Resident Evil 4: A RE-birth for the series

Nick Fricke

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The release of &Resident Evil& in 1996 was a momentous occasion in the history of video games. Its graphics, among the best at the time, cinematic presentation and ability to create tension and fright made it a multi-million dollar best seller, guaranteeing a string of sequels and effectively creating the &survival-horror& genre.

However, the series that was once so revolutionary in its game play and design soon became stagnant. Each subsequent title failed to address the problems that plagued the games since the first &RE,& such as camera angles that obscured enemy movements, a frustrating inventory system and characters that controlled more like tanks than people.

When game developer Capcom promised that &Resident Evil 4,& released on Gamecube, would reinvent the series, many gamers were skeptical. With the final product now available, it can be said that not only is this the best &RE& game ever made, but it&s also one of the greatest action-adventure games of all time.

The game puts the player in the role of U.S. agent Leon Kennedy, whose mission is to find the president&s abducted daughter. His search leads to a Spanish village in Europe, and unfortunately for Leon, the villagers there are not friendly. Once Leon is spotted, they go into action and call other villagers for assistance; soon the entire population is chasing after him, armed with sickles, pitchforks, axes and chainsaws.

Unlike the brain-dead zombies in previous &RE& games, the villagers won&t always walk blindly towards the barrel of Leon&s gun. Some will dodge your sights if you spend too much time aiming and not firing. Enemies also work together in groups and set traps along the way, making them much more dangerous foes than before.

To take on these deadlier enemies, &RE4& employs new camera, control and aiming systems that are vastly superior to previous &RE& games. Using a behind-the-character camera, the game lets the player to view the world from Leon&s perspective. This is nothing new to 3D games, but for an &RE& game, the change is significant and makes movement feel more intuitive. The new aiming system also benefits from the shift in camera angle, as it closes in tighter behind Leon&s shoulder, while a laser sight projects from the weapon towards your target. This lets the player aim at specific areas of an enemy&s body, including head shots for quicker kills.

Previous &RE& games forced players to be conservative with ammunition because of its scarcity, but &RE4& rewards players for killing enemies, as they&ll sometimes drop health recovery items, more ammo or money. The money can then be spent at merchant shops, where you can buy new weapons or upgrade your existing ones. The result is a game that puts more emphasis on action and less on solving obscure puzzles, and this is a big departure from the previous &RE& games.

Graphically, the game simply looks incredible. Character models are highly detailed, with realistic body movements and facial expressions. Fires flutter and create heat ripples in the air, and water splashes on the camera, distorting and blurring the screen. The death animations are also detailed and gruesome, as players will find out the first time a chainsaw-wielding villager grinds into Leon&s shoulder, leaving him with one less head. Amongst the dozens of plain-looking, kid-oriented games for the system, &RE4& is one of the rare examples of just how powerful the Gamecube hardware really is.

The audio is also exceptional, with ambient sound effects and musical cues that really help to bring atmosphere to the game. The voice acting is good, especially from the Spanish-speaking villagers who cry out for help, or in pain, when they encounter Leon. The weapon effects also sound appropriate and have a &meaty& resonance to them, like any good Hollywood action movie.

After all this gushing over how great the game is, it&s not 100 percent perfect. The ability to strafe from side to side while aiming would make taking on the hordes of enemies much easier, and the inventory system is still an inconvenient method of switching weapons and using health items, but those are minor issues. Gamecube owners and action fans rejoice, for the first truly excellent game of 2005 has arrived.

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