After several years of sequels, remakes and spin-offs, the Resident Evil series finally has a game that has brought new life to an aging series. Resident Evil 4, a port of the GameCube game of the same name, features more missions, weapons and costumes than ever before, and the game play has improved greatly as well. This installment improves and expands upon the original survival horror formula of the first older Resident Evil games, giving it that extra boost that fans have wanted for a long time.
The game takes place a few years after Resident Evil 3 and stars Leon, who left the zombie infested Raccoon City to become a federal agent. After some time, he is assigned to a mission to protect the president's daughter but, he eventually finds out that she has been captured by an unknown group residing somewhere in Europe. What seems to be a simple rescue mission turns out to be a lot more complicated when he gets attacked by possessed villagers, who turn out to be the kidnappers. The story is gripping and mysterious, with the new setting adding a lot to the game play. The PS2 version also has fleshed out cut scenes, extra missions and even a set of side missions where you play as a woman named Ada, making the game very complete in terms of story and content.
For those new to the series, the core Resident Evil games pit you against a legion of zombies, putting you in dark, eerie environments as you try to run, hide, or kill your enemies. The name of the game is survival, and you must do anything to protect yourself. In addition to zombies, there are usually a few monsters set as bosses. But this time around, with the new setting, there also comes a new enemy, giving the gameplay that tweak it needed. No longer are your enemies mindless and barely mobile, you're facing nimble and conscious villagers that'll do anything to stop you from completing your mission. The AI is great in the game, even though they aren't exactly the brightest of enemies; they aren't supposed to be, so it makes them an unpredictable challenge. Amongst the normal villagers you encounter, some will be carrying weapons, including pitchforks, petrol bombs, and even chainsaws. There's no reason to worry though, since Leon can carry many different types of guns around with him, ranging from standard pistols to rifles and even a rocket launcher. This installment still follows on the tradition of having bigger monsters for bosses though, so that's where those bigger guns will come in handy.
The graphics are definitely like no other game seen on a PS2 before, because even though they may not be perfect, the environments and characters look absolutely stunning. There's a vast amount of detail in almost everything, especially the characters. This time around, Leon looks quite a bit older and certainly bulkier, giving him a darker look compared to how you may remember him from the past. Whilst the idea of possessed villagers may not seem as scary as zombies, your menacing, blood drenched attackers look great, and the game feels eerier as there is a more human feel to it. There are a fair share of monsters in the game, including one of the coolest boss battles in any game on the PS2; the lake monster. Not only is this gorgeously rendered beast almost as big as the lake it lives in, you also have to take it down whilst dodging it in a small speed boat, using harpoons. This battle looks awesome, and showcases what the PS2 is actually capable of.
The new setting also makes an interesting change from the usual city setting, and it adds a creepier tone to the atmosphere. The village, in which the game takes place, is relatively big, with some very detailed areas, such as the aforementioned lake and the many underground tunnels in the area. Even when you're about 8 hours into the game, there are still many areas left to be seen on the map. Areas with houses are mostly desolate and empty; there'll be nothing but Leon for the most parts, leaving you to explore houses and open areas alone. However, when you enter a new area or head towards your destination it's more than likely you'll be greeted by a horde of rabid people waiting to tear you to pieces.
The game mechanics all revolve around the new camera system, which allows you to easily see where you're aiming with accuracy, and have a good look at your environment as well. The view comes from behind Leon's right shoulder, revealing his back and head from the waistline upwards, but the main focus is obviously over his shoulder. It's not quite a first person camera, nor is it a traditional third person camera. It utilizes the best parts of both types of cameras, and if used properly it can go in your favor when trying to kill that group of violent Europeans. The control scheme, generally, hasn't changed from the previous games which may disappoint some people, although they are now complimented by the camera, making it easier to kill off multiple enemies and at the same time relieving the strain on your health and ammo, as it's almost certain you won't be losing as much of either. It's almost as if that, when they changed the camera to make it fully 3D, it fixed the controls. They aren't perfect of course, but it's a lot less problematic now.
The sound is not exactly the biggest part of the game, but silence is pretty much a key part of creating tension or anxiety before entering a surprise attack, and if it weren't for that, the game would be much less scary. When there is music played as a back ground noise, it's usually quiet since the ambience is the dominating factor of the audio. The ambient sounds are very realistic, and work well when in the silent or quiet parts of the game. Perhaps the best part of the sound is the dub, even though all the main characters have great voiceovers, they are outshone by the hilarious sounds the villagers make. Maybe I'm not supposed to laugh when a villager starts shouting something at me in, what seems to be, Spanish, but I can't help it. They call out to each other, giving orders or alerting their comrades where their enemy is, and it just goes to show that the AI is great.
A mixture of all these great elements make this one hell of a great game, one that every PS2 owner should consider buying. Having only briefly playing the older games, and my survival/horror knowledge only being previously limited to Devil May Cry, the game was a bit of a gamble purchase for me, but I definitely feel like it was more than worth it. The game itself will last you more than 20 hours, and with the extra content and hidden extras, you'd be doing yourself a big favor if you went out and bought the game as soon as possible.