Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Your spine shakes with chills as your heart begins to race. Your mind wanders with the fear of the unknown, and just when you think you were safe from whatever hunts you, you feel it’s grip across your throat. It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means, a series of reviews on some of the scariest horror games out there today! Welcome to my 13 days of horror reviews, where we honor the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky side of video games, both past and present. Today, we look at Resident Evil 4.
It’s funny how survival horror games and horror games in general, have come full circle now a days. “The Darkness” was an indication of the metamorphosis of the genre, which many can trace back to “Resident Evil 4.” Ever persistent with its design up until 2005, Resident Evil 4 practically revamped the series in a somewhat logical way, but also, in effect, changed the way survivor horror games would be played.
The fourth installment has you star as Leon Kennedy, now a government agent sent to a remote village in Spain to rescue the president’s daughter, who was kidnapped by unknown assailants. Through a ton of exposition, Leon will get to battle legions of villagers, cultists and infected humans that are not zombies, but something else all together. The story is standard conspiracy fare, and actually serves well the biggest changes to the franchise, action sequences.
When released on the Gamecube, RE4 made heavy use of the A button to aim, shoot, pick up items, push away enemies, and other actions that can be commanded. It added a lot of depth to the controls, and the new angle, a 3rd person over the shoulder view, really helped in pushing that more. The controls were no longer stiff, albeit they were still slow, especially turning, reloading weapons and snatching items. But this improvement made the gameplay flow smoother.
Another good thing about the game was the change in style in regards to the plot. While you’re still fighting off infected creatures, this time there is a whole back story dedicated in explaining it thoroughly, even if the last half of the story throws in a widget by setting up these events in the RE timeline. Granted the cheesiness of the story taken so seriously can be seen as an embarrassing act, but at least it’s fun to play and watch these events unfold.
I will say this though, the game was weakest when you had to guide your charge, in this case the president’s daughter, all over the place. She can’t fight and she gets stuck in areas rather easily, making the game harder than it should be. Plus the standard fare of lever and jewel puzzles exists still, although this time they are actually only really noticeable in a giant castle, which I guess would be appropriate in a sense. But they are still annoying as all hell to deal with. I also wasn’t fond of the quick time events, not because they were implemented well, but because they were easy to complete and in the end, entirely pointless to the plot in most respects.
But perhaps the most paradoxal aspect of the game is its tone. “Resident Evil 4” had some fantastic survival horror moments, one for example, was a homage to “Night of the Living Dead” where you and a few allies were trapped in an abandoned farmhouse while hordes of infected Spanish peasants came bolting through the windows and doors. Another had you traversing though a sewer like maze in the dark, as hooded creatures with long sharp claws leaped out of the shadows to take a swipe at you or Ashley. It is moments like these when you feel like you’re playing a really good horror game, and the flashy new controls, while meaningful in helping you overcome these moments, actually augment the creep factor tenfold by making you a capable shot.
But these moments, sadly, are few and far between. A lot of the game was rather disappointing in the long run, most notably the fact that you can pretty much shoot anything thanks to a steady supply of ammo, and that your guns, which can be upgraded by some Aussie merchant who follows you around, become overpowered. This is when Resident Evil as a whole began to shed the “survival” part of their “survival horror” name, and consequently, many other games have followed.
The game is fantastic to look at though, providing what many consider to be the pinnacle of graphics on the Gamecube. Everything has a texture, most items are detailed heavily, and the graphics had a twinge of realism to them, even though you can tell the anime influence was still present when creating the game. The sound was pretty good too, at least in most areas. Music was amazing, special effects and sound effects were great, and the voice acting……well….this is a Resident Evil game, so expecting an improvement would have been a surprise. That said, the cheesy acting helps with the cheesy story, so it does get a pass in that regard.
“Resident Evil 4” is a great game, but it is also one of those games that, for all intents and purposes, change everything we know about video gaming. Since its release, there have been few, if any, true survival horror games, games like “Dead Space” and “F.E.A.R” have been action oriented titles over survival horror aspects, and each is an amalgam of different genres. Even greats like Silent Hill have gone this route now, giving more precedence to action over survival, and the horror aspect is lost in the process. Instead we have scary imagery in a shooter guise. It is almost full circle to what Resident Evil started with, and while the change is welcome, one should be weary of it.