I love Halloween. Personally, it is my favorite time of year with the atmosphere that autumn brings and the constant horror films on my television. It is no secret that I enjoy doing themed articles (see: 25th anniversary of Metroid retrospective), so for this glorious time of year, I am going to do a two part Halloween special. For today’s topic, I am going to revisit a Gamecube classic: Resident Evil 4. I remember when my friend first showing me the game and instantly falling in love. I must have beaten it 10 times, even saying it was my favorite game of all time at one point, but after 7 years and two sequels, does it still hold up?
In Resident Evil 4, players take on the role of fan favorite Leon Kennedy, who now works with the Government and is assigned to rescue the president’s daughter, Ashley, who was kidnap by an unknown group in Spain. The situation immediately turns for the worse as Leon discovers the village consists of psychotic killers, but they are not zombies. After some snooping around, and a tense stand off with villagers and chainsaw wielding brutes, the kidnappers turn out to be an evil cult, who infected Leon and Ashley with a parasite known as Las Plagas. With a race against to clock to cure themselves and trying to protect Ashley, Resident Evil 4’s story is filled with mystery, twists and genuine suspense that are sure to keep the player engaged and guessing.
Since this is Resident Evil, the actual dialogue can be corny at times; no Jill sandwiches type lines though. The voice acting is on the mark however, and some insults that are thrown back and forth between Leon and villain Salazar is downright witty and funny. Leon has a unique personality and we grow to like him over the course of the game, even though we have been with him before in Resident Evil 2. Ashley however, is pretty bland, as she is just a typical damsel in distress, but we still want to see her safe. Series newcomer Luis Sera is memorable, as he is humorous, care free, yet still mysterious.
One thing I keep hearing from fans is that Resident Evil 4 is the turning point of the series, where it started focusing more on action rather than horror, and to a point, that is true. That said, this game can be terrifying, with memorable scenarios that can disturb or be extremely effective in achieving a sense of dread. One section has Leon going through the town square at night during a thunderstorm, avoiding bear traps and fighting off villagers with torches. The first time I played through it I was scared and decided to hide in a house to escape it. Another part finds the player in the sewers with invisible bug-like creatures that sneak around on the ceiling and walls to flank the player. Needless to say, being in a contained environment hearing fast footsteps all around you can be quite the scare. Unfortunately to some horror fans, the whole game is not like this, often placing the shooting in the forefront. On the positive side, when the game does go into “horror” mode, it is all the more terrifying.
The gameplay in Resident Evil 4 was revolutionary for its time, transforming the third person shooter into what it is today, with over-the-shoulder aiming and shooting. Leon cannot move while aiming, which can allow for some tense moments of trying to pull off a shot just before being attacked. While some may think it is dated by today’s standard, it actually holds up well as the enemy A.I. is programmed with the controls in mind. If a big group is coming at you, then chances are they will move slowly, but one or two enemies can flat out run towards you, causing a sense of panic. Guns in this game can be purchased and upgraded by the merchant, who pops up randomly throughout the game. The arsenal includes pistols, shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers, and a variety of grenades. Guns take up space in the suitcase (which stores all items), so do you want that shotgun, or should you save the space for addition health items or pistol ammo? It is a well-balanced system and I am surprised more games have not copied this style. Another big part of the gameplay is quick time events. Throughout the adventure, the player may have to press a correct button combination or mash a button repeatedly. These can come with no warning, ensuring some trail and error gameplay. Love them or hate them, they are all over this game.
The other part of Resident Evil’s gameplay is puzzles, and this is one aspect of 4 that drops the ball. Most puzzles rely on finding a type of key to open a door. If you come to a lock door, chances are you need to go in the other direction to find the item to open it. There is a slider puzzles (albeit an easy on), and a few switches, but overall, it is nothing that will make the player scratch their head over.
When the main campaign is complete, Mercenaries mode is unlocked, which pits the player against an endless horde of enemies. The goal is to obtain a high score within the time limit. Doing so unlocks new characters and a new weapon to be used in the main campaign. Project Ada is another unlockable, which is an hour-long bonus quest from the perspective of Ada Wong. While it may not be canon to the story, it is still a fun experience and helps increase the already stellar longevity of the game.
Finally, the presentation of this game is remarkable. Even though it is a seven-year-old game on dated hardware, this game still looks great. Sure, some facial animations are a bit stiff, some textures are blurry, and there seems to be a great deal of recycling enemy designs, but this game has stood the test of time. The sound is still stellar, with a haunting soundtrack that is sure to escalate the tension when appropriate, and sound effects that still please the ears. Creature and boss designs are imaginative and are every bit as disgusting as they were all those years ago. Simply put, this game is still a beauty.
While the Gamecube version is the weakest version, as it does not have the added features and content of the PS2, the upgraded controls of the Wii, or the HD up-scaling of the PS360, it is still worth a replay for anyone to this day. Latecomers may want to go with another version for additional unlockables and another campaign, but if the Gamecube is your only option (and in 2012 I cannot see how that is possible) then wait no longer and play this masterpiece that stood the test of time.
Be sure to keep an eye out for part 2 as Halloween draws closer.