tiistai 25. lokakuuta 2011

REVIEW - Resident Evil 4 (2005)

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror
RELEASED: January 2005
DEVELOPER(S): Capcom, Sourcenext (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Capcom, Nintendo (GCN), Ubisoft (PC)

Resident Evil was a revolutionary action game in its time, but after nearly a decade and four games with nearly identical gameplay, it was time for the series to evolve. The development of Resident Evil 4 was first announced, or rather, mentioned, in late 1999. During the course of six years, a total of four possible drafts for the game were made and ultimately discarded - one of these drafts ended up being rewritten into the PlayStation 2 classic Devil May Cry. Not only did Shinji Mikami want to change the game, he wanted to utterly reinvent Resident Evil, even if it meant abandoning the franchise's survival horror roots and focusing on tense, fast-paced action. The game was originally released exclusively on the Nintendo GameCube as the most anticipated title of the "Capcom Five", and it was received as a new golden standard of video gaming, even without zombies or most of the scares that used to define the franchise. About nine months later, formerly outraged PlayStation 2 owners got a reason to smile when Resident Evil 4 was ported to their beloved console. Those PlayStation 2 owners included yours truly. Resident Evil 4 was one of the best and most influential games of the last decade, and it rocks not much less than it did six years ago.

No trespassing, I presume? 

Paul Mercier : Leon S. Kennedy / Merchant
Carolyn Lawrence : Ashley Graham
Rino Romano : Luis Sera
Sally Cahill : Ada Wong
Salli Saffioti : Ingrid Hunnigan
Rene Mujica : Ramon Salazar
Jim Ward : Jack Krauser
Jesse Corti : Bitores Mendez
Michael Gough : Osmund Saddler
Richard Waugh : Albert Wesker

Six years have passed since the destruction of Raccoon City, and Umbrella Inc. has been put out of business for good. Former police officer Leon S. Kennedy, who was in the heart of the events, has since become a federal agent working directly for the President of the United States. When the President's daughter Ashley goes missing, Leon is assigned for a search and rescue mission. He follows Ashley's trail to a rural village in Spain, and is overwhelmed by hostile locals who will stop at nothing to prevent Leon from accomplishing his task, or leaving the village alive.

Like I mentioned before, just hearing about Resident Evil 4 being in development revived my interest in a franchise that I used to be downright obsessed with, back in Resident Evil 2's time. When the first screenshots of the final draft started popping up, my bro had just recently bought us the PlayStation 2 - I was ecstatic, the game looked awesome. I just assumed the game was going to be released on the biggest console of that era, but I was wrong - they were going to make Resident Evil 4 a GameCube exclusive. I was furious, especially since the remake of the first game was already (and will always be) exclusive to the GameCube, but at the same time, I kinda applauded Nintendo for going against all odds and nailing exclusive rights to perhaps the sequel of the decade. Well, just a while before the game's release, Capcom revealed that the Resident Evil franchise was not part of their and Nintendo's deal for exclusive rights, and that a port of Resident Evil 4 was already being developed for the PlayStation 2. Nine months later, the dream became reality - my pre-ordered copy of Resident Evil 4 for the PlayStation 2 arrived. I spent the next few weeks hacking through the game over and over again, busting my ass trying to outdo myself in the minigames, and enjoying the alternate game modes on the side. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time on this game, and after six years, I'm still very much into it. Outdated? Not in the least! That's exactly why ports of the game are still popping up, and still getting good reviews. Resident Evil 4 is a timeless game.

It feels good from the beginning, but when you
realize you can somersault through second-story
windows... :)))))
Let's get right to the point 'cause we've got a lot of ground to cover here. First off, let me profess my love for this game's excellent level, character and enemy design. It's simply magnificent, not to mention consistent. Then, the actual graphics. I've heard people who've played way too much Resident Evil 5 suddenly call this game ugly, especially in the aftermath of the most recent version's release, but the truth is that the game was one of the finest looking games of its time. The PS2 version's not quite as polished as the GameCube version, though - and playing on 60 Hz on a state-of-the-art TV results in a really blurry image, but that's not the game's fault. Just thought I'd give you one more good reason to invest in the most recent, graphically upscaled version of the game.

Considering there were two composers working on the soundtrack (Misao Senbongi and Shusaku Uchiyama), there really isn't that much music in this game. Sound effects are a very important part of the gameplay experience, 'cause unlike you might've figured out, there are still quite a bit of survival horror elements in Resident Evil 4 - they're just presented differently. The Jill sandwich finally reached its expiration date with this one; the voiceover work has most definitely improved, by a whole lot - whoever wrote the dialogue still has a lot to be ashamed of, but the actors do their jobs good. I especially dig Leon's new "tough guy" swag. A couple of certain characters linger on the threshold of sounding simply ridiculous - mostly due to thick, fake accents - but they never really cross it. Is there anything wrong with this game?! Sure, a couple of things, but audiovisually the game is the most radically advanced Resident Evil game to date.

The game is split into several chapters, which take place within three totally different areas. Your primary mission - as Leon - is to find the President's daughter, deal with her kidnappers, who are just about the craziest bunch of European rednecks you've ever seen, and find means to escape. After all, this is a Resident Evil game; the way you came in is never the way out. Otherwise, Resident Evil 4 can't really be compared to the previous games. Many elements are intact, but the gameplay experience is wholly different.

First of all, you control Leon from an over-the-shoulder perspective used in most "third-person shooters" (I still hate that term) nowadays, such as Gears of War and Dead Space. All actions besides walking/running and shooting show up as button prompts at the proper hotspots. Your enemies are not mindless zombies - most of them are living, breathing human beings with the ability to strategize and organize. You can learn their patterns quite easily, that is why the game throws new kinds of enemies at you at a rapid pace. For example, there are guys with steel masks that protect them from headshots, large blind dudes that are made a little more intimidating by giant, razor sharp claws that would put Wolverine to shame, and of course, the famous chainsaw wielders seen in most of the game's promotional art - it's funny that they aren't seen so often in the game, though, nor do they have any special significance when it comes to the plot.

Moby Dick. The Loch Ness monster. Jaws.
To say it like Barry Burton in his "prime", "your weapons are your best weapons". The game's action sequences are all about dealing with massive hordes of enemies - talking isn't going to help, the only language these guys understand besides their very angry form of Spanish is the common language of firepower. Mastering precision in shooting is the most important key to your success in this game - there is no auto-aim, don't even dream of it. You can move the crosshair freely, and of course, you should usually go for headshots; you can also shoot enemies' legs to keep them from moving for a while, and their arms to disarm them. These sort of tricks only apply to human opponents, though; make no mistake about it, you're going to see monsters on this trip, nasty ones. No classic ones, though, this is all about the new kids on the block. By pressing L1, you switch to a melee knife. As always, the knife isn't worth shit in combat, but it's a good weapon to vandalize the environment, as there are a lot of crates and barrels to break and loot. At long last, you can reload the weapon when you want to, on the go, and won't have to go to the inventory to be able to time it well - actually, you can't reload your weapon in the inventory at all.

Nearly every weapon in this game can be upgraded way past their default settings with the proper amount of money at the workbench of a mysterious merchant that first appears in the early goings of the game. The merchant also relieves you of your precious loot for precious amounts of money, that you can use to perhaps buy new weapons instead of tuning your old ones up to the max. The more you upgrade a weapon, the more it gains monetary value - so practically, you could buy a pistol, crank it up to the max, sell it, and buy the next pistol and all its upgrades at once with the shitload of money you get for selling the old one. It's all very cool. Besides traditional weapons such as handguns and shotguns, the new free-aim interface also allows the inclusion of three different types of hand grenades, which do impressive splash damage on a tight bunch of enemies. This game packs some serious firepower.

Firepower is truly the way to go, not only in combat, but there are also some "puzzles" to which the only solution is a keen aim. Sometimes, you might want to try alternative solutions to wasting your bullets on enemies, such as searching the environment for some leverage; nitrogen tanks, barrels of fuel, etc. Also, you can run up to most standard enemies when they're staggered and deliver a swift karate kick to their noggins. When there are a gazillion enemies ganging up on you at the same time, the kick serves even better purpose, as the surrounding enemies might be knocked down by the impact. Fighting huge swarms of enemies might be a tad frustrating at first, but once you get used to it, you can't get enough of it. You might want to listen to some CKY or Disturbed to double the effect.

What a magnificent chamber of death you have
You also won't need to go to the inventory just to check your health, as your health meter is part of the formerly absent HUD. You start off with a very pathetic amount of maximum health, but you can increase it with Yellow Herbs, which replace the always so utterly useless Blue Herbs. Red Herbs are commonly found in the field, while Green Herbs and First Aid Sprays, as all standard consumable items, are also gained from looting fallen enemies. Extra ammo and health items come in huge abundances. In other words, the game can hardly end in an unwinnable state; you must be quite a lousy shot to run out of ammo... but unfortunately, it's still possible that your inventory might run out of space.

The inventory system used in Resident Evil 4 is a one-off system better than in any other Resident Evil game, but it's still annoyingly limited. You carry all your stuff in an attache case, which you can expand by buying extra capacity from the merchant at ridiculous prices (but it's well worth it). You can organize all the stuff yourself, which means that even if your inventory does not have enough extra space for a single item, it might have if you organize the stuff differently. You don't need to worry about key items or loot taking up space, they're in their own categories; the attache case is fully dedicated to guns, ammo and consumables. You can also discard any item you don't need. So, basically it's great, but ammo for each weapon only stacks to a certain point, you cannot reload your weapons to free up space, and when you really start stocking up on guns and their additional parts, you'll notice that even having the largest attache case available isn't too much to your advantage - all weapons take up realistic, therefore insane amounts of space. It's funny - now that the item chest is finally gone from the fray, I find myself missing it.

Resident Evil 4 isn't wholly devoid of real puzzles, but there are very few of them, and they're not very challenging; even the tougher ones can easily be conquered in just a minute by engaging in a little, unpunished trial and error. In the previous games, failing a puzzle often resulted in poison gas starting to leak into the room or something, there's nothing like that here. You can try all the pseudo-puzzles just as long as it takes from you to get to the right solution. Also, you no longer have to think which item to use in which location in the slightest bit; if you need an item such as a certain type of emblem to open a door, you just need to go to this door, and if you've already got the proper emblem in your possession, you're automatically taken to the key item menu and downright prompted to use the emblem on the door. Resident Evil 4 is more brawn than brains, I admit that.

Shades of Predator. Again!
Now that we got to the lamer parts of the game, we have to note Ashley's presence. Ashley's a spoiled brat in a video game, which tells everything about her as a character even before we start up the game (hard to believe her voice actress was almost 40 at the time) - but what she is like as a character is really not the point. About a year before Resident Evil 4, came Silent Hill 4, in which we had to bear the delusional Eileen Galvin's company. Since Eileen did nothing but slowed you down, and couldn't do shit to enemies, I thought having Ashley tag along would be exactly the same and do irreversible harm to the game. Well, luckily that's not true. Ashley has good A.I., she can often be hidden out of harm's way, and she's gone during the truly toughest parts of the game, such as boss fights. However, although she's very capable of dodging your crosshair, don't go believing she's immortal, which she truly isn't. One rifle shot gone wrong when she's carried away by one of those hicks or even just a tiny slice from the knife into the wrong direction when you're looting a breakable barrel, she's dead, quicker than you can say "ass". Her boney butt takes a wallop of damage from the least impressive bump, and it's really annoying to be forced to spend your valuable health items on her, not to mention your Yellow Herbs to increase her maximum health in addition to your own. Well, after you get used to her, her constant yelling's the worst part. That's not so bad, we've all dated.

Back to the good parts before I wrap this up. Although typewriters are still used to save the game as homage to the past, Ink Ribbons and limited opportunities to save the game are both things of the past, finally. If they were part of an environment that was this "alive" and surprising (in other words, filled with potential of sudden death), the game would not be challenging, it would be unplayable. There are also plenty of checkpoints in the game - the sense in them varies - so you only need to save the game when you quit playing. Or, should I say, when you are finally able to quit... I can tell you this one's pretty darn addictive.

Boss fights have always been a solid part of Resident Evil, but I've never really felt the ones in the earlier games in my bones quite like this. The games were never really about them, and final bosses in the earlier games were always somewhat anti-climactic since your last task in each game was to escape. Well, it is in Resident Evil 4 as well, but the boss fights definitely count here, and they start amazing the hell out of the player from the very beginning. Not only are most of the bosses HUGE in size - as in God damn - they always manage to intimidate you even if you know for certain that you can beat them in under 30 seconds without suffering any damage. Their entrances are that impressive, time and time again, and the Quick Time Events featured in most boss fights - in addition to some interactive cutscenes - are damn tense and do wonders to your heartrate.

"Time and time again" is a good sentiment to describe Resident Evil 4. It's amazingly addictive. Even before Trophies and Achievements came along, Resident Evil 4 put me in an endless spiral of trying to outdo my previous final ranking. After each chapter, your performance is rated based on three things - your hit ratio, enemies killed, and your untimely occurrences of death. In the end of the game, all of your results from all chapters are tallied up to a definitive ranking. Going for a better hit ratio is awesome, although not quite as awesome than killing people in this game, and trying to make it through with zero lives lost - which is pretty much impossible, by the way. But fun to try.

The woman who just doesn't know how to die
is back... but why? See for yourself.
Completing the game takes around 17 to 20 hours, so just one trip into "Hellview" ain't going to be a short walk. The amount of unlockable stuff - most of which was originally exclusive to the PlayStation 2, as Capcom's apology for the PS2 port's late release - is just insane. Just by beating the game once, you unlock not one, but two alternate game modes starring Ada. Assignment Ada is a kind of a survival mode with a kind of a dumb plot, while Separate Ways tells the main game's story from Ada's perspective. Although Separate Ways is notably shorter than the main game, it provides the game with a lot of extra bang in my opinion; I love it. Beating Assignment Ada unlocks an extra weapon to be used in Separate Ways, and beating Separate Ways unlocks an interesting document entitled Ada's Report, which details her connection to Wesker. There are a couple of special costumes to unlock for both Leon and Ashley, and of course, a couple of extra weapons you could kill an elephant with - the most powerful weapon is unlocked after beating Professional Mode, which in turn is unlocked after beating the game once on the Normal setting. There's also a movie browser for all the cutscenes in the game, and finally, the most addictive form of Mercenaries ever seen. ...Finally? Uh-uh. There's still the shooting gallery for all the gun crazies out there. The shooting gallery's a minigame within the main game, in which you're placed in increasingly tricky shooting challenges. You occasionally gain a lot of money from high scores, as well as special collectable bottle caps with figurines for your viewing pleasure. It's not over 'til it's over.

Although I'm reviewing the PlayStation 2 version here, I felt I should take a look what the latest version of the game offers to the player in terms of extra lifespan - of course, I'm speaking of Trophies for the PlayStation 3 and Achievements for the Xbox 360. The "HD version" of the game - I hear the HD part's bullshit - is a tad on the expensive side as it sells for twenty. Not saying it's not worth it, though. Double that if you've never owned the game, and triple that if you've never played the game. What it offers to those who have is a set of 12 system-specific rewards. Nine of them are automatically acquired via simply making progress. The only Gold Trophy in the game is awarded for beating the game on Professional Mode. Collecting all extra costumes, and all of the bottle caps in the game result in one Trophy each. The list is somewhat incomplete, I would've expected a lot more from whoever designed the Trophies - in both quantity and quality. Perhaps even a Platinum with that price. Again, the original game is not to blame.

Resident Evil 4 is a lasting masterpiece in the action genre. Even though it has some flaws and Resident Evil 5 went on to correct some of them - but also present new ones itself - it is honestly one of the most still playable games from its era. Its influence can be seen in just about every action game that has emerged since. Even though it's radically different from its predecessors and lacks the distinct horror elements that made them great, it is most definitely the total package, with whole new inventions that make it stick by the exact same, if not even more impressive, force. This last playthrough only worked as further proof of its greatness. 

SOUND : 8.9


a.k.a. Biohazard 4 (JAP)

GameRankings: 95.75% (GCN), 74.24% (PC), 95.77% (PS2)

Nintendo Power ranks Resident Evil 4 #2 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time. 

Resident Evil 4 has been re-released on home consoles twice. Resident Evil 4 - Wii Edition was released on the Wii in June 2007; although nearly identical to the original game, it's notable for supporting the Wiimote and for having motion sensitive Quick Time Events. Resident Evil 4 HD was released as part of the Biohazard Revival Selection (together with Resident Evil Code: Veronica X HD) in September 2011.

Although the game takes place in Spain, all Spanish in the game is spoken in Mexican dialect. All of the voice actors of the Spanish characters are, in fact, Mexican.

The Killer 7 handgun is named after Killer7, another game Shinji Mikami was working on in conjunction with Resident Evil 4. The Matilda handgun is named after Natalie Portman's character in the movie Leon (a.k.a. The Professional). Professional Mode, the hardest difficulty setting of the game, was apparently named after the same movie.

The movie Resident Evil: Apocalypse featured a scene very much influenced by the intro of Resident Evil Code: Veronica. Perhaps to return the favour to the film makers, and because the dynamic gameplay allowed it, the memorable "hallway with lasers" scene heavily reminiscent of the one in the first movie was added into the game.

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