Top positive review
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A masterpiece, and you can't honestly say that very often.
on 28 June 2005
It's been hailed as the greatest Resident Evil game ever, and even as the greatest survival horror game ever...can these claims possibly be justified? Well, after playing it, I would have to say...yes. All right, maybe it's not better than the first Resident Evil in terms of conceptual perfection...that game will forever hold a special place among horror fans. But in terms of how the sequels and general clones of that series have turned out, I would say this one tops them all.
As the back of the box puts it, forget survival horror, and forget zombies. By the time Resident Evil 4 was on the cards, it's creators must have seen the fun that people playing "Devil May Cry" were having and decided that the RE gamers would enjoy some similar all out action, because RE 4 is a perfect blend of that game and the original Resident Evil elements. So what's different? Well, remember in the first game how scared you were when that first zombie lurched down a corridor towards you, and then in Resident Evil 2, how scared you were when that group of 6 or 7 burst into the gun shop to make a meal out of you...? Well you'll soon be in a whole new world of danger in this game.
Right from the start, you know you are in for something special. Playing as good old Leon Kennedy from RE2, you are dumped outside a small rural community and quickly introduced to it's freaky inhabitants...not zombies but seemingly possessed, homicidal villagers. After encountering two or three on a woodland path, you'll already be thinking "these zombies are a bit too clever for my liking", but just wait, because a mere 20 minutes or so into playing time, the game plays it's first major trump card as you reach the outskirts of a ramshackle village. There's no choice but to enter and getting spotted is unavoidable. What follows is truly breathtaking gameplay, as, from all corners of the environment, crazed figures start emerging, armed with pitchforks, axes and flaming torches, and all heading towards you! Run into a small house, and you get the option of pushing furniture over the doors. Run upstairs and look for escape, only to find that they are lifting ladders up to the windows and climbing in! You can push the ladders down but they only pick them up again...and then, as you start to dash from one window to another to keep them at bay, you hear a crash from downstairs as the blockades break, and before you know it they are inside the house and coming up the stairs. Panicking yet? Wait until you see the one with the sack over his head weilding a huge buzzing chainsaw that can kill you in one hit. It's nothing short of brilliance to pitch you against such an onslaught and see if you can handle it. There are no tricks or rules for beating this scenario, it's purely up to you, so use your wits. Run away, climb up the church tower and pick them off, set fire to them all with grenades, you can try anything you like and the game will probably let you do it. It took me two or three tries to make it through this set-piece alive, and then, I realised I had been having so much fun that I reloaded the game and did it all again a few times more, until Leon was a slick machine causing maximum damage at lowest cost to his own health and ammo. Totally awesome, and yet a sequence like this, that would form a climactic centerpiece of many other games, is merely the opening battle.
So what next? Well, things just carry on in this vein of excellence and the action hardly ever lets up. Getting past the village leads to other rural settings like a farm, a lake, a quarry and a cemetery, amongst other things, and each new environment seems to be teeming with life - all of it trying to end yours! After what seems like hours, you will eventually find yourself in front of an impressive castle, and once inside, the second major playing field of the game begins, where you find yourself roaming vast chambers and battling scores of cowled monk-like enemies who are no less adept at fighting you than the villagers outside. Notice I said the second location - not the last - because after the castle comes still more, as Resident Evil 4 is an absolutely gigantic game. I can't go on to detail all the locations of the game,. as this review would take forever, plus it would also spoil the plot for newcomers too much, but be aware that your adversaries don't get any easier, and certainly no less numerous. You'll soon be facing snipers with crossbows, flaming catapults, and thugs sporting heavy duty gatling guns and cattle prods (yeoowch!), plus the game has subverted the idea of a well-paced head shot gaining you a swift victory - watch in later stages as decapitated villagers stand up again and bear down on you again with tentacles and flailing razor blades sprouting from their bloody neck stump...!
As for graphics, things couldn't be better. Leon looks realistic enough, and the locations are gorgeous, but it's the enemies that really steal the show. The villagers look like real people! Male and female, they all point, snarl and shout at you in Spanish (I think!) as they approach with weapons at the ready. They're no slouches, either, and will also dodge aside if they see you aiming a gun at them for too long. Luckily the weaponry at your disposal is pretty tasty; you'll have the standard handgun, shotgun and magnum of course, but say hello to the the sniper rifle, sub-machine gun and of course the trusty knife, which has finally been awarded a place as a worthy weapon, as you can now lunge and do some pretty severe damage any time if the enemy is close enough. And it is permanently equipped, so you just use a different button for a knife attack, whatever your current weapon. Not to mention that all the weapons can be upgraded and improved by spending money (that you pick up from dead enemies or find by smashing crates) with "merchants" who crop up every so often, usually just before or after an important scene. This is a new aspect for the game, and one that is definitely borrowed from "Devil May Cry". You can even increase your maximum health with rare Yellow Herbs that complement the game's famous staple of Red and Green Herbs for health recovery.
I honestly have to say that I could not believe just how big this game was. Even before the end of disc one, RE4 has crammed in more gameplay than a complete play through of any of it's predecessors would give you. There's hardly anything that it falls short on. Bosses? Plenty of them, and often more than one per chapter. Variety? You'll find lots of diversions here, such as playing sections unarmed as Ashley, who is Leon's companion for some of the time (think Sherrie from RE2), riding vehicles such as mine carts and trucks while enemies throw themselves at you, and escaping near-death scrapes by following "emergency" button prompts on screen (think "Shenmue"). Plus loads I haven't mentioned...oh, just wait for the crane that you control briefly, which picks up enemies and drops down them a chute like you were trying to win a cuddly toy - a real hoot!
I've only got a few tiny niggles, which are firstly that Leon still cannot move while aiming! Sure, the old fixed controls have finally been scrapped for the great new "follow behind" viewpoint, but I played the PS2 game "Cold Fear" before this one - which supposedly mimics this game's fighting controls - and in that one Tom Hansen could aim his gun and still walk...whereas Leon Kennedy becomes rooted to the spot every time he readies his weapon...imagine the fun of being able to step back or strafe while keeping your gun sight trained on an enemy's head. Why not, Capcom? However, kudos to them for scrapping the elements of the previous games that fans did not like, such as item chests that share the same contents wherever you find one, and the typewriter ribbbons needed to enable saves (they are now unlimited - hurrah!).
But one last thing - the final battle has such a huge dose of deja-vu that I though for a minute I was right back at my PS1 all over again...you'll see what I mean.
This review is going on too long, so I'll stop. Last thoughts are - yes it's worth buying, and yes it's the best Resident Evil and/or survival horror game since the PS2 was invented. As a Gamecube owner I'm lucky to be playing it long before it comes out for the PS2 - if you can't wait for that, simply buy a Gamecube. I'm surprised if any true RE fans haven't got one already, as they would also be missing out on the excellent original remake and RE Zero as well...but the console is worth owning for this game alone. A true 10 out of 10.