between, but all of them are pretty entertaining and varied.
Thankfully, Leon has a whole set of weapons to use. No longer do you find weapons lying around (well, you find a few); instead a merchant system is introduced. By acquiring money out of boxes or dead villagers, and finding various valuables scattered around the game, you can purchase upgrades to existing weapons to make them stronger, reload faster, carry more bullets in a clip, and even fire faster. Each base weapon has more variations that use the same ammo, letting you either upgrade or buy newer weapons and save cash on upgrading. You can even buy a one-shot rocket launcher that can be very helpful against tough bosses ? they're usually a guaranteed one-shot kill if you know how to use it. Leon can also buy a bigger attache case for holding more (no more boxes or the stupid touch/drop system of RE Zero) items, weapons, and healing items, and later on, a vest that helps cut back damage against the more powerful enemies late in the game. The base concept of herbs returns, with the addition of a yellow herb which you can combine with the other herbs to increase the overall health of Leon or Ashley. You can also use First Aid Sprays ? and this time, since there's no ranking once you beat the game, there's no penalty for using them. Which is definitely good since you'll need those health items more than ever in RE4. The merchants also have access to a small shooting gallery mini-game that you can use to fine-tune your accuracy against the real thing and win prizes to collect.
As said, the action in this game is as intense as ever seen in any action/adventure game. Though not really a horror game, it's instead an intense shooter that sometimes can get overbearing and though ammo is far more prevalent (and acquired off dead bodies this time, amongst other locations), there are moments where enemies are many and ammunition is few, leading to the use of the different grenades to make some room, or learning how to conserve ammo by using the always-equipped knife which is actually pretty effective. The enemy variety is pretty typical RE, with about a dozen different enemy types (though some only show up in very limited fashion, you'll deal with villagers and cultists the most), but the strategy remains the same ? kill ?em. The human sorts are based on hit zones; shoot a villager in the kneecaps (helped by the useful laser sight on all weapons) and they'll fall down or stagger, shoot their arms if they're holding something and they might drop it (you can even shoot back a projectile weapon if you hit it), and shoot their head enough times and it might explode ? though you learn later on that doing so is a risky, if not outright dangerous, proposition. Or of course, if you're like me, you'll upgrade your sniper rifle and just sit back and cap some fools before they even know you're there, thinning the ranks a bit, as direct headshots with a sniper rifle are safe to perform at any time, with few exceptions. Though this can be hard with dozens of enemies coming at you at once on a few occasions. There are seriously few moments when you have any peace and quiet, without something coming at you. And unlike past RE games, you usually don't want to just run away from enemies, as they can then gang up in even larger numbers, or some other disaster.