Right up front I have to admit I am not a fan of console games, the Gamecube in general, and especially the Resident Evil series. I've played bits and pieces in the past of the various games in the series and never found one that could capture my attention for more than half an hour. Consequently, I cannot tell you how this new title expands the story of previous games, as I never gave a rats ass about any Resident Evil story after seeing the theater title of the same name that was so bad it ranked among humanity's greatest crimes. Paul W.S. Anderson really needs to remove himself from the gene pool, but I digress... Of course, I knew to expect slow moving zombies that jump out of the shadows, bad controls, camera viewpoints that interfere with the action, and lots of lame typewriter saving. However, Resident Evil 4 has avoided most of these mistakes made by its predecessors, and is both a standout example as a console action game and one of the definitive Gamecube titles to be released thus far.
First of all, I've got to talk about the graphics, as this is easily the best looking Gamecube game ever made, as well as generally one of the best all around looking console games. How they managed to get the Gamecube to display environments like this is beyond me, as I never thought this relatively crippled console capable of such visuals. The character models are something right out of a pre-rendered cutscene, and the environments almost hit photo realism at times. Granted, the glossy veneer fades a bit if you look too closely at any one object or move too close to the screen, but sit on a couch about ten feet away and the game looks absolutely fantastic. The move to widescreen (which is mandatory, fullscreen is not an option) helps give the game a cinematic feel and provides some badly needed peripheral vision for spotting enemies advancing on you from either side. It's a wonder this hasn't been done before (at least not designed this way), because it helps immensely. I therefore demand all future PC shooters be presented in widescreen, at least as an option.
The voice acting is typical of the Resident Evil series – Bad. The voice actors aren't very good, but the lines they have to regularly spew out are worse. The dialogue between Leon and the President's daughter is especially inane, and her constant drivel caused the “Game Over” screen to show up more often than it ought to have, what with my bullets slamming into her skull and all.
Fortunately, the dialogue doesn't detract too much from the core gameplay, and that is what earns the game Hell Bronze. Resident Evil 4 is a rare delight for a console shooter in that the awkward controls aren't too difficult to get used to for those not weaned on Halo and its ilk. Make no mistake, though the controls aren't bad, they sure aren't great. It is still a chore to aim – far more difficult than with a mouse and keyboard, but you can get by. The gunplay is one of the many highlights of the game, as the kick from weapons and the way you can blast off body parts from your enemies feels real and solid. Though I've seen other reviews of this game cite the physics engine as being exemplary, I do not agree. Half-Life 2 had an amazing physics engine. Far Cry had an amazing physics engine. This one is just barely adequate for the job at hand, but what do you expect with such non-interactive environments? Walking around Resident Evil's world, though pretty it is, is like driving around in Need For Speed Underground – Beautiful to look at, but you can't stray from the narrow path the designers set for you, and so you only get the view of the world they intended. I prefer my environments more interactive and “real”, but to each his own – Some people really get off on the Resident Evil series.
The boss fights are irritating, usually involving some “gimmick” similar in style to (but not as brilliant as) the Legend of Zelda series. The typewriter saving is also back, and it's as annoying as ever, considering how difficult the game is. You can expect to be playing long sections repeatedly until you get to the next save point or defeat that boss. The 'twitch' reaction bits also got on my nerves – As an example there are just seemingly random sections in the game where you get ambushed by villagers or some event will happen that surprises you and you have to quickly, and I mean very quickly, hit a specific combination of buttons the game flashes on the screen. Miss the combo or do it too slowly and you usually lose a big chunk of health (or die). Lame. The weapon upgrade/purchase feature is good, and well implemented, but nothing we've not seen done far better in other games. Also, be careful, as if you purchase the “wrong” weapons at the wrong times you may find yourself unable to continue, as the game doesn't place types of ammo for the weapons you carry in the world, only the types the developers expected you would use at that point in the game. You may find yourself forced to reset the game to a save you had before you purchased the weapon, or even worse, to restart the game completely.
I've also seen phrases like “a masterpiece of dynamic tension” and “an innovative new take on horror” used to describe the atmosphere of Resident Evil 4, but that's ridiculous – The game is none of those things. The story is laughable and derivative, not even worthy of a B-movie like, well, the Resident Evil movie. The characterization is a joke, the advances in the plot, if you call them that, are timid and predictable, and the dialogue is neither witty nor literate. I also hear people are claiming this is finally a new take on Resident Evil, because it supposedly was not going to have zombies... whatever. For all intents and purposes, the denizens of the village who come at you in waves are zombies. They stagger around, walk really slowly, moan and yell, and generally act like the undead. Also, the bosses are clearly mutants if not zombie mutants – Most of them look like hideous undead science experiments gone wrong. The only thing missing are those zombie skins, but hey, this is a brand new direction for the series! Close up animals with a wide angle lens... WEARING HATS! At least the game is gory and doesn't shy away from it's M rating, a trend we're starting to see from an alarming number of developers. The majority of game buyers are over 18, so lets start seeing more T & A, thanks.
One last thing before I close: This is something that bugged me the entire duration I spent playing the game, and I'm about to impart an Ultimate Truth about all Resident Evil games... are you ready? Resident Evil cannot live without zombies in its gameplay. It simply can't. How else could you explain the slow movement required to give the player time to react to them because of the imprecise and cumbersome aiming system? Just imagine if the zombies were martial arts masters or commandos wielding assault rifles! Instant death. This isn't really important and doesn't affect the score of the game, but I thought it was funny, as during the lead-up where the game was being hyped I kept hearing that bit about “no zombies” and just chuckled, as the above statement is something I've always known about the series from day 1.
If you liked the previous Resident Evil storylines and gameplay you should be right at home here, as this is the pinnacle of the series' evolution. As good as it is though, it isn't perfect, which shows that the whole concept of a wholly linear 3rd person “horror” shooter wasn't all that great to begin with. I put horror in quotes because the game never actually scared me once, but if you're a squeamish pre-teen who can't watch Jurassic Park without wetting the bed this might not be an experience you'll enjoy. Still, those who have disdained previous Resident Evil games might want to check this out, as it embodies the best aspects of the series in one package, and for those who are already fans of the series, this is your Holy Grail.