Friday, January 13, 2006

FROM THE VAULT: Resident Evil 4

It's a slow day here at P&P, so let's use the time to take a look back at a review I wrote of a game that topped a lot of best-of lists this year, Resident Evil 4.

Capcom, for GameCube
rated M for Mature (blood and gore, intense violence), $49.99.


At long last, and after countless games, they finally got "Resident Evil" right.

Though extremely popular, the zombie horror series never held much stock with me. Besides the fact that I am a big fraidy cat, I never warmed to its rather cumbersome gameplay staples.
The fixed camera angles that forced me to reorient myself each time I walked into a new room, the nonsensical puzzles and the horrific controls that made me feel like I was controlling a tank all served to sour my experience.

But lo and behold, here comes "Resident Evil 4," offering a completely revamped take on the franchise.

Gone are the artsy fly-on-the-wall perspectives. Now, the camera stays decidedly behind the back of the main character, who, for once, moves like every other video game character and not like a remote-controlled Frankenstein monster. Push the analog stick forward and he moves forward. Turn left and he goes left.

Gone also is the cumbersome item management, excessive backtracking and the zombies. One might think the franchise would suffer unduly without gore-dripping presence, but that's far from the case.

In "RE 4" you play Leon Kennedy, a former cop last seen defending Raccoon City in "Resident Evil 2." Now a special operative, he's sent to an obscure Spanish village to find the president's missing daughter.

The natives, however, are less than happy to see Leon. In fact, they're downright homicidal, and they all have a weird reddish glint in their eyes.

Immediately upon entering the village -- in what is easily one of the best opening video game sequences ever -- Leon finds himself surrounded by a mob wielding pitchforks and knives and closing infast. Safety means running into a nearby house and barricading the door. Wait, what's that sound on the roof? And is that a chain saw that the guy climbing in the window is carrying?

These maniacal villagers are decidedly smarter than the loping zombies of earlier games. They will duck your shots, call for backup and pursue you with relentless authority until you manage to splatter their heads like an overripe casaba melon.

Which is not to say that nasty backwoodsmen are the only enemies you'll face in the game. There are plenty of monsters lurking in the game, just waiting to take you apart.

The other significant gameplay change is the addition of "action buttons." Frequently during cut scenes you'll have to press a sequence of buttons (a la "Shenmue") in order to avoid instant death. It's a nice way to liven up the lengthy plot scenes.

What really sets this latest rendition apart from past "Resident Evil" games is that it evokes a sense of desperate dread rather than the "boo!" fun-house scares the series has been known for.
A word must be said about the graphics in this game, which are nothing short of stunning. This is easily the best-looking title the GameCube has ever seen. But the superlatives don't just end with the game's look. The soundtrack, gameplay mechanics, the whole package is superbly designed to keep you on edge and freak the bejeebus out of you.

"Resident Evil 4" isn't perfect. The game peaks early, and the plot is nonsense. But if your idea of a good time is being trapped in an abandoned farmhouse, surrounded by maniacal killers closing in on you, this is one of the best games you'll play all year.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


At 6:08 PM, Blogger SDK said...

Perhaps the best game ever.


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