There was no escaping the buzz that Capcom's Resident Evil 4 generated earlier this year when it launched on Nintendo's GameCube. Shortly before it hit stores, Capcom announced PS2 owners would be able to enjoy a ported and somewhat expanded version later in the year. Skeptics hissed. Fanboys guffawed. And even this reviewer cynically questioned, "How can it be done so quickly?" Nobody doubted Capcom's talents.
It was just the opposite, in fact; gamers abroad issued "wows" along with similar awestruck statements when it launched on the GameCube with the backing of incredible technical feats and fresh gameplay. However, it seemed so fine-tuned that the port to PS2 was surmised an effort recoup development costs and sell copies of the breakthrough game to Sony's much larger install base. It's unusual that a publisher successfully ports high-tech exclusives to different hardware -- let alone with any gameplay additions. And can you really fault the skepticism? After all, at one point game director Shinji Mikami himself said he'd cut his head off if it was ported to another system; he had his doubts too.
Good news: Mikami-san's head still remains firmly attached to his body and the Resident Evil 4 port has been masterfully executed. It's technically one of the best PS2 titles to date, even sporting progressive scan and true widescreen (unlike the letterboxed GCN). More importantly than that, thanks to the incredible gameplay and PS2-exclusive additions it's also one of the best PS2 titles, period. If you haven't had the opportunity to play it yet, read on and find out about the eye-opening experience that awaits you. For those who have, you'll definitely want to complete mission "Separate Ways," which you unlock only after completing the main mission, which is a meaty 20-plus hour experience. In Separate Ways, you play as agent Ada Wong, whose adventure parallels the one you just completed as Leon Kennedy; left with a lot of questions about the conspiracies at hand, you'll want to turn the pages of Separate Ways to get some answers.
Capcom is widely considered the pioneer of the survival horror genre, as it struck nerves worldwide when the original Resident Evil hit on PlayStation. But, it's also no secret that the formula grew tired after several sequels and spin-offs. With Resident Evil 4, Capcom set out to shatter even its own expectations. It took nearly half a decade and a lot of experiments -- one of which was transformed into the Devil May Cry franchise. This dedication has paid off with RE4. It truly delivers next-generation gameplay -- right now -- and it redefines what developers are capable of not only in survival horror or shooters, but action games in general.
The days of zombies dragging their feet are gone. So are those of primitive aiming mechanics and prerendered backgrounds which, as beautiful as they were, ultimately made it frustrating to view the action in the world. Those out-of-sight cheap scares are history, now replaced by heart-thumping action and hordes of intelligent A.I.-driven enemies. Just play the opening level of RE4. We dare you. Only moments after beginning, Capcom thrusts you into a high-stress environment with dozens upon dozens of villagers, equipped with pitchforks, knives, hatchets, and a severe hatred of your presence. Oh, and haven't you heard about the chainsaw man? The roaring sound of his gas-powered weapon is enough to make your blood curdle. If it doesn't, you will at least vocally yelp as you attempt to evade him, meanwhile managing the total, seemingly never-ending chaos of an angry mob.
This is very much the point of RE4, and why we adore it so much. It produces a lasting sense of fear in you. Sure, there are still some shockers, but the bigger thrill is born out the total immersion you experience in the environments. The detail is so far beyond what most developers have been capable of -- no matter what console or PC you've owned. Enemies will come smashing through doors. The same doors you can shoot through, repeatedly breaking down piece by piece. How about you kick the door open into them, sending them flying? No, or maybe it's better to push a table in front of the door to block it, buying you more time. You have to think when you play Resident Evil 4.
While not all environments are widely open, most of them include a pretty big range of options. It may include dropping a boulder on an opponent or firing at a cart filled with explosives, which will subsequently roll down into the hordes, setting them aflame. Some of this comes way of context sensitive moments where you tap the X-button to trigger something, but plenty of it is just smart thinking. But wait, there's more. Leon now has access to an impressive range of weapons. You earn treasures along the way, sell them off, and over time you will be granted the option to buy better weapons (and sometimes differently styled weapons). Still more, you can upgrade them over a series of levels. Max them out and you'll be granted special top-end weapons.
When does it end? It's hard to say. Resident Evil 4 is one of those rare experiences that hooks you in and doesn't let go. This variety in gameplay mechanics, weaponry, and even environments gives gamers almost everything they want and more. You won't find yourself wondering why you've been forced to repeatedly backtrack through areas, experience the same weather over and over or play "stages" that are stereotypically disconnected just to look different. No, instead RE4's world is an expansive one that you will travel across as if it were one.
You'll see dilapidated farming towns, towering castles, lava-filled sub-terrain, rundown factories, frozen warehouses, and so much more. From one place to the next, your jaw drops. Combined with the surprisingly serious story that Capcom has crafted, it's hard to convince yourself to put down the controller. This, too, is a new precedent for the series, which has often been backed by less than spectacular stories with out of context puzzles. Unpolished dialogue like, "I am the master of unlocking," is not something you'll hear in Resident Evil 4. There are also serious twists in the story. If you haven't spoiled what it's all about yet, you'll be in for some shocking realizations when the plot first reveals itself.
Going back to talk of puzzles, they indeed still play a part in the franchise. Relax. They're actually quite fitting, and sometimes downright cerebral. We won't ruin any, but you'll have to trust us. They help pace out the heart-crushing effect that fending off enemies has on your body. More than this, your goal in Resident Evil 4 is to save the President's daughter, Ashley. Gameplay is further broken up into stretches where you must lead her around, telling her to wait at your command (simply press R2) or hop in a trash dumpster to stay safe while you flash grenade and snipe oncoming enemies. This change in pace and style really doesn't feel forced either. Sure, you'll be glad to be rid of Ashley at points, not having to worry about her, but when you do have that responsibility you'll experience some intense gameplay moments. You've probably heard or seen the scenario which has robed enemies stealing Ashely off while you attempt to snipe them. Let us tell you, it plays every bit as good as it sounds.
Having said all this, somehow still we have not covered all the highpoints RE4 has to offer. The game is painted with cinematic moments. In each chapter, there always seems to be a few grandiose battles that stand out, like being holed up in a house as stream after stream of enemies pour in through the doors and windows. But you haven't seen anything until you've seen the bosses. Capcom's been making videogames more than long enough to know that no action game is complete without huge boss battles.
As it turns out, huge is poor descriptor. Something like behemoth is better, but the best we can really come up with is unbelievable. RE4 bosses are extravagantly designed, to the point you can barely fathom how it's still running via the game engine. They are also clever, multi-tiered with a huge range of attacks. Just when you think you've got one thing figured out about them, they seem to come up with something new to surprise you. The environment also plays a big role how you strategize against them. Quite simply, they're a lot of fun and you'll be amazed as Capcom tops itself again and again as you venture from one grandiose boss to the next. The well advertised lake monster and Lord of the Rings inspired El Gigante ogre are but only a taste of what you'll square off against.
There's simply too much to put into words. This survival horror, which has truly redefined the genre, is all about its subtleties. Capcom has achieved an incredible amount of realism with this title. It's not completely perfect, but if you've been reading closely, it's packed with gameplay worth raving for. There is only a small list of things that might warrant some feelings of frustration.
For example, the weapon switching system is archaically still bound to the case system from previous Evils. It becomes tedious in the heat of battle when all you want to do is tap something like the L2-trigger or D-pad to choose your weapon. It's a true flaw, but one that thankfully doesn't spoil the experience. Similarly, movement is still somewhat a half-breed of D-pad movement and real analog. You don't have the option of using a dual analog setup, where you move towards the camera point or strafe. Despite the use of the right analog as a limited camera, you are forced to do things like spin around 180 degrees by tapping down and pressing Square or Circle at the same time. These gripes are, however, dwarfed by the amazing gameplay that is available to you. You will get used to these admittedly antiquated design choices, and soon after the immersion of the world will overpower any thoughts you might have had about modern control styles.
Tailored for PlayStation 2
Resident Evil 4 offered up absolutely stunning visuals on GameCube. While skeptics may have chattered it couldn't be pulled off on the PlayStation 2, they will now find themselves eating their words. Well, mostly. The beautiful art direction of RE4 is kept intact, and while there have been sacrifices on the PS2, they are minor -- just like any other indiscretions in the game. Textures have been dumbed down and lighting, a relatively big player, is not quite as impressive.
However, the framerate, even in the true widescreen mode with progressive scan on, is almost always 30 (although certain heavy effect areas will stutter). Capcom, who is no stranger to PS2, really stretched its resources, which makes RE4 one of the prettiest to hit the console yet.
There are signs of porting, it's true; for example, high contrast areas where light and dark plays off of each other are slightly less moody. This is only apparent to those that played it on GameCube, however. And to that point, this title is still breathtaking. It's very rare to see a game with such masterful art implementation, which is important to consider as it is often the very reason you can't wait to see the next area.
Beyond the technical feats, Ada's new Separate Ways mission is a real treat for gamers. Only after dedicating some serious time to the main mission and beating it will you unlock it, but once you do you open the way to learn more about the story than any GameCube RE4 player could have. Furthermore, there's even a custom-made new area that Capcom created just for RE4, making the mission more than just a simple sidequest through the same areas. The execution and presentation of this mission is quite detailed. As Ada, you'll have access to a more advanced stash of moves (like a grappling hook) and weapons, and you'll even have objectives that take place in the same time and space as Leon's. In the opening chapter, for example, you'll actually hear the chainsaw man chasing him down in the distance, and you'll find out exactly why those villagers clear town after the church bell rings. Interested? We thought so. It's a fine addition and reward for dedicated players.
Resident Evil 4 shocked me in so many ways when it launched on GameCube, and it continues to do so with this PlayStation 2 edition. Capcom has truly given it tender loving care. The lengthy development time has transformed the title into a true masterpiece that really makes you appreciate the level of detail that can be achieved in videogames. Things like shooting the weapons out of the hands of enemies, or perhaps even in mid-air is a rarely seen level of depth. And so even as I went back and played RE4 on PS2, I felt so drawn into the world it was hard to take a break from the action. This is what Resident Evil 4 is all about, and if you haven't played it yet you absolutely must. It's easily one of the top 10 PlayStation 2 games you can lay your hands on. For me, it's probably one of my top 10 games of all-time. There's so much to enjoy, and even though PS2's visuals aren't quite as good as they were on GCN, my jaw still drops at the art design and how immersive the worlds are.
You have to play this game. If you haven't, stop hesitating and do it. And don't go getting distracted, because the worlds just keep changing and wowing you. The idea of the "village" is but a fraction of what RE4 has to offer. If you have played it on GCN, well, whether you buy it or rent it, you'll want to play Separate Ways. It provides a great amount of closure on the conspiracies that you only get a glimpse of during Leon's quest.
This is easily deserving of our editor's choice award. Any difference in scores between PS2 and GameCube is simply a matter of reviewer preference as well as the minor porting setbacks and stiff competition on PS2. Nonetheless, still a must-have title.
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