Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: Resident Evil 4 (PS2)

Hold on a minute, THIS is the game that changed Resident Evil? Many would say for the worst, but I say it's for the better, and that the PS1 Resident Evil games were mediocre. I'm sorry fanboys, but I will never see the early games your way because I found them generally irritating to play, despite excellent survival mechanics. Resident Evil 4 is both a natural evolution for the series and a bit of watering down of the old formula. How so? Well, while it's easier to play and no longer plagued by atrocious camera angles (were they on purpose or did they just fuck up), the survival element (which was the only thing I liked about the older games, funny enough) felt less prevalent, like newer gamers couldn't handle it or something, although it was at least given a facelift to go with it.

One thing I found impressive with its story is that it's deceptively simple. At first, it's about Leon, the guy from Resident Evil 2, having to rescue Ashley Graham (the president's daughter) from a cult located in a small Spanish village, but then you start to learn more about their motives, and it just "clicks" after a while. Memos that are scattered across the village and the various cutscenes that are given careful attention manage to captivate you for the duration of the game, especially as it gets more into the cult and into the "zombies", as you'll be wondering what's going on (in a good way) and what's about to happen. It's a bit tricky to explain without spoiling the story, so I'll stop praising it here and give it the one bit of criticism I have for it - it has moments which border on cheesy. Not quite on par with the older games (oh god, not even close), but one of the characters' accents and some of his writing feels like there's an actor behind it, which detracts from the story when everybody else's voices and writing actually feels convincing enough to breathe life into these characters. Ah well.

Although it's a Resident Evil game, priorities have been changed. Instead of running around a maze-like area solving puzzles, you're running through linear levels, shooting zombies' heads off. That's quite a change of pace, because in the earlier games, combat played second fiddle to the puzzle solving and exploration. Now? Get out your weapons and fuck shit up! Surprisingly, the combat scenarios are actually fairly well done. The enemies here aren't brainless zombies; they're villagers that just aren't welcoming of strangers and will do anything to appease their god, meaning that they will try to put up a fight. They're quick to rush towards you, impale you, throw shit at you when they think they have a good shot at your head, and can try to dodge your attacks. Shit, some of them have chainsaws that'll cut your head off and kill you instantly. I'm not saying that they're perfect, but the important thing is that they're trying. The bosses aren't bad, and when the fight is going more for a cinematic approach, they're actually quite well done as it feels like an intense fight, especially one towards the end, but the not so cinematic ones... they function on a basic level, but are otherwise mediocre.

Speaking of cinematics, this game utilizes quick time events, something that was far from commonplace back when this was made. In fact, it was only seen in the Dragon's Lair arcade games, those shitty FMV games on the Sega CD and 3DO, and the extremely ambitious and fucking expensive Shenmue (still kicking yourselves for that one, Sega?). In fact, speaking of Shenmue, this game takes many cues from it by using quick time events to add some excitement to cutscenes (and certain boss fights). If you don't know what I mean, during some cutscenes, you'll be required to press or mash the right button(s) in order to perform an event, and if you don't do it, you'll die. Resident Evil 4 popularised it, but fuck, it can be unforgiving at times - often giving you little time to react, leading you to a cheap death.

It's changed around so much, that the puzzle solving feels like a distraction instead of the centerpiece. Occasionally, you'll be required to find some items and deliver them somewhere, or... something. The puzzles in this game feel so underdeveloped and mediocre, that it's like he forgot what made Resident Evil... Resident Evil in the first place.

For some bizarre reason though, the controls mirror the earlier games, in that you move like a tank and cannot move while shooting. For an action game, it may seem very, very inconvenient, like they were stuck between making a survival horror and an action game. Well, at least they figured out how to use the analogue stick right, because movement feels a bit more fluid, like you can move in 360 directions instead of a mere 8, although only half of them feel right. When moving forwards, it's fine; moving backwards feels a bit sluggish, although you can hold down and press O to do a quick 180 degree turn. Aiming is also made to take advantage of this (as well as the new over the shoulder camera angle), in that you can move the laser pointer around to get a more precise aim, which is important because... well, you want to kill the zombies, right? Course you do! I also find it perplexing that you still have a run button - you have analogue support so what's the point of this? There weren't any stealth missions, last time I checked. I just wished they put more work into the survival aspect - after all, survival horror should be about survival, not about how shit you can make the controls.

Oh, but don't get me started on survival... okay, you got me started. Survival feels watered down. Although you still only get limited resources in comparison to every other action game (like ammo and various healing items), it feels like there are a lot more than in the earlier games. Sure, at the beginning, it feels like you're limited to a pistol and a knife with a bit of ammo, but eventually, you'll score a shotgun, and then you'll find a merchant who sells guns... but not ammo, strangely enough.

It does, however, get a facelift that I fucking love, and will continue to wonder why Resident Evil 5 didn't keep going with this. Basically, it's a briefcase that's set up like a grid, and you have to fit the items inside. Each item can take up a different amount of space, like herbs and first aid sprays take up a 1x2 section of your briefcase, while a shotgun can take up a fair amount of space, and that's not to mention the ammo. It makes so much more sense than a box that can carry anything regardless of size, because it forces you to think about positioning in ways that allow you to carry everything. I guess you could say it makes up for the lack of puzzle solving.

Survival isn't limited to Leon's; you also have Ashley to consider. Unfortunately, once you rescue her and for most of the time afterwards, you'll be required to protect her. This is where the game goes from fun to occasionally annoying, because you will have to keep an eye on her. She can't defend herself, she tends to take more damage from attacks than you can, and... did I mention that if she dies, you lose? Yeah, well, that's an escort mission for you, and unfortunately, it does tend to damper on an otherwise good time, but at least you can find some ways to keep her out of your way... just depends on the scenario. Sometimes, it's easy to dump her in a dumpster, and sometimes, she's on your six, ready for a chainsaw wielding maniac to cut her head off... her AI is decent enough to get away, but like any scared little girl (well, maybe not little, but you get the picture), she won't want to stay too far away from her saviour... eh.

After beating the game, you can play through a short campaign as Ada Wong, a woman who followed Leon around during his campaign. Her campaign involves finding some rather juicy items that'll add to the story. Plus there's an addition that wasn't in the Gamecube version, which is basically the same as Leon's campaign, just from Ada's point of view, and yet again, it adds to the story, so it's important to go through this. The other mode you can play through, which is in all versions, is Mercenaries mode, which basically has you killing as many enemies as you can in an arena type setting within a time limit... which can be extended by finding hourglasses. This mode can be rather addicting, as you could imagine... yeah, there's a lot to do after finishing the main game.

If you're coming from the Gamecube original to the PS2 port, you'll notice a dip in graphical quality due to the Gamecube being more powerful than the PS2, but don't get discouraged, because it still looks great. It's grainier, which helps give it a more rustic look, which goes well with the dull color scheme, which vicariously goes well with the dreary atmosphere. But it doesn't excuse some mediocre textures here and there, nor does it excuse some clipping issues, like how your arm can go through solid objects (what is this - Nintendo 64?). However, the character models are designed very well, displaying some sweet texturework on the clothes, and the enemies do look a bit zombie-like. Plus the cinematic sequences offer some slick animation, which looks lifelike... despite some over the top animations here and there, but you can't have a good action scene without that, eh?

As I've stated, the voice acting is pretty good. Each actor puts a good amount of effort to give each character life and make it sound convincing - all except for one. Seriously, his Mexican accent sounds like there's an actor behind the microphone, and given that this is much more serious than the older games, it feels out of place. As for the music, it barely exists, which would be fine for a horror game, but unfortunately, it has this odd habit of basically alerting you of nearby enemies. Same with the sound effects - there's barely any surprise when an enemy jumps out due to the audio cues. It's a shame, because it does function on a fundamental level... just that it could be so much better.

Resident Evil 4 is far from the masterpiece or disasterpiece people would make it out to be. For what it's worth, it's a good game that manages to create some fine action scenes and scenarios, and goes about survival in a creative way. I just wish that there was more to survival than just item management and keeping Ashley alive. I also wish that we didn't have to deal with mediocre puzzles and keeping Ashley alive. But despite its flaws, this is a game that can be very enjoyable at the best of times.

7/10 (Good)


  1. ...I like the older Resident Evil games, although I will admit that they haven't aged very well.

    Regardless, it's a pretty solid review. You've done well to explain yourself, and yeah, I don't know why they keep the old controls when it's meant to be an evolution of sorts. Ohe thing I've noticed is that you didn't really talk about the quick time events. You just sort of... started something and never really finished. I didn't get much out of it and neither will a reader.

    I can't wait for your other Resident Evil reviews. :3

  2. Not sure what else I could explain for the quick time events - press X to live; don't press X to die. They're annoying due to cheapness. Can't really think of much else Dawn.

    I'm currently going through Resident Evil 5, then I'll backtrack to 1, 2 and 3. Maybe 0 if I feel like it. Not to mention, I should do a few N64 and PS2 games. Maybe.

    1. I'm not quite sure and I probably should play through it again just to check, but I don't know... it just feels like you didn't finish the paragraph.