Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Resident Evil 4 Review

Quick quiz: name the top five most influential games from the last generation.

Good job, Resident Evil 4 has been lauded universally as one of the most important games of the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox era, having pioneered third person shooting while bringing in a new era of graphical fidelity and gleeful violence. It currently retains a position comfortably as one of the highest-rated games on Metacritic and has been ported and remade multiple times in its six year lifespan. There is no doubt that Resident Evil 4 is a great game, but whether or not it has stood the test of time remains up to debate. re4_box

Story and Atmosphere

It is a cloudy afternoon in a remote Spanish mountain pass. My pistol drawn and ammuntion low, I inch forward through the woods, dry leaves crushing beneath my feet, into an empty shack on the side of the road. I find medicinal herbs and unused clips on the table. As I turn around to exit, I see a ghastly sight: the decapitated and decomposing corpse of a local woman impaled onto the shack wall. My nerves tense and I continue towards the village I was ordered to investigate.

Three villagers sit around a campfire atop a cliff. They catch sight of me as I walk down the path and immediately run away, not even taking care to extinguish their fire. My spine begins to tingle and I cross the rickety rope bridge to the village gate.

Taking cover behind a tree, I bring out my binoculars to scout out the village. There are about twenty or so farmers roaming about the square, circling a flaming stake. I peer towards the stake and see the charred corpse of the police officer that drove me here. I clench my teeth as my hand inches toward my pistol. I make a run for it.

A scream pierces the air and I double take looking for its source. One of the villagers points at me, teeth bared and the look of venom in his eyes. The chill of death shakes my bones as farmers burst out through every door, dropping their tasks and rushing towards me, teeth bared and tools ready to stab me. I bolt into an empty house and slam the door shut, pushing a dresser to barricade the door. Rushing up the stairs, I discover a shotgun. I rush towards the window and begin to open fire from above. For now, everything is alright.

I hear a knock from the balcony behind me, the villagers have pulled up a ladder. I vault through the window and throw down the ladder, hearing the sickening thud of the man’s bones crushing into the ground. But it is too late, the villagers breach through the downstairs door and the terrifying screech of a chainsaw revs into existence. I swing around the banister and fire a shotgun blast directly into the torso into the fat man with a bloodied bag over his head and the chainsaw in his hand.

But he barely flinches, the force of the shrapnel, enough to blow a normal man in two, hits him with the force of a thrown pebble. I fire again and again as my ammo runs dry, and nothing happens. He raises the chainsaw above his head and swings it into my neck. The vibration of the blade shakes my bones as my head separates from my body and I die. Behind the screen, my controller sits dropped on the floor and my mouth agape in shock. resident-evil-4-20050516000049172_640w

If the narrative passage above hasn’t yet convinced you, let it be known that Resident Evil 4 is a scary and atmospheric game. Its opening sequence consistently engraves itself into the memories of all who play it. Permeating throughout all of the game’s environs is an overwhelming sense of hostility towards the player, the feeling that the player is not welcome into its bleak, dark world.

 

For all of its atmospheric glory, Resident Evil 4 features a rather weak and silly story grounded in conspiratorial clich├ęs spoiled by forced presentation elements. The creepy atmosphere is all but broken when the hero discovers in the enemy base a document, helpfully titled, “OUR PLAN”. Furthermore, the game’s atrocious voice acting, holding the quality of the background voiceover of a Disneyland ride, oftentimes turns the creepiness into ridiculousness. 

Gameplay

Resident Evil 4 has been universally lauded as the catalyst for the birth of the modern third-person shooter. Games as diverse as Gears of War, Red Dead Redemption and Mass Effect owe their mechanics to Resident Evil for their over-the-shoulder perspective, which included modes for quick moving and accurate shooting switchable at a moment’s notice. This allowed for a more fluid and action packed method of navigating the games environments, thus making third-person shooting precise and accurate. Audiovisual impact makes the use of each item of Leon’s arsenal extremely fun.

Some have derided Resident Evil 4 for not featuring a cover system, a gameplay mechanic that would make its way into many third-person action games to come. Frankly, this argument is invalid: Resident Evil’s enemies do not shoot at the player, thus negating the need for a cover system. The infected villagers, monks and industrial workers of the game shamble slowly like zombies, closing in for melee attacks. This forces the player to alternate between move and shoot modes as he tries to distance himself from enemies as they close in, thus establishing a rhythmic pattern of run-turn-shoot, run-turn-shoot, run-turn-shoot. Its fun stuff and establishes the game’s theme of constant terror, flight being a constant response no matter how well armed Leon may be.

And well-armed you may be, Resident Evil 4 features a RPG-like system of item acquisition and upgrades. Scattered throughout the game’s environments are treasures, which can be sold to merchants for gold. Gold in turn can buy new weapons, health upgrades, medicines and weapon-attachments. These items and upgrades are all placed in Leon’s invisible lockbox.

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Managing the lockbox is again, an RPG-like system of recognizing the slots each item takes up and rotating them, moving them and removing them to squeeze a maximal amount of ammunition, medicine and weapons into as small a space as possible. It’s a process as stressful as packing.Thankfully, lockbox upgrades are available as the player progresses throughout the game, alleviating the frustration while making the player more powerful than the enemies of the game, thus making the game’s later levels far less frightening than earlier ones.

Its not all stylized ultra-violence, in fact, quirky puzzles and treasure hunts are interspersed between sections of combat, thus giving the game a needed cerebral facet. Unfortunately, the puzzles aren’t based in the gameworld and are not based on the same mechanics that ground navigation and combat. Oftentimes, the player must enter a separate screen to solve a slider puzzle or other minigame to pass through a locked door or access a hidden treasure. These puzzles are oftentimes frustrating and break up the game’s brisk pace.

Graphics/Audio

From an auditory perspective, Resident Evil 4’s sound design perfectly grounds and enhances the game’s hostile and creepy atmosphere. The quiet moan of an enemy around the corner, the clanking of metal chains and the wind quietly howling from beyond a cave are all strongly atmospheric. Tense music, unlike the voice acting, works well to improve the game’s creepiness.

Resident Evil 4 has aged relatively well over the years. While the game’s textures have abysmal resolution, beautiful lighting and character models still look great. A fantastic art style grounds each of the three environments Leon will explore, and each chapter is visually and thematically distinct. From the overwhelming hostility of a remote European village to the mysterious secret passages of a monastic castle and the crazy experiments of a island laboratory, the game’s worlds are memorable and fun to explore.

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Conclusion

Resident Evil 4 may seem dated by modern standards especially in terms of its graphics and shooting mechanics. Nonetheless, the historical impact of this game is immediately perceptible, it having spawned the modern third-person shooter and introducing a new precedent for gameplay control. In spite of some forced storytelling, Resident Evil 4 maintains its shine and remains one of the finest adventures of the last generation. 4.25/5

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