|Welcome to Resident Evil 4 - the prettiest title on the GameCube|
It takes a lot to slap a guy out of an MMORPG addiction. Resident Evil 4 did exactly that though; since grabbing my copy, the hours upon hours I usually plough into World of Warcraft on a daily basis have slowly begun to dwindle. This doesn't so much reflect badly on WoW, but simply exposes Resi 4 as the supreme arse kicker of a game that it is. Especially for a GameCube title.
What's it all about then? Well in a ludicrous yet rather cool B-movie plotline, the president's daughter has been kidnapped, and as Special Forces agent Leon Kennedy, you're sent in to a European village (of all places) to investigate said disappearance.
Soon enough, the Spanish locals are jabbing you with pitchforks and attempting to chainsaw your head off in order stop your rescue efforts of young Ashley (who incidentally bares no similarity to drunk slut Jenna Bush, in case you're wondering).
What Resi 4 does so expertly well, is pacing. It starts off reasonably quiet, then slowly but surely begins darkening up the skies, ramping up the tension, and confining the player into smaller and smaller spaces bit by bit, while both the number and pure viciousness of the enemies increase without you realising it. Then just like that, before you know it, you find yourself trapped inside a miniscule house with an entire village hammering on the door and windows trying to rape you with a sickle. And this is all within the first 10 minutes.
|Huge amounts of enemies continually swarm you from all angles|
Luckily, in a move that deserves major head, your single main ally throughout both this and many future encounters, is the gameworld itself. While Leon is kitted out with tons of meaty kit, ammo is regularly scarce you see, forcing you to rely on a never ending stream of escape routes within your surroundings. You can hop over fences, dive through windows, kick open doors, climb ladders and even knock 'em down behind you to stop would-be pursuers.
These various interactions always keep you one step ahead of the mobbing horde, and it turns the game into something of a white-knuckle cat and mouse game, as you desperately try to pick 'em off while evading death from all sides.
On top of this, when you (finally) catch a second to gather your composure, it'll casually chuck a big boss fight in just to keep you on your toes. While I'm not a particularly big fan of these sorts of boss battles - learning attack patterns and all that pap - the Resi 4 bosses on the other hand are nothing if not spectacular.
Unlike so many other titles, these guys strike a nice balance between being massive, opposing forces, while still housing interesting, beatable and most of all fun
solutions. I had a great time duelling with 'em, I must say.
There's little else out there that plays quite like Resi 4. On the one hand it's a third person shooter, yet it couldn't be further from the likes of Max Payne if it tried, with a stylised over-the-shoulder viewpoint rarely seen.
It's a horror game too, yet doesn't rely on pitch black levels and monsters jumping out of the dark like say, Doom III does. What we have here is more of an underlying feeling of unease and panic, than more traditional bumps in the night.
Then it's an adventure game as well, with much in the way of collecting items and solving minor puzzles...yet Zelda, this isn't. Did Link ever get puked on with gastric acid until his face melted off?
|Boss encounters are a wonder to both see and play|
The relentless blasting action is great fun, with an awesome feel to each and every weapon. Whether it be laser-sighted pistols or the WW2-era sniper rifle, there's certainly a gun for every occasion. A more under-rated part of the game which I love to death though is the inventory and statistical side of things. In fact, it all comes across as a sort of ultra-light RPG at times.
Okay, so you don't level Leon up per se, but you can certainly level up his weaponary. By collecting treasure and money throughout the game, you can spend your riches on tuning up your guns, boosting firepower, reload rate and magazine capacity. Finding the pistol fast and accurate, but not strong enough? Or simply want more shells in your shotty? Resi 4 makes it so. Through such customisations, you ultimately end up with a Leon slightly different to the one your neighbour may have.
The item management system is also absolutely brilliantly realised, with you forever shuffling around and rearranging your backpack to make space for ever more useful pick-ups, and it comes off as a heavily enhanced and much improved version of the system used in Deus Ex. There's not enough space for everything you find, and tough choices await as to what to bring with you and what to leave behind. Boy do I wish I'd made room for that RPG.
Playing One Handed
I have to mention the graphics. I'd rank this up there as one of the tightest looking console titles ever seen, let alone the best on the Cube. The textures are immaculately detailed at all times, and the models look CGI quality with stunning animations to boot. It's a little jaggy, true, and the non-anamorphic widescreen view is a slight letdown, but considering the platform, this is genuine 10/10 material. Not only does it impress on a technical level, but in terms of art direction and camera work, it's simply breathtaking.
|Boom headshot! Resi 4 offers some of the most satisfying bad guy deaths ever|
Sound on the other hand, is a mixed bag. The weapon effects are some of the best I've heard in a game, especially that big old chunky shotgun blast, yet the voice acting and the script are depressingly heinous. Leon is an absolute bad arse when you're in control of him - diving out of buildings and round-housing heads clean off - yet as soon as he opens his mouth in a cut-scene, you begin to truly loathe the bastard. Lines are delivered with all the finesse and wit of McBain's, "Ice to see you".
Speaking of cut-scenes, Resi 4's are abundant, and incredibly beautiful to look at. They also attempt to remain semi-interactive. At one point for example, Leon is tiptoeing down a canyon when his rivals tip a huge Indiana Jones-style boulder over the ledge, bowling down after him. It's up to the player to hammer the "A" button as fast as possible at times like this, dictating whether Leon outruns it or not.
These "tap tap tap" sequences pop up constantly, and are a nice way of tying the player into moments he would otherwise have to simply sit and watch. They aren't for everyone however, and some may find them an annoying distraction.
As for the President's daughter, escorting her around is surprisingly fun. Escort missions are typically a pain in the anus for games in general; I've lost count for instance, of the number of times such retards have blocked me in rooms, got stuck behind tables, or worst of all got me killed. Heck, even Half-Life 2 fucked this up at times.
Not so here...in fact she's pretty damn smart. You have limited control over the lass, and can even hide her in various places when the going gets tough, and on the whole she's amazingly well behaved. What lets her down hugely however, are the piercing shrills she blurts out of her mouth, with a voice that'll possibly make your eardrums implode. I swear if I hear her howl the words, "Leeeoooonnnn...HEEEELLPPP!" ever again, I'll stuff my fist down her throat.
It's a fucking tough game, I should warn you. Some of this is down to expertly designed situations and enemy placement, but unfortunately it can also be down to slightly niggly controls too. Don't get me wrong, I think the game handles about as good as it could ever possibly get given the GameCube's controller, but it lacks a few much-needed features. Namely a specific kick button, and more importantly a strafe function.
Perhaps the latter was omitted in order to keep the game as far removed from a circle strafing FPS as possible though, a decision I can understand entirely. If anything I guess, fumbling around with the controller while being pursued by ten angry Spaniards rackets up the panic even more, and it all adds to the experience in a bizarre kinda way.
|Leon's girlfriend didn't appreciate having to wear a paper bag during sex|
Resident Evil 4 is a killer third party title for the GameCube, something you don't really see too often. Never the less, one can't help but wonder if it came out for the wrong system. Just browsing through my GameCube shelf and seeing it nestled snuggly between Paper Mario and Luigi's Manson, even Nintendo's biggest fanboy would have to admit that among the usual bubbly GameCube cartoons, it sticks out like an uncircumcised Jew. Here's a game that oozes blood, guts and entrails from every pour, unapologetically at that. It's the only game I can remember that decapitates and guts the player on a regular basis, so much so that you become almost immune to it all.
Early word on the upcoming PS2 port speak of a massive downgrade in visual quality, but let's keep our fingers crossed on an Xbox (or even PC) conversion at some point down the line. As good as it looks here, I'd love to see this baby shine on some higher specs.
Whether you dug the previous Resi games or not is beside the point. Resident Evil 4 (or "President Evil - 4 More Years" as my American mate calls it), is its own game as much as it is a sequel. Personally I never spent a huge amount of time with any of the previous RE titles, yet was able to enjoy this one on a whole other level never the less. It's a fucking solid console release that pulls off frantic zombie shotgunning action like no other game ever has.
Oh hang on, they aren't zombies are they...riiight.