There’s a reason in the game review community that the phrase “what can be said that hasn’t been said before” is both exceedingly accurate and cliché. Certain games reviewed are so popular that the same themes are reiterated in almost the same voice and phrases. So it brings up the point: Why review an over-reviewed game? Keep that in mind as we retread one of the most popular games of the last decade: Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4 follows STARS agent Leon S. Kennedy as he is sent to Spain’s rural countryside searching for President Graham’s daughter, Ashley. (Why, oh why, did Lauren Graham have to make out with our last president?) Shortly after he arrives, he is attacked by the villagers, his support is murdered and his weaponry quickly becomes obsolete. So what is going on in this Spanish village?
Resident Evil 4 will not win any awards for its uneven storytelling as it quickly ranges from camp to a serious and well-voiced plot. Furthermore, the game’s chills are a bit hit and miss when the emphasis is on the thrill. Yet it contains several cool elements: There’s the intriguing femme fatale Ada who cannot be penned down to any particular side. And the game flows in a cinematic fashion. One of my favorite scenes is when Ada and Leon meet in the castle.
Graphically, Resident Evil 4 is awesome! And no, that is not some overstatement. The game is highly detailed, with the scenery and characters looking realistic. It’s incredible to watch an enemy grab his arm or head in agony. The game is a bloodbath and will probably turn many gamers off. Blood splatters are constantly seen and plagas sometimes “sprout” out of their heads. Most important, it constantly runs smooth, and the load times are on the fast end of the spectrum. The catch is that there are little clippings here and there, such as Leon walking through trees and his feet going in the wall when he side jumps through a window. Furthermore, there are not many different character models, so you’ll see the same few characters over and over.
Thankfully, the game controls rather well for a tank-like system. The camera is always behind Leon. So if someone or something attacks him, it’s usually from the sides or from behind. Firing guns and using his knife is a pure joy and intuitive. While holding down the R button, you move the control stick toward the target. Pure, simple and it transforms the game into a second-person shooter. The catch with the system is that you cannot use the C-stick to side-stepk — something that would be very nice to have at times. Another addition is the quick-time button-pressing events. Unlike other games with this inclusion, how quickly you press the button(s) directly effects what happens on screen. Plus, these occur at any given time, making it a necessity to keep one’s hands on the controller at all times.
Of course, there’s more to the game than intense action. You have access to different weapons and tune-ups to make things interesting. New weapons are slowly integrated into the merchant’s shop along with the tune-ups. Do you hold onto your old handgun, or do you trade it in for something stronger? How about using a mine gun that shoots out mines that explode when enemies get close to them? How about saving some sanity by trading in your suitcase for more inventory space and increasing firepower of your guns? Part of the difficulty of Resident Evil 4 all depends on which weapons you bring into the fray and potency.
Sound design is incredible as well. It ranges from the moody organ-like crescendo to bursting drums. Chants from corrupted monks can be heard echoing all around Leon as they actively search for him. Villagers scream out in Spanish and give out a satisfying moan of death when killed. And then there is the scariest sound of them all: the chainsaw. Thank goodness for the soothing typewriter music with its organ and electronica reverb mix when the going gets too tough.
Ultimately, it is important to note that Resident Evil 4 is not a horror game. As previously stated, it is more about the thrills than the disturbing chills. Its goal is to keep the tension high and the played clued to his/her seat out of morbid curiosity as each new monstrosity graces (grosses?) the screen. You are meant to put down the controller at times from all the tension. That’s the reason there are save points liberally available in the game.
Resident Evil 4 is a second-person shooter with strong horror elements. Some people assert that it is one of the scariest games ever made due to all of the gore. I believe otherwise as I can name one right off the top of my head that’s on the Game Cube that can and will keep people up out of fear. However, that game lacks Resident Evil 4’s satisfying action.
I bought the game years ago for $20. And it was definitely worth the price of admission once I overcame the gore. It has somehow wormed its way as one of my favorite games across game systems. It also was one of the first “horror” games that I played. In conclusion, there is a kick-@$$ element to the game that is not always seen or even felt in games. This one of those “must play” games that gamers should experience. And don’t be scared if you don’t own a PlayStation 2 or Game Cube as the game is now available on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Of course, it’s totally OK if you can’t stand this game as there may not be enough soap to cleanse one’s hands.