“Resident Evil 4” for the Nintendo Gamecube is the latest in Capcom’s “Resident Evil” series of survival horror games. Resident Evil is one of the top names in survival horror, pitting players against hordes of zombies, mutants, and biological monstrosities, and this latest entry is no exception.
The story of the series is relatively simple and understandable even if you haven’t played the rest of the series (primarily because it focuses mostly on gameplay), and this latest game is only marginally connected to previous ones, anyways. In the first Resident Evil game, the Special Tactics and Rescue Service (or S.T.AR.S., as they’re also known) is sent to investigate a mysterious mansion where a team of their specialists were lost. The mansion turns out to be a laboratory for the Umbrella Corporation, and also the location where the mysterious “T-Virus” (which turns people into zombies and monsters) was being developed before it got loose.
In Resident Evil 2, the T-Virus is spread into the mountain community of Raccoon City, and Claire Redfield, sister to Chris Redfield, one of the members of S.T.A.R.S. playable in RE1, and Leon Kennedy, a member of the Raccoon City Police, must search for survivors and escape the now-overrun city. Eventually, Raccoon City is wiped off the face of the earth by a nuclear missile launched by the US Government. RE 3 takes place both before, during, and after parts of Resident Evil 2, and stars Jill Valentine, a member of S.T.A.R.S. from RE 1.
In Resident Evil 4, the main character is Leon Kennedy from RE 2, who is now a government operative. Taking place in an unspecified part of Europe, RE4 follows Leon as he attempts to rescue the president’s daughter, Ashley. Unlike previous games, there are no zombies; the generic cannon-fodder class enemies are instead villagers, who seem to have it out for Leon at an almost fanatical level. These new enemies use hatchets, pitchforks, and there is one special enemy who uses a chainsaw that will tear right through Leon if given the opportunity. However, as Leon fights his way through the various levels, he will encounter deadlier enemies, such as El Gigante, a beast reminiscent of the cave trolls from the Lord of the Rings movies.
Leon isn’t unarmed, of course, though at the beginning his arsenal is a bit lacking in power; he only has a 9mm pistol and a knife. However, there are merchants in the game who sell Leon weapons, medical gear, and accessories, and to whom Leon can sell gems and items he finds on his journey. The weapons sold include multiple classes of handgun, shotgun, rifle, and submachine gun, along with the all-powerful rocket launcher. These merchants tend to look identical (well, it’s hard to tell because they’re wrapped in clothes), and will show up frequently along Leon’s travels.
Combat and gameplay ranges from slow and eerie to quick-paced and exciting. The camera angle follows Leon, and use of the C-Stick allows the player to check left, right, above, and below him, but only to a realistic level of Leon’s peripheral vision. Every gun that Leon acquires either has a laser sight or a scope, allowing pinpoint targeting.
A great feature of the game is the use of action buttons; in certain spots, hitting “A” will allow Leon to do a great many things, including diving through windows, knocking down ladders, kicking over stunned enemies, and more. Sometimes it is helpful if Leon blocks a door; pressing “A” near a piece of furniture will push it, and it can be maneuvered in front of the door to slow down Leon’s pursuers. There are certain sequences that require pressing either the L+R buttons (the two shoulder buttons) or the A+B buttons.
Certain boss monsters will be large and unwieldy, meaning that their attacks are slow, but powerful. If the player is attentive, pressing L+R at the right time can dodge the enemy’s attack. Another example is later in the game, where Leon gets into a knife fight with another character. However, the scene is also a cinematic; at points in the conversation, the opponent will jab or cut at you, and you’ll either have to press the L+R or A+B button, depending on which shows up on the screen. Also, all these action button sequences are done in real time, which means that as soon as the buttons show up on the screen, only a few seconds are allowed for them to be pressed before the attack or effect occurs.
The graphics and environments are beautiful, with a dark, brooding atmosphere that pervades the entire game. Enemies later in the game gleam with horrific detail, showing clearly the mutations and horror that this unknown catalyst has wreaked upon the humans. The different environments range from the starting village to a huge castle, and later to an island fortress. All these places are laden with ominous lighting, though this game seems to focus less on suspenseful horror and more on giant hordes of enemies. Since the camera only points in front of the character (though there is a neat feature that allows Leon to spin 180 degrees at the touch of a button), a lot of the suspense is based on whether or not enemies are coming up to get you from behind.
The sound also adds a lot to the atmosphere. Every character is voiced, and unlike in the first Resident Evil (which is famous for its so-bad-it’s-funny voice acting), the voice acting is pretty good. The villagers and various other humans speak Spanish, and so any Spanish-speaking player of the game will be able to understand them (usually things like “get him!” and “a foreigner!”). The voices add an extra element of creepiness to the game; when in the castle level, Leon is confronted by hooded monks, who chant as they shamble at him.
Compared to previous Resident Evil games, Resident Evil 4 excels in terms of gameplay, controls, graphics, and sound. This is, I think, the first Resident Evil game that seems really accessible, even to people who aren’t fans of the genre.