This week I’m continuing the Halloween video game reviews with a look at Resident Evil 4, the second to last numbered installment in Capcom’s long running survival horror series.

General Information

Title: Resident Evil 4
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Publisher: Capcom
System: GameCube, PlayStation 2 (Reviewed), PC, Wii, iPhone
Release Date: 1/11/2005
Genre: Survival Horror

Available from Amazon.com.

The Premise

It is several years after Resident Evil 3 and Code Veronica. Umbrella Corporation was held liable in criminal and civil court for the damages caused in the Raccoon City catastrophe. Corporate assets were seized internationally, and the Umbrella Corporation itself cratered so hard that financial analysts turned to planetary scientists and said “Isn’t this your field” (*rimshot*)*. Since then, Leon S. Kennedy, the main character of RE2, becomes involved with a special operations organization. After the daughter of the President of the United States is kidnapped, and her location is traced to a remote village in Spain, Leon is sent to rescue her. However, this village has a far more sinister side then any outsider knows.

High Points

First off, once you get the President’s Daughter back, and you have to start escorting her through the levels, her AI is very good. Rarely did I run into a situation where she got caught up on a piece of the environment and got herself re-captured or killed. Similarly, she moves quickly, and doesn’t get into the line of fire.

Second, the controls have been heavily re-worked from RE1-3. While the game still has a variation on the “Tank Controls” that made earlier games in the series, well, clunky, here you’re not locked behind a stationary camera, here you can aim fairly quickly, turn around fairly quickly, and – more importantly, aim with a greater precision than earlier Resident Evil games let you.

The weapon upgrade system was fairly intuitive. While you can’t upgrade all guns in one play-through, since your weapons carry over between rounds, then you can take your fully upgraded pistol and mostly upgraded shotgun to the next play-through, and finish upgrading those weapons.

Low Points

If you’ve been following the game industry or reading game reviews in the past 5 years, you’ll have read complaints about “Real is Brown” – basically, the fact that lots of video games have been trending their color palate to earth tones because that’s more “realistic” or whatever. RE4 is no exception. The levels that aren’t brown, or grey, or some other earth tone far outnumber the levels that are, say, green.

Also, the Quick Time Events in this game are, quite literally, of the “Press X To Not Die” variety. A prompt will almost randomly come on screen during a cutscene, and if you don’t hit the buttons fast enough, you die. It doesn’t help that the buttons won’t necessarily be the same buttons next time you play the cutscene.

Finally, considering that Conventional Zombie Wisdom says to “Shoot the zombie in the head”, which appears to work earlier in the game, the sudden introduction of Las Plagas who get significantly more dangerous after a successful headshot seems incredibly counter-intuitive, in my opinion.

Content Notes

No nudity, but there is a great deal of blood, gore, disturbing imagery, perhaps a little bit of body horror.

Scores

Originality: The game is part of a long-running series, and continues ongoing plot threads from that series. Additionally, the plot of the game pays some reference to the film “Dagon”. However, Las Plagas is definitely a unique take on the Zombie. 2 out of 6.

Story: The story is iffy. There were several points in the game where I had to stop, scratch my head, and ask myself who came up with this stuff, before finally turning my suspension of disbelief off and just rolling with it. This particularly comes up with the standard Resident Evil puzzles of “Put these pieces of a piece of art together after killing monsters to get them, to get past a locked door.” There’s just no story way to justify those. 3 out of 6.

Graphics: As mentioned under the low point, the game looks fine, except for the fact that you’re lucky to see something in the environment that isn’t earth tones. 3 out of 6.

Sound: The game does a very good job building up a sense of atmosphere. Because Las Plagas are slightly sentient, the enemies talk (in Spanish), rather then just groaning at you. Other monsters have their own distinctive sounds, and the music also does a good job setting up that enemies are present. All of this does a very good job at getting the player on edge. 5 out of 6.

Playability: This is a little better. The controls are solid, there’s a New Game+ mode and harder difficulty that are unlocked after going through the game the first time, plus a side story mode featuring one of the other characters in the game and the “Mercenaries” mode. The Press X to Not Die sections are still a nuisance, but there’s more or less enough space between them that I don’t feel like getting to hard on them. 4 out of 6.

Immersion: While the HUD isn’t cluttered, and sound does a good job of immersing the player – most of the time, there are things that break that sense of immersion. AI characters will sporadically get stuck on pieces of the environment, which in turn immediately remind me that I’m in a video game, and will break the tension that the sound design has done such a good job at building. The QTE’s do this as well, as basically, any situation where you die and have to reload automatically breaks immersion. 3 out of 6

Overall: I did enjoy this game. Yes, it’s frustrating in several respects, and to be honest I’ll probably never play this game again, but the first play through was fun. 4 out of 6.

In Total, Resident Evil 4 gets 24 out of 42.

*You see, Planetary Scientists study, among other things, meteor impacts and their environmental effects… I’ll get my coat.