Retro Review #1: Resident Evil 4
Welcome to Geektified's first ever Retro Review! With these reviews we want to go back down memory lane and look at games that have some relevance today. With the recent announcement of Resident Evil 7 at E3, many fans of the series and of gaming in general are curious to see how the new change in franchise formula will impact the game's universe and what it has to do with the rest of the series. There are many who praise the new gameplay choices, while other purists of the franchise see it as a negative turn. In saying that, let's review one of the most beloved Resident Evil games in the series: Resident Evil 4. We want to do this for several reasons. It's getting it's 4th-ish re-release on next-gen consoles in a month or so and it was also controversial in it's time for changing Resident Evil's recipe.
For those of you who have not played it yet and are curious about the franchise after that E3 announcement, then this review is for you! For those of you who adore Res 4 and already have played the game multiple times through (that's me!), then this retro review is for you! If you love great horror with traditional tropes then this review is for you! If you want to play a Resident Evil game but are fatigued by the horror genre being over-saturated by zombies, then this review is for you! Without getting too spoilery, let's get started!
Resident Evil 4 takes place some time after the events of the first few games and the outbreak of the T-Virus in Raccoon City, following ex-Raccoon City police officer, Leon Kennedy (returning from 2). He travels to a small village in rural Eastern Europe on a mission from the President to find his missing daughter, Ashley. Once there and only after a few steps into the game (literally), Leon soon finds out that the villagers are not too fond of strangers and frankly, are very dangerous. As you trek further into the horrors that await, you soon discover the truth behind the village's hostility and that it goes deeper than just bad foreign relations.
Teeming with a variety of enemies such as chainsaw wielding psychopaths, savage cultic priests and creepy military science experiments, Resident Evil 4 remains the most intense of the recent entries. From start to finish the game is relentless in it's punishment against the player, yet it draws you in quickly and keeps you there, despite the overwhelming discomfort with each step. Having played this countless times myself, I can say that each time I come up to a memorable scene or location, a sense of dread washes over me. So, why keep playing it?
First off, the gameplay. I cannot emphasize enough how the 3rd person perspective and gun combat allowed for an ultimately fun experience, which in the end is one of the most important factors when critiquing a game. Many complained that the lack of lateral or forward movement while aiming made it a frustrating experience, but on the flip-side of that, it really added to the frightfest. When rushed with a horde of angry villagers, giving the player less freedom forces them to be more strategic in their timing and choices in combat.
Story and Character
Second, the story itself may seem cheesy, saving the President's daughter and all but it evokes inspiration from great 80's action and horror films. Though the overall story feels that way, the player soon forgets all cliches when the horror starts. Resident Evil 4 has a very strong, "good versus evil" theme to it that keeps you wanting to move Leon forward to save Ashley, no matter where the game takes you. As you progress, the truth unravels about the village and the evil behind it, taking you from the village to exotic locations such as medieval castles, deep caverns and underground laboratories. The characters are interesting as well, especially the veteran protagonist. Despite his mid-2000s Hot Topic haircut, Leon becomes an excellent character to experience the game through. Over time you begin to sympathize with him and in the end, feel sorry that he has to be there. His quick one-liners and quips are all around fantastic, occasionally adding comic relief (he starts his comments fairly early). There are a few weaker characters such as Ashley, which is unfortunate as the game revolves around her rescue. She's not able to help Leon much in combat and she becomes an easy target, which does create an 'edge of your seat' experience, but I find that she can get in the way at the wrong times. Fortunately, throughout the game, there are hiding spots she can go to while you deal with the onslaught of enemies. Having said this, the most iconic character award goes to the mysterious merchant. He has no origin, no sense of intent or goal, just a really helpful guy. At first he appears to be creepy and untrustworthy, especially with his timing, but when he opens his long blue trench coat and says, "What'r ya buyin'?", you know he's an alright guy, especially when he provides efficient armaments. Trust me, he's an instant favorite.
Graphics and Level Design
Third, playing this on the PlayStation 3's release of the game, it looks good, considering having spent so much time with current generation graphics. Though dated, the gritty textures, the dark and bland color schemes and smoky atmosphere only add to the overall makeup of the game. The dull color scheme translates better graphically after so much time. It drives home the feeling of loneliness and dread as Leon fights the masses alone (well, for a little while at least). That sense of anxiety and fear is indicative of all Resident Evil games, this one being no exception. Each level has it's own character and personality. The attention to detail in each section brings the scares and horrors to life, utilizing the environment to set the tone right away. Whether it's in the deep rural forest of Europe or in the deep dungeons of an ancient castle, no environment gives the player a break from the evil that lurks around every corner. There are times that the game allows for breathing and recollection of strength and courage, but at no point does the surrounding relent in it's spooky vibes.
Overall, the game is still a powerhouse in the horror genre, to the point of being re-released 4 times after it's initial Nintendo GameCube debut. It's adored by fans so much that each new system keeps it alive with an update on it's graphics. Though the game is not perfect (some of you may disagree), it's as close to perfect as it can be. With more good than bad, the level design and memorable moments overshadow the few faults the game has. If you're looking to play a Resident Evil game before the new one drops next year, this one is definitely worth checking out with unlimited replay value (new game+, weapon upgrades and customization, collectibles, and even unlockable costumes for the characters).
Geektified Retro Score: 9/10
Let's get a discussion going. What did you think of the game? Are you excited for the future of Resident Evil or concerned?