Scary it is not, but hella fun it is.
For those of you that know me, you'll notice that I'm somewhat of a Sony fanboy. Sure, every so often I play something like Halo: Combat Evolved when visiting some friend, but I have always held that black brick of pure gaming bliss called a PlayStation 2 close to my heart, figuratively speaking of course. I long for the day that everyone enters the phase I like to call the Halo Hangover, and starts to realise it's just a compilation of ideas expressed in other games. Heck, it doesn't even have a railgun!
Now, although I am a Sony fanboy, I am a little ashamed to admit that, before Resident Evil 4, I had never played a Resident Evil title. No, seriously. Not ever. Honest. I really wasn't into the survival horror scene. For me, a game which sends more enemies than useful ammo was a waste of perfectly good code, disc and gaming time otherwise spent on other, more ruthless games. Basically, I didn't like running away for any reason other than to find cover or get the pickup I passed.
So, when I heard that Resident Evil 4 wasn't a 'survival horror', but more of a 'survival action' game, I decided to put my fears aside and try out a copy. It had received grand reviews from critics, including the almighty GRandmasters, so I figured it was worth a shot.
And boy, was I right.
Resident Evil 4 is one of the best games on the beloved console, if not THE best. Full of heart-pumping, adrenaline-inducing gun battles, rather creepy baddies, plot so well written I'm surprised I couldn't see the name 'Kojima' in the credits, gory visuals and plentiful goodies that it has now found it's way onto my list of 'Stuff I must own', above even Suikoden I, and I really, really want Suikoden I.
The story is rather simple. You play as Leon S. Kennedy, a special agent sent to retrieve Ashley Graham, the US president's daughter. Spotted within a region somewhere in Spain, you go in to get her out. But then, as it normally does in anything which has the word 'action' somewhere in the genre listing, everything goes belly up. Before you know it, you've got to fight your way through villages, castles and military complexes either tracking down or escorting Ashley through hordes of enemies.
Here is where Resident Evil 4 splits off from the rest of the Resident Evil series, or so I have heard. Apparently, in a normal game in the series, you spend about a tenth of your time killing zombies and the rest running away because you've run out of ammo. Any 'gun-ho' strategies would normally result in a 'Game Over' screen. Not so in Resident Evil 4. In this one, you're given plenty of ammo, as the enemies will drop bullets on occasion. Enough bullets to fight your way out of most situations without needing to be overly stingy with each shot. In fact, in my first run-through of the game, I ran out of ammo once. Only once.
Then again, I did carry a lot of guns. There are 5 basic ammo types: 9mm, Magnum, Rifle, TMP and shotgun ammo. Although the TMP ammo only fits into one gun, the TMP (duh), all the others have multiple guns that can use them. Some of these, like the Shotgun and Broken Butterfly you can find on their own without buying from the merchant, others you need to have some cash and some space.
Space in your case, that is. Leon has an attache case on him at all times that allows him to store all his guns, ammo, healing items and other, non-crucial items. Keys and stuff like that which you use to open doors are kept on Leon's person so these don't need space in the case. This rule also applies to the treasures that Leon finds. Fortunately, if you need some room in your case you can discard some items or, if you're talking to the merchant, sell them. You won't believe how many flash grenades I sold/dropped over the course of the game. Another way of creating space is to combine items. You can combine some specific items such as healing herbs that can free up some space necessary for another grenade or some more ammo. The effect of this combination depends on the items combined. Adding a Green Herb to a Red Herb will create a Mixed Herb (G+R), which takes the same space as a regular herb, that will completely fill your health bar regardless of difference between max and current health. (fortunately there is a function that prevents you from healing when already full health) Adding a Yellow Herb will create a Mixed Herb (G+R+Y), still the same size as a single herb, but using this will increase your max health somewhat and then bring your current health to this new max. Some treasure items can also be combined, which increases the total worth of the items to a value that exceeds the value of the parts individually. This adds a new aspect which means that you can either sell that butterfly lamp off now for a good price, or wait until you put the three missing parts back in so you can sell it for at a significantly higher price, so you can buy some bigger cases and guns!
And guns you will need, for there are a lot of enemies within this game that are all too happy to provide you with some bodily injuries. From your standard 'something's not right with this guy' Ganados (those PO'd farmers you fight) to some rather nauseating insects (nauseating because they are ugly and they also have a habit of decorating you with their pre-digested lunch.) and some down-right nasty looking bosses, you'll have plenty of enemies to try out that new hardware you just bought. If you do happen to run out of ammo, you can still use your trusty knife to cut them up.
Before they cut you up of course. These guys are smarter than the zombies of old Resident Evil titles, and provide enough of a challenge that they are a formidable foe, instead of a laughable bullet absorbing man-sponge thing. They will try to protect themselves from attack by dodging your aim, putting their hands in front of their face, blocking your headshot, and even distracting you from the always lethal chainsaw-wielding man in the paper bag mask sneaking up on you from the side. You won't believe the amount of times that trick worked on me. Fortunately, if you're fast enough on the draw, you can land a couple of shots to the forehead before they realise that you're aiming at them.
Then you can watch the superb recoil animations. Really, they're damn good. Shoot them in the head, and they'll stagger for some distance, during which time you can spin kick them. Land a shot to the arm, and they'll react accordingly, possibly even dropping their weapon. Better yet, blow off their shins and watch them limp slowly towards you. Or, even better, watch them flop around on the floor with only one leg, like a giant, farmer-shaped fish.
By now, the more observant of you would have noted that I am yet to mention the puzzles that inhabit Resident Evil 4. Well, there's a good reason for that. The more difficult puzzles involve weight switches and statues. You use Ashley to operate one switch, you operate another and you use two statues for the other two switches. That's it. Seriously. The majority of the puzzles are not to do with thinking, but with timing. During some cutscenes (and some battles), you'll see a button combo on the screen. Pressing this combo will avoid pain. Failing to press the combo will induce pain and sometimes death. At other times a single button will be displayed which says you need to repeatedly press this button in order to avoid pain, attack the enemy or avoid death. Failing to press the button repeatedly enough will cause pain, death or mean you missed an opportunity to harm the enemy. These button combos are usually restricted to repeatedly pressing X or Square, or pressing L1 and R1, or Square and X simultaneously. Simple, but it can (and more often than not, will) prove fatal if ignored. And not fatal in a good way.
The visuals, however, are always done in a good way. Everything looks gritty and messy, just what you'd expect from a game like Resident Evil 4. It's all good, aside from Leon's skin-tight shirt, which you get stuck with early on until late in the game when you buy the armored vest. That was something I don't think anyone wanted to see. But, fortunately, you can unlock new costumes for Leon and Ashley, so you're exempt from the horrific sight the second time round. Phew.
The sound though is hardly horrific. A satisfying sound track is one of those things I look for in a good game, and Resident Evil 4 does not disappoint. It all sounds terrific, with the music either being quiet and out-of-the-way, or being a full-on orchestral uplifting experience, an unlikely combination that works wonders here.
Unfortunately, not all is wonderful in the land of Resident Evil 4, with the main issue being with the fact that the cutscenes do not reflect the costume you are wearing. The Gamecube version got this, but unfortunately the PS2 could not handle it, so we get cutscenes that are the same no matter if Leon's in his ugly skin-tight shirt or his secret cop uniform. Another gripe is that nothing's really scary. I mean, the first time I felt afraid during the game was when I first encountered those Regenerators. That was the first time I felt scared, and that was only because I couldn't fight them yet, as I was missing the Thermal Scope. Once I got that, I was unstoppable.
But hey, if I wanted to be scared, I would have played one of the other Resident Evil titles. This one may not be scary, but it is a helluva lot of fun. Any PS2 owner would be missing out on a wonderous title if they passed this one up.