Resident Evil 4
The rent check is a bit late, but Resident Evil is finally renewing its lease on terror. Leon S. Kennedy, who survived more than his fair share of horror while fighting his way out of Raccoon City in Resident Evil 2, goes straight to the source--Umbrella HQ--for the fourth proper chapter in this action-adventure series. RE4 looks to alter the genetics of both the series and the zombifying virus on which it's based: Writhing tentacles and humanoid figures materialize out of swirling black smoke, a severed stag head twitches on the floor, and Leon himself seems to be infected. And you just may be able to witness these horrors from a first-person view. Series creator Shinji Mikami's advice? "Don't pee your pants.'
License to Drive
Another first for RE4: controllable vehicles. Part of the demo we saw showed Leon zooming around on a fishing boat, fighting a giant sea creature with a harpoon. Later, he was knocked into the water, demonstrating his new swimming ability. Apparently, the boat isnt the only thing you can drive, either. Yes, there will be other vehicles, says Producer Kobayashi, but Im not tellin you what they are yet!
Grab the eagle key. Sigh. Stick the square-shaped crank into the square-shaped hole. Yawn. Use the blue key card. What, another cratepushing puzzle?
Sure, weve loved each new zombie-filled Resident Evil adventure (not including the Survivor light-gun games of course let us never speak of them again). But even fans would agree the series hasnt changed much over the past eight years, right down to the obligatory self-destruct-countdown final boss battle. Hell, even the games creators will admit it. Some gamers might say, Hey, its just another in the Resident Evil franchise.. .its nothing new, says Producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, himself a veteran of the series since RE2. So we asked, How do we call the gamers back again? To do that, we have to change.
And change they have for Resident Evil 4, due this fall exclusively on GameCube. Just take a look at these screens and a couple big differences should be immediately obvious: fully 3D graphics and a whole new view of the action. The camera has shifted from its usual detached third-person perspective to an over-the-shoulder or first-person view, your choice. Either allows precision aiming (especially with a laser-sight-equipped pistol), which in turn opens up a whole new field of gunplay gameplay. If you shoot an enemy in the head, itll stun him, says Kobayashi. Shoot him in his knee once and he'll bend over and hold it; shoot his knee again and hell fall. Enemies will carry axes and other weapons you can shoot their hands to make them drop their weapons.
Wait a zombies carrying weapons? Thats another big change for RE4: no zombies. Zombies are slow and a bit dumb, says Kobayashi. You canlt expect much from a zombie. But these new enemies are smart. They can use weapons, plan strategies to surround [you], and move a lot more quickly. So exactly who or what are these new enemies? Possessed people? Homicidal lunatics? We don't know, and Capcom isnt saying, but whatever they are, its clear theyre smarter than our old flesheating adversaries. In the short demo we played, these angry villagers dodged attacks, threw sickles, brandished chain saws even set up ladders to climb into a house Leon (RE4s main playable character) had barricaded himself in. At one point, as Leon sat in a tower picking them off, the new bad guys bombarded him with Molotov cocktails.
Other alterations and additions controllable vehicles, booby traps, a context-sensitive action button round out this rethinking of RE Could all these changes possibly mean that, for the first time ever, a Resident Evil game wont end with a self-destruct-countdown boss battle? Kobayashi smiles, Of course I cannot tell you the ending of the game.
While Resident Evil 4 has a potentially infected Leon fighting swirling black clouds of vapor that form into phantom attackers and disappearing dogs, the upcoming Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie pits a genetically altered Alice (Milla Jovovich) with superhuman strength and reflexes against the unstoppable Nemesis. Fans who can swallow this far-flung premise will be rewarded by glimpses of characters from RE3, a helicopter-versus-girl chase sequence straight out of the intro to RE Code: Veronica, and some really bitchin' S.T.A.R.S. vehicles. Maybe Milla'II kick a zombie dog in the face in slow motion again, too. There's always hope....
By now, you must know that RE4 completely rocks--it was EGM's 2005 Game of the Year, after all--so I won't waste your time by extolling its many virtues here. And even if you're a vet of the GC and PS2 outings, this Wii-make offers something new: RE4 action mapped to near-first-person-shooter-style controls. But moving your character with the Nunchuk's analog stick doesn't aim, it only moves your field of view, with enemies often out of view unless you wave the Remote around, holding while pressing A to shoot. Essentially, it's more complicated than it sounds, which saps some of the fun out of it. The "Separate Ways" missions that first appeared in the PS2 version are intact and practically constitute a whole new game, which means fans aren't getting cheated, especially considering the $30 price point. But it's amazing how a game that once looked so good can look so dated after a couple years of seeing games in high-def.
Milky's right on the visuals--RE4 may have lost that "holy f****ing s****" wow factor, but the sharp graphics still ably support its other awesome features: an engaging story, a deeply rewarding character and weapon upgrade system, and a truly creepy atmosphere no other game can match. Though they suffer a bit when things get hectic, the Wii-mote-enabled controls generally serve RE4 well: Aiming weapons, swiping your knife, and shaking off face-sucking nasties with real-world moves adds urgency to an already incredibly intense experience.
Unlike Milky, I never complained about the newfangled gameplay. In fact, I actually found the Wii's point-and-shoot controls made gunning down Ganados a helluva lot easier than before...maybe too easy--I breezed through tough parts that originally pissed me off in the previous versions. But I will find time to chew out Capcom for not including anything new in this old (but still amazing) game. Is it that hard to throw in some extra costumes or weapons? Hell no! Well, at least the cheapo price tag takes away some of that pain,
Resident Evil 4 is a lesson in change; a lesson that the industry should take note of. It takes the overly familiar franchise in a different direction, toys around with the proven and successful gameplay formula, and offers up something completely new - and more surprisingly, it succeeds on most levels.
How hasl changed? Well, let us count the ways'
In the first Resident Evil, you panicked because you weren't armed to deal with the situations thrown at you, and more often than not, had to flee the scene entirely. However, in Resident Evil 4, you're armed to the gills; now it's just a matter of being able to cope with all the enemies that are thrown at you.
In past Resident Evil games, you felt fear because of the restrictions imposed on you, whether it was due to the unwieldy controls, the erratic viewpoint, or some of the more archaic gameplay mechanics. You needed to conquer the limitations of the game before you could conquer the game itself.
This isn't so in Resident Evil 4. Now you feel more in control of what's happening on screen. Now, you have a fixed third-person perspective and rarely are you in need of weapons, ammo, or health. This changes a lot of things. No longer do you have to fight the confusing controls; no longer do you have constantly worry about your ammo supply; no longer do you have to worry about ribbons for saving.
However, change rarely comes without a price, and in the case of Resident Evil 4, the price of change is that it's just not that scary. It should be expected, considering the complete re-haul of the series, but now that you feel more in control of what happens on screen, a lot of the inherent fear is taken away. The atmosphere still feels tense, but you no longer feel like a helpless victim that has no hope of survival; rather, you feel like an action hero with all the right moves for a Hollywood summer blockbuster, big guns and all.
Resident Evil 4 still has its moments of terror-stricken thrills, make no mistake, but now the emphasis is on the actual action - and this isn't necessarily a bad change, either. There's a sadistic sort of satisfaction that results from blowing an enemy's head clean off with a shotgun, or better yet, clearing out a cluttered crowd with a well-placed shot from your rocket launcher. The action feels right, it flows right, and most importantly, it's a lot of fun.
What we have here is an immediately approachable Resident Evil title that offers up immediate satisfaction, and in a market known for consumers with short attention spans, it might just be what's needed to turn the series around. It's completely different from the other titles in the series, but still close enough to the original formula that die-hard Resident Evil fans won't feel too alienated. It's changed enough that even if you were previously disenchanted with the Resident Evil franchise, Resident Evil 4 still deserves a look.