"Where are the zombies?" Gamers and journalists alike have asked the question more times than we could count. And always developer Capcom has replied with the same answer: that there are none. This is Resident Evil 4, the latest from the Japanese studio that revolutionized the survival horror genre. And in this fundamentally changed new sequel, the walking dead have gone back to their graves. Instead of recycling a formula that Capcom itself conceded was growing tired, the development team behind the ambitious project opted to create a striking new Resident Evil experience minus some of the ingredients that spiced up previous franchise games. But don't worry. Standing in for zombies are some remarkably compelling and rewarding new gameplay dynamics and a dramatically more atmospheric world than survivalists have ever seen before. Simply put, this game not only delivers on the hype, it exceeds it. You will be wowed. You will be terrified. And when it's all over, you'll wonder why Capcom didn't do this sooner.
* GameCube exclusive for most of 2005
* Anticipated next installment in the Resident Evil franchise
* Play as Resident Evil 2's Leon S. Kennedy and other characters
* Embark on an epic adventure to save the President's kidnapped daughter
* Travel through a remote European village, an ancient castle, underground caves, a lake, and a wide assortment of industrial areas
* Do battle with a dazzling set of enemies from possessed villagers and crazed monks to a giant, water-dwelling creature and ogre-like beasts
* Unravel the mystery that surrounds the village through a wide selection of in-game cinematics that progress the story
* Discover why the things that inhabit the area are neither zombie nor human
* Rated M for a reason: extreme violence and gore
* Arm Leon with a plethora of weapons and special items from rocket launchers to sniper rifles
* A new action system enables Leon to perform context-sensitive moves such as jumping through windows or dodging enemy attacks
* Meet with traders to buy new weapons, sell items, or tune-up Leon's arsenal
* Leon can save at any typewriter -- no ribbon required; up to 20 saves per memory card
* 20-plus hours of gameplay
* Takes place in full 3D
* Stunning new graphics engine displays unequaled visuals on GameCube
* Runs in progressive scan mode
* Not true anamorphic widescreen; letterboxed
* Dolby Pro Logic II support
Surviving the Horror
Six years after the events in Resident Evil 2, the Umbrella Company is ruined. When the T-Virus was unleashed in Raccoon City, the US government nuked the location and then ended all relationships with Umbrella. Before too long, the corporation's stock price dropped and it retreated into obscurity. In the same time, hero Leon S. Kennedy began a career with the government, eventually becoming a highly trained agent. Resident Evil 4 begins as Kennedy is dispatched on a top-secret mission to find and safely return the President's kidnapped daughter from a remote location in Europe.
There are no pre-rendered sequences in Resident Evil 4, but you wouldn't know it when watching the opening cinematic, which quickly and conveniently brings you up-to-date on the situation. Always a stickler for presentation, Capcom has really outdone itself with this game, going the extra mile to deliver you truly gorgeous, beautifully choreographed cut-scenes that drive the story. What's more, because these sequences all use the game engine, they're seamless.
Resident Evil 4 doesn't waste any time getting started. Only a minute after Leon enters a dilapidated cabin, the hero finds himself attacked by a menacing figure with an axe and then trapped inside by villagers who seem focused only on one goal: his death. The air is thick with urgency and despair, both of which are noticeably amplified over previous Resident Evil games. After some consideration, and much more play time, we came to realize the reason for this: more than any other entry in this series, this is true survival horror. Preceding Evil games have moved slower, enabling you to oftentimes set your own pace. In Resident Evil 4, you're at the mercy of your attackers, and make no mistake: you are consistently under attack and on the run for your very life. Because of this truth, the game is heart-thumpingly frightening and this state of fear and panic is continued for great lengths of time. When you finally do escape, if you're so lucky, you will breath a sigh of relief and savor your accomplishment.
Traditionalists, however, will not be left in the dark. Or, actually, they will. Although the game moves at a quicker, frenzied pace as Leon runs through the region while blasting villagers, there are still some good old-fashioned scares to be found and just as satisfying as before, if not more so. Some enemies lurch forward from blackened hallways, moaning and chanting. Others kick open doors and come streaming in. And we don't want to give away any spoilers, but rest assured that the game features the franchise's widest selection of creatures, all of them amazing and twisted in their own unique ways. In one mid-game area, Leon finds himself trapped in a hedge maze and realizes that he's not alone: rabid, four-legged beasts are on the prowl, and these monstrosities are definitely not man's best friend. The old-school scare factor is magnified more due to new mission styles that put you in control of the weaponless Ashley, daughter of the President. Armed only with a flashlight, the nearly helpless girl must slink by robed enemies and rapidly raise and lower gateways before her attackers can catch her. Playing through levels like these, it's impossible not to notice just how far Capcom has come, and why it continues to lead the way when it comes to survival horror.
Bringing both gameplay types together is a control scheme that for the most part remains disappointingly unchanged from previous Resident Evil games. Kennedy is manipulated minus true analog control. Push the analog stick and he walks. Hold the B button down and he runs. Same as it ever was. Also, in our play experience with the game it became abundantly clear that many of the battles would have benefited from a dodge or strafe function, which Capcom has chosen not to include. And yet, despite all of this, the process of controlling Leon is far improved thanks to a combination of a flexible new camera that shoots the action from behind the character's back and a new action button that enables context-sensitive functionality.
Because the view remains behind Leon at all times, that momentary sense of disorientation that accompanied entering a new room in former survival horror games is thankfully absent. Adding another intuitive control layer, when you tap the R button Leon will aim his weapon and you can target enemies with full analog sensitivity. To call the addition superb would be an understatement. It changes the entire gameplay dynamic as you can individually target specific body parts of enemies, which in turn plays into the strategy. For instance, if you're running low on bullets and you just want to temporarily drop an enemy to the ground in order to clear a running path, you can target his knees and he'll fall. Early in the game, you can also go for a headshot, which if executed correctly will explode the foe's noggin and immediately put an end to the threat. (It should be noted that as the game progresses, there are sometimes serious drawbacks to choosing headshots over body shots, but you'll just have to discover why for yourself.) On the other hand, you can also choose to equip the shotgun and blast nearby enemies in their mid-section. If aimed correctly, you can knock down three or four attackers at a time, which is completely satisfying. Leon can also snipe from a distance, which is absolutely thrilling, use automatic weapons, equip a mine gun, utilize powerful pistol upgrades, and hurl a variety of grenades, and that's just for starters. Gunplay in Resident Evil 4, simply a lot of fun, is also an extremely rewarding experience.
When Kennedy nears certain objects or interacts with some enemies, an indicator on-screen will let you know that you can tap the action button or a combination of buttons to either execute an action or evade an attack. A seemingly simple addition, this new mechanic actually goes a long way to enhancing both the overall sense of freedom that you have as you explore and Leon's arsenal of moves. Using the action button, Leon can jump off the rooftops of structures, dive through windows, fend off enemies, kick over groups of foes, dodge thrown objects and moving opponents, and more. He can also perform context-sensitive movements, such as riding in a lift or mine cart. The action system is also well integrated into many of the ferocious boss battles in Resident Evil 4.
And speak of the devil, we're not entirely sure how Capcom pulled it off, but the boss characters and fights are some of the most varied and all-around engaging in any action-adventure to date. Not only are the character designs unequaled in their originality and detail -- these beasts and villains come to life with a level of realism never before seen on Nintendo's console -- but they are just as fun to challenge as they are visually appealing. There is a huge salamander that lives underneath a lake. The horrible thing thrusts upward from the water to reveal protruding fangs and a series of wiggling worms inside its mouth. The creature is also roughly five times the size of Leon's boat! There is an ogre-like monster known only as El Gigante by the locals and the putrid mutant looks as though he were borrowed directly from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. And these two represent only a small handful of the evil things that lie in wait. As you journey deeper into the game and square off against more humongous bosses, you'll begin to learn that these entities -- just like the villagers -- are not exactly as they seem. You'll find yourself wondering what could possibly be more grandiose and spectacular than the last boss, and then you'll be amazed when Capcom tops itself, again and again. More impressive still, each boss requires a different attack strategy to fend off. There's much more to killing these enemies than pointing and shooting. You'll need to examine the fight environments and use them to your benefit, while searching for weaknesses in each character's attack. Extremely well done.
In a highly welcomed move, Capcom has eliminated the ribbon-based save system that has been the backbone of the Resident Evil series. Now, you can save wherever you can find a typewriter, and thankfully they're located conveniently about the huge world. Meanwhile, there are a series of checkpoints located about the world so that if you happen to die, the game will automatically start you at a nearby point, eliminating aggrivating replay-throughs. The developer has also implemented an invaluable new map system that shows the nearby region, as well as important doors and pathways, save spots, treasures and traders. Rather than finding new weapons and items, in Resident Evil 4 you actually buy them. The procedure is actually very rewarding. Treasures strewn about the world can be sold to trench coat-clad traders, who also sell their own goods. It's from these helpful shopkeepers that you can gain access to the game's impressive selection of powerful guns -- for a price. Injecting a bit of RPG-like strategy to the game, there's also the option to tune-up each of your weapons. If you can afford it, you can upgrade the different attributes of your guns, including firepower, reload speed and more, so that you will literally get the best bang for your buck. This setup works hand-in-hand with a new inventory system that enables you to hold as many items as you can physically squeeze into an attach case. At the beginning of the game, you'll only have room for a few weapons and life-healing plants, but as you progress you can purchase bigger attach cases. Before you know it, you've got enough room for a shotgun, a pistol, a mine thrower, six grenades, five first aid spray cans and a rocket launcher. The entire configuration is triumphantly included in Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4 serves up an impressive 20-plus hours of panicky gameplay, which is a noteworthy feat given that previous survival horror offerings proved to be short. More astounding still, however, is that Capcom has not employed any tricks to extend the title's length. There's not a lot of backtracking. The environmental puzzles are not so obscure that they can't be figured out, and indeed many of them are downright clever. But most of all, there's so much variety in Resident Evil 4 that you're certain to find yourself continually marveling at the dramatically changed environments and new gameplay challenges.
Just when you get to know an area, daylight turns to darkness, it starts raining, and before you realize it you've zipped across a village, boated over a lake, run through a graveyard, blasted by a castle, coasted on a lift, sludged through an sewer, and cautiously walked through an all-too-quiet house. When you finally catch your breath, there's some disgusting monster breathing down your neck, and you're sprinting off to the next location -- this time an industrial setting. All of this is surrounded in a new, intriguing storyline that mixes old with completely new and keeps you guessing until the very end.
Resident Evil 4 is not only the most jaw-droppingly beautiful GameCube title to date, it is perhaps the prettiest game on any home console. It certainly ranks right up there with some of the most gorgeous titles we've seen, including everything from the Chronicles of Riddick to Splinter Cell and Metroid Prime. Capcom successfully merges its artistic and technical talents for an end product that shines like few others. Just about every graphical element in Resident Evil 4 is polished and dripping with atmosphere. The artistry in place is nearly unequaled. One look at the creature designs is proof enough. From hulking ogres to a crazed, burlap-sack-wearing menace with a chainsaw and half-decayed monks, the enemies in the game are spooky and creative. And sure enough, the character models sport more detail than we've seen in any other GameCube title. Not only do they look great, but they also feature fluid motion-captured and hand-drawn facial animation, and they spring to life under realistic environmental lighting. Some of the bosses -- wait until you face off against the Village Chief, for example -- are so well realized that it's difficult to take your eyes from them.
An unbelievably robust particle effects system tests the very limits of gore. Villagers' heads explode in chunky mists of blood and guts when you snipe them from a distance. Blood sprays in every direction when the chainsaw man slices Kennedy's head off. Rain falls realistically from the sky and splatters on the environments. Flames rise and sway inside lit torches, shimmering the ground in light. Smoke rises convincingly from burned bodies. Capcom's attention to detail is unmistakable.
And then there are the environments. Somehow, Resident Evil 4 looks every bit as dazzling and detailed as its pre-rendered counterparts, and this is a 3D game. The locales are not only exceptionally varied, but also overwhelmingly stylized and gushing with the little extras that go a long way. After the sun dips behind the distant mountains and darkness blankets the local village, the landscape goes black, temporarily illuminated by bright flashes of lightning. Villagers approach nearby, carrying torches that cast light unto their surrounding pathway. It looks so fabulous and so eerily perfect that it's difficult to believe it's running in real-time, and at a steady 30 frames per second.
Later, when Leon enters a dungeon area drowned in lava, a heat wave distorts the character's vision so that everything looks ever so slightly warped. Envision the lava world in Wind Waker, and now imagine that it looks several times better. A true showpiece. When Leon approaches a gargantuan sized castle, a group of monks use a catapult to hurl a projectile at him. It crashes into a nearby stone structure and explodes in real-time. We kid you not when we state that the explosion is so rich and believable that other developers would simply not have been able to do it in-engine.
And this perfectionist approach to visuals is carried over in the cut-sequences, which are simply filled to the bursting point with production values. In an obvious homage to movies like The Matrix, many of the cinematics spotlight action developments via a series of super-stylized bullet-time effects and an impressive display of acrobatics on Leon's part. When the character encounters a former colleague for the first time, the two trade blows while flipping about the environment. The choreography is top notch. A new Metal Gear Solid-inspired text interface spotlights Leon's face as he talks with a supporting agent, and these scenes use 3D models equipped with believable facial animation as opposed to a near-static image. The game even runs in progressive scan mode, a welcomed rarity for the franchise.
The downside to all of this is that Capcom has forced everything into a letterboxed perspective, presumably to keep the framerate afloat. Resident Evil 4 does not support a true 16x9 anamorphic widescreen mode, which is definitely disappointing since every other aspect of the title exceeds current technology. Rather, it's much more like Ubisoft's Beyond Good & Evil. If you happen to own a widescreen television with a zoom feature, you're still sitting pretty. We played Resident Evil 4 on a 50" plasma using the zoom function and we can verify that it looked phenomenal from beginning to end. However, we understand that some sets on the market automatically force progressive-scan pictures into 16x9, which will simply not work with Resident Evil 4, an unfortunate truth. Gamers with these sets will need to make a decision: forego progressive scan or play in ultra-stretched mode.
In what is sure to be something of a shock for survival horror fans, not only is the writing in Resident Evil occasionally funny -- you won't find any "master of unlocking" references -- but the quality of the acting, voice compression, music and sound effects is actually very well done, too. For once, the characters are believable because Capcom has hired competent actors to supply their voices. Leon in particular is very well produced. Meanwhile, the sound effects thump and boom, scream and screech, growl and yell, and all with pristine clarity in Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound. To top everything off, Resident Evil 4 feature a complementary soundtrack -- an ambient blend of subtle and pounding pieces that go well with the environments and the situation. Hats off to Capcom for taking the extra time to get it right this time.
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